Friday, July 25, 2008

This Was One of My Best Decisions

I have been in Chicago four weeks TODAY! I could not have asked for anything more. I got to spend time with my parents, I treated the city like I was tourist for the kids, and I really had to opportunity to get some much-needed rest.

Most importantly, I have regained a sense of myself and I have a handle on the ups and downs of life and how to handle them and "keep my yellow."

We are leaving Chicago in 6 days. From there, we drive to Florida. One week after that, we are back in Dallas. I plan to blog regularly from now until we leave Chi-town, but I am going to try to stay off the computer while we are in Tampa and Orlando. If anything, I expect that leg of the journey to be the most exciting, most energy-filled, and most noisy.

Once we're back in Dallas, I'll post some concluding thoughts on road-tripping...but hmmmmm, I wonder what I should write about next?

Have a great weekend!

Link Love to Other Road Tripping Bloggers

These blogs have fun tips and valuable information for road trippers this summer:

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

I Finished Chapter One

Before I started writing this post, I read through all of my previous posts to see if I had mentioned that I am in the process of writing a book. Well, I hadn't. Then I realized that I have never blogged about the decision to "take a year off" from the world either. So here goes.

My decision to embark on a cross-country road trip this summer was the result of several things. I wanted to travel with the kids..affordably...and have the opportunity to work on my consulting business, this blog, and begin writing a book about an interesting irony I recently discovered.

Until this past May, I had a full-time (40 hr/ week) job outside of the home and I was the primary caregiver for my children. Their dad and I separated last December, and since then, his involvement with the kids has been less than desirable. This spring it seemed like all at once my world crashed. My boss was as understanding as she could be (which was very limited and NOT nearly what I needed her to be), I felt more pressure from the kids' schools to be even more of a supermom (as a way of compensating for the separation/divorce...yes they can make you feel really guilty), and for the first time in my life, my parenting was questioned by entities who should have been concerned about their own operations. (I know the last part was vague...that's a blog post for another day.)

One more birthday was in May...and ever since I turned 30 six years ago, I have been making some huge life decisions around that time. And this year was no different. In May, I decided that I needed a year off. I needed to work less in order to spend time with my kids more. I need to drop them off at school on time, I need to pick them up when the school day ends (not when afterschool care ends), and I needed to have our evening routine with homework, reading, math facts, dinner, and bedtime operate more smoothly than it did last year.

I needed to quit my job.

The irony of all of this is that as I realized that I desperately needed to be home more for the kids, I wasn't sure if I could afford it financially. It can be a challenge for dual-income families when one spouse stops working, but what does it mean for a single-parent family when the single parent stops working full-time? I didn't know, but I would soon find out, and live to write about it.

Enter the road trip to Chicago. Enter the time spent with my parents. Enter the creation of my consulting business. And enter the writing of the first chapter. My goal this summer is to write two chapters and pen the rest as the year progresses. My book is about the irony of it all, how it was the write thing for us, and how it ends.

Here's to the celebration of Chapter One! Wahooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Good Friends, Old Times, Orgasmic Ice Cream

I love ice cream. Everything about it is fun and tasty and sweet and creamy and wonderful. Tonight I had the chance to meet an old friend for ice cream in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. Lakeview is on Chicago's north side and one of those neighborhoods that I have always thought I would live in if I ever moved back. The ice cream was great, the company even better, but the jury's still out on the neighborhood.

I'm concerned about the plethora of sexually-oriented businesses I saw. Have I been in the conservative south too long? I am usually pretty liberal when it comes to sexual anything (after all, I called ice-cream orgasmic), but this was just weird. Before we knew it, our conversation went from, "I'm thinking of taking the kids to the zoo on Thursday," to "You know, lubricants are important." Again, based on my own personal liberalism, I didn't mind having this conversation (my friend is pretty liberal too), however, I would hate to be walking down Broadway Ave. with my kids only to have one of them ask, "What kinds of costumes are these, moma?"

In Dallas, I know exactly where the, ahem, "costume shop" is and it is not in the midst of a residential neighborhood. Nor is it on a strip of other costume shops, adult bookstores, and let me see... "novelty" stores. I am not expressing my dislike of these stores (the can definitely spice up a few things), but I don't know if I want to raise my children right down the street from them.

Any thoughts?

Tyler Perry's Tribute to Single Moms

I love the creative artistry that is actor/ writer/ director/ producer Tyler Perry. He is absolutely amazing. For the first time in the month that I've had my iPod, I bought a movie from the iTunes store. The movie was Meet the Browns by Tyler Perry. While I don't get to go to the movies often, I do relish the opportunity to rent, buy, or see all the latest releases in a relatively timely manner.

If you've not quite understood the plight of the single mother, watch this movie. If you really want to know the fears and the realities of single motherhood, watch this movie. If you want a good laugh and a good cry (simultaneously), watch this movie. If you want to undertand the world around you a little bit better, watch this movie.

"Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have expolited no one. I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have great confidence in you, I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds"
2 Corinthians 7:2-4

Monday, July 21, 2008

"The Best Way to Heal... by giving of your time and talents to a school, church, organization, or individual in need."

I heard that this morning on Joyce Meyer's podcast. I think I also read it a couple of months ago in one of the self-help books I was reading. I really don't think there's much more to say...service is important. Period. That's it.

If you subscribe to this blog via email and receive an empty email last night, I'm sorry. I was so excited about what I was typing that I hit "post" before I actually wrote anything. You can access the full and complete blog here.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

10 Days and Counting....Progress Report?!?!?

It's hard to believe how fast time flies. We are leaving Chicago in about 10 days. We are not headed back to Texas just yet...keep reading because we've got some fun-filled plans for the first two weeks in August!

However, before we go, it's time for me to be accountable! I need to share the specifics of my "healing," what I've thought, what I've done, how I've lived since our journey began last month. This week is it...I promise to tell all...the good, the bad, and the dirty! (If you have any specific questions you're dying to have the answer to, email me, and I'll post the question and the answer here)

So far, here's what we have:

1. I have started a gratitude journal. Each morning when I wake up, I write down at least 5 things I am thankful for.

2. I meditate at least 3 times a day and practice yoga at least once a day...everyday.

3. I have given up caffeine.

4. I have given up using "rules" to govern my existence.

5. I have been clipping and organizing grocery store coupons so I can have a frugal-fresh start once I return to Dallas.

6. I have done some preliminary work on my consulting business, established viable contacts, and SIGNED MY FIRST CLIENT.

7. I have started a "Too Blessed to Be Stressed" journal.

8. I have decided that when someone says to you, "I'm only telling you the truth," their truth can be completely different from my truth and I don't have to feel guilty or even care that it is that way.

9. I have one simple goal each day: to find my yellow. The space between me and anything or anyone else should always be happy, and yellow.

So far, so good....there's more to come!

The Week in Review

Last week was particularly busy for us as we got out and explored the city a lot! Here's a quick recap:

Good Friends, Old Times and Free Therapy -- The kids and I drove out to Naperville, IL (about an hour outside of Chicago) to see an old friend of mine from elementary school. She grew up across the street from us and has three kids, two girls and a boy, ages 8, 5, and 5. (The girls are twins). She's a family psychologist now, and were shared great ideas about discipline, cooking, and parenting. And of course, she was more than willing to offer me some healing advice related to the divorce...and I gladly took it!

Chicago vs. Dallas: Pizza! -- We had authentic Chicago pizza for dinner on Thursday night. I savored every moment of this pizza that NO ONE, NO ONE, NO ONE outside of the Chicagoland area is able to recreate. Many in Dallas have come close, but nothing has made the cut. If you EVER, EVER, EVER have the opportunity to try it, you must RUN not walk to the nearest pizze place. My favorite's are Pizzeria Uno's, Giordano's, Eduardo's, and the Medici.

Sightseeing in the City -- Navy Pier in Chicago is one of the absolute coolest attractions. Home to the Chicago Children's Museum, this shopping and food arcade is filled with plenty of events for the whole family! And...if Forrest Gump is one of your favorite movies like ours.....then the photo of the restaurant below will surely strike your fancy!

(We built this as a family team at the's suppposed to be a skyscaper)

Cirque du Soleil's "Kooza"-- In my realistic, well-budgeted life in Dallas, the closest we have ever come to seeing the "Cirque du Soleil" is renting it on Netflix. My god-parents got us tickets to see the event live at Chicago's United Center and it was absolutely AMAZING. If you ever have the chance to see one of their shows, you should definitely's not cheap...but it is a performance you will never forget! (I don't have any photos of flash photography allowed!)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Old Friends, Good Times, and the West Loop

Breakfast clubs are the thing in Chicago. My father belongs to one, my god-father belongs to another one, and some college friends and I participated in one this weekend. Groups of friends, colleagues, etc. meet for breakfast on Saturday mornings. Breakfast clubs meet early, as the restaurants can get crowded quickly! So what did we do? We met at Wishbone's near Oprah's Studio in the West Loop at 9:00 a.m. (Not only was I on time...I was the first one there :)

There were five of us, and because we hadn't had the opportunity to really catch up with each other in years, we had to each tell what we dubbed "Our Story." The stories consisted of lost loves, true callings, travels overseas, dreadful bosses, the world of mommyhood, sorority memories, romantic trysts, and any other news we wanted to share. As we were leaving the restaurant five hours later, I had never felt more refreshed.

Here's to old times girls. OO-OOP!

Old Friends, Good Times and a Vision Board

I went out to lunch with a friend from high school. Actually, she's younger than I am and we never really knew each other in high school, but we have become friends over the past few years from the school's alumni association. So anyway, we met for lunch...and it was my first "outing" without the kids since I had been home. We went out for Thai food at Noodles, Etc. near the campus of the University of Chicago. We caught up and before we knew it, she told me that I need to get a "Vision Board." She said that should be one of my projects while I am road-tripping this summer. On this board, I am supposed to graphically represent the things I want in my life by July 11, 2009. I haven't had the chance to google this concept yet (I google everything), but I will. Have you heard of a "Vision Board"? Do you have one? How has it impacted your life?

I know what you want to know...

This blog entry is primarily for my real-life friends who know my history. Not my marriage history, or my romantic life history (do I have one of those?) or my work history. This is for those of you, my good friends who have wondered but hesitated to ask, "How are you and you mother getting along for a month....really?"

I'll tell you. I am extremely grateful to my parents for their help throughout my life and in particular, the last 6 months. My parents swooped in like mama bear and papa bear to care for their cubette and her little cubs like nobody's business. Because of the loyalty I feel to both my mom and my dad right now, I can't condemn, complain, trip, sigh, or scream. She is who she is, and I am who I am. And we are extremely different people .

I appreciate you for not asking...but it is a valid question. One day I tell you the stories in greater detail, over a pitcher of mojitos and margaritas...Texas style! But for now, despite the differences, I have just decided to be thankful.
(Just under 3 weeks to go...:)

my mom, me, and my dad when we were in Mississippi last month for my grandmother's funeral.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Is Someone Trying to Tell Me Something?

I am always late. I have gotten better over the years, but I am still late. So, after I posted the blog about being late, I can't tell you how many emails I got from all the on-time people of the world. It's had me thinking this week about making a serious effort to be early. Because as many of you have told me, "Early is on-time, on-time is late." So what arrives in the email inbox? My daily inspiration that I love to receive and guess what it's about? Timeliness. Check it out here.

A Walk Down Memory Lane

I took the kids to my old elementary school to play on the playground and in the park across the street. The walk in the neighborhood was refreshing in the 75 degree temperature and the kids were able to run, jump, and play without worry. For the sake of sentimentality, the playground equipment was the exact same as I remember...but for child safety, would you want your kids playing on a slide that is at least 30 years old?

Road Tripping Past-Times

Hats of to Heather of the Whittaker Woman blog for this idea while she and her family were road tripping this week. With all of the stops we had to make, I never once thought about stopping to just let them be kids. Check out what the Whittaker family did here.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Chicago vs. Dallas: Egyptian Hair Gods

I LOVE getting my hair done in Chicago! There are a slew of hair salons owned by Egyptian men that know how to transform a simple grooming experience into an erotic adventure. Ever since the planning of this road trip began, I have been longing for the day I can go to Yehia or Hassan or Shawie or Ahmad and one of them can work their magic on me! Today, I was at the wonderful mercy of Khaled who rubbed, massaged, and fondled the right folicles, roots and tips. From Jackson to Atlanta to Dallas, no one can do my hair like the Egyptian Hair Gods. Gotta love it!

Take the Stairs

CJ, Jada, and my mother got stuck in the elevator yesterday. For an hour. My father was home packing for an upcoming trip to his high school class reunion, I was working on a presentation for my consulting business, and Tyra was watching TV. She opted not to go because she said we needed to spend "mother/daughter time" together. After I gave her a snack and played with dolls, she decided that "mother/daughter time" was over and she would get an equally beneficial bonding experience with me by sitting in the room with me watching tv as I typed.

Needless to say, our afternoon was quiet.

Until my father heard banging coming from outside the the elevator shaft! My mother, CJ, and Jada were on their way back in from the errand running (which did include a trip to Rib's n' Bib's for barbecue-sauce-covered fries).

My father called the building maintenance people, who in-turn called the elevator company, who said their emergency crew would be here in minutes. Tyra lost it...she said she never got to tell CJ and Jada how much she loved them...and now they were going to die with her Nintendo DS! (They had her DS with them on the excursion).

The minutes droned on....and my father became increasingly impatient with the elevator people. It turns out that what was an emergency for us wasn't necessarily an emergency for them, and it took a while for them to arrive.

The building doorman ended up calling the Chicago Fire Department (think Backdraft!) and they set our loved ones free. The children remained surprisingly calm....CJ and Jada both said that they were fine until they saw "big Fire Fighter men with huge wrenches bust in the elevator."

(My children are the offspring of a police their minds, the police can do no wrong...if it's not a fire, call the's something I have to live with for of those is what it is...public service competition at its finest)

Sigh, and so I digress.

An hour later they were free and back in our apartment. I wanted to take photos of the empty elevator, the "stairs" sign, them once having recovered, but Tyra told me that was soooo innappropriate and that I would just be making fun of them but taking photos and putting them on my blog. From the mouths of babes...enjoy your day!

We made it to church!

This past Sunday we made it to church. In Dallas, it is a huge accomplishment for me to get out of the door with three children and make it there within the first 30 minutes of the service. I am maintaining that the accomplishment is just as huge in Chicago because now we don't have the 30 minute window...well everyone should be allowed 15 minutes to be late anyhere, right? Are you ever late? How many minutes pass before you consider yourself late?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Independence Day!

Today was a great day! It is also my parent's 44th wedding anniversary. While I can't really imagine what it's like to be married to the same person for 44 years, I am confident that one day I will be able to experience it. What do you for a married couple who after 44 years, has everything? You get creative, bake a cake, and re-enact their wedding with homemade puppets...starring the grandchildren of course! Happy 4th of July!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Little "Taste" of the Windy City

If you ever have the opportunity to visit Chicago, try your best to visit in the summer during the Taste of Chicago. The 10-day festival showcases Chicago's finest food and entertainment, with a fabulous fireworks display to celebrate our nation's independence. Enjoy your holiday!

Yes, that's Cheesecake on a Stick!

We can talk about Low Carb Living next week! :)

CJ was chosen in the crowd to assist the balloon magician!

Only in Chicago! This is a real man.

Chicago vs. Dallas: Grocery Shopping

I have decided to make a stars and stripes flag cake for the 4th of July. In order to get the ingredients for my cake, we needed to go to the grocery store. Did you know that in some parts of the country, YOU HAVE TO PAY A DEPOSIT FOR THE SHOPPING CART?!?!? I was outraged. Additionally, at this particular store, they even charge you for bags. 5 cents for paper, 11 cents for plastic. My mother says this is less about saving the earth and more about protecting their company's assests, but I don't know. What do you think? Do you pay a deposit for a shopping cart, and then pay for bags? Is this the way it should be?

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

God knows...

Sunday morning I woke up early, got the kids ready, and prepared to go to church just like any other Sunday. All morning long, I had that weird, "you're not doing what you said you'd be doing" feeling. But it was church?!?!? I had to go....didn't I?

The caffeine withdrawal headaches were in full swing by Sunday. My mother said several times, "Are you sure you feel like going?" I said, "Yes. I'm fine." Then there was drama with Tyra's skirt, CJ insisted on wearing a shirt, tie, and jacket (it's still summer in the midwest), and Jada said that she hates socks with the ruffles. My mother said, "Toni, it's allright if we don't go." I replied, "No....I'm am giving up caffeine in order to be closer to the Lord. The least I can do is go to church and tell him about it!" Feel free to laugh, it sounds just as silly for me to write that I actually said that and believed it.

We get ready, we are running late of course, and we make it down to my mother's car in the garage, and guess what.....she has a flat tire! My car was about 4 blocks away at another garage for long term parking, but because we were already late, there's no way we had time to walk to get it and get to church...especially since our church here starts at 10:30 a.m. and promptly ends at noon. So much for our southern Sunday lifestyle of staying in church all day. (I didn't realize I had gotten used to that!) :)
Once we made it back inside, I decided to take photos of the kids (possible holiday cards...they looked to cute), and here they are:

So after I took photos, what did I do? I changed clothes and went back to bed...after I said a promise to the Lord that I would do better at following His instructions.

How will I approach this?

After I woke up from a long weekend's nap, I came to these conclusions:

1. The first fast would begin immediately. It would be a caffeine fast (remember the energy pack?) As far as I was concerned, caffeine withdrawal was just the jolt I needed to bring me closer to the Lord in finding myself.

2. No playdates with old friends, no meeting the girls during happy hour, no "fun" until I have been in Chicago for at least 5 days. I need to spend time with my parents, my children need to get used to the idea of being in a different city, and I need to take time to catch up on my rest.

3. If I start to feel a little sorry for myself in light of the divorce, single parenting, etc...the pity party can only last for 15 minutes. When it's over, there are no what ifs, self-loathing tactics, and no blaming.

4. Each day will begin and end with prayer, yoga, and meditation. The prayers are my requests to God, the Yoga opens my mind, heart, and body to receive God, and the meditation is the act of me listening to God.

Day Two: Cruisin into the Windy City

Aaaahhh....the Chicago skyline. Friday morning after what only seemed like a quick nap (the double energy pack from Starbuck's was still working), this was the only thing I could think of. I woke up at 3:00 a.m., took a quick shower, loaded up the minivan, awoke the children and we were back on the highway by 3:30 a.m. Part of this was because of my new executive decision, "Embrace the darkness when travelling with children. " The children instantly feel back asleep and I achieved about 4 hours of peace and harmony...with the pleasure of listening to adult music cds and making plans for my "retreat" in Chicago. My thoughts ranged from, "Should I fast while I'm there? Should I do yoga once or twice a day? Maybe I should do the Daniel Fast that I attempted at Lent again? Should I take this time to hone my cooking skills or become attached to a new hobby? " I made no decisions on the road, I simply pondered the possibilities and left myself open to the acceptance of my new life.
An interesting thing did occur that I'm dying to share with other road-trippers. When I driving Friday morning, after a couple of hours, I became really, really drowsy. Once the kids awoke and we stopped to get breakfast and some gas, I decided to turn the GPS device off. After all, at this point I knew where I was going and "Mandy's voice" was starting to get on my nerves. Once Many went bye-bye, I felt refreshed again...and now I'm wondering if watching that winding road on the gps screen had an affect on me. If you've had this experience, let me know...I'm interested in what others say about this theory. Don't get me wrong, I still love my TomTom, I just think it tried to hypnotize me.
Oh! One last travel tip that I wasn't aware of...the Red Roof Inn has recently undergone major renovations at all of their hotels. We have stayed there a lot over the past year and our experience in West Memphis was phenomenal. If you're looking for a family-friendly hotel with an affordable price tag, check them out.
We made it to my parent's house about noon on Friday...and for the next two days, I slept!