Archive for July, 2012

Taking Flight

Pain of Empty Nest Came Early.
So Did Freedom.
by JAK guest blogger, Julie O’Keeffe, of Wauwatosa

Many moms face empty nests with high school graduation and the college send off. My experience came when my kids were 5 and 8.

When my kids were almost 5 and 8, we sat them down on the couch in the living room. Then we gave them the news: We’re getting divorced.
Read more…

Ten years have passed. During high school graduation season, as moms sense the new limitations of their parenting role, I can only reflect back on my own experience. I went through the letting go process when my kids were just kids.

Sons and daughters are going off to college in the fall. My kids went to their dad’s. These college kids will have all sorts of adventures in which we’re not involved. Yep, started doing that ten years ago. It hurt. Really hurt.

I’ll never forget the time that my daughter came home after an exciting adventure with her new family. The outing had been on my list of special activities to experience with her. She relived all the exciting moments in my living room, as children do, and I could barely keep the fake smile on my face and the tears inside.

I did eventually establish a new life and rebuild. I also learned new boundaries, understanding when I could expect to be part of my kids’ lives and when I shouldn’t. I learned the hard way not to set myself up for disappointment. It’s taken ten years to learn these new boundaries and I still get the urge to cross them occasionally. It’s easy to build a case in my mind of justified involvement where it’s not necessary. I can almost always quiet the urge, often by calling a friend, finding the words for my deep sense of vulnerability and loss, and then admitting that it’s really a fear-based response (a blog topic for another day).

The Hard Work of Freedom

The up side to all this is the freedom I’ve gained. Motherhood was hard 24/7. When I see moms struggling in the store with their kids, I think, “Wow, you’re with them every day for the next 18 years.” I spend about half of my week on my own. That’s how I’ve been able to pursue many things in my life that have challenged and fulfilled me. I felt trapped as a full-time mom. Why the hell did moms get the short end of the stick, I’d ask myself back then. I often tell people I felt like I was Amelia Earhart marrying Charles Lindbergh. Two adventurous souls who hooked up. And them Amelia had to mothball her plane for an extended time, while Charles still got to fly far and wide. It was killing me on the inside, a slow, hidden death of the soul. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of upsides to parenthood, and I expected to have my freedom curtailed. I just thought both parents would share the sacrifices more evenly.

When my world was ripped apart, I would sit in my living room, with no friends to speak of, and wonder what to do with my time. I had completed my first five triathlons in the year prior to the divorce, so I focused on training for the season ahead. Lonely runs, lonely swims, and lonely bikes. Lonely weekends. All this freedom and so lonely. I joined a triathlon club and went to weekly club track workouts, walking onto the track by myself, feeling stupid, exposed, vulnerable. Others walked onto the track with friends, immersed in conversation. I kept attending the workouts, week after week and made it a point to talk to people. Really pushed myself. Eventually, I became the membership chair on the club board.


Fast forward. I love my freedom. More specifically, what I love is the adventure that I can pursue with the freedom. A friend recently created a thumbnail sketch of me. In it, I was a 14-year-old, racing across our farm field in Iowa on my mini-motorcycle, hair flying back in the wind, embracing freedom and adventure. I had no idea what a prelude those bike rides would be. I’ve traveled to Africa alone to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, ridden horses in Mongolia owned by nomadic herders, sat in natural hot springs in Chile (a trip that cost a frugal $600), ridden my bike across Iowa, hiked the Grand Canyon 40 miles with my kids, a tent, and a backpack, and started my own business. I also dreamed up the goal to complete 100 triathlons in 20 years–which I’m doing (current count is 55). All this possibility came with my freedom.

After a half Ironman in 2004

After a half Ironman in 2004

I thought my need for some semblance of freedom might make my kids think I valued it more than them. But what I observe is that my kids have inherited my sense of adventure and self-reliance. (To give much credit to their father, it also comes from him.) They are forging their own healthy paths at ages 15 and 18. Indeed, my daughter graduated from high school mid-year and is in Australia for a semester. I didn’t have to wait until May to watch her venture out of the house. It happened many years ago.

Moms, Start a List

To every mom sending a child off to college this year, I know you’re already planning to bring along a Kleenex box for the long drive home from campus. Indeed, we should all own stock in Kimberly-Clark. But before you pack up your son’s or daughter’s things and take that road trip, start a list of audacious goals and intentions. You will soon have immense freedom. What will be first on your list?

Comment: Seriously, what will be first on your list? Make it something that excites you, something that makes you come alive just thinking about it. Please, no “Paint the living room” unless you flippin’ love it. Feel free to share below by adding a comment.


In addition to being the mother of 2 teens, Julie is the owner of Next Step Goals and author of the new book “10 Critical Strategies for Finding Fulfillment in a Hectic World”.


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High Tide

Océane Returns

Last year, I wrote about my becoming a surrogate mother to a teen foreign exchange student in “The Accidental Hostess”. Well, our young friend from France has returned and we are experiencing the French Invasion…family-style!

Océane Returns

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Crazy, but it was much easier to pick up a traveler from the international flight terminal than from the domestic flight terminals.  The only setback was the stupid $60 ticket I had plastered (by the rain, yay!) on my car window for not have a license registration sticker on my plates.  Oh I had it alright, just in my purse.  Better than the boot, two of my neighboring parkers had on their wheels.  Seriously, I can’t believe Chicago has officers cruise through the airports parking lots writing tickets.  What evs, I can/will contest it.

Okay, back to our visitor…we whisked her up to Bastille Days in Cathedral Square, hoping she could scope out some authentic French cuisine for our curious palates.  Hmmm…not so much.  We found French pecans…that’s it!  We settled for Saz’s, pretty Americana…though as usual, the chive fries were the bomb!  While I love Bastille Days, we brought the French to the party, took some token pics and were on our way.

Next day, it was back to the skies as Océane joined a few of my kids and a group of other kids in the EAA’s Young Eagle program where kids participate in an on the ground flight school, then take flight themselves in one of the volunteer pilot’s airplanes.  It was some hot (um, bout 100 degrees) high flying fun for all.  Not only did group get the experience of a lifetime, they also debuted in the first episode of JAK TV!

Next day, we were off to the lake with some tubing fun.  Océane took to the water well…go figure! Ocean, water, get it?!  Took a day to recoup, regroup, pack and we were off to the Dells to share the “Waterpark Capital of the World”.  France does have water parks, but Wisconsin has the Dells and Noah’s Ark.

After visiting last year, one thing she missed was her mustard and bread.  While she wasn’t able to bring the baked goods, the jarred variety was allowed and made it overseas without incident.  Well….until it hit the kitchen floor.  Dang!  We were able to enjoy the dijon delight for only a few days.

I am happy to report, while she wasn’t able to find French cuisine at Bastille Days and the mustard didn’t make it, we found a bakery here in the Dells where she reports is a very close rendition of the bread of her homeland.  We are all enjoying that!

Bon appetit!

French bread >>

French braid >>

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Scoopin’ Up Some Cool Family Fun

Eating Ice Cream Can Help Racine’s Kids
sponsored by Just Add Kids and
written by Karen Fetherston, Child Abuse Coordinator at SCAN

The Stop Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) program of Lutheran Social Services provides child abuse awareness programs to preschool, kindergarten, 2nd, 4th and 6th grade students throughout Racine County in public, private, and parochial schools. All programs aim to teach children to identify abusive situations, to disclose abuse when it occurs, and to identify sources of support. SCAN also discusses stranger safety with younger children and older students get information about cybersafety including email scams, cyberbullying, internet predators, and sexting. Read More…Above all, we want children to realize that abuse is never the fault of the child. SCAN programs have been in the Racine community for almost 30 years and touched the lives of over 9,600 children during the 2011-2012 school year, alone. Chances are your children or grandchildren have participated in SCAN programs at their schools.

There is a fun and delicious way that you can show your support of SCAN. SCAN will be holding its second annual ice cream tasting FUNdraiser, called SCAN’s Cones For Kids. Funds raised at the event will help to expand SCAN’s audience base so more children can benefit from the important safety messages. This unique, family friendly event will be held on Thursday July 12th 2012 from 6:00 pm -8:00 pm at Mount Pleasant Lutheran Church- 1700 South Green Bay Road. Just Add Kids is a proud sponsor of this event.

Here’s the Scoop! Come sample mini-cones from Racine’s best ice cream and custard shops. Caesar’s, Culver’s, Georgie Porgie’s, Old Dutch Custard, and Sugar Shack have all donated unique flavors of ice cream or frozen custard that guests can taste and vote for their favorite to win the SCAN’s Golden Scoop Award. In 2012, Caesar’s won that honor with their entry of Peanut Butter and Jelly custard and they are eager to defend their title with a new flavor this year.

Entertainment will be provided by Big Balloon Tycoon and there will be a fantastic raffle of various prize packs for kids and families! Grand Prize drawings are four (one day) Walt Disney World Hopper Passes and two Southwest Airline ticket vouchers. Other family-friendly raffle prizes include festival passes and sporting event tickets, passes for local mini golf, bowling, gymnastics, zoos, camping, water parks, museums, theaters, Six Flags, and the Shedd Aquarium. Want more? There will also be gift certificates to local businesses like O & H Danish Bakery, Chancery, Jose’s Blue Sombrero, Infusino’s, and Wells Brothers.

Event tickets are on sale now: $5 for advance tickets, $6 for tickets purchased at the door, and children under 3 are free. This price gets you entry into the event and a mini cone from each of our vendors. Grand Prize raffle tickets are $5 each or 5 for $20. Other prize raffle tickets are priced at 1 for $1, 6 for $5, 15 for $10, or 40 for $20. If you can’t make it to the event, you can still show your support by purchasing raffle tickets in advance. You don’t have to be present to win. For a complete list of the wonderful prizes, visit Hope to see you there!

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By All Means 

I messed up yesterday.  In my efforts to correctly prioritize my life (faith, family, friends, work – in that order) I got things all mixed up and I am paying for it with guilt and a great deal of a sense of loss.

I am busy.  Just like you, I have a kakagillion things on my plate…Housework, work work, stuff, stuff and more stuff on the to do list. Read More…

Family from across the country have been trickling into town…I am mostly talking about my husband’s siblings’ families.  At this time, they are scattered across the country from Florida to Texas, to Arizona to California.  It’s a homecoming at each 4th of July with a lot of his family (extended to aunts, cousins, friends, and a stranger or 4 sprinkled in the mix) and my family (parents, siblings and their children) descend on Racine for pre-fourth activities, the parade, the party and of course, the fireworks! This year ALL of my husband’s brothers, sisters, spouses and kids came.  My father in-law now undergoing chemo-radiation therapy for prostate cancer and my 80 year old mother-in-law using a walker most of the time for just over extending herself, we all have come to the realization that our time together might be limited.  This year marks the 18th annual get together in Racine.

So what did I do on Monday as most of the group frolicked at the beach?  I worked. I “had” to work, I told myself.  And yes, thank God, I have A LOT of work to do.  As I mentioned earlier, when I started writing this blog entry (Tuesday), I paid for it with guilt, frustration, and anger.  Didn’t help my work day.

So, still with that pile of work, including building this blog and the JAK Happenings weekly e-newsletter, on Tuesday, the group decides to have another playdate at the beach.  I am SO glad, I decided to check out of my workday and hang out with my family.  No, my workload didn’t decrease, and I thought about it as the day consisted of lounging, splashing in the water, talking, digging and taking tons of pictures…maybe I should cut out and go back to work.  Again, I am so grateful that I spent the day at the beach instead of typing at my computer (I can and will do that any other day).

I cut myself free from my work, and it was liberating!  Earlier today…hit the pool.  Tomorrow…I think we’re beaching it, again.
Work (obviously, I am my own boss) can wait.  Right now, I’ve got to be the family gal.  Finally, taking my own advice.

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