Feast your ear tongues on these memory pops.

This past weekend marked the high school graduation of my cousin Carly. This, combined with my upcoming 15 year high school reunion, has put me into a nostalgic vortex of (possibly exaggerated) memories and general disbelief about the passage of time. I know it’s cliche, but Carly’s transition to college has further reinforced my denial of how quickly life seems to be moving.

First, you should know that  up until 12 hours ago, when I think/talk about Carly, these are the images that pop into my head…

Fall 1993 – Luckily her neck was strong enough to hold up that round noggin.
Sweetness and her dad (still with hair!)
2 years old. I think she has a total of four teeth at this point.

May 1997. This is the photo I think of most of when I hear her name.

Last night her high school soccer team won the super sectionals. For those of you unaware of high school sports tournament lingo, this means she and her teammates are headed to the state championship. Carly likes to mock my ignorance when it comes to sports. I like to mock her in general. However, after seeing her play last night I realized that up until that very point, I have allowed the images above to dominate my perception of who she is today. Perhaps this happens to everyone?  I don’t know. Is it impossible to allow kids to grow up? Am I just immature or unprepared for this reality? Regardless, I feel as if I haven’t taken her as seriously as I should. It’s embarrassing to say that out loud, but it’s true. Not that I don’t respect her, or that I am purposely condescending, but just that in my mind, it’s still 1997 and she she three years old. However, in reality, she has graduated from her obsession with the terrible movie that is the Pussycat Dolls to a four year class schedule matrix to ensure she fulfills all of her major, program and general ed requirements. Her soccer, school and social schedules are more complicated than Iran nuclear talks; her life is pretty much insane.

One page of an excel spreadsheet laying out the next four years.

And on top of that, teenager stuff aside (messy room, dirty clothes, rolled eyeballs, laziness at time – you know it, Car), the level of maturity she displays both on and off the field is remarkable. She is a natural leader who does not crave the spotlight -a unique combination of skills and attributes, no doubt.

Can you pinpoint the exact moment where you had a stroke of insight/realization? Just something as simple as Carly running full speed from the goal (with an injured hip) towards her teammates in celebration of their victory triggered the realization that she is an adult. I am not when this change happened and it terrifies me. You know what else is terrifying? My recording skills.

Strange that something so everyday (well, not every day since it’s State and all…) can elicit such a strong emotional response. I am sure she has come to terms with this transition as it has been a constant source of discussion for so long, but to me, it’s a shock. I will miss her so incredibly much and I didn’t even realize it until it slapped me across the face last night.

Just so you can miss her too, let’s take a trip down memory lane…

First time Mr. Swirley met Car and Kenz. They thought he was just OK. 2001

Mr. Swirley’s second Thanksgiving with the Ds. He was 100% committed to the family at this point. Thanksgiving 2002

2004 – Christmas in Branson. Christmas Country Jamboree here we come!

Living large in 2004 with Lee in the Show Me State.
Reaction to finally understanding the slogan on her apron – “It isn’t pretty being easy”  –  2005

Spending the day with the ladies in Madison – pretty wedding 2006. Mine, not hers. That would be weird.

Dancing with the groom – her moves already surpassed those of Mr. Swirley

Lovely ladies – 2006
Madison wedding family photo. Another stellar pose from the G.
DC all the way – 2007
Car, Flat Stan and their new BFF – DC 2007

Crashing a congressional office – DC 2007
Birthday celebration – Labor Day 2007
St. Patrick’s Day 2009 – Excellent photo all around.

Mr. Swirley and Carly have a death wish – May 2009 – Sears Tower. Yea, it’s the SEARS tower.

Tory’s birthday celebration and general mayhem – October 2009
Maternity panties. I am not going to id the owner, but her name might rhyme with Rory. May 2010

Meeting her hour old second cousin – August 2010.
Little does Ellis know the girl who is holding him is the same girl he can’t stop talking about a year later. November 2010

Brookfield Zoo with her beau – 2011
No caption necessary. November 2011
Fostering creativity and rashes. April 2012
Post- Ho-Ho’s application of sunscreen – 2012

Cold water friends – 2012

Graduation day 2012

See, now you will miss her too. Terribly so. I don’t have any siblings, but I imagine this mixture of humility, pride and loss is what many must feel when a sister or brother moves away. Oh, and worry. Lots of that too. If only she knew how to use a computer like the rest of her generation so we can keep in touch (COUGH COUGH) and I can live vicariously through her amazing 18 year-old life. So, Carly, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I am so immeasurably proud of you – we all are.

The G and Mrs. D react to the North Stars’ win – May 2012

You can pick your friends…

We are now officially big time. For real. How so? Condo? eh. Baby? Yea, we have one but who doesn’t? Chest freezer? AWWWW YEA. Mr. Swirley has been talking about this sucker for days. Weeks even. He uses the excuse of needing one to store boob milk, but I now know chest freezers are what separate the men from the boys. Even if it is only 5.1 cu. ft. of storage.

So if you have a side of beef you need stored for a few months, you know who to call.

This past week Mr. Swirley and I went out on our first date post-baby. Well, that isn’t entirely true. We went out to dinner once before but I am pretty sure I fell asleep in my pulled pork sandwich and said maybe four words total while we told each other we were having good time (in reality all we wanted to do was sleep). This time we went out hard. Remember, we now own a chest freezer; we aren’t screwing around. First, wait for it, we went to the Container Store. Then, REI. What. Then dinner where we had burgers and a beer. It was crazy. In all seriousness it was actually pretty fun and we weren’t worried at all about Ellis. We were, however, worried about our neighbors who were watching him. According to them he behaved and they volunteered to watch him again but I have my suspicions that he was naughty.

Today we had a family day at the Garfield Park Conservatory. If you haven’t been, I recommend you check it out. From our house you take Ashland Avenue to Madison Street. Take Madison past the fifth crack house and take an immediate right. Speed past the “abandoned” house with people walking in and out of it and the corner store with a big “NO LOITERING” sign that may or may not be blocked by loiterers and then you are there!

It’s actually a wonderful conservatory and just the antidote to the winter blues. We took a few pictures there – even some that don’t include Ellis. Nuts, I know.

Ellis wanted to dress to match the xmas room. He is such a prima donna
Had we planned ahead, this would have been a nice spot for an Xmas card picture. Instead we sent out a card where people think Ellis is crying. Oh well. Always next year.
I like orange. I do not, however, like the desert.

And my favorite.

We are heading to ‘sconsin for the holidays. I am currently trying to bulk up by solely eating peanut brittle and veggie straws. Screw you old man winter.

So a polish guy walks into a street fair…

Before I begin, I would like to vent about how much I hate the new flickr format. It’s the WORST. Seriously, the worst. It’s difficult to rotate, edit, and download photos. Well, maybe not difficult, but it sure as hell is annoying. I guess they have created a lifetime customer out of me as I have 7000 photos or some ridiculous number uploaded onto the site and  thus, clearly will not be moving anything over to Picasa. But it’s still crap.

On to more fun things. Like what? Oh, I don’t know...Pierogifest? Yes – Whiting, IN is home to one Pierogifest, and let me tell you, they do it up right. In addition to offering a multitude of  delicious pierogi options, you can get your fill of kielbasa, anything on a stick and very crafty items (e.g., goose outfits). They even had a stage called “Polkahantas”.

In case you don’t know – according to Wikipedia (the GM’s favorite information source), pierogis are boiled or baked dumplings of unleavened dough stuffed with varying ingredients. Some of these ingredients include: “meat”, mushrooms, sweet cheese, kraut, fruits etc.

Below is evidence of our first foray into the pierogifest world.

And below, a dedicated pierogi c/e european food cart ( my dream food cart). Maybe this guy could find his way to the UW campus? I know they have a spot for him on Library Mall. Or, perhaps on the corner near my house next to the elotes stand. Either way, he has my vote.

Clearly I was bursting at the seams given my love for all things Slavic. The streets were lined with flags representing Slavic nations (as well as African? Whatever, that’s cool). There was Polish-themed garb for sale (and adorning visitors) as far as the eye could see and even foam pierogi hats. We also met some ladies dressed up as polish grandmas..including Polkahantas (the one with the big hair pictured below).Offensive? Naw. We are in Chicago – a city that boasts the second highest Polish population outside of Warsaw.

It would, however, be a little more accurate if they took out the curlers and carried around those plastic shopping bags that they seem to love in E. Europe.

I was disappointed that we didn’t meet any of the other pierogifest mascots like Mr. Pierogi, the Pieroguettes, Halupki Guy, and Ms. Paczki…but there is always next year.

Johnny Mic really lived it up by tasting many of the food options, and Mr. Swirley bought an obscenely large mug filled with delicious root beer. I hear it’s a polish delicacy.

And of course, to commemorate the trip, we couldn’t leave home without a little something for baby since he too seemed to enjoy the Pierogis and polka music.

The GM got herself a “2011 Polish Grandma” calendar and Johnny Mic picked up (aside from the obvious risk of heartburn) a tee for his mom and an ornament. Kitschtastic.

I can’t say we will return to Whiting, IN anytime soon – but count us in for next year. Plus, if you go, you can stop by the Horseshoe Casino on the way home…where apparently smoking is still permitted and 2 cent slot machines dominate the betting world.

You don’t know how to make guacamole


Family fun in the country was the name of the game this weekend. That and sweet presents for baby Swirley. And lot’s of food. Mr. and Mrs. D (and of course Carly) hosted a baby shower for Mr. Swirley and me at their lovely St. Charles home. After an incredible amount of planning and hard work (with none of our assistance), Ho-Hos, Swingens, Earleys, Ds and close family friends came to celebrate happy babies and dimpled knuckles. We were fortunate enough to have guests travel from Wisconsin, Illinois (Chicagoland), Missouri and California to join us for a day of bbqing, yard games, frog hunting and fun in the country. Mr. Swirley and NVS also decided to call each other the night before to coordinate outfits.

Swingens!
Ds!

Ho-Hos!
Lady Jayne brought Sweet Lou and G.U.S. to show us how cute our baby will be after his alien phase.  It was a reassuring gift since all of the books keep telling us to not be surprised if he arrives smushed and baby bird-like. G.U.S. spent the majority of the day hunting toads/frogs (yes, I know there is a difference – but I don’t really care) while Sweet Lou hung out and had his face eaten by us adults (see below. That is me attempting to eat his face). 
The G made the rounds while Ho-Ho met the Swingens for the first time. It was great. In addition, T-bone attended and he and Ho-Ho even reminisced about big she got while prego with yours truly. It was nice to see them chatting it up and I even got the first family photo taken of us since ever. Well, maybe that is an exaggeration, but not by much. Look, I have proof.
My “fake” uncles Jim and Jim joined us as well. As a side note, I think the use of the word “fake” is really inappropriate since I regard them as kin – but always used it to differentiate for confused friends. Since moving back to Chicago, we have seen much more of the Jims (sometimes for not so good reasons like house floods), which has been wonderful. Uncle Rich, the man who has been present at every seminal moment in my life (from a zero birthday party to officiating our wedding) was sadly not in attendance – but talked about (in a good way) throughout the day. 
Jim & Jim!
My  aunt Jo and cousin Z traveled from the Bay area to revel in Midwest humidity and poke baby Swirley.  I cannot tell you how grateful we were to have both of them share the weekend with us. And Aunt Jo made us a lovely baby blanket to boot. Mrs. S couldn’t make it but we know she was poking baby Swirley in spirit. Other gifts included: blankets and sweaters made by baby’s great- grandmothers (Swingen and Johnson); handmade blankets by Ho-Ho, Carly and our wonderful and very thoughtful cousin in North Carolina, Mrs. T; onesies decorated by those in attendance; and, other sweet little items like clothing, toys, stuffed animals and nursery decorations. Baby Swirley is already so spoiled and he is has only just grown large enough to kick me in the ribs. Dang.

We also decided to share the name of young Swirley with our friends and family – Ellis (aka Lil Swings, “L”) and I think it surprised my gramps for the first time since his 80th birthday party. Hopefully in a good way.

Here we are explaining where the baby currently resides to G.U.S.
And here we all are – post-food, presents and fun.

The weekend ended with the moving of a storage unit and Ho-Ho telling me: “you dont know how to make guacamole. I know how to make guacamole” after I questioned her inclusion of mayonnaise in the the recipe.I suppose I still have a lot to learn before becoming a mom; good thing we have so much help.

The sweet sugariness of first love

Today was full of adventures. The good kind. It started with a plea sent to all Chicago friends and family from my Uncle Mike for a volunteer to take a trip down I55 to Palos Park to pick up his transcripts. After a IM planning session, I jumped in the car and made my way to the south side. Upon arriving at Moraine Valley CC, I received a police escort from Officer 111 to a “faculty only” parking spot next to Building “R” (#1 awesome event of the day),  and waddled inside to negotiate with some very stern administrators (sans photo ID. I know, brilliant). There, I successfully found the three ladies with whom I needed to speak to secure Mike’s transcript. After each one peered over her half-moon shaped glasses at me and inspected my Costco ID (the only photo ID I had with me – and it didn’t even have my correct name listed), they stamped the proper forms in triplicate and finally released the one page report. Though I would like to share the transcript, I will refrain. However, I should mention that Mike must have been focusing on something other than school during the fall of 1973. I also met a girl who after asking me what I was majoring in, told me: “you don’t look that old. Like you are in your 20s or something.”

Since I was already ¾ of the way to Orland Park, I spontaneously decided to take a trip further south to check out my grandparents’ former digs. A left onto La Grange Road, a right onto 144th Place and another left onto Beacon Avenue led me straight to the locale of some of my most favorite memories – 9827 West 145th Place. The mailboxes were still at the end of the driveway and across the street. The trees that cost the three Ho-Ho girls countless hours in raking were still standing and no doubt torturing another generation. And most exciting news: a “for sale” sign was posted in the front yard. (#2 Awesome event of the day)

                                         THEN:                                                      

                                         NOW:

Yes, for a half-second I contemplated buying it. My email interaction with Mr. Swingen went like this:

“Lee Lee Lee. It’s for sale”

Mr. Swirley’s response:
“Are you going to buy it? It could be our winter home in the south (side).”

So he was considering it. Or mocking me. To sate my curiosity, I looked it up on MLS  while idling on the curb like your friendly neighborhood stalker. And BAM! There is a virtual tour available (#2 Awesomeness continued) online. The Gs moved about 15 years ago, so I assumed major renovations had taken place. After flipping through the photos, I was oddly relieved that not much had changed. Hardwood floors were installed, built-in bookshelves removed and the kitchen remodeled – but the deck and walkway the G and Mr. D. built were still in place and the fireplace looks the same as it did in the 70s /80s when the girls posed for snapshots with their high school sweethearts.

                                          THEN:                                                                          

                                         NOW:
I am working on Mrs. D to schedule a tour with me; She needs some more persuading. You can call me a nosy ninny, or freak. I just want to see if the Sugar Smacks are still in the lower left cabinet next to the fridge, great grandma’s ridged plates are in the cabinets and the smarmy-looking hand-carved sailor is still on the bookshelf. You know, normal stuff.
Since I am talking about the Gs, I thought I would share my two most favorite pictures of them. As Aunt Jo succinctly wrote last year, “Elaine was the best.” And, the G, well he is the G.
(Gram’s fave pic of the G, too)
To round out my trip to Orland Park, I decided to brave my fears and travel to the home of my first love. I continued down West 145th Place, made a quick left and there it was: 7-11. It was the first 7-11 I remember visiting and spent countless hours biking to and fro during the summers spent in IL. I parked and braced myself for the worst. Remodeling, no pina colada slurpee – sky is the limit in terms of what could go wrong. But as I entered, I realized all is right with the world. The friendly 7-11 cashier still working from an island in the center of the store, Slurpee machines to the left and magazines front and center, right where they should be (#3 Awesome event of the day). It has been 15 years since I have stepped foot inside this fine establishment and it’s like I never left.

With an absurdly large frosty beverage in hand (pina colada flavor, of course), I decided it was time to return to reality and headed home. After a quick drive-by of the old haunts (you know antique stores, G’s usual car wash, supper clubs – normal hang-outs for eight-year-olds), I got back onto LaGrange Road and battled the traffic heading north into the city. All the while I thought about how I might be able to use the money we are saving through this refinancing deal as a down payment – baby Swirley needs a yard and I miss gram’s peonies.