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“What happened to your house?” the little boy said as he quietly stood at my front door. I eyed him with a puzzled look and replied, “What do you mean?” But just as soon as I said those words, it dawned on me – I knew exactly what he meant. I squatted down to his level and said apologetically, “I’m so sorry. My boys grew up.” This little boy, dressed up as a devil, had come trick-or-treating at my home with the anticipation of finding my traditionally scary-looking house, but instead he found only a few fake spider webs strewn across some bushes. As I closed the door behind him, I felt the weight of his question and thought about what had happened to my house.

Halloween was always a fun time around our home. “What should I be for Halloween, Mommy?” was a question I anticipated every October 15th. Costumes were either purchased at a store or made by me – sometimes in advance, but most often at the last minute. And selecting which treats to pass out was always a dilemma. Being a dental hygienist, I didn’t like to pass out sugary sweets, but every year I relented when my kids pleaded that it wasn’t cool to pass out toothbrushes or dental floss. Other Halloween memories involved delivering secret “BOO” treats to neighbors. We would do reconnaissance by driving around the neighborhood to see which family did not have a BOO sign on their front door and later when it was dark, we’d sneak off and place a bag of treats on the doorstep, ring the doorbell, and then run like the dickens!

The most fun Halloween memories, though, are always centered around decorating the house. After my children were born, I started collecting little whimsical pieces of decorations, but as the children grew older they wanted to be more involved in the decorating. My sons, in particular, had their own ideas about how to transform our house for Halloween. With their help our Halloween decorations got more elaborate and progressively creepier. One year a skeleton hung from an oak tree in front of our house, but the next year bloody-looking, fake body parts joined it. Eventually, shrieks, screams, and bone-chilling music drifted out of a window and floated down the driveway. Playing the eerie music on our karaoke machine led to an unusual use of it – the boys discovered that by using the karaoke’s microphone, they could scream into it and scare unsuspecting trick-or-treaters. One son would man the microphone while the other peeked out the front window. If they knew the trick-or-treater’s name, they would personalize their ghostly greeting like this, “KYLE!!! . . . What are you doing heeeere? . . . I wouldn’t come any clooooser if I were yooouu . . . !” Add some swirling fog and orange-colored spotlights to the mix and our house evolved into one scary destination.

Then it happened. First one son went away to college and then the second one followed him. Although my daughter was still home, she was not into the gore of Halloween or into decorating the house. I enjoyed the “feminine” side of Halloween as my daughter grew up, but it just wasn’t the same without the boys’ antics.

Since the kids left, Halloween has always stirred up feelings of empty nesting in me; I miss my kids most around this time of the year. But with feelings of empty nesting come feelings of renewal and revival. I look forward now to going over to my son’s new home to see what gross and eerie scenes he’ll create with a bin of slightly used body parts and the old karaoke and fog machines of his youth! So to all the kids in his new neighborhood . . . BEWARE!

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“How long are you going to stay?” I asked my oldest son who was home for a visit. Sitting on the family room sofa with his eyes glued to his laptop computer and his fingers rapidly moving across the keyboard, he nonchalantly said, “Only a couple of days. I have to get home.” For a split second I wanted to say, “Wait . . . this is your home . . . ” but I caught myself and calmly replied, “Okay.” Intellectually, I knew what he said was true – he hadn’t lived here for some time – but emotionally it was hard for me to digest. For some reason I hadn’t seen it coming; I hadn’t prepared myself for the day when my children would no longer consider this family home their home. That particular conversation took place several years ago and now I find those same emotions beginning to resurface.

A rubber skeleton, four years worth of high school prom photos, a pair of gold sneakers with wings, ceramic projects, a blue rope light, stacks of college books and papers, and a closet full of clothes no longer worn are all that’s left in my second son’s room. As I searched his room for things that I could pack and take over to his newly purchased home, reality hit me again. His room, this once messy boy’s room, is no longer just that and this home, this once chaotic, busy home, is no longer his home.

Again, it’s not like he’s lived at home for a while now, so I should be used to him being gone. For the last eight years, he’s lived in dormitories, apartments, and condos, but because those residences were deemed temporary, his home was always our family home, at least in my mind. Now he has a new house, a new place to call his home.

Purchasing your first home is a huge milestone. Who doesn’t remember the excitement of owning your first place? I’m ecstatic for him and his girlfriend of nine years, because I know big plans lie ahead and good things are coming their way. And having one of my children settling down not too far from our family home is this parent’s dream and consolation for the momentary sense of loss I feel.

Another positive way of looking at things is that by his buying a house, I’m not losing another child from my home, but I’m gaining another room! I’ve always wanted a workroom that I could spread out and create in and now that can become a reality. The family room wet bar, once my craft area, can now go back to its original purpose. My husband, too, is regaining valuable real estate by taking two bikes and a rusty lawn mower out of our garage and over to our son’s garage.

At some point in time all my children will be happily ensconced in their own homes. These rites of passage will be excitedly met by them and joyfully accepted by me and my husband. Time marches on and things constantly change, but don’t mind me, if I occasionally slip back in time and remember the way we were.

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Moving children hither and yon seems to be this parent’s job. In and out of dormitories, in and out of apartments, and sometimes in and out of the country – there seems to be no end in sight. I’m happy to help my kids and I’m lucky I’m the organized-type, but I’d love it if they stayed in the same place two years in a row!

Years ago I came up with my Ultimate College Packing List to help organize my first child when he went off to college and then a few years later I created another list when he moved into an apartment. For the lack of a better title, this list became the Apartment Set Up List. Originally used to set up a college student’s first apartment, this list is also good for anyone setting up their first household, whatever abode it may be. If you lived in an apartment with roommates one year, but are now moving into a place of your own, check this list to see which items you may have shared before, but need to purchase now.

Like my Ultimate College Packing List, personalize the Apartment Set Up List and use it as a springboard for your own ideas. Cross off items you don’t need and add items as you are reminded of them. Because I made this list for my children and they like to cook, the list of food ingredients and cookware may be more extensive than normal. Also, this list calls for the “number” and “description” of items. These details come in handy if you and your roommates and are trying to sort things out at the end when you are no longer living together. Keep a copy of this completed form for that purpose.

This is a a very thorough list, but it’s not comprehensive because each person’s needs are different. It’s meant to give you a little head start in the process. If you think of items that you think should be on this list, let me know. If I think it’s appropriate, I’ll add it to the list!

Happy Moving!

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Bad news blares like an alarm and shakes my very existence. Within a short span of time I’ve received bad news from several people I care about. Too much all at once. Each person’s news is a reminder of the fragility of life and the ever teeter-tottering balancing act of happiness.

These bits of news are wake-up calls that cry out for life lessons to be revisited. In the blink of an eye, life can change. I’m acutely aware of that – savoring joy and living in the moment are underlying themes in many of my posts. Still, I let my guard down occasionally, complacency slides in and auto pilot takes over allowing life and happiness to be taken for granted. I’m sure there are countless others like me who need to be shaken awake from time to time by life’s wake-up calls.

Most of us let the details of our every day lives consume and control us to the point were life’s big picture is no longer in focus. We sweat the details and deny ourselves moments of joy. In my post On a Need to Know Basis I wrote about learning a life lesson when one of my cousins fell ill and passed away. I tell many of my friends, who fret and worry over their children’s grades, S.A.T. scores, and such, about how my cousin’s story has always helped me keep life in perspective. My cousin was close to finishing his freshman year in college when he became ill. Before he slipped into a coma and died he told his dad that he was sorry about his grades. My aunt and uncle are not unreasonable people. Like most of us they had hopes and dreams for their child and they pushed him to study hard. They never imagined that his last words to them would be about grades. We would all probably agree that in the big picture of life, grades aren’t really that important, but yet we can all probably relate to getting caught up in the details of grades. Put the details of whatever makes you angry, sad, frustrated, worried etc., into proper perspective  – or whole life perspective – and see if that doesn’t change your outlook on life a little.

Paint the big picture of your life in your mind and what do you see? What is important enough for you to include? What should you be grateful for? It takes practice and daily awareness to live a grateful life. Life is all about making choices. We have no control over certain aspects in our lives, but we can choose how we react and interact. As we go about our everyday tasks or write out our daily “To Do” lists, we must make sure we don’t forget to find some way of showing gratitude. Acknowledge people that support you in your workplace or in your community, find the positive in your job, be grateful for your health, tell your kids you are proud of them, and so on. We should make sure that the messages we are sending to those we care about come out loud and clear. The “unsaids” should be said more and the “saids” should be said less. The best intentions left undone are often ” I should of . . . ,” “I wish I had . . . ,” ” I was going to . . . .” Don’t miss the opportunities in life to show your thoughtfulness or gratitude or that you care. Don’t wait to be shaken awake again.

This post is dedicated to the memory of Steve Strann, a loving husband, a doting father, a fun neighbor, and a most wonderful friend who’s forever changed my outlook on pelicans, squirrels, orchids, and all things electronic.

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There are always so many reasons to celebrate life, but this weekend is special. My youngest child celebrates her 21st birthday today and I feel so blessed that she has become such an extraordinary adult.  And when I count my blessings, I always include the amazing men in my family. Today’s post is dedicated especially to my dad and my husband, and to all the fathers who work hard, sacrifice a lot, and love beyond measure.

#1 – Top Ten Father’s Day Gifts
Weigh AskMen.com‘s top ten Father’s Day gift suggestions against gift suggestions from What About This?:

1. Landscaping services versus Go to the park or work in the garden with your dad
2. Sports tickets versus Playing his favorite sport with him
3. Meat versus Prepare your dad a tasty and nutritious meal
4. Driving gloves versus Plan a nice drive or day trip with him
5. Wine versus Take him wine tasting
6. Leather wallet versus Create a digital inventory of his valuable personal property for him
7. Set of golf clubs versus Play a round with him, go to the driving range, play miniature golf
8. Fishing gear versus Take him fishing
9. Alcohol versus A nice dinner out together
10. Grilling tools versus Clean his grill for him

You get my drift. Spending time and doing is better than buying.

#2 – Power Breakfasts
Menshealth.com has an article called “Abs Diet Super Bowls” that caught my attention because the ingredients listed in its “Honey, I Shrunk My Gut” bowl are similar to those I eat for breakfast every morning! Check out these recipes and please, no wise cracks about my gut!

#3 – Graduation Thank You Cards
I make my own thank you cards using photos that I take and card stock. Here’s an idea for graduation thank you cards: Print photos of the graduate or of some aspect of the graduation ceremony (hats thrown in the air, close up of the diploma, family photo at graduation, etc.) and using either double stick tape or glue that is photo safe, adhere it to a piece of 8.5″ x 5.5″ card stock folded in half. That would be a sheet of 8.5 ” x 11″ card stock cut in half. Personalizing the card with a photo makes the thank you card extra special for those who could not be there for the celebration or have not seen the graduate in a while. Envelopes can be purchased at any office supply or paper goods store.

#4 – You Peel Tomaaaato, I Peel Toooomato
To peel tomatoes (peaches, and plums, too):  Wash and remove any stickers. Gently remove the stem. With a paring knife, cut a small, shallow “x” on the bottom. Plunge the tomato into boiling water for about 15 – 25 seconds, then put it into a bowl of ice water to cool. After it’s completely cooled, wipe it dry and gently peel off the skin.

#5 –  A Father’s Greatest Gift
“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.” -Jim Valvano-

Have a joyful weekend and a happy Father’s Day wish to all those wonderful dads out there!

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It’s around this time of year that I start receiving requests for my “Ultimate College Packing List.” Making lists helps me prioritize and bring order to my projects and so ten years ago when my first born was headed off to college, I began a list on my computer of the many things my artistic, right-brained child would need for life in a college dormitory. After asking advice from friends with older children and checking lists given out by stores, I compiled this Ultimate College Packing List, which I’ll refer to as the List in this post. A few years later I revised it for my second child, and then again for my third child. With the changes and updates throughout the years, the List is now in its eighth version.

Word eventually got around that I had a college packing list and for ten years now I’ve mailed it or emailed it to friends, friends of friends, family, friends of family, and so on. It has been circulated way beyond my local area and I’m always amazed when people I don’t know mention my List! For example, I was in a store one day last year and the clerk asked my name and when I mentioned my name, another customer exclaimed, “Are you the Linnell of The Ultimate College Packing List?” When I said I was, she thanked me for the list and told me the story of how she came about receiving it! Yet another reminder of what a small world it is!

The List is pretty comprehensive and maybe a bit outdated with today’s technological advances, but my suggestion, as stated at the top of the List, is to use it as a springboard or a starting point. Personalize it for your child; delete items you know your child won’t use and add items as you are reminded of things your child will need. Some of the items on the List will seem far-fetched and unnecessary, but it is, after all, the “ultimate” packing list. I’ve heard back from moms who didn’t think their child would need a particular item only to find out he/she actually needed it and had to go out and buy it. And as thorough as I’ve tried to be, I’m sure there are more things that could be included in the List. For the most part, there’s a reasonable explanation for almost everything on the List. I should also preface this introduction to the List by saying that my children went to colleges six to eight hours away from home and did not have cars in college. Some of the items listed were based on availability – like needing medications in the middle of the night or being hungry while studying. So depending on whether or not your child has a car and depending on what his proximity to supplies is, this list could be easily adapted.

Another suggestion related to the List is that it’s a financial drain to buy everything on this list, so look around the house for extras such as desk supplies, cleaning & kitchen supplies, and things like pillows and desk lights. Ask friends whose children have finished their freshman year in college to save their bed lifters, shower totes and such. Save coupons from stores like Bed, Bath, and Beyond. Shop throughout the entire summer and look for bargains on these items. Designate a room or part of the house to deposit your finds and purchases. It’s a lot of stuff to organize! Check with your student’s college housing department to find out specifics on what is allowed and what is provided.

Needless to say, my kids were the most prepared kids in their dormitories, and continued to be so in their college apartments. Stay tuned – my Apartment Inventory List (a good one for students moving into their first apartments) will be posted sometime this summer!

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As my husband prepares to leave for a business trip, I pepper him with questions like, “How can I reach you?” “What airline will you be flying?” “Which hotel will you be staying at?” “Who’s the contact person at the conference?” etc. My husband takes it all in stride and patiently answers my questions. He is aware that I’m on a need to know fact finding mission. I’m like this all the time with everyone in my family. Even my parents can’t go on a road trip unless I have their itinerary first.

My daughter, who is seeking her independence daily, rolls her eyes at me whenever I ask her questions about her travel plans. “Do you really need to know this, Mom?” she impatiently says to me. My reply is, “Yes, I need to know and this is why I need to know:  If something happens to you on your trip and I don’t have a clue about your whereabouts, there will be no way of retracing your steps.” Inevitably, I get the information I need to satisfy my overactive imagination.

I need to know my kids are okay. I started “Sunday Night Check-ins” when my oldest child went off to college. Primarily, I wanted him to stay in touch with his siblings and to not lose track of what was happening in their lives and to share with the family what was happening in his. Basically, it was just good to hear his voice. I figured Sunday was a good choice, because if he had gone out of town or if any part of our family had gone away for the weekend, we’d all be back by Sunday evening. When my second son went off to college, he rightfully assumed he’d be making Sunday night calls. To this day he checks in with me whenever he’s been out of town for a while to let me know that he made it back safely. He knows I just need to know.

Apart from being a mom, I can attribute my “need to know” behavior to one particular event in my life.  When I was in my twenties, I went home to visit my parents for a weekend. One morning my parents went out to run errands while I stayed behind. The phone rang and I answered it. A voice pleaded to me, “Where’s my brother? . . I need my brother . . . .” My uncle was on the line, but this was not the voice of the intelligent and funny man I knew. His son, my cousin, was a freshman in college and had become seriously ill. Because this happened before the invention of cell phones, there was no way of contacting my parents directly. As I tried to remember everything my parents had told me about their morning plans, I frantically called store after store and had my parents paged. This proved futile; I could not find them.

Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.“ I can’t really recall my uncle’s exact words, but I will never forget the overwhelming cries of desperation, fear, and sadness in his voice that morning. I learned many life lessons from my cousin’s tragic death, but the one that surfaces regularly is how important it is to know where your loved ones are – so my dear family, please indulge me.

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