Leaving a Legacy: Tina

“So long as the memory of certain beloved friends lives in my heart, I shall say that life is good.” — Helen Keller

Every fall, I go to Northern Illinois University’s Homecoming football game. From this, you might guess I went to that school or am a fan of Huskies’ football. Neither is true. I go to honor and remember my friend Tina, who passed away 12 years ago.

Tina, Georgia, and I shared an apartment after we all graduated from college. They were both NIU alumni and Huskies’ fans, and Tina never missed a Homecoming. Even when she had five little children and going to the football game was not feasible, Tina and her husband Jim brought the family to NIU anyway, and they hung out outside the stadium.

Georgia (left), Tina (center) and me at Tina’s house

I did not attend the NIU Homecoming events when Tina was alive. My youngest daughter, Mel, started going before I did. Tina’s two daughters, Lindsey and Sarah, Georgia’s daughter, Lara, and Mel have a strong friendship forged from the strong friendship of their parents. Our kids always called us “Aunt Tina,” “Aunt Georgia,” and “Aunt Sue.”

Every year, Georgia gives us the agenda for the Homecoming events. The times vary, but the activities are always the same. The Homecoming parade kicks off the events on either Friday or Saturday. One year, NIU did not schedule a parade. Tina wrote to the school and complained, and they’ve never skipped it again.

Most of our group arrives on Saturday morning and we meet at Tina’s grave. At her request, Tina is buried in DeKalb near NIU. Even though she had no relatives in the area, Tina loved being on that campus. Jim, who is now remarried, says a prayer, and we all tell stories of Tina. How she lived her life with passion. How she celebrated every one of her kids’ birthdays and every holiday with a party. How she helped out at the school and church. How she worked part-time at the Newberry Library and taught at NIU while working towards a Ph.D. in History. Her oldest child, Jason, was 16 when Tina passed away from breast cancer, and Sarah, her youngest child, was 9.

I was fortunate to be with Tina, her family, and other close friends when she took her last breath. She had written clear instructions for her “Celebration of Life” (her funeral Mass.) She wrote, “After a most solemn and beautiful liturgy, there should be a great party.” And there was.

How Tina juggled everything is beyond my comprehension. No one is perfect, and at times Tina was visibly stressed. However, she usually handled everything with an apparent ease. She cooked homemade dinners daily, baked from scratch, and created a book of “Our Holiday Traditions” for her family. Tina treated herself every night to a tiny piece of chocolate or a homemade cookie. For exercise, she walked everywhere possible. She weighed less than 100 pounds and was a 4’11” dynamo.

After remembering Tina at her grave, we go to the campus bookstore, where we purchase NIU memorabilia to show our Huskies’ pride.

Then it’s on to the East Campus lagoon. We always bring bread to feed the ducks and geese, even though in recent years, they haven’t been interested. Some of us throw around a football, and we walk around the lagoon.

Pizza Hut is next on the agenda. No, we don’t particularly like Pizza Hut, but it is part of the tradition. Cheap pizza was essential when Tina and Jim had five hungry kids, and Tina was thrifty. This year was one of our most sparse as far as our friends’ attendance. Tina’s and Georgia’s fellow alumnus Eric was there, as he is every year. Georgia’s husband Bill and daughter Lara, and Jim, Lindsey, and Sarah all came, along with my husband Ken.

After Pizza Hut, we walk to the football game, and we always wander around the tailgaters looking for some of Tina and Georgia’s old friends. We haven’t seen any of them in recent years, but we still look. One of the highlights of the game is the NIU jazz band. I remember Tina talking about the jazz band with pride many times. She loved their music.

Marching jazz band at 2013 NIU Homecoming

Marching jazz band at 2013 NIU Homecoming

Our activities don’t end with the football game. We always go out to “The Junction” restaurant for dinner after the game—and we always order cinnamon rolls to take home. After all, that is what Tina did.

Tina left quite a legacy behind and not just our annual routine of going to NIU in her memory. Her legacy teaches the value of traditions. Of following your passion. Of doing your best. Of going the extra mile to keep friendships strong. Of helping others. Of the comfort of homemade food. Of loving your family.

And so our annual tradition of going to NIU’s Homecoming to honor Tina will continue. We may shed a few tears at her grave, but mostly we will laugh and enjoy.

And we will remember.

Have you thought about the legacy you will leave behind? What would you like people to remember about you?


Posted in Friendship, Making a Difference, Talent | Tagged , , | 10 Comments

Finding Support

“Was it you or I who stumbled first? It does not matter. The one of us who finds the strength to get up first, must help the other.” ― Vera Nazarian

We all try to do things on our own and that’s great. But if we’re not having success, why do we keep working at it alone? Why don’t we ask for support?

When I was young, I took graduate-level Computer Science classes one summer. The program was intense—two classes in four weeks—and required a Computer Science or Engineering background. Being a Math major, I had neither. Yet I stubbornly did not ask for help. Instead, I was miserable working alone on the coursework. I got through it, but did not return in subsequent summers to attain a Master’s degree.

book-15584_1280Over time, I’ve learned that it’s OK to ask for support. After my husband and I had children, I joined a moms’ group for those who had left a career to raise their family.

More recently, I had wanted to lose weight for a few years before I finally joined a weight loss group and quickly lost ten pounds. What I’ve found in the group is accountability. We weigh in every week at meetings. Other members provide camaraderie and tips on losing weight. We share our stories of success and ways to overcome temptations. Now I am at a healthy weight, and the support of the group helps me keep the excess weight off. Why didn’t I join sooner?

Sometimes a group can provide support without being a formal support group. In a Walk & Talk group for women, we talked about a self-improvement topic while walking. I’ve also been in groups for job seekers when I was unemployed. I am lucky to live in the Chicago suburbs, where one can find many groups. One place to look for a group is http://www.meetup.com.

A good way to find support for one’s marriage is to attend a Worldwide Marriage Encounter Weekend (http://wwme.org/). Couples who have attended can join a local WWME community and meet other couples who serve as role models. My husband Ken and I lead a local group.

Other ways to find support are to start a new group, to look for a supportive social media group, and to partner with a friend. My friend Karen and I meet once or twice a week and walk 3 to 4 miles.

A couple of years ago, my friend Krishna and I had a writing-accountability partnership. Krishna lives in Atlanta but we checked in with each other on Skype and reviewed each other’s work. Having that appointment gave me good motivation to write.

Several years ago, I was in a running group that made running fun. Everyone cheered for each other and shared a passion for running. Unfortunately, the group eventually disbanded and I stopped running. Now I’m running again and am searching for someone to run with on weekdays. The other day, I ran at a local arboretum and saw a small group of women running. Boldly, I asked if they were part of a running group. They were not, they were simply a group of friends running that day, but I’m confident I’ll find the right support soon. Meanwhile, I post my workouts in a Facebook group and receive “likes,” which inspires me to exercise daily.

What about you? Is there a goal you’ve been trying to meet without success? Have you looked for support?



Posted in Encouragement, Running, Support, Weight | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Needing to Focus

“Listen for the call of your destiny, and when it comes, release your plans and follow.”
― Mollie Marti

The end of summer always makes me feel restless. I ask myself what do I want to do this fall? Some activities are a given: my work as church librarian. Being a community coordinator with my husband for Worldwide Marriage Encounter. Going to adoration, a weekly prayer service, and Sunday Mass. I firmly believe in exercise, so I will continue to walk every day. And let’s not forget Weight Watchers meetings! I need that support.

But what about the local women’s club, which I was part of for the past two years? What about Bible Study, which is taught at a local convent by an extremely knowledgeable nun? I enjoyed her class last year, and she is offering another course this fall. What about my faith sharing group, which I’ve been part of for two decades?

Each of these activities is good. The problem is that doing all these things keeps me from writing. When I’m not doing the above, I’m grocery shopping, doing social media, reading, or socializing.

Last year, I was an off-again on-again member of a WordWeavers group (a Christian writing group.) I’d like to go consistently, but I need to write items for review to make that time productive. There’s also a secular writers’ group that I’d like to join again. And I recently found out a friend will be teaching a class based on the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

How does one decide? The problem with all these scattered interests is that I seldom sit down and write–and I feel called to be a writer. I told my daughter Katie, “I have so many interests. Everything that comes up appeals to me.”

She answered, “You’re always going somewhere. Maybe all these activities help you avoid writing.” Hmm. Maybe so.

I hid out with my journal to ponder this, because journaling helps me reflect and make decisions. I realized it is good when I am not overwhelmed with activities, because that is when I feel like writing. What if I made the radical decision to drop out of faith sharing. Not sign up for Bible Study. Not renew my women’s club membership. Other than my givens, what if I were to focus on activities that are related to writing? What if I joined the two Writers Groups and sat down to write more often so I have something to bring to these groups?

And what about that Artist’s Way class? I had trouble making this decision so I journaled, prayed, and did a mindmap. The class is not directly about writing, but I need to start thinking and acting like a writer-artist if I want to succeed at writing. I need support in changing to a writer’s lifestyle, which I find attractive. The Artist’s Way encourages us to write every day and to take artist’s dates. It also teaches that creativity is a gift from God. I have decided to take this class.

What about you?

Have you taken time to assess your activities and whether they are in line with your goals? Have you ever given up the good for the better?


Posted in Christian, Inspiration, Intentional Living, Journal, Leading Ourselves, personal leadership | Tagged , , , , , | 26 Comments

Making the Commitment

“Commitment fuels action. Get clear about what you want to do and why you want to do it. Take action. Your time is now!” – Julie Connor, author

We are past the midpoint of 2014. How are you doing on your New Year’s resolutions or other goals?

One of my resolutions for the past few years was to lose weight, at least ten pounds. However, I didn’t do much about it. But after being invited to my nephew Trevor’s destination wedding in Cancun this summer, I finally decided to take action. The hotel was all-inclusive for food and drinks, and I knew I’d probably gain weight. I thought, “I’ve got four weeks before the wedding. I wonder if I could lose a few pounds before I go.” I journaled about the questions “Why do I want to lose weight?” and “Why don’t I want to lose weight?”

The last might seem like an odd question, but if we say we want to do something and aren’t doing it, we do have reasons. Some of mine were:

  • My schedule is busy enough and I don’t want to add weight-loss meetings.
  • It’s too hard—I don’t like having to track everything I eat.
  • I don’t like being hungry.
  • I won’t lose much weight in four weeks anyway.

My reasons for losing weight included:

  • I’m already having health issues that could be alleviated by losing weight.
  • My pants have gotten too tight and I refuse to go up a size.
  • I want to look better for this and another wedding.
  • I want to have more energy so my husband Ken and I can travel and enjoy ourselves.
  • Walking and getting back to running will be easier if I am not carrying excess weight.
  • Instead of just writing about taking care of ourselves, I need to do it. I need to live the way I want to live.

Seeing my reasons in black and white made me realize I had more reasons to lose weight than not to, and my reasons for not losing weight were really excuses. I had good reasons to lose weight and seeing them on paper gave me the commitment to actually change.

I have lost about ten pounds since then and still have about five pounds to lose. My eating habits have become healthier, including eating more fruits and vegetables.

I did gain over a pound while in Cancun but it was OK since I’d lost some weight first. I had a great time and enjoyed getting tropical drinks at the swim-up bar!

Last weekend, my family and I spent two days in Chicago with my niece and another nephew. Despite the heat, I had plenty of energy to walk for miles and miles, and we all had a lot of fun.

Now I am looking forward to a vacation down south and being fit enough to enjoy a lot of sightseeing.

What changes do you want to make for better health? What will it take for you to make the commitment?

Posted in Empowerment, Healthy living, Inspiration, Intentional Living, Leading Ourselves, Motivation, personal leadership, Proactive, self-care, Uncategorized, Weight | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

I’m No Superwoman by Susan E.

Susan Ekins:

Somehow I missed the email that my post had been accepted by “Lost in Suburbia Stories”. I had fun writing it and hope you enjoy reading it.

Originally posted on Lost In Suburbia Stories:

I always kept it with me, hidden, and I took it out only when I was alone.  But one day, my best friend Tina discovered my secret. 

to do listWe had met for coffee. I opened my purse, and it fell on the table. Tina snatched it up before I could stop her.

“Let me see that! Is this your To-Do List?!” she said gleefully.

“Give it back!” I said, but she held it out of reach.

My To-Do List was two pages of single-spaced typing, and I had folded and unfolded it so many times that the edges were frayed. I had crossed off sentences and scribbled all over it.

“Sign up and train for 5K race,” Tina read aloud. “Cool! What race?” She had recently completed the Chicago marathon.

“I don’t know,” I said. “See, this is really more like a wish list.”

“But you’ve got these sticky notes saying…

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Learning From Maya

Susan Ekins:

Loved this post by Sue Shanahan and wanted to share it with the readers of Women Making Strides. Maya was truly a leader in her own life (and that of others!) and she was a woman who used her talents to better the world.

Originally posted on Commonplace Grace:

Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou 1928-2014

“When you learn, teach, when you get, give.” ― Maya AngelouDr. Maya Angelou passed away peacefully on May 28th. She was a poet, memoirist, performer, educator, activist and mother. In 1982, when she took on a professorship at Wake Forest University, she knew she had come home. To her surprise she discovered she hadn’t become a writer who taught but was now a teacher who wrote. And teach she did. Many of us were introduced to her by Oprah Winfrey. Oprah took joy in sharing the life lessons she learned from her mentor. Today, many of those insights roll off my tongue. Whomever I quote them to invariably thinks I’m brilliant. Of course, I have to confess those wise words didn’t originate with me. I can only accept credit for being smart enough for taking Maya as my own. We are more alike than…

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Time to Reflect

“Alone time is when I distance myself from the voices of the world so I can hear my own.” – Oprah Winfrey

Recently I had sinusitis and bronchitis. Congestion, coughing, and difficulty breathing made me lethargic, and I laid around, reading cozy mysteries. A friend told me that colds happen in order to slow us down. At first I dismissed her comment because my life is not overly fast-paced, but then I decided that perhaps this illness was giving me time to reflect on my life.

Here is what I learned, along with questions for you to reflect on:

  • I need to take better care of myself. Another clue to this was that my pants had become too tight, even though I lost weight from being ill. This past winter was particularly fierce in the Chicago area, and I did not walk as I do most winters. I realized that I’d gotten out of shape, and I started walking every day as soon as I felt better. I also joined Weight Watchers.

      Are you taking good care of yourself?

  • The week before I got sick, I did a couple of volunteer tasks that I didn’t really want to do. I asked myself why I had felt I needed to do that when I already do plenty of volunteer work. I realized I can say “No.”

      Do you say yes when you want to say no?

  • I have seasonal allergies, but they were under control until the day I was unable to breathe for a few seconds. I was choking, although there was nothing in my throat. My sister watched me gesturing and said, “Can you talk?” Somehow I reached deep within to push through a little air. This incident was frightening and reminded me of my mortality.

      When have you thought about your mortality?

  • I went to the doctor the next day who said my airways had probably been blocked by postnasal drip. She gave me an inhaler, but later I realized I had left without a plan to prevent this from occurring again. Instead I accepted my doctor’s statement that “Your allergies are under control.” My doctor is not fully to blame—I should have been more assertive. I am responsible for my health.

      Are you assertive when talking to others?

  • My symptoms kept getting worse, and I went to an Immediate Care doctor on the weekend. By then, I had developed a sinus infection and bronchitis. After a complete change of medicines, I started to feel better. I’ve decided to look for a primary care doctor like this Immediate Care doctor, who addressed all my concerns.

      Are you proactive regarding your health?

  • While reflecting on my sickness, I looked for bright spots. My daughter Katie tells me that while I lay in bed coughing, our dog was pressed against the gate that keeps him downstairs, listening to me cough. It’s nice to know that he and others care. Friends and family checked on me and sent well wishes.

      Have there been any bright spots in your recent challenges? Have you             checked on family or friends who are not feeling well?

  • Finally, I reminded myself to put my illness in perspective. Before I got sick, my husband and I attended a Dance Marathon fundraiser that my daughter Mel helped run to benefit patients of a children’s hospital. More than a dozen “miracle families” told their stories at the event. There were few dry eyes in the room when parents talked about children that had passed away or children fighting for their lives. One 9-year-old boy has been through 35 surgeries and still is fed through a tube. Thinking about other people’s challenges made my own seem less momentous.

      Is that true for you?

Loras College Dance Marathon 2014

Loras College Dance Marathon 2014

Have you taken time to reflect lately? What have you learned?


Posted in Challenges, Healthy living, Proactive, self-care, Solitude | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments