Day 3: THERE


I am writing for the Two Writing Teachers March Challenge

Yesterday, someone randomly mentioned the town where I went to college.  This is weird.  Jacksonville, ILLINOIS is a tiny little town in the middle of no where.  It has quite possibly the world’s smallest college that NO ONE has ever heard of.  Then, my BFF texted me to see if I wanted to go for a mani/pedi on Saturday.  These events seem unrelated but they created the perfect storm for a wave of memories to come tumbling back into the forefront my my mind.

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Three Years…and counting

Today marks two years since I started this blog with the post linked HERE.  I wrote that blog as a reflection of the time since my house flooded…documented HERE.  I’ve been MIA for the last twelve plus months.  Click HERE, HEREHEREHERE, and HERE if you want to see why.  Life is busy.  I know this.  You know this.  Your house floods.  Your mom dies.  You have a baby.  Somehow, the world keeps spinning.  But some things don’t change.

THREE years ago today, my home flooded.  We lost everything.  It was an epic Noah’s Arc type flood that destroyed our lives and set us on a path we never could have expected.  Three years later, we are still at a standstill.  The governmental help that was promised has yet to be executed.  WHAT?  How can that be?  I’m still unsure.  We were promised a buy out.  We have been shifted list-to-list between the Village and the County.  No one is in any hurry except those of us who are homeless.  What can you do but wait?

Well, you can plan for the future that WILL come.  Come hell or high water (pun intended), we will come out the other side.  We have purchased a new home for those wondering.  It needs a WHOLE LOTTA LOVE.  I want to start documenting the process of renovating our new home here on this blog.  When it is complete, it will be a reveal worthy of any HGTV show.

We are proud that through all of this, we have kept our heads above water with the generosity of family and friends.  We are moving forward while the little Lisle house stands still.  Stay tuned for pictures and updates as we move long on our new journey.


So, I haven’t done a Memory Monday in a very long time.  I haven’t actually blogged in a long time.  I guess being pregnant keeps you just a busy as the actual baby.  What have I been doing?  Nesting.  Nesting at work and nesting at home.  My classroom is officially set up for my maternity leave.  Lessons are planned, worksheets are copied, IEPs are written.  Very little left to do and if it didn’t all get done…no one would know but me.  Nesting at home…eh.  Laundry is done.  We had two BEAUTIFUL showers hosted by our families.  So many generous gifts…so much to organize.

My mom had 6 babies in 5 pregnancies.  I remember a little about my brother Ds pregnancy but I remember a LOT about her pregnancy with the twins.  I don’t remember her being nearly as neurotic as I am.  Maybe it was because these boys were her FIFTH and SIXTH children.  Maybe it was because she had pretty much everything she ever needed so prepping wasn’t necessary.  Maybe I just don’t remember as well as I thought.  What I do remember from then and years after, were a lot of easy to prep, budget friendly meals that could be put together with a toddler attached to you legs while you fed a couple of babies.  One of our of my sister L’s favorites…was chicken and rice.  Everything gets prepped and baked in one dish making it the ultimate meal of ease.  A few pantry staples and a package of chicken and you had dinner!  So…tonight, in honor of my mom and the upcoming arrival of Baby Boss…I give you Chicken and Rice!

Chicken and Rice

  • 1 lb chicken trimmed and cut to preference–I cut into long strips (more or less as necessary)
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup (I use LF soups)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom (sub with another chicken or even celery if allergies or preferences)
  • 1 can white rice
  • 2-3 cans water or broth
  • onion soup packet
  1. Mix together the rice, water/broth, and soups.  Top with chicken.  Top that with soup packet.
  2. Bake tightly covered with foil for 90 minutes on 350* to 375*
  3. Bake last 10 minutes uncovered.
  4. Serve with fresh bread.

Memory Monday: Taking Comfort

It’s been along time since I wrote for Memory Monday.  Of course, being Tuesday, I am still a bit late.

There are just those things I find most comforting.  I’m sure it is the same for everyone.  Some of my favorites include

  • the delicious scent of a pot of soup on the stovetop on a cool afternoon
  • cozy PJs in a bed with clean sheets–bonus if it was made by Marcella the super cleaning lady
  • the buttery decadence of family recipe known as Susie’s Favorite
  • and thunderstorms…

Well, it used to be thunderstorms.  As you can imagine, I lost my love of thunderstorms shortly after the flood.  I slept so soundly the night that the house flooded that I often wonder if I had woken earlier would anything have been different?  You cannot live with the shoulda, coulda, woulda‘s.  It’ll drive you batty.  Since the flood, I have been less than comforted by raindrops against my windows.  A storm now brings anxiety and stress…

…that is, until last night.  For some reason, snuggled up with the hubby, I was once again comforted by the sounds of the rain.  Maybe it was because I was just that exhausted.  Maybe it was because I finally have put it all behind me.  Who knows.  But when we went to bed at 8:00 last night…yes–8:00…I drifted off into a peaceful sleep waking only to lulled back again by nature’s lullaby.  I would like to imagine I had a lazy little smile on my face but that would be silly.  I was probably mouth breathing and drooling a bit.  Regardless, last night, I was comforted once again.

This weekend I indulged in another comfort, the infamous Susie’s Favorite.  I am sure that it was designed to feed a lot of hungry mouths for not a lot of money.  Most people are a little boggled by this bizarre family pasta that brings me back to the house on Ridgeway with the tiny kitchen.  I remember having it most often on Friday’s during lent or Saturday afternoons at Grandma’s house.  It could be made without milk–which I am sure we were always out of with 6 kids gulping it down at every meal.  I would guess that it has more bang for your buck over a few boxes of mac and cheese.  Nevertheless, it is the taste of my childhood.  Having introduced some childhood and college friends to this yummy dish, I am sure we were the craziest family out there to pass this off as some sort of normal meal.  I put it up there with those tomatoes with bread: an acquired taste that just reminds you of home.  Although I never asked {damn}, I am sure that the one-pot-wonder was named after my Aunt Sue.  I imagine that us 6 McKenna kids turned our noses up at this orange colored, mac and cheese wannabe.  Then I am guessing that my mom called it Aunt Susie’s Favorite.  Who could argue with that review?

Susie’s Favorite

1-8 oz. box of small pasta (my mom always used elbows while grandma’s house usually had shells–I like the shells better but will settle for whatever is in the pantry)
1 can tomato soup
1/2 stick butter or margarine

Make the noodles according the the directions on the box.
Drain and return to the pot.
Add the can of tomato soup and the butter–NO WATER…trust me!
Stir until the butter is melted and serve immediately.



Every ending is a new beginning. These past 15-17 months have seen a lot of endings and beginnings.

I ended my carefree single days but began a partnership with the love of my life.

I ended my time in the little apartment I grew into a home–first with my BBF then all by myself–and began converting the little riverfront bachelor pad into a newlywed nest…which quickly ended in disaster.

My mother’s earthly time was abruptly ended followed by her glorious welcome to the afterlife where she is our personal guardian angel. It is this ending and beginning which is the most difficult to understand and accept. In the 6 months since she’s left us, not a single day goes by without some vivid reminder of her. Sometimes it is a whiff of the lotion she always used. Other times it is a glimpse of  a new movie I know she would have loved. But most often it is the times when I am I reach for the phone. She was the first phone call I made EVERY SINGLE day as I left work.

-What are you making for dinner?

-Want to swing by Kohl’s?

-I’m stopping for a coffee. Want one?

Simple questions I would ask. Simple answers would follow. She was always up for Kohl’s or coffee. She was usually making something with noodles and sauce. I miss these conversations which were recordings of themselves. They came to an end without a clear new beginning for me.

I still have coffee with my mom at least once a week. I talk to her about my new beginnings and what had to end to start them. She’s not much for giving advice these days. But sometimes, if I listen really carefully, I can hear her pointing me in the right direction.


I am participating in FIVE MINUTE FRIDAY.  Today’s word is:  begin

The rules are simple. Write for five minutes flat. There is no extreme editing; no worrying about perfect grammar, font, or punctuation. It is unscripted. Unedited. Real.

Birthdays PM

Mom's Birthday 2009 Wildfire:  Oakbrook, IL

Mom’s Birthday 2009 Wildfire: Oakbrook, IL

Birthdays PM (post mom) pretty much suck.  I had my 37th birthday a mere 3 weeks after my mom died.  I wasn’t exactly in a celebratory mood.  I remember my dad asking me if I wanted to go out to dinner.  I told him that I just wanted to make dinner like a regular Thursday and forget the day had some sort of significance.  Honestly, with exception of my wedding, honeymoon, and very few other joyous events, I would have liked to have forgotten that my 36th year even existed.  I wanted a redo.

Growing up, we never really had big birthday parties.  We celebrated with a specially chosen meal…cooked by mom…and maybe a tub-o-icecream or box-o-popsicles.  With so many kids running around, who had the time, money, or energy to put together an actual party.  As we grew older and the boys started spending time with my dad fishing, golfing, and doing whatever else boys do with their dads.  That’s when my mom realized the girls needed a little bonding time, as well.  That’s when our birthday outings came about.  Each year, on our birthdays, we would do something fun with just the girls.  We would go to the show or get mani/pedis.  We would have a nice lunch or go for massages.  Sometimes all of the above in one day if we were feeling ambitious.  Nothing crazy, but a little time to ourselves and a little treat to each other.  I have so many fun memories of those special days:  dinner at Wildfire, seeing Sex & the City, lunch at Cooper’s Hawk, shopping at Light House Mall, spa day at Nicole Richards and so many more days I cannot even begin to describe.  We always laughed:  usually at the expense of one of the sisters.  We always ate:  one of the things us girls did best together.  We always had fun.

My sister C’s birthday is tomorrow and I know how much that first birthday PM can really suck. I’m so glad we got to spend time together today downtown just like old times.  We lunched, we chatted, we shopped.  It was a little sliver from the past.  A bit of my mom’s celebration.  And although she wasn’t there with her extendo finger divvying out her little snippets of advice, no one could deny her presence.  She was all around in our shared laughs and knowing smiles.  She was digging into a slice of cheese cake and picking off our plates.  She was having passion fruit iced tea and a chicken salad sandwich.  She was with us.


Screen Shot 2014-04-29 at 7.19.08 PM

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I thought that the day would see me curled up in a ball unable to speak or see through my tears. I was wrong. I was overjoyed at seeing all people at the 15th Annual Beverly Breast Cancer Walk in support of those surviving, battling, or taken by breast cancer. We had never walked as a family before. The day my mom had her second surgery, my brother mentioned that maybe we should walk this year. Then, just two weeks ago, my dad brought it up again. We got working to put together a team and logo. Yesterday, in a sea of pink, 19 crisp white t-shirts with a beautiful butterfly and the words FIGHT STRONG stood out from the rest. Those were the people walking in honor, memory, and celebration of my mom, Debra McKenna…Grandma to some, GramCrackers to a special little one.  My mom’s familiar signature saying Love, Mom took my breath away when I first saw it.  I just felt her with me.

We gathered together in the early sun hugging and saying I love you.  We told stories that made us laugh until we teared up.  Yesterday, I didn’t let one sad tear drop.  Perhaps I had cried them all in the days prior to Mother’s Day.  Many tears fell  when thinking about my mom and all the things that were left unsaid, unseen, and unknown.  Then my sister gave me a lovely necklace Saturday afternoon.  It is a set of guardian angel wings.  There is a little story with the necklace that says to make a wish before putting it on.  It is a reminder that you are never alone.  So yesterday when I was walking and saying hello to all the people I knew walking with me, I felt my mom all around.  She was walking, too.  Although on her walk, I am sure it was snowing and she was wearing her Uggs.  She was beautiful and healthy and without pain.  She was smiling upon us all, amazed to see so many of her family and friends together in her honor.  She was getting ready to plant her summer flowers and count freckles on her grand babies.  She was happy and so was I.