All posts tagged family

Momma Montessori


My parents put me into a Montessori school right off the bat.

I’m pretty sure they couldn’t afford it, honestly, but both of my parents came from backgrounds that emphasized education. College was a must. Intellect was a stated goal when raising children.

When we transplanted to Chicago and out of the “East Coast System” I think that paying for Montessori was partly a selfish parental attempt to prove they weren’t the ones with the dumb country kids amongst a litany of thirty-odd brilliant ivy-league-destined cousins.

The truth though?

It was mostly a belief in a non-traditional way of developing young minds. In 1986, no less.

It shaped me.

Learning to learn in the way that Montessori teaches you to learn had a profound influence on the way my mind works.


I remember learning French before I could read.

I remember my teacher pulling me aside one day and saying it was time to see if I was ready to read a chapter book.


I was the first in class to do this (or my 7 year old self I thought I was)…and I remember being proud. Even prouder when we were done and she bursted out with “you just read a chapter book!”

We took care of animals and learned math with our hands and had to clean up after lunch and snack time. Our days were spent solving puzzles and moving on to harder puzzles at the pace that made sense for each of us.


Montessori people can be spotted.

Their minds explore…and they have a refreshingly calm sense of the way their own mind works.


Mom began teaching. At the Montessori school they sent me to. The one I don’t think they could afford.

Momma dove into educating children The Montessori Way because she was a true believer.  She was setting little humans up to be great humans. She was also making it more affordable to give her son and two daughters the Montessori experience.

She’d have done road construction to make that kind of thing happen for us three.


Momma’s a child-whisperer. Momma turns kids into Rocket Ships of Goodness.

Today she runs the school that started me down my intellectual path. Down my emotional path.

Down the path that made me who I am today.

For two decades she’s given the gift I sit here and appreciate in a deeper way than I could ever articulate to thousands of children.

I know she doesn’t think her heart has room for anyone else when she thinks about me and my two sisters, but she’s wrong.

Her legend is in her capacity to deeply care about every single child that she has ever set eyes on, ever.

Her legend is how she makes her children the luckiest people in the world.

Our mother has the biggest heart.

We win.

My mother should raise the planet, from where I’m standing.


Tell me something about your mom?


We’re All So Lucky

The windshield was inches from my forehead, and I was still clutching the tan leather armrest like an eight year on his first rollercoaster.

It all happened so fast.

A few hours west of St. Charles, Illinois is a small town called Gelena that most Chicagoans have a fleeting sense of, maybe they’ve been there once or twice and they probably know a few retirees that escape there every summer weekend. Really, all in all, it’s just a small Midwestern respite with rustic antique shops, a typical diner, and some might say a landscape worth noting, if they’d never been to California or even Missouri for that matter.

A friend and I and his sister and her friend were hanging out for the weekend with his parents and some of their extended family and it was my first time at the family cabin adventure.

I’ve documented my own family’s trips to upstate New York, thousands of miles from home, and this friend had definitely joined me on one of those East Coast excursions.  I feel a sense of sanity in the idea that an extended family might live within a few hours of one another, like his (mine’s quite spread out).

I feel that same sense of sanity in them trekking out to NOMANSLAND to really get the conversation flowing.

So here we were, in western Illinois; the land of corn, the land of changes in altitude that for those of us living in suburbia seem impressive despite their being a mere freckle on the manicured hand of potential cliffhangers in North America. It was sort of a beach cabin complex scene, and on this particular afternoon us kids wanted to head into town to…I don’t know…eat taffy and see locals?

We were bored and looking to gossip of our own accord without the adults around.

We probably had to pick up some milk.

We were graciously afforded the Lincoln Sabre (I’ll never forget the model) to head into ‘town’ to kill some time. What that means, in fact, is that it was still light out, maybe mid afternoon, and we were allowed to drive into Galena to “check out the shops”.  That, to us at the time, meant laugh at the locals and putz around talking about pressing highschool social matters for a few hours before returning home for dinner on the grill next to the lake. We were in highschool and we were escapists and we all felt alive as we headed into town.

I don’t remember what we did.

I know Galena, in a sense, because it wasn’t my first time there and it wasn’t my last, but there really isn’t anything remarkable about Galena. We probably walked past a bunch of antique shops, joked about how small town it was, and sampled fudge.

Does every American small town produce unnatural amounts of fudge? Really.

As we left to head back to the cabin, it was later afternoon and we’d hooked up a disc-player to the radio (!!!) in order to play our music and we were laughing and singing. Our cabin was one among many in a “community” nestled within the “hills” of the “terrain”.

The roads were crooked spaghetti and the drive was solitude.

My friend was driving, of course…son of the patriarch…and he was driving enthusiastically. We were young, we were vibrant, and we were stupid.

If I had a digital pencil I’d draw you the curve, but I’m left to describe what was one of the most unforgiving turns in a road I’ve seen in my life…

(more to follow)

Boulder South Bend

When I was in Boulder I was very fortunately pushing Foodtree a step forward and I was very vulnerably seeing about a girl.

A girl who just quoted Nietzsche at me, by the way. Like Oh remember how I know everything there is to know about the Kardashians and throw on cute little dresses that you thought only people in fairy tales could pull off, and I spontaneously burst into song? Oh, I also throw Nietzsche quotes around casually. Also adorable babies think I’m adorable.

I was there, though, at the same time at which a large contingent of my cousins were in South Bend, Indiana, visiting my little sister and attending a Notre Dame football game. Against Stanford.

My family’s rooted in New York, where my parents met, my grandma lives, and I think at least a third of my first cousin’s reside. That’s a third of a pretty big number. Ours is a New England family, despite my having been raised in a suburb in Illinois. In fact, prior to my 26th birthday I would have been less disoriented blindfolded in Manhattan than in Chicago.

Alongside that, New Yorkers are notoriously reluctant travelers, always caught in the flow of the pulsing heart that is New York to the point at which anything less than LA or Europe seems like a waste of a plane ticket.

Nevertheless, my little sister is the youngest of our (massive) generation, and thus has a special place in everyone’s heart, and when one of the numerous ideas for gatherings pops up (most of which are purely speculative at best) involves her it takes on a much more realistic significance.

She’s in grad school, at Notre Dame. It’s cheap to go to Indiana…Katie married a Notre Dame grad who can help us get football tickets > pull out a laptop > flights are booked!

The execution part is usually not our strong suit, as a family, but my little sister is the magic sauce and it happened.

I missed it, and based on my last post I think it’s pretty clear I had a trip I will never forget.  Point in fact it wasn’t a choice, but a coincidence, and I’m grateful I was in the States during the family hang. I could call them easily, trace the Facebook updates and tweets (no data plan in Canada…another conversation), and generally feel closer.

I’m honestly not sure what my point is here. Maybe it’s that I’m intimately tied to the spaces my family makes beautiful. Maybe it’s that I just hope my family knows how much of my heart they fill.

Maybe it’s that I sort of feel like I traveled with my family two weekends ago, and I met someone I like along the way, and I hope you all might understand how great that is for someone who lives so far away from so many people who are important to me.

Where’d you travel last?

My Mom Thinks I Write Well, So

I get so worried about writing well that I reason away nearly everything that pops into my head as it relates to writing about it here.

Every single day I see or hear or read or do or watch something that turns itself into words and sentences that would best serve torecount it all the way I’m experiencing it.  Sentences get reworked and reordered and I think about these things three different ways just mulling over the way I’d write it to convey what it is in a way that would make sense to you.

Whoever you are.

That’s the thing, right?  I don’t know who you are.

You could be my mom.  Hi mom.  I know you’re probably there, thanks to the wonderment that is Facebook and my feeding every piece of my digital life into its gushing lifestream.  Amazing shit, right mom?  I told you all along this stuff wasn’t just here to stay…I told you it’d reshape the way we could all communicate.  I think I even said that all this new scary and seemingly distracting technology was bringing us all closer to one another.  That were now at one another’s fingertips.

I bet you didn’t think you’d be reading my diary on Facebook, wishing I wasn’t so far away right now, huh?

I miss you too.

The rest of you could be people I know and love, or maybe you’re a blogger who’s been hanging out with me in this weird party for the last few years.  It’s okay that I’m not sure who you are.  It shouldn’t really matter.

I mean it matters.  Of course.  You definitely matter, no matter who you are.

I not only worry about writing well because I want to be able to write well.  I think it might actually be more of a need than a want, honestly.  I think I love how writing allows you to deliberately try to communicate clearly.  With precision.  With deeper emotion, a way to talk without your voice getting in the way.  Truly communicating is a holy grail for humanity; to feel known and understood.  I need to think I can use words to really be known.

No, I worry about you guys, too, and I want to write well in front of you.  I wonder about you and I wonder why you might spend a few minutes reading the sentences that do finally get to my keyboard from all of those splashes of inspiration that the world keeps throwing at me.  Back in the day I used to just throw words at the screen.  Early and often.

I used to say fuck the filter and fuck the rest stops and seriously fuck it all: writing is heroic.  The act of it moreso than the product when you think about blogging, because in the end blogging isn’t about the endgame.

There’s no book to sell and we stopped putting ads on our blogs before I ever started.  We’re not closing in on the sale here…we’re driving with the top down and life is passing us by and we’re gonna try and share it all with one another.

Or I’m gonna try and share that with you, anyway.

Writing well be damned.

Real Conversations Before Geek Bonnaroo

I had three really great conversations this week.

I have been leaving myself on Skype more lately because otherwise I’m essentially shut off from the world. I’m ‘derekshanahan’ there if you’re looking for me.

Twitter is one thing, but twitter is a different beast.  That’s a place to get information, reach out to people quickly, and get eyes on pieces of conversations.  Never the whole thing.

These weren’t geek conversations though.  These were my best friends an my little sister.

Cha-rule‘s been my girl since I knew what girls were, and when she left Chicago I really felt the earth move.  Man we were rocking Chicago for a while; concerts a few times a week, late weeknights and early work mornings.  I met my last girlfriend through her, even.

She’s in Denver now and she loves it.  We laughed about how weird some of the people we’ve known turned out to be, and how much love we have for them.  We marveled at our friends having babies and what a different it makes when you don’t have to wear a coat outside in February.

Murph called me last night, and he misses me.  I miss him too.  It was a whirlwind, leaving Chicago, and in large part because it coincided with my acting as his Best Man in January.  Having attended the same school with him since 3rd grade, and subsequently living in Chicago (together for a majority of my time there), this is kind of the first time we’re not in the same place.

It was interesting to hear his take on my decision to chase dreams.  We laughed about how my Dad probably still hasn’t told me his real thoughts at first hearing my ideas.  How his Dad would have said, “Derek, you’re being stupid”, in the way only his father could without it being mean or demeaning.  Haha…my poor father was probably thinking the same thing.

We pretty much laughed the whole time.  Laughing via Skype usually means a laptop bouncing around your lap…a use case I wonder if they looked into.

And my sister and I chatted, finally…my little little.  She’s in Denver as well, loving the face off of her internship there and trying to figure out what’s next.  She’s headed to Notre Dame (bite my tongue) in the Fall, but last weekend was flown to NYC to partake in a youth summit/internship interview type thing with Goldman Sachs.  Not. Shabby.

We laughed about our kooky parents and contemplated the question marks in our futures.  She has friends going to SXSW so I had to explain that I was going to the Geek Bonnaroo, not the music part that normal people attend.  She gave me a video tour of her crash pad down there, and introduced two of her roommates who were hanging around.

She’s so good at life.

I’m scrambling to get things ready to go down to Austin for SXSW, and these conversations were all exactly what I needed before a geek scene.  I guess it’s ironic that Skype brought such wholesome, real connection into my lap before four days of ‘location-aware apps!’ and ‘geo-spatial data!’ and ‘foursquare vs. gowalla!’ but in the end I’m just energized at the timing of it all.

See you in Austin?

You Women Are My Valentines

I’ve spent my whole life surrounded by incredible women.

My mother, bless her, is the epitome of pure love.

She’s a woman who’s conquered every inch of her heart and shows everyone around her what it means to really be human.  She loves harder than anyone I know, and she raised me to do the same.

My darling sisters attack life with wide open eyes and unabashedly caring hearts, the spark in every room they enter.  They radiate the kind of beauty Kings built Empires for, and every day I’m not around them I miss a little piece of myself.

If you only knew the kind of people I got to call family.

I have some thirty odd cousins, maybe more, and an overwhelming majority of them are women.  The kind of women they write books about; women who cut through life with love and rigor and a fierce prowess that demands nothing but goodness and a grounded sense of humor.  They want to know you, everything about you, because they want to know how to love you.  Everyone in sight is family, in our family.

I boast adoring Aunts, quirky and matriarchal, overflowing with wisdom of the heart.  Their undercurrent is fueled by an innate sense of family and homestead; life is life, and it’s nothing without the people you love.

My truly magnanimous grandmother, sharply navigating a long and storied life of deep belief and tradition, left cancer in her wake and walks among the Saints, a maven of Queens, New York.

Might we all live a life as full as hers.

To that I add a circle of girlfriends to slay dragons.

The most beautiful, caring, hilarious and intelligent women this planet’s got skipping around it.  World changers and nurturers, all of them show me on a regular basis how simple life really is.

I believe that the entire history of mankind’s battle between heart and mind is running through every woman alive, and the few that I’m fortunate enough to call friends each in their own way reveal the savviest navigation of that balancing act.  My heart beats for you, misses you dearly, and would stop in its tracks without each of you in my life.

You women shape my world.

You women frame my expectations.  You women shine a light on how we got here, and what tomorrow looks like.

You women are my heart and soul.

You women are my Valentines.

Ten Years Ago And Tomorrow

Ten years ago I was blogging with a pen.

I was writing about my tragedy as a soccer player with two years left to prove otherwise.  I’d let down a team that would eventually ask me to be their Captain, and I was unaware of the connection that I’d forge between writing and my emotions.

I was drinking underage, and I was putting off my commitment to an area of study.

The weather in Northern California still slayed me, avocado was a novel experience, and I bet I could have counted the number of times I’d eaten sushi on one hand.  Maybe two.

My home then was California and my people there were becoming the kind that last forever.  I thought I’d never leave the sunshine and the crisp intelligence that seemed to pour out of people’s ears.  There were hills and mild winters and things like surfing and outdoor malls.

My first home there was called Branner Hall, and I named a puppy after it.

My last home there was called Touch of Grey; one of the local Dead Houses.  I lived there for a week.

Soon my home became Chicago and my people here are the kind that have lasted forever.  I thought I’d never stay and then I thought I’d never leave. I found a city my childhood had ignored, and in it I found a massive world of cultural confidence and Midwestern humility served neat with a squeeze of gritty zest.

There is family and there is friendship that feels just like family.  I have both in Chicago, and I have it among the wonders of a city with an eye for the edge.  Art, music, food, community, street festivals, and establishments that serve alcohol – they all push forward in this city and they do it because the people here demand it.

Next year I’ll be moving to Vancouver, British Columbia.

I’ll be having a conversation with tomorrow day in and day out, and looking out over the ten years ahead with a boatload of optimism.  I’ll be on the front end of the memories I’ll have at the end of our next decade.

I’m starting a company called foodtree, with two incredibly talented and inspiring partners, in a city I’ve spent less than a week in, to date.  It’s Vancouver, though; that’s a seriously cool name for a city, no?

Our company is going to make eating great food really easy.

We may also become Ninjas; our business plan is still being tweaked.

I’m going for it.

It’s scary and riveting and it’s a big glass of water that tastes like Life Happening.

You should try it.

What should you be going for right now?

Image by jmv.

Return To Chicago

I made it back to Chicago.  I was about three days late and I’m short a puppy, but I’m here.

A puppy?  How could I be short a puppy?

Well, I left him in New York, that’s how…my mother was nice enough to take him this week while she’s still up in the mountains and I’m running around in circles back here so he gets the better end of that deal anyway.  Bonding time with grandma, I suppose.

I should be careful using that term though, considering my inability to produce real grandchildren for my mother; something not lost on my Aunts last week, let me tell you.

The mountains and the lake and the cabin life was really great; I forget every year how relaxing a world can be without technology moving it along at it’s hefty clip.  We have a family golf tournament early in the week on one of the world’s most beat up golf courses on earth and the golf carts are probably the most advanced technology in the whole town.  I think the local library just operates on your word that you’ll return their books.

Everyone settles into that pace, as if it’s more natural than the one we’re all a part of out here.  Life’s slower.  Meals are bigger events.  Books get read.  Then they get discussed.

Last Sunday we had a bit of a brunch for my fallen uncle; it was followed by a big barbecue in his honor that afternoon.  It rained right in between but during neither event, and all day I found myself asking here and there if anyone had the time.  As in, had a watch, cell phone, or had seen a clock.

Not one person had any clue.  More than one said, “I haven’t know what time it was since I left home and came here”.

It says something.  But what does it say?

Photo by kennymatic

Roadtrip To New York

Tonight I get in my car with my dog and we drive across the country.

I find myself in the mode in which seven days with no real phone and sporatic internet puts someone like me.  Someone with clients and a full-time side job running a blogger network and all the other things that pop into your head before you take off into the wilderness like “don’t forget deoderant” and “like you’ll really need deoderant, D“.

I’m putting in some 15 hours, straight through and right past about a million summer homes, all the way up into the Adirondack Mountains to a little town with little town people and little going on and big, big nature.

My mother has been up at this little lake town nearly every year since she was born, along with her sisters and brothers who now call themselves parents to my hoard of nearly 30 cousins who are now gradually bringing us the next generation.

And so it goes, right?

It’s a magical time and place, this annual reunion of different generations and extended families and visitors and friends and pets and babies.  It was great as babies and we complained as we became teens and as we grew up we realized it was the best, most relaxed, most enjoyable, most rewarding week any one of us ever has.  Our generation has begun buying their own little cottages all around the spot we’ve come up to year after year, cementing a long future for our yearly gathering.

Our lake respite is fifty foot forest trees standing guard in a stoic stand-the-longest competition with our  rickety wood cabins, some nearly a hundred years old.  It’s grilling every night, followed by red wine and beer and jokes and debates and plans for tomorrow which could be adjusted depending the weather and depending on whim.

Real books are devoured and workouts are not rushed and our quaint little community beach is for all the time not mentioned so far.

It’s not enough…it’s never enough…but it’s so much more than some are lucky enough to have, and we all realize that.  We don’t always know when we get there, but we sure as hell know it when we leave.

I literally can not wait.

I’m considering leaving now and pushing through the night.   If it weren’t my first solo roadtrip out there, me trying to be as smart as I can about my energy, well, I’d be writing this in my head right now.

So maybe I’ll just jet when I hit publish.

Either way…I’m out of here.

Tell me about your extended family.  Say just the nice things.

Image by Frazzled Jen


Burglar with flashlight cracking safe combination

The morning got off to quite a start, the rare energy to get the gasoline I needed for my incredibly demanding car unexpectedly manifesting itself like a leprechaun might to a drunk Irish sailor.  The fear of one of life’s most humiliating circumstances; sitting deflated along a busy rush hour highway praying someone might take mercy on your idiocy, for running out of gas is the folly of adolescents.

Really a gorgeous day by most measures; the crowds waiting at the Division Street bus stop have finally softened their features and found a calm about their five minute wait for the next bus.  A month ago the anger was poignant, the devil in us all had had quite enough of the piercing winds and the lingering weirdos and the fact that no matter what, no matter how early you could get yourself bundled and get yourself outside and get yourself miserably to the bus stop there was someone who seemed to live there who had the right to actually sit on one of the three bus stop seats and get on the bus before you.

This morning I watched her lean up against the bus sign pole, reading a chick lit novel with brown leather boots to her calf, a business casual skirt and a blouse, her body language suggesting she would assess the commotion when the bus arrived, happy to wait for a later one.  Happy to stand there all day, really.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the attitudinal universe, some stupid neanderthal spent this morning executing a plan to rob my parents.

His (or her) notion at the sign of this long-awaited sunshine was to preface his breakfast with a five finger discount, leaving my mother in tears and her children hungry for revenge.

Who are these people, who live in whitebread American suburbs and scout unsuspecting hard-working families’ homes for credit cards and cash?  What circumstance causes the darkness to bubble up from within, necessitating a violation intimate enough to change an aging couple’s behavior forever, but so infantile that even a police officer probably won’t have time to care.

Where is your self-worth?

Ours is a typical neighborhood, with one-acre lots, unimpressive architecture, and unexciting landscape.   There is no cover, and no incentive to wander between homes looking for loot.  Two or three bedrooms, an attached garage, and every once in while a pool or a trampoline; we have neither.  The biggest take with any effort would probably be a mini-van…there’s plenty of those.

This morning someone woke up and couldn’t remember what humanity meant, and in the world we Chicagoans live in that’s a hard thing to forget in early May.  That person entered our kitchen and took some cash and some gift cards; my mother collects Lettuce Entertain You gift cards in a way that might surprise you.  She’s too nice of a woman to call LYE and ask that they be replaced; “not in this economy“.

I honestly hope it was worth it.