Home is where the heart is

Home is where the heart is

I decided to take a vacation last week…my first week off from the blog in almost a year! The move…as well as four airports (twice each!) in a week’s time…finally caught up to me.  After spending a full week in my new Chicago apartment – trying to get as settled as I could in that short period of time – I flew back to New Jersey.

My sister was getting married in Ireland. It was an event I wouldn’t miss. When I booked the flight in January, it only made sense to fly out of JFK. That still worked out well because my daughter was back in New Jersey. And during my 30-hour layover, I was able to reconnect with a few friends with whom I hadn’t exchanged proper farewells before I left the first time. That was nice.

From the very first time I traveled to Ireland to meet my (biological) mother and some family members over 20 years ago, they referred to it as “coming home.” This time was no different. Except that this time, something very special happened. We were all there! I am (biologically) one of Teresa McElroy’s thirteen children. Because my older brother and I had been adopted out – and I all the way to America (read about that here) – this was the first time that all of us were in the same place at the same time. Ever! Kudos to my sister, Jacqueline, for staying on everyone’s good side so this could happen.

Good morning. Galway Bay. Salthill, Galway City, County Galway. July 2018.

My daughter and I basically spent the weekend in Ireland, flying back from SSN to JFK on Monday. Another overnight layover in New Jersey, a flight from EWR to ORD and here I am back in Chicago (after spending four days with me, my daughter is back in New Jersey already because of plans with friends and a paying job).

So, four airports, two times each in less than a week. A small price to pay for time with family and time with friends. Now, embracing my new home in Chicago (with the love of my life and my daughter – soon to be here fulltime), pieces of my heart remain in New Jersey with special friends and cherished memories. Another piece of my heart has remained in Ireland all my life only growing bigger as I create memories with my family there.  If home is where the heart is, I am fortunate to have three places I can rightfully call home.

Goodnight. Lake Michigan. Chicago, Illinois. July 2018.


My running through all this has been sporadic. In spite of the lack of training, I did complete the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon (my 44thHalf!) this past weekend and will provide a review in next week’s blog.

Why Chicago?

Why Chicago?

Fifty-one years-ago this past May, aboard an Aer Lingus 707, I arrived at JFK to meet my adoptive parents for the first time. I spent the first night in my new Northern New Jersey home…and basically, I never left.

I couldn’t wait to leave for college, but after four-years in Philadelphia, I gravitated back to northern New Jersey. My first apartment with friends was only 5 miles from the home I grew up in and the home I just moved out of, where I raised my daughter, was only 6 and half miles away.

There were lots of times that I fantasied about a change of scenery. There was the time back in the 80s when my friend and I made plans to move to Charleston, South Carolina after college even going as far to spend a weekend there looking at apartments. My late husband and I had considered Vermont, Oregon, and yes, Charleston again (because its warmer in Charleston).

Ultimately, proximity to family was the biggest factor that kept us here and then once our daughter was born we wanted to have roots. The plan was always that we’d finally consider a big move in June 2018 – the month our daughter would graduate from High School and we’d celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary. Our gift to ourselves: a huge reduction in property taxes. (I wrote about how I continued to make that dream a reality few weeks ago).

The view close to the end of my road trip last week. June 2018. Chicago, Illinois.

Chicago has been pulling me for a long time. My first trip was in 1985 with my college boyfriend who grew up here. I loved it (although this New Yorker didn’t admit that to him at the time). We came back again the following summer. In 1994, just after leaving my first big job, I went to work for a Chicago-based company and spent a week out here for training.  I did a lot of exploring by myself and remember feeling very at home.

Work I was doing with a national non-profit took me on a couple business trips here in 2012 – once for a meeting at the Admiral’s Club, where I never left O’Hare. I was also aware of a former work colleague from that first big job who went to work for the Chicago Tribune and was transferred here in 1994. There was just something about Chicago.

In 2015, I ran the Chicago Marathon. In 2016, my daughter’s Sweet-Sixteen present was an all-expense-paid trip for all four days of Lollapalooza for her and a friend (it was what she wanted and was cheaper than a party). By December of that year, I was starting to make some regular trips to the Windy City, because that “former work colleague” was now my boyfriend.

When my daughter started looking at colleges, with all my other family gone, I was acutely aware that there wasn’t a lot keeping me in New Jersey. I told her to select the right school and not worry about the location. I would just move to be closer to her…wherever that was. Of course, that was when we were looking at schools in Southern California, not Chicago.

By the time Chicago became an option, I was invested in a life here even if it meant more cold winters. It certainly wasn’t cold when I arrived on Friday, although I know that will change come fall. But as I said to someone who questioned my decision, “I have my love to keep me warm.” So, why Chicago? It was just meant to be.

First day in my new neighborhood with the keys to my apartment. June 2018. Chicago, Illinois.


Twelve things I will miss about New Jersey

Twelve things I will miss about New Jersey

High School Graduation is now behind us! I am so proud of my girl for all that she has achieved here and for setting herself up right for what’s to come. The movers are on their way. Today is the day I move out of my house. It is going to be bitter sweet closing the door for the last time this week. There will certainly be a lot of things I’m going to miss about life in New Jersey.

A gorgeous setting for the high school’s 110th Commencement ceremony.

A friend posted on FaceBook recently that he was working on his column and asked that we contribute “things we love about the Garden State.” There were a lot of the usual suspects like Springsteen, the Shore, Taylor Ham (or pork roll?), and proximity to New York City (or Philadelphia, depending on who was contributing).  There were debates around whether or not pumping one’s own gas is a benefit or a curse, or whether not having to pay sales tax on food and clothing balanced out the high property taxes.

Sunrise on the Hudson. Palisades Interstate Park. Englewood, New Jersey.

My boyfriend (who was a transplant from New Jersey before moving to Chicago almost 25 years ago) said the things I will miss most about Jersey will be (real) pizza, Chinese food, and spring.  My daughter thinks for her it will be good bagels. I think I will miss not having to pump my own gas only in the winter. I’m renting, so I can’t give an assessment on property taxes; but I can tell you that I got a really nice 2-bedroom apartment in a great residential neighborhood in the city for considerably less than New York City rents. And I’ve always wanted to live in a city.

Summer hike with Enzo. Ramapo County Reservation. Mahwah, New Jersey.

So quick list of things I will miss about (specifically Bergen County) New Jersey that pop into my head…

  1. Proximity to New York City and the countless wonderful things it has to offer like Broadway and Rockefeller Center at Christmastime, Central Park, the High Line, and the Brooklyn Bridge
  2. An hour drive north to a ski resort; an hour south to a beach resort
  3. Sunday driving (and those from Bergen County know what I’m talking about here)
  4. Accessibility to several major cities from Boston to D.C.
  5. The Atlantic Ocean, especially along the beach in Montauk (my happy place) and the boardwalks of the Jersey Shore
  6. Seeing the New York City skyline on the horizon from numerous high places just minutes away
  7. Running the hills of Palisades in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge or not having to even leave town to find a hill to run
  8. Hiking trails that lead to the top of high mountains
  9. Running races and knowing the courses – and the competition!
  10. Being relatively close to the final resting places of my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles
  11. Countless friends and the memories of life here for the last 51 years
  12. And finally, the thing I will really miss about New Jersey – which also happens to be the same thing that gave me incentive to leave – is familiarity.
Seen on many, many runs. Saddle River County Park. Paramus, New Jersey.

Back in May, I talked about my life currently as so familiar that it was one I could “lead with my eyes closed.” The part of me that likes to be comfortable, also likes the fact that around here, I can steer my way out of any traffic jam without relying on Waze. I know the history and the stories, about our towns and businesses, and people. I’ve met my elected officials, I understand the politics and I always run into people I know everywhere I go.  When people talk about someone in a New Jersey diner, I’m that person in the booth behind them who knows who they’re talking about…and yeah, add “diners” to the list. 🙂


New Jersey Meadowlands. Lyndhurst, New Jersey.

That all makes life here very comfortable, but it can make it boring, too. I am also someone who likes a challenge (and if I’m honest with myself, I will admit that I’m in a little bit of a rut here recently). So off I go to be challenged. This kid who sometimes suffers from separation anxiety is armed with the security of friendships maintained on FaceBook and off to a whole a new adventure. An education awaits. I’ll find you again as soon as I get to Illinois (don’t leave me).

A spectator’s guide to the Chicago Marathon (bookmark for next year)

A spectator’s guide to the Chicago Marathon (bookmark for next year)

The Chicago Marathon is one of the most spectator-friendly courses I know. The way in which it weaves back and forth through downtown allows spectators several opportunities to see runners at multiple spots on the course without going too far out of their way.

A spectator can essentially view the course at mile 1, 5k, and Half without venturing more than a few blocks. Being a little more ambitious and creative, a stop at a critical point in Chinatown (mile 21) can be added and you can make sure you’re there to celebrate as your runner makes that last turn into Grant Park for the Finish.

I ran Chicago as my fifth marathon in 2015. I have also run New York City, New Jersey (Long Branch), and Bucks County (Pennsylvania), as well as 40 Half Marathons in three countries and eight States. Chicago stands out because it was the only one where “my fans” (people from New Jersey, no less) where out there cheering in several places. And if you’ve ever run a marathon, you know how important that is.

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