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Getting rid of clutter and making life decisions in new year

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

My 2017 is starting off clean!

I’ve spent the previous two weeks hauling donations to various charitable organizations. A huge bin of books went to the Evergreen Park Public Library. A trunk full of household items went to the Thrift Store on 91st and Western, and two carloads of toys went to the Salvation Army on 87th and Cicero. Yes, I’m aware of several charities that would’ve scooped these donations right from my doorstep, but I had zero desire to schedule a pickup, I wanted everything gone -- straightaway!

I’ve since found myself migrating about my house, admiring its tidiness. “Thank you Lord for my home!” I’ve repeatedly whispered that in prayer accompanied by deep inhalations of the refreshing fragrance coupled with having a clean house. I didn’t just get rid of stuff, I emptied every drawer, cabinet, tote, and bin; only choosing to put back what I’d take ‘if’ I were hypothetically going to move. That was the only way I could rationalize whether I truly wanted to keep what I kept.

I’d ask myself, “Claudia, if you were moving into your dream house, would you take this?” I only wanted to retain items that were useful and needed regardless of their value. The things that weren’t being used had become clutter, mounting in areas I found myself too busy to address, until now.

“Enough is enough!” I told myself. “It’s ALL got to go!”

I’m not limiting this purging to household items. I’m looking to shed those extra holiday pounds I’ve packed on as well. So, I went back to Weight Watchers. I’m a lifetime member, but I haven’t been in eons. To qualify as a lifetime member, you must hit your goal weight and maintain it by weighing no more than two pounds over that goal for six weeks. At the end of that maintenance period you become a lifetime member. I only want to lose 10 pounds and guess what? Weight Watchers has a special through Jan. 16 where if you lose 10 pounds within your first two months, those two months are free! It’s a double reward. Lose the weight within a reasonable period of time and you don’t have to pay. That’s a no brainer!

I exercise regularly and it’s given me a false sense of security. I haven’t been monitoring my food choices. My school of thought has been, “I exercise so I can eat/drink whatever I want.” I’ve been so naïve. When I learned a 12-ounce can of soda was equivalent to a Weight Watchers entree I was bewildered. My workouts could’ve been far more effective had I not been self-sabotaging with poor choices.

Unfortunately, there’s more than fat to trim from my life. There are relationships I’m cutting loose. The dream killers are being eliminated. I find it exhaustive trying to maintain interactions with people who lack any ambition to move beyond the status quo. I’m sure some of you have a person in mind that lacks initiative to improve their own life, so they despise you for the progression you’re experiencing in yours.

Out. Out. OUT!

It doesn’t even need to be stated, no argument or confrontation necessary. Just make yourself less and less available until the communication and relationship has dissipated. We’ll have a better chance of reconvening with these people in a different life season if we recognize when a hibernation period is warranted.

I’ve found clearing the clutter in my life brings about new opportunities, fresh ideas and creativity. I desire to be my best self so that I can be a better wife, mother and citizen in my community. I dare not diminish my successes of 2016. There was much to be grateful for. Yet, there were also areas noted “room for improvement.” Let the dawn of a new day cast a ray of light on the areas you need to declutter. Don’t allow any area of your life to remain in disarray. Join me and confess your life clean in 2017!

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Let’s not forget old acquaintances in the new year

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The passing of the old year to the new marks a new beginning for most of us. At least we would like to think so.

But the new year has just begun and we have not noticed any great changes over the last few days. The Chicago Bears have proved to be as an inept in 2017 as they were in 2016. President-elect Donald Trump will continue to tweet as often as he did in the previous year.

And what about Mariah Carey? During her next performance in 2017, maybe she will actually sing. That would be one change.

The point I’m trying to make is that the new year is not like a light switch. Problems that existed in 2016 will most likely continue, at least initially, in 2017. Of course, we celebrate on New Year’s Eve with the hope that things will be a little bit better in the following year.

Many of us have made resolutions. The most popular is losing weight and getting in great shape. I wish everyone good luck with that. However, my suggestion is not to focus on this as your primary goal. Many of us become disenchanted. Losing weight can be hard work, especially when we get older. Getting a new job is something for people to strive for.

Perhaps the best resolution is not to make that many. Just try and be a better person. Perhaps some of the other things like weight and a new job will eventually take care of itself.

The year of 2016 was filled with chaos and the unexpected. It was in many ways an unpredictable year. My final day of 2016 was different. I attended a wake for a childhood friend that was held at my old church, St. Margaret of Scotland, 9837 S. Throop St., Chicago. Tom Carey was well known as a Democratic strategist for local candidates. He would call me often when I worked at another newspaper. We would discuss some candidates but we would always divert back to our pasts.

Tom lived a couple of blocks from me and we attended St. Margaret’s together. We were on some of the same baseball teams for the then Longwood Manor Baseball Association. Our conversations were mostly about those old days.

His wake was well attended. Many friends from my past were in attendance and it was good to catch up on how everyone was doing. That’s how life is when you get a little older. You often meet up with friends from your past at wakes and funerals. Fortunately, I have been seeing more of my friends from my past at more uplifting events the past couple of years. That is one resolution we should all try to keep. We should do our best to stay in touch with people we have known over the years.

I then had to leave to take some photos for our newspaper. My wife and I went out for dinner that evening in LaGrange and later saw the movie “Arrival” starring Amy Adams. Not to give anything away but this sci-fi film is about a new beginning. Somehow that was fitting to see this on New Year’s Eve. It is a great film.

We were home well before midnight and prepared to watch various New Year’s Eve countdown shows. At midnight, we celebrated like everyone else. We seemed to hear more fireworks than last year, maybe due to the milder temperatures.

I was in a good mood knowing that I would have couple of days off. It gave me an opportunity to think about the passing year and what to look forward to in 2017.

And what we can look forward to every year is hope. I don’t know if a new year is a new beginning or not. I suppose for some of us it can be. But maybe we can’t expect instant changes. Schools will be back in session soon and organizations will be gathering for meetings.

We know we will soon have a new president. The Bears will have the third pick in the NFL draft. So there will be changes in 2017. Let us hope that some of those changes will be for the better.

As for me, keeping up with friends and relatives will be my main goal.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

It's only fitting for the weather to play tricks at the end of a strange year

  • Written by Joe Boyle

It is hard to sum up a year in a few words. That is especially true for 2016, which seemed to have a little bit of everything. Trying to recall specific moments during the last 12 months can be difficult.

That all occurred to me when I went out for an early afternoon jog on Monday, a rare day off. I noticed a woman equipped with a blower gathering up leaves. As I passed by, I just had to shake my head. This is Dec. 26, the day after Christmas. A few days ago the temperatures were below zero. Snow was still on the ground on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

And here is a woman piling up leaves on her front lawn. That seemed to best explain the year of 2016. It was the year of the unexpected and unusual occurrences. It definitely was chaotic.

Yes, the year was dominated by bloodshed and the fall of Aleppo in Syria. Donald Trump defeats Hillary Clinton. The Chicago Cubs are World Series champions. That probably deserves repeating. Yes, the Cubs have cast aside 108 years of frustration. That also means no more goats, black cats or Steve Bartman.

It has been a tough year for rock stars. The year began with the passing of David Bowie, Glenn Frey and later, Prince. Keith Emerson, from Emerson, Lake and Palmer, also died. And just recently, Greg Lake, again from Emerson, Lake and Palmer, also died. Leon Russell also passed away. George Michael died on Christmas Day.

And in the case of Britney Spears, to paraphrase Mark Twain, her reported death was greatly exaggerated. This is another case where too many people are getting their news exclusively from the internet. The hoax spread and a lot of people fell for it. The pop star is indeed alive and well.

With all this breaking news surrounding us (and, apparently, fake news), we all have some moments we remember during a hectic year. On a personal note, I kept busy during the summer by attending two weddings. That was followed by three more weddings this fall. Despite all the chaos this year, people still found time for romance. I guess love conquers all.

We have already touched on the weather. Last winter was one of the mildest in Chicago history. The most snow we had fall at one time last year actually dates back to 2015. We had six inches of snow fall on the ground before Thanksgiving. It quickly melted and was followed by a mild December, followed by a mostly mild January to begin the year.

Of course, spring comes around and the temperatures averaged around 40 degrees. Chicago allegedly has springs but in name only. I guess after living here my whole life I have grown accustomed to temperatures in the upper 30s and lower 40s most of March and even in April. I finally got smart and hardly attend any baseball games until June. The calendar may indicate spring, but for most of us that means temps in the 40s. That qualifies for one of our springs.

But in another twist in an upside-down year, temperatures were in the 70s and even in the 80s as late as October. When the Cubs played the Indians in the World Series, players were actually perspiring in October at Wrigley Field. That mild weather even continued in Cleveland where the Cubs made history. Maybe it had something to do with temperatures in the 70s at night (along with a brief rain delay that may have been just what was needed for a championship).

In terms of weather for 2017, I don’t want to make any predictions. It snowed the first three weekends of December, followed by sub-zero temperatures. I have heard the temperatures will be mild in January. Hey, but who knows?

And that brings me back to that jog on Monday. I was near the end and noticed the same woman bringing out her garbage and a container full of leaves. I considered mentioning to her that the village no longer picks up leaves and branches during the winter months.

But I resisted. Since this has been an unpredictable year, maybe those leaves will get picked up after all.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Enjoy a few movies that bring holiday cheer

  • Written by Joe Boyle

Christmas is just around the corner and I have to remind myself that the big day is coming. One way to create a holiday mood is watch a favorite Christmas movie.

In the past 20 years or so there have been a number of Christmas-themed movies that have appeared on the big screen. Some of them have been amusing, while others have been just plain obnoxious. “Home Alone” was a big hit in the early 1990s. My kids liked it, too. But I was not a big fan. I just thought the Macauley Culkin character was a sanctimonious brat. I guess you have to buy into the fact that is not a big deal that an affluent family from the North Shore could forget their son as they go on vacation in Paris for the holidays.

Hey, there was even a “Home Alone 2” and more sequels. The family again goes on vacation, this time in Florida while Culkin somehow ends up in New York. Someone call DCFS on these negligent parents.

“National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” had its moments. “Bad Santa”: became a moderate hit when it was released in 2003 and later became a cult classic. It was amusing due to its outrageous plot. Billy Bob Thornton’s foul-mouthed Santa may not be for everyone but I found it be funny. And the late John Ritter and the late Bernie Mac were never better.

In terms of humor, I though the concept of “Elf” was brilliant. Will Ferrell can be a little grating sometimes but he was perfect as the large elf. He played the character with boyish innocence. Bob Newhart as Papa Elf was also hilarious. Like “The Polar Express” from 2004, these films work because of faith and believing, two themes that are associated with Christmas.

I really enjoyed The Polar Express although it was the source of controversy at the time it was released. Some parents brought their young children who were afraid of some of the scenes in the movie. Director Robert Zemeckis and co-producer Tom Hanks responded that sometimes life is a little scary for little kids. The anticipation and the doubts raised by growing children is part of the wonder of Christmas

What I liked about the film is the animation that resembled paintings right out of the 1950s. Santa, portrayed by Hanks, is initially intimidating and not openly jolly. But he proves to be wise and teaches a youngster the power of Christmas with a little bell.

I knew Zemeckis grew up in Chicago’s Roseland neighborhood, just like I did. Some subtle imagery of Chicago can be seen in the movie but the one part I picked up on right away is the conductor indicating that they have to stop for one more passenger on their magical train ride. He continually mentions the destination as “11344 Edbrooke,” which I knew was a street in Roseland, near Palmer Park. I figured that Zemeckis grew up at 11344 S. Edbrooke and he inserted it in the film. I read later that was the case.

The best Christmas movies are the ones where the main character either believes despite the odds or has a change of heart towards life. That is why I enjoy “A Christmas Carol” written by Charles Dickens and brought to the screen many times. I suppose everyone has their favorite version. My favorite is the 1951 British film starring Alaistair Sims, who I think was the greatest Scrooge. He is initially evil and distant until his redemption through the three spirits. He is energetic and funny at the conclusion. This is a great film.

If I had to pick a favorite I would have to go with “It’s A Wonderful Life.” The movie was not successful when it was released in 1946. Director Frank Capra did not want to promote it as a Christmas movie. Maybe that was a mistake. The copyright of the movie elapsed in the 1970s and stations all over the country began to show it during the late hours. I think the first time I saw the movie was in the early 1970s. The movie was shown in August and began at about midnight.

I asked my dad about it the next day and he said he never heard of it. Now most of us know the story of hard-luck George Bailey, portrayed by Jimmy Stewart, who finds out through a misfit angel that his life means so much to his friends and relatives. Clarence the angel was right. A man is not a failure who has friends.

Those are the films that have the most impact with me. Some other great holiday films from the late 1940s were “The Miracle on 34th Street,” starring a young Natalie Wood and Maureen O’Hara, and “The Bishop’s Wife” starring Cary Grant, Loretta Young and David Niven. Bob Hope’s “The Lemon Drop Kid” in 1951 included the first time “Silver Bells” was sung in a movie.

Many of you have your own personal favorites that are not covered here. Hopefully, you will watch them this weekend. Enjoy your favorite holiday movies and songs and have a Merry Christmas.

Joe Boyle is the editor of The Reporter. He can be reached at the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

I’m learning to embrace Christmas chaos

  • Written by Claudia Parker

Claudia-NEW

You know that feeling of panic you get when what you thought “could” go wrong suddenly does? Yeah, that was me at my 6-year-old daughter Rhonda-Rene’s very first school Christmas concert. She sang along as best she could for being non-verbal. She loves music and can harmonize with the rest of us non-singing Parkers to just about any tune on the radio. I knew she’d enjoy the music, but I worried about her ability to contain her movement on stage.

Rhonda-Rene is not autistic. However, she has several autistic characteristics. One of them is a sensory processing disorder, which causes continuous movement.

I was seated in the front row, snapping away through the lens of my Nikon. “Oh boy, aw geez,” I nervously stated while squirming in my chair. Within the course of the kindergartners two-song selections, Rhonda-Rene had hiked up her Santa dress to reposition her tights and dropped her gum on the riser below, of which she bent down, picked up, and popped back into her mouth. At one point, she took a short stroll, bobbing in and around the other kids, who didn’t seem fazed because they continued right along singing. When “Jingle Bells” began, that was it! Rhonda-Rene went into a full blown bunny-hop and once that settled, she started dancing like she had just received the Holy Ghost.

I sunk down into my seat, worrying over the ruckus she was causing when a lady sitting behind me touched my shoulder and whispered, “She’s making this the best Christmas show ever!” That was nice of her to say, but I didn’t see it that way. I was thinking, “People that don’t know she has special needs probably think I’m raising one of the Herdmans.”

If you haven’t heard of the Herdmans, then you may not be familiar with the classic tale, ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.” It originated as a book written by Barbara Robinson in 1971. It tells the story of Imogene, Claude, Ralph, Leroy, Ollie and Gladys. These six delinquent Herdman children were always engaged in some kind of misfit behavior. They go to church for the first time after being told that the church offers snacks. Despite protests from other church members, they are given roles in the Sunday school's Christmas play. The book was adapted to a play in 1982 and into a movie in 1983. Coincidentally, my 9-year-old daughter, Donae, couldn’t attend Rhonda-Rene’s performance because she was rehearsing for her role in ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever’ at the Beverly Art Center (BAC).

Donae’s been acting since the age of 5.She’s had several leading roles in student productions but this was her first time being in a professional series. Shellee Frazee is the artistic director at the BAC. She said, “I was very impressed when I saw Donae as Cruella De Vil in 101 Dalmatians, I’m very happy to have her in this cast.”

The rehearsal schedule for a professional play proved to be far more demanding than Donae’s previous production schedules. She began rehearsing in October and spent 12 to 15 hours a day, four days a week being immersed into becoming her character, Ollie Herdman. The show ran from Dec. 9 to Dec. 18 with a total of six performances. I had a ticket every night and each time I saw her up there being a sassy-mouth Herdman talking out of turn, dancing off mark and causing a disruption to her peers, I swelled with pride. And, on occasion, a tear or two slipped down my cheek.

Both of my girls performed to the best of their abilities in their Christmas productions this season and I’m proud of both of them. We aren’t a perfect family. There are many days where we don’t have it all together. But, as the saying goes, “Together we have it all!”

You can prepare the “perfect” family gathering only to have someone in your family flip everything upside down. Remind yourself that the true meaning of Christmas is to pause and celebrate that Jesus was born. He was sent to fulfill the divine will of God to undo the damage that was caused by the fall of Adam and Eve. Because of Jesus, those that choose to believe will have eternal life in Heaven.

Let’s choose to focus less on how we think the day should go and turn our attention to ways we can bring happiness to someone else. I’ll bet if we let go of our expectations for things to go perfectly, we will have the best Christmas day ever!

A big thanks to all of my loyal readers. I appreciate every one of you that I bump into within the community. I’m wishing you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I can’t wait to share the things yet to unfold in 2017!

Claudia Parker is an author, photographer and a reporter. Her columns appear every second and fourth Thursday of each month. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .