I’m learning to embrace Christmas chaos

  • Written by Claudia Parker


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. .    

Christmas tree and wreath are packaged with some joyful humor

  • Written by Janet Boudreau

With Christmas just over a week away, I'm feeling the magic. I'm grateful for that because sometimes circumstances make it elusive. A few years ago, just as we became empty nesters, my husband had the nerve to need major surgery the week before the big Ho, Ho, Ho. I had been missing the days of searching out the most perfect Christmas tree with the kids and now I didn't even have my hubby to steer me away from the scraggliest tree on the lot.

I planned to go to our favorite place of all, Fasel & Sons Nursery in Oak Lawn. We had always made it our place for Christmas trees, plants and flowers, and big 'ol pumpkins in the fall. So, early one evening, while my guy was comfortable in bed and happily medicated I might add, I set off alone.

Feeling a little melancholy, I walked down the paths surrounded by trees of all shapes and sizes, the Christmas music wafting through the air. I stopped to admire one when a tall young man in a red velvet hat appeared. I gestured to the tree. "Oh," he said. "Fir Elton John?" I thought I heard him incorrectly. I looked around a bit helplessly and backed into..."Douglas Firbanks, Jr!" Santa's elf was beaming from his seven-foot head to his toes. "Or would you prefer something different?" He turned and gestured, "Meet Spruce Springsteen!"

I quickly settled on Fir Elton John and while the elf made himself busy writing up the sales ticket, I walked toward the beckoning warmth of the store and stopped to look at the array of wreaths decorated with ribbons and pine cones. "And that would be Wreatha Franklin," a voice behind me said. I didn't have to turn around to know who it was. And it was then that I noticed the ears poking out from under his cap...they were baby pink and pointed. I gasped, but he didn't seem to notice. I pointed to my car and went inside to pay.

A few customers milled about and the employees, wearing the same red and white caps, looked decidedly normal. I did a quick check of their ears. At the counter I told the sales girl that a big helper had written down my order. "Well," the sales girl said. "You have a Douglas fir and a decorated wreath." She asked an employee to tie the tree to the roof of my car.

"Oh, no!" I said. "There is a nice, er... man out there helping me. He sold me a Fir Elton John and a Wreatha Franklin, and is taking care of it already." The sales girl started laughing. She repeated it to the girl at the next register and she started laughing along with the customers in line. I was feeling pretty merry by then, garnering all that attention and all. I handed my ticket over. "See!"

The girl finished ringing up my purchases and said "I'm sorry Miss, we have only one person working outdoors this evening and...oh! There he is now with your tree." I looked around. No sign of a seven-foot elf. It was just a nice guy and not very tall, ready to help me out. I quietly said to him, "Yes. That's Fir Elton John. He's mine." I heard someone say under their breath, "And I'm the Prince of Wales."

I got in my car and looked back at all the trees and the lights, sparkling like a lit up forest, an enchanted forest if you will. Then I caught sight of something bobbing in and amongst them, the tip of a red and white cap over the top of the trees. And then a pink face with pointed ears poked out and with a wave of his hand I heard, "Have a magical Christmas!" And we did!

Fasel & Sons Nursery has been in business since 1963 and they really do name their trees. I can't take credit for these hysterically funny ones here but I can assure you there is more this holiday season! They are located at 10841 S. Cicero Ave., Oak Lawn.

Janet Boudreau is a writer, lifestyle blogger and longtime resident of Evergreen Park. When she is not busy chasing around elves with pink ears she enjoys cooking, gardening, decorating and Hallmark movies. You can reach her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Pearl Harbor’s impact is still felt 75 years later

  • Written by Joe Boyle

In many ways, it was just a typical December day in the Chicago area. My dad, Frank Boyle, told me that he was lying on the floor with a pillow positioned behind his head. He was listening to a radio broadcast of an encounter between the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Cardinals.

But at about 1:30 p.m., the game was interrupted by a bulletin. Reports had confirmed that the U.S naval fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu, Hawaii was hit with a surprise attack by the Japanese.

My father listened intently to the reports that did not have all the details as of yet. The football game later resumed and my dad knew exactly what he was going to be doing very soon -- he was going to war.

My father was right. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared war on Japan the following day. Roosevelt told Congress the next afternoon that Dec, 7, 1941 is “a date which will live in infamy.”

This nation has been shaken by surprise attacks, random acts of violence, and numerous natural disasters. Shootings at grade schools, high schools, colleges and universities have become too common the past 16 years.

So, to a degree, it is understandable that many younger Americans are unaware of the impact the invasion of Pearl Harbor had on our country. On one hand, the day was no different than any other at this time of the year. The temperatures were in the mid-20s and reached an afternoon high of 38 on Dec. 7, 1941. The temperatures reached a morning low of 31 and a high of 38 degrees on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor this year.

But when my father and millions of other Americans heard the radio bulletin about the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, everything changed. My father was typical of that generation. He couldn’t wait to sign up to defend his country. But he still had to finish high school. Many other American teens did not wait, dropping out of school and signing up.

I imagine many of them felt the U.S. would defeat Japan quickly while bringing down Hitler as well. It was a different time. When the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center fell to the ground in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, the nation and the world was stunned. Many of us saw it live on TV. Terrorists took over two planes and intentionally crashed them into the structures. We were also aware of the tragedies near Shanksville, Pa. and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. by the end of that morning, also the work of terrorists taking over planes. In all, 2,977 people were killed.

No one had televisions in 1941. My father could not have turned on a TV to watch wall-to-wall cable news shows for updates. Many people who lived in my dad’s Englewood neighborhood in Chicago had to wait until the evening editions of daily newspapers for further news on the invasion.

They had no Twitter or Facebook. The attack on Pearl Harbor took place at about 7:55 a.m. Hawaii time. My father and millions of other Americans found out about this attack later on.

But this much we do know about Pearl Harbor. The USS Arizona was completely destroyed and the Oklahoma was capsized. More than 2,400 people were killed and over 1,000 more were injured. The attack lasted just under two hours. Twenty American ships were damaged. Most of those fatalities and injuries were from the USS Arizona.

Dec. 7, 2016 was the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. While we have dealt with more tragedies in this new century in the U.S. and throughout the world, the Pearl Harbor attack is still shocking. This was the first time this young, vibrant nation, which was just shaking off the effects of the Great Depression, was attacked. Hawaii was an American territory at the time. Americans now had legitimate fears that the mainland could be next.

My father told me several stories about his time spent in World War II. He joined the Marine Corps and served in Okinawa, an island 350 miles south of mainland Japan. He did not elaborate much about his time being a gunner for the Marine Corps. Someone once asked him if he ever killed anyone. He was quiet for a moment and the said he did not know because he was far away.

With the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor invasion, memories of my father are still with me. The numbers of Americans who can recall that day are dwindling. But as a nation, we can’t forget. The lessons of Pearl Harbor are that freedom cannot be taken for granted.

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. .

Speaker encourages women to overcome abuse and despair

  • Written by Claudia Parker


Constance (Connie) Hurtado, of Romeoville, has survived domestic abuse, cancer and the death of her 2-day-old, first-born daughter, Yasmine. Managing pain produced by that level of trauma usually requires a written prescription from a licensed medical professional, but the antidote that’s been placed into Connie’s palm isn’t a pill, it’s a microphone.  

I was at a business writing conference at the Hilton in Oak Lawn when I first learned about Connie. The SkillPath facilitator, Dr. Mike Searcy, and I found ourselves swallowed by an empty conference room with a shared concept for brown-bagging our lunch. The other conference participants had chosen to go elsewhere.

An awkward silence fell as he and I began to compete for the opportunity to share our ideas and thoughts on life. During that exchange, he played a brief video clip of his mentor, Connie, speaking during a rotary club meeting. Just watching the first few minutes was enough to reel me in.

“Can you get me her information? I want the details of this story,” I said.

Connie led me back to when she was a 21-year-old self-proclaimed hothead that rebelled against the rules of her family household. “I got kicked out of the house so I moved in with a boyfriend,” said Connie. “He was taking care of me. Things started off so well. He was so kind and helpful.”

Within six months, things took a turn for the worst.

“I was a waitress; I needed to be friendly with everyone to make tips,” explained Connie. “He felt threatened and started being very insecure. That’s when the abuse began. The first time he attacked me it felt like it went on for a lifetime. I had neighbors, I screamed for help. Either they didn’t hear me or they didn’t care because nobody came.”

To her own admission, Connie didn’t confide in her family because she had too much pride.

“I was ashamed to let them know they were right about my poor choices.” It took a village of friends and co-workers to help her breakaway from her abuser, she said.

A couple of years later, now in a new relationship, Connie said she received the shock of her life during a routine appointment with her gynecologist.

“They told me I had cervical cancer.” She elaborated. “I had to have surgery to remove a portion of my cervix. I was told it wouldn’t reduce my chances of conceiving, but it could affect my ability to carry a baby to term.”

One year post surgery, Connie and her boyfriend anticipated the arrival of their baby girl, Yasmine. She was born three months premature and suffered severe medical complications.

Connie recalled the two days Yasmine lived. “I gave her a bath, her first feeding and cradled her in my arms until she breathed her last breath.”

She said she was bitter for a long time.

“I wasn’t advised to fight for my daughter. I didn’t know what to do, I was young. The doctor and the counselor told me she wouldn’t live or if she did, she’d have a poor quality of life. They pressured me hard to let her go.”

The pain of losing Yasmine put a strain on Connie’s relationship and shortly thereafter she found herself single again, but it wasn’t for long. She met Jesus Hurtado in 2007 and they married in 2011. Jesus and Connie have since given birth to three healthy children. Junior is 9, Jasmine is 5, and Vanessa is 3 years old.

“I married an amazing man,” Connie said. “Jesus adores me and the kids. He makes me feel treasured.”        

Connie said she’s found great liberation and freedom in sharing her story.

“The first time I shared I'd experienced domestic abuse, I was just offering a shoulder to a friend. I could sense she was having problems with her boyfriend. She didn’t want to tell me what was going on until I began to tell her what had happened to me. Once she knew I could relate, she began to trust me. After that, I knew I had to share my story with the world. Even if it only means saving a couple of people, it’s worth everything.”

Connie completed the John C. Maxwell leadership training program in August and is now booking speaking engagements in various places around the Chicago area.

“I want people to know that everyone suffers feelings of defeatism in life, but it doesn’t mean you have to live defeated. You can choose the kind of life you want. All that’s needed is a little bit of guidance and self-understanding. Right now can be a new beginning to the life you want. Where you are now is not where you have to end. You can take you where you want to go.”

To learn more about Connie, visit

The National Domestic Abuse hotline is (800) 799- 7233. The advocates are available 24/7 in over 170 languages.

For those seeking assistance handling the loss of a child, the Advocate Family Care Network may be a valuable resource. Visit

Claudia Parker is an Evergreen Park mother, author and runner whose columns appear in The Reporter.

Continuing to give after Thanksgiving

  • Written by Joe Boyle

The advancement of social media has created changes in our society in how we think and even what we celebrate. I have become aware this fall of the emergence of #GivingTuesday. When I opened up my email this past Tuesday morning, I saw at least 10 references to this particular charitable cause.

But I have a confession to make. Until last month, I had never heard of #GivingTuesday. Park Lawn, a great organization based in Oak Lawn that works to assist mentally and physically impaired individuals, sent us some releases a month ago about #GivingTuesday.

It was not long after that other organizations and schools sent us information of how to donate for various causes they are involved in relating to #GivingTuesday. My initial response after seeing #GivingTuesday was to edit it. I was thinking there must be some typos in there somewhere.

Several of the releases did mention that this day arrives the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving. When I learned that #GivingTuesday was in its fifth year, I did not feel so bad. But I never recall hearing about this before. It just seems to have become more popular this fall.

From what I have learned is that #GivingTuesday was created in 2012 at the Belfer Center for Innovation and Social Impact at the 92nd Street Y, a cultural center in New York City. They have been in existence since 1874. The idea behind the organization is to bring people together around the values of service and giving back.

That is where the idea of #GivingTuesday comes from. The Belfer Center and other organizations want to connect diverse groups of individuals, communities and organizations around the world for one purpose – to celebrate and encourage giving. These organizers offered their expertise and launched the idea of #GivingTuesday.

Social media has helped spread the word that apparently has escalated this year. The Belfer Center has referred to this day of charity as a movement. Along with Park Lawn, the staff and students at Mount Carmel High School have become active in #GivingTuesday. While reading about the origin of this day and the expanding resources, my advice is to contact local organizations, such as Park Lawn. This way, you know that donations will help them out.

From what I have read, individuals can donate time and/or funding to assist certain institutions. Businesses and organizations are asked to join in to help. In that regard, I’m all for #Giving Tuesday. How can anyone oppose giving back and philanthropy?

I guess some of us get a little weary when we see these new references. It is difficult enough just to keep up with technology. Now you need a guide book to see what days are set aside for various causes. My initial reaction was to think about people who complain that Thanksgiving is getting squeezed between Halloween and Christmas.

Now you have #GivingTuesday. We have already talked earlier about “Black Friday,” which is the day after Thanksgiving in which millions of Americans go to shopping malls looking for deals.

I recall being in college and coming home for Thanksgiving break and going out on Wednesday night, the day before the holiday. The bars were crowded as college kids come home meeting friends from their neighborhoods or from school. Sometimes it was a combination of both. After a couple of years of going out on these nights I realized that everyone seemed to be out.

Well, I guess in my age group at the time many people were out. Kids that were going away to college were off and mostly everyone else was, too. Now I turn on the TV and I see this day is referred to as “Black Wednesday.” Without any further explanation, I knew it was in reference to bars and restaurant owners whose cash registers are ringing on this day and night.

When I was in college, there was no reference to Black Wednesday. But I’m all for encouraging consumers to shop at small businesses during this period. Small Business Day is the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I like the idea of reminding shoppers to visit small businesses in cities, towns and suburbs across the U.S. The giant retailers don’t always need our help. Small businesses need us and we need them.

And we also have Cyber Monday, which is not been in existence that long. The idea behind this day is to get on your computer or phones and put in your orders for holiday gifts. Since I have not taken part in this phenomenon, I assume there are plenty of deals out there. But I kind of find this day kind of amusing. I mean aren’t people supposed to be working on Monday?

Maybe that’s why #GivingTuesday, which is the following day, was created. Maybe we need to be reminded the holiday season is about more than just sales.

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. .