Sunday, June 3, 2012

Best Summer Memories....Family Vacations in Clear Lake, Iowa

My Brother Steve at Hilltop Pool
For a kid, a great summer vacation doesn't have to be a European trip that costs 5k per person.  Growing up in "America's Hometown" Charles City, Iowa both my mom and dad operated retail businesses.   Time off was tough to find, but we always seemed to find 3-4 days a couple of times each summer for a family vacation.   Our favorite destination was Clear Lake, Iowa.   Clear Lake was less than an hour's drive from Charles City, but for us kids, it was just as exciting as a summer in Europe.

Our favorite place to stay was 'The Hilltop Motel' which was operated by Al and Louise Allen, good friends of our family.   Clear Lake and the grounds of The Hilltop were full of places to explore:  The Dairy Queen was a favorite.  And there's no better meal than a foot-long hot dog after swimming all day.   Just across the street was the legendary Surf Ballroom, where Buddy Holly played his last show.   Although I was too young to attend concerts, I watched with great interest as bands like Tommy James & The Shondells, The Grassroots and The Guess Who all came through town to play The Surf.

In Chicago with my son Mac (2004)
One of our most memorable Clear Lake adventures was during the summer of 1968, a year of political and social turbulence.  In August the country was on edge after the violent Democratic National Convention in Chicago.   Woodstock was happening.  And in Iowa, there was a powerful rumor circulating that The Hells Angels were going to come rolling into Clear Lake to 'take over' the town over Labor Day weekend.  People got so worked up that the Governor of Iowa called out the National Guard to protect the town.  I was 11 that year and remember being very excited to see military jeeps and personnel all over town.  Nothing materialized as far as the Hells Angels...but us kids got some great memories out of the deal.

As a dad I've thoroughly enjoyed spending time with my son on vacation.  We make it to Iowa at least once a year...usually over July 4th.  And this year, Mac's really excited about going to New York City for the first time.  More on NYC as the trip unfolds.  Until then, I hope you have a great summer that includes some vacation time with your family. 

-Pete Thomson

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Remembering Mom

My mom passed away nearly 20 years ago.  I think about her in some way every day.  On Mother's Day I think about her a lot.
Mom With Baby Steve

Mom was Always There.  And not just the obvious things like rocking you to sleep at night.  My mom had a way of being really connected to each of us kids.  She had keen sense for when one of her kids was troubled with something.  She could tell when I was the least bit upset purely from body language.   

Mom was a Teacher:  Her class room was the dining room table, where she set up 'camp' most days.   Problems with homework?  It got handled in the dining room.  Issues with a girl friend?  Again, the dining room.  I learned how to write in the dining room.  Mom taught all of us the art of writing at a typewriter.  Each of us had our own Underwood typewriter and Mom was always there to proof our latest short story or piece for the school paper.  Mom also loved to read.  She was often reading 2-3 books at one time.  I read a lot because of my Mom.

Heading To Work With Grandma Fan McQuillen
Mom was Funny:   You had to get to know my mother to understand her sense of humor.  She wasn't particularly outgoing.  In fact, she avoided parties and social situations, preferring to be at home with her family.   But around the people she was comfortable with, she was very, very funny.   She was well read and had a sort of sophisticated, off beat and cheerfully caustic way of talking about life.

Mom Made Life Fun:   Whether it was telling very interesting and creative bed time stories or taking us out on daily drives around town, Mom always found ways to make our lives fun.  Some of her bed time stories, like 'The Witch in the Chevy 2' were funny and very original.

Mom Sacrificed:   Mom majored in journalism at The University of Iowa.  Her dream was to be a writer for New Yorker.   And, she was smart enough and good enough to have made it to a high level in the writing world.   Still, because she put others ahead of herself, her dream didn't happen the way she had planned.  She gave up the bright lights of the city to stay home in her hometown of Charles City, Iowa where she could be with her mother, run her own business and start a family.  
First Communion With Mom

Mom Taught Us About Business:   Both of my parents owned their own businesses on Main Street in Charles City.  As the owner of Janan's For Young Ages, a children's clothing store, Mom was decades ahead of the explosion of women-owned businesses.   Mom and Grandma Fan worked the business together for many years.  Most days after school all of us kids would head down to Mom's store to catch up on the news of the day and bum a quarter from Grandma for a Coke.  What we didn't realize at the time was the education we were getting about small business and balancing a career with a family.  One of my favorite memories as a child was 'going to market' with Mom in Chicago at The Merchandise Mart.  

Mom Loved Unconditionally:   No matter what you did, Mom was always there.  And through the tough days growing up, knowing that she was there was the greatest comfort and security a kid could ever have.

When I consider all these things about my Mom and realize that not all kids had mothers like mine, I know that I was truly blessed.

So as we celebrate Mother's Day 2012, a toast to you, Janan McQuillen Thomson, my Mom.

Pete Thomson
Twitter:  @pwthomson

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Resolutions Made Simple....3 Words!

If you're like a lot of people, you start the new year gung ho about your goals and dreams.  New Year's Resolutions are often shared with other family members, published in blogs, on Facebook and Twitter, but almost never accomplished.  Why?   We don't identify the small. incremental daily activity that make achievement possible.

I really like blogger Chris Brogan's latest piece on setting New Year's Resolutions.  Instead of specific goals, Brogan suggests selecting 3 words that embody a direction you want to take your life.  For example, you might want to lose weight, improve your relationship with a family member and get control of your finances.  The key words for these goals could be Health, Family and Focus.   Instead of setting specific goals, select a word that describes the direction you want take your life.    Then, every day, try to do do something that supports that area of your life.

Kudos to Chris for introducing this concept.  It's simple but it has the potential to help us get closer to realizing those goals and resolutions that never seem to materialize.

By the way, my 3 words are:   Focus, Health & Family

What are yours?

Happy New Year 2012.

Pete Thomson
Twitter:  @pwthomson