Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Stealing

Sunday Stealing: New Year's Reflection

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?  The best was nothing bad. I look back and am grateful for a good report from my mammogram, safe air travel, no serious illnesses for me or my loved ones (furry or otherwise). I feel fortunate for all of it.

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened? Reynaldo's health/behavior
problems. I've always been a devoted pet owner, but the amount of time, care and money this little beige demon extracted from me was really ridiculous. It was as though this little guy was my avocation in 2013! (He's curled up like a little fur shrimp right next to me as I post this.)

3. What was an unexpected joy this past year? My movie Meet Up group. I didn't expect to enjoy it so much. It's great to see the classics from decades gone by on the big screen with fellow movie lovers.

4. What was an unexpected obstacle? The ongoing worry about my employment status. I'm feeling rather confident right now. But, with advertising being as it is, that probably means the axe is gonna fall.
5. Pick three words to describe 2013.  State of flux

6. What were the best books you read this year? My favorite was Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin. Maybe it's a Baby Boomer thing, but I can't get over how powerful and pervasive Johnny was for a very long time and then, POOF, he's gone from the public consciousness. (Also, it was fun to learn that "Bombastic Bushkin" of Johnny's nightly monologs was a real person.)

7. With whom were your most valuable relationships? I treasured the long-standing ones most. I've known my Oldest Friend since Kindergarten, and John for more than 30 years. The friends I spend Christmas with in the Keys have been in my life since the 1990s. I really am blessed in this regard.

8. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year? This has been the first full year without my mom, so it's been a time of healing and building new traditions.

9. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally? I ended therapy last spring. I am tending to myself now. Reminding myself to move on when the toxic, angry, unproductive thoughts take hold.

10. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually? "We are the clay, you are the potter, we are all the work of your hands." It's a Bible verse I return to time and again when I feel myself becoming judgmental. We are each as God created us. We each have our own relationship with God. It's not up to me to remake anyone.

11. In what way(s) did you grow physically?  Ha! I discovered this year that I now weigh more than Abraham Lincoln did. Most of that is around my middle.

12. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?  See Question #10. I'm working on being more accepting. I work on it every day.

13. What was the most enjoyable part of your work?  Every now and then I hit it out of the park. That's good because I like and admire our client and enjoy helping them move their business. I also like writing the first draft of anything. I admit I get bored when the revisions come through. But I enjoy the writing.

14. What was the most challenging part of your work? Worrying about being let go. I'm an old broad and advertising is a young person's industry.

15. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year? Farmville 2! In fact, this could be the second year in a row when this is my biggest time waster.

16. What was the best way you used your time this past year? Paying closer attention to money.

17. What was biggest thing you learned this past year? Patience! I'm learning it, but have yet to master it.

18. Create a phrase or statement that describes 2013 for you. To borrow from the Lads from Liverpool, "I have to admit it's getting better, it's getting better all the time."

When the going gets tough ...

… the tough go to the movies.

I have so much blogging to do, so many emails to answer, so much housework to do, so many month-end bills to pay, that yesterday I did the only thing a girl could do: I fled. I ran to the movies and saw American Hustle.

David O. Russell could well be my favorite movie maker. I love the sensitive, eccentric alternate universes he has created in Silver Linings Playbook, The Fighter and now American Hustle. The performances are funny but masterful. The clothes and the music were both accurate and hideous (the 70s have to be the ugliest decade I have lived through). I had a fine time.

But the suitcases still have to be unpacked, crap still needs to be put away, and photos downloaded. But there's still time. And if it overwhelms me, I may run back to the theater. (Still need to see Saving Mr. Banks.)

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday 9

1) How cold is it where you are? Not right now. 53º. Which is freakishly warm for December 28 and accounts for my windows being open, and my being able to hear the kids next door playing outside. I haven't seen the weather report, but I would bet this means snow tomorrow. We must be punished for this sunny warmth!
2) This familiar song was introduced in a 1949 film called Neptune's Daughter. (watch a clip here). Name another movie song. "It's been a hard day's night, and I've been working like a dog."
3) Who was the last person to call you "baby?" You know, I can't recall anyone calling me "baby."

4) This time of year is important to college football fans. Have you watched/will you watch any bowl games? Nope.
5)  Are you sad to see the holiday decorations begin to slowly disappear? Or do you think they should all come down right away? I'm still feeling a little Christmas-y, so I still like seeing the decorations.
6) Did you tell the truth about your weight on your driver's license, or did you shave off a pound or two? Neither. I just made up a number because weighing myself makes me sad. 
7) Crazy Sam swears that the Echinacea she takes every morning keeps her healthy. Her boyfriend tells her she's wasting her money. Do you take any herbal supplements? Nope. I take a multivitamin in the morning and up the Vitamin C if I feel a cold coming on.
8) The average restaurant in the US tip is 18%. Are you a generous tipper? I guess I'm an average tipper. I double the 9% sales tax, so I tip 18%.
9) This is the last Saturday 9 of 2013. Do you know the lyrics to "Auld Lang Syne?" Yes. Here is my favorite version from the Sex and the City movie. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we have good friends. We take trains through the snow for one another and we may be alone but never lonely.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sunday Stealing

A Christmas Meme

1.The Christmas song I can listen to even in June is... "River" by James Taylor.

2.Hot Chocolate, Egg Nog or Mulled wine? Hot chocolate

3.When do you put your decorations up?  Right after Thanksgiving

4. What are you having for Christmas dinner?  I don't know. I'm having my first-ever Christmas dinner with my friends and I'm joining in their tradition.

5.What is your favorite Christmas tradition?  Choosing my cards from the American Humane Association and getting them into the mail right after Thanksgiving.
My 2013 card

6. Have you ever gone Carol singing?  No. I'm tone deaf and don't sing in public.

7. When did you learn the truth about Santa?  I figured it out between first grade Christmas and second grade Christmas.

8. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?  No tree of my own this year, but my friends in the Keys have one. I'm thinking of bringing my new Chicago Cubs ornament to hang on theirs.

9. What's the best thing about Christmas?  The happiness and good will.

10. All I want for Christmas is... happy memories.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Saturday 9

Happy Holidays!

1. If you could ask Santa for anything at all, right now, what would it be? I know how busy The Big Guy is this weekend, so I'll make it easy on him. I'd like a $1,500 giftcard from American Airlines (it's the largest amount you can get for me online, Santa). I've got three trips planned for 2014, Mr. Claus, and this would really, really help. A giftcard fits under the door, so you don't even have to waste valuable time coming in. Don't bother with a gift tag. I'll know who it's from.

2. Are you currently on the Naughty or Nice list? How did you get there? I think I'm on the Nice list because I've worked at being more patient this year.

3. Are you traveling this Christmas? If so, are you going by car, plane or train? I'm flying to Key West through Tampa and from Key West through Fort Meyers. I'm hoping my connections go smoothly.

4. Did you buy yourself a gift this year? Yes. I finally got My Name is Barbra and My Name is Barbra, Two on CD. I bought these albums on vinyl decades ago and love them. I have downloaded favorite individual selections on iTunes. But there were still songs I didn't have. Amazon had them on sale for $6.99 each, so Merry Christmas, Gal!

5. What's your favorite holiday-themed movie or TV special? Have you seen it yet this year? Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. I check around for it each morning but don't see it scheduled. I'll probably end up digging up the DVD and watching it tonight.

6. Which do you prefer: candy canes or gingerbread? Gingerbread. Love it, love it, love it.

7. Close your eyes and tell us the first carol that comes to mind. "… And so I'm offering this simple phrase to kids from 1 to 92. Though it's been said, many times many ways, Merry Christmas to you."

8. What's your favorite winter beverage? I like Bailey's. But not yet. Let's wait until afternoon before we start pouring.

9. What will you remember most about 2013? For me, this was The Year of Reynaldo. All of a sudden, my 9-year-old cat spun out on me. Peeing all over,
singing and screeching at all hours, alternating between demanding attention and being destructive. It
went on for months! I didn't want to get rid of him -- a return to the shelter would be so sad for him because, at his age and with his history, he'd be virtually unadoptable. After many trips to the vet for a series of shots, a switch to prescription cat food, and an herbal supplement, he's much, much better. He's still a little madman -- that's just the warp and woof of his personality. But now he's more peaceful, more comfortable and happier. He even sleeps every once in a while!

Holidailies -- Day 21

Well, I'm getting my last hair cut and color of the year. Does that count?

The Last Meeting of the Year

Thursday we had a meeting at our client's downstate offices. I presented six (count 'em! 6!) pieces of proposed creative. As expected, they chose two for April 2014. They seemed very enthusiastic about one and pleased (enough) with the other, so I think it went well.

Presenting on December 19 is never ideal. Everyone's head is more into Christmas than into work. That my client's chairman gave his annual holiday address in the building atrium right before my meeting just emphasized this.

Also, my boss had just given his own presentation -- which used up a ton of our resources and left me with the leftovers for mine -- on Monday. And it didn't go especially well. So I felt a bit as though I started behind the eightball. This added to the pre-meeting stress, but made it the mostly positive reception more satisfying.

I went down on Amtrak but came home in the car with my account team. The Chocolate Covered Spider drove. She told us all about her fractious family and how difficult her childhood was with an older half-sister who began partying and got pregnant very young. I'm glad to have heard these tales. They make Spidey's control issues more understandable. She's still always got to be "the good sister." Knowing this will probably make it easier for me to deal with her in the future.

Of course there's more. There's ALWAYS more.

My late mother's home sold at auction on December 9, so I thought the hassles about her reverse mortgage had to be over. I created a spreadsheet that cataloged the assets and debits, made copies of each receipt listed, carefully composed a cover letter and sent a packet off to each of my sisters -- first class mail and tracking. My heinous older sister's packet includes a check. (Of the $14000+ that was required to handle my mother's final expenses, she contributed $1000. Of that, she's getting $333.49 back.) According to USPS's tracking service, the package was delivered to Ms. Heinous at 3 PM today. So I should be able to sit back and say to myself, "Yea! It's finally over!" More than a year after her death, I can now think of my mother exclusively as my mother, and not as a legal entity, right?

Not right.

I got a notice from the IRS, saying that I owe $537 on the MetLife stock I deposited into my checking account when we collected on our mother's life insurance at the end of 2012. I'm not sure I do owe it -- in the past, whenever I have heard from the IRS, it has turned out that they were wrong and my accountant was right and it was resolved amicably and in my favor. But it has never been resolved quickly, and the IRS insists they need to hear from me by January 8. With the holidays, I didn't even bother to call my accountant, I just cut the check. According to the paperwork, I can always appeal it in the future.

The impossible part would be squeezing another penny out of my heinous older sister. If I do owe the $537, $179 is her fair share of the tax liability. Yeah, right. Life "fair share" has ever meant anything to her.

I have given up hope that this will EVER be over.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holidailies -- Day 20

Well, there are my fabulous Christmas cookies, made with a great deal of love for my best friend. I was endlessly proud of them. It took several batches, but I finally got a dozen cookies that were absolutely perfect.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

That Went Well

Yesterday's internal review, that is.

I had been dreading it. The meeting we're having with the client tomorrow is important, but the topic is completely within my wheelhouse and under any other circumstances I'd be enthusiastic about it.

But we're working with the Chocolate Covered Spider, and she likes to get all in my grill and change things not to improve them, but to bring me to heel.

I warned my boss that she just cannot do it this time. The team has been too busy on too many things and we simply do not have the resources to redo everything on Tuesday for a Thursday meeting. He promised to talk to her beforehand, and to attend the meeting himself.

He was as good as his word. He doesn't usually have my back, but this time I think he did.

Image courtesy of Ambro/

Holidailies -- Day 18

I'm spending Christmas this year -- and probably from now on -- in the Keys, so no more white Christmases for me. The notion makes me a little sad. Though I'm appreciating the snow we've received in the run-up to Christmas, which is helping me get in the spirit.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Holidailies -- Day 17

Today's prompt: Elf on a Shelf - adorable childhood tradition, or creepy stalker?

I admit I had no idea how popular this fellow was until just recently, when he made the front page of the venerable Chicago Tribune! (The Trib usually saves the front page for serious stories, or Da Bears.)

I don't see how Elf on a Shelf is any creepier than Santa. I mean, he sees us when we're sleeping and knows when we're awake and knows if we've been bad or good. And he keeps a list! Not only that, he teaches us that the reason to be good is not that being good is right, it's that being good is rewarded with stuff.

I don't mean to be coming down on Santa. I'm a big fan of the big guy! I just don't see how Elf on a Shelf is fundamentally different than his boss.

Moody, icky Gal

I'm not feeling very Christmas-y right now.

I squeezed in a day off and spent it on the futon with tummy trouble. Really, all I did today was sleep and ... er ... um ... never mind. Now it's 8:30 and my stomach is better and I'm freaking STARVING!

Then there's family. It's a loaded issue for me and I admit it's getting me down. With our mother's house sold, it's time for me to settle up with my older sister. I worked on the spreadsheet of debits and credits and organized receipts and wrote and rewrote the cover letter. Now that the dust's settled, she's getting about $350 of her $1000 back. (Yes, she pitched in $1000 to my $12000.) My mother had nothing, left us nothing, and my older sister has done nothing to help with the resolution of her final affairs. I don't know why I'm so nervous about closing the book on this. Even if I've done something wrong, we're talking about a discrepancy of hundreds, not thousands, of dollars. I just want this over and behind me! I've been too nervous about this for too long and I want to be rid of this stress. I just hope my older sister cashes the check without argument so we can move on.

And I'm upset about my oldest friend's family, as well. An only child who lost both her parents, she moved 2000 miles to California to be near her only living relative, her cousin Sharon. And yet Sharon hasn't been very supportive to my friend at all. Sharon "postponed" celebrating my friend's 12/11 birthday into a combination dinner with Christmas on 12/21. Yes, Sharon's spending Christmas with her husband's family and my friend's not invited. (My friend will be spending Christmas with her children -- but they're part of why she needs support from Sharon.) This is the tip of the iceberg. I could do a whole post about the problems and critical junctures Sharon wasn't there for over the last three years.

And there's my best friend. He's very close to his young nephew. The kid is 10 this year. When his sister/brother-in-law divorced, my friend ended up spending a lot of time with the boy. Well, now his sister-in-law is involved with a new man and she wants her son to start new traditions with his "new family." My best friend misses the boy profoundly, especially now that his own daughters are both growing up and don't exhibit that childlike delight on Christmas morning anymore.

So I'm sad that the Norman Rockwell ideal isn't alive and well in my heart and in the households of so many of those closest to me. (Including me.)

Monday, December 16, 2013

Holidailies -- Day 16

This is the first year that I haven't waited, not even for one minute, in line at the post office. I bought my poinsettia stamps and mailed my first gifts from The UPS Store. My second round of gifts were sent from the post office, but I used that self-service kiosk. I have to go to the post office today to put my mail on vacation hold, but hopefully that won't be too painful.
It's too bad that my trips to the post office have been marked by inefficiency and (worse) rudeness. But the upside is that The UPS Store is usually open and offers may of the same services.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

Holidailies -- Day 15

The wonder and anticipation and delight that come from truly believing in Santa. How did he know? How did he manage to get it to me? Miraculous!

Sunday Stealing

The Blerp Meme

When you get a headache do you take painkillers right away or try to wait it out?  I take painkillers right away because if I get the naproxen dose right, I can avoid a migraine. And migraines are soul crushing.

 Is there a really funny YouTube video you’d like to recommend to me?  No. Sorry.

Did you watch Sesame Street when you were little?  Yes. I can still pronounce the entire alphabet as a word, courtesy of Big Bird.

What’s the last thing you touched, other than your computer?
  Bottle of ginger ale.

When was the last time you talked to your best friend?
  It's been a while.

How often do you listen to music?
  Every day.

What color is your cell phone?  Silver and navy.

What is the last non-alcoholic beverage you drank? The aforementioned ginger ale

Do you like to wear sweatpants?  Not especially. Though I wore them Saturday. They're unfashionably short with my boots and consequently worked well in the snow.

What song are you currently listening to? Who sings it?  A lot of carols. I'm listening to Michael Buble a lot this season. Especially "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)."

Have you ever gotten a black eye? No. I have suffered a fat lip a couple times, but no black eyes.

What caused it?  No black eyes. I'm sorry.

How many times have you checked up on your ex?  I have one that I cyber snoop on periodically. He is a good man and I hope his life is happy.

If you had to get a tattoo what would it be?  Hmmmm .... I don't think I want one at all.

How many tabs are open right now?  Four

Are you scared of needles?  No.

Do you believe love can last forever?  Yes

Are good-byes easy or hard for you?  Depends on the situation

Would you rather sing or dance?  Neither, but thank you for offering.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Feeling Fortunate

My friend in the Keys sent me a photo of "our" Christmas tree, the one I'll be celebrating around on December 25. It was a thoughtful gesture. While I've rung in more than a dozen New Years with them, this is our first Christmas together and it was very sensitive of him to go out of his way to make me feel welcome.

When I was a kid, I watched As the World Turns with my mom. The characters at the center of the soap, the Hughes family, always had everyone in Oakdale over for Christmas dinner. I realize now it was a plot device so the writers could update us a long list of characters in short order. But as a child, I thought having a Christmas like that would be cool. Our family Christmases were all so full of tension. The Hughes dinner table was filled with a variety of happy people from all walks of life, laughing and enjoying one another.

In a way, that's the Christmas tradition I find myself building now, for the last decades of my life. It makes me happy.

Saturday 9

1) Sam has affection for this song because, when she was very young, she tap-danced to it for a Christmas recital. Her parents told her she was wonderful. Do you have any memories from a school/church program or pageant -- either as a child onstage or an adult in the audience? I have no memory of this, but my parents and uncle teased me about it for years afterward: For a Sunday School Christmas recital, I wore a white choir robe with black collar and looked quite angelic. First the little girls in our class sang a song, then we were told to "smile quietly" while the boys sang their carol. I did just that … after hiking my choir robe way up and sitting down, "Indian style." Hey! My teacher should have told us to "continue standing and smile quietly."

2) Ok, she admits it: After too many cups of holiday cheer, Sam did a few steps of her "Jingle Bell Rock" routine at last year's company Christmas party. Have you ever done anything at a coworker gettogether that you now regret? Yes. That's part of why I don't go to company parties any more.

3) Since that unfortunate Christmas 2012 incident, Sam can't even look at a cup of egg nog. How about you? Do you like egg nog? I prefer the spiked to the virgin.

4) For special events, Sam slips on her favorite piece of jewelry: a charm bracelet that once belonged to her grandmother. Do you have a special treasure from a previous generation? I have my favorite Grandpa's heavy ceramic jewelry box. A heavy ceramic cable car. I love it very much.

5) The only Christmas card Sam has received so far in 2013 is from her insurance agent. How about you? Have any holiday cards arrived yet? I have five: my cousin, a friend, a former neighbor who moved to AL, and two local charities I support (a childrens' home and animal shelter).

6) Because of the chill in the air, Sam gave her dog his Christmas gift -- a sweater -- early this year. He's already gotten compliments on it. Are there any pets on your gift list? Yes. But not my own. I'm spending Christmas with my friends in the Keys and I think I'll bring something along for their two dogs and very cranky cat. My young nephew is very into his family's pets (two cats and a turtle), so I'll have a little something for them, too. The only kiwi I buy all year is for that turtle.

7) Do you need snow to get "into the spirit?" It helps.

8) Are you going to get/have you gotten a flu shot this year? I intend to and I should. It's just with my allergies, I have to get the preservative-free formula and the local drugstore is often out of it.
Let's get her indoors!

9) December is an important fundraising month for charities. Here's your chance to plug a worthy cause that means a lot to you. As I write this, it's snowing outside and my cat, Joey, is snuggled against me, his old bones safe and dry and warm. On mornings like this, I realize that he wouldn't be alive now if not for the loving care of humans. Feral cats seldom make it past age 8 years old, and here's my darling Joe clocking in at 14! Which is all my long winded way of saying, go to and support a local animal shelter. They need our support so they can rescue dogs and cats from the challenging winter weather!

Holidailies -- Day 14

Dear Fox News:

Shame on you for using the joyous event my Savior's birth to spread divisiveness.

Bill O'Reilly is big on the imaginary "War on Christmas," nurturing an Us vs. Them approach to the holiday season. Now your Megyn Kelly is insisting that both Jesus and Santa are white, and further insisting that making such proclamations is "funny."

I recognize that, coming from where He did, the likelihood that the blond, blue-eyed image of Jesus I grew up looking at is probably inaccurate. That makes no difference to how I worship. I feel sorry for Fox News talent and viewers whose faith is so shaky that this frightens them. And I feel worse for Fox News management for fueling the suspicion different races and religions have for one another, just for ratings.

As I recall from Sunday School, Jesus took a dim view of that sort of thing.
PS I'm glad Holidailies Grinch Week is over. I appreciate these prompts were interesting and different, but I want to get my Holiday Happy back on!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Holidailies -- Day 13

Today's prompt: Holiday pet peeve?
My kid sister won't commit to when we're celebrating the holiday until the last minute.

Happy news from a happy man

My friend Tom is a really good man, and that's why I'm happy to  report that, at dinner last night, I found him nothing but happy.

He's had a lot of drama in his life over the past 10 months -- let go by our agency in February, a pair of freelance jobs that were less than successful, and a job that was a terrible fit and resulted in another lay off. He's also gotten married and honeymooned in Bora Bora! And he's facing forward, looking to 2014 with loads of optimism.

This is one of the things I like best about the holidays -- we make time to see one another. Not email or text or even call, see one other. Share a drink and a hug.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hakuna Matata

Got the good word from the hospital yesterday. My annual mammogram showed "no abnormalities." Yea!

Holidailies -- Day 12

For the most part, I enjoy them all. There are two that -- while I don't HATE them -- I'll never watch them again. The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) is just too long and doesn't hold my interest. Ditto  The Bishop's Wife (1947) and the the 1996 remake, The Preacher's Wife.