Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Listening to the Snarkestra

SnarkyPants (Lisa) ends her Christmas Day post by asking: "If you could do what truly makes your heart sing, what would it be?"

I've been giving this, and Lisa's personal journey, a great deal of thought. I haven't been happy lately. It's not my job. My job -- though fraught with stress and difficulty -- is just that: a job. No, all my problems are far closer to home.

I've made a mess of life and I'm overwhelmed. I'm fat, I'm over my head in debt, and I'm such a terrible housekeeper that tenacious drainflies have taken up residency in my kitchen.

I'm the only one who can fix these things. Yet I'm frozen in place, like a cat tranquilized with acepromazine maleate. I'm not hypnotized, I'm not depressed, I'm not drunk. I'm just stalled.

So, to answer Snarkster's question, if I could do what truly makes my heart sing, I would straighten up my backstage. The area the audience never sees. I would get my world in order. My finances and my home. Then, I suspect, the rest will fall into place. I believe then I'll have the energy and enthusiasm to see the rest of my life and its possibilities better.

I'm the only one who can do this. And as we approach the new year, this seems like a good time to resolve to get off my fat ass and change things.

1) Every month, I will take one bag over to Goodwill. It gets stuff out of here and it helps others.

2) Every week, I will brown bag it at least once. This is the easiest way I can think of to save money, and I've got to start somewhere.

3) Every purchase will be scrutinized. No more just buying shit to make me feel better. It's stupid, and besides, it hasn't made me feel any better.

Looked at one way, these three steps are just a little spit into the ocean. Looked at another way, it's a start. And I've got to start somewhere. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

That wasn't so bad

On Saturday the 27th I celebrated Christmas with my family. I'd been dreading it -- my kid sister can be quite the drama queen about these things.

But when I got there at 6:00 PM, everything was fine. My niece's boyfriend was sick with strep and asleep on the sofa bed in the basement. The rest of the family was watching old VHS tapes of Christmases gone by. Seeing how easily I played with my now 14 year old nephew when he was little seemed to soften my sister's often hard heart.

The kids got me good gifts -- my niece got me ginger beer and a bottle of Stoli so I can make my own Moscow Mules, and my nephew got me Cubbie blue gloves with special fingertips so I can work my phone/iPod without removing them.

I was home by 9:30. No snark, no hurt feelings. Color me relieved and happy.

The new purse enjoyed Christmas 2014

The best gift I got this Christmas was my holiday surprise -- the handbag from a coworker I barely know, along with her very sweet note: "To the most thoughtful person I've ever had the good fortune of knowing. You spread the holiday cheer year around." It meant a great deal to me because, though we seldom interact directly, she sits near me every day, all week, and sees the woman I try to be.

I'm not going to be carry the bag to work. The straps are a little thin and the material would show dirt/damage too easily. But I don't want her to not see the bag and then assume it doesn't matter to me, because nothing could be farther from the truth. So I made it the star of my Key West 2014 photos, which I'll share with her.

Here's my bag by the pool. My hotel was lovely. A white clapboard beauty originally built as a big, private home in the mid-1880s (which made me happy because that very neatly ties into my current fixation with the 19th century). It had three pools -- one small heated one, this one, and a jacuzzi. I swam both Tuesday and Wednesday.

My room was tiny. Just a bed, a chair, a couple of nightstands and a TV. Very slanted ceiling. If I was half of a couple, like most travelers, I'd have been cramped. But as it was, I was fine and I really liked skylight over my bed. It was a great way to start the day -- looking up at the sky.

Christmas Eve we went to worship at the little Methodist church. (Yes, that's my new bag alongside the Nativity.) It was very sweet -- a simple but profound sermon about momentary happiness vs. a lifetime of joy and carols about Christ. The congregation was very mixed in terms of age, ethnicity and economic strata, which (though I'm not a Methodist) is something I look for when I worship.

My friend is a proud gay man who was raised Catholic, so religion is a mixed bag for him. He enjoyed the ceremony of the service (or "mass," as he stubbornly insisted on referring to it) and the songs but he seemed so unwilling to hear what the minister said. The sermon didn't include even a mention of sin, nor punishment, and instead emphasized how following Christ's teachings can lead us to greater hope and joy. Yet somehow my friend believed the meaning behind the words was one of "sin" and "punishment." It's too bad that he couldn't get past his childhood training and listen. I think organized religion is something that's missing in his life, and regularly attending a prayer-based service in a welcoming congregation like this one might bring him comfort ... if he would let it.

Christmas Day was sunny and in the mid-70s, a little too cold to swim. So we walked the beach. It was awesome for this Midwesterner to wander up and down the shore, wading into the ocean, when for half a century I woke up on December 25 hoping for a white Christmas. I enjoy four seasons and look forward to snow, but this was very cool. We stumbled upon a couple from Ft. Meyers who come down to Key West and sets up their own little Christmas Tree on the beach. They were gracious enough to let my purse pose with it.

We had a delicious lunch at an outdoor bistro -- on Christmas Day! -- and then wandered around downtown Key West. My friend's partner unfortunately had to work and we went to visit him. He has the noon-to-8 shift every day at a small neighborhood bar, frequented by locals not tourists, and he hates it. I can see why. It's incredibly depressing. Smoky, filled with people with nowhere better to be. It's not like Cheers, there's not a lot of camaraderie or support. Just booze and cigarettes and loneliness. The hours are steady, the work is easy (mostly beers and shots) and the tips are good. But he wants out very badly. I hope he finds something soon. Some people can be surrounded by negativity and it doesn't touch them. My friend's partner is not one of those people. This is damaging him. 

One of the things keeping him sane is, ironically, Bonanza. He watches the reruns every day from behind the bar. We talked about my current 19th century obsession and it got me thinking about Captain Tony's.

This Key West bar was built in the 1851 as an icehouse and a morgue. There's a hole in the roof to make room for The Hanging Tree. It's legit -- at least 20 people were hanged from it, including more than a dozen pirates and The Lady in Blue, a woman who wore a blue dress when she axed her whole family (Lizzie Borden may be more famous, but The Lady in Blue did first). For people who believe in ghosts, it's significant that this old building has never suffered any serious hurricane damage, ever. They maintain that the souls who died here protect it still.

While my purse posed with the Hanging Tree, I like Captain Tony's because it's where both Ernest Hemingway and Jimmy Buffett both hung out when they were new to Key West. The Captain Tony's stage is where Jimmy gave his first performance of "Margaritaville." Christmas night there was a guitar player doing a creditable job covering Bob Segar.

And then my purse and I came home. It was a good, albeit unconventional, Christmas. I felt loved and free from stress. They made it clear I was welcome back next year. I am grateful that they are in my life.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Cat Scratch Fever

Reynaldo has reasserted his claim to the title Worst Cat Ever. As evidenced by the three scratches on my face. The worst is nearly an inch long and uncomfortably close to my eye.

This morning I left the condo at about 10:00 to run some errands. He sneaked out between my legs and I just didn't notice him. When I got back at 11:30, there he was with one of my neighbors. My neighbor was, naturally, eager to give Reynaldo back to me. So I was juggling my cat, my keys, 8.5 lbs. of prescription cat food and my fried chicken lunch and got scratched.

I cleaned it out with peroxide immediately and have been slathering antibiotic cream on it all day. I don't think it's deep enough to leave a scar but I fear it's going to be a red slash near my left eye for quite a while.

I'm so embarrassed.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sunday Stealing

The New Year's Eve Meme

In 2014, I gained: A couple new friends. One through work, the other through my classic movie meet up.

I lost: the Chicago Cub earmuffs John gave me for my November 2013 birthday. I miss them.

I stopped: reading Gone with the Wind. The book moves more slowly than I remembered. I just couldn't get into it.

I started: working out with a trainer.

I was hugely satisfied by: the steps I've made toward remodeling my bathroom.

And frustrated by: my cousin Rose. It's hard to love someone, but not want to hang around witht hem.

I am so embarrassed that I: am such a bad housekeeper

Once again, I: enjoyed a peaceful holiday season with friends, rather than a stressful one with family

Once again, I did not: meet my financial and weight goals

The biggest physical difference between me last December and this December is: I feel healthier

The biggest psychological difference between me last December and this December is: I think I better understand how to reach my goals

I loved spending time: with my good old cat, Joey. He's a feline senior citizen, probably 18 years old, and I treasure the time we have left together. (He's cuddled up beside me as write this.)
Why did I spend even two minutes: checking social media?

I should have spent more time: on the exercise bike

I regret buying: this futon

I will never regret buying... even though with that money I could have ... any airline ticket/my debt

I ...way too much. drink Coke

I didn’t... enough.  exercise

 ... drove me crazy.  My cousin Rose, regrettably.

The most relaxing place I went was my birthday trip to Las Vegas

Why did I go to ... sorry, I got nothing for this

The best thing I did for someone else was fly out to Los Angeles to spend time with my oldest friend

The best thing I did for myself my birthday trip to Las Vegas

The best thing someone did for me ... I'm so lucky in my friends and the way they come through for me when I need them. It's hard to choose one thing.

The one thing I’d like to do again, but do it better .... there was a mistake I made at work -- an error in judgement -- that I'd love to take back.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Saturday 9

Saturday 9: Marshmallow World (1963)

1. This song likens fluffy clouds to marshmallows. What does the sky look like where you are today? It's pretty gray. Which amazes me, because I woke up yesterday morning in Key West, where I got a sunburn. The phenomenon of air travel still rocks my world.

2. The lyrics refer to snowballs. Have you ever been in a snowball fight? No. I've sledded and skiied and made snowmen, but I've never been in a snowball fight.

3. Chionophobia is fear of snow. What phobias do you have? Flying (just because it impresses me doesn't mean I like it) and squirrels and clowns.

4. In 2004, Canadian school children raised money for charity by setting a new world record: the most snow angels made in 24-hour period. Have you ever participated in a fundraising stunt? No. Unless selling Girl Scout cookies counts.

5. When marshmallows were first introduced, they were used for medicinal purposes. Specifically to soothe sore throats. What do you take when your throat is bothering you? I start with cough drops and hope for the best.

6.  Marshmallows are an important ingredient in the Rice Krispies Treat recipe. If you were asked to prepare something for a bake sale, what would you make? Apple-banana cupcakes. It's a very easy recipe and hard to mess up.

7. Darlene played Danny Glover's wife in the Lethal Weapon movies. Do you enjoy action movies? I like the Die Hard movies. A lot. Because I like him. A lot.

8. Darlene's father advised her to always, "shoot for the stars." Share some good advice you've received. "The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining."

9. Will you be returning/have you returned any holiday gifts? No. What I was going to return I'm taking to Goodwill this week. Easier, better karma, and good for my tax return.

Monday, December 22, 2014

At least Joey is fine

Before I went to Vegas last month, my bedframe broke.

Yesterday, the day before I leave for Key West, I found myself starring in Return of the Drain Flies. I spent Sunday afternoon and evening dousing the kitchen drain with baking soda and boiling water, but the flies just keep on coming. I'll continue doing it until I leave. Then I'll pour organic drain cleaner down the pipe* and seal it off. Hopefully when I come back after Christmas, I will find a holiday miracle.

The good news is, though, I won't be worrying too much about my Joey cat. He's his old happy self. Naturally, every day when I come home to my 18 year old cat I'm relieved to see that he's OK. I mean, I know one day he won't be. But I leave for Florida knowing he's in good shape for a feline senior citizen.

While my home is still a sty, outwardly, for some reason on Sunday morning I was inspired to organize one of my kitchen cabinets. It felt good to throw so much crap away, and to realize how much stuff I have in there I forgot about (like I don't need to buy aluminum foil or Lysol for a while). Let's hope that I feel similarly motivated next week. Maybe I can make a dent in the clutter around here!

* It's called Earthworm. I worry about the damage the more corrosive drain cleaners do to my old pipes. The thing of it is, it needs to be used consistently every night for five-six nights and I simply can't do that right now.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Stealing

Sunday Stealing

1. Do you send Christmas cards?  Yes. I got them in the mail before December 1. I enjoy writing and sending cards.

2. How soon do you start shopping? I shop all year around.

3. Who do you shop for? My niece and nephew, my cousin, and four friends (two with significant others)

4. Do you put up a Christmas tree? No

5. If so, is it fake or real? It's a fake tree, but it's still in its box in the closet

6. Do you like tinsel? NO! Very bad for pets

7. Do you use homemade or store bought ornaments? Store bought

8. Do you put Christmas lights outside your house? No. I live on the fourth floor.

9. Do you put lights on the tree? If my tree was up, it would have lights. But it's not, so it doesn't.

10. How about popcorn and cranberries? No

11. Is there a wreath hanging on your door? Yes

13. Do you hang up your stocking? No

14. Does your family read "Twas the night before Christmas?" No

15. Christmas Movie? Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol

16. Character from any Christmas Movie  Scrooge

17. Christmas Song  It changes. This year it's "In the Bleak Midwinter"

18. Christmas Memory The Christmas I was four, I got Blaze. I wanted him desperately, promised Santa I'd be good, and he magically appeared under the tree.

19. Give or Receive? Give!

22. Ham or Turkey? Turkey

24. White Lights or Colored Lights?  I don't have a preference

25. Blinking Lights or Still Lights  I don't have a preference

26. Were you Naughty or Nice this year? I was nice, with scattered naughties

27. What do you want for Christmas this year? Just a happy, stress-free holiday with good friends

28. When do you open your gifts? As soon as I get my greedy paws on them

29. What's the best gift you've ever gotten? The aforementioned Blaze

30. What's the worst gift you've ever gotten? I've gotten a lot of duds, but I don't think you can ever classify a gift as "bad" or "the worst." I mean, someone thought enough of you to get you something!

31. Who gives you the most gifts? There's not a "most." I get one gift from each person.

32. Have you ever had a secret Santa? At a previous job. Once.

33. Do you like wrapping gifts? Sure

34. Do you put change in those red buckets? Only once this year. The bell ringers haven't been out so much.

35. Do you burn a yule log? No

36. Can you name all the reindeer? Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen, Comet and Cupid and Donner and Blixen, and the most famous reindeer of all, Rudolph

37. Do you bake cookies? I have, though not this year

38. Have you ever seen your mommy kissing Santa Clause? No

39. Have you ever gotten a kiss under the mistletoe? Yes. My second favorite Christmas memory. (She said, blushing)

41. Do you drive around and look at the Christmas lights? No

42. Have you ever left Santa cookies? Yes

43. Have you ever sat on Santa's lap? Yes

44. Who do you celebrate Christmas with? My friends in the Keys

45. Where do you celebrate Christmas? At their house and then a restaurant

46. Have you ever had a white Christmas? Yes. Love them and miss them. That's the only drawback to Christmas in Key West.

47. What part of Christmas do you look most forward to? I like the happy of the whole season

48. Have you ever had your picture taken with Santa? Not that I recall

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Saturday 9

Happy Holidays

1. As you can see, Sam loved giving her annual wish list to Santa. Yet some children are reluctant to climb into Jolly Old St. Nick's lap. Did you enjoy the tradition or were you shy? Or did you by pass it altogether -- either because you wrote him a letter or because your family didn't celebrate Christmas? I was always very shy with Santa and would have preferred to send a letter. 
2. Are you currently on the Naughty or Nice list? How did you get there? I believe I'm on the Nice list. Though I guess only the big guy knows for sure.

3. Did you ship any gifts to friends and family this year? If so, which one traveled the farthest? I sent a pen-and-ink to my cousin in Tampa, which is 1100 miles from Chicago, and a mug and t-shirt to my friend in Beverly Hills, just over 2000 miles away.
4. Did you buy yourself a gift this year? Yes. I got myself a season of Bonanza DVDs. They help fuel my current love affair with the 1860s. I've mostly been watching these and holiday specials. I don't like reality these days and will only return to it when forced to. (I also got myself a package of 6 pair of Hanes white panties, but I don't consider anything that utilitarian a gift.)
5. What's your favorite holiday-themed movie? Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. It was on last night. I am happy.

6. Thinking of movies, Christmas is lucrative for Hollywood. Have you ever gone to a movie theater on Christmas Day? Nope. And obviously this year I won't be seeing The Interview. I wouldn't have -- not a big Seth Rogan fan and don't find assassinations inherently funny. But I hate, hate, hate it that the North Koreans can keep a movie from being released.

7. Have you ever suffered an embarrassing moment at the company Christmas party? Yes. And we're never speaking of it again.

8. What's your favorite beverage in cold weather? Bailey's. I haven't had one yet this year. Must rectify that this evening.
9. What will you remember most about 2014? I think I will remember my birthday trip to Vegas.


Friday, December 19, 2014

I almost cried!

Got in this morning to find a big giftbag on my chair. Inside was a faux leather tote, similar to this one, but in cognac. Huh? What? Who? Why?

It was from one of my coworkers. She left last week for India, to visit her parents and her in-laws, but left instructions with one of my officemates to give it to me today, my last work day before Christmas. Even better than was the note:

"To the most thoughtful person I've ever had the good fortune of knowing. You spread the holiday cheer year around."

No, really!

It feels like people often view me as hard or tough. And I can be when I have to be. But I do work at being a good Christian, thinking of others and letting them know I value them. Apparently this 20-something across the way from me at work sees who I strive to be, even if I often fall short.

This unexpected present brought me so much joy today!

 PS This bag is going to Key West with me. I'll take a photo of it on the beach, to show my coworker how much I enjoy her gift.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The kindness of strangers

I had my annual mammogram last Saturday. The technician told me the results would be faxed to my doctors (my gyne and GP are in practice together now) and would be in their hands Monday.

Today is Thursday. I still haven't heard from my doctors. I started to get scared.

So just now I called over there. One of my doctors just came in today for the first time this week and hadn't had a chance to review any of his paperwork, the other one has been booked solid.

The woman I spoke to, who works for the doctors, looked up my mammogram, just to make sure that the report had been received. She could sense the nervousness in my voice and, basically, told me not to worry.

She made it clear that she's not qualified to give me the official word, that she doesn't read these reports as a living, etc., etc. But she also told me there was "nothing out of the ordinary."

It was a compassionate thing for her to do. I thanked her profusely. After all, I won't be around next week and it would be terrible to have the specter of breast cancer clouding my Christmas.

The allure of the 1860s

It started last summer when I was housebound with a cold. That's when I rediscovered Bonanza, which has become an ongoing obsession. Partly because it brings back childhood memories, partly because as an adult I realize why it was so crazy popular back in the 1960s: it's filled with attractive men in tight pants. The Cartwrights were so freaking capable. They're always fixing wheels and wagons and windows and fences and protecting people and property and just forever standing firm on the side of right.

It continued with my autumn viewing of Gone with the Wind on the big screen. The clothes! The hair! The romance! This inspired me to immerse myself in the 1860s when I began working on my Nanowrimo novel.

Now I don't want to come back to the 21th century. I like imagining myself celebrating the holidays in Nevada, ca 1865. I choose Nevada because it really wasn't involved in the Civil War, and I don't want that brutal conflict to mar my fantasy.*

Authentic greetings of the season

I want to ride my horse through the snow. I want to go Christmas shopping up and down mainstreet and put my parcels in the back of the buggy. I want to wear a cloak, not a coat. I want to enter rooms through swinging saloon doors and warm myself in front of the fireplace or the coal burning stove. I want to go to church on Christmas morning in a one-horse open sleigh.

This is where my head is, and this is where it's staying.

*Yes, I know that if I were to be realistic, I'd have to be worried about battle with the Shoshone and Paiute Indian tribes. But I don't want to be realistic. I'm enjoying my fantasy.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


My holiday buzz has been harshed. There's an organization here in Chicago that does very worthy work, giving boys and girls in at-risk communities somewhere safe to go after school. They are, however, just one charity that performs this valuable function. There are others. I tend to support the others, because the organization I'm referring to in this post gets a great deal of support from Chicago's advertising agencies. Instead I give to Toys for Tots and a local childrens home

Yesterday, when I got into the office, there was a letter to Santa on my chair. Kia wanted nail polish so she could give her little girlfriends manicures during a sleepover. Every one of us had a similar letter. The kids from the organization this agency supported wrote very detailed, very heart-wrenching letters.

I was ambivalent about this. I felt I was being blackmailed into giving to this organization, just so my agency could enjoy bragging rights within the ad community. On the other hand, if I didn't participate, Kia wouldn't get what she asked Santa for.

I asked my coworkers if they were participating and offered to pick up the toys requested in their Santa letters. Then I went to Target and spent more than $110 on remote controlled cars, My Little Pony, Lalaloopsey and other brand name toys, because the kids requested them. (Yes, my coworkers reimbursed me.)

Then I found out that the letters were reproduced and at least three of us agencywide got the same letter. And that's just at this agency. I know of two others that are having toy drives for this organization this week.

I feel used and exploited.

I will never give to this organization again, no matter how much pressure my agency puts on me.

This doesn't feel at all like what Christmas should be about.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Sunday Stealing

The Have You Ever Meme
1) Have you ever gotten lost in a maze? No.

2) Have you ever been attacked by a wild animal? No.

3) Have you ever ridden a camel? No.

4) Have you ever pet a rat? No.

5) Have you ever been a member of a gym? YES! Ding ding ding! I got one.

6) Have you ever been in a helicopter? Yes! Two in a row.

7) Have you ever cheated at a test? No.

8) Have you ever ridden a tractor? No.

9) Have you ever passed wind/gas in an embarrassing situation? Yes.

10) Have you ever played the bongos? No.

11) Have you ever handled a snake? Yes.

12) Have you ever assembled furniture by yourself? Yes.

13) Have you ever been scuba diving? No.

14) Have you ever had a disastrous interview? Yes.

15) Have you ever sold your services? Yes.

16) Have you ever raised money for charity? Yes.

17) Have you ever won a giant sized cuddly toy from a fair? No.

18) Have you ever milked a cow? No.

19) Have you ever used the phrase "back in my time" to someone younger than you? Yes.

20) Have you ever invented a fairly unique meal or drink? No.

Fa la la la la

I'm happy to be spending Christmas in Key West because those friends want and love me, and being around that kind of warmth  and generosity is what the holiday is all about.

But the bad thing about it is that I won't be here, in my hometown church, to worship on Christmas Eve. I miss that.

So today I was surprised and happy to be singing "Deck the Halls" and the less conventional (but still very lovely) "In the Bleak Midwinter" in my own house of worship.

It's that time of year

Yesterday I had my annual mammogram. Usually I'm nervous about this, as breast cancer is something I believe all women fear to some degree. Only this year I wasn't scared at all.

I hope that means that next week I get good news that includes the word, "benign."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Saturday 9

Saturday 9: Feliz Navidad (1970)

1. "Feliz Navidad" is Spanish for "Merry Christmas." Can you wish us happy holidays in a language other than English or Spanish? God Jul

2. According to ASCAP (the American Association of Composers, Authors and Publishers), this is one of the 20 most played holiday songs of the last 10 years. What's the most recent carol that you heard? I tend to think of Vanessa Williams as an actress, which is too bad because she's got a lovely voice.

3. Which Christmas song do you hope you never hear again? "My Favorite Things" because it is NOT a Christmas song! Maria sings it to the Von Trapp children during a rainstorm, not a snowstorm! It's spring, not winter! (Exclamation points indicate how very strongly I feel about this burning issue!)

4. This week's featured artist, Jose Feliciano, was honored to perform this song at the tree lighting ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. If you were to win a trip to our nation's capital, which sites would you visit? The Smithsonian would be first on my list.

5. As a very young child, Jose taught himself to play the accordion. If you could suddenly, easily learn to play any instrument, which would you choose?  Guitar

6. Jose says that hearing early 1950s rock on the radio made him want to become a singer. What's your favorite music genre? Pop

7. At 17, Jose had to drop out of school to help support his family. Too young to enter bars, he played guitar in coffee houses for tips. Have you ever worked a job where you regularly received gratuities? I got tips when I was a babysitter

8. Jose and wife Susan have been together for more than 40 years. Who is the happiest married couple you know? Hmmm ... Thursday night at dinner I was heartened to hear how my friend Kathleen's husband is supporting her during a very difficult time. He's a fascinating man, rather challenging, so their marriage hasn't always been smooth. But I think it's been happy.

9. Jose wrote and performed the theme of the 1970s show, Chico and the Man. What's your current favorite TV show? NCIS. I loves me my Gibbs.

Friday, December 12, 2014

From sad to happy

So yesterday was the agency Christmas party. I always avoid these affairs like the plague, so as my coworkers were boarding the bus to go to the restaurant where the party was held, I slipped out and headed home, a little sad.

I'd been compulsively checking my email all day, hoping to hear from my friend Kathleen. We had tentatively planned to get together to celebrate my birthday (11/22) and hers (12/26) and Christmas. She had mentioned how rough her life schedule had been lately -- her father suffered a debilitating stroke last summer and her mother, not very small herself, has been trying to keep him in the family home, and so Kathleen and her siblings have been taking turns spending evenings with their parents to lighten their load. But Kathleen has a very demanding job and she's just been run ragged.

When I hadn't heard from her all day -- not by call, email or text -- I thought she'd been overwhelmed and forgot about our date. It was understandable with all she had on her plate, plus the holidays. But it made me sad.

So I got home, had a little tuna salad and was watching TV when Kathleen called. "I'm just leaving my office now. I'll be there in about an hour."

She hadn't forgotten! She'd just been so swamped all day she hadn't had a moment to call me to confirm. I went from sad to happy so fast it was as though she was my own personal Christmas miracle.

We went to a tiki bar and enjoyed drinks (I had a couple Coco Locos, which are hot chocolate spiked with rum) and pineapple chips and dip. Most of all, I was happy that I was able to make her laugh and get her out of herself for a while. Her father will never again be able to dress or feed himself, her parents will have to be convinced to sell their home and move to a smaller and more manageable place, she doesn't like the job she devotes so much time to ... I'm glad I distracted her for a while. When I got home, I was surprised to see we'd been out for three hours. It did us both good.

Now for the gifts. I got her a book and a water bottle adorned with a photo of her and her daughter. (When her daughter is home from college, they run together every morning.) She got me a Downton Abbey mug with gourmet tea and a promise to see a Cub game this summer. And if you read this blog with any regularity, you know there's not much I want more than an afternoon within The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014


To play along, just answer the following three questions ...

• What are you currently reading? The Christmas Cookie Club by Ann Pearlman. Every year, Marnie and her girlfriends get together and eat cookies, swap recipes, drink wine and catch up. They've been doing this for years, their bond is enduring, and their stories are relateable.

I read this when it first came out (maybe 5 years ago?) and recalled little of it except that it's a nice, feel-good bit of Christmas chick lit and now I'm enjoying it all over again. If you like to bake, this book may be of special interest to you, as each woman's club recipe is included.

• What did you recently finish reading? The Patriarch by David Nasaw. A sweeping, breathtaking biography of an American original: Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, JFK's father. He was a banker, stockbroker, movie producer and real estate mogul (though not a bootlegger, as legend has it). He was a terrible diplomat and a worse husband. But a passionate, loving father and devoted friend. This massive book took me months to get through, and now I feel kind of empty without it. I'm afraid I kinda miss the old bastard.

• What do you think you’ll read next? Maybe Gone with the Wind. I haven't touched it in decades, and going back to the future might be a good way to start the new year.

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Tuesday, December 09, 2014

I Saw This!

There's no overestimating the impact Mary Poppins had on my life. The first movie I ever saw in the theater, it began my lifelong love affair with film. One of the clearest and dearest memories of my childhood is of lights going down and the big red curtains at the State Lake Theater opening to reveal that first memorable scene, the rooftops of London.

So when we went to The Museum of Science and Industry yesterday, I was hoping that the much-talked about Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives exhibit would include my girl, Mary. After all, to me that nanny is every Disney Princess, all rolled into one. But I was worried because none of the PR releases I'd read in advance even mentioned her.

Oh, Gal of Little Faith! There was a trove of Maryphernalia! I saw original sketches of the famous "Jolly Holiday" (penguin) number and authentic costumes and a deleted scene (no sound, but still!) and the actual alphabet blocks that magically fell into her name during "A Spoonful of Sugar." But best of all, I saw this ...

 The actual globe she's holding in her hands was on display! The snowglobe that inspired her to sing "Feed the Birds!" I saw it! Kathy was amused that I actually fell to me knees to get a closer look at it in the case, but I refuse to be embarrassed. I was thrilled.

When I got to work this morning, I mentioned this to two of my coworkers, who also remembered being piled into the car by their parents and driven to the theater to see Mary Poppins. It was a lovely collective memory of 1964.

Here's the clip of the scene. I love it, love it, love it.

Day at the Museum

My friend Kathy and I spent Monday at Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry. As my birthday gift, she encouraged me to think of something I want to do but can't get anyone to do with me, and so I chose MSI. It was my favorite when I was a kid -- hell, it's every Chicago kid's favorite. But I haven't been there in decades.

We toured it from 9:30 till 2:30. While MSI is decidedly high-tech and interactive, I wanted to revisit all the favorite exhibits of my youth. First of all, Colleen Moore's Fairy Castle. Everything is built to scale for a 5" tall prince and princess. When I was a tiny gal, I loved it because the lights and water actually worked and because everything in each overstuffed room is handmade and handcarved. Yesterday I learned details that weren't of interest to me as a wee one: the chapel includes the world's smallest Bible and an actual relic, a sliver of silver from The True Cross, a gift to Colleen Moore from Ambassador Clare Booth Luce, who received it from the Pope himself.

When I was taking that picture of the castle, I was sorry the mom and daughter were in the shot. But now I'm glad. Look at her hand, reaching to get closer to the magic inside. That was me and every other little girl who has seen it over the years.

My second all-time favorite place in the museum is Yesterday's Main Street, which represents Chicago of 1910. The streets are brick, just as I remembered them. I saw the corset shop and the grocer's and the old time dentist. But best of all was the nickelodeon, showing silent movies around the clock. The theater is much smaller than I recalled it, but it was in the same spot and she was there. I loved this ticket window when I was a little girl, and thought that ticket taker was the best job ever. It made me so happy to see her again. Then we had real ice cream sodas at Finnigan's Ice Cream Parlor.

This is the first time I've ever been to the museum at Christmastime. Which is a shame, because for more than 70 years, MSI has been celebrating Christmas Around the World. There's this one big tree in the main hall, surrounded by smaller trees representing more than 50 other countries, and decorated  by volunteers from Chicago's ethnic communities. I learned that in the Czech Republic, the traditional Christmas meal isn't turkey but carp (ew!) and a barley/mushroom casserole that sounded pretty yummy; that in Scandinavia, St. Nick doesn't have elves, he has a companion named Black Pete; that in Poland, all pets are included in Christmas celebrations because it was animals who witnessed Christ's birth in the manger.

In the gift shop I saw a t-shirt that read, "Talk Nerdy to Me." I almost bought it. Because if there's anything that yesterday reinforced for me, it's that I'm such a geek. I truly can't think of much I would have enjoyed more than my day at the museum.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Richard and Gary and Old Navy

Every year, the tree at Whole Foods is decorated with little hearts from the kids at the village children's home. Some kids live at the home 24/7, waiting for appropriate foster homes or for their parents to get it together and take them back. Others are there because their parents are taking advantage of the sliding scale daycare. Anyway, each heart has a kids' name, age, sizes and Wish List items. Since the children's home is, literally, next door, I always participate by taking an ornament and fulfilling a Christmas wish.

This year I grabbed Gary's. He's 14 and I think that must be a tough age to be at the children's home Christmas party. He doesn't believe in Santa anymore, and he just might be pretty angry about not having a family -- not with his real parents and not in a foster home. And what if no one chooses his heart? Everyone wants to shop for a little one. But what if none of my neighbors want to pitch in for a teenager? So I went to Old Navy and got him a sweater and sweats (all on sale). I also tossed in a $5 giftcard to a local hamburger place. You know, just in case my taste in teen boy clothes isn't all that he'd like it to be.

When I dropped his present off at Whole Foods (the damn gift bag cost $3!), I had to pass the tree again. It occurred to me that maybe I want to buy for a cute little kid, too.

So then I grabbed Richard's. He's 6. He asked Santa for a sweater and jeans. Doesn't that break your heart? He wants clothes, not toys. So back to Old Navy. I got him a sweater but all the jeans are too expensive, so I got him a long-sleeved t-shirt decorated with a football, a soccer ball, a basketball and a baseball. Unless he's exclusively a hockey fan, I've got him covered. And then, since he's only 6 and should get a toy, I tossed in a 99¢ bus. I like thinking of him pushing it around on the floor at the holiday party.

I've kinda had the blues. I'm just not very happy with my life. Nothing is bad -- the cats are healthy, my friends are great, I'm feeling strong. But both my home and my finances have gotten away from me and I can't seem to get it together in either arena.

But I was able to help Richard and Gary. And that's something I was able to accomplish.

Sunday Stealing

The Are You Meme
1) Are you psychic in any way? Sometimes I think I may be.

2) Are you a good dancer? No.

3) Are you a good singer? I sing even worse than I dance.

4) Are you a good cook? I don't know. I do it so very seldom.

5) Are you a good artist? Nope. (This meme is starting to make me feel bad about myself.)

6) Are you a good listener? I can be.

7) Are you a good public speaker? Yes. (Hallelujah! I finally got one!)

8) Are you a good babysitter? Yes. (Two in a row! I'm on a roll.)

9) Are you a good mechanic? No.

10) Are you a good diplomat? I try, though not always successfully.

11) Are you a good employee? Yes.

12) Are you a good dresser? When I put effort into it.
13) Are you a good swimmer? Yes.

14) Are you a good skier? No.

15) Are you a good gift giver? Yes.

16) Are you a good musician? No.

17) Are you a good comedian? I can be funny.

18) Are you a good cleaner? I clean even worse than I sing.

19) Are you a good actor? Yes, I think I am.

20) Are you a good writer? Yes.

"The girl with the cute haircut"

Last night was the movie meetup holiday party. We saw Remember the Night, a rather obscure Christmas movie starring Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray.* I can see why it's not as popular as Christmas in Connecticut (last year's movie). It does not have a conventional Christmas feel-good ending. But still I enjoyed it.

Even more, I enjoyed the Meet Up. My usual girls weren't there -- Joanna's flight from New Orleans was delayed; Martha remains incommunicado for the third month in a row -- so I was forced to talk more to other people than I normally would. And, after all, that is the point of these Meet Ups.

These two other ladies and I somehow got on the subject of Barbra Streisand. Funny Girl and "My Man," specifically. I joked that I loved that number because falling for the wrong fella is specialty of mine. One of the ladies recommended or, and I said that with my luck I'd end up with the new millennium Ted Bundy. The ladies laughed and one said, "I can just hear us asking each other, 'What happened to the girl with the cute haircut? I hope we didn't lose her to computer dating.'"

That made me happy because (1) I made them laugh and (2) they liked my new haircut and (3) they referred to me as "a girl" and I know I'm well within 10 years of them. This last birthday -- when I hit 57 -- made me feel very old and any reassurance I get that I don't look like I'm knocking on 60 makes me feel better.

*I grew up on MacMurray on My Three Sons, as boring a dad as TV ever produced. His long movie career reveals there was much more to him than that -- humor, cynicism and even a little sex appeal. Who knew?