Saturday, November 30, 2013

November Challenge

Day 30 -- One thing you're excited for

I actually got to write today! It was the first time in ages that I have managed to move my Nanowrimo story along. I have really enjoyed it.

I have been relieved to be busy at work and happy to be busy with friends. But I like writing for myself and found today satisfying.

His name is "Carmichal"

The local childrens' home has a holiday tree at Whole Foods. Each heartshaped ornament includes details about a neighborhood kid who is either a ward of the home or lives below the poverty level. Each year I take an ornament and play Santa.

Last year I bought a jacket for "Andrea." In 2011, I got a handheld baseball game for "Sebastian." This year I shopped for "Carmichal." He is just 7 and wants "action figures."

That's a pretty broad category! So I spread the giftgiving out over several heroes. I chose someone from Lord of the Rings (Thorin) and the always-popular Iron Man. To make the gift bag look more full, and because books are always good, I added a Marvel Comics reader/sticker book.

Very little that I do between now and the end of the year will make me as happy as thinking about Carmichal's face at the Christmas party when Santa gives him a red bag of action figures.

PS These are not their real names. The home gives them pseudonyms because they live right here in town and it would hurt their feelings to find their ornament is the one that was passed over and left on the tree.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Saturday 9

Saturday 9: Back to Black

1) Black is this week's signature color because Friday, November 29, was "Black Friday," when retailers cut their prices and consumers flock to the stores. Did you score any "Black Friday" bargains? Well, not a bargain exactly. Our local, independently owned bookstore donated 10% of all of today's sales to the local homeless shelter. Naturally, I had to go out and get behind that!
2) Legend has it that Black Friday began as a neighborhood phenomenon among storeowners in Philadelphia back in the early 1960s. What else comes to mind when you think of Philly? Cream cheese

3) Feasting and football are also popular Thanksgiving weekend pastimes. Do your Thursday-Sunday plans include pigging out or watching a game? Nope

4) At Thanksgiving dinners, Crazy Sam's homemade gravy is always a hit. (Probably because she's so generous with the cognac, which gives the gravy a nutty taste.) Do you have a signature dish? I'm sorry but I'm not much of a cook.

5) Among the biggest the Black Friday advertisers are Target, Kohl's, Macy's and

Best Buy. If you could have a $100 gift card to any one of those stores, which would you choose? Macy's. And I think I would use it for some more sweaters. I like their Charter Club sweater collection.

6) You're in a public restroom that offers both paper towels and a hot air hand dryer. Which one do you choose?
Paper towels. My hands just never feel dry otherwise.
7) While Back to Black is the best-selling Amy Winehouse CD, her first was called Frank, named for her hero, Frank Sinatra. Tell us about someone you inspires you. I was just thinking about this! (See the post below) Streisand.

8) Do you consider yourself a pessimist or an optimist? Optimist

9) Who was the last person you spoke to on the phone (a verbal conversation -- not an exchange of texts)? My oldest friend called me just to blab yesterday.

We're the luckiest people in the world

Those of us who have seen Streisand live, of course.

I'm watching the PBS/Great Performances telecast of her Back to Brooklyn concert. I saw her a year ago and I still think about it. She is an inspiration: 71 and still uncompromising and original.

As I look at that unforgettable profile, as I hear that crystalline voice, I think, "You go, girl." Here in Chicago, I saw more than a couple moms guiding little girls (10 or under) to their concert seats. She means so much to so many of us, showing us that there isn't only one way to be a successful woman. I'm glad that Babs hit the road so that she could experience that phenomenon for herself. She deserves to know.

November Challenge

Day 28 -- Somewhere I'd like to move to or visit

I feel more at home on the eastern side of the country than I do on the west. If I had unlimited time off and endless funds,* I'd be very happy getting my geek on by bouncing from Colonial Williamsburg to Boston to Washington, DC.

*and I don't

Day 29 -- Five weird things I like

Behold my guilty pleasures:
1) Jack Webb, Harry Morgan and Dragnet; 2) Arby's and Wendy's and Burger King and McDonald's; 3) Miller Lite; 4) court shows like People's Court and Judge Judy; 5) 1970s bubblegum music.

Who are these people?

I don't know about you, but this illustration looks nothing like any Thanksgiving celebration I can recall.

At my family gatherings, guilt was always the main dish. Ladles of tension were always poured over the guilt. And I could count on a soupçon of passive aggression. (That's because, to be honest, I often supplied it.)

I had a lovely time last night with my friend, John (battling a very bad cold) and his friends Gregory and Sebastian. We laughed a great deal, ate a lovely buffet, people-watched, and enjoyed the kind of community the day is supposed to be about.

We all fussed over John's cold. Gregory introduced us to affordable, safe travel with his tales of Megabus. Sebastian is preparing to spend this Christmas -- the first one that doesn't find him scheduled to work at a hospital and, unfortunately, without his longtime lover -- solo in Hawaii. I found talking to him enormously touching. He's always wanted to see Hawaii, he needs time to reflect on his new job and new life alone, and he needs time to mourn his loss. I think he's very brave.

My heart was very light last night as I got on the train and headed home. I was with people who WANTED to be with me, who weren't there out of obligation. They like me and they get me. Unfortunately, these three men are not my family.

But then again, last night they were.

I miss my mom. I miss my uncle. But I don't miss the guilt and tension of our family Thanksgivings. I am sad that I am 56 and will never enjoy the Norman Rockwell ideal I was promised.

I did enjoy last night. As we parted, Gregory said, "I like this tradition. Let's do it next year." Sebastian worried about my safety on the train home. John, of course, was our gracious hub. I felt wrapped in harmony and affection. It's more productive to be grateful for what I do have than to mourn what I never had.

Happy Birthday to me, Part 7

Yesterday was not only Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah, it was the day my dear old friend John and I celebrated my birthday. He gave me Cubbie earmuffs! I already had a Cubs purse and a necklace and several t-shirts and a sweatshirt and a jacket, but as he noted, no Cubbie winterwear. He also included a Wrigley Field centennial magnet and a Cubs ornament, which are nice, but I was most excited by the earmuffs.

Thursday, November 28, 2013


I have the nicest blog buddies in the world. Today, I am thankful for you ladies. Kwizgiver, SnarkyPants and Vivian -- you are all so generous and sensitive and I am so lucky you found my humble musings. It warms my heart to know that you read me ... and hear me.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

November Challenge

Day 27 -- A quote I like to live by

If I'm feeling flip: "East is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste more like prunes than rhubarb does." Groucho Marx

If I'm introspective: "You cannot change the winds, but you can adjust the sails." Elizabeth Edwards

My rooted-in-reality response: "Have you ever noticed how 'what the hell' is always the right answer?" Marilyn Monroe

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Happy Birthday to me, Part 6

The Mail Edition. My aunt sent me a box filled with organic teas to keep me warm as the winds grow cold. SnarkyPants proved she reads this humble blog by coming through with one of my recently lusted after items -- the Body Shop Vitamin C capsules.

I love getting mail. Now, more than ever, because receiving packages is so rare. And both gifts were such a surprise, and so thoughtful. I am really very lucky.

Happy Birthday to me, Part 5

Dinner with my friend Mindy. It was nice to see her, and I was happy to receive her gifts -- a pair of DVDs (Friday Night Lights and Springteen and I). I'm a little sorry I had a Moscow Mule. I feel a headache coming on ...

Since Hanukkah is early this year, I'm proud that I had her gifts ready -- a pair of shirts for her and her husband from His mom died a few months ago and in lieu of flowers, the family asked for contributions to the American Heart Association. I think these shirts are a nice, proactive way to continue honoring the lady.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Happy Birthday to me, Part 4

I went down to Tampa to visit my cousin Rose for my birthday. The trip was a mixed bag, as I expected it would be. Rose is very, very set in her ways, and very convinced that her way is the only way. I really wished I'd stayed in a motel instead of at her house, because despite basking in how much she loves me and her willingness to show me all the local sites, she got on my last nerve. Example: "Why do you carry such a big purse, Gal?" "You don't need such a big purse." "What do you have in that big purse anyway?" Finally I snapped, "Why do you care?" The whole weekend was like that.

Interestingly, I don't get on her last nerve. She kept talking about trips we could take together once I retire. AAAARGH! I can't imagine what it would be like to share a confined space with her!

On to happier things. Friday was my actual birthday. I wanted to go to Lowry Park (aka Tampa Zoo) so that's where we were headed when her car died. She was very sorry and very embarrassed but I didn't mind. We were both safe and sound, I got to ride in a tow truck for the first time ever, and yes, we were stuck in the garage for most of the afternoon. But they had CNN on and I got to see the ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery, and since President Kennedy has been on my mind sooooo much this month, it seemed fitting. (I was happy to see the flags half mast all over town that day.)

Then we went to Madeira Beach to watch the sun set. It was gorgeous. To see gulls, walk along the shore barefoot and stepping on shells, and to watch the sun fall into the sea was a special treat.

The next day, Saturday, was zoo day. Here in Chicagoland we have two world class zoos, so my cousin was surprised that Lowry Park was on my list of things I wanted to do for my birthday, but okapis have always been my favorite zoo friends and they recently had a new addition. It was important to me to see the baby. I was not disappointed.

For her part, my cousin's favorites are the giraffes. They have an expansive, beautiful exhibit -- but then so do the zoos here. What was different about The Lowry giraffe area was the artwork. My cousin found a pair of giraffe earrings in the gift shop. I bought manatee magnets for my coworkers at the gift shop, as well. I found myself enchanted by those big, docile sea cows, but they didn't photograph well. So I got myself a snow globe (sea globe?) with a pair of manatees inside.

Then later we went back to Madeira for a dolphin cruise. It was so beautiful. We saw several "pods" (or families) of dolphins. They were majestic. But everything about the cruise was perfect. A little over 80º, mostly smooth seas, clear skies. Little islands of nothing other than birds. Elegant estates dotting the
shore. Jimmy Buffett on the speakers. If only I'd had a margarita in my hand, it would have been perfect.

I was happy to go to Tampa, and happy to come home. One of the nice things about the flights is now I'm on the TSA precheck list. I don't have to remove my shoes, belt or baggie of liquids anymore when I go through security anymore. Believe it or not, that made the trips a wee bit less stressful for me.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Saturday 9

Saturday 9: Sugar Shack
This song was popular 50 years ago today. Hear it here.

1) In this song, our hero orders espresso. What's your standard coffee order? Not a coffee drinker

2) Originally the phrase "sugar shack" meant a small cabin where sap from maple trees was boiled into syrup. So for breakfast today, would you rather pour syrup on pancakes, french toast or waffles? I just had French Toast this morning, so I'll go with that.

3) The name of the group that recorded this song is The Fireballs. "Fireballs" is also the brand name of a red hot jawbreaker. Do you like cinnamon? Love it!

4) In 1963, when this song was a hit, newscaster Walter Cronkite was one of the most trusted and influential men in the country. Do you have a favorite TV newsperson? If something really bad ever happens again, I think I'd like to hear it from Tom Brokaw.

5) The Rambler was named 1963 Car of the Year by Motor Trend, and their most popular model was a 9-passenger station wagon. What's the car of your dreams? One that comes with a driver.

6) The Zip Code was first introduced in 1963. How many different Zip Codes have you had throughout your life?  Three

7) What was the first thing you thought about when you woke up this morning? "What was with that dream?"

8) Are you a good pool player? I am the worst

9) Do you actually make a wish when you blow out your birthday candles? Yes.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

November Challenge

Day 21 -- What you hope your future will be like

I'd like to clean up and improve my home so it's a better reflection of who I am.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

November Challenge

Day 20 -- Your fears

Air travel is by far #1. I'm flying tomorrow so this is very top of mind for me right now.

Happy Birthday to me, Parts 2 and 3

Yesterday started out as a bad day. There were continuous raised voices on the el -- someone felt disrespected by an invasion of personal space -- and it was very rattling. The tension in the car was sky high as we all worried about the confrontation becoming physical. ("Excuse me, Madam? Your tote bag does not deserve it's own seat! And you, Sir? Don't go out of your way to smash her belongings! We all have to share this confined space. Let's try to respect one another." One of these days, a silly conflict like this is going to escalate until someone gets shot.)

So I was already rattled when I got to work. And my plate keeps getting more and more projects
heaped upon it. It's always like this year-end. I'm not surprised, but I am anxious, because my boss seems alternately rattled and in denial.

Naturally I was surprised and very grateful when my most annoying coworker said, "Let's go to lunch for your birthday!" She took me to Wildberry, the breakfast-centric restaurant right in our office building and I got to have eggs benedict for lunch. It was a thoughtful and much appreciated gesture.

Then I went back to work-work-work and was surprise and happy when these arrived. My oldest friend sent them to my office because she knows I'm going to be gone this weekend.

I really appreciated this gesture, too. I knew she would remember my birthday -- hell, we've known one another since Kindergarten -- but this explains why she was so adamant about knowing my travel plans. She wanted to send the arrangement where I could enjoy them the most. (And after the flowers go, that's going to make quite the cosmo glass.)

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Teaser Tuesday

Here's how to play this meme.

• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
• Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I dug out Death of a President, November 1963. I don't think I need to be warned about "spoilers" because if you don't know how this story ends, you never went to school as a child or haven't passed a magazine rack this month.

I haven't read this in, literally, decades. Conspiracy buffs discredited it so. But now, with advanced forensics having proven the lone gunman theory this book supports, I'm revisiting it and find myself appreciating it more. Manchester can be flowery at times, but for the most part he has the sense and sensitivity to not let his writer's ego get in the way of the story. 

For example, from page 33:

Maybe it was too much to ask those Dallas patrolmen in the vicinity of the warehouse to follow the example of New York policemen by turning their backs on the President to scan the overlooking windows -- in which event they, like the pedestrians around them, would have seen the waiting rifleman in the window. Perhaps every man did his duty and the blow could not have been averted.

November Challenge

Day 18 -- A problem you have had

This new credit card from the NASA Credit Union. They sent me a pre-approved application and so I said, "what the hell." The offer was lucrative (a low APR on balance transfers for life) and I do card marketing for a living so I wanted to see how they did.

THEY DO IT POORLY! First, it took forever for the card to arrive. They send the balance transfer checks under separate cover for security reasons. I get that. BUT IT'S BEEN A MONTH! Yesterday I called their 800 number and I was transferred three times and the conversation took 24 minutes. Nearly a half hour to be told, give it a few more days. Don't get me started on their website.

I'm not an astronaut. I don't know why they solicited me. And now I'm sorry they have.

Day 19 -- Five items you lust after

1) Is time an "item?" I ask because I really need more time this week.
2) Lots of Vitamin C skincare from The Body Shop. Especially the pre-measured capsules. I love that stuff!
3) A new iPod. I bought a Nano, and I accept it, but I lust after a real, old school iPod original.
4) A bathroom renovation.
5) A really nice new winter coat. The one I got is serviceable and an improvement over the one I had, but I'm not in love with it.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sunday Stealing

The ASK Meme, part one

1. What’s your favorite candle scent? I like the holiday scents, like cinnamon apple.

2. What female celebrity do you wish was your sister? The late Nora Ephron. I think she would have been the ideal older sister!

3. What male celebrity do you wish was your brother? Vince Vaughn

4. How old do you think you’ll be when you get married? 78

5. Do you know a hoarder? I'm a garden variety slob, not a hoarder. I read the book Coming Clean about growing up with hoarder parents and it was moving and sobering.

6. Can you do a split? No

7. How old were you when you learned how to ride a bike? Very young. I remember riding up and down the block, over and over again, by myself by the time I was in third grade.

8. How many oceans have you swam in? 3 -- Atlantic, Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico.

9. How many countries have you been to? 6 -- US, Canada, France, Germany, Lichtenstein, Switzerland.

10. Is anyone in your family in the military? My oldest nephew is on the USS Nimitz.

11. Have you named any of your body parts? No

12. If you had a child today, what would you name him/her? Mary or Michael

13. What’s the worst grade you got on a test? F

14. What was your favorite TV show when you were a child? That Girl

15. What did you dress up as on Halloween when you were eight? That's too specific. I do remember going as an Asian girl, wearing a costume my uncle brought back from Thailand. It was my favorite color (blue) with black toggles closures. I remember it so distinctly, but I can't swear that it was the year I was 8.

16. Have you read any of the Harry Potter, Hunger Games or Twilight series? Nope

17. Would you rather have an American accent or a British accent? I think if I had a British accent, people would think I was smart.

18. Did your mother go to college? No

19. Are your grandparents still married? My grandparents are dead

20. Have you ever taken karate lessons? No

21. Do you know who Kermit the frog is? Yes

22. What was the first amusement park you’ve been to? KiddieLand. It's closed now, and the carousel was up for auction just yesterday. It didn't sell, no one made the minimum bid. I'm glad. I was afraid someone was going to buy it and then tear it apart. I suspect anyone willing to spend nearly a million would keep it in tact.

23. What language, besides your native language, would you like to be fluent in? Spanish

24. Do you spell the color as grey or gray?  Gray

25. Is your father bald? Yes, and he was very sensitive about it. I don't know why, as both his dad and his brother were bald, too.

November Challenge

Day 17 -- Something you're proud of

Yesterday I had lunch with my nephew.* He's in 8th grade now. I try to see him once a month. I'm proud that we're able to maintain this relationship as he grows into a teen. I think adolescents need someone they can turn to who isn't their parent -- I know I did! -- and I want him to know I'm available.
*He dips his pizza crusts in ketchup before he eats them.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Saturday 9

Unfamiliar with this week's song? Hear it here.

1) In this song, the singer tells his girl he appreciates how she makes him feel. Who is the most supportive person in your life? My Aunt Jo. My dad's sister and my godmother. She re-entered my life about 3 years ago, just as I was losing my mom's brother and godfather, an uncle I loved very much. Her renewed presence is such a gift.

2)  Our singer only has to count to 4, which is a cinch. Do you understand the more sophisticated math sciences, like geometry and algebra? I'm hopeless.
3) This video features a couple who shared their first kiss behind the high school. Tell us about your first kiss. A neighborhood boy. Two years older than I! I remember little about it, except being mortified that my braces would make it uncomfortable for him. Apparently I needn't have worried.

4) Filmed in Chicago, this video features the Art Institute of Chicago, home to works by Monet, Gauguin and Van Gogh. How do you express your creativity? (Draw, paint, write, sing or play music ... ) I write.

5) Chicago is home to two of the world's tallest buildings -- the Willis aka Sears Tower and
The John Hancock Center (which appears briefly in this video). Both have observation decks that offer panoramic views of the city. Are you afraid of heights? Nope. I live in Chicago and a cab driver told me that tourists call it "Willis Tower" but locals still say, "Sears Tower."

6) The Plain White T's got their start in Lombard, a suburb of Chicago and home to Yorktown Center -- a huge, two story shopping mall. Do you enjoy going to the mall, or would you rather shop online, or in small, independent stores? I'm a mall rat.

7) Naturally Yorktown Center has a food court. Would you prefer a pretzel from Auntie Anne's, a cinnamon roll from Cinnabon or a cookie from Mrs. Field's? I suppose Mrs. Field's because it offers a greater selection.

8) While we're at the mall … Imagine you're at the customer service counter of a big department store. As you wait for help, you see an older lady pocket a Timex watch. Would you turn her in or look the other way? I don't know. I'd be afraid to confront her because what I misunderstood what I saw? Maybe I'd point her out to a clerk and whisper my suspicions.

9) Which puzzle would you have more success with: crossword or sudoku? I've never done sodoku, so I'll say crossword.

November Challenge

Day 16 -- Something you think "what if" about

"At home"

That was the title of the email my best friend sent yesterday afternoon. His hernia operation was not without complication, lasting twice as long as scheduled, but it was ultimately successful, he's fine now and under the covers in his own bedroom for the next two days.

I am relieved that he's OK, and grateful that he thought to send me the good word. I'm a worrier.

Friday, November 15, 2013

November Challenge

Day 15 -- My zodiac/horoscope and if it fits
I was born on the cusp, but I have been reassured that because of the way the planet aligned at the very moment I was born, I am a Sagittarius.

True of me:

• Freedom loving a strong need to express my views (hence this blog)

• Eternal optimist. (I think that's why I battle depression; I expect things to go well and am disappointed when they don't.)

• Honest, open and often too blunt.

•  Irresponsible and restless (guilty as charged).
•  Loves animals.

Not true of me:

•  Love to socialize and meet new people
•  Prefers every day to be different
•  Drawn to glamour

Two Questions I Can't Ask

I found out yesterday, much to my shock and dismay, that my best friend is having surgery today! He mentioned, for the first time, that he's been back and forth to his doctor's office a lot over the last two weeks.


He has diabetes and I was worried that this medical crisis had to do with the condition he's been managing with so much success. He says "no," that this trip to the hospital is an outpatient procedure to repair a hernia.

He will not say any more about it. I am assuming that he has been in quite a bit of pain for at least two weeks, but instead he wants to talk about the money he and his wife raised with the fundraiser they held in their backyard. It was a chili cookoff,  60 people attended, and they made more than $8,000 for their daughter's ballet school. Impressive, yes, BUT HE'S IN PAIN AND HE'S HAVING SURGERY!

So now I am assuming there is something about this hernia that embarrasses him. I told him I worry whenever someone approaches him with a scalpel and removes anything, anything at all. He reassured me that it's laparascopic, nothing major, and nothing to worry about.

And how is he paying for this? I've read that the average cost for this procedure is about $7,000. He's been unemployed for 15 months. Is he still on COBRA? Has his millionaire father-in-law been supporting the family? I can't ask. The money relationship with father-in-law has always been fraught with tension and danger and I simply can't go there. I can't ask him if he's taking money from the man he once believed was trying to buy his family.

It makes me sad, because I miss the days when we could talk to one another about anything. If he's in pain -- physical or psychic -- he can always tell me.