Thursday, December 31, 2015

Celebrating at home

So there were three final Christmas celebrations of 2015 ...

La familia. December 27 at my sister's house. A little awkward, as it always is when it involves us sibs. But it was lovely to be around my niece and nephew, and my niece's new fella. She's so happy with him! And my nephew is so idealistically and passionately into Bernie Sanders. In these crazy, Trump-dominated days, it's refreshing to talk to a young person so optimistic about both the system and the future. Unfortunately, my sister had made a very spicy pasta dish which was the catalyst for the final gut busting incident that sent me to the doctor on Monday.

The old gang. On Tuesday evening, Mindy, her hubs, John and I met at Miller's Pub again this year. Fortunately they serve breakfast all day/any time and I was able to have some nice, bland eggs. The gift exchange was fun, and it was neat to catch up. It's funny what happens when we get together -- I end up talking to her husband, she concentrates on John. With each passing year, more and more people seem to treat John and me as a couple, and we're sort of slipping into the pattern, as well. Just call us Will and Grace.

Girl talk. Then on the 30th I met up with Kathleen at a nice little local diner. We had a wonderful time. She enjoyed her gifts -- an ornament depicting her and husband and a signed copy of Jimmy Carter's memoir -- and I got a kick out of mine. She somehow actually found Beatles nesting dolls, imported from Russia! And again, I was able to coddle my tummy with chicken (chicken soup and chicken breast).

OH, HOW I HOPE I'M ON THE MEND! I had thought this would be the Christmas dominated by my worries about my dear old cat, Joey. He has, gratefully, turned out to be a very merry and mellow chap this season. Instead, it's been all about my gut.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Christmas Dinner

We went to The Harbourview Cafe, one of the restaurants at the posh Pier House Resort and Spa. To get to the dining area, we passed a sweet little pond of fish and turtles. I enjoyed seeing them immensely and consider them our dining companions.

I had lobster macaroni and cheese and little crab sandwiches. The food was delicious and the views were awesome.

My friends shared some important news with me: after 25 years together, they have decided to marry! (Of course, until this year they'd been denied the right to marry.) And this year, after all the health problems and money trouble, they are still going strong. After dinner I impulsively rolled up my jeans and ran into the Atlantic. It was a lovely Christmas.

Beachy Days

Key West is very proud of being the Southernmost city in the continental United States, closer to Cuba than to Miami. This concrete buoy marks the Southernmost spot, and it is decorated each year for Christmas. The tree topper is a rooster. It's common to see hens and roosters wandering freely around the island, brought here by Cuban refugees decades ago -- or hundreds of years ago, depending on whose account you're listening to. Some locals (aka "conchs") feel the roosters are a health hazard. But they seem to appeal to tourists, and so they are remain and are celebrated, like on this tree.

This part of the island is popular with tourists, like me, from up north. And for us northerners, Christmas means snow. As I walked the beach,  I was delighted to see how some wee ones expressed this.

I also took morning swims in the hotel pool and soaked a moment in the jacuzzi. Met a friendly couple from Boston and chatting with them made me want to go back there someday soon. (Of course, I also want to go back to Williamsburg ... and Memphis ... and Atlanta ...)

Naturally I spent a lot of time catching up with my friends. I thought things were going better for them. At least, I hoped they were. But they aren't.

One of them works 7 days a week -- five as a bookkeeper, two tending bar. The other works 6 days a week -- five as a production artist at the newspaper, one at a bookstore. Yet they are down to one car because it would cost too much to repair their old Chevy Tracker. Their home was uncomfortable because the air conditioning is out. The neighbors are complaining about one of their trees and so a landscaper has to come out. They have nothing set aside for retirement. No matter how hard these men work -- and they work very hard -- there is just never enough money. They probably should leave Key West, even though they are happy there and have put down deep roots, because the economic possibilities are so limited. But they are underwater on their home and it will be hard to sell. If they let it go into foreclosure, it will be hard for them to get a new start somewhere else.

They are good people. I wish their lives were easier.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

My Key West Christmas gift

The friends I visited gave me a gift certificate for a facial at Nailtini, the salon on the main drag in Key West. And so, at noon on Christmas Eve, I got pampered.

I was cleansed, exfoliated, extracted, massaged and moisturized. Best of all, I got to enjoy a complimentary cosmo. Sigh. It was a lovely, much appreciated gift.

Whew! That's a relief!

This post is accompanied by an image of saltines, and this gal's consumption of saltines can mean only one thing: TUMMY TROUBLE!

My digestive system has been bedeviling me for nearly a week now ... since December 23, as a matter of fact. While it was never constant, and didn't impinge on my vacation, I did see a rather startling color in the bowl. The duration and the oddness of it scared me enough to send me to the doctor's office yesterday.

My doctor did not automatically dismiss me out of hand. That scared me. Instead of just giving me industrial strength Immodium and sending me home, she called for lab work. Because I'd been traveling, she assumed it was just some virus I picked up (probably at one of the airports), but since I take NSAIDs for headaches and a statin for my cholesterol, she wanted to make sure it wasn't my liver. So she requested a blood panel.

Liver disease/damage is scary. Wasn't happy to hear that at all.

But she just called with the results. A-OK!

I'm to stick to a bland diet and no booze through the weekend -- which will kinda harsh the remaining holiday celebrations on my calendar. And if, by Sunday, I'm still having tummy trouble, she wants a stool sample (she sent me home with a bowl/bottle set that I most emphatically don't want to use). But none of this really bothers me so much because I don't want to have liver disease/damage.

So right now, I'm a happy gal.

10 Things about Connie

I have a lot of posting to do about Key West, about Christmas, about its aftermath. But right now I'm going to post about my little girl.

I haven't tabulated it, but I suspect Connie receives the least mentions on this blog. But that doesn't mean she's not an important part of this household.

1) She is very affectionate. At the shelter, they said she resisted being held, but that's not been my experience. She's a cuddler.

2) But she doesn't understand human anatomy. She thinks my bust is a shelf and doesn't understand why she can't sit there without sliding off.

3) She's sensitive about her feet. Clipping her nails is such a battle that I don't do it anywhere near often enough. I'm not a big fan of people adopting kittens since there are so many older cats that need loving homes. BUT this is one advantage to getting 'em young. My cat Reynaldo -- for all his many, many faults -- is a prince about nail clipping, and I think it's because I accustomed him to having his feet handled when he was just a wee one.

4) Her eyes are better now. Connie has a recurring eye infection, the result of living with a hoarder who kept more cats than could possibly be cared for properly. Her eyes were why she was labeled "Special Needs" at the shelter, and it kept her from being adopted. But after a few months of dosing her with an over-the-pet-store-counter powder, it cleared up and her eyes have been fine since. (Knock wood.)

5) She's a picky eater. But she has a lowest common denominator palette. She only likes kibble. For a long time I tried to make her happy with more and more expensive canned food, but finally got the message. She just doesn't like the wet stuff. She also won't eat in the kitchen beside the boys. I have to put her bowl on a dining room chair. I suspect it's because when she lived with the cat hoarder, she had to fight off other kitties who wanted to steal her food.

6) She doesn't beg. The boys -- Reynaldo and Joey -- are not at all shy about demanding snacks between meals. (They aren't always successful, but they keep trying.) She's far more easygoing about the meal deal.

7) She's the curious one. Every box or bag that comes in the door mus be thoroughly inspected.

8) She's got imagination. My boy cats have never been much for toys. They have a nice, big, shallow box filled with balls and catnip sacks and play mice, and they go untouched. They prefer to wrestle for exercise. But Connie can amuse herself by chasing and kicking and playing on her own.

9) She's chill. Storms don't frighten her, the way they do Joey. She's not forever trying to slip out the front door, like Reynaldo. She's really very easygoing and, except for the pedicure issue, very easy to care for.

10) She's our hub. The dynamics of our household changed radically with Charlotte's passing. Charlotte was the alpha and she ruled as a diva. She liked Reynaldo well enough, but always spurned poor Joey's attempts at friendship. Connie is also an alpha, but she's a far more benevolent despot. She plays with Rey but also cuddles and grooms Joey. It makes me happy that the old boy will end his life enjoying a daily  dose of feline affection.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Sunday Stealing

 The 2015 Year End Meme

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before? Went to Lollapalooza. The day we saw Sir Paul, we were in a crowd of more than 100,000 (an estimate because 300,000 passed through the turnstyles over the three days and the day we went was the most attended). I've never before been in a crowd that big but it really was fun!

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? No. And yes.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? My coworker Emily had a little boy.

4. Tell us a valuable lesson you learned in 2015? Patience. I feel like I have to learn it anew every year, but patience nevertheless.

5. What was your favorite new TV program? Braxton Family Values. I just discovered it this year and enjoy it thoroughly.

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015? A stronger grip on the particulars of my life. (From, "Where is the adapter for my phone?" to"When can I finally finish my bathroom remodel?")

7. What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? October 7. The day the Cubs won the one-and-done wildcard playoff with Pittsburgh.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? The Big Project at work. I accomplished a lot, and did a good job with little support. I'm proud of it.

9. What was your biggest failure?You can still call me Fatty McFatterson. I haven't lost a pound.

10. What was the best thing you bought? I got myself a little DVD player. Since they're passe now, I got a great price. Can't tell you what a great companion it is when I fly.

11. Whose behavior merited celebration? Joey, my 20-year-old cat, is sitting beside me, purring as I post this. He's a gentle, loving soul and every day I have with him merits celebration.
Shame on anyone who cheers this

12. Whose behavior made you appalled and disgusted? Donald Trump and his supporters. Once he mocked that disabled reporter, and his crowd stuck by him, I realized his campaign was beyond redemption. I had an uncle who battled Parkinson's. I know the courage it takes to face that kind of physical disability. Donald Trump is an asshole.

13. What song will always remind you of 2015? "Shake It Off." I believe it came out in 2014, but it seems I heard it everywhere this year.

14. What do you wish you’d done more of? Exercise.

15. What do you wish you’d done less of? Farmville 2.

16. What was the best book you read? Frank: The Voice, the first volume of Kaplan's massive Sinatra biography. I enjoyed it so much I gave myself volume 2 -- The Chairman -- for Christmas.

17. What one thing would have made your year measurably more satisfying? Fewer guns. Chicago is awash in firearms. It's a tragedy.

18.  Quote a song lyric that sums up your year. It sums up every year, "Pride can hurt you, too. Apologize."

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry, merry, merry

I will likely be away from the keyboard for the rest of the week. But, considering what an important week this is, I wanted to wish everyone (commenters and lurkers alike) a very merry Christmas from the bottom of my Cubbie blue heart.

On Day 21, we go up, up and away!

Day 21: Do you travel on the holidays?

ON the holidays? No. A few days before and immediately after. Tomorrow (gulp!) I'll be landing in Key West and I'm returning on Saturday.

Key West International Airport really does require you take stairs off the plane and walk outdoors to the terminal. Those figures surrounding the Southernmost marker are called "New Friends" by sculptor John Seward Johnson, whose work appears on the island. Key West is a quirky place, and the airport is part of its charm.

To play along with this challenge, click here.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Stealing

Christmas Questions

1. Have you been naughty or nice this year? I always think I'm nice, though I'm not sure everyone agrees.

2. What do you want most for Christmas? I just want to love and feel loved with my old, dear friends.

3. What is your favorite Christmas movie? Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol.

4. How many Christmas cards do you normally send out? About 25.

5. Do you still get a stocking? No.

6. What is your favorite Christmas song? It changes. At this very moment, it's Bruce singing "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." How great to see him on SNL last night!

7. What is your favorite Christmas tv special? I always loved watching Andy Williams celebrate with his family.

8. What is your favorite way to wrap gifts? With tape and ribbon.

9. What do you look forward to most at Christmas? The music. The lights. The gift giving. All of it.

10. What did you do for Christmas this year? It hasn't happened yet.

11. Who do you want to kiss under the mistletoe? The list is vast.

12. What kind of Christmas tree do you have? One that's still in the box on the shelf in the closet.

13. Did you take part in a Secret Santa? Nope

14. Did you go to any Christmas parties? I celebrated with my movie group earlier this month.

15. How early do you wake up on Christmas morning? Wow, I don't know. Depends on how late we stay out on Christmas Eve.

Day 20 is yummy

Day 20: Favorite holiday meal

Last year we dined on Christmas Eve at Duffy's, one of my favorite Key West restaurants. I counted this as a victory because while I love this casual and affordable place, it leaves one of my friends totally cold. But here's the thing, the menu features two of my favorite food groups -- steak and seafood -- and the ambiance is bright and airy and the bill won't bust your budget. It offers a nice, family vibe, since my friends know so many of the wait staff. Therefore, I hope we make a tradition of it and dine there for Christmas Eve 2016.

BTW, last year I had the shrimp scampi.

To play along with this challenge, click here.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Wow. Just wow.

Saw Spotlight today. It's thrilling, intense and disturbing ... which is quite an accomplishment for a movie whose basic plotline is well known to us all before we even buy a ticket.

On one level, it's about how The Boston Globe broke the story that the archdiocese not only knew about priests abusing children, they perpetuated it by moving the offending clergy from one parish to another ... and on to more young potential victims. It shows how The Globe invested time -- important and unusual in this 24-hour news cycle world -- to get the right story right. Meaning, when they had it cold that 13 priests were guilty of molestation, a shocking allegation, they held it and waited until they could prove misdeeds by a dizzying 70+ priests. Their goal was not just to notify the public, not just to let the victims feel validated and heard. Management at The Globe wanted to make sure that the numbers were so staggering that Bostonians had to know this was institutional abuse, that Bernard Law and The Vatican had to know about it.

It reinforced the difference between print and broadcast journalism. Every year on 9/11, MSNBC rebroadcasts it's minute-by-minute coverage of the attack on the Twin Towers. It's fascinating to watch history unfold in real-time, to watch as our lives changed forever. It's important, too, to see how TV news is gathered and disseminated. National Geographic has made the original footage of 11/22/63 and the Kennedy assassination available and it struck me the same way. TV news is about getting us the visuals and getting them first. Print journalism gives us context and accuracy. As consumers of news -- and citizens -- we must never forget that. We must be sure we pay attention to both.

Spotlight is also about the reporters. The toll this story took on them. How they kept going. Some were parents. Many were Catholic. They felt a a certain responsibility that this sexual abuse had gone on as long as it had, unreported. It reminded me of hearing Carol Marin of the NBC5 here in Chicago talking of the Laquan McDonald police shooting. She recently said the news media here in town had to take responsibility for not going after that story with greater dedication. At a time when the press is the punching bag of right wing politicians, it's refreshing to see that they consider themselves public servants, nevertheless.

Rachel and Sacha
It gave me a chance to watch Rachel McAdams. One of my favorite actresses, she plays real-life Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer and delivers some very effecting moments. Michael Keaton and Mad Men's John Slattery are very good, too.

I almost forgot Stanley Tucci! He disappears  completely into this character. Mitchell Garabedian is a difficult-to-like lawyer you just have to respect and admire for his tenacity on behalf of the victims. It leaves you shaking your head in disbelief and sadness that a law firm can support itself defending victims of sexual abuse at the hands of those in power.

I cried at the end of this movie. For the enormity of the problem. For the lives ruined. For the faith shaken. For the City of Boston, which (not the first time) has felt like a mirror of my beloved Chicago. For myself, an unheard victim of abuse myself (though by a relative, not a clergyman).

Now let me have it.

I wish my non-Christian "happy holidays" because I respect their feelings and their faith. That level of respect and sensitivity seems like a good way to honor my Savior at the time of his birth.

I respect our President. I don't always agree with him, but I'm proud of him. And no, he's not a Muslim* or a fascist/socialist†.

It's Christmastime! Why is social media so jacked up and crazy? Take a pill, people. Enjoy life and one another.

And happy holidays!

*Not that Muslim is a bad thing to be
†Not that those terms are interchangeable

The one on the bottom

When I stopped at Pier One on Friday afternoon, I bought my last gift of Christmas 2015. The bottom bottle stopper, accompanied by a corkscrew, are going with me to Key West. That's for one of my friends. His partner is getting a gift card to Five Guys, and I have little treats for each of their three dogs.

These are relatively inexpensive gifts, but carefully thought out. Gift giving makes me feel even more Christmas-y.

Saturday 9

Saturday 9: Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

1) According to a marketing research firm, this song is both one of the most played and most hated songs of the season. Do you like it? It seems like an easy question, but it's not. On the one hand, it's a stupid song, overplayed and badly sung. Yet back in the 1980s, when it was new, it brought my favorite uncle a lot of joy. I miss him a lot this time of year.

2) In this song, Grandma's troubles start when she drinks too much eggnog. Do you like eggnog? No, though it's bearable when it's spiked.

3)  In the song, Grandpa recovers from losing Grandma by drinking beer and playing cards with Cousin Mel. Will you be celebrating the holidays with cousins? Nope

4) When did you most recently drink a beer? Was it in a bottle, a can or a glass? Bottle

5) The lyrics refer to "pudding of fig." In "We Wish You a Merry Christmas," the carolers demand figgy pudding. Yet despite its popularity in holiday songs, Sam has never tasted fig pudding. Have you? Nope

6) Thinking of holiday sweets, would you prefer a gingerbread cookie or slice of pumpkin pie? Gingerbread, every time!

Hot, isn't he?
7) This song was recorded by a duo named Elmo & Patsy. It occurs to Sam that she has never met anyone named Elmo. How about you? Any Elmos in your life? The first Elmo that popped into my head is Elmo Lincoln. I learned about him when I was reading about author Edgar Rice Burroughs. Elmo Lincoln was the first Tarzan, back in the silent 1918 movie.

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

9) Random question: Are you going to get/have you gotten a flu shot this year? Yes, and so far, so good. Barely a sniffle!

Day 19 is something I didn't know I remembered

Day 19: Favorite stocking stuffer

My mom hung our stockings on our doorknobs. That way, the stockings would keep us occupied a little longer so she and my dad could sleep until 7:00 AM. When I read this question, I recalled Christmas morning, 1966,when I could see this bright red book cover and the word "BEATLES" (the most beautiful word in my vocabulary) peering out of my stocking. I haven't thought about this in years.

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Friday, December 18, 2015

Continuing my love affair ...

... with the past, I hung a grapevine wreath. It lends a nice, old-fashioned rustic touch to my front door, and (bonus!) drops no needles.

As a hanger I'm using a shoelace covered with pawprints. Next year I've got to remember to add a red ribbon. Or maybe gingham.

And I'm just sitting here

11:00 AM. My first day off, and I haven't moved from the sofa. Not even to bathe.

I feel alternately disgusted by my laziness and thrilled that I'm literally surrounded by cats (Joey on my left, purring and keeping my feet warm, Connie curled up like a fur shrimp on my right, and Reynaldo dozing on the back of the sofa, behind my head).

Much as I hate to disturb my feline roommates, I've got to get up sometime ...

Day 18: I'm greedy

December 18: When do you open gifts?
The moment I receive them. Because it isn't physically possible to do it any sooner.

To play along with this challenge, click here.