Sunday, December 31, 2017

Sunday Stealing

Sunday Stealing: Year End Hodgepodge

1. Where have you found unexpected magic or delight this holiday season? I had a lovely time at the new The Tennessee Williams Exhibit I discovered in Key West. It's not that it's extensive or detailed. It's not. But it was done by locals with such affection for their late neighbor that it made me happy. Here's my post about it.

2. What's your favorite type of holiday gathering? Will you/have you gathered in your favorite way this month? I like being surrounded by people who love and accept me. And yes, I've enjoyed the holidays that way.

3. Time has named 'The Silence Breakers' (women who came forward with stories of harassment)  'person of the year' for 2017. Would you agree? If not, who do you think deserves the title? YES! Yesyesyesyesyes, 100x yes. I could not agree more with the recognition for The Silence Breakers. This is how change happens. Bravo to Ronan Farrow for sticking with the Weinstein story and starting the ball rolling.

4. How did you spend your time this year? Are you happy about that? Elaborate. I wasted a lot of time this year. Agonizing and fretting. Farting around on Farmville. I hope I will be more disciplined in 2018 (though I doubt it).

5. Bid farewell to 2017 in ten words or less. Thank God, everyone I love is more or less healthy.

6. Insert your own random thought here. The Cubs play the Marlins in Miami on March 29. GO, CUBS, GO!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Saturday 9

1) In this song, Barry Manilow declares New Year's Eve is "just another night." How do you feel about 12/31? Is it a special occasion or just another night? Just another night. Otherwise I've found New Year's Eve is never as much fun as it's supposed to be. This year my plans got cancelled and I'm OK with that.

2) Barry sings that in the past year, "we've made mistakes." What in 2017 do you wish you could do over? Back in September, I saw a confidential document on the Xerox machine that detailed plans for my department in 2018. I've been worrying and fretting about what I saw ever since. I wish I had taken the damn thing and read it in its entirety. Then maybe I'd actually understand what's going on!
3) He also sings of happy nights with friends. Tell us about a really good time you had in the past year. Also in September, I went to Wrigley Field with my friend John. The game itself didn't matter -- my guys had already clinched a place in the play-offs and my favoritemost Cub (Anthony Rizzo!) didn't even play. But it was a great day. Sunshine, camaraderie, and margaritas in my favorite place in the world. (BTW, the Cubs play their first game on the road on March 29. I just have to hang on for 90 more days.)

4) The song references growing wiser, as well as older. What's something you learned or discovered in 2017? I learned about Rosemary LaBianca. Up until I read Helter Skelter this year, I thought she was "just a housewife," just "another victim" of the ugly Manson "family." She was a gallant and accomplished woman. She went from single mother to millionaire entrepreneur in the early 1960s, before the women's movement made business more welcome for women. She was a loving mother and stepmother. She deserves to be remembered.

5)  What do you wish you had spent more time doing during 2017? Working out.

6)  What was the smartest thing you did all this past year? I did a very good job for my client this year. There are projects I can point to with pride.

7)  As this year comes to a close, what are you most grateful for? My health.
8) When this week's featured artist, Barry Manilow, was a jingle writer, he wrote the famous "You deserve a break today at McDonald's" song. When's the last time you visited the Golden Arches? It's been months. But every time I go, I completely savor the Big Mac. I really do love that burger every now and again.
9) Random question: In high school, were you more popular with the boys or the girls? I hated high school so much. That said, I did have girl friends that I hung around with on occasion.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Goodbye, Friend

Today, I heard that Sue Grafton died. I enjoyed her "Alphabet Series" so much! Her writing was crisp and smart. I admired her savvy in handling this franchise (refusing to allow made-for-tv movies, keeping it set in the 1970s). I loved her characters, especially Kinsey and Henry. Her last book, Y Is for Yesterday, is currently on the best seller list and was one of the books I just picked up this past week.

Sue Grafton mattered to me. So, in tribute, I'm reposting a Thursday Thirteen from 2008.


Kinsey Milhone is Sue Grafton’s creation, the heroine of the popular “Alphabet Mysteries.” So I realize Kinsey is fictional, even though she seems like a buddy. After all, we’ve gone from A Is for Alibi through T Is for Trespass together.

Earlier this year, I did a TT on Patricia Cornwell’s Kay Scarpetta, the bigger-than-life, this-close-to-perfect doctor/lawyer/gourmand. While Kay is the kind of woman I hopelessly aspire to be, Kinsey is far, far more accessible. There’s nothing intimidating about my buddy Kinsey. Down-to-earth, no-nonsense, fabulously flawed and very funny, she’s as comfortable as a pair of old running shoes (her favorite footwear).

1. When she was 5 years old, she and her parents were in a car accident. Kinsey was the only survivor. While she grew up to be a successful and self-sufficient woman, Kinsey has intimacy and abandonment issues, and it’s not hard to see why.

2. She was raised by her Aunt Gin. A contented and single woman living in Santa Theresa, California, Aunt Gin did the best she could. But she never planned on having a family, and didn’t quite know what to do with a traumatized little girl. So while these two lived in the same house, we really don’t imagine them together very much.

3. Her career at Santa Theresa High seems to have been devoted to smoking pot, cussing, and doing only what was necessary to not flunk. After graduation, Kinsey joined her aunt at California Fidelity Insurance, working as a receptionist and hating it, until she was old enough to try her hand at police work.

4. It was joining the Santa Theresa Police Department that straightened our girl out. While she had big problems with the regimentation that went with being a cop – she left the force after just two years – she discovered she had a passion for investigating and protecting the good guys from the bad ones.

5. Kinsey endured two short, unsuccessful marriages. The first, to Mickey, occurred after she left the force, when her Aunt Gin died and she was emotionally adrift. Her second husband was a musician named Daniel. Since they each turn up in books, and so as not to be a spoiler, I shall say no more. Of her husbands, Kinsey has said, “I dumped the first and the second dumped me.”

6. She’s had a few lovers throughout the alphabet – Charlie, Jonah, Dietz (my favorite) and Cheyney. None of these relationships have lasted because we all know her great love is really …

7. Henry Pitts, her landlord and best friend. He’s in his 80s, but that doesn’t stop her from completely adoring him. She mentions his blue eyes often. He bakes for her, shares Happy Hour with her (he has Jack Daniels on ice, she has her wine), celebrates Christmas and birthdays with her.

8. Rosie runs Rosie’s Tavern, Kinsey’s favorite restaurant. Rosie has brightly dyed hair and wears print muumuus and annoys Kinsey no end. She is also a fabulous cook, and her tavern is Kinsey’s refuge after even the most dangerous “day at the office.” Rosie, Henry, and Henry's various siblings make up Kinsey's surrogate family.

9. Kinsey has some unconventional talents, which come in very handy in her chosen profession: lying, picking locks and snooping. She enjoys all three equally (which is to say she enjoys them all a great deal).

10. She’s not a fitness nut, but she understands that being in shape is as important to her job as a good set of picklocks. So she jogs 3 miles every day. Sometimes she enjoys it, oftentimes not.

11. She owns a single, all-purpose black dress, doesn’t wear makeup and has been known to hack at her curly hair with nail scissors.

12. She drinks lots of coffee and loves McDonald’s. Especially Q-Ps with cheese and Egg McMuffins. She has referred to fats and carbs as “nature’s antidepressants.”

13. Unlike other fictional crimefighters (like Scarpetta or Robert Parker's Spenser), Kinsey often has to resort to markedly unglamorous tasks to pay the rent. She’s served subpoenas, investigated car insurance claims and taken jobs with clients she hasn’t really cared for. Seeing her in workaday situations makes her seem more real to me.

I know that since she's already on "T," Sue Grafton will reach the end of the alphabet, and this series, soon. Too soon for my taste. I'll miss Kinsey: she who writes clues down on index cards and arranges and rearranges them, trying to solve the crime; she who cleans compulsively and never leaves home without a paperback in her purse; she who has a strict personal code and lives by it. I've enjoyed every moment I've spent with her.

Not with a bang, but with a series of whimpers

2017 wasn't a bad year for me, but it ends on uncomfortably because I have to slather myself with a prescription corticosteroid every few hours (see post below). But it seems so many people around me are suffering.

Joanna. First, she came down with a terrible chest cold that just won't let her go, and caused her to cancel her year-end visit to New Orleans (and miss her niece's wedding). Then she had to put her beloved black girlcat to sleep. Now she's had to beg out on our year-end celebration because of that tenacious cough and now a toothache. Because I'm still scratching and clawing, I'm just as happy to stay home in my pajamas and ointment. But still, I feel bad for her.

My coworker. I can't believe how her Christmas has unfolded. First her father went from California to Texas for the holidays with one of his daughters, and was promptly hospitalized with a heart attack. Then, on December 23, her mother -- long in custodial care in Los Angeles -- died. Mom's been cremated, but there has been no service because dad isn't strong enough to make the decisions. I can't imagine what this is like for her.

My oldest friend. She can no longer afford her apartment and is moving in with her cousin. I think this is a wonderful, because my friend moved from Chicagoland to California to be near her. She, however, seems to view it as yet another indication of her failure to make her life work out there.

Somehow, my itchy skin doesn't seem so bad.

Doctors and movies

My Thursday began with a trip to the vet. Reynaldo needed bloodwork as part of his six-month exam. He was a real trooper, which was a relief because fasting for bloodwork can leave Rey feisty. His preliminary tests came back A-OK, and now we just have to schedule him for dental work in January.

Then I went to immediate care about all my scratching and clawing. Really, these bites are making me crazy! I got prescription strength ointment: triamcinolone acetonide. Hopefully it will make me feel better today, after 24 hours of use. (Please, God!)

While waiting for the doctor, I checked my phone and found that the water in my building had been turned off. Well, hell! I wasn't about to go cocoon anywhere that doesn't have a flushable toilet! So I impulsively went to the movies.

I was curious about All The Money in the World because of current events. Kevin Spacey had already completed his performance as J. Paul Getty when word of his certainly unsavory and perhaps illegal conduct came to light. Rather than risk backlash at the box office, director Ridley Scott decided to reshoot scenes of the movie with Christopher Plummer in the supporting but pivotal role. Scott had less than a month to do it. A daunting task, a prohibitive timeline. And yet he, and his cast, accomplished it seamlessly.

I'm old enough to remember the story of the Paul Getty kidnapping in real time. So I knew when to look away during a critical scene. I also knew how the movie would end. I wasn't aware of the conspiracy involved in his kidnapping, and I was impressed by both Plummer and Michelle Williams. Oh yeah, and I remain a little in love with Mark Wahlberg. (Note to self: watch more Mark Wahlberg movies in 2018.)

Christmas Eve, Christmas Day

Christmas Eve. Church and Dinner. Went to a very choral service in Key West. Their long-time musical director is retiring on December 31, and so the pastor virtually handed the service over to him. I would have preferred a bit more sermon, but Henry loved it. Since the only time he goes to church is on Christmas Eve with me, I suppose it's a good thing that he had such a wonderful time.

Then we stopped and had a light dinner at the restaurant where their friend Patrick is now working. I had a bowl of butternut squash/coconut soup, and Henry munched on the charcuterie. Got back to my room and found this lovely gift from hotel management.

My Christmas Day dawned and I welcomed it by munching on the gingerbread man the hotel gave me. Then I went for a dip in the pool.

Then I went for a walk. First stop was the beach. This is literally the southernmost spot in the contiguous United States. Next piece of land after this is Cuba.

Then I went shopping, picking up some Tahitian vanilla ice cream for dessert after our ham dinner, cooked by Reg (who keeps trying to get me like rutabaga).

Christmas 2017 is now documented!

I must be a lady of letters, part 3

Key West now has a Tennessee Williams Museum. It just reopened on December 15, a week before I arrived. It's not very big, but it's very sweet. So lovingly done. And, truth to tell, I've always enjoyed Williams' work better than I have Hemingway's, so I had a lovely time.

Williams finished Streetcar in Key West

I must be a lady of letters, part 2

I love cats. I appreciate Ernest Hemingway. So I always enjoy visiting The Hemingway House in Key West. I don't go every year, as it's one of those touristy things my Conch friends have done to death, but this year I made a point of it. So much of CNN's Hurricane Irma coverage centered around The Hemingway House, and I wanted to see for myself that the building and its feline residents are OK.

They are! It's always a kick to watch the Hemingway cats. There are at least 50 who live there. It's one of the provisions -- if the house is to be used as an attraction, that's fine, but Papa's cats and their descendants all have to remain welcome. Being cats, they make themselves comfortable throughout the house. Even on the old man's bed. The signs say we mere humans are not allowed to touch the furniture. But cats know they are descended from Egyptian Gods, and therefore are entitled to plant themselves wherever they wish.

Tour or no tour, it's nap time on Hemingway's bed
Naptime in Hemingway's bathroom

No cats (at the moment), but still my favorite room. This loft is the room where it happened, the studio is where Hemingway wrote A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Sun Also Rises.

I must be a lady of letters, part 1

There's a bookstore in Key West run by a dear friend of my friends. Before she took over the bookstore, she was a bartender with Reg. Then, when she was just getting started as an entrepreneur and Henry was unemployed, she gave him a job in the bookstore, shelving volumes and working the register.

I know how much she means to them, so when I saw that the store sustained considerable damaged during Hurricane Irma, I called and bought a $15 gift certificate for Henry. That was September and his birthday isn't until December, but September is when she was cash-strapped. She promised to keep it in the register until I came down for Henry's birthday/Christmas.

Unbeknownst to me, Henry was thinking the very same thing, and I got a $100 gift certificate for my birthday from the same bookstore. While the dollar amount made my eyes pop, it's really not as extravagant as it looks. The bookstore has a used book section, and now that Henry works at the local library, he keeps it stocked for his friend. He rescues the books that the library removes from the shelves, buying them for 25¢ or 50¢ each.* She insists on paying him, just as she would anyone else she buys used books from. Since Irma, he has collected a lot of store credit, and rather than having her open the register and pay him, he gave it to me as a gift certificate.

And so, on my first day in Key West, we had a shopping spree. Here's my $100 haul. It was a delight to walk through the shelves and say, "Wrap it up! I'll take it!"

Henry used his birthday present/gift certificate from me on a self-help book for his friend, Patrick. A head waiter at a popular restaurant in Maine, Patrick knows he won't make much money at home during these exceptionally snowy months and took a leave of absence. He's staying with Henry and Reg for the winter and working at a Key West restaurant because he is, in his own words, "poor as a church mouse." They'd agreed not to exchange gifts because the whole point of this trip was for Patrick to make money. But, since it was purchased with a gift certificate, Henry didn't think Patrick would mind. (And who doesn't want a gift under the tree?)

*I believe that's what he said he paid. I don't remember exactly (I'm so bad with numbers). I just recall it was a small amount.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Sights seen in qurky Key West

Parked next to us at the airport
Embracing Peace is a 25' tall installation by Seward Johnson
I was excited to see The W under palm trees
A drag queen will climb into that stiletto and they will drop at midnight on NYE

The Official Drink of Christmas 2017

The margarita, frozen and with salt. This was my standard drink order in Key West. We even stopped and raised a couple in the original Margaritaville Cafe, right there on Duval. My friend Henry suffered brain freeze.

Layover learning

I spent hours and hours in ATL as I waited between flights. I designed it that way. I didn't want to stress over missing my connection because of snow when I took off from Chicago or rain when I took off from Key West. I happily discovered that, if you have to be stuck in an airport for hours and hours, Hartsfield-Jackson is good.

They have a permanent exhibit devoted to Dr. King! Maintained by the King Center, it's case after case of personal items, donated by Coretta Scott King. And harried travelers just barrel past it, concentrating on their phones and roller bags and don't even notice the history right there. I'm grateful I had the time to stop and look and take it in.

These are just the parts of the exhibit that were easiest to photograph
His 60s-style transistor, wristwatch, the glasses he really didn't need but often carried.
The actual suit worn for his Oval Office meeting with LBJ, 1965

The worst of all possible worlds

I'm home from Christmas in Key West. Oh, am I ever home! It was bright and 80º yesterday when I got on the plane, and 0º last night when I landed in Chicago.

But I haven't slept well these last few nights. Not because I miss the sun and the palm trees, but because the Key West No-See-Ums feasted on me. Those welts have literally interrupted my slumber.


So even though I had a lovely holiday, and I'm happy to be home, I feel that right now I'm experiencing the worst the South and the Midwest have to offer.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Saturday 9

Saturday 9: Happy Holidays! (from the archives)

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? When I was a little girl, we had a mailbox like this at home and I would have preferred to leave my letter for Santa inside. But my mom got such a kick out of seeing us with Santa that we did that instead. I never enjoyed it -- I felt awkward and shy with the old gent -- but it felt like my job as her daughter.

2. Are you currently on the Naughty or Nice list? How did you get there? I think I'm on the Nice side of the ledger. I wouldn't say I'm 100% Nice, but I'm working on it. And I believe that, in this category, effort counts.

3. Did you ship any gifts to friends and family this year? If so, which one traveled the farthest? My gift to my oldest friend went from Chicago to Beverly Hills, 2028 miles. It's a 5x7 of her and me in our plush white terry robes, awaiting our spa treatments in Las Vegas last month. I added a Starbucks gift card for good measure.

4. Did you buy yourself a gift this year? I'm very generous with myself.

5. What's your favorite holiday-themed movie? Have you seen it yet this year? My favorite is Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol. I haven't seen it yet, but I will. I think I'll take it with me to enjoy during my layover in ATL.

My favorite version. Really!

6. Thinking of movies, Christmas is lucrative for Hollywood. Have you ever gone to a movie theater on Christmas Day? Nope.

7. Have you ever suffered an embarrassing moment at the company Christmas party? Yes. Let us say no more.

8. What's your favorite beverage in cold weather? Hot tea.

9. Share a memory from last Christmas. Proudly wearing my Cubs 2016 WORLD SERIES CHAMPION gear, and gifting my expatriate friends with Cubbie championship caps. It was glorious!

He's annoying, she's worrying

As I head into Christmas, I have two close friends on my mind.

Henry, oh, Henry. My friend in Key West is so dear, so loving. And such a fucking flake. While I have no doubt that I'll be welcome when I arrive down there, and that he will be happy to see me, he's not making this trip easy. For ever since last summer, he only sporadically checks email. He simply doesn't "like it anymore." His Mac died, and he inherited his friend Ted's PC, and he just doesn't care for the platform. Likewise, he doesn't "like" Facebook or Twitter. He works ever-changing hours at the library (some days, some evenings), so it's hard for us to coordinate in real time. His preferred form of communication is text message, but some messages -- like my upcoming itinerary! -- are too long and complicated for texts. It's been nerve wracking to make sure he gets my info so he can be there tomorrow to meet my plane!

My oldest friend. She didn't get the job she was so counting on and now will be moving to a small town in the mountains to live with her cousin. She sent me the most plaintive email yesterday, referring to herself as unemployable because she's "old and fat." She sounded so hopeless. So I called her. She didn't pick up. I left a message. She didn't return it. She did send me an email later that night. But shit! She's scaring me.

I'm glad she's moving in with her cousin. It will be good to know that she's under the watchful eye of someone who not only loves her, but understands what's going on with her health. And I wish she realized how very lucky she is to have a cousin with an "in-law's" apartment in her home, just waiting for her to move in. I wish I had such a resource I could lean on!

Most of all, I wish she wouldn't reach out and then retract back into her unhappy shell like a tortoise. I hate how helpless it makes me feel. But I must be patient with her. She's struggling with a lot and doing the best she can.

And it's Christmas. She's spending it with the family she moved 2000 miles to be with. There has to be some joy in that for her, right?

My Little Lion in Winter

Reynaldo is getting old. He's 13.5 years old, which is about 70 in human years. Looking back on our time together, I can see time and age have slowed him down.

He's more mellow. He no longer views my sleeping as neglect. Now at night, I find him curled up beside me in bed. It's very sweet.

His senses of sight and smell appear to be a bit dulled. Sometimes he insists his dish is empty when he's just pushed the kibble to the rim with his nose. All I have to do is shake the bowl for him and he's happy again.

He's given up on his battle against framed artwork. He used to sit under the pictures on the wall, howling at them, now and again slipping a paw under them to knock them down. No more. It must be noted, however, that I no longer even bother displaying family pictures around the living room. He has knocked them over so often that the frames are broken. And I have no doubt that if I took them out again, he'd instantly resume his assault.

He has no obvious health problems, but at this age he should go to the vet every six months. I just made an appointment for him next week. I guess this hammers it home for me to accept that our time together is shorter. Yes, he's healthy now, but statistically speaking, indoor cats live between 12 and 18 years. My dear old Joe made it to 19 or 20, but that's unusual. So while Rey's racing around as I write this, making little noises and either fleeing or pursuing an imaginary adversary, he is an old man.

He's taught me a lot over our time together. I'm more patient for knowing him. I've come to accept him as he is, even as I believe he still has serious gripes with me. But I know I've given him a good life, and there's no question that he loves me.

He enriched my life when he entered it, back in November 2004. He's less a pet and more a companion. I'm glad we're together.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

They have sharpened my awareness

Homelessness in Chicagoland is not a new thing. It's been a problem dealt with -- with varying degrees of success -- across my lifetime. And yet, it's not something I've thought about very often.

Oh, I've always given my change to those I pass. I made a point of teaching my niece and nephew to always, always make eye contact with those on street corners, and speak if spoken to ("No, I'm sorry" if you can't give or "Good luck" when handing over coins). I believe acknowledging their humanity is important. Part of it is my Christianity. I don't write about it often, but my faith is a major influence on how I see the world, and I try to be more compassionate because I try to live as He wants me to.

But the reality of homelessness has eluded me. I worry about being unemployed, broke, and having to go to the local food pantry. I've looked into the faces of those waiting to get their allotment of groceries and it's sobering. Whenever there's a major storm, I worry about abandoned or stray cats and dogs, confused and in danger and in search of shelter. But I've never actually put myself in the place of a homeless person.

Since getting to know Napoleon, I now doThe family -- kitten Napoleon plus "parents" Randi and Caleb -- lives on what can be made panhandling. I've learned that they must raise $46 to sleep indoors in a shelter that both allows pets and has shower facilities. There are free shelters, but they often require you to check your belongings when you enter, and often those items get stolen. Or they don't allow pets, and there's no way they are going anywhere without Napoleon. Or they can't bathe. Rather than stay in one of those places, they sleep in their tent.

We've been enjoying unseasonably warm weather lately. Usually, that would annoy me. I like four seasons, and it's Christmastime! A little snow would make me smile. But we're heading into a cold snap. No cheery snow, just gray skies and falling temperatures. What does this mean for Napoleon and his family? Will they raise the $8/hour they need to sleep indoors? Or will they be stuck outdoors in the cold and damp?

I'm glad that, before I left for Christmas break, I gave them a stocking that included extra socks and gloves. Just in case they need to layer, or replace the ones they wear that get wet.

I'm a better person for knowing Napoleon and his people. Let's see how this manifests itself in 2018! What will I do to become a more thoughtful person going forward?