Saturday, December 31, 2005

Standing On The Brink ...

A year ago today, I sat in the Starbucks at Chicago Avenue and Franklin, and wrote my goals for 2005.

I'd never actually commited goals to paper. Goals, I call them, not resolutions, because resolutions never stick. But Doreen had mentioned writing them down and sealing them in an envelope and tucking them away.

So I did.

Last week, on the phone with L.A. Dave, figuring it was close enough to the end of the year, I opened the envelope.

I did pretty well.

I wrote down nine goals. I didn't complete every one exactly as I had written it, but I touched on every one, some more than others. And as many of them are life-long things, it's not like I was going to "complete" them in one year anyway.

But the wheels are turning. All nine of them.

This year, I'll sit down and write them again. I like this exercise. I believe intention counts for a lot of what happens in our lives, and this is a good way of thinking through what you want and channeling it into one permanent place.

On balance, 2005 was a good year. There was some profound sadness, but there was also profound joy. It's the yin and yang of life, isn't it? The physics of karma: If the pendulum swings wide into darkness, it also swings equally as wide into the light.

I wish us all health and happiness and love in the new year and always.

+ $5.02

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Happiness Is ...

Very few people will understand my glee about this, but today when we were shopping, mom bought me a Le Creuset dutch oven.

I have wanted a piece of Le Creuset cookware for all of my adult life. And now I have one. (Cherry red, if you're wondering, if you know enough about Le Creuset to wonder.)

After we put it in the trunk of my car, we continued to shop. As we walked to the next store, I clapped a little happy clap and said, "I want to go home and braise something!"

+ $1.92

Choose Love ...

Waiter, he of, penned a recent post full of things he's learned, good advice, etc. One of the items he included leapt off the screen when I read it: "Love is not a feeling. It is an act of will."

I love that. I love what it means. You *choose* to love someone. It isn't passive, waiting-around-for-Cupid-to-show-up kismet. It's active, a commitment, moment to moment.

Of course, it works best if the person you're with chooses to love you in return. But doesn't the notion that love is an act of will make you feel more powerful? More in control? Not that love is about power and control, mind you, but I also don't believe that it's all starry eyes and walking on air.

It's a process and it requires understanding of both your partner and yourself. And as I write that, I'm remembering writing something about College Boyfriend David, so I searched my entries for it. And I said:

"College Boyfriend David once asked (when we were no longer dating), 'Why can't people just accept that we're not meant to be with one person for the rest of our lives? Why can't we just be with someone for as long as things are good and then move on?'

Well, no one's stopping him, right? You can do that. Many people do. Applying the findings of our Italian friends, 'things are good' for about a year and then reality sets in, at which point you can bail and start looking for the next good thing, or you can understand that there's more to a relationship than the honeymoon phase and choose to devote your life to someone."

Huh. So I've already been thinking about this. Waiter's site was simply more succinct.

+ $5.88

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

My Two Cents (x 7,560) ...

There's a man in Canada named David.

On September 9, he wrote a blog entry (click the title above) that invited bloggers to participate in an idea he had to help Katrina victims: Pledge two cents per word for each blog entry between September 9th and the end of the year and donate that money to a charity that is helping our Southern friends rebuild their lives.

I found out about this through my friend Ethan's site, The Vision Thing. Today, I read Ethan's post about his tally. He's donating half his money to Oprah's Angel network and half to Habitat for Humanity.

And I decided, since this is the season of giving, that I would add up the number of words in all my December posts and contribute, too. (I tend to write a lot, so I didn't think I'd be able to afford a donation that included posts all the way back to September 9th.)

My total for this month's posts, so far, is $151.20. I'll keep track until 11:59 p.m. on December 31 and do a final tally and post a check to Habitat or some such organization.

This was a very worthwhile idea, David. My hat's off to you. And to others who wish to participate, I extend the invitation on David's behalf.

+ $4.46

'Standing In The Shadows Of Motown' ...


Enigmatic David recommended this documentary to me months and months ago. It came up in my Netflix queue in the first half of November. It's been sitting on my coffee table ever since.

Until today.

Just watched it. It's outstanding.

And it's a shame bordering on embarrassment that I had no idea that these musicians were behind some of the biggest musical moments in history.

Find it. Watch it. You'll love it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Thanks For Nothing ...

Clicking the title of this post will take you to a well-written story in USA Today about the disappearance of thank-you notes.

I write thank-you notes. I try to get them in the mail within 24 hours. When I did the breast cancer walk, I would receive e-mail alerts that someone had made a donation. I'd fire off an immediate e-mail to the donor, saying, "You'll receive a 'proper' thank-you note in the mail, but I'm trying to thank everyone in as close to real time as possible." Some days, I'd make several trips to the post office.

Many of my friends, upon receipt of my thank-you notes, say, "You didn't have to do that."

Well, yes, actually, I did.

"Blame my mother," I say, playfully.

But I should send my mother a thank-you note instead.

I'm grateful for the way she raised me, including her nudging when I was younger to send thank-you notes. Few people seem to write them anymore, but everyone likes to receive them.

Why have people stopped writing thank-you notes? Seriously, I'd like to know. If someone takes the time to buy you a gift and wrap it and present it, is it too much to expect that you'll find a minute or two to jot down a few heartfelt, personal sentences and pop them in the mail?

Today, I met up with a former teacher and his wife at the Art Institute. English Teacher Dave gives his students extra credit if they meet him at the Art Institute during Christmas break. A lot of kids showed up. Some brought friends and family. It was a big group. So when we had to pass through a door, I held it open for everyone. A few kids said "thank you," but most didn't. Is "thank you" on the brink of extinction, as well?

The other day, at G's, I noticed a bottle of water on the nightstand on my side of the bed.

"Did you put that out for me?" I asked.



"Oh, come on, that's little!" he said.

"Yes, but the little things add up."

And they do. And that's another thing I've gotten from my mother: I thank people for everything. My mom thanks my father if he empties the dishwasher. Yes, he should empty the dishwasher. He should pitch in and help. But everyone likes to feel appreciated, and it's a simple thing to say "thank you." So she does.

And so should we all.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Making Christmas ...

Christmas, of course, happens.

The running and chasing, the buying and wrapping, the cooking and baking, none of it really has anything to do with Christmas at its core. I know that.

But Christmas: The Event requires all the planning and preparation, and however harried we get about it, it's all worth it in the end.

My Christmas began on Thursday, the 22nd. I donned my Cookie Fairy wings (invisible, of course) and made my cookie rounds.

Doreen received her package of cookies (she called to tell me she was in a Beth-induced sugar coma, so her doorman, apparently, did not consume her loot before she got home).

Dave received the cookies for him and his wife and his daughter. "They're like little dogs at home," he said. "Jumping around waiting for these to arrive." Cute image.

Bill received his cookies. Or rather, his desk received his cookies. He was out to lunch. But later, when I was back at Dave's studio, Bill was in his office, so I knocked on the door and peeked in and said, "Merry Christmas, Bill."

"Hi, Beth," he said, in his famous, sonorous voice. "You're thin!" he said as he hugged me. Bless you, Bill. Women never tire of hearing that. We chatted and I referenced the cookies on his desk. As I've mentioned, Bill loves my oatmeal raisin cookies. "Is that what that is?" he said. "Well, let's get to it!" He tore into the large cellophane bundle. "Do you want one?" he asked. I declined. He took a bite. "This is the best gift I get!" he said. "I love your cookies."

Which, of course, is why I bake so many cookies at Christmas, because people are so inordinately happy to receive them.

Then Dave, in a surprise move, presented me with a Christmas gift. "We don't exchange Christmas gifts," I said.

"I know," he said. "But I saw these and thought of you."

Oh. My. God. Springsteen's 30th Anniversary "Born to Run" 3-disc set, a James Taylor DVD (because Dave knows how much I love JT), and ... AND! ... U2's "Vertigo" DVD, filmed in Chicago in May! Score! SO exciting! Of course, I saw the show, but you can never see all of the show. While you're busy looking at The Edge, Bono's doing something else downstage. (Later at G's, we watched some of the U2 disc. Bono was, at times, literally larger than life. So fabulous.) Dave is such a talented musician in his own right, and I'm so grateful that I have him in my life which with to share my love of music. The discs would have been fab presents from anyone, but they mean even more because they came from him.

I drove Dave to his lot with all of his loot and briefcases and such and wished him a Merry Christmas before heading over to G's.

He met me by the elevator, as he usually does, asked me if I wanted anything to drink after taking my coat, and as we stood in the kitchen and I sipped my water, he told me that he had gotten word that morning that his grandmother had passed away.

And just as he had comforted me when Doreen called about her mom, I did my best to comfort him. It's hard to lose anyone at any time, but it's even harder at the holidays.

Later, he was hungry, despite his sadness, so we went to his favorite Italian restaurant. I'd never been. Merlot on Maple. Painfully charming, an old house in the middle of rows of retail. Paneled dining room, white linen, gleaming stemware, dimly lit. We each ordered a glass of wine. We touched glasses. "Here's to your grandmother," I said.

Anna, our server, told us of the specials of the day, including a Bolognese dish made only for the holidays, Golden Drop lasagne, a white lasagne made with white truffles and veal and sweetbreads and porcini mushrooms. When it arrived and they uncovered the dish, I thought, "Well, that's small." But I could have been sated with half a portion. It was insanely rich. I took the first bite and said, "This is *spectacular*."

G put on a mock pout. "You never say my food is spectacular."

"No," I said. "I just stand up, put my napkin on my chair, walk around to your side of the table, lean your head back, and plant one on you. That wouldn't be appropriate here." He leaned over and kissed me anyway.

He had the braised lamb shank. Fabulous in its own right. We were both far too full to even consider dessert, but we looked at the menu anyway. We were almost seduced by the siren song of zabaglione with warm chocolate, but we managed to stay strong. We'll have it another day.

G loves to people-watch, and the restaurant proved to be good theater. In his view was a woman who will forevermore be known as Plastic Fishnets, for her overly sculpted face and over-the-top stockings. In my view was a younger woman who, to my alarm in such an elegant space, was shoveling food onto her fork with her fingers.

Later, after watching some of U2 on his living-room wall, we headed to my car to drive back to my place. Since I wouldn't be seeing him for Christmas, we made a plan to spend the night at my house, where we could open presents by the tree. G doesn't decorate for Christmas. Nothing. Not a sprig of mistletoe (though we hardly need it), not a candy cane. And I appreciated that he agreed to come out to my 'hood because it was important to me.

At my house, he put my present under the tree. By its shape, I thought it was a toaster. But it wasn't. He put two bars of chocolate on top of my package and wrapped it all together, hence the strange shape. The chocolate, packed with toasted almonds, is some of the best stuff I've ever tasted, and, so he tells me, it's like cheap, everyday chocolate in Germany. Those Germans, they live right.

My gift, though, made me misty. A couple weeks ago, when I was on the hunt for a birthday gift for my cousin, G took me to a gallery/shop in Chinatown where I fell in love with a small piece of pottery, a vase of sorts.

So he went back and bought it for me. Whatever was put on the clay before it was fired creates a mottled metallic effect. I love it.

And he liked his gifts, too, among them the German gummi bears he likes (we are both tuned in to giving people something sweet) and a shirt he admired the day we went shopping for my mom.

Friday was his day to finish getting ready for his trip to Germany. He wouldn't let me drive him to O'Hare, but he did agree to a ride to a Blue-line stop. As we neared it, he looked at me and said, "Two weeks."

"I know," I said. "But I want you to travel safe, and have a good time with your friends, and take care of your mom." His grandmother's funeral will be Tuesday.

He got his stuff out of the backseat and leaned back in to kiss me. "Merry Christmas," he whispered between kisses. And then I drove away.

Christmas Eve has been busy. Creating more cookie packages, making bread to go with dinner, running - God help me - to the mall to pick up a gift card at a movie theater for mom to give to Kyle in his stocking, delivering a heaping plate of cookies to a friend who didn't have time to bake, helping her wrap packages. Driving to her house, holding her very large plate of cookies on one hand, my bicep objecting painfully, Pearl Jam's "Evenflow" came up on the stereo. Something about it made for a very cool Christmas moment: Delivering cookies on Christmas Eve with Eddie Vedder blaring on my stereo. Blog-worthy.

At mom's, the kids were patient through dinner then less patient through dessert then almost ready to burst as the adults drank their coffee. Finally, it was time for them to open presents. Everyone was pleased. Nick and Gianna got what they wanted, Kyle got cash and a video game and, from me, an iTunes gift card and two CDs: Relient K and U2 (The Joshua Tree; any serious music fan should own "The Joshua Tree"). He and I hopped in my car later to give Relient K a listen. It's a keeper.

But my favorite moment of Christmas so far has been me sitting on the hearth with my arms wrapped around Gianna on my lap, saying, "I love you, honey," and her saying, almost in a whisper, "I love you, too."

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Winter Wonderland ...

Last night, late, I went outside to put my car away.

The air seemed foggy but different somehow, and when I hit the button on my key fob to unlock my car and the lights went on, I could see in the beams of the headlights a falling mist.

Not snow. Now freezing rain. Not fog. Mist.

As I shut the front door for the night, I looked through the window at the diffused light of the streetlamp. Pretty.

This morning, I made my usual rounds, opening curtains, raising shades. As pulled back the curtains in my dining room, I nearly gasped. My backyard has never looked so beautiful. Everything is frosty white. It's very serene.

So my Christmas tree is glowing and the cookies are baked and the presents are wrapped and today I will go into the city and play Cookie Fairy, delivering festive bags full of cookies, each kind bundled up in cellophane, tied with a ribbon and tag, to my friends.

But for now, I will make coffee ("because we like something warm to drink in the morning," as Dave says, which I think of often, and which always makes me smile) and turn on quiet Christmas music and look at the serenity outside my dining room window and breathe.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

As When I Was Young ...

When I was younger, my father used to take me Christmas shopping and out to dinner.

It was a big deal. I'd get dressed up and we'd go to a mall and I'd pick out strange gifts (one year I bought my brother Paul film - not with a camera, just film) and then dad and I would go to dinner at some swanky place.

I can't remember when that tradition stopped being a tradition. My last memory of Christmas shopping with my dad is of me lagging behind him, being disgruntled. Clearly, I was a teenager. Being disgruntled is what teenagers do.

These days, my dad takes the grandkids shopping for Christmas. It's a less-formal affair, but he takes them all individually, and they get to pick out presents for their family.

Yesterday, though, for the first time in a long time, I spent some time with my dad. Not in a hosptial, not in his house. Out in the world.

He called in the morning to ask if I could drive him to a doctor's appointment (he still hasn't been cleared by his doctor, post-surgery, to drive) if my mom didn't make it home from Christmas shopping in time.

As he had just scheduled the appointment, I had visions of my mother, nerves frazzled from the mad holiday dash at the mall, coming home only to have my father announce that he needed her to take him to the doctor.

So I told him that I would take him regardless, and that afterward, he could come back here and wrap her presents that I've been picking up for the past couple weeks.

When he got in the car, he announced that he'd also like to go to a couple stores, to pick up stocking stuffers for the kids and to buy a book for mom. "If you have time," he said. "And if you haven't had lunch, we can get something to eat."

Christmas shopping with my dad. At 36.

I wasn't dressed up, and we didn't go somewhere swanky (we went through McDonald's drive-thru and they gave us someone else's order), but it was cute to watch him browsing in the stores. Dad's not a shopper. I've started buying most of mom's gifts every year, Christmas and birthday (for Mother's Day, he's on his own). He says, "You know better than I do what she likes." I try to tell him that the point is that she's his wife, and that he should know her well enough to buy her gifts, but if he hasn't gotten a firm grasp on mom's taste in 44 years of marriage, I don't think it's going to happen now.

So I shop for him, and he wraps what I buy. (OK, some years I wrap it, too.)

We had our incorrect McDonald's snack and he wrapped mom's gifts as I boxed them. Dad, I'm sure I don't have to tell you, is not a package wrapper, either. But they look sweet. They look like him. They look real. Mom and I, neatness freaks that we are, cut paper to exactly the right size and crisply crease all the folds and fold all the edges and burnish the tape so it nearly disappears. Dad just wraps.

He put to-and-from tags on her packages - "To Mom, From Dad" - and I put them in my office closet until Christmas Eve.

And then I took him home.

Mom was at the stove, getting a jump on Christmas Eve dinner. Dad looked through the day's Christmas cards.

It was nice. I felt like a kid again.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Half Baked ...

Every year at Christmas, I bake.

Sometimes, I write about baking. One of my freelance clients has dubbed me the Cookie Queen.

I don't bake a few sugar cookies and call it a day, though. I bake volume. This year's cookie list has 13 varieties on it. Some are perennial, others are new additions, attempted for the first time and taste-tested to determine if they'll make the cut again next year.

I don't make chocolate chip anymore, because I think they're too pedestrian for Christmas. But I do make an extra recipe of oatmeal raisin because one whole batch goes to my friend Bill. I used to take an assortment of cookies to his office every year, and he'd immediately rummage around for the oatmeal raisin and keep them for himself. So I started upping the oatmeal-raisin quantity in the assortment. And then, as his staff changed from people I knew to people I didn't know, and time got more and more crunched at this time of year, I started doling out cookie gifts to select people, and it just made sense to skip all the other cookies where Bill was concerned. He's an oatmeal-raisin man to the core.

Usually, though, I start baking just after Thanksgiving or the first week of December. After making double and triple batches of that many kinds of cookies, the tally soars way over 1,000 and almost all of them are formed, not just plopped on a cookie sheet. I'm sure there must be a repetitive-stress injury from rolling cookie dough.

But this year, with Dad having surgery, normal holiday activities got scuttled as I spent time at the hospital, so last week Wednesday, I found myself 11 days from Christmas with nothing baked. Eleven days might sound like plenty of time, but most of the baking I do is for other people, and I have to distribute the loot several days before Christmas, and I still have other things to do, like, oh, shopping and shipping gifts to both coasts.

So as of yesterday morning, I had one cookie completed and in the freezer, and two doughs chilling in the fridge. Last night, when I went to bed, my freezer held eight varieties, all cheerfully crossed off the list.

Twelve hours of baking and washing cookie racks and cookie sheets and measuring spoons and mixing bowls and measuring cups and other gadgets that aren't meant for cookie baking but that have been drafted into service over the years. (A tomato shark is perfect for making the indentations in the chocolate chocolate chip cookies that get filled with raspberry preserves.)

Five more varieties are on deck for today. The butter is already on the counter, coming up to room temperature.

And by the time Christmas gets here, I'll be entirely sick of cookies.

But they're not for me. And the people who will eat them hopefully enjoy them, because, some years, I may bake with haste, but I always bake with love.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Later The Same Day ...

Jay and I did indeed lunch at New Life, my favorite Chinese joint.

My mom and I call the woman who runs it "Mama," because everytime I go in there, she asks, "How's your mama?" if my mom's not with me.

Today, Mama took good care of me and Jay (we both had the pork fried rice and egg roll - Chinese heaven) and before we left, she placed a brown paper bag on the table, the top neatly folded. "Cookies and tea for mama," she said.

She did this once before, sent home this token Christmas offering for my mom. Coincidentally, it was the Christmas my father had his heart surgery, and mom's emotions were skating on the surface. When she opened her little package from Mama that night, she burst into tears. Small gestures of kindness mean a lot to us.

So we lunched and then headed to Julius Meinl for dessert. Earlier, I offered for G to join us for lunch, but he declined. "It would change the dynamic," he said. "And you probably want to catch up." So he went shopping after dropping me off at Jay's office, then met Jay and me at the coffee house.

Jay was trying to wake up with a latte. I was trying to get warm with hot chocolate. G arrived and ordered some fruity tea (it was a beautiful reddish color) and spied the cakes in the case. He decided on a chocolate raspberry number, which was equally as fabulous as all the other cakes we've had from there.

"Would you like to take something to your mom?" he asked.

"No," I said. "She'll thank me for saying 'no' for her, but she'll be very touched that you offered."

G blushed.

Later, we headed home. G thought a nap was in order. I had no reason to argue. He dozed off for a couple of minutes then said something to me.

"You're supposed to be napping," I said.

"I did," he said.

At which point we fell back to sleep for about an hour.

As I tried to wake up, he made a racket in the kitchen.

We watched "Elf," widescreen, as projected on his living-room wall. Will Ferrell was practically life-size. (I love watching movies at G's.) He had never seen the whole film, and I thought it would get him in the holiday spirit before his office Christmas party tonight at the House of Blues.

He emerged from the kitchen later with snacks for us, hot out of the oven. Fabulous, again.

And when the movie was over, he got ready for the party. I walked into the bedroom. "What are you going to wear?" I asked and then noticed a suit laying out on the bed.

Oh my.

My friend Eric and I had lunch many months ago and we decided at that time that what I needed was a tall, European man in a suit.

I've had the tall, European man for about a month now. And I've been plenty happy.

But tonight, he put on the suit.

Oh. My.

We stood in the kitchen and I told him of my conversation with Eric as I kissed him.

We walked to my car. "Have I told you that you look really good in a suit?" I asked in a throaty voice.

He laughed.

And I said, "We shouldn't have watched 'Elf.' "

Double Dating ...

Last night, G met the first of my friends.

Gretchen and Norberto (who goes by Q) invited us to join them for dinner at an out-of-the-way Italian joint. The copy for the restaurant (from Metromix, perhaps) said it was dimly lit and very romantic. Well, that's a lie. But the food was good.

In honor of John, who likes it when I write about food, I'll tell you that we started with the prosciutto, fig, and cheese appetizer, both gorgonzola and goat. Very tasty. Three of us split a bottle of pinot grigio and we all had pasta. Gretchen and G had linguini with pesto (excellent pesto, but the pasta wasn't linguini), Q had the linguini with white clam sauce, and I had the carbonara, my Italian restaurant litmus test. It was good. I've had better. Actually, I make better. But that's another story.

Dinner was fun. G has told me in the past that he's typically very quiet when meeting people for the first time, but he must have felt comfortable because he piped up from time to time with some very funny lines.

We were far too full to have coffee or dessert. Just as well. I was nearly in a carbohydrate coma as it was. But stepping outside into the frigid Chicago air woke me right back up.

At home, we decided to go to bed early. It was probably 10:20 when I turned out the light. He put his arms around me and I put my head on his chest and said, "We are *so* in our late 30s." In bed, in sweats, at 10:20 on a Friday night. Ah, romance.

Right now, I'm at my friend Jay's office. G drove me here, even though it's far out of his way. Jay and I will have lunch, and then, if he has time, we'll meet up with G at Julius Meinl, the terribly quaint Austrian coffee house nearby.

Later, "Elf" is on the schedule. G has never seen all of it, and I figure it will put him in a holiday mood before his office Christmas party tonight.

And I will go home and bake. Christmas is a week away and I am far, far behind.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Coming Home ...

My dad came home from the hospital yesterday.

So begins the next chapter of the story.

I saw him at the hosptial two days ago and he looked rather healthy and rather bored.

He went into the hospital a week ago Monday, so this has been quite a stint, given the ever-increasing drive-thru nature of our healthcare system.

So he's home well before Christmas, which was a big concern of his, that he'd be laid up in the hospital for the holidays. We all assured him that he'd be home, but dad can be a pessimist. Which is why it's a good thing that he's married to an optimist. The yin and yang of marriage.

I went to their house last night and annoucned, "I'm here to see you in your natural habitat."

Dad, who doesn't wear his hearing aids, but should, said, "Me, too."

I had a bit of dinner with them and then washed dishes for mom. She's been through enough the past 10 days. I try to do the little things to make her life easier: Pick up dinner, put gas in her car.

Dad vows that his eating habits will change. Time will tell. As his recovery continues and he feels better and better, I wonder if his memory of this ordeal will fade and he'll think, "Hey, I can eat that!"

But last night, he had two bites of chicken left on his plate and he said he was full. The Old Dad would have just eaten it. The New Dad told mom to save it for him to eat later.

So she did. There's a one-inch square piece of chicken in waxed paper the fridge.

Today is his first full day home. Mom is staying home from work to be with him.

This is where the story will get interesting.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

How cool is this?

Jenna Glatzer, she of Absolute Write and the Stories of Strength anthology I blogged about, sent around the above-mentioned site in her weekly newsletter. (Click on the title of the post to go there.)

Four years ago, I interviewed a man for a story I was doing for the Chicago Tribune. His name is John. We were on the phone for 90 minutes, but only 45 minutes had anything to do with the story. The rest of the time we were just chatting. I found him fascinating. (Still do.) His childhood in Philly, his service in the Pacific in World War II, his days as a bigwig on Madison Avenue, producing commercials in Hollywood, hanging out with Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner at the Russian Tea Room.

We're friends to this day. I try to get to New York once a year to see him. This year, dad's unexpected hospital stint made me cancel my plans. But we write. A lot. He has amazing stories to tell. I love him to pieces.

So I think is awesome. My hat's off to the kids who started it.

Consider signing up. You'll make someone's life less lonely. That's a very big gift.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Herbology ...

According to this quiz, my personality correlates to the herb that gets cats high.


Click the title of this post to take the quiz and learn your inner herb.


Monday, December 12, 2005

Date Seven ...

What defines a date?

Technically, Date Seven with G began Saturday about 4:30 p.m. Technically, I say, because that was the first time I saw him since the last time I'd seen him. But it was less a date and more "let me drop my stuff off at your place and hang out for a couple hours until I meet my friends for dinner and then we'll meet back here later."

Four of us were getting together for dinner in honor of Doreen's mom, we, the Chicago contingent, who couldn't make it to Ohio for the funeral. "I would invite you," I told G. "But this night is about Doreen, and it might not be the best time for you two to meet. Too emotional."

"Sure," he said. If there's a more sensitive guy on this planet when it comes to women and emotion, I haven't met him.

So he drove me to Doreen's building and she and I and Ron had a knockout dinner at Jane's unit, a very convenient elevator ride away.

Later, I cabbed back to G's place. He'd given me a key, just in case our schedules didn't sync.

I unlocked the door. "Honey?" I called out quietly, just in case he'd dozed off.

He appeared from the bedroom, from his desk.

So is that when the date began? Uninterruped time with G.

The next morning, we made breakfast together. I feel terribly grown up when I'm with him. It's hard not to feel like a grown-up with that high-rise view.

We plotted the day together. Shopping. Christmas shopping. We both had people to buy for. I scored first. Williams-Sonoma. He carried my package as we continued to shop. As we left 900 N. Michgan, hand in hand, he commented that he thinks girls are looking at him now because he's with someone.

"Sure," I said. "They're thinking, 'Huh. He must be worth having.' " Or, as I said later, "It could be because you're a tall, good-looking guy."

My shopping luck ran out fast. His, however, grew, and he was able to cross almost everyone off his list.

Having pressed mom for ideas a few days before, I was on the hunt for a particular sweater. The right shade of blue, bulky, turtleneck.

G, turns out, in addition to his myriad other outstanding qualities, is a helpful guy shopper, not one of those men who plants himself in a chair while the woman runs all over creation. No, G would spy a blue sweater and make sure I saw it. We winnowed down the parameters. We ducked into the Gap, since we were walking right by. And there I saw the closest I would come to the blue sweater yesterday. I showed it to G. "For reference, that's very close. Right color, right knit, right bulkiness." But it had a buttondown turtleneck thing going on, so you could wear it as a turtleneck or wear the collar another way. Mom wouldn't like the button detail, I explained.

But in the World of G, different is good. He liked the buttons for making that sweater different than all the other sweaters. And he campaigned for it for the rest of the day. "I think we should go back to Gap and get that sweater," he'd say.

We didn't. (But mom heard the story today and finds it very adorable that he was helping me shop for her.)

About 2 p.m., G announced that he was "medium hungry," and we made our way to the much-touted Mity Nice Grill in Water Tower (much-touted by me). With a short wait for a table, he perused the menu. I knew what I was there for. It's always the same thing. So when we were seated, he knew what I wanted.

And proceeded to order for me when the server came.

Guys, for those of you who don't know, this is a really nice touch. Chicks dig this.

I thanked him for ordering for me. "It's the gentlemanly thing to do," he said.

"Yes, but very few men do it."

Back at his place, we catnapped on the couch and then decided to go for a walk. By the lake.

It was pretty. The water and the sky were almost the same color in the twilight.

He kept trying to pack snowballs, but the snow was too fluffy.

"Hollywood snow," I said.

He crammed one together anyway and lobbed it in my direction, missing me by a mile.

"Oh, nice aim," I chided.

"That was merely a warning shot," he said, tossing another at the back of my coat.

Back on the other side of Lake Shore Drive, we walked through a park. Pretty in the darkness, the snow-covered path, the skyline. I stopped. He turned. And as I kissed him, I thought, "This is a postcard moment," a phrase Gemma and I use to describe a picture-perfect point in time.

We made our way to Treasure Island to pick up provisions for dinner, and at home later, he set about preparing.

"What can I do?" I asked.

"Nothing," he said.

Dinner underway, we curled up on the couch to watch "Dangerous Liasons." A timer rang. He went into the kitchen.

"Can I help?" I called.

"Nope," he said, and next thing I knew, he was standing in front of me with a glass of wine.

Guys, if you're still taking notes, this is a very good move as well.

When dinner was ready, I sat across from him at the dining table as he served me. Normally, I wait for the other person to be served before starting, but this time, I dug in.

Oh. My. God. Another fabulous G meal.

I got up, put my napkin on the chair, walked around to his side of the table, tilted his head back and planted one on him.

He laughed. "I didn't even get my first bite," he said.

"You already know what it tastes like."

So we finished dinner and it was decided I would stay, despite his need to leave very early this morning. And so we went to bed. And the alarm went off this morning, but we both went back to sleep. And when I woke up, he was leaning on one elbow, looking at me. Smiling.

He got ready, then me. And there came a knock on the bathroom door. I opened it to find him standing there in his coat. So we said goodbye and I finished getting ready as he was on his way to work. And I grabbed his keys and went downstairs to the Starbucks to get a coffee for the ride home, returned his keys to the counter, gathered my things, and made my way home.

39 hours later.

Does that count as one date?


Friday afternoon, I went to mom's house.

We had been plotting to cut down trees the next day. It was to be quite the undertaking, what with having to go pick up dad's truck at his store (in Chicago) then drive all the way to the tree farm we like (about two hours from Chicago). Enough effort to elicit an "ugh" under the rosiest of circumstances, but with dad in the hospital and the holidays drawing ever-nearer, it was too much to contemplate.

This year, of all years, is the year it makes sense to buy a fake tree.

Mom agreed. "But they look so fake," she said. Au contraire, I said. Great strides have been made in the arena of artificial evergreens and firs.

We started at Target. Fake, fake, fake. Blech.

Home Depot. Fake, fake, fake. But I *was* momentarily transfixed by the inflated igloo with the penguin popping out the top. It was kinda eerie. Like a levitating penguin. The David Copperfields of penguins. Right. Anyway. Next?

Hobby Lobby. Less fake, but way more expensive. Mom is hoping that she finds herself with her fake-tree need for this season alone, and was understandably reluctant to shell out the big cheddar for a not-so-cheesy tree.

Back to the car, where we cursed the weather to help us get warm. Winter has arrived extra early in Chicago.

We were tired, but not downtrodden. Meijers? Yes, Meijers, we agreed. So off to Meijers.

Ding, ding, ding! Fab fake tree, much like the ones I cut down every year. And on sale. Rock. On.

We each grabbed a big box and dragged them behind us through the store to buy them. Heaved them into carts, rolled them out to my car, slid them into the back seat, and toted them home.

Mom helped me schlep mine into the house, then we went to her house where we uncrated hers. I read the directions and warnings, of which there were plenty. We hardly needed them. There have indeed been great advances in fake treeology. Stick the sections together, fold down the branches, bend the sub-branches into the desired shape, plug in, and voila!

Insta-Christmas! Just add ornaments.

So we did. And hung the stockings by the chimney with care. So if nothing else happens in mom's house with decorations, she's hit the high points.

Christmas. In a box. Forty percent off.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Dating Dearth and Snow ...

Look at that. It's been several days since I've been able to write a "Date" post.

Dad being in the hospital this week + G working and having a life besides me = Beth hasn't seen him since Monday morning.

I admit it feels weird. But then I stop and remind myself, "You know, Beth, in some parts of the world, this is normal dating behavior, seeing each other on weekends." (I don't really refer to myself in the third person in the conversatons in my head. I just makes for better reading here.)

Meanwhile, it snowed yesterday. An appreciable amount. Blowy and drifty, so it looks like there's way more snow on my deck than there really is, but it's pretty. It wasn't necessarily pretty last night, driving in it. (I was behind someone who was doing 8. Yeah, 8. Miles per hour.) But it was nice to finally get home, close the door on the snow, and watch it through the window.

And this morning, my backyard looks like a postcard, snow heavy in the pine trees, the grass a soft, thick blanket of white. Even the squirrels haven't been out yet to track it all up.

Today is one of those "I'm glad I work from home" days. I will make coffee and take the laptop into the kitchen and work with a view.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Healthy Choices ...

When it comes to healthcare, the world seems to be divided into three camps: Those who want to pop a pill for every little malady (Restless leg syndrome? Really, do we need a pill for that? My apologies to all those who suffer with restless legs, but ...), those who think Western medicine is bunk, and those who fall somewhere in between.

I am an in-betweener.

I believe the body has an amazing capacity for healing itself, if only we would let it, if only we would tap into the pathways that enable our body to help itself, optimally.

I also believe that there are times when we have done such damage to ourselves, perpetrated such abuse on our bodies, that the body says, "Oh, for the love of God. Even *I* can't make *this* better."

And that's when we need doctors.

My father had surgery last night. He was supposed to have surgery on Monday morning, but this was to be a colon resection, and, uh, the site wasn't clean, if you know what I mean. So his surgery was rescheduled for Tuesday. Dad wasn't thrilled, but his surgeon said, "This isn't an emergency procedure. Let's take one more day and you'll heal better later." Sounded good to mom and me.

So Tuesday arrived and I got to the hospital in the afternoon and mom said, "Did you get my message?"


Surgery was rescheduled for Wednesday. This time because dad's potassium was too low. Crazy-important stuff, potassium. People don't think about it, but it helps regulate your heart, so, since dad's a heart patient and since he was going to be under anesthesia for at least four hours, his potassium needed to come up.

Yesterday, Wednesday, we waited around. Potassium eventually came up to where it needed to be, but by the time the lab gave the all-clear on that front, dad's surgeon had a couple procedures stacked up, and dad's became the last surgery of the day, for his surgeon, at least.

His procedure started around 8:30 last night. He was on his way to ICU about 1 a.m., partly a function of the recovery room being closed at that hour, and partly a function of his status as a cardiac patient. The need to watch him closely is greater.

Mom and I talked to his surgeon as he was taken up to his room. The procedure went well. He removed twice as much colon as he planned on (about two feet), and took out dad's appendix, as long as they were in there. His recovery will be similar to when he had his triple bypass. But this time, unlike when he had his heart surgery, he's in for a fair amount of pain.

My father is the kind of guy who doesn't get novocaine at the dentist. But I guess when you have someone slice you open, take out your organs, whack off a chunk, stuff it all back inside, and sew you back up, you're in for a few twinges.

Upstairs, Melody, his ICU nurse, let us in to see him about 1:15 a.m. He kept gesturing to his abdomen. "Pain," he'd say, behind his oxygen mask, his breath causing it to fog each time. "Pain."

He vowed, Tuesday night when I went to see him at the end of visiting hours, that he's going to change his diet from now on. We talked about how we demand far too much of our bodies, cramming them full of red meat and saturated fat. Food is fuel and we're pouring sugar in the gas tank.

"Those steak houses," I said, "The ones where if you can eat the 64-ounce steak, you get it for free? What is that? Our stomach is just bigger than the size of our fist. You can't fit four pounds of meat in there. But we do."

And then we have dessert.

Of course, we're all prone to lapses. Cheeseburgers taste good, dammit! But as long as, overall, we trend toward health, we're doing ourselves an enormous favor. Which isn't really a favor. It's just what we should do.

We really are miraculous machines. Yet we take better care of our cars.

Eat a salad today.

Dressing on the side.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

I Need A Little Christmas Now ...

First of all, may I just ask what the hell is up with the weather these days?

It's freezing in Chicago. Like 20 degrees colder than it should be for this time of year, which, by the way, is still technically fall.

But winter officially arrives on December 21, and four days later, Christmas comes again.

I finally found cards yesterday. Every year, I travel from store to store and bitch about the dearth of cards I'd even consider buying. And every year, I vow to start my own line of greeting cards, and every year, I don't. Maybe next year ...

The cookie list has been written and the ingredients have been purchased, but I've yet to bake a single cookie. I've really got to get on that.

And I need to get a tree.

And I need to finish shopping.

And I need to wrap presents.

And I need to decorate the house.

I really like Christmas, the warm feeling it brings. I love sitting in my living room in the glow of the tree. I love how excited the kids are on Christmas Eve at my mom's house, itching to open the presents.

One of my all-time favorite Christmas memories is of my niece lying on my mom's bedroom floor at the foot of her bed, hidden from view, her head next to her new Miss Kitty CD player boom box playing her new "The Wizard of Oz" CD, singing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" in her soft little voice. I almost melted.

Today, the cards will get mailed and I'll trudge down to the basement and haul up boxes of Christmas stuff. I don't deck too many halls, but I always feel better when certain things are in certain places.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Date Six ...

On my way to his place Sunday, G called.

"I have an idea," he said. "Would you like to go to the Austrian café?"

He'd told me about it several times, even picked up desserts and brought them over as part of our first date. They're sensational.

"Sure," I said.

"OK," he said. "Call me when you get close, and you can pick me up, and we can keep going."

So I did that, and we went, and it was indeed charming. Sitting together on a small settee, sipping coffee — he a mocha, me a cappuccino — sharing a molten chocolate decadent bit of insanity flanked by large dollops of real whipped cream. From now on, I want my coffee served to me on a silver, oval tray with a glass of water on the side.

G nodded toward a couple near us at a table for two. She was reading something, he was clacking away on a laptop. "Look at that," he said. "Why would they come here?"

"Maybe he has to work but they still wanted to be together," I offered.

"It hardly counts as quality time," he said.


He kissed me lightly. Not everyone is as lucky as me. If quality time with G were calories, I wouldn't be able to fit through a doorway anymore.

Later, as we were driving through his 'hood looking for an open meter, we noticed an older woman with a walker trying to navigate a snowy sidewalk slope in order to cross the street.

I looked over at G. "You should help her," I said.

"Should I?" he asked.

"Yes, you should get out and help her," I said. So he did. I watched at he called out to her and put his hands on her shoulders to steady her as she walked. Cars behind me, I circled the block and found him again. He hopped in.

"Thank you," I said.

"It didn't occur to me to do it until you suggested it," he said. "You make me a better man."

At the time, I thought of Jack Nicholson saying "You make me want to be a better man" to Helen Hunt in "As Good As It Gets," but this morning, driving home, my mind drifted back to that moment.

This is no ordinary man I'm dating.

Some of yesterday's moments were decidedly new and date-y — holding hands strolling down a Michigan Avenue aglow with a million tiny white lights; dinner, prepared by him, at his dining table with the city view in the background; curled up on the couch watching a movie on his living-room wall (let's hear it for premium cable, DVRs, and projectors; it's like having a movie theater-video store hybrid at your fingertips) — and other moments felt much more everyday.

I marvel at the familiarity I feel with him. While I got ready this morning, he busied himself with breakfast: toast from the bread I baked for him last week, coffee (but just for me), orange juice, butter, cheese. Very continental. I remarked about the gruyere. The flavor. Very nice.

As I gathered my bags this morning, I saw something on top on one of them, tucked under the handle.

A chunk of gruyere.

Cheese to remember him by.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Being There ...

Doreen lost her mom today.

She called this morning to let me know, and then called again this afternoon. Some moments, she was laughing. (If Doreen were a character on "Sex and the City," she'd be Samantha, so it did my heart good to hear her say the funeral director is "a bit of a hottie.") Some, she was crying. Many, she was silent.

I never know what to say when someone dies. Everything sounds so hollow. But sometimes, you don't have to say anything. You just have to be on the other end of the line. Nothing needs to be said in order for it to be understood. Base human experiences bind us. We all know what it is to lose someone. And in those moments, we need to be reminded that our loss doesn't mean we're alone.

This Is The Portrait Of The Man I'm Dating ...

G was just about to leave this morning when Doreen called.

"It's done," she said. Her mom had passed away moments earlier.

I knew this call was coming. Still, time stops for a moment when you finally learn.

G saw my hand go to my mouth, and simply wrapped his arms around me and said nothing while I said nothing while Doreen said nothing because there was nothing to say.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

That's Amoré (For Now ...)

From Reuters:

Molecule gives passionate lovers just one year

ROME (Reuters) - Your heartbeat accelerates, you have butterflies in the stomach, you feel euphoric and a bit silly. It's all part of falling passionately in love -- and scientists now tell us the feeling won't last more than a year.

The powerful emotions that bowl over new lovers are triggered by a molecule known as nerve growth factor (NGF), according to Pavia University researchers.

The Italian scientists found far higher levels of NGF in the blood of 58 people who had recently fallen madly in love than in that of a group of singles and people in long-term relationships.

But after a year with the same lover, the quantity of the 'love molecule' in their blood had fallen to the same level as that of the other groups.

The Italian researchers, publishing their study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, said it was not clear how falling in love triggers higher levels of NGF, but the molecule clearly has an important role in the "social chemistry" between people at the start of a relationship.

You'd think the Italians would just shut the hell up about something so unromantic. But as Harry Burns says in "When Harry Met Sally ...", "Oh no, what are we gonna do? It's already out there!"

I'm sure the results of this Italian study don't really come as a surprise to anyone. Everyone's been in relationships that are great until they aren't anymore. I suppose it's what you do at that point that counts.

College Boyfriend David once asked (when we were no longer dating), "Why can't people just accept that we're not meant to be with one person for the rest of our lives? Why can't we just be with someone for as long as things are good and then move on?"

Well, no one's stopping him, right? You can do that. Many people do. Applying the findings of our Italian friends, "things are good" for about a year and then reality sets in, at which point you can bail and start looking for the next good thing, or you can understand that there's more to a relationship than the honeymoon phase and choose to devote your life to someone.

Of course, I'm one to talk, Ms. Never Been Married, but I read something a few months ago that really resonated with me, and it was a quote by Madonna, of all people. She was talking about marriage and said, "It’s taken me a long time to realize what the whole point of marriage is, and I don’t think it has anything to do with our romantic notions—like walks together, and sending flowers to one another, and bringing up children together. Those are all manifestations, but the whole point of marriage is for each and every one of us to learn how to get along with one person, and to learn to love that person unconditionally. And if you can do it with one person, then your whole attitude toward the world and humanity can change."

Learning to love one person unconditionally. After the love hangover has dissolved into the everyday grind. Not for as long as it's good, but forever.