Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Date Four ...

So there we were, loafing on the couch, talking about whatever we were talking about, when the phone rang.

"Do you need to get that?" I asked.

G thought for a second. "Hmm. No," he said, letting his machine pick it up in the next room.

When his outgoing message was over, I heard a female voice say, "Hi, babycakes! It's me!" I didn't look at him. He didn't look at me. We kept listening. "I'm calling to hear about this chickie." She finished her message. I said, as I said the last time she called and left a message when I was there, "I won't ask. But who's the chickie?"

"Uh, you?" he said, as if were obvious.

"Just checking," I said. "Oh, look at that. I said I wouldn't ask, and I asked." I settled against his chest again and smiled to myself. He's telling his friends about me. Good sign.

Date Five, Friday.

Monday, November 28, 2005

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword ...

I am copying this request from Jim Romenesko's Letters forum at Poynter.org.

Bob Bateman is my hero today.

(Anyone who feels compelled to make snide or derogatory comments about Iraqi kids not deserving our help should save us both the time: them the time it takes to type their asinine rantings and me the time it will take to delete them.)


Ten months ago, not long after my arrival here in Iraq, a friend posted to this letters page a personal plea for some reading material, and perhaps a little French Vanilla non-dairy creamer. The response from Romenesko readers, and those at Eric Alterman's site, overwhelmed. As an example, your generosity buried us beneath one hundred and thirty pounds of French Vanilla creamer. Have you any idea of the cubic volume which that much creamer occupies? Just as importantly, at least for my own sense of mental balance, were subscriptions to the New Yorker, the Economist, the Wall Street Journal ... all unexpected, each of which did its part in preserving an important part of each of us here.

Now I have something else to ask.

I have carried weapons for seventeen years, weapons which made journalism possible in this country. But I have known from the outset that ultimately, only journalists can save this country. There is a catch. In this I refer to neither American journalists, nor European ones, but Iraqis. I live in a city in which Boss Tweed would feel completely at ease. I want to help create his Thomas Nast, or the Iraqi Upton Sinclair, and there is only one way to do that. Education.

Accordingly, I browbeat my peers into helping me in the de facto adoption of a school here. It's just one school, but it is a start. There are 450 grade school boys (a riotous unruly pack), about 400 grade school girls (well behaved and groomed), and an as-of-yet undetermined number of High Schoolers. The school is ramshackled, dirty, and underprovisioned in every category but the dedication of the teachers. I want to change the first three parts of that situation, and I want you all to help.

So, if you want to send some school supplies, this is, generically, what the kids need. This list is not exhaustive (please, feel free to use your imagination as well), but can be used as a starting point.

First, the basics:

Number 2 Pencils and pencil sharpeners
Pens (ball-point)
Tablets of Paper (spiral notebooks especially)
Folders and/or organizers
Rulers
Scissors (safety)
Crayons
Magic Markers
Construction Paper
Staplers and Staples (for the teachers)
Chalk

Then, if you're feeling fancy or expansive:

* Bookbags (Iraqi kids have now seen American television. They see our kids wearing bookbags and want them too. Go figure.)

* Coloring Books

* Art kits (watercolor paints, etc)

* Science projects (should be simple, although most science teachers can read some English here)

* Discarded (but working) computers, printers, and paper.

* Calculators

* Dry erase boards and markers

Guiding principals should be to keep it simple, and it should not be something needing translation. Also, and this should be obvious, but nothing with any religious overtones at all. (FSM be praised) If you really want to do it right, buy some one-gallon bags and package the supplies in batches (so that each kid can be given a bag with supplies all at once). That way we can walk into a classroom and hand out 30 bags to 30 kids all at one pop. You know the deal, if you're going to chew gum in the classroom ... you have to have enough for everyone. We try to make sure (with their teachers) that everyone gets an equal amount. We are also currently working with the teachers to find out what their "wish list" might be.

The person to whom you should send your donations is:

SFC L. Wensink
SCHOOL SUPPLIES
MNSTC-I, J5
Baghdad, Iraq
APO AE 09316

SFC Wensink will be here for ten more months. (I am only here for six more weeks myself, in mid-January 2006 and so will likely not see this project when it reaches full stride.) Include a note with your e-mail address in the package so that we can write back and thank you. Hopefully past that point we can set up something more direct to sustain the support for these schools. Feel free to cross post anywhere you think it might help. If you want to expand this (those of you who are editors) contact me and I'll write an editorial for you. Whatever it takes.

But even this is not enough. I want to make this one school a model, and to do that we need some expertise. I have a vision of an Iraqi High School where the kids learn how to do their own reporting. Where they have the ability to create (however rudimentary at the beginning) a school newspaper. A school where they learn who Nast and Sinclair were, or at least Amin Maalouf, and where they learn how honest words can change the world. That means (as appropriate) I want reporters who come here to Baghdad to GO to this school, with the blessings of their editors, and donate a day to teaching journalism to classrooms full of Iraqi kids. Not just this year, but for years to come. If you can do that, contact me and I'll give you the coordinates to the school (and directions).

Not every child will respond, of course. You all know that as well as I. Not every child wants to be a journalist, or a soldier, but without the right examples, what grows in their places is not good for the world. Without a beginning, we may never see the end here.

Thanks, and regards from Baghdad,

Bob Bateman

Date Three and Thoughts on the Previous Post ...

G had two specific comments about his blog entry: 1) He thinks he comes off sounding like a player; 2) He thinks I paint all men as relationship-phobic.

Clarification No. 1: He is not a player. Far, far from it. He is incredibly kind and tender, funny and sweet.

Today, as I mentioned, was Date Three. Dinner. But more than that. For instance, I asked him to help me think of a birthday gift for my cousin who's about to turn 60, and he took me to a storefront in Chinatown that is better described as an art gallery. Art glass, pottery, Chinese artifacts, really beautiful things.

Clarification No. 2: I don't think all men are relationship-phobic. I agreed with him that that is a broad generalization. I do think many men are relationship-phobic, but I do not think he is one of them.

Later, at his place, I watched in amazement as he made dinner. Get this: He made the balsamic dressing for the salad. Not that balsamic dressing is the world's biggest challenge, but how many people - nevermind just guys - make their own salad dressing? But there it was, whisked up and ready to go when I walked into the kitchen. He, meanwhile, was busy whisking the beginnings of a three-cheese pasta sauce on the stove. Allow me to point out that he wasn't using the salad-dressing whisk. No, he owns two whisks. (Maybe more; I didn't look in his drawers.) When he wasn't whisking, he was grating the parmesan and the gruyere for the sauce. (I was in charge of salad at this point, then opening the wine.) Then he added the pasta to the boiling water, got a bowl out of the cabinet, and proceeded to fill it with hot water.

I almost swooned. I'm dating a man who knows to heat the pasta bowl?

"You're like a character in a movie," I said. It was almost too much: Tall, really cute guy, busy whisking together dinner in his high-rise condo with the great westerly view? "It's like winning the lottery."

He, for his part, was beaming, proud that he was able to so impress me.

Dinner was terrific, it really was. Dessert was simple but fab: Vanilla ice cream topped with a hot raspberry sauce with a splash of Kirsch. Wow.

And even later: Would I like an after-dinner port?, he asked. Why, of course I would. Let the record show that he is the only man I've ever dated who offered me a port after dinner.

I am still shaking my head.

Briefly tonight, I found myself wondering what must be his flaws, but I chased that thought out of my mind. I'm sure he has them. I'm sure I'll find out about them soon enough.

Right now, I'm just going to focus on Date Four.

Tuesday.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

European Union ...

It would appear that I am dating someone.

"Dating" in the sense of "going on dates," without implying any of the more serious, monogamous connotations of the word. Nothing seems to freak a guy out faster than wanting to slap a label on a relationship. Oh, for the love of God, I just called it a relationship. "Relationship" in the sense of "relating to another human being," without implying any of the more serious, monogamous connotations of the word.

We chat via IM a lot. We've had only one lengthy phone conversation, though we managed to while away nearly 100 minutes with relative ease.

He wrote to me at the beginning of the year through Match.com, which I stopped being a part of long ago. His first e-mail was a three-word sentence. Clever man. It piqued my interest. Made me read his profile. We chatted back and forth via e-mail and IM for a while and then lost touch. Oh well.

I well remembered, though, that he's a fan of Wallace and Gromit, as am I, so one night several weeks ago when I saw a trailer for "Curse of the Were-Rabbit," I fired off an IM to him that began "I know this is completely out of the blue, but ..." and the IMs began again.

Eventually, he asked for my number. I asked for his instead. I called him one night and he told me that he kept my photo from when we chatted earlier in the year.

"Which one?" I asked.

"You have reddish hair, you're wearing kind of a denim shirt ..."

Yeah. That's not me.

So all along, through our newly re-established contact, he was thinking I was someone else.

But who can blame the guy? I'm sure he has more women writing to him than he can possibly keep straight. Tall, European, funny, great eyes and the best smile I've ever seen. Not that I'm any slouch myself, mind you. I sent him the headshot that makes people ask, "Is this really you or one of those photos that comes in a picture frame?"

So time wears on and we make a plan to meet. And then that plan falls apart. So we make another plan to meet. And we do.

I was a bit worried about finally meeting him. What would it be like? Our IM conversations are rapid-fire and barbed. He's got a sarcastic streak a mile long. Well, kilometer in his case. And some funny guys don't seem to know when to turn the funny off, class clowns who seem not to notice that we're not in school anymore.

We sat at my kitchen table, drinking wine, eating cheese and then chocolate, and talked. Like normal people talk. As far as we know, anyway. "Normal" isn't really a word that applies to either of us.

Date One was Tuesday. It went well. And we made plans for Date Two, which was yesterday and lasted more than 12 hours, and brought with it a valuable piece of knowledge: Even after half a day, we're not sick of each other.

That, and he has stuffed dog named Schnuffy.

Tonight, he popped up on my screen again. "Am I presented in your blog?" he asked.

"No," I replied. "I haven't written about you on my blog yet. Would you like me to?"

And here we are. Darling, you've been presented in my blog.

Date Three is tomorrow. He's making dinner for me. Sweet, huh?

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving ...

In the past, I haven't much liked holidays. I was one of those people who bought into the Hollywood version of holidays, the 30-second-spot perfection of snow falling, fireplaces roaring, candlelight glinting off shiny holiday surfaces, everyone laughing and smiling, a house full of good cheer.

And then, the holiday would arrive and I'd be beset with the real-lifeness of it all, my holiday ideal dashed to pieces like a piece of treasured china dropped on a kitchen floor.

But this year (Maybe because I've grown up? It was bound to happen sometime, right?), despite some family strife (which I've finally accepted), holidays have been lovely.

Granted, we're just moving into the holiday heavy-hitters. One could argue that it's hard to have a shitty Memorial Day. But even Memorial Day was lovely, sitting in English Teacher Dave's backyard on a sunny, cool afternoon, noshing on good grub, chatting with interesting people. And my birthday, as I've reported previously, was about as perfect as they get.

So here it is, Thanksgiving. Mom just called to ask if I needed anything from the store (she's a brave woman, going to a grocery store on Thanksgiving morning) and mentioned that my sister-in-law (who's making the main components of dinner) discovered that the very large turkey in her very large roaster won't fit into her oven. A typical holiday moment. But mom has a commercial stove with two commercial-sized ovens, so the turkey will roast at mom's today. Problem solved.

I'm in charge of bread, which I will commence baking shortly (because you can't have too many carbs on Thanksgiving). And later, I'll go to my brother and sister-in-law's house, and there will be a fire in the fireplace and tables set in the dining room, kitchen, and foyer, and before dinner, we'll all gather in the dining room and say what we're thankful for, and this year, I have many, many things from which to choose.

I hope you do, too.

Monday, November 21, 2005

It's Still November, People ...

A house across the street is fully bedecked for the holidays in all its colored-light glory.

I saw the lights on last night, and thought, "It's not even Thanksgiving," but then I also thought that perhaps they were just checking out their work, making sure all the strands were lit and all that. Yesterday was a nice day to be outside decorating. Better now than some blustery December day.

But when I ran an errand earlier, the lights were on again. Clearly, that family intendeds to get maximum mileage out of Christmas.

I shouldn't be surprised or chagrined by this. The town square has been decorated for more than a week, wreaths on the lamp posts, nativity scene on the courthouse lawn.

Screeeeech!

Nativity scene? On the *courthouse* lawn?

Those of you who know me know I'm not a religious person. Spiritual, yes. Religious, no. But what's with the nativity scene on government property? I don't begrudge anyone their religion, but shouldn't I also be seeing a menorah, and some representation of kwanzaa, and any other symbol of any other religion's observance of a December holiday?

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Testing, Testing ...

Yet another online test, attempting to define me. (And not doing such a bad job, though I'm not quite the neatnik frump it makes me out to be.)

Global Personality Test Results
Stability (33%) moderately low which suggests you are worrying, insecure, emotional, and anxious.
Orderliness (60%) moderately high which suggests you are, at times, overly organized, reliable, neat, and hard working at the expense of flexibility, efficiency, spontaneity, and fun.
Extraversion (36%) moderately low which suggests you are reclusive, quiet, unassertive, and secretive.
Take Free Global Personality Test
personality tests by similarminds.com

Saturday, November 19, 2005

'Me And You And Everyone We Know' ...

Some movies are great. Some movies are weird. Some movies fool you. This is one of those movies.

Starting out, it felt weird. There's no theatrical preamble. We don't get the whole set up over an elaborate opening-credits sequence. We're plopped down in the middle of the lives of two of the characters, one of whom sets his hand on fire. Weird, right?

But by the end of it, I realized it was great.

Miranda July, a performance artist who plays a performance artist in the film (who also drives elderly people around on errands), wrote and directed this film in addition to starring in it.

She's terrific. Everyone in it is terrific, most of all Brandon Ratcliff who plays 6-year-old Robby. I was transfixed by his talent.

This film won a heap of awards on the festival circuit (which sounds only marginally impressive, until you realize that two of the festivals are Sundance and Cannes). Ebert gave it four stars. His review of it is terrific. I always wait until after I see a movie to read his reviews, but I nodded in agreement all the way through (except where he says Robby is 7; in the film, his mom says he's 6). You can read his review by clicking the title of the post.

But I'd recommend watching it first. I think the less you know about it, the more it will affect you.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Great Minds ...



Funny. I do love Bill Clinton.



Hmm. Never saw it. I was hoping for something more classically classic, like "To Kill A Mockingbird" or "Citizen Kane."

Oh, Grow Up ...

From the Associated Press:

Republicans Refuse to Honor Springsteen

By DONNA DE LA CRUZ, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON - Bruce Springsteen famously was "born in the USA," but he's getting scorned in the U.S. Senate.

An effort by New Jersey's two Democratic senators to honor the veteran rocker was shot down Friday by Republicans who are apparently still miffed a year after the Boss lent his voice to the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry.

The chamber's GOP leaders refused to bring up for consideration a resolution, introduced by Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Jon Corzine, that honored Springsteen's long career and the 1975 release of his iconic album, "Born to Run."

No reason was given, said Lautenberg spokesman Alex Formuzis. "Resolutions like this pass all the time in the U.S. Senate, usually by unanimous consent," he said.

Telephone calls to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's office seeking comment were not immediately returned.

Lautenberg said he couldn't understand why anyone would object to the resolution.

"Even if the Republicans don't like (Springsteen's) tunes, I would hope they appreciated his contributions to American culture," Lautenberg said.

Springsteen endorsed Kerry last year, and made campaign appearances that drew huge crowds who came to hear music described in the resolution as "a cultural milestone that has touched the lives of millions of people."

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Christmas Is For Kids And ...

Today, my mom went to her church to help set up a Christmas tree.

It's not too early for Christmas trees. Stores had them up in September. But this particular tree is decorated with the names of children, children who might not have a Christmas (yes, in the commerical sense of the word) if not for the kindness of strangers.

Each ornament holds the name of a child and something they want for the holidays. I'm familiar with the concept. When I worked for Jeff Zaslow at the Chicago Sun-Times, he started a Santa letter program. (Jeff was always using the column to make the world a better place in small, meaningful ways.) He'd collect letters to Santa from the post office and match them with readers who were willing to make children's holidays a bit brighter.

So mom was talking about what some of the kids on the tree want for Christmas. Some want mittens or a warm coat. (When I worked for Jeff, we were always stunned by the letters from youngsters who asked for nothing themselves, but instead asked that their younger brother or sister get the items on their list.) Some kids, mom said, asked for video games.

A video game is extravagance, right? But, as I said to mom, that's what these kids should be asking for. That's what all their friends will be getting. Why should they be disappointed? Why should Christmas be a reminder of all they can't afford? If only for one day, they should feel as lucky, their eyes should grow wide with something they hoped for, but never really expected.

As Thanksgiving nears and we take stock of all we have to be grateful for, my thoughts can't help but wander to those who have so much less. Why, as Doreen relayed to me today, she saw a homeless man counting pennies out of his cup to buy a banana.

Play Secret Santa to a child this year. Or to an adult (ask at your church or community center for the name of a family who could use your kindness this season). Buy your Christmas cards from the Greater Chicago Food Depository or Unicef. Invite a single friend to Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. Take a trinket to someone in a nursing home and, more importantly, give them some of your time.

This season, spend a lot of love.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

WHAT?!

Have just seen a report - for the second time today - about the Government Accountability Office's report that most airline cargo is never scanned beore it's loaded onto planes, that only about one third of the companies shipping the cargo are registered with the TSA.

Why? Because it would cost nearly $4 billion over 10 years to implement the necessary scanning equipment.

I ask this without a partisan bone to pick, but how much have we spent so far in Iraq?

The TSA is balking over $4 billion over 10 years? So that 6 billion pounds - SIX BILLION POUNDS - of cargo could be checked annually?

I have to wait in line for 30 minutes to get through security and take off my shoes in case I'm trying to smuggle something onto the plane in the soles, but once I get on that plane, there are thousands of pounds of cargo sitting right below me that no one checked before it got loaded onto the plane? Because it would cost too much money to check it?

WHAT?!

'House of D' ...

Oh.

It's snowing outside today, and I haven't been feeling well, so while I had intentions of doing more productive things this afternoon, I sat my ass down on the couch to watch "House of D" instead.

Written and directed by David Duchovny (but he's not the D in "House of D"), Mulder also spends a few minutes on screen, but the real reason I rented it was because of Robin Williams.

I adore Robin Williams. I'm fascinated that one man can be so brilliant at comedy and so brilliant at drama. Any movie of his is worth my time.

I didn't love it. I didn't hate it. There were a couple moments when I cried, but I'll cry over a commerical for soup if it's done well.

When it was over, I called up Roger Ebert's review. One and a half stars. Oof. And a sarcastic review. Ouch. He actually coined a word to describe the movie: "Doofusoid." That's not good.

But then, on Netflix's one-to-five star scale, I think this movie is headed for a 2, so really, Rog and I are pretty much on the same page.

Though I didn't feel the need to invent a new word for it.

Better Than ...

Damn.

Is there anything better than a warm piece of bread and butter?

Sex?, you say. No, I've had some pretty mediocre sex.

Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but some days, I am a frickin' genius is the kitchen.

Have you ever read "Like Water for Chocolate" (or seen the movie)? I believe there's truth in Laura Esquivel's words, that your emotions go into your food. Not to the extreme, like in her story, but if I'm upset - sad or angry - my food suffers for it. Cooking may be good therapy for some people, but for me, I have to be in tune with my food, and distractions are just that.

So today, wind howling, powdered-sugar snow snowing, I made bread. My Aunt Anne taught me how to make it when I was 8. And I was on the hook to make it whenever it was called for, from then on. Of course, those were the days before my mom owned a KitchenAid, and mixing bread dough with a wooden spoon is next to impossible, even for a grown-up, but especially for an 8-year-old, so mom did a fair amount of the mixing in those days.

I love making bread. It's alchemy. A few simple ingredients, some love, and some time create these spectacular loaves. I love the demands that come with baking bread: You must take your time. If you add the yeast before the liquid has cooled, it's over. No point in going on. Likewise, rising bread takes its time. You can use quick-rise yeast. You can raise it in a warm place, but it will be ready when it's ready. All you can do is wait.

You must be engaged with what you're doing, fully present. There's a communion that happens with bread, a tactile experience, the finer points of which you learn with time. Even with my mixer, I turn the dough out and finish kneading it by hand. It's the only way to know when it's ready.

I'm heartened that the bread-machine craze has waned. What's the point? If you can't be bothered to make bread, don't make bread. If you want the smell of fresh bread baking in the house, you can buy a frozen, unbaked loaf and stick it in the oven.

Baking bread isn't the challenge everyone seems to think it is. So long as you don't kill the yeast and add too much flour, it's pretty hard to screw it up. Your first loaf might not make the cover of a magazine, but it doesn't have to look good to taste fabulous. Try it. You'll see what I mean.

Seasoned ...

Here's a thought:

Why is it that I love fall?

Sure, it's pretty. Crunching through the leaves. Pumpkins. As I wrote to a friend the other day, "The color of the changing leaves changes the quality of the light."

But as I walked on this cold, grey day, noticing the trees that are almost completely bare, I began to wonder if I'm fond of fall because it is the season that forces us back indoors. The weather changes, the days grow shorter, sociability wanes.

Do I like fall because it's aligned with my private nature? Wouldn't the reclusive nature of winter suit me even better then?

There are parts of winter that I relish: Sunny snowy mornings, bundled up and braced for the cold as I step outside to shovel the snow that sparkles. Hollywood snow, I call it. Fluffy, like shoveling cotton, light glinting off its surface like snowglobe glitter. Early in the morning, it is quiet and it is Zen, the repetitive swipes of my shovel sweeping arcs of snow side to side.

But other parts of winter sadden me: Darkness at 4 in the afternoon, malformed piles of dirty snow, barren trees, dead grass.

I've long thought that the earth should be divided into quadrants where each season exists perpetually. Feeling like a little fall? Go to the fall quadrant. In the mood to hit the slopes? The winter quadrant awaits. The summer quadrant would be full of beaches and concerts in parks. And it would always be springtime in Paris.

But for now it is fall. The leaves are down, the wind is up. Winter is on its way.

Time to bake some bread.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Fun Auf Deutsch!, Part Zwei ...

I can't remember if my high school required everyone to take a language, or whether I took one because all my friends were taking one. But all my friends were taking Spanish. Well, a few were taking French.

I took German. Two years of German.

And then in college, I took two more.

Today, I can say, "Der Fernsehapparat ist wieder kaput." The television set is broken again.

I can also say, "Guten Tag! Wie geht's?" And I remember the word for "peas."

I like to think that if I was set down in the middle of Germany and no one spoke a word of English, I'd be able to get around. I sat in German classes for four years. Something must have sunk in, right?

So I've been chatting online with this German guy. We share a mutual fondness for Haribo gummi bears, as good a foundation as any. And during a recent IM exchange, I asked him what kinds of movies he likes.

Gratefully, his reply was something along the lines of "Comedies, mostly. Or something intelligent. No action movies please."

Leave it to a European guy to be a skosh more cerebral. (To wit: A couple years ago, I went on a date with a London-dwelling Italian guy. He suggested "Whale Rider." College Boyfriend David once picked "Surf Ninjas." Though in fairness to David, he's a very smart man and also likes movies for grown-ups.)

Anyway, the point is, the German guy recently recommended "Good Bye, Lenin!", set in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall, presented in German with English subtitles.

I watched it today and I liked it a lot but I was most pleased that I was able to pick out bits of native conversation, so apparently, my German doesn't suck quite as much as previously thought.

It's a charming movie. I second the recommendation. And while you're in the German section of the video store, pick up "Mostly Martha."

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Birthday Song ...

This morning, I woke up with U2's "Beautiful Day" running through my head.

Today is the actual birthday.

Thursday and Friday were lunch-with-friends days, and Saturday saw the arrival of L.A. Dave's very cute card (no chance of getting a card in the mail when your birthday falls on Sunday) and mom's appearance on my doorstep with the most beautiful bouquet of flowers: White snapdragons, white roses, giant white lillies, feathery tree fern, and perfect purple iris, my favorite flower.

I put fresh sheets on my bed last night and hopped in performing my cousin Patty's annual birthday eve ritual (left foot first, turn pillow over, make a wish) and pulled the covers up, saying, "This is going to be the best year yet."

This morning, I logged onto the computer to find birthday wishes from Patty and Barbara, who sent an e-card, but who sent the same e-card that I always send when I send e-cards, so it was fun to be the getter this time, not the giver.

I brewed a pot of coffee and savored my hazelnut coffee goo, a little birthday treat.

To set the tone for the coming year, I puttered around the house and did a bit of straightening and cleaning. Then I put on my walkin' clothes, grabbed my CD player (no, I don't have an iPod yet, but I'm getting closer to buying one, once I decide which one to buy) and went for a walk.

On the return leg, I started to think about what song was at the top of the charts when I was born, so when I got home, I Googled for it. In the UK at this time in 1969, the No. 1 song was "Sugar Sugar" by the Archies. The No. 1 song in Chicago for this week was "Come Together/Something" by The Beatles.

Mom and Dad came over for the usual Sunday morning bagels and coffee. Later, mom and I did some antiquing before I headed over to their house for dinner.

Every year, I can have anything I want for dinner. Every year, I want mom's lasagne. My mother makes fabulous lasagne, which you'd expect, seeing as how she's, you know, Serbian.

And every year, mom asks what kind of cake I'd like. Every year, I want a white cake with lemon filling and whipped cream instead of frosting.

So Mom ordered it from the bakery a few days ago.

Tonight, she opened the box to show me my cake. And it read:

"Happy Beautiful Day."

Cheesed Off ...

I almost never eat Doritos. And I really almost never eat nacho cheese Doritos.

But for the past two days, I've had a taste for them. Weird. (No, I haven't been smoking pot.)

So last night, I went to the store (needed coffee goo for this morning) and picked up a bag, which screamed from the store shelf, "Nacho Cheesier! Now Better Tasting!" (And also "0 Grams Trans Fats" because, you know, the Doritos set is a health-conscious bunch.)

I brought 'em home. I popped in "Carlito's Way" (ah, that scene where he kicks in Penelope Ann Miller's door!), and popped a Dorito into my mouth.

You know what? They don't taste the same. The better-tasting, 0-grams-trans-fattiness has seemingly forever altered the nacho cheese Doritos of my memory.

So I threw them out. If I'm going to eat crap, it has to be the crap I want. I have a very discriminating crap palette.

(Funny side note: The Blogger spellcheck doesn't recognize "nacho" and "Doritos" and offered up alternatives. So, if Blogger's spellcheck had its way, they'd be called "macho cheese dirties.")

Saturday, November 12, 2005

What A Load Of Crap ...

When I worked at the Tribune in TV, I learned very quickly that people take their TV book very seriously. Any time we'd make any kind of change to TV Week, we heard from readers, and they were almost never pleased. Still, the Trib's TV book, under my editor's watch, did very well. Won awards, made a ton of money in advertising. We were always having to redraw it to accomodate late ads. So when it comes to TV books, I know whereof I speak.

Doreen has been a long-time TV Guide reader. Last week, she canceled her subscription. Thursday, she gave me a recent copy to critique.

What a waste of trees.

Where to begin? How about the beginning? Some unsolicited advice to Ian Birch and company:

1) The name of your publication is TV Guide. It is not People. In a 106-page book, the first time I see listings should not be on page 62. (I'm still trying to figure that out, the 106 pages - the number of pages needs to be a multiple of 4; ah, OK, got it, the covers don't count, so it's 104 pages wrapped in a cover, but the front cover doesn't count as page 1.)

2) Amazing-but-true geography fact: The entire country does not reside in the Eastern time zone. Zone the editions of your book for readers in Central, Mountain, and Pacific. (Maybe you didn't want to go through the expense of printing multiple editions during your rollout, but you're losing subscribers because of it. Bad move.)

3) The purpose of a television guide is to have a handy reference nearby when your butt is cemented to the Barcalounger. So the instruction at the bottom of the left-hand pages, "For your 24-hour local listings and channel numbers, please visit tvguide.com/listings" is stupid. Some people don't have computers at home. And those who do probably don't want to have to go into another room to find out what's going to be on the TV that's right in front of them.

4) Hire a professional graphic designer. Yellow "highlighted" text on glossy stock isn't clever, it's hard to read, especially on a beige sidebar. Yuck.

Yikes. Did they bother with focus groups before rolling this thing out? Who did they talk to? The editor's mom?

TV Guide used to have a stranglehold on the TV listings market. When I had to dummy the TV book every week (that's newspaperspeak for drawing the layout of the book, the ad placements and what content belonged on what pages), we always had ads whose size made no sense for our 8 x 11 book. They were ... TV Guide-sized. Advertisers didn't want to have to create more than one ad, so ads were designed for TV Guide and our book had to work around them, which usually meant flowing in goofy features, such as TV Mailbag, to fill up the space at the top of the page.

Doreen, I hope I've aired your objections. Feel free to post a comment for anything I've missed.

Haters of the new TV Guide, let your voices be heard!

Is It Just Me? ...

Tell me if this is as shitty as I think it is, or if I'm missing something:

I just read a story (turns out, it was marketing spiel) written by a woman who was trying to get pregnant. I have friends in similar situations, so I was reading with them in mind, though I may someday face the same issue. Anyway, this woman wrote a compelling tale of how, like many couples, she and her husband thought they would simply get pregnant once they decided to have a family. They weren't having any luck and she became obsessed with reading everything she could, talking to everyone she could talk to.

It took years for them to conceive, and they lost the baby.

But then, she found the answer to her problem!

Isn't that great?

Do you want to know what is?

She'll tell you if you spend $29 to buy her book.

I understand that people want to make money off of things they've learned or invented or discovered, but it seems cruel in this case to draw women into this story only to make it a sales pitch.

Shouldn't a mother want, above all else, to help other women who are in her former shoes? Does it seem crass to anyone else to sell her secret of success?

This isn't like how to make a killing in real estate with no money down. This is the very essence of what it means to be a woman.

Has everything in the world been reduced to how to make a buck?

The Pre-Birthday ...

I don't make a big deal out of my birthday. I don't generally tell people what day it is. Not that I'm one of those people (who I find so weird) who don't like to disclose their age (I'll be 36 - see, now, that wasn't so hard, was it?) but just because it always seems like a ploy to elicit birthday wishes.

The people closest to me know when it is. That's enough.

A few years ago, I started a tradition: I take my friends out to lunch. Sometimes the timing works out so that we actually get together on my birthday, but sometimes not.

Yesterday was this year's birthday lunch. Eight of us at Coco Pazzo Cafe, a charming little restaurant east of Michigan Avenue.

You know what? I have the most amazing group of friends. Not everyone could make it (some have these crazy things called jobs that they can't always get away from, some had to be out of town), so they were represented by framed pictures on the table. But those who were able to be there in person, not just in spirit, collectively, are even more amazing than they are individually.

I laughed so hard I started crying. They're all funny people, but the humor is definitely greater than the sum of its parts when they're all together.

It was simply perfect. And even though the invitation said not to bring gifts, they ignored me (the one occasion I can think of when I don't mind being ignored) and brought fun presents! Girly stuff - flowers, bubble bath, body butter, chocolates - and Vice stuff - CDs and a Starbucks card. Decaf grande sugar-free hazelnut soy latte, here I come!

And to extend the holiday even further, Doreen and I got together Thursday afternoon. She was on her way out of town and couldn't make yesterday's fete, so we convened to nosh and exchange presents. Plus, since my birthday falls on a Sunday this year, there's always the chance that I could get a birthday card in the mail Monday.

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday birthdayness. I highly recommend it.

But most of all, I recommend surrounding yourself with people you love.

Every day.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Bravo! ...

Last night was opera night at my niece's grade school.

I love school programs. I love how sweet all the kids are, how brave. I love that everyone is featured, whether or not they can really carry a tune. They're all little stars.

The opera - thankfully in English - was about problems and how we deal with them. All of the principles came to learn that what was most important when faced with a trial or tribulation was their frame of mind. "Think, think, think!" the chorus would sing. And they'd think, and they'd see their problem in a new light, and realize it wasn't really a problem after all. Sweet, huh?

The programs, which had more advertising sold into them than any of the Playbills I worked on when I was involved in high school theater, had space on the back cover for autographs. Underneath all her friends' autographs, my niece drew a squiggly circle and labeled it, "My Family," and asked us all to sign it, too.

Her brother, who also goes to the school, helped out at the refreshments table after the show. (It's a very nice idea to have a "reception," but cramming several hundred people into a school hallway has to be some kind of major violation of the fire code.) Once the crowds subsided, I went to visit him. I took a blue cup full of 7-Up, and a pink frosted cookie, replete with sprinkles. I walked back down the hall to where all the family was gathered (I think it's awesome that all the grandparents and aunts and such live close enough to come to all these things) and said, "You know you're in grade school when you get to eat sugar and wash it down with a glass of sugar." And hey, my cookie was frosted, so I had sugar on top of the sugar that I washed down with sugar.

Earlier, as we were waiting to go into the gym for the performance, I was noticing the projects taped to the walls. The theme was My Hero. Some children picked their moms and dads, some picked grandparents, one girl picked Hilary Duff, and one boy picked squirrels.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

No Sweat ...

After this morning's brisk 2-mile walk (12-minute miles these days!), I
came home and made soup.

Well, no, I didn't make soup. I opened up a can and dumped it in a bowl
and put it in my microwave.

But that's not the point. I plopped down on the couch with my soup in
front of the TV and started flipping through the dearth of programming
choices available at 10 a.m.

I ran across an informercial for the Velform Sauna Belt.

Oh my.

The "claim" is that you strap this contraption around your gut, then
sit on your ass, and you'll sweat the pounds right off. No effort! Yet
another Holy Grail of weight loss! Praise be!

Of course, I called it up on the Web right away and found several sites
with reviews from people who were suckered in by the promise, all of
whom say the thing doesn't do anything but make their skin red and hot.
Well, duh. They also point out that this is a product from the UK, so
1) You need a converter to use it in the States, and 2) The 14-day
money-back guarantee is useless because of how long it takes to ship
the thing back and forth. So if you're dumb enough to plunk down the
cashola, you're stuck with a useless piece of crap.

I just shake my head. So many people are so willing to be sheep in our
image-obsessed culture. They want to be supermodel thin, they just
don't want to have to expend any effort. The most exercise they get is
picking up the phone to dial the 1-800 number on their screen to order
the latest miracle product that will change their lives, all for four
easy payments of $39.95.

My weight has been up and down my whole life. It's down again, though
it can be downer. It's an ongoing process.

People who see me infrequently comment: "You look great! What are you
doing?!"

And I tell them, "Eating right and exercising."

Their response, almost 100 percent of the time, is a disheartened, "Oh."

I wish I could tell everyone that I never get out of bed and subsist on
a diet of cheesecake and Cheetos. I think it's what they want to hear.

But no, bedridden Cheetos consumption is not the path to health.

Nor is the Velform Sauna Belt.

You have to eat real food and move. It's not the magic pill that
everyone's looking for. But it's the only thing that works.

Aaah! She's A Liberal! ...

Yep, that's me.

Though, interestingly enough, not exclusively liberal.

I'm sure some of the people (read: conservative people) who read this
blog would never in a million years believe that I have a conservative
cell in my body, but I do. I just have way more liberal cells.

So for those of you who read this blog and then rail against me for my
anti-Bush views, who cop a tone of superiority, as though all liberals
are just unfortunate rubes who will some day see the errors of our
ways, let me just spell it out for you:

I think Bush is the worst president in the history of this country. I
think he is a tunnel-visioned puppet and his masters have perpetrated
hoax after hoax, and I am baffled - BAFFLED - that he was elected to
office last year. (And yes, I'm one of those people who don't believe
he was actually elected the first time. He was appointed.)

As a writer, I hold near and dear the promise of freedom of speech, so
everyone is welcome to read and comment, but if you think you're going
to insult me into changing my mind, you're wasting your time.

Because at this point, not only can I not understand how anyone voted
for Bush in the last election, these days, I *really* can't understand
how anyone can continue to support him in any way.

But oh, look at that: His poll numbers are the lowest they've ever been.

Maybe we rubes aren't so stupid after all.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Help Me To Understand ...

So yesterday, Bush stood at a podium and vehemently asserted that the
United States does not torture. And yet Bush says he'll veto any
legislation that crosses his desk that outlaws torture (which the
Senate approved 90 - 9).

Hmm. I wonder why Bush doesn't want anything on the books? I wonder why
it's recently come to light that the U.S. has secret prisons sprinkled
throughout Europe? Wonder what goes on in those? Something tells me
they're not the Club Feds that our white-collar criminals end up in. No
satellite TV and air-conditioned exercise rooms, I'm betting.

Why is it that any average citizen understands that torture, in
addition to being a crappy tool to extract information from a prisoner,
threatens the safety and well-being of any U.S. citizen who may be
captured, and, by the way, is just really shitty national P.R.

The "Well, they do it!" excuse isn't good enough. We're supposed to be
a civilized nation. Civilized nations treat people civilly.

I'm not naive. I know that people probably get roughed up in police
stations every day all across America. And any police chief would say
that behavior is not allowed. It happens anyway, but it's not allowed.

But by opposing legislation, Bush may say the U.S. doesn't torture, but
he wants torture to be allowed.

Maybe in the mind of Bush, Abu Graib wasn't torture. Maybe it was just
humiliation. Maybe, in his mind, that's OK.

Monday, November 07, 2005

New World ...

I stopped reading the Chicago Tribune last year on the day it endorsed
Bush. So from time to time, my friends send me Tribune stories of note,
knowing that I won't see them on my own.

Yesterday, L.A. Dave sent a piece written by a Tribune editorial
assistant, originally from Jordan, who wrote about the travails of
trying to travel from Chicago to New York on Amtrak. He chose the train
because he's too often harassed in airports these days. But the train
experience was more hellish. Long story short, an Italian man called
authorities and Ahmad was detained and questioned for hours. L.A. Dave
wrote, "Paranoia can be as bad as terrorism."

This is what I wrote in reply:

That's exactly the point, my friend. Paranoia is what they want.

They can't disrupt our lives with bombs every day, but they can make us
wonder if they'll disrupt our lives with bombs every day.

I go out of my way to smile at Middle Eastern people now, just to try
to convey, "We don't all hate you."

Once, when I was traveling ... where was I going?; oh, I think I was
going to London; large plane, LOTS of fuel in the tanks ... anyway, the
guy on the plane next to me, very middle-aged and white and
educated-looking, looked up from his book at me and then at the full
plane and said, "Look at all these people. Wouldn't we so miss them?"

I totally froze for a second.

What the hell did that mean? Was he speaking generally, in a
"What-if-this-planeload-of-people-went-down?" sort of way? Or was it
more sinister than that? Should I tell a member of the flight crew and
possibly delay the flight, requiring that we all deplane, agents search
it, agents question my seatmate? Or should I say nothing and run the
risk that we'd all be blown to bits somewhere east of Long Island?

In the end, I said, "That sounded ominous."

He didn't say anything.

I made mental notes about his features.

And seven hours later, we landed in London.

How do we balance "safe" and "sorry" in this new world?

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Oh, Yeah, I'm Screwed ...

[I wrote this Friday, but have been having problems with posting, so
I'm filing via e-mail (filing - heh, that's newspaperspeak)]:

Figuratively, of course.

And apparently, that's the way it's going to stay for the rest of my
life.

I read Maureen Dowd's New York Times Magazine piece, "What's A Modern
Girl To Do?", this afternoon.

When I read the following, I laughed out loud and said, to my computer
screen, "Oh, I'm screwed!" Behold:

"A 2005 report by researchers at four British universities indicated
that a high I.Q. hampers a woman's chance to marry, while it is a plus
for men. The prospect for marriage increased by 35 percent for guys for
each 16-point increase in I.Q.; for women, there is a 40 percent drop
for each 16-point rise."

The average I.Q. is 100, so by the time you get to 116, according to
the Brits - whack! - your odds just dropped 40 percent. Move up to 132
- whack! - your odds have just plummeted another 40 percent. So for
anyone with an I.Q. anywhere above that? Well, as I said to Jay earlier
on the phone, the advice is: "Find a good vibrator."

Jay insists that he's looking for a woman with a brain. That's nice to
hear, though as I told him, "You, apparently, are the exception."

Dowd wants to know: "So was the feminist movement some sort of cruel
hoax? Do women get less desirable as they get more successful?"

Well, was it? Do they?

Blog Weirdness ...

Having issues with posting. Not being lazy.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Obvious Revelation ...

Love is a bitch.

I was just sitting here, thinking, "I really should write a blog entry," and then that sentence popped into my head. Maybe it's because I just watched "Everwood," which is about nothing but relationships. Treat Williams' character, Andy, is in love with his neighbor, Nina, but Nina is living with Jake.

Of course, anyone with eyes can see that Nina and Andy belong together, so her relationship with Jake is just a device. We want TV characters to get together, but if they get together too soon, the sizzle fizzes and you're left with nowhere to go. But if you keep them apart - ah, tension. That's what keeps us tuning in every week.

But it's not just romantic love, though romantic love is a bitch above all other forms of love. No, love in general, so coveted and so prized, is the source of great joy but also the source of great disappointment when expectations go unmet.

I learned a valuable lesson about that this week: I need to accept people, fully, for who they are. I need to accept what they are able to give, and accept what they are unable to give. I have expectations, I have ideas of how I'd like people to be. But that is rarely who they are.

I live in a quiet world, a solitary place where I sometimes believe I have too much time to think. A fantasy realm, really, where I concoct perfect worlds and perfect words and perfect moments. It's part of being a writer. Sometimes, I just start talking out a scene in my head, holding both sides of the conversation, and occasionally, I am astonished at what comes out of my mouth - a perfect piece of dialogue - and I run to my office and pull out a piece of paper and scrawl it down to put into the screenplay later.

But my life is not a movie. I only get to control everyone's behavior on the page. When my hands leave the keyboard, all bets are off. People will say things - or not say things - and I get riled, because their words are their own, not from the daily script that runs through my head.

My mom and I often joke, "If only the rest of the world were like us ..." but I'm not really joking, am I?

And the thing about love is: Love ends. Some love is forever. But some love ends. And it ends whether we want it to or not. Love is its own master. Love is a guest in our lives, and sometimes it doesn't stay.

We can fool ourselves and think that if we don't say anything, love won't leave. But love always knows, and it moves on, and sometimes it takes us a while to realize that it's gone.

Who can blame us? Love fills us, and when it goes away, it leaves an enormous void that we're sure we'll be unable to bear. So we hold on to avoid the pain. But eventually the day comes when we make our uneasy peace with the reality that there's nothing left to do but go through it.

And we know, deep down, that we'll find a way to bear it. That in time, we'll uncurl and sit up, our heads feeling heavy, and slowly move on, slowly leaving the pain behind. And we know it's necessary, and that the life we were living before wasn't enough, that we're worth more, and we leave friends and lovers in our wakes, and they leave us in theirs, and this journey is the only way to find it, love.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

'The Brown Bunny' ...

Roger Ebert panned this film when he saw it at Cannes. He walked out of the screening, as did hundreds of others.

When he reviewed it a year and a half later, he gave it three stars.

I just watched "The Brown Bunny." Actually, I fast-forwarded through "The Brown Bunny," and not because I was in a hurry to get to the scene "The Brown Bunny" is famous for.

Ebert's overarching criticism of the film was that it was too long. But Vincent Gallo, the film's creator in every sense of the word (he wrote it, directed it, edited it, produced it, starred in it, photographed it as director of photography, and filmed it, literally, as a camera operator), edited down the Cannes version and in the process, created something Ebert felt was very worthwhile.

(Here's a question for Ebert's Answer Man: Does the existence of the two versions account for the continuity issue in the hotel room, when Daisy's hair, from one scene to the next, goes from hanging loose to being pulled back? For those of you still unsure what the famous scene is about, you now have two clues: hotel room and a woman with her hair pulled back. Ahem. OK?)

But even with 26 minutes cut out of the original version, I still found this film laborious until the final scene, which is exceptionally well done. As I scanned through it, pausing from time to time to watch a scene and see if something was starting to hang together (no pun intended), I thought that this film would surely be enhanced with a commentary track by Tom and Crow from "Mystery Science Theater 3000."

Most of the movie feels like Gallo was *trying* to make an arty film. Some who have seen it might assert to know what Gallo was trying to say: "As we watch Bud driving, his hand in his hair, the scenery passing outside his window, we're reminded of man's solitary journey through life's landscape, alone, unremarkable, unnoticed" or "The camera's view of the darkened road curving continously to the right reveals that we are blind to our life's path, sure only that it is leading us away from where we believed we were going."

That said, I don't have exclusively bad things to say about this film. I think Vincent Gallo is hauntingly beautiful. He strikes me as a cross between Viggo Mortensen and Joaquin Phoenix. As I mentioned, the final scene is exceptional in explaining all the film that's come before it and Gallo's acting - yes, there's acting - is raw and painful and real. There are a few moments along the way, such as when Bud encounters Lilly at the rest stop, that I thought were brilliant. But the pacing of the film, even the improved pacing of the second cut, distracted me. I spent too much time trying to figure out what he was trying to say, trying to predict what was going to happen. In the opening racing scene, was he going to crash? No, we're just watching the whole race. At the gas station, is a new character going to be introduced? No, he's just pumping gas.

I suppose what I saw was the point Gallo was trying to make: That Bud goes through his life in mostly unremarkable ways. He doesn't win his race. He drives across the country to the next race. Along the way, he puts gas in his van. He stops for Chinese food and gets back on the road.

It's his anguish that makes these tasks in any way remarkable, simply that he accomplishes them, that he continues to exist and move through the world.

Stories Of Strength ...

Stories of Strength - An Anthology for Disaster Relief

Every week, I receive a newsletter from AbsoluteWrite.com. Jenna Glatzer is the editor of the site. I look forward to the weekly e-mail, always scrolling immediately to her letter, which always begins, "Hiya, writers!" Her writing has an easy, chatty tone. Aside from the site, she is a prolific writer. Honestly, I don't think the woman sleeps. She always has more than one book project in the works.

She also has an enormous heart. After Hurricane Katrina devastated the south, Jenna, who never thinks small, immediately set out to help. She has built a vast community of writers and she tapped us to help her compile an anthology of stories of strength. (I didn't contribute a story, but I'll do my part to help her publicize the book.)

The book, Stories of Strength, went on sale yesterday. November 1. Just more than two months after Katrina unleashed its wrath and washed away the lives of so many of our families and friends.

Those who survived are living in a world forever changed. Their stories retreated from the headlines as the flood waters receded from their cities. But even as life slowly returns to sift through the devastation, surely many days continue to be marked by despair and fear and a helplessness we can hardly know.

Stories of Strength is a reminder that the human spirit endures, survives, and ultimately thrives.

There aren't words to describe how proud I am of Jenna for what she's done. Click on the title of this post or the logo above to learn more or to buy copies of the anthology. Everyone involved donated their time and effort. The proceeds will go to benefit various charities including the American Red Cross and the Salvation Army. Jenna is working on making the book available through major retailers, as well.

Please pass this information along and visit the site to learn of more ways you can help. Jenna hopes to raise $100,000 for the relief effort. I think she will far surpass her goal. Let's all do what we can to help her.

And help those in need.

Love to you all,
Beth

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Music And Memory ...

I am fascinated by the link between memory and music. If you asked me to simply recite the lyrics to a certain song from 10 years ago, I probably wouldn't be able to do it, but if I hear that song on the radio, I can sing the whole thing.

What it is about the music that unlocks my memory?

Enigmatic David mentioned Robbie Robertson tonight in an IM. I was just thinking about Robbie Robertson the other day. I had his eponymous album - on cassette - which was released in 1987. I loaned it to a friend as part of a collection of tapes for a party she was having, and I don't have to tell you that I never got them back.

On a lark, I went to iTunes and punched up Robbie. And there he was. And there it was. My album. Nearly 20 years later. All mine, about two minutes later, for $8.91.

Peter Gabriel is on "Fallen Angel." U2 is on "Sweet Fire of Love." I love Robbie's "Broken Arrow," much better than Rod Stewart's cover.

I could have just bought a couple of the songs: That's the beauty of iTunes; no need to ever buy an entire album again. But I'm glad to have it all back in my posession. I've missed him.

November ...

It rained last night. And rained. And rained. And rained.

Happily, though, kids came to my door. The promise of free candy is clearly too strong to be overcome by a little precipitation. Or a lot of precipitation. Still, I felt bad for them. Halloween is such a big deal when you're a kid, it shouldn't be dampened - literally - by having to don a raincoat over your costume and having to walk under an umbrella with your mom.

I was on the phone with L.A. Dave for a good portion of trick-or-treat and he commented on how polite the kids are. Almost all of them said "thank you." Some of the little kids looked a little stunned (maybe they've never seen anyone as tall as me before). Some of the kids opened their bags wide to check out what they'd just received.

The full-size candy bars were clearly a hit. And I know that because 1) even my sister-in-law said, "You're giving out big candy bars?!" and 2) because I had repeat trick-or-treaters. One boy looked kinda sheepish the second time at my door, and I smiled at him. I knew. He knew I knew. But I used to do the same thing when I was a kid. When you identified a house giving away good loot, you went back. You let some time elapse, thinking you were being clever and that the giver wouldn't notice that you'd been there before, but who were we kidding? Even then, I was tall. How many 5' 10" nuns were coming by that night?

The kiddles loved their iTunes gift certificates and Jelly Bellys. Nick, the middle child, immediately announced that he wanted to get "American Idiot" by Green Day. His mom, of course, immediately said "No." I remember that, too. Wanting so badly to be able to do the things my brothers were allowed to do. Nevermind that they're nearly six and eight years older than me.

And now it's November. My birthday is soon. It seems impossible that an entire year has gone by again. I thought I'd be in a much different place at 36. It's weird to look at that number. How am I almost 36? I don't feel 36. I don't feel like any age. I feel like I feel when a holiday falls on a Monday. It never feels like a Monday, but it never feels like the weekend, either. It's like it's outside of time.