Sunday, December 30, 2007

The 2008 Challenge(s) ...

My pal Mike (that's him, there), across the pond, wrote this nifty post recently in which he proposed a game for the new year.

For those of you too lazy to click the link, here's the meat of his post:

The game is simple.

1. You give me a Challenge for 2008. This Challenge is of the 'fun' and 'personally enriching' variety. Yes, that means snide comments along the lines of "Acquire A Life" will be ignored.

2. I mull the Challenge over, and then I decide whether to accept or not.

3. It goes in writing, on this post, in this blog.

4. Then I set YOU a Challenge. Ditto. Ditto.

5. Then, with all Challenges set......I check up on you, and put up an update post every once in a while, to summarise how it's going, including how I'm doing with my Challenges.

It's all a bit like New Year's Resolutions, except with public culpability and reminders.

Those of you with blogs - I also Challenge you to run this game within your own posts......

So here I am, living up to his first challenge, posting this game on my own blog and inviting others to participate.

My challenge to Mike is to write one letter per month in 2008. I think it's a shame that we've gotten so far away from putting pen to paper, and it's always so lovely to receive a note or card or letter in the mail that you weren't expecting. Makes all those bills and credit-card solicitations a little less annoying, don't you think?

I have yet to find out Mike's challenge for me, but I'm sure it'll be a good one, as he's a very clever sort.

So who wants to play? Pop a challenge into the Comments section. We'll communicate there.

Of course, I reserve the right to refuse any challenge, but I'll be a good sport about it. Unless it's something insane or potentially life-threatening, I'm pretty sure I'll take it on.

For reference, some of Mike's challenges are things like "learn to meditate" and "create an absurdly ostentatious pudding to be devoured in York or Edinburgh." I might learn how to make a pudding, but whether I could arrange for it to be devoured in York or Edinburgh remains to be seen. Though I do know people in both places ... a necessary component to the challenge, as I wouldn't want to eat an entire pudding alone.

But for the sake of argument, let's say that the challenges shouldn't include travel outside the continental United States. And Canada.

Ready? Set? Go!

Friday, December 28, 2007

You Never Know ...

Most of us plod through our days, working if we must, completing chores, running errands, crossing item after item off a never-ending list of to-do's.

And right around this time of year, we look up from our busy lives to pause and ask others, who are also pausing, "Where did this year go?"

Another year passed. Another year, slipped through our fingers. Some have something to show for it, others only report more of the same.

In years past, I've written down my New Year's resolutions then sealed them in an envelope and tucked them away in my top dresser drawer so that I might pull them out a year later and see how I measured up to my annual ideals.

I didn't do that last year. I forgot, I guess. I went looking for this year's list and came up with the goals I wrote in 2005 for 2006. Thankfully, I've accomplished a couple things on that list. Given that it's two years old. At least I've done something.

But I don't do enough. I don't live every day like it's my last. I don't take risks like I wish I would. More often than not, I cower when I should charge.

Because I, like most, think I have time. There's always tomorrow, right?

Except when there's not.

I was just glancing at headlines and was stunned to read, "Longtime Tribune columnist Terry Armour dies at 46."

I clicked the link. I read the story. But the news wouldn't sink in, as is often the case when learning of a death.

Terry was one of the first people I met when I went to work at the Chicago Tribune. His personality was larger than life. I marveled at how he could be disgruntled and funny at the same time. Most people at newspapers are disgruntled most of the time, but those who manage to keep a sense of humor through the daily insanity are the ones you really remember.

We lost touch when I left the Trib but I remember a co-worker at a later gig returning from a trip telling me that he sat next to a guy on the plane who knew me. Terry. I was touched that he remembered me.

He, of course, was impossible to forget. He worked in sports when I started at the paper. I moved on to the news desk and then to features. Terry ascended through the sports ranks, covering the championship Chicago Bulls, and then broke out of sports to become an entertainment columnist. It was the perfect fit for him: Terry could schmooze like nobody's business.

And he had the most genuine laugh.

Sudden deaths rattle me greatly. Surely Terry didn't wake up today thinking it was his last day on Earth. But his passing is yet another reminder of the need to take better care of myself, of the need for all of us to take better care of ourselves.

And each other.

Update: I was just looking for information on a memorial service for Terry and read that he died of a pulmonary embolism, not a heart attack as had been widely discussed. A heart attack made sense in my mind as Terry was a big guy and he had a stressful job, but my brother recovered from a pulmonary embolism a couple years ago and he's about as healthy as they come. So PEs aren't necessarily predictable by body type. Which, frankly, makes Terry's sudden death even more of a grave reminder to live every day to its fullest and to listen when your body is trying to tell you something. My brother thought he was having a bad bout of indigestion until he started having trouble breathing. Luckily, he went to the ER in time. Terry didn't have that chance.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Happy Holidays ...

And so Christmas is over, all the hubbub, all the planning and list-making and shopping and wrapping and mailing and baking and delivering and cooking have come to an end.

It never fails to blow my mind that we spend, conservatively, a month ramping up for Christmas and it's all over inside of 48 hours. (Well, women spend about a month ramping up for Christmas. Most guys are less involved than that, though my brother and his family always haul out all their Christmas decorations the day after Thanksgiving. The kids love having the house swathed in trees and lights.)

There are no more gifts under the tree, save for the one I bought for my other brother, but he's in another state right now. I just consolidated the few cookies that remained after my Cookie Elf duties, so now they're all in one tin, ready to be hauled out if anyone should drop by for a cup of coffee. (Ahem, Lenore!)

I put away my loot yesterday. This year's big gift from my parents was a gorgeous piece of copper cookware from France. I've always wanted some copper cookware. I don't need any, as I have plenty of Calphalon, but we cooking-and-baking types love beautiful, functional kitchenware.

(Angela gave me a Sur La Table gift card for my birthday which I spent on Friday, in between Cookie Elfing and dinner with Jay. I bought myself a cute little creamer which mostly matches the cute little diner-esque suger-packet holder I already owned, and a set of springform pans, and a very cool exaggerated oval glass dish, a use for which I can't think of at the moment, but I loved it, so I bought it, and lastly, an ice pick, because I didn't have one and I've been looking for one, for the actual chipping of ice, not to go all Catherine Trammell on some would-be suitor, because, as we all know, I have no would-be suitors.)

So the copper is gorgeous and I can't wait to use it. And mom bought me the most beautiful little china dish. It's a shape I've never seen (sort of a pointed oval with the ends cut off) and is painted in lovely muted greens and gold. I wonder what it was intended for, back in its day. Mom thought I could use it to hold my rings or something. Which I could, if I wore more than one ring, and if I ever took it off, but I can use it for earrings instead.

Patty and Barry gave me cast metal rooster bookends. They're totally awesome, and I've truly been wanting bookends. I don't think I mentioned that to them, but their timing is perfect.

My brother and sister-in-law and the kids gave me a Target giftcard (which I will redeem, as soon as the crazy crowds die down, for Ratatouille, I think) and a Whirly Pop. I love popcorn and make it on my stove in a pan. None of that lung-clogging microwave business for me, thank you very much. But with the Whirly Pop, you can make popcorn with almost no oil. Very cool. And she added a couple kettle-corn packets. "That's not healthy," she said. "But it's so good."

Hey, you gotta splurge sometime.

But my favorite Christmas moment this year happened on Christmas Eve. I bought one of my nephews an Invader Zim DVD. I first saw Invader Zim at their house and it was the weirdest thing I'd ever seen. I laughed myself silly. So I found the DVD that contained those episodes. He hadn't asked for it. I figured he wouldn't be expecting it. But when he opened it, he was thrilled. Don't you love giving someone a gift that they didn't know they wanted until it's opened? Later, me and the kids headed for the TV room to watch "Mortos Der Soulstealer." We were all cracking up. I had tears running down my face. My other nephew was laughing in anticipation of laughing. And my niece's laugh is the cutest thing you've ever heard. It is the sound of pure joy. (Sadly, YouTube doesn't have a decent clip from that episode, but trust me, it's the weirdest, funniest show ever.)

Every year, my niece and I curl up on the couch in front of the fireplace, and this year was no exception, though we just snuck it in under the wire before they had to go home. I love that part of Christmas, too. That's my favorite annual Christmas moment.

And, as usual, we had enough food to feed 80 people on Christmas Eve. And then we made Christmas dinner yesterday.

But I was very judicious about eating.

And, this week, I'm going to the gym three days in a row.

I hope everyone had an equally lovely holiday. Here's to peace in the new year.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Random Notes ...

♪ I just noticed that Friday's entry about wrapping gifts was my 1,000th post. My God, that's a lot of blathering on about nothing. How nice of you all to return, day after day, to follow along in the continuing banality that is my life.

♪ It is freakishly windy and cold here, but all the snow from last weekend is gone because yesterday it was freakishly warm. The weather's gone mad.

♪ The freakish wind woke me up at 2 a.m. today. I thought I was hearing a truck outside. Nope. No truck. Wind. But then I couldn't get back to sleep, so I got up at 2 a.m. and started doing stuff around the house. At some point, I sat down and popped in Chris Rock's I Think I Love My Wife. I almost turned it off early on – I'm no prude, but the profanity seemed both excessive and needless – but I stuck with it until the last few minutes, when Rock and his on-screen wife started delivering their lines in song. What the hell? So with what I assume were only minutes to go, I popped it out of the DVD player and crammed it back in its Netflix envelope. Blech.

Love Actually is a much better way to spend a cold, windy day. Two words: Liam Neeson. Two more words: Bill Nighy. And aw, hell, why not: Alan Rickman. Where's my middle-aged accented guy? Speaking of accented guys ...

♪ My friend Mike in York has the Christmas card to end all Christmas cards. You want to see it. Trust me. Click any of these links to see it for yourself. Click on the photo to make it larger and more readable. Really. Go now. I'll still be here when you get back ...

Back from Mike's site? It was funny, wasn't it? Told you.

♪ Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, which is a bigger deal in my family that Christmas day in terms of people volume, though there will only be eight of us. My mother and I, however, have prepared food for 80. I invited my neighbors to join us if they decide to ditch their other plans. The volume of food will seem slightly less excessive if we have 10 or 11 people.

♪ I'm 38 and I still have trouble sleeping the night before Christmas.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Survey Says? ...

I saw a commercial the other night – I think it was for Aleve – featuring a woman who goes to people's homes to wrap their gifts for them.

I'm sure the advertisers would be thrilled that I completely ignored the message about the pain reliever and instead focused on the fact that someone has created a business around wrapping presents.

I once thought of opening a gift-wrap store, but I was more focused on the idea of people dropping stuff off and me wrapping it for them (or wrapping it while they waited – holy crap, I could open a coffee house/gift-wrap store!), but I'd never thought of going to their homes and wrapping there.

All of which got me to wondering: Just how much do people dislike wrapping packages? And why? Is it just one more time-consuming holiday task or do they not like to wrap because they don't like the results? And how much would they pay someone to wrap their gifts for them, anyway?

I'd gotten into a bit of a curling-ribbon rut in Christmases past, so this year, I specifically tried to branch out into other ribbon varieties. There's a whole new addiction just waiting to begin!

The other night, I snapped off a quick photo of the gifts under my tree (photo below). Looking at the photo, I see that I definitely need a broader ribbon collection.

So, what say you, readers? Do you like wrapping presents? Why or why not? And how much would you pay someone to do it for you?

Cookie Elf 2007, Urban Edition ...

Doreen once referred to where I live as Calico Corner.

Nick once referred to my abode as a Laura Ashley house.

In my home's defense, allow me to say that there is no calico to be seen, and while I do like the occasional floral print, every inch of my house isn't dripping with it like some Shabby Chic experiment gone horribly awry.

But yes, I do tend toward cottage when it comes to my decorating, "cottage" as in an eclectic mix of stuff all peacefully coexisting in one room. If we stood in my living room, I could point to each thing and tell you its story about how I came to own it and I wouldn't mention the same place more than twice. Well, maybe three times. (I just realized two of my lamps are from Marshall Field's.) I don't walk into a furniture store and buy a "living room set." Nope. My loveseat is from Jennifer Convertibles. My chair is from Marshall Field's. My rug is from Pier 1. My coffee table (which is really a steamer trunk) is from an antique store in some Indiana town, the name of which I can't remember, but Gemma and I managed to get it into the back seat of her rental coupe. It was a very little red car. Getting that trunk in there was a feat of genius.

But I digress. The point is, a long time ago, back before I had a place of my own, back when I thought about what it would be like to live in the city, I had visions of black leather furniture and chrome and glass. Apparently, I thought I was a bachelor. But when I moved into my first place and started buying pieces, I never looked at anything modern. Then again, my studio wasn't a white box in a high-rise. It was in an older building with beautiful wood doors and moldings and modern furniture just would have looked weird.

So I have the taste I have, and I like it. It's comfortable. It's mine. And I'm sure I've been heavily influenced by my mom's decorating sense, too. My parents' house isn't matchy-matchy either.

What does all of this have to do with cookies, you ask?

Just this. Today is the Day 1 of playing Cookie Elf, and this year's packaging for the cookies is decidedly sleek. I found very cool matte silver bags at Hallmark with a simple grosgrain ribbon handle (which can be taken out of the way – for filling the bag – by putting the toggled end of the ribbon through a grommet in the bag). A bit of tissue paper went in the bottom of each bag, just for a bit of cushion, but the cellophane bundles (tied with pewter-colored ribbon to match the bags) are the only thing peeking out of the top. No tissue in sight. And the notes are affixed to the bags with binder clips because I love binder clips.

All of which makes for a decidedly urbane presentation of my tasty treats.

No calico in sight.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Sign Up For It ...

Not that I'm an autograph seeker, but if I ever run into Will Ferrell I won't bother asking. Dude has the honor of being the worst autograph signer according to Autograph. (Who knew there was a magazine devoted to autographs? Is it just a bunch of blank pages?)

Johnny Depp, bless his indie heart, is No. 1 on the Best list for the third year in a row. But then, Johnny lives in France. Maybe the aloof French don't much care about autographs.

But Will. Will, Will, Will. You'd think he'd be a little more gracious – not only does he not sign, he "taunts" people for asking for his autograph – and remember that the people who are asking for his John Hancock are the same people who go to see the movies for which he's paid $20 million a pop.

I'm sure it's annoying to be a star these days. I'm sure people ask for autographs at ridiculously inopportune times. But it's part of the price of being rich and famous.

I've only ever asked for one autograph, and it wasn't even planned.

I wrote the following about two years ago:

I [ended] up being the sole Tribune representative at the TV Land upfront. I got to sit with Garry Marshall and behind me, at the next table, was Barry Williams. I was practically rubbing elbows with Greg Brady. At the end of the event, we found ourselves standing next to each other.

I don't know what came over me, but I turned to him and said, "I'm sorry, I really never do this ..." as I handed him my invitation.

"Oh, geez, don't apologize!", he said. "What's your name?"


And a moment later, he handed my invite back to me, signed, "For Beth, Keep On Groovin', Barry Williams."

When I got back to the Tower, I put my autographed invitation in the pocket of a binder on my desk. And that's where it's sat. Until I took it out yesterday to take this picture of it.

Otherwise, the only other signature I have in my house is from Kevin Spacey. I wrote a letter to him, and he wrote a little card back, which is framed, and sitting on the coffee table in my TV room.

Maybe I'll frame my Barry memento, too. Or maybe it will go back in the binder in the closet from whence it came.

But regardless, do like the man says: Keep on groovin', everybody.

Monday, December 17, 2007

WWGBD? (What Would Greg Behrendt Do?) ...

So, there's this guy.

We met online, several years ago, back when I was wading in the putrid waters of (Apologies to any readers who are members of I'm sure you're lovely people. Hell, if I'd met you when I was a member, I probably wouldn't have quit.)

We've been in touch ever since. E-mail mostly. The occasional phone call, though we haven't spoken in quite some time. He lives in another state, but a state close by.

We have similar senses of humor. We seem reasonably well-matched in the intelligence department. All other signs point toward "potential."

And yet, we've never met. We've talked it about it. Even made a plan once. But work crept up on him and he had to cancel.

So we write. And then we don't write for a while. And then we write again. I'm usually the one to get back in touch, because I see something or read something and think he'd find it amusing or interesting, so I write and tell him.

And every so often, I casually toss off the suggestion that we should make a plan to meet, and he agrees.

And then we never do.

Why, I wonder.

Does he not want to date?

No, I don't think that's it. He continues to make comments about not being able to meet anyone.

Does he not like to travel?

No, that's not it. He travels all over the world.

Is he just not that into me?

Maybe. Maybe his replies to my e-mails are simply polite. Maybe his agreements that yes, we should in fact meet, are simply empty assents because he knows we'll never actually make a plan and stick to it. And yet, his e-mails seem to be, um, flirty.

So there's part of me that feels like it's worth one more shot.

So, enlighten me, male readers: What's up with guy?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

One Good Thing ...

It started snowing yesterday, a pretty little snow, just enough to make me feel Christmassy while I did some shopping.

And it kept snowing.

The crawl on the TV Saturday morning said that we were under a winter storm warning that was due to expire at 12 PM. Hmm. I was pretty sure that it was due to expire at 12 AM, but someone at the station didn't know that 12 PM is noon and 12 AM is midnight.

So it snowed.

And it snowed.

And it snowed.

And it snowed.

And right before I went to bed, I looked outside and thought, "Well, it's supposed to be tapering off soon."

And then I woke up this morning and there was a lot of snow outside.

A lot of snow.

Not the 1 to 3 inches that had been predicted for this area.

Oh, no. Much more than that. It was hard to gauge, just looking out the window. The snow on my deck was deep, but there was blowing and drifting to consider.

I was in no hurry to shovel, but I put on layers and my new hat and gloves and sunglasses and ventured outside.

At one place on my driveway, the snow had to be a foot thick.

And me without my snowblower. I guess this is the year I buy one.

I figured I was in for about two hours of shoveling (which turned out to be right, and that was with my neighbor David helping me finish my shoveling when he had finished his sidewalk and double-wide driveway).

But shortly into my shoveling escapade, I stopped to retrieve my camera from the house and snapped off a few Christmas card-worthy shots.

Snow might be a hassle, but it's pretty.

'Eat, Pray, Love' ...

I've been reading this book for many months.

Not because I've been rationing the short chapters the way a David I once knew, an ascetic sort, would suffer self-imposed literary restrictions on books he loved to make them last longer.

No, as Doreen so sagely said last night, "You're just not in the right place to be receiving the message right now."

Clearly not. Every time I'd try to make any headway, I'd fall asleep.

Reading can be a sleepy pursuit, but not all books leave me nodding off. I devoured the last Harry Potter and found sleep to be a bit of an inconvenience, really. I simply wanted to keep reading.

But today, after shoveling more snow than I've ever shoveled in my life (a big thanks is due to Neighbor David for being neighborly and helping me finish once he was finished with his own), I came into the warmth of my house, which was still smelling faintly of warm sugar from baking the day before, shed a few of the layers I'd piled on for shoveling, picked up Eat, Pray, Love, and settled in on the loveseat in the living room. And then, a bit later, I got up, grabbed my afghan off the couch in the TV room, and settled in to the comfy chair, determined that today would be the day I'd finish this book.

And I just have. It's a remarkable book. Elizabeth Gilbert's writing style is easy and chatty, much, I like to think, like my own. But the framework of this book is brilliant: A 30-something woman's three-country quest to find her center.

I love the power of words, how they contain power themselves but are imbued with greater power by the reader. Late in the book, she and a friend are lounging on a beach, drawing a map of Manhattan in the sand, tracing Broadway's crooked path, marking the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building with seashells, and she ends the paragraph with this: "Out of respect, we take two sticks and put the Twin Towers back at the base of the island, back where they belong."

I yelped at that sentence, an involuntary cry as though I'd just suffered a sharp, sudden pain, and tears ran down my face. I wonder if I'll ever be able to think of that day without crying.

Throughout the book, there are parts to which I can greatly relate, such as her relationship with a man named David, a man whom deep down she knows is not for her, but to whom she returns, over and over, wishing for it all to work.

It's hard to discount that sense that you feel in your soul – in that place deep in the center of your chest, so deep that it ceases to be physical, that bit of infinity you carry inside – that you can be connected to another person so strongly, yet that person, ultimately, is not the one.

On page 149, I began underlining a passage and didn't stop until the following page. This is some of what Gilbert wrote, a conversation between her and her new friend Richard (who calls her Groceries because of how much she can eat):

"I think the reason it's so hard for me to get over this guy is because I seriously believed David was my soul mate."

"He probably was. Your problem is you don't understand what that word means. People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that's what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that's holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life. A true soul mate is probably the most important person you'll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with your soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then they leave. And thank God for it. Your problem is, you just can't let this one go. It's over, Groceries. David's purpose was to shake you up ... tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light could get in ... . That was his job, and he did great, but now it's over. Problem is, you can't accept that this relationship had a real short shelf life. You're like a dog at the dump, baby — you're just lickin' at an empty tin can, trying to get more nutrition out of it. And if you're not careful, that can's gonna get stuck on your snout forever and make your life miserable. So drop it."

"But I love him."

"So love him."

"But I miss him."

"So miss him. Send him some love and light every time you think of him, and then drop it. You're just afraid to let go of the last bits of David because then you'll really be alone ... . But here's what you gotta understand, Groceries. If you clear out all that space in your mind that you're using right now to obsess about this guy, you'll have a vacuum up there, an open spot — a
doorway. And guess what the universe will do with that doorway? It will rush in ... and fill you with more love than you ever dreamed. So stop using David to block that door. Let it go."

"But I wish me and David could —"

He cuts me off. "See, now, that's your problem. You're wishin' too much, baby. You gotta stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone oughtta be."

And with that, I wrote in the margin, in capital letters, "WOW."

I underlined that passage many months ago. And since then, a similar situation has come to pass. I'm in the process of clearing out the space in my mind and growing a spine. No wonder my back hurts so much lately. All in all, so far, so good. Any day now, I'll expect the universe to rush in and fill me with more love than I've ever dreamed.

If her book is truly prophetic, I have a 50-something Brazilian named Felipe in my future.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Instant Gratification ...

It's not that I didn't already think that iTunes was miraculous, but tonight, "Just What I Needed" by The Cars popped into my head and I thought to myself, "The only thing I own by The Cars is on vinyl."

And I knew I needed to rectify the situation immediately.

But did I have to make myself presentable and put on shoes and grab a coat and hop in the car and drive to the pre-holiday insanity that is Best Buy? No, no I did not.

All I had to do was walk a few feet into my office, launch iTunes, search for The Cars, and click-click-click, buy The Cars: Complete Greatest Hits.

Oh, sweet nostalgia!

Let the good times roll.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Post I Wasn't Going To Post ...

What appears below in bold italics is as far as I got in the post that I alluded to in Horn, Untooted. The remainder of the post is my continuation of those thoughts tonight.

Today was one of those days, one of those rare and wonderful days, a gift from wherever gifts are granted.

Have you ever had one of those days when you just feel lighter, as though the emotional clouds have cleared, and you're more aware of who it is you are?

It may sound effusive, but that was my day. Today I realized that I am smart and capable, that others value what I have to say.

A friend of mine is writing a book. A small book, as books go, only 150 pages or so, but the expectations for its success are enormous. The North American advance was nearly $7 million. Overseas advances are piling up quickly. And the deadline is just over a month away.

Last week, my friend asked me if I'd read the first two chapters before he sent them to his publisher. I was tremendously honored.

So he sent them and I read them, but, me being me, I also edited them – lightly – as I went along, couching all my comments with question marks, making my edits into suggestions, really, because for the love of God, who the hell am I to be editing this man?

(Sometimes, I tap into my chutzpah, like the time I challenged Kurt Vonnegut about a detail in Cat's Cradle.)

I sent the chapters back to my friend. Shortly thereafter, the phone rang. (In the past, our conversations were few and far between, not because of intention but because of life. Since he's inked this book deal, though, we talk several times a week.)

"Beth, you're a good line editor," he said. He'd never seen my editing. Why would he? It's not like he runs his columns by me before he files. But it was nice to hear. I am a good editor. I don't have a formal journalism education. My university didn't offer that curriculum. I majored in English with a focus in non-fiction writing but I only took one actual journalism class. Most of my journalism education was on the job.

But I've always had an ear for language. And the perfectionist in me can't help but edit everything I see. (Today, in a piece on The Huffington Post, I read this sentence: "SEIU Local 99 in Los Angeles -- education workers who include teacher's aids, cafeteria workers and crossing guards -- yesterday fired former Clinton spokesman Chris Lehane from a consulting contract in support of the WGA." "Teacher's aids"?! Bad punctuation and bad spelling?! Nails on a chalkboard, people!)

As I was saying, I'm a good editor. And my friend said he'd incorporate my edits into the book. And I marveled that some of my work, a tiny bit, but a bit nonetheless, will become part of this book, which everyone is banking on to become a bestseller.

It will be a great book because it's being written by a great writer, but it will be a tiny bit better because of me.

And even if I didn't make a single suggestion about his prose, I'm flattered that he calls and asks my opinion on various ideas. Hell, I'm flattered that he calls just to blow off steam.

A couple years ago, I was on the phone with Composer Dave and I admitted to him that part of me is amazed that people want to be friends with me. "Beth!" he said, incredulously. But I wasn't fishing for a compliment. I often feel so inferior to other people, less savvy, less hip, less poised, less eloquent. Even less smart, which is ridiculous for someone who qualified to join Mensa.

But I'm coming around. The frequent phone calls with the book-writing friend are demonstrating to myself that people do indeed value what I have to say, that I am a good friend, loving and supportive.

Beyond the book, I've also been feeling more adept at my job lately, too. Like my judgment is finally on point, like I can stop second-guessing myself and just perform, confident in my decisions.

I guess it all comes down to growing. A lot. Quickly. The past couple months have been full of big changes, including the end of a couple of relationships that have been integral to my life for a very long time, the beginning of my training with Brandon, and another birthday.

The closer I get to 40, the more empowered I feel.

Holiday Baking ...

This is my freezer so far.

I still have five varieties of cookies to make.

How do I fit them all in there every year?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Dreaming In Great Detail ...

I just had a very protracted dream about Oprah, in which she died.

It was, as you might imagine, a very big deal, much like the death of Princess Diana.

I was with my friend Jen from my Thomson days when she got a phone call. "No," she said. "I never got a call from the Chicago Tribune." And she raced out of the building we were in to get to her car and the street was already abuzz. Nevermind that she never worked for the Tribune (I did), she had to go to work to help with the coverage. I followed her to her car.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Oprah was killed in a car accident," she said, opening her car door.


Turns out, Oprah was at a NASCAR event, screening a movie. Don't ask me how anyone was supposed to hear the movie while a NASCAR race was happening in front of them, but a dream's gotta have some element of the weird.

Anyway, if NASCAR tracks had shoulders at the top of the tracks, that's where Oprah was standing, when a car further down the track hit the wall, went airborne, flipped over, and landed on O.

Of course, there was video footage from a high-mounted camera on the track. Of course, the video was replayed over and over and over in its jerky, stop-motion way.

It was the topic of conversation everywhere I went, yet somehow, my mother hadn't heard. We were at a kids' soccer game, in the rain, sitting on wet, metal bleachers when I mentioned it to her.

She took what I was saying to mean that we didn't yet know if Oprah was injured or killed.

"A car landed on top of her," I said. "That's not something you walk away from."

We left the soccer game, walking through a school, and I saw Gayle King. I didn't know what to say to her, so I didn't say anything. She was there because she was scheduled to pick up Oprah, though why Oprah was supposed to attend the soccer game, I don't know. And why Gayle was there to pick her up, even though she was dead, I don't know.

I walked past her, with my mom, and headed outside.

"Jesus," I said. "Like someone else couldn't have done that for her? Like she needed a reminder?"

Weird. Weird, weird, weird.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I Stand Corrected ...

Last month, in this post, I wrote of Raising Sand, "... I'll predict right here and now that Robert Plant and Alison Krauss will win the Grammy for Best Performance by a Duo or Group next year for Rich Woman. Or for Killing the Blues or for something on this album."

Well, I was wrong. From, the category is actually Best Pop Collaboration With Vocals (For a collaborative performance, with vocals, by artists who do not normally perform together. Singles or Tracks only.)

And the nominees are:

Steppin' Out
Tony Bennett & Christina Aguilera
Track from: Duets: An American Classic

Beautiful Liar
Beyoncé & Shakira
Track from: B'Day (Deluxe Edition)
[Columbia/Sony Urban]

Gone Gone Gone (Done Moved On)
Robert Plant & Alison Krauss
[Rounder Records]

The Sweet Escape
Gwen Stefani & Akon
Track from: The Sweet Escape
[Interscope Records]

Give It To Me
Timbaland Featuring Nelly Furtado & Justin Timberlake
Track from: Timbaland Presents: Shock Value
[Mosley/Blackground/Interscope Records]

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Bake-A-Thon ...

You know the holidays are here when I fire up the oven and spend 8 hours baking on a Sunday and I only cross off 3.5 cookie varieties off my list. (I need to make another batch of oatmeal raisin, hence the .5.)

This year's new addition to the cookie family is Double Chocolate Chunk Peanut. A photo and the recipe can be found on my baking blog, here.

Last-Minute Revised Resolution ...

One of my resolutions for 2007 was to learn to play the guitar.

Well, it's December 9th. Odds are, learning to play the guitar isn't going to happen this year. I suppose I could start learning to play the guitar if I owned a guitar, but I do not.

I do, however, own a Yamaha keyboard. Not a full-size keyboard like real musicians play, but also not a Casiotone-sized keyboard like college-bound Ross played on Friends in the episode in which he almost takes Rachel to her prom.

Every so often, I haul it out (it lives in the closet off my office) and plug it in and play around.

But it's been a million years since I've really played – and I wasn't very good, even then (I hated music lessons as a kid) – and so these days, me as a keyboardist is nearly the equivalent of a hunt-and-peck typist. Playing a keyboard is decidedly not like riding a bike.

In the new year, I want to take up lessons again. I'm sure it will be infinitely harder to learn as an adult, but my goal is to learn to play this:

It is one of my all-time favorite pieces. I bought the sheet music today. God bless the Internet and instant gratification! This first page doesn't look too daunting, but in listening to the song today as I followed along on the page, I was reminded of how simply the piece opens. The notation gets far more complex on the latter pages, but the above image is a screen grab from the site where I bought the music. I don't have a scanner, so I can't post the rest of it. Nor should I.

Maybe by this time next year, I'll be able to play it. Or maybe I'll barely have moved on from Camptown Races. But it'll be good to get back to an instrumental pursuit.

Hugh Laurie, Comic Crooner ...

This television moment just popped into my head, so I decided to take a brief break from baking to hunt it down on YouTube and post a link:

I love him, I love him, I love him. I have a thing for men's hands and wrists. He has lovely hands.

Horn, Untooted ...

I started writing a post on Thursday night and stopped a few sentences in.

I had a really good day on Thursday, one of those days when I felt very with it, very capable, very aware that I have talent and a voice and that people value the things I say.

Not that those things should seem remarkable to me, nor should they only occur to me on rare days, but we creative types come with a larger factory-installed self-doubt component than most, I believe.

And this is, after all, my blog. By virtue of the fact that I write all its content, it is by definition about me. Not every topic is Beth-centric, of course, spewing details about my life, but every post is penned by me and so contains my views of the world, my opinions on all things opinable. (Blogger doesn't recognize "opinable" as a word, nor does my dashboard dictionary, but I like it; Beth's blog, Beth's prerogative to make up words.)

But I left that post in draft form and don't think I'll return to it. It just feels too weird to talk about myself that way.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Quick Observation ...

... as I watch Dirty Sexy Money: Donald Sutherland is one cool son of a bitch.

A Small Tail ...

Just about a year ago, I wrote this mouse post.

Tonight, I write another.

Last night, I went downstairs to empty the dehumidifier and spied what looked like a tail in my mouse trap. I don't have the usual mouse trap. I have a black box – kind of like a roach motel, but for a mouse, a mouse motel. Normally, a normal-sized mouse can be seen sticking out of the trap, but the last night's mouse was more wee. The tail was inside the box. Ew, ew, ew.

I was about to go to bed and I had no desire to deal with a dead mouse moments before my slumber, no desire to tote a mouse corpse outside, in the snow, to the garage. So I left Wee Mouse in the trap and went to bed.

This morning, though, I knew I had to face the mouse music.

I gotta tell you, even though I feel like a grown-up when I carry out my own mouse disposal, I would much rather, um, not. Would much rather not carry out my own mouse disposal, would much rather not feel like a grown-up, frankly, if that's the trade off for not having to hear the soft "thud!" of a dead mouse hitting the trash.

I've checked the trap throughout the day and so far, no mouse. In the past, my mouse quarries have happened swiftly. Mice, it seems, are unable to resist the heady aroma of rancid peanut butter. So with any luck, Wee Mouse was a one-off.

It's cold outside. Cold and snowy. My house is warm. Warm and inviting. A haven. But only for the invited. All others are subject to getting smooshed by a Kleenex. Or worse.

It's not that I like killing mice. If they'd just stay outside, we could peacefully coexist. I saw Ratatouille and I think Remy is cute as a bug. But if a rat showed up in my house, I wouldn't invite it to cook with me.

Winter In Fall ...

I still get excited about the first snow of the season. The first real snow, not the first flurries or the first icy slushy mix or the first dusting.

It started snowing early last night. It was still coming down when I went to bed. And this morning, I woke up to this:

(Not a bad shot considering I opened the door to my deck and stuck my arm out around the screen door because God forbid I go find shoes and bother to step outside!)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

For Your Very Much Procrastination Enjoyment ...

My sister-in-law's sister (Hi, Mary!) began a blog a while back. (Let's pause for a moment for me to wonder: Is my sister-in-law's sister also my sister-in-law? If my sister-in-law is my sister-in-law and her sister is her sister, isn't her sister also, technically, my sister-in-law? Does "in-law" apply to all the people from a family who are now related by marriage?)

I told her that I was subscribing to her blog so I would see whenever she updated her site, and she asked how one goes about subscribing to a blog.

There surely may be more than one way, but I'll mention Bloglines because I know about Bloglines.

Back in the mists of antiquity (as English Teacher Dave would say), I bookmarked all of my blogs of interest and, every morning, as part of my surfing routine, I'd check out each blog to see if it had been updated. More often than not, I was disappointed. Some people update their blogs regularly, but some people (cough – L.A. Dave) sometimes go for months between entries.

Enter Bloglines. Ethan is probably the one who told me about it. (Thanks, Eth.) You plug in the URLs of all the blogs that interest you, and Bloglines scans those sites for updates. When there's fresh content, the name of the blog appears in bold type with a number (of fresh posts) in parentheses following the title of the blog to let you know just how much bloggy goodness you have waiting.

And the content from the blogs loads into the Bloglines page as you click on each bold blog name, so you can read all your blogs locally, instead of surfing to each of the sites.

Some say the blog wave has crested and that the blog craze is now crashing on the beach, but I'm still writing and reading so I presume others are, as well. Then again, I've always been behind the curve on what's hip. In junior high school, I had friendship pins on my shoelace long after other, cooler kids had moved on. But if you're still reading blogs the old-fashioned way, surfing to site after site, hoping to find fresh content and being let down, Bloglines will spare you the disappointment.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Inspiration Is 99% Sitting On My Ass ...

Genius may be 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration, but I'm not a big fan of perspiring. Just ask my trainer. He keeps telling me that I should be sweating profusely during my cardio workout. So far, I haven't gotten there. I'm still in the sweating-delicately-dabbing-myself-with-a-lace-handkerchief mode, not the Albert-Brooks-in-Broadcast-News-flop-sweat mode. Though my ass isn't getting appreciably smaller, so maybe it's time to kick the treadmill into high gear.

Updated to add: After I wrote that last sentence, I went into the bathroom and looked in the mirror. You know, research. And as it turns out, my backside is indeed smaller, and, uh, firmer. The jiggle factor is all but gone. Woot! It's realizations like that that make working out worth it! Results! Actual results! Of course, the thing about exercise is that once you start, you can't stop. You can't get into shape and then say, "OK, I'm done!" You have to continue to work out to maintain. Amazingly, this does fact does not sadden me.

Anyway, speaking of my ass, I was putting it to good use a few nights ago watching Waitress. I didn't blog about it at length because I was so moved by one particular moment and I wanted to bask in that brilliance for the rest of the evening.

It's a lovely yet bittersweet film, lovely for the obvious care with which it was made, bittersweet for the knowledge that Adrienne Shelly was murdered before her film began its critical ascent.

There aren't many movies that I want to own purely from a filmmaking perspective, but Waitress is one such film. The script is brilliant. Robert McKee might rail against voiceovers in film, but they're used to such good effect in this movie that I don't think even he'd mind.

And then there's all the hype around Diablo Cody's movie, Juno. She's 29 and in the center of a whirlwind of attention. I remember being 29. I hadn't even started thinking about writing a movie. But I subscribe to Cody's blog and read her posts and think, "Huh. Our writing has the same chatty tone." Which is not to say that a chatty tone is all one needs to write a successful movie, but then again, I haven't really tried in earnest.

Oh, sure, I still work on my screenplay, but it's in drips and drabs. Every so often, a line of dialogue will leach out of my brain and I'll grab a pencil and a piece of paper and scrawl it down so it doesn't evaporate. If I was scrawling on cocktail napkins, I'd be a complete cliché.

But these two women have inspired me. (No, three women; let's toss Sophia Coppola into the mix, too.) I know I have what it takes to write a great screenplay. And 2008 is nearly here, a clean slate just ready to be written with resolutions.

My movie is based on events in my own life, and right now, I do believe I'm living the third act. But I've never expected life to hand me the ending. That part's up to me.

My high school theater coach once told me that my dialogue was "organic," that I write the way people actually talk. All righty, then. Me and my organic dialogue are going to get busy and crank out a movie.

Right after the holidays.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Pondering Post-Its ...

One night, years ago, when I worked at the Tribune, I had plans to go out with my friend Rick after work. Something came up late in the day and I disappeared from my desk for a while. When I returned, I found a yellow Post-It in the middle of my desk. In pencil, Rick had written:

B –
Where are you?

I framed it. Seriously. It's in a little square frame on the bookshelf right behind me.

And I regularly ask myself, "Where am I?" Usually, I'm in a pretty good place.

Now I'd like a matching Post-It that reads:

B –
Who are you?

I've been waking up very reliably right around 6:20 these days. This morning, I woke up at 6:17 and rolled over, saying to no one, "I don't have to get up yet." And I drifted off, woke up, looked at the clock, and it was 6:22. Fine, I thought. I'll get up.

Yesterday was a similar situation. I woke up early (or, earlier than I'd like to on a weekend) and hauled myself out of bed.

I'd decorated my tree Friday night, so yesterday morning I made some coffee and sat in the living room, sipping. I love the glow from a tree. And then I thought I'd wrap a few more presents.

One of my reasons for asking "Who are you?" of late is that I am nearly done with my Christmas shopping. I just turned my calendar pages to December and I'm nearly done with my Christmas shopping? That's not like me.

I ended up wrapping everything I've bought. Though I held off on ribboning. Maybe I'll ribbon today.

My holiday cards were mailed on November 26. I bought the cards in October. That's not like me.

I won't launch into the holiday baking just yet. That'll begin next weekend. But I've had this year's cookie list established for a week or two and I've bought a lot of the ingredients already.

When I was done wrapping yesterday, I put up my second (and final) Christmas tree in my dining area. It's the sweetest tree, so obviously, cheesily fake. I have an artificial tree in my living room (bought a couple years ago when Dad was in the hospital and there was no way I was going to get around to cutting down a tree) but it looks rather real, at a glance. But the one in my dining area is clearly not.

It was the tree we had in our basement when I was growing up, the tree we'd drape in garish gold garland and handmade ornaments and colored lights. I made a huge "silver" star for the top out of cardboard and tin foil. When I moved into my first apartment, my parents gave the tree to me. These days, I've left the garish gold garland behind in favor of off-white and olive green and copper ornaments. The star no longer suits the tree. So yesterday, I remembered a bag of some Christmassy craft stuff I had in a closet, and hauled it out, along with some fine-gauge wire and some wire cutters and fashioned a small wreath for the top of the tree.

OK, first of all, I just happened to have a small grapevine wreath lying around the house. And a spray of fake grapes. I tied some purple satin ribbon around the base of the wreath to hide where I wired on the grapes, but the purple was too royal for the color scheme of the tree, so I poked around the house to find something more suitable and settled on a piece of muslin I had left over from making cafe curtains for the guest room. I snipped the selvage edge and tore a long strip. It worked well for my purposes. The light color of the muslin seemed too stark against the tree, but once I added my "tree skirt" (which are a couple of lace valances that I obviously don't use as valances), the lighter colors tied themselves together

I also did all my laundry yesterday. And ran to the post office, even though the ground was coated with a lovely, treacherous blanket of snow with a thick, crunchy ice topping.

I made several attempts to sit on the couch and watch TV, but I kept hopping up to do things, so I eventually just gave in to the perpetual motion.

So today, I have the entire day free. Short of needing to empty my dishwasher, I have no chores in front of me.

Maybe I'll organize all my CDs.

Because I bought a new CD rack situation and it was delivered Friday, Flat-pack, of course. It all went together quite easily until the last bit of assembly. One of the pieces was simply too long. There was no way it was going to fit where it was supposed to fit. So I grabbed a 3M sanding block and took it outside and sanded it down.

Seriously, who am I these days? Where is all this ambition coming from? Do I have more energy from my increased muscle mass?

Or maybe I'm just coming out of the funk I've been in for the past six weeks.