Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My True Addiction ...

Sugar is my beard.

I have a much bigger addiction. Not many of you know of it. It's simply not discussed. I keep it in a drawer in my closet. It brings me an inordinate amount of pleasure.

I am addicted to curling ribbon.

I have 29 different colors, with back-ups of some, for a total of 32 economy-size spools, each 500 yards. Not that all the spools are full. But if they were, all the ribbon, put end to end, would span 48,000 feet, more than 9 miles, just over 72 city blocks.

Tonight, leaving Target, having bought Halloween gifts for my nephews and niece, I decided to go to Party City. One of the colors lacking in my curling-ribbon collection was pale yellow, and I had a present to wrap for Gretchen's baby shower/cocktail party on Saturday.

Party City is my pusher. So many colors of curling ribbon, often on sale. So I made my way across the street to score some, and as I pulled into the parking lot, I remembered that tonight is the night before Halloween.

Party City was mobbed. Apparently, I'm not the only procrastinator on the planet. I don't dress up for Halloween, but if I did, I'd like to think that I'd have my costume in hand more than 24 hours before I'd need it. Because, much like the selection of Mother's Day cards the night before, the selction isn't great for Halloween costumes on Halloween Eve.

Note to my mom: I always buy your cards well in advance of Mother's Day, but I've been in Walgreen's the nights before Mother's Days past and I've seen the sorry, guilt-ridden lot scavenging the sparse racks like mangy hyenas picking over a carcass after a lion's had its fill.

Note to self: What the hell was that?

As I was saying, I must be insane to venture into a party store the night before Halloween, but I needed my pale yellow curling ribbon fix. I scored a spool and noted several new colors. But I was strong. I bought only what I came for. Because I wanted to review my current inventory before snatching up new spools. As it is, my stash has already spilled over into a second drawer. I need to show a little restraint. Besides, if I wait for it to go on sale, I can buy more.

The thing of it is, I don't just like to own 29 colors of curling ribbon (a tally that will soon soar past the 30 mark!), I like to use it. A lot of it. People know me by my bows. My curling ribbon precedes me.

This is a gift I wrapped for Gemma and Dave's co-ed baby shower/cocktail party last year. Gemma instantly knew which gift was mine. Several women oohed over my bow. "How do you do that?!" they asked. I said we could all convene on another day for a curling-ribbon workshop. But we never did. The scale of this gift saves me, though. On a present of this size, my curling-ribbon addiction is less evident. But I use nearly that much on a small package, too. Imagine a CD with that kind of bow on it. It's more than a little absurd.

But it makes me happy. And a girl's gotta have a vice.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Why I'm Not A Doctor ...

"Wow, you once thought of going into medicine! That's fascinating. Whatever happened -- the MCAT? (It's stopped more than one would-be doctor in his/her tracks.) Have you ever thought of going into medical writing? From what I hear it's a lucrative specialty field," commented an Anon on my last post.

Medicine is a long way from what I do for a living and a lot of people have no idea that I was once pre-med. So, hey, why not write a post about how I didn't end up in a white coat with a stethescope around my neck?

I remember, at a rather young age, that I wanted to be a doctor. My cousin Lora was going to be my nurse. (Lora, actually, became a nurse.) There was no huge precipitating event that made me want to be a doctor; it just seemed like a good idea. I remember having a yellow plastic doctor's bag filled with the usual doctor swag. I remember telling my grandmother that she could stay at my hospital for free. And at that age, there were only so many answers to, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I wasn't about to choose something like a secretary. Hell no. I always aimed high. Doctor. Yup, that's for me. And hey, they make a lot of money. So much the better.

And then, a few years on, I remember hearing my parents talk about their lawyer billing $125 an hour. I'd never heard of such a thing. And right then, I decided I should be a lawyer, because I very much liked the idea of making $125 an hour. I never bothered to understand that what lawyers bill and what lawyers earn are not the same thing. Whatever. It sounded like an exorbitant amount of money. Lawyer. OK, then.

But the idea of medicine kept poking me in the brain. And I became more and more aware of cancer (or maybe cancer was in the news more and more), and I decided that I would go into oncology research.

That's right: I was going to find the cure for cancer. As Daniel Burnham said, "Make no small plans." Or was it Machiavelli?

My junior year of high school, I doubled up on science and took Anatomy and Physics. I loved both of my teachers. Mr. Wilkinson taught Anatomy. Mr. Wichern taught Physics. For me, Anatomy was easy, Physics was hard. Or maybe I was just interested in Anatomy and disinterested in Physics. In any event, I soaked up Anatomy like a surgical sponge. All the muscles, all the bones. I still remember a lot of it.

But Physics? Bah. Mind you, Mr. Wichern was a great teacher. He made Physics fun. He had silly names for the labs, like the "Greasy Chicken on Teflon Lab, Bucky" or the "Walkin' Like a Farmer Lab, Bucky." Every lab ended with "Bucky." He explained why. I've since forgotten. Someone named Bucky was involved.

The final exam for Physics was to launch a spring and get it to land within a defined circle on the floor. The idea was that we were supposed to calculate the trajectory and how much tension to apply to the spring to figure out how far it had to travel to land within the circle. Or, we could just eyeball it. Either way. It didn't matter. If the spring landed in the circle, we'd get an A.

I did not get an A.

But I loved Anatomy. Naturally, my lazy ass is a pretty big fan of anything that comes so easily. But it was more than the decided lack of effort I needed to expend that attracted me to the science. It truly fascinated me. I've always loved understanding how things work. Remember those little films that Mr. Rogers used to show, like, "How Crayons Are Made"? Loved those.

So when I was a senior, I took Biology II, an AP class, thinking I could possibly test out of some bio in college (except that my lab partner, Paul, in Bio II was a total slacker and it was way more fun to goof off with him than to be a serious student, so my plan to actually learn anything that year pretty much went out the window). I also took Theater Arts that year. (I've always loved the view from a stage.)

One day in Theater Arts, our teacher, Mr. Sweeney, told the class that all the seniors would get up and give impromptu speeches about their plans for after graduation. I suspect he just didn't have a lesson plan that day.

But that day, I stood behind the lectern and started to address the class. I would be attending Loyola University in the fall, I said. I would be pursuing a degree in medicine, ultimately. I made eye contact with my classmates, but in my peripheral vision, I could see Mr. Sweeney, sitting on his barstool at the back of the class, shaking his head.

I continued on with my speech, but the head-shaking continued as well. I finally stopped my speech to look at him and say, "What?"

"You're not going to be a doctor," he said.

"Yes, I am, Mr. Sweeney. I'm going to Loyola and I'm going to get a degree in medicine."

"No, you're going to be a writer."

"I beg to differ. I'm going to be a doctor. I'm quite sure."

"Maybe you'll write medical textbooks, but you're going to be a writer," he said very matter-of-factly.

Huh. Well, that was interesting. No one had ever told me before that I was going to be a writer. On an earlier day in Sweeney's class, we had to write poetry in iambic pentameter. You know, Shakespeare-speak. So I wrote. And then we had to read them to the class. I remember the last line of my poem: "You'll always be a wretched whore, we knew it at your birth." Nice, eh?

As I was reading my poem, Mr. Sweeney walked toward my desk. As I finished, I looked up and there he was, standing in front of me, hands outstretched. "Can I have that?" he asked, his voice slightly quiet with a hint of reverence, as if he'd just heard from The Bard himself.

"Um, sure," I said, and handed it to him. Maybe that's when he knew I was going to be a writer. Or maybe it was the day I asked him to read something I'd written on my own time and he asked me if I had really written it or copied it from somewhere. At the time, I was too flattered to be insulted.

In any event, Mr. Sweeney had planted the writing bug in my ear. Huh. Writing. Who gets paid for writing? Journalists get paid for writing. OK, then: journalism school. I knew that Southern Illinois University had a journalism program. That's as far as I went with my research. I didn't bother checking out Columbia or Northwestern or the other noted j-schools. I had friends going to SIU. That was good enough for me.

So I applied and got accepted (duh, it was a party school; I didn't think it'd be too hard to get in) and went down there to register for classes and get my housing assignment and all that logistical stuff. And as I was driving home, through what felt like hours of cornfields, my father asleep in the passenger seat, I thought, "I don't want to go to SIU. I don't like the classes I have to take. I don't like where I'm going to live. And it's six hours from home."

The next day, sitting on the floor of my parents' bedroom, I told my mom, who was making her bed, "I don't want to go to SIU."

"OK," she said. "Where are you going to go?"

Mind you, this was like the beginning of August.

"Well, we've already sent in my acceptance for Loyola, so I'll just go there," I said.

"I don't think so."

"What?"

"Honey, if you really want to be a doctor, we'll find a way to pay for it, but if you're not sure, we're not going to spend $12,000 a year for you to think about it."

(Twelve thousand a year. Isn't that quaint by today's standards?)

Well, crap. A wave of panic hit me. Suddenly, I didn't have a school.

Both my brothers went to the University of Illinois at Chicago, which was on quarters, meaning the fall term didn't start until the third week of September.

I decided I could go there for a year, figure things out, and then transfer.

So that's what I did.

At residual registration, Gerry Sorensen (who would turn out to be one of my favorite professors), a dean in L.A.S. (the college of Liberal Arts and Sciences), asked, "Why are you here?"

"Um, to register for classes?" I said, wondering why he was asking such an obvious question.

"No, I mean, why are you here. Why didn't you do this sooner?"

"Because I just got accepted last week."

"Oh. OK." And he helped me pick classes. "What was your ACT in English?"

"24."

"Yeah, you're not taking Freshman Comp. Come with me."

And he walked me over to the Honors College table. "Do you have any openings in 111?"

"Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 8 a.m."

He turned to me. "You're taking Freshman Colloquium 111."

"OK."

So that's what I did.

Freshman Colloquium 111 was taught by Mary Thale. (Why can't I remember what I need when I walk in a room specifically to get something but I can remember the name of the woman who taught my first English class in college in 1987?) It was not an easy class. But I did well. And you know why? Because I'd had English Teacher Dave for Senior Honors English the year before. I've told him several times over the years that there's no way I would have been prepared for college English if it hadn't been for him, him and his advanced grading scale. In Dave's class, you needed a 93 for an A. You needed an 86 for a B. You needed 78 for a C. And you needed 70 for a D. Most classes would fail you if you fell below 60. Not Dave. His threshold was 70. And thank God. I was plenty pissed at him my senior year, receiving 91s and 92s on papers that counted as Bs. But he made me think and he made me write and he made me a better student.

I had pre-med courses my freshman year and they weren't easy. I had pre-med courses my sophomore year and they weren't easy. I took English 201, Introduction to Non-fiction Writing, the fall of my sophomore year to lighten my load. The first assignment I turned in came back with the following written across the top of the first page: "A+ Absolutely grrrrrrreat!"

Huh. Really? I'd never gotten an A+ before. And it was a breeze to write. It didn't feel like work. It was fun. Huh. Hmm. I got an A in Linda's class. We're still friends.

The next term, I took Precalculus Algebra, Intermediate German, Introduction to the Writing of Poetry, Introduction to the Writing of Fiction, and Writing for Print Media. It was the only journalism class in UIC's curriculum. It was taught by Rob Moore. I thought he was one of the coolest human beings I'd ever met. We're still friends.

I got a D in German (it was my fourth year of German; I'd just stopped caring). I got a C in Pre-Calc (I've always hated math). I got a B in Poetry (good enough; I don't fancy myself a poet). I got an A in Fiction. And I got an A in Print Media. (Taking five classes per quarter was not recommended, but taking three writing classes hardly felt like too much work to me.)

By then, I'd gotten frustrated with all the prerequisites in the pre-med program. I was at English Teacher Dave's for dinner one night, and as he busied himself in the kitchen after dinner, I kept him company by bitching about school. I was railing against having to take physics. I desperately wanted to take Anatomy 113 (was it?), the anatomy class in which students started learning anatomy on cadavers. Physics just seemed beside the point.

"Someday when I'm standing in the ER with my hand in some guy's chest, what's it going to matter if I can calculate the velocity of an object?" I asked, sounding very justified in my indignance.

English Teacher Dave looked at me and said, "Beth, did you ever consider that all those prerequisites are the university's way of weeding out the serious students from the not-so-serious students?"

That statement was like a medicine ball to the stomach. Ooof.

Right around that same time, I was at home one weekend, lying in my waterbed (oh, yeah, that's right, a waterbed), reading, and I looked up at a poster that English Teacher Dave had brought me from the Smithsonian. It hangs next to my desk today. It's a sepia-toned medium shot of Einstein and the quote at the bottom of the poster reads, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."

And in that moment, all those years ago, it seemed to say, "English is more important than pre-med."

And I went back to school and declared my major in English. I still took a few science and math classes, but my pre-med days were over.

In relatively recent years, I've thought about going to med school. But then the reality of all the classes I'd have to pick up and then med school itself and then an internship and then a residency hits me and I realize that it's too much to tackle this late in the game. Though I worked on a project a few years ago for the Los Angeles Department of Health Services and it was cool, hanging out in all the hospitals.

Some days, I think about what my life would have been if I would have become a doctor. Maybe I would have focused on research or maybe I would have practiced. But it's all moot. I got a degree in English and went to work for the Chicago Tribune.

At UIC, I took a one-off class taught by Charles Leroux, then the editor of Tempo at the Trib. I did well enough. I wasn't his star pupil – maybe he didn't have a star pupil – but I pulled off a few good pieces. Once, I had to drop off a paper for him at the Tower.

And a couple years later, I was working there. I don't expect he ever thought I'd end up working anywhere near him, but I spent two years working in features at the Trib. Charles had moved on from being Tempo editor to being a senior writer.

He's still there.

I am not.

But I'm still writing. Some of it even gets published.

On Sunday during brunch, Nat asked me if I'd ever write a book. I'd love to write a book. I just don't know what to write a book about. I've tried my hand at fiction, but I don't think I have the knack to write a novel. Non-fiction is my jag. Hence this blog.

To answer Anon's question, no, I've never thought of medical writing. I suspect I don't have enough of a medical background to make it in that niche. So Mr. Sweeney's prediction that I might write medical textbooks will remain unrealized.

But, overall, he was right: I'm a writer.

It took me a long time to realize it. Somewhere in my DNA, I believe that anything worth doing must be difficult. Writing has always come far too easily for me to consider it "real work."

But words course through my veins. Bad grammar and punctuation are nails on a chalkboard. Writers write, the saying goes.

And I am, because I do.

But every once in a while, my mom still calls me Doctor Beth. And I have a copy of the Color Atlas of Human Anatomy on my bookshelf.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

High School Reunion ...

I didn't go to my 20th reunion two weeks ago. I thought about it, but at the end of the day, with the advent of the Internet, it's pretty easy to track down anyone who might be on your mind, and I was put off by the prospect of paying 60-some bucks for a cash bar and a buffet, which, my friend Henry wrote on his blog, was bar pizza and some bad pre-fab food service crap.

I asked him to report on who was there, and he rattled off some names of people I liked a lot when I went to school. So it would have been nice to see them. Maybe I'll go to my 25th. If there is a 25th. I hear attendance at these reunions is rather pathetic.

You know, because people like me don't attend.

But today my friend (and Anatomy desk partner) Natalie came over for brunch. We hadn't seen each other since she graduated 21 years ago (she was a year ahead of me). We've traded e-mails and Christmas cards, but when I opened the door today, I was seeing her for the first time in more than two decades.

And she's still as gorgeous as she was then. "And 50 pounds heavier," she said. Oh, Nat, Nat, Nat. So much hyperbole. Looking at a picture of her from prom court, she sighed, "Why don't I look like that anymore?"

"Because you're not 17," I said.

Nat modeled part-time in high school. And she could model today.

Today was my kind of high school reunion: Pomegranate mimosas and scones and the most fabulous array of fresh fruit, thanks to Nat. (Fruit's not on the Brandon Plan – not that mimosas are – but I made an exception today. I figure, seeing someone for the first time in 21 years counts as a special occasion.) While we noshed and drank (and drank some more), I baked off a cheese and spinach strata, which I'd never made before. Usually, it's a bad idea to try out a recipe for the first time when company is involved, but really, how can you go wrong with some milk, some bread, some eggs, some spinach and sauteed onion, and mounds of Parmesan and Gruyere?

As Nat says, "I like me some cheese!" I like me some cheese, too!

She was here three hours, and they flew by. It was lovely to feel so at ease with her after not seeing her for so long. But we have a lot in common, probably more now than we did then.

And she brought me the cutest birthday gift – I like getting birthday gifts two weeks before my birthday! – which she made with her own two hands. She says she's not creative, but she's surely crafty.

Years ago, back when we were Anatomy pals, she gave me a mug for my birthday. I still use it. It holds my makeup and hair brushes in my bathroom. It's a black mug with a white phrase printed on the side: "Life's a bitch, then you die."

That pretty much summed up my attitude in high school.

But then, that pretty much sums up everyone's attitude in high schoool.

All these years later, we're both rather happy with who we are and who we're becoming.

As she was leaving, she said, "OK, well, I'll see you when you're almost 60!" She was pleased with herself for that quip!

A large part of my decision not to go to my reunion two weeks ago was that I had little desire to see most of the people in my graduating class. A high school and college friend got in touch with me this year and wanted to rekindle our "friendship" but I declined. It was difficult for me to stand by that decision. I was worried about hurting him. But our relationship had been very lopsided, with him doing most of the taking and me doing most of the giving, and I knew that seeing him again was the wrong thing for me. Some people are in your life and then they're gone and that's the way it's meant to be.

And some people are in your life and then they're gone and then they come back. And you realize that they've returned because you have new things to learn from each other.

So Nat's back.

I might start buying champagne by the case.

Update: Tonight my feeble memory managed to extract that I saw Nat once in Champaign during her freshman year at U of I. So I guess it hasn't been 21 years since we've seen each other. I guess it's only been 20 years.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hi, I'm Beth and I'm an -oseaholic ...

Sucrose. Fructose. Glucose. If it's got an -ose, I like it.

Which is why I try not to keep sugar in the house. Mind you, it's not like I'll tear the cover off my sugar canister and chug it like a frat boy, but cookies? Nope. Ice cream? Nope. Candy? Nope.

Not on any regular basis, anyway. If I buy ice cream, I buy the slow-churned, lower-fat stuff or frozen yogurt and ice cream cones. Cake cones, not sugar cones. (Yay, me!) Because if I eat ice cream on a cone, I eat less than if I eat ice cream in a bowl. But my self-control is as present as Ferris Bueller, so after one or two servings, I dump the carton's contents down my garbage disposal. Yes, I know it's wasteful, but it's hard to donate a partially eaten carton of ice cream to a good cause.

If I buy cookies, I eat however many cookies I eat with a glass of milk and then I throw out the rest. Sometimes I toss them onto my lawn for the neighborhood critters. Or kids. Whoever. (Oh, I joke. Relax.)

I rarely buy ice cream and I rarely buy cookies but I really rarely buy candy.

Except when Halloween draws near. And then I stock up on treats for the kiddles. I buy candy a couple weeks before Halloween and I put it in my closet. And there it sits. Tempting me.

"Oh, come on, Beth," say the little boxes of Dots. "You can have one little box of Dots. You love Dots. Even though the yellow ones taste exactly like lemon Pledge."

"Psst!" say the fun-size Snickers. "We're practically real food. We have peanuts!"

"So do we!" Ooh, those yellow bastard pouches of peanut M&Ms. They think they're so anthropomorphic, those little chocolate-covered legumes in their bright candy shells.

And then there are the Skittles and the Kit-Kats and the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. They all call to me, too. The Skittles with their chewy, fruity, rainbow-y goodness, and the Kit-Kats, akin to the Nutty Bars of my Little Debbie-eating college days, and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, quite possibly one of the all-time best contributions to humankind. According to Wikipedia, "They were created ca. 1928 by H. B. Reese, a former dairy farmer and shipping foreman for Milton S. Hershey." To my knowledge, Mr. Reese never won the Nobel Peace Prize, but he should have. Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are not only delicious, they are the epitome of harmonious coexistence. I bet North Korea doesn't have Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

Anyway. Yesterday, I stashed the basket of treats and their siren songs on the highest shelf in my walk-in closet, far away from the door. Out of sight, out of mind. Right?

Um, no.

But I haven't gone back to the basket of sugary evil. I've wanted to. Several times today I thought, "Ooh, I just want one box of Dots. Just one." But there's no such thing as one. While there are Dots to be eaten, Dots will be et.

(English Teacher Dave uses the word "et," which isn't actually a word, but hey, he's an English teacher. He can make up words if he wants to.)

So I've started approaching my sugar addiction like an alcoholic deals with alcohol: one moment at a time. When I wanted to snag a piece of candy earlier, I stopped myself and chose not to eat sugar in that moment. And for several moments after that. And then I got busy doing something else and I forgot about the candy. And now I'm thinking about it again, but I don't want it. Because I want to be free of my sugar addiction more than I want a lemon Pledge-flavored Dot.

(And yes, I recognize that I could wait until the last minute to buy Halloween candy and maybe next year I'll do just that.)

Once Halloween is over, I'm pretty much in the clear. On Thanksgiving, I have one tiny piece of pumpkin pie and that's plenty. And when I start the Christmas baking, I'm so sick of being around cookies that the last thing I want to do is eat them, until after I've been done baking for quite a while, at which point I've given most of them away. So I'm safe there.

I suppose there's sugar in Champagne for New Year's, but I don't drink Champagne on New Year's. It's not a great accompaniment to Chinese food. And I don't do Valentine's Day candy. And St. Patrick's Day is all about the corned beef (sugar-free!) and green beer (and I don't like beer!) which takes us to Easter, when I'll break down and have a few jellybeans and maybe a chocolate bunny (sorry, L.A. Dave).

But even this sugar addict draws the line at Peeps. Holy gritty mother of God, the Peeps. They're beyond inedible. The Just Born Peep makers should just toss them into the trash immediately after making them, because I reckon that's where the majority of the Peep population ends up anyway, in a great annual Peepocide. I suspect many of those Peeps are missing their heads. That's about as far as people seem to get before realizing, all over again, that Peeps are disgusting and are not fit for consumption.

They do, however, put on a good show in the microwave.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Things My Trainer Told Me ...

So, here I am in Week 4 of my personal trainer extravaganza, which is really Week 3 because Week 1 was really only one day because of my parents and their magical mystery tour of the local medical center.

But, as I've mentioned, after Day 1, I could scarcely walk, so I think one day was plenty that first week. Because if I would have added my arms to the mix later in the week, I would have been rendered immobile. Funny how things have a way of working out. So to speak.

Today I learned today in Googling Brandon that he's bodybuilding's Mr. Indiana 2007 (when he showed me the pictures of him from this past summer's competition, he may have mentioned that he won, but I don't think he told me that he won that title). He has me on an eating plan that includes five meals a day in order to rev up my metabolism and they're protein-intensive to help my muscles recover every day, which is working like a charm, as I can now go to the gym and work reasonably hard (for me, anyway) and I no longer wake up a day or two later in pain. Nifty.

The eating plan isn't anything revolutionary. It's mostly stuff that I already knew I should be eating because it's the same stuff most of us should be eating: lean protein, veggies, some complex carbs, no sugar, healthy fats, lots of water. For convenience's sake, I also whip up protein shakes in my handy-dandy Waring blender (a birthday gift from Tracy a million years ago). The canister of powder is alarmingly large and it ain't cheap (about $40), but it's a nice way to get chocolate into my day.

Today, after our session, Brandon and I chatted for a bit about my eating and cardio and such. (Note: Brandon says to do your cardio first thing in the morning or after a workout, when you don't have glycogen to burn so your body has to burn fat.) He said he can see in my face that things are changing, and he's right. My cheekbones are more pronounced. My face has thinned out more. I was holding my bottle of water and sunglasses while we talked. I set them down and said, "OK, I'm going to suck in my stomach for this demonstration, but ..." and I pulled my shirt taut around me and turned sideways and said, "I didn't look like this when I first walked in here."

So his plan is working, even in these few short weeks. My effort is paying off. I'll confess that I haven't entirely given up sugar, but it's hard for an addict to go cold turkey. The good news is that when I do eat it, I feel like utter crap and my body says, "What are you doing? Don't eat that." So my sugar consumption is very infrequent. Though I know that "very infrequent" needs to become "not at all."

Brandon, I'm grateful to say, is understanding when it comes to incorporating changes. He doesn't expect his clients to be perfect overnight. Which is more than I can say for myself. I expect perfection all the time, but never seem to get there.

But I'm proud of myself for doing this, for sticking with it.

When I embarked on this project, L.A. Dave sent me the Gabrielle Reese photo spread from Playboy, for inspiration. I'm a long way away from looking like Gabby Reese, but I'm closer than I was three weeks ago.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

'Evening' ...

Oh my.

You'd think that cramming a movie full of Vanessa Redgrave and Meryl Streep and their offspring (Natasha Richardson and Mamie Gummer) and Claire Danes and Toni Colette and Glenn Close would yield some cinematic alchemy and their collective star power would produce enough G forces to pin you to your seat, riveted until the credits rolled.

You'd think.

But you'd be wrong.

Granted, I started watching this adaptation of the novel by Susan Minot when I was tired and I fell asleep and woke up in a different part of the movie, but my reaction wasn't, "Oh, I can't wait to finish it tomorrow." It was, "I think I'll just send it back," so unenthralled was I with what I managed to see before I became unconscious.

But I finished it the next day. It's not that it's a bad story. I think it's just better-suited to novel form. Flashing back and forth between then and now is easy to follow in a novel, a chapter of then, a chapter of now. But in a movie, it starts feeling disjointed. Not that some movies don't employ flashbacks to very good effect, but this wasn't one of them.

Glenn Close has a small part in the movie but the woman can't turn in a bad performance. Meryl Streep, too, has a small role and she has the best line in the movie. But the rest of movie left me thinking, "Eh." It's never a good thing when you're watching a character-driven piece and you find yourself not caring about the characters.

Minot also wrote Stealing Beauty which was turned into a movie more than 10 years ago starring Liv Tyler and Jeremy Irons. I really liked that movie. Irons turns in a great performance, but then, when doesn't he? Though I still don't understand why he was in Inland Empire. Then again, I don't understand why anyone agreed to be in Inland Empire.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Springsteen, Revisited ...

I'm listening to Bruce today, my usual m.o. after a concert, reliving the evening, and Magic is growing on me. I think I have a new appreciation for it after seeing several of the songs performed live.

Our seats sucked (Mom loves Bruce, too; this was her fourth show) but seeing as how the last time we saw him, we were standing about 20 feet from the front of the stage, it all balances out. And my sense of concerts is that it doesn't really matter where you are if you're in the same arena with the performer. Because unless you're standing against the front of the stage, proximity doesn't really mean anything. And if you're not a young Courtney Cox, it's not like Bruce is going to reach down into the audience and pull you up on stage. He sang Dancin' in the Dark last night as part of the encore, right after Born to Run, and kept everyone in a frenzy.

This is the write-up from Backstreets.com:

October 21 / Chicago, IL / United Center
Notes: Heading into tonight's show, the first of two in Chi-town, a friend of mine (who can't make it for show #2) was concerned about "First Night Syndrome" -- in which the first of a two-night stand gets a straight "model A" setlist, with all the rarities saved for night two. No worries this time. Who knows, Bruce may go completely off the map tomorrow, but Chicago 1 got a nice batch of wild cards. "No Surrender" had only its third tour airing, "Adam Raised a Cain" was the meat in that always-tasty "Reason"/"She's the One" sandwich, and check out the post-"Promised Land" three-pack: "Your Own Worst Enemy" (played tonight for the second time ever), "Backstreets," and "Cadillac Ranch."

Patti was absent tonight, and Bruce dedicated "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" to her: "Patti sends her regards... it's a kid thing, that's all I can tell ya!" The band's other redhead, Soozie Tyrell, came downstage from behind the piano to take Patti's spot, even dueting with Bruce on "Magic."

Introducing "Thundercrack" as his original showstopper, Bruce said that the song "goes all the way back to the Quiet Knight days." The Quiet Knight was a Chicago club that no longer exists -- Springsteen played a five-night stand there, opening for The Persuasions, back in 1973. Sensing that the reference might not mean much to some in the crowd, Bruce added, "that was way back before the Fire."

Setlist:
Radio Nowhere
No Surrender
Lonesome Day
Gypsy Biker
Magic
Reason to Believe
Adam Raised a Cain
She's the One
Livin' in the Future
The Promised Land
Your Own Worst Enemy
Backstreets
Cadillac Ranch
Devil's Arcade
The Rising
Last to Die
Long Walk Home
Badlands
* * *
Girls in Their Summer Clothes
Thundercrack
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
American Land


I'm a big Bruce fan, but I'm relatively new to this party. My first Bruce show was in 2002. And while I own a lot of his earlier stuff, I'm not intimately familiar with all of it the way I am with The Rising and Devils and Dust. So there were moments where I wasn't as plugged into the show as some of the life-long fans around me. Which isn't to say I was bored – it's impossible to be bored at a Springsteen show – but the experience on those songs wasn't the same as on songs from the new album or Badlands or No Surrender.

Born in the USA dropped when I was in high school and I remember my friend Jennifer being agog over Bruce and I remember thinking to myself, "What's the big deal?" It's not that I didn't like the songs, but they didn't resonate with me the way they did with her. I lost touch with her shortly after high school but I wonder if she's still a fan and attending the shows. Maybe I'll run into her someday.

So, another Bruce album, another Bruce tour. At the end of the day, the man still looks damn fine in a pair of black Levi's. And he still feeds off the energy of the crowd and puts on a great show. But then, when there's that much energy, how can you not succumb?

I love the view from a stage. I haven't been on one in a while, but last night, I tried to put myself in Bruce's shoes to understand what it must feel like to be on a stage surrounded by 20-some-thousand people, all bellowing your name: "Bruuuuuuuuuuuuce!"

It's more than I can fathom.

Labels:

Springsteen ...

He's 58 and still bringin' it. Tonight wasn't my favorite Bruce concert (of the seven I've been to in the past five years) but it was still a great time.

Then again, I love him enough that I could just go to sing Born to Run with Bruce and the band and the 20-some-thousand other people and then go home. That'd be enough for me.

More tomorrow, when I'm not in danger of face-planting on my desk.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Annie Lennox ...

Friday, I was fried.

It was a crazy day, trying to, you know, work, and finish the baking for my friend Cheryl's baby shower (which was today, Saturday, even though the time stamp on this will be Sunday, because it's 2 a.m. and for some insane reason, I can't get to sleep, so I'm blogging in bed), and get to the gym (though Brandon called to cancel our appointment once I was already there and on the treadmill for 15 minutes, which was a nice waste of 45 minutes that could have been spent taking the edge off the craziness), so the last thing I felt like doing as the day wore down was going out. I would have much preferred to sit on the couch or just chuck it all in and go to bed early.

But earlier this year, I got into a bit of a habit of buying concert tickets and then not going to the shows. Annie Lennox certainly wasn't the most expensive ticket I bought this year (that honor goes to The Police) but with the TicketBastard fees, it was a few cents shy of $100, so I went.

It was an outstanding show. One of the best concerts I've ever been to. Even Greg Kot from the Chicago Tribune liked it, and he's a tough nut to crack. (I seem to remember he didn't like U2's How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb and that Bono called him and asked him to lunch to discuss the review. Can you imagine getting that call?)

I'd never seen Annie live before, but I adore her voice. Her latest album feels like a hybrid of Diva and Bare, some rollicking tracks (if the keyboards in Love Is Blind and especially Ghosts In My Machine don't get you on your feet, you're probably dead), some plaintive (Fingernail Moon breaks my heart).

She opened with five classics before touching on anything from the new album and she held off on her main mission until the show was almost over. Sing is her call to action to battle the AIDS crisis in Africa, especially for women and children. She left the stage and let a video touch on their stories, then took the stage to sing the song and to momentarily transform the concert into a political rally. She says she feels like humanity is at a pivotal point, and that there is much that each of us can do to affect real change in the world, "even if our votes don't count." That comment brought a lot of applause. Clearly, Annie Lennox fans lean toward the left. She thanked us for indulging her, but that she feels she must speak out.

Though, she insists in interviews, she is not the female version of Bono.

Nor, I suspect, has she ever called Gret Kot.

Annie's opening act was Carina Round. Vocally, she's a staggering talent and a very logical choice, therefore, to open for Annie. She was quirky in her royal purple shirtdress with black kneesocks and high-heeled shoes. She was funny, a little ditzy, which would have been adorable if I hadn't felt like it was shtick. As a performer, I have to liken her to Bjork (with a smidge of Sinead O'Connor). I believe she was meowing one of her songs. Betty, the woman sitting next to me, cracked during one song, "Don't buy the CD just yet." But when it comes to Carina-cum-Bjork, the difference between the two is that I would actually consider buying a Carina Round album. She can make a lot of noise with just an acoustic guitar. And I mean that in a good way. Oh, and she has KT Tunstall "Wee Bastard" pedal situation to loop herself, which she uses to very good effect. If you ever run across an upcoming show, check her out. (Or sample full versions of her songs on her web site.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Movie Yin And Yang ...

Sometimes I fly through my Netflix discs. Other times, they languish on my coffee table for way too long.

Cases in point: I recently received Reign Over Me and popped it in right away. A big heapin' helpin' of happy, that movie. On Netflix, I gave it four out of five stars. I orginally gave it three stars, but Adam Sandler's performance was so strong, I had to bump up my rating.

I think he's a terrific serious actor and I think he's finally distancing himself from his Happy Gilmore, Red Hooded Sweatshirt days. Mind you, I thought Punch Drunk Love was a bit too weird and I might be the only person on the planet who liked Spanglish, but I'm happy to see him becoming a "real" actor. The same way that I love Robin Williams when he tackles serious roles.

(And if you haven't heard it, Eddie Vedder's rendition of "Love, Reign O'er Me" will knock your socks off. I think his version is better than The Who's. Then again, I have a version of Eddie singing Springsteen's One Step Up that I think is better than Bruce's. But as I've said before, I'm a sucker for Eddie's voice.)

On the flip side, I received Mel Gibson's Apocalypto at the end of August and I just got around to watching it last night. And the whole time, I kept asking myself, out loud, "Why am I watching this movie?" I knew it was violent, and I don't have a problem with violent films (I adore Braveheart), but holy crap, that movie. I wonder if Mel owns stock in a fake-blood company. Or is it always corn syrup and red food coloring?

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Let The Hilarity Reign ...

Ohmygosh. My hat is off to Angela (a different Angela) at Fluid Pudding for directing me to this post. Ladies, settle in with a beverage and read the whole post and then all the comments. On second thought, skip the beverage, lest you ruin your computer monitor with multiple spit takes.

Remember: laughing is good for your abs!

And You People Wonder Why We're Still Single, The Bonus Round

So there I was, IMing with Angela earlier today (she of the Scoozi! check picking-up on Friday night) about Doreen's would-be "50-something" suitor and the ensuing blog entry when she entertained me with this timely gem of a tale from the Land of Bad Pick-Up Lines:

She wrote, "Get this. I was picking up lunch and this guy walks up to me and says, 'Those cookies are fattening.' "

To which I replied, "[An expletive which I will not reprint here, as this is a family blog, but which rhymes with TRUCKER!]"

To which she replied, "Then he preceded to introduce himself. I'm thinking, 'You tell me I'm fat then you try to make a play ...? ' "

To which I replied, "[An expletive which I will not reprint here, as this is a family blog, but which rhymes with BASS!]"

To which she replied, "Oh wait. Told me he'd treat me like the queen that I am. I thought, 'All the while calling me fat?' "

All of which takes us back to Eric's Thursday parking-garage-lobby pronouncement: Men are stupid.

The End.

P.S. Family blog be damned: I told Angela that her would-be suitor will forevermore be known in my head as Assy McAssHat.

And You People Wonder Why We're Still Single ...

Almost exactly a month ago, I wrote this post for my own amusement. Dating. It's such an unappetizing prospect. And you know why?

Because, as my friend Eric said last week when I ran into him in a parking garage lobby, "Men are stupid."

Of course, not all men are stupid. Some men are lovely and kind. In my life, those men are married or gay.

The dating pool, though, oh, it's shallow. And stagnant. A breeding ground for mosquitos and malaria and other unsavories like Mr. "You're Stunning, I'm Interested" Tony.

Which is why I decided last year to just stay the hell out of it. That's not to say that if I meet an incredibly charming man by chance and he asks me out to dinner that I'll turn him down. No, of course not, but incredibly charming men don't seem to be crossing my path these days. And while I know actual real live people who have met spouses on dating sites, I just don't have the constitution to wade back into those waters, to separate the few kernels of datable wheat from a field full of undatable chaff, if you'll excuse my mixed metaphor.

Case in point: Today, Doreen sent an e-mail to me that contained this picture. (I inserted the black bar to protect his identity, at her suggestion.) The subject line read simply, "?????????" and the body, "Tell me how old you think this man is … ."

I replied, "Um, 70? 75?" And then I IMed her, because I'm all about the instant gratification, "Is that a prospective suitor?!"

To which she replied, "Are you sitting down? Clear all beverages away from your area. His profile says he's 50."

To which I replied, "GAAAA! Is he from a foreign country where they work hard and age prematurely?"

To which she replied, "Does not seem to be."

To which I replied, "It's a nice sweater he's wearing."

She shared the note that accompanied his photo, which was nice enough, stating in part, "I've been a widower for 12 years so am perfectly capable of taking care of myself. But, there are some things you just can't handle comfortably alone. I'm looking for a partner for romantic dinner dates, live shows, or a movie and a pizza."

To which I replied, "So he was widowed when he was 38?"

To which she replied, "Beth, Beth, Beth (like Jeff Z. says), do we reallllllllllllly need to overthink this? It is comedy and tragedy all rolled into one pizza-loving foodie widower ... with a nice sweater."

To which I replied, "SHEESH. SEE? THIS is what's out there! My married friends don't realize how bad it is!!!"

To which she replied, "Send them all this photo and tell them to back the hell OFF!"

Which made me laugh. Out loud. Hard.

As Charlotte said on Sex and the City, "I've been dating since I was 15. I'm exhausted. Where is he?!"

Monday, October 15, 2007

Negate Expectations ...

Kelley and I had dinner a couple Saturdays ago (ask me about the mushroom-butterscotch panna cotta sometime) and talk turned to soap operas.

I used to watch Days of Our Lives. I got into it by default. I used to spend part of my summers in Door County with my friend Michele and her family, and Sharon, Michele's mom, was a big fan of Days. I picked up the storylines by osmosis.

My mom watched General Hospital when I was younger. I always thought Dr. Hardy was very handsome. (Even as a little kid, I had a thing for older men. Though I also had a poster of Shaun Cassidy on the back of my bedroom door at one point when I was a little older. I used to kiss it. Wow. That little tidbit was worth the price of admission today, wasn't it?)

But I was never that college student who cut class to watch soaps. I have no idea where I was when Luke and Laura got married.

Kelley was saying, though, that nothing much changes on the soaps. She was a Guiding Light girl and she catches a moment or two these days because she watches CBS in the mornings (yes, she's the one person) and sometimes she gets busy and the TV stays on. One character, even all these years later, still seems to be going through the same things.

Mom once said that, too, that you could turn on a soap after not watching it for years and pick up the story pretty much where it left off. Nothing much changes on the soaps.

Life, however, is a different matter.

Life can turn on a dime. You can ride life along for years and years and feel like life is just spinning its wheels and then whump!, life's back bumper gets a healthy shove from the universe and the rubber meets the road again and all the scenery changes.

I'm a firm believer in "You're always where you're supposed to be." Whether you wanted the change or not is really irrelevant. It's the right thing at the right time. Which isn't to say change isn't sometimes sad in its way. There's a lot of comfort in staying stuck, even if you're stuck in the wrong place. The ruts are well-worn and you nestle into them like a soft sofa and you're hard-pressed to find a reason to hoist yourself off your ass and get back in the game. But you know that staying on the couch means flipping through all the same channels again and again and again, and that that life is like the Springsteen song: 57 channels (and nothin' on).

So change insistently rings the doorbell until you answer the door. And there you are, standing in the doorway, looking out at the world for the first time in a long time, and you think, "Maybe I'll go for a walk."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

My Favorite Magritte ...

I saw the Magritte show at the Art Institute years and years ago with English Teacher Dave and fell in love with one painting. Of course, all the prints for purchase from the show were of the more famous Magritte images – the man in the suit and bowler hat with the green apple covering his face ("The Son of Man"), the train coming out of the fireplace ("Time Transfixed") – but the only take-away of "The Lovers" was a postcard, which Dave kindly bought for me when I wasn't looking, and which for the life of me I cannot find today.

So I was pleased to see the painting hanging in the Museum of Modern Art when I was in New York. And I snapped a picture of it and cropped it, and now it's my desktop wallpaper.

Friday With Friends ...

It has a lot to do with my hair.

Some days, I feel very schlumpy, just “blah.” But there are other days that I feel very together, and I attribute at lot of that to my hair.

I’m like a modern-day Samson. Only, I’m not a man. And I don’t know anyone named Delilah. And this isn’t a Biblical tale.

But Friday, my hair was in fine form. Just the right amount of lift without being high, just the right amount of fullness without being big.

I needed good hair that day. I had some very adult things to tend to and I’m convinced they would have been harder if I hadn’t even been able to get my hair right before I left the house.

But I did. And I did my very adult things. And then I met Kelley for a drink. Scotch for me. Neat. A very adult drink.

And then I walked to Scoozi! to meet Doreen and Angela for dinner. I meant to get a cab but it’s damn near impossible to get a cab at 5:30 in the afternoon on a Friday in the heart of the city. So I walked. Which was a good thing. Helped burn off the scotch.

I love Scoozi! and I haven’t been in ages. I had my 30th birthday there nearly eight years ago and I’m considering having my 40th birthday there, which I’ve already been thinking about, because if I throw a big bash, I need to be thinking about things now. But I digress.

We had an early reservation because Doreen and I had tickets to The Goodman to see “Passion Play.”

I had a glass of wine, breaking the “no sugar” rule, but a glass of wine was part of my reward for comporting myself earlier in the day in my very adult way. And I had a fabulous salad with walnuts and gorgonzola and pears and greens that were tossed with the most delightful vinaigrette that had a surprising hint of garlic. And, because I’m being good ‘n’ healthy, I ordered the grilled salmon with the arugula, tomato, and corn salad. I love arugula. You can pair it with anything and I’ll order it.

Doreen ordered the squash soup with mushroom garnish and the squash ravioli. I joked that she was going to turn orange, that she’d wake up looking like an Oompa Loompa. Angela heeded my suggestion and ordered the smoked chicken rigatoni which is prepared with spinach and mushrooms and topped with a cream sauce that will make you weep.

They demurred when it came to dessert, but I ordered an apple crostada (the epitome of fall) and the waiter smartly brought three spoons.

Angela was far too generous in picking up the check. But we’ll get back at her for her kind and stubborn behavior, as we had all agreed that we would go dutch three ways.

Doreen and I hopped a cab to the theater and took our seats, remarking on the very Zen set. The play, I’d learned, was three and a half hours with two 15-minute intermissions. Which adds up to four hours. For a play. With an 8 p.m. curtain. I’d already told Doreen that I wasn’t opposed to leaving at the second intermission.

We left at the first.

It was just too weird, and my head wasn’t in the game. But there was one scene in which the man portraying Jesus went full frontal on the stage and, well, let’s just say I can’t imagine anyone more qualified for the part. Later, as we were walking through the lobby on our way outside, Doreen asked, “Can we send a thank-you note to Jesus?”

Which, I decided, was the funniest thing I’d ever heard and burst out laughing, and then clamped my hand over my mouth. But really, what we’d just seen was so absurd, I had to laugh about something.

I had a 9 a.m. session with Brandon Saturday morning and my hair was still behaving. I wanted to wear it down, to the gym. But that would have been impractical. So I put it in a ponytail.

By the way, as an update to this post, Brandon showed me pictures from a competition this past July. And he was at least twice as big as the picture in my earlier post. Really impressive. He was only 19 in the shot in the post. And to answer the question everyone is wondering, no, the shot wasn’t staged with the pizza boxes. He said that’s what his apartment looked like every morning, thanks to his roommates the nights before.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Brandi Carlile ...

I just got home from Brandi's first of two shows at the House of Blues.

I first saw her just a year ago. She opened for Shawn Colvin at the Park West, a rather small venue in Chicago. (I blogged about them here.) And then she did a tour last May or so, headlining, but playing small clubs and bars. Now, just a year after I first saw her, she's selling out venues like the HOB and adding additional dates in some cities.

As Dave said tonight, "I could see her every week." She has an amazing voice and she does more than just sing her album cuts (a completely unplugged tune was very cool tonight, and her voice managed to carry all the way through the venue; she did a little singalong with the audience of part of "Bohemian Rhapsody" while she tinkered around on the piano, not her forte, no pun intended; and, as ever, she blew the roof off the place with her rendition of Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues – that alone is with the trip to see her).

When she opened for Shawn, Shawn brought her out to do a song with her and afterward said, jokingly, "If that girl learns to sing, she's really gonna go somewhere."

She has. She's here. Check her out.



From an e-mail I received today:

U.S. Fans
Shows are selling out so if you plan on going to a show please buy your tickets in advance.
The following shows will be sold out VERY soon: Detroit, St Louis, Portland, Seattle.

Fri, Oct 12 - Chicago, IL - House of Blues
Sat, Oct 13 - Indianapolis, IN - Vogue Theatre SOLD OUT
Sun, Oct 14 - Detroit, MI - St Andrews
Tue, Oct 16 - St. Louis, MO - The Pageant
Wed, Oct 17 - Milwaukee, WI - Rave
Thu, Oct 18 - Minneapolis, MN - First Avenue SOLD OUT
Sat, Oct 20 - Denver, CO - Gothic Theatre SOLD OUT
Sun, Oct 21 - Monterey, CA - Monterey Music Summit
Tue, Oct 23 - Boise, ID - Big Easy
Wed, Oct 24 - Spokane, WA - Big Easy
Thu, Oct 25 - Portland, OR - Crystal Ballroom
Sat, Oct 27 - Vancouver, BC - Commodore Ballroom
Tue, Oct 30 - Bellingham, WA - Mount Baker Theatre
Fri, Nov 2 - Seattle, WA - Paramount Theatre

Australia Fans
Brandi is making her first trip to Australia in November!
She'll be doing the following full-band headlining shows:
November 12 - Northcote Social Club, Melbourne
November 14 - The Zoo, Brisbane
November 15 - The Factory, Sydney
These shows go on sale October 18. Ticket links will be available on Brandicarlile.com

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Pizza Is Not The Answer ...

On Oprah the other day, Jessica Seinfeld was hawking her new book, Deceptively Delicious. Frustrated with trying to get veggies down the throats of her offspring, she started pureeing the "yucky" stuff and sneaking it into brownies and mac 'n' cheese and other kid-friendly favorites. Smart girl, that Mrs. Seinfeld.

One of the segments on the show was about a family whose children are all quite overweight. A third of the kids in this country are overweight, but the twist to this story is that the mom is a Pilates instructor and dad is a big fitness buff. So there they are, working out, but the kids are watching TV and eating junk. To demonstrate where the boys will end up if they continue on their current path, a computer-y person created morphs of each of the boys from their current ages to 40. And the parents were startled and saddened by what they saw. The mom got teary and said, "I feel like a failure."

I yelled at my TV, "DON'T HAVE IT IN THE HOUSE!" The kids don't drive. They can't go to the store and buy crap. So don't buy it for them.

Walking through the store the other night, I saw a mom pushing a cart with her kids in tow and in her cart were two boxes of Little Debbie Frosted Donuts and I wanted to stop her and say, "Why are you going to let them eat that?" I get that people want a donut every once in a while, but go to the bakery and buy donuts. Donuts that are made fresh, with actual ingredients. Not donuts that were made out of chemicals six months ago and wrapped in plastic and stuffed in a box then crammed in a case then put on a truck then shipped to a store and put on a shelf.

Today's trainer session ended with me asking what I should eat immediately following a workout. He recommended a protein drink, which, of course, the gym happens to sell. So I bought one, Dutch Chocolate, and it wasn't bad. It was like chocolate drink, not chocolate milk, but then, it also only had four grams of fat, and hello!, 40 grams of protein! I bought a couple four-packs today at a Vitamin Shoppe by the mall, both chocolate and vanilla, but spent as much as I did at the gym. I'll need to order cases online if I want to save any appreciable money.

When I got home, I plugged Mr. Trainer Man's name into Google and you know what I found? Pictures. Here's one of them. Note the pizza boxes scattered across the floor. I wonder if this shot was staged and I wonder what's wrong with me that in a picture featuring such an amazing body, I'm looking at the mess in the background. I mean, look at this guy! He's not competing right now, but he has an amazing body, massive arms, broad chest, small waist. Whew. It's good to see what's possible if you're willing to put in the work.

And swear off pizza. I've sworn off pizza. For now.

Today, while I was dutifully doing everything he told me to do, we got to chatting and I told him about the singing. So he started calling me Beyonce, which I find very funny. I started referring to myself in the third person, such as "Beyonce says 'goodbye' " when I was leaving or "Beyonce is going to start wearing sparkly outfits to her workouts."

It's good to laugh while you're at the gym, while you're pushing your muscles to do things they may have never done. I felt like we really hit our stride today, Mr. Trainer Man and me, like he's no longer some stranger who's counting my reps but a partner and teacher who will help me reach my goals.

But this Beyonce wants a slightly smaller ass.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Not-Necessarily-New Releases Tuesday ...

I'm a bit of a music junkie. When I transitioned from dial-up to DSL, I feared for my AmEx. Able to download songs in seconds, I thought I'd do a lot of damage on iTunes. To date, I've been remarkably restrained.

But there's been a spate of new albums released lately, and well, hell. I don't smoke, I rarely drink, I don't buy expensive shoes. A girl's gotta have a vice. And hey, I sing. So CDs are like, uh, research. Yeah, research.

I'm not a music critic, but I know what I like. And what I don't. Here, then, are my takes on some recent releases:

♪ KT Tunstall, Drastic Fantastic: Her sophomore effort falls rather flat, if you ask me. Which you didn't. But you're still reading, so it's kind of the same thing. It's not that it's a bad album, it's just that her debut was so spectacular, so fresh, that, as I once wrote about the author Barbara Kingsolver, "it's hard to measure up, even to yourself." Hold On is the single and it sounds a lot like her first album, but the rest of it is just kind of "eh." And it's petty, but I hate the font on her album cover. Seriously, with all the royalties the girl's rolling in (Suddenly I See and Black Horse and the Cherry Tree were used in just about every movie and television promo last year), you'd think she could afford some better album design.

♪ Bruce Springsteen, Magic: In 2002, I went through a later-life Bruce conversion. In the span of a few hours at the United Center on The Rising tour, I received the spirit of Springsteen and the E Street Band and wondered how I'd managed to go through life to that point so unmoved by his music. The key, of course, is seeing him live, which I've done six times so far, with my seventh experience slated for later this month when Bruce and the band and me and about 25,000 others will descend once again upon the United Center for Bruce's unique blend of revival, anti-war demonstration, consciousness-raising, and house-lights-up Born to Run adrenaline rush. All that said, I'm not in love with the new album. There are excellent Bruce moments, but for all the hype and good reviews, I was expecting to be flattened by every track and I'm simply not. I own a lot of Bruce, but I'm not the quintessential fan. My friend Jeff, though, is the quintessential Bruce fan, and he's not in love with the album either. Still, I'm psyched to see Bruce in a couple weeks. If you've never seen Springsteen live, I encourage you to find a ticket to a show near you. Even if you're not a huge fan of his music, it will be impossible for you to be unaffected by his passion.

♪ Chris Botti, Italia: I bought this CD for one track, Gabriel's Oboe. You know what? It really should be performed on an oboe, not a trumpet. Yes, I could have bought the track on iTunes, but my mom likes Chris, so I'll give the disc to her. Or maybe I'll actually listen to the rest of it and like some of it and keep it and buy mom another copy.

♪ Eddie Vedder, Into the Wild: Though some of my friends do not understand why, I am a rather big Pearl Jam fan. I have, oh, I dunno, eight or nine albums, and two of those are two-disc sets, so I have a lot of PJ in my collection. But my love of the band is almost entirely about Eddie's voice. I love his voice. I love it because it's so real and raw. This is Eddie's first solo effort and I'm knocked out. I'm especially nuts about Far Behind, a great on-the-road tune. Oh, but Setting Forth is great, too. And Society is haunting. And The Wolf's organ and vocals are at once spiritual and primal. Eddie and Dave are good friends, and he wrote the other night to encourage me to see the movie and experience Eddie's music as part of the film. Maybe this weekend.

♪ Annie Lennox, Songs of Mass Destruction: I love this woman from all the way back in the '80s when she burst onto the scene with her orange crew cut and men's suits. Her voice amazes me, the range she can cover and the ease with which she can float through octaves. Her Oscar-nominated Into the West from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is a good example of that gift. And her voice has a fullness that I envy and can't duplicate. And I've tried. Several Annie Lennox tunes are on my if-only list. This album is like a Diva/Bare hybrid. She covers a lot of musical ground. You might know Dark Road (and if you don't, and you're a fan of hers, you'll want to know it; it's another showcase for her range). Love is Blind has amazing energy. I love the piano. (Damn. Why did I quit lessons when I was a kid?) But my hands-down favorite is, well, I'm going to keep that a secret for now. Though if you know me at all and you hear the album, you'll be able to figure it out.

♪ Fiction Plane, Left Side of the Brain: Fiction who? Fiction Plane is the band fronted by Sting's son, the band that opened on The Police's world tour. Nice gig, eh? I didn't catch much of their set when I saw The Police at Wrigley, as Tracy and I grabbed a bite to eat before the show and got to the field as FP was finishing their set, but I liked what I heard. And then I forgot about them. And then, the other day, it suddenly seemed very important that I download this album, so I did. And you know what? It's one of the best albums I've heard in years. I love it. Sting's musical influence on his son is clear in several places, but this band is not The Police 2.0. For one thing, it's more profane that anything The Police ever produced. Not that it's exclusively expletives, but several songs would require edits to make them suitable for commerical radio, such as this verse from Death Machine:

you keep your shoes so clean
fuck you and your death machine
oh I ain't gonna fight no more
explosive obstacles fill the fucking hospitals
oh I ain't gonna fight no more

How's that for an anti-war anthem? If you're looking for something a little less political, check out Anyone. The bassline kills me. So cool. And Drink, Cross the Line, and Fake Light from the Sun all add their own flavors to the brew. This is not a band that produces 10 variations of the same song and calls it an album. There's a lot of range here. That said, the song that first hooked me was Two Sisters which opens with a reggae riff that's clearly inherited from Sting.

And on that note, can we just take a moment to discuss the recent story that Sting topped Blender's list of the worst lyricists, "thanks to lines that betray 'mountainous pomposity (and) cloying spirutality.' " Sigh. For the love of God, the man was an English teacher before he became a rock star. So sue him if references to Nabakov and Chaucer show up in his songs. Are we instead supposed to congratulate the lyric-writing genius who penned the chorus to Britney's latest single: "Gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme, gimme more"? Yep, that took a heap of talent.

I'd rather be too smart for the room than insipid.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Personal Trainerus Interruptus ...

Hokay. Today was session No. 2 with Mr. Trainer Man. Session No. 1 was last Monday, and then, well, you know. It's hard to keep trainer appointments when your parents are in the hospital.

And hey, until this morning, I was still having trouble using my legs anyway. Never before have I felt that much pain in my quads. Whew.

Today, we worked on my arms. Have I ever mentioned that I hate my arms? I mean, I'm grateful for my arms, but I want Linda-Hamilton-in-Terminator 2 arms and I have Oprah arms.

Last week, I was telling Brandon that I know that I can never have Linda's arms and he interrupted me and said, "Why not?"

Why not? Um, because. That's just craziness. No way I can go from Crazy Flabby Arms to Crazy Cut Arms. Right?

Not in Brandon's book. He seems to operate from the place of believing that with enough work, anything is possible.

Huh. So what's Oprah's deal? He said he's seen her train and her trainers don't push her hard enough. I have no reason to doubt him, especially because I know he's pushing me hard enough. More than hard enough. But I gave him six weeks (which became five, really, as I had to cancel two sessions with him last week) and told him I'll do everything he tells me to do. And we'll see how far we get.

Then I'll kick into more of a check-up mode with him. I can't afford him every week forever, but after this initial crunch, I figure it makes sense to work with him one week a month for an adjustment to my routine. That's my plan, anyway. We'll see how things shake out.

We did a lot of work on my biceps and triceps today. My biceps aren't yelling too much tonight, but my triceps are pretty pissed.

Dave once told me that his trainer told him that you don't really feel the effects of an exercise until two days later. And I've found that to be true. So Wednesday should be a hoot.

I hope I can move. I have another session that day.

But I know that with every session, I'm getting stronger and that there will come a day when it won't hurt like it hurts now. And besides, it's a good kind of hurt. It's a "I'm doing the work to get stronger" hurt.

Brandon told me that one of his clients has lost 20 pounds in four weeks. I've got five weeks until my birthday. I'd be happy to lose 20 pounds by then. Of course, I'd be happier to lose more. But I don't want my expectations to get too high.

L.A. Dave sent some pictures of Gabrielle Reese to me for inspiration. I know I'm more than five weeks (or five months) away from the body of Gabby Reese, but it's nice to have something to which to aspire.

He and I have been laughing, figuring that a body like hers will either make men flock to me or drive them away in droves.

Here's hoping it's the former.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

'Inland Empire' ...

Last week Friday, I was watching David Lynch's Inland Empire when my mom called from the emergency room to tell me my father was there. After many stops and starts, I finally finished it, all 2 hours and 59 minutes. What follows is partly what I was writing that night as I watched it, and my thoughts now that I'm done. And let me say upfront that I recognize that we're all entitled to our opinions about art. This is mine.

I thought I might as well continue my Friday Night Movie Freakout (see the post for The Wicker Man below for the first entry in tonight's blogging extravaganza) by popping in David Lynch's latest cinematic experiment.

Let me point out that Lynch's film company is called Absurda. So at least he's in on the joke.

The opening titles of this film are cool. And, as with all Lynch films, if you don't mind the complete cognitive dissociation, it's very pretty to look at. He's a master at choosing locations.

But the "script" is cracking me up.

Let's write a little sample script for David Lynch, shall we? I'm sure he can turn it into a masterpiece.

INT. THE WHITE HOUSE – DAY

John Lennon is the President of the United States. Charo is the Secretary of State. They are sitting on llamas in the Oval Office, wearing white terrycloth bathrobes and bowler hats, drinking Green River and gnawing on turkey legs while Vladimir Lenin sings "I'm a Little Teapot."

JOHN
The boat is red.

CHARO
Why is the air round?

JOHN
Fried chicken is love.

Laura Dern enters, dressed as Swiss Miss.

LAURA
Traffic signs will not fall.

JOHN
My ennui is made of glitter.

My new Internet pal Andy tried watching Inland Empire and gave up. And I should have followed his lead. Except that I want to love David Lynch. I want to crack his code. But methinks there is no code to crack. Lynch's movies seem to have devolved from films to into experiments.

Right after I popped the DVD out of the player, I called up the movie on RottenTomatoes.com, sure that everyone else would have had the same reaction that I did. But no. It received a 68 percent. Sixty-eight percent! SIXTY-EIGHT PERCENT?!

What the hell movie did they see? Or are they of the school that believes, "I didn't understand a damn thing about it. It must be genius!"

No, it's not genius. It's a self-indulgent piece of crap. Did you see it? Would you care to explain to me the family with the large rabbit heads? Or maybe the woman who shows her girlfriends her breasts and then joins them for a dance number to "Do the Locomotion"? Or the Polish mafia?

Credit where it's due, Laura Dern is a spectacular actress. And Peter J. Lucas. Whew! Sign me up! And I love me some Jeremy Irons, no matter what he does. But I nearly shut it off and gave up many times. Why did the man in the yard have a lightbulb in his mouth, socket-end out? What is that supposed to mean? What's that? It's not supposed to mean anything? Then why is it there? And please spare me the existential bullshit that there is no meaning to life. If Lynch wanted to comment on life's banality, why did he put rabbit heads on people? Nothing banal about that.

Remember Twin Peaks? The whole thing was a freakshow, but it all served to answer, "Who killed Laura Palmer?" And I loved Blue Velvet. But after I watched Mulholland Drive, I figured my David Lynch days were over.

Turns out, I was right. I just realized it 2 hours and 59 minutes and nine days too late.

Friday, October 05, 2007

In Bloom ...

The irises from Patty, yesterday:






















And today:

And ... Exhale ...

Wednesday felt like a Three Stooges episode. I spent the day shuttling up and down from my mom's room to my dad's room, and to the cafeteria (where I said to the cashier, "I swear all this isn't for me," because I was in there rather constantly), and then to my parents' house and back several times, all the while trying to make my legs work.

Here's a tip: The week that your father ends up in the hospital is not the week to start working with a personal trainer. Because once mom ended up in the hospital, I canceled my other sessions for the week anyway, and I could barely walk.

But I got them both home, first dad, then, many hours later, mom. In between, Dave and I finally caught each other on our cells.

"How are you?" he asked.

"I'm awful," I said. And it felt really good to be honest.

(An important note: My sister-in-law has been brilliant through all of this. Not that my brothers did do their part, but she's been great about calling and letting me know her availablity [e.g., "I'm on my way to the dentist, but after that I'll be home for the rest of the day if you need anything"] and stopping in at the hospital to check on mom and dad and their respective statuses. She's been through a lot with her parents and hospitals in the past couple years, so she's skillful at extracting information and prodding people along.)

That evening, I hung out at their place (my brother and sis-in-law came by with the kids for a while; grandkids are good medicine) until my parents had both showered. I kept an ear out for thuds coming from the bathroom, but both of them showered without incident. And then they slept. I told my mom to take the cordless phone to bed with her in case she needed to call me in the middle of the night.

And I slept in my clothes. And left my contacts in. Just in case.

But the night went fine, and I called her yesterday morning and she asked me to take her to church for a minute. And then I spent the day running to the store to stock up on some food for them and picking up prescriptions and doing some cooking (mom wanted my linguini and white clam sauce, which she pronounced "better than that restaurant in New York") and running a few errands with them. Dad just wanted to get out of the house, so he hung out in the back seat of my car while we made our rounds. I warmed up dinner for them (my linguini is better if made ahead and warmed) and mom said, "I don't feel right about this." Uh oh. Her head, I asked her? "No, that you're waiting on me," she said.

That's my mother for you. "Hey, if I was sick, you'd be doing all this for me," I said. And, as I said in the hospital when she was thanking me for everything I was doing, "Gotta earn my keep." It's a standing joke between us, but really. Think about all your parents do for you over the course of a lifetime. Spending a couple days helping them get back on their feet is hardly enough payback. Last night, as I was leaving, she called out, "Thank you so much for everything, Beth," and I called back, "My pleasure!" And really, it was. It was tiring, sure, but I was glad to be able to do it.

And there were bright spots to the day. Yesterday afternoon, when I'd been home for about 10 minutes to get a few things done, Mom called and said, "You have a pressie here, but it needs to be opened soon." Flowers? I hopped in the car and went back to her house, thinking that I didn't put it past my mother to have called the florist to have flowers delivered to her house for me as a surprise. But she hadn't. On her counter were two huge boxes from Martha Stewart Flowers.

"Who did this?" I asked, already knowing.

"Who do you think?" she said, knowing I already knew.

My cousins Patty and Barry (who we just saw in New York) sent my parents a beautiful arrangement of roses and calla lillies in pretty fall colors with a note that said, "Get well and stay that way. PLEASE!" And Patty sent me irises, my favorite flower, which, happily, came as closed stems. Irises only last a couple days, so if they came fully open, they'd already be starting to fade this morning. Instead, they're just starting to bloom.

(Another note: Patty's also been great through all of this. Her parents went through a lot, medically, before they passed away, so she could relate completely. She was the one who let me decompress on the phone. Because every so often, I just had to say, "What the fuck? This blows!")

I headed home with my big box of flowers to find another box on my front porch from Organic Bouquet, so I instantly knew that they were from Kelley, my friend and co-worker. And inside that box were two bunches of purple and ivory calla lillies.

So I spent a little while arranging flowers, which is a very good task to do when you're stressed, one of those tasks that takes you out of the moment and makes you focus. And I called Kelley to thank her and catch up a bit. She'd called and left a message earlier in the week, letting me know she was there if I needed to talk, and it was good to talk to someone outside the circle of this week's activities, someone not a doctor or a nurse or a family member looking for an update, not that I minded giving updates.

I took a picture of the flowers and sent one to Kel. "Ooh, they're elegant," she IMed. "I did good!"

Yes she did.

And this morning, the Patty's irises are starting to open. I told her voicemail yesterday that I should have an IrisCam so she could watch them bloom. But I'll have to settle for taking periodic pictures.

Here, though, are Kelley and Patty's flowers yesterday. So beautiful. And very much a salve for my harried soul this week.



(And for all the guys reading, I can't pass up this opportunity to remind you of the power of flowers. Guys don't think about sending them nearly as often as women wished they did. So on behalf of all women, may I suggest that you pick up the phone or go online today and send flowers to your mother or wife or fiancee or partner or girlfriend or any important woman in your life just because. An unexpected floral delivery will earn you more points than you can count.)

This morning, mom called sounding like herself again and said she felt fine. She tried a little coffee and it started to make her woozy, so she's cutting out caffeine (a good thing, anyway) and she's going to try driving today.

Things, it would seem, are returning to normal.

My most heartfelt thanks to everyone for all their calls and e-mails and comments and good wishes. They really, truly helped.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

They're Home ...

The next chapter begins.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Enough Already ...

I know everybody's got somethin' to deal with. I get that. No one's immune. If it's not one thing, it's another.

But son of a bitch, does it have to be both?

My mother called me this morning. She sounded awful. "I'm sick," she said. And proceeded to tell me that she was sick last night and she was very weak, that she couldn't sit up. How she got to a phone, I don't know. Well, yes, I do know: she must have crawled.

I went right over and found her in her bed. "I think I need to go to the hospital," she said. My mother, who won't so much as take an aspirin for a headache unless her head is in danger of exploding off of her shoulders.

So I called 911. And ambulance arrived in minutes. They came in to check her out, then manuvered the gurney down the hallway. She wasn't kidding about not being able to sit up. The gurney was two steps away. She needed to rest between sitting up and standing, and again between standing and stepping.

They got her in the ambulance and I met them at the ER. Her blood pressure was fine. Her oxygen levels were fine. Her CT scan came back clean. Her chest x-ray came back clean. Her EKG was fine. Her cardiac enzymes were fine. But the slightest movement of her head would make her clutch her face. We kept the lights off as much as we could. I fed her ice chips. Her nurse hung a bag and pumped half of it into her faster than I've ever seen an IV pump pump.

My brother and sister-in-law were there, and they eventually went up to see my father, who must have been wondering where the hell we were. It's not like us to leave him alone in a hospital room for most of the morning.

The doctors admitted my mother for observation and when I saw her in her room, she was curled up in the fetal position with her hand over her face.

Eventually, the drugs she was given for the vertigo sensation kicked in, and I got her some soup, which helped alleviate her headache. Later, she ate a bit of dinner.

So today has been spent running back and forth between their rooms (patients with the same last name can't be on the same floor; that's a good practice) and their house and my house and it's all been a bit of an insane circus.

Mom is due for more tests tomorrow, just to rule out that she didn't also have a stroke, but the doctor is relatively sure that that's not the case.

A professor of mine once told me that you finally feel like a grown-up when you have to take care of your parents.

So I guess today's the day I finally feel like a grown-up.

Keep the good thoughts coming ...