Friday, November 30, 2007

Christmastime and Hanukkahtime Is Here ...

I mailed my holiday cards on Monday. Not Christmas cards, mind you. I don't buy Christmas cards. I buy holiday cards because some of my friends are Jewish, but it feels weird to buy Christmas cards and Hanukkah cards, so I buy holiday cards. Peace is my annual theme.

Normally, finding cards is the bane of my holiday existence. This year, I bought them in October. They're very simple. Here's the front, which reads "on earth...peace":



And the inside reads: "hope...always"

In 2000, I started including a holiday letter in my cards. For those of you who don't get a card from me (because I don't actually know you nor do I have your addresses), here's what I had to say:

November 2007

Family and Friends:

Hi there. Could you hold on for just a second? I seem to have lost something ... I know it’s here somewhere ... I just had it.
Or maybe you can help: Could someone please tell me where my 2007 went?! Wasn’t it just January 20 minutes ago?

Phew. This year has been a blur. And the funny thing is, I can’t figure out why. I didn’t think I was doing much.

Let’s list some of the things I didn’t do in 2007: 1. I didn’t get married. Or engaged. Or go on a date. I saw an ex-boyfriend. Does that count? 2. I didn’t write a bestseller. 3. I didn’t record an album. 4. I didn’t open a bakery. 5. I didn’t save any whales.

Oh, but I did win the Nobel Prize for my work in raising the planetary population’s awareness of global warming. No, wait,
that was Al Gore.

Geez, what did I do? I just hauled out my desk-blotter calendar pages from this year to jog my memory. Let’s take a look:

January: Ooh, my treadmill was delivered. I looked forward to a year of fitness. More on that later. I continued my subscription at The Goodman Theater and lived up to my vow to see more live theater. (As opposed to dead theater, which can get rather boring.)

February: I watched The Police’s reunion on the Grammys (two words: Sting’s arms). Two weeks later, I watched the Oscars. Then I checked myself into award-show rehab to detox. I did some recording with my pal Brian.

March: I bought tickets to see Lisa Gerrard at the Park West in May. I also bought tickets for Mom and Dad and I to go to NYC.
I celebrated my two-year blog anniversary. Cupcakes and Hawaiian Punch in waxy Dixie cups for everybody!

April: Dad had never been to New York, so we did touristy things. My parents met my friend John. He and Dad got along famously. We ate fabulous meals with our cousins Patty and Barry. And we went to see Kevin Spacey in
A Moon for the Misbegotten.

May: I had bought tickets to see Brandi Carlile this month. And then I didn’t go. To be consistent, I also didn’t go to Lisa Gerrard. But I did go with Doreen to The Goodman to see
Oedipus Complex. The set was really cool. The play? Well, let’s just say Greek tragedy + Sigmund Freud ≠ Fun. I did more recording.

June: Angela and I met up to wander through the Printer’s Row Book Fair. And then we wandered through Blues Fest for 10 minutes. Crowded. Noisy. I was there to meet up with a musician (named Dave, of course) for the first time. We had less chemistry than an Alka-Seltzer and a glass of water. I think we said 10 words to each other. Another love connection averted. So I bought some overpriced Pad Thai, Angela bought some overpriced French fries, and we left.

July: I went to see Sting’s arms in person at Wrigley Field with Tracy. It was a fun concert. We scored seats on the field. But in one of the last rows. So Sting appeared to be about the size of an ant on stage, an ant with hot arms. Oh, and I was hired to write a blog about HGTV’s Design Star, my first-ever paid blogging gig.

August: I participated in the 2007 Breast Cancer 3-Day. Yes, in August. No, I don’t know what I was thinking. Walking 60 miles in three days in any conditions is a little nutty. Walking 60 miles in three days in heat indices of 100+ degrees is insane. But I met a great group who made me part of their team.

September: I bought tickets to see Bruce Springsteen and Annie Lennox in October. Mom and I returned to New York to shop. We didn’t want to put Dad through that in April. Dad is not a shopper. Unless fishing tackle or a new boat is involved. We spent a lot of time with Patty and Barry, eating. Patty has a fab apartment in Brooklyn with a roof deck, and one night, we had a lovely dinner under the stars. Back home ... wait for it ... I joined a gym. And hired a personal trainer.

October: To kick off the month, my parents thought it would be fun to end up in the hospital at the same time. (They’re both doing much better now.) Once they were home, I began in earnest with Brandon, my trainer. Somehow, I had it in my head that working out would be easy. I think that’s because when I watch other people work out, I feel absolutely no exertion. But Brandon makes sure that I work. Hard. I can now flex things. I also went to three concerts in 11 days: Brandi Carlile (another tour, not the one I didn’t go to before), Annie Lennox, and Bruce. All were exceptional shows. Doreen and I decided to become each other’s Goodman Theater dates and bought a subscription together. First up,
Passion Play. We left after the first act. (Giant fish were involved. And a crazy girl with a jack-in-the-box. Seriously.) But then we saw The Cook a few weeks later. It was 100% giant fish-free. I did the baking for my friend Cheryl’s tea party baby shower (building my cookie empire, one Russian Teacake at a time ...). I skipped my 20th high-school reunion but saw my high-school friend Nat for the first time in 20 years.

November: I turned 38. (In the distance, 40 is greedily rubbing its hands together and laughing sinisterly.) I celebrated, over two days, with family and friends. In this month of thanksgiving, I’m reminded, yet again, of how much I have for which to be thankful. And you, my family and friends are, as ever, at the top of the list.

Love and peace to you all,

Beth


(Well, I sign my name to the actual letters; I typed it here.)

Tonight, I decorated my tree. Normally, my mom and dad come over and decorate it with me, but tonight, I just felt like doing it myself. So I put on mellow holiday music and now my tree is ready, just in time for December. L.A. Dave asked me to take a picture for him, which I did:

Giving The Gifts Of Sites, Holidays 2007 ...

Wow, it's been a year and a half since I plugged the click-to-give sites that I visit daily.

This can be your good deed for the day: Click here to go to The Breast Cancer Site and click the big pink button. When you do, the advertisers on the site contribute toward funding mammograms. And while you're there, you can click the tabs at the top of the page for The Hunger Site and The Child Health Site and The Literacy Site and The Rainforest Site and The Animal Rescue Site.

It only takes a few seconds to click through all of them. You can do this in less time than it takes for your Starbucks to cool down enough to drink it.

I have this link in the bookmarks bar of my browser, so every morning, clicking is an automatic part of the start of my Internet day as I check news, read Doonesbury, read blogs ... It's an easy way to check off your good deed for the day, first thing. Click, click, click, click, click, click.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

'Waitress' ...

Never before has a moment in a movie made me burst into tears, until tonight.

A passage from Adrienne Shelly's exquisitely written film:

"Dear baby, I hope someday somebody wants to hold you for 20 minutes straight, and that's all they do. They don't pull away, they don't look at your face, they don't try to kiss you. All they do is wrap you up in their arms and hold on tight, without an ounce of selfishness to it."

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dreaming ...

I should take a course or read a book about dreaming. Man, what goes on in my head at night?

Two nights ago, I talked to Journal Jeff. He was stuck in an airport (isn't air travel just a joy these days?) and we were hammering out plans to see each other this weekend. That night, I dreamt that I was at his house. Makes sense, right? Only, his house didn't look like his house, it looked like a '70s-ized version of my high school. Huh? And I was sitting next to Bruce Springsteen – which makes sense because Jeff is the biggest Bruce fan I know and I am Jeff's faithful Bruce student, but doesn't make sense because Bruce doesn't hang out at Jeff's house – and Bruce and I were creating playlists for our friends. I suggested a tune that he didn't know and played it for him, and he thought it was a very good choice. And I was happy that I was able to recommend a song that Bruce had never heard.

Last night, though, was just bizarre. First though, I wonder: Is what we experience while asleep one dream or many dreams? Is it one dream with many different stories that flow one into another? Or do we dream many distinct dreams that aren't necessarily related? Because much of what I dreamt last night doesn't seem cohesive. See? This is why I want to learn more about dreaming. Why was I dreaming about a large cafeteria-like space and a bunch of helium-filled balloons and ice cream with diced caramel in it? It wasn't a party, it was more like a cafeteria in college. But diced caramel? Who dices caramel? I've never thought of dicing caramel. Well, my conscious mind hasn't. Clearly, my subconscious thinks it'd be a fun idea.

But later, I dreamt about a friend of mine, a very real-life situation that makes me sad sometimes, and in my dream, sure enough, I ended up crying. So there's part of my brain that's very literal and tries to process the goings-on of my waking world, and then there's the part of my brain that dreams about diced caramel.

I've gotta get crackin' on that dream-recording device I keep wishing someone would invent so I can slap some electrodes to my head before I go to bed and wake up in the morning and watch the replays. What with the writers' strike going on, I think they'd make some pretty fascinating viewing, like the YouTube of our collective subconscious.

Monday, November 26, 2007

'No End In Sight' ...

Instead of spending Sunday morning watching the talk shows, watching candidates and pundits spin their spin, I popped in No End In Sight, a rather infuriating documentary about the quagmire in Iraq.

Those who still support the war – there are about five of them, I believe, none of whom read this blog, I suspect – might suggest that all these talking heads are simply lying, but it's not hard to connect the dots between what they're saying and what we've seen unfold.

Paul Bremer was the genius who decided to fully disband the Iraqi army. Yup, that's a good idea, Paul: Strip tens of thousands of men who are trained in war and know where the weapons in Iraq are stored of their incomes and dignity.

I mean, seriously, what did he expect all those men to do? Sit at home in their underwear and watch Wheel of Fortune? Oh, that's right, they can't watch TV, because they don't have electricity. Many Iraqis, for that matter, no longer have homes.

One of the staggering facts I learned in watching this doc was that while we spent two years planning before we entered World War II, the run-up to Iraq lasted only 60 days.

And we all know how well that's turning out. We're in our fifth year of this war. Iraq lies in ruins. Billions upon billions have been wasted. The total for this war is projected to be well over $1 trillion when all is said and done, whenever that may be. Certainly the soldiers who have been wounded will live with this war for the rest of their lives.

It's a powerful film. Of course, it's preaching to the choir. I don't figure that those who are staunch supporters of this effort are watching this methodical chronology of all the mistakes that have been made. But I'm proud of all the people who spoke out in this film, who simply couldn't stay silent, who had to shed light on what's gone wrong and why.

The why, in a nutshell, is: there was no plan. Advisors were advising, but their advice was ignored.

Let me say, once again, that I fully support the troops. They're simply following orders, orders that, from the beginning, have been fatally flawed.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Meme Memory ...

Blog pal J. Marquis tagged me today with a meme that's short but sweet:

I have to post my earliest memory that is:
#1 Clear enough to include three details, then
#2 Give my age, and
#3 Pass it along to some other folks.

Hmm. Well, I don't know if it's really my earliest memory, but it's the first one that sprang to mind. I was three or four. I was playing in the yard of the house in which I grew up. I was wearing a little sunsuit that my mom made for me, which was a pair of shorts and a little tank top-like number that buttoned at each shoulder. It was yellow and orange, probably some crazy '70s floral print. (I conceived my artist's rendering here to illustrate the shape of the top and the position of the buttons, but I thought I'd throw in a few flowers for good measure.) Anyway, I snagged a button on the fence or gate and tore it off. I remember taking the button into the house with my sunsuit sagging off my left shoulder, crying, sure that my mom was going to be mad. Mom was in the kitchen, ironing. I'm pretty sure she had a Cubs game on in the corner on our portable black-and-white TV. She conjured a needle and thread, sewed my button back on with a few quick stitches, kissed me, and sent me back outside to play.

As for my present age, I just turned 38. That anecdote reminds me how important it is not to sweat the small stuff. And I find it interesting that J. and I both wrote about memories that involve us crying.

I tag L.A. Dave, Whoorl, and Ethan. (And, of course, anyone else who wants to play along.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Getting More Than You Give ...

I don't shop on Black Friday. All the craziness, all the crowds, all the clammoring, and for what? To save $10 on a blender? No thank you.

But as I'm getting ready to start spending on the holidays (only 31 more shopping days until Christmas), I thought I'd give my credit card a warm up by doing a good deed.

I heard about Kiva.org several months ago and I meant to become a member lender, but, as with so many things, I didn't do it right away, and then I forgot about it.

Until today, when I read my friend Steff's blog post about her contribution.

Steff does a great job of explaining Kiva, so I'll just quote her here:

The principle of it is this: You take a small amount of money -- anything between $25 and 500 -- and you LOAN it to someone to start their dream business. It's a loan, not a gift, and more than 99% of the loans are repaid.

You log on, choose entrepreneurs from a region of the world you're interested in helping, do your donation, and wait and see as it all comes to life. You get repaid monthly, and you can either take the money back or use it as "Kiva credit" to keep the ball rolling by helping someone new.

There are those who believe small programs like this are how we're going to change poverty in our world. I signed up and helped begin changing someone's life in less than three minutes.


So today, I loaned $25 to Try Roeun in Cambodia, who sells rice in her community, and $25 to Ato Alesana in Samoa, who is requesting a loan to open a barbeque business. Ato requested $300. I'm happy to report that my contribution to her venture has fulfilled her request. And now that I revisit Try's page, it appears that she's met her goal, as well.

There are many more people, though, in all parts of the world who need just a few dollars to help them get started on the path to better life.

When you become a member of Kiva, you can create a Lender page and tell people a little more about yourself. One of the fields on the page is "I loan because:", in which I wrote: "... while I am not wealthy monetarily, I have been blessed with a rich life. The least I can do is loan a few dollars to someone who is trying to begin or grow a business. They inspire me. And, selfishly, it makes me feel good to do something for someone else."

You can upload a picture of yourself or not (or you can remain anonymous all together). I uploaded a picture. Each of the profiles of people seeking loans features a picture. It just seemed right that they should be able to put faces with the names of the people who are helping them realize their dreams.

I encourage you to visit Kiva.org. If you have a few dollars to spare, a small loan can make a big difference.

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Holidays Past And Present ...

I just read Kris's holiday post and was transported back to my childhood. She writes of hearing her mother laugh "into the single digits of the morning."

I, too, remember parties at my childhood home, when the adults were downstairs in the den, sitting around the bar, drinking and laughing. I'd stand at the top of the stairs, listening, wondering why I had to go to bed so early.

Our bar, which was L-shaped, had a padded, leather edge. On the bar sat the most enormous (and in retrospect, ugly) ashtray known to man. The wall behind the bar sported mirror tiles pieced together to form an image of the Cutty Sark ship. There were shelves of glasses and bar accoutrement. Under the bar was a small sink and a small refrigerator, and my dad hung those big Christmas lights – all red, his favorite color – so a glow emanated from underneath.

The stereo was in the closet, the receiver on one shelf, the turntable on another. Dad always had the spindle stacked with plenty of albums to keep the music going.

Not all parties were solely for the grown-ups. Every Christmas Eve, we had a huge family party. I wrote about it last year.

But the gist of Kris's post is that times change. The celebrations of the '70s are not the celebrations of today.

This year, Christmas Eve will be small, as it has been for several years. Just me and Mom and Dad and my brother Brian and his wife Sue and the kids. The kids are still anxious to open presents, but they've ceased to be the little balls of energy that they were years ago when they would dive under the tree to look at all the to-and-from'ers. We eat before we open gifts. Then, they could barely contain themselves. Now, we all nosh rather leisurely before retiring to the living room and watching them tear into their loot. And then we exchange a few gifts between us, the grown-ups, and then we break out the desserts.

The next morning, it will just be me and my parents. Sometimes my cousins Patty and Barry come in from New York, but this year they'll be celebrating in Los Angeles. Brian and Sue and the kids open their gifts at their house in the morning, and then spend the latter part of Christmas Day with Sue's parents and other family, where the kids open gifts again.

As they say, they have three Christmases.

When I was younger, we weren't always home for Thanksgiving. Sometimes we were, but sometimes we were at my Aunt Chick and Uncle Bud's house (Patty and Barry's mom and dad, neither of whom were actually named Chick nor Bud). We might have gone to my mother's sister's house occasionally, too.

Now, Thanksgiving is always at my brother's house. Understandably. As it is, they have to divvy up their time at Christmas. Instead of having to do the same for Thanksgiving, everyone goes there. Everyone brings something. The kids are still relegated to the table in the kitchen, but these days, there are more young children than chairs at the table. The dining room table is extended, but it doesn't seat everyone, so a second table is set up in the foyer, adjacent to the dining room. I always opt for that table. It's like the grown-up kids table.

My annual contribution is bread. I make four loaves, even though two would be more than enough. I learned how to make this bread when I was 8. I just turned 38. I've been making this bread for 30 years. I like having such a signature. (I've written about it on my other blog.)

Two loaves are out of the oven, cooling on a rack on the counter. The other two loaves are resting on top of the warm stove, rising. The house smells amazing. There is nothing like the smell of baking bread. Why can't we put that in a candle?

Before dinner today, we'll all gather around the dining room table and hold hands while Sue's brother-in-law says grace. Some years, we go around the circle and say what we're thankful for.

I always have much to be thankful for, but this year's reason is a slam dunk: I'm grateful for everyone's health.

Health and happiness to you all. I hope your Thanksgiving is the stuffingest.

For The Baby Who Has Everything ...

I had every intention of buying Brandon's baby-boy-to-be a stuffed lion. I found the cutest one ever last year when buying gifts for Gemma's and Dave's daughter, and thought it was perfect, a switch from all the teddy bears and exclusively blue or pink plushies out there.

The store where I'd found the lion was now lion-free, and I wasn't falling in love with the other options (though the organic cotton monkey was kinda cute) and then I spotted this guy:



How could I not buy him?! In a moment of blinding creativity, I named him Spotty Pig. I love that he's not pink, that his spots are green and blue and brown. He's very boyish that way.

I put 11 cents in him before I wrapped the box. I was going to use paper money, but I thought 1) You can't hear paper money, and 2) There's just something cute about plunking coins into a piggy bank. The 11 cents is because li'l Jackson is going to be born this month, one way or another. November. The 11th month. Also, not that I'm into numerology, but if you add up 11 and 2007 (1+1+2+7), you get 11.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

How Smart Are You? ...

My pal Cheryl sent a link to me today for Free Rice.

You pick the right definition of a word, Free Rice donates 10 grains of rice through the United Nations to end hunger.

For example:

ajar means:
slightly open
terrific
juicy
impolite



It's fun and easy and the grains add up quickly. I had to look up a couple words, but was able to score 300 grains in just a few minutes.

The very cool thing about Free Rice is that it was started on October 7 and that day's donation was 830 grains.

The donation on November 20? 218,510,070

The total, from October 7 to November 20? 3,059,177,080

Ten grains of rice per word may not seem like much, but 3 billion grains of rice is a lot of food.

And now that you know about the site and you're going to go there every day and play, that total can grow exponentially.

As you sit down to a food-laden Thanksgiving table tomorrow, pause to think about what a few grains of rice mean to someone who's starving.

Pass the word, feed the world.

Speaking Of Things That Ain't Pretty ...

Thanksgiving is almost here, the day when we Americans stuff our collective gullet and then stuff it some more.

I remarked once that it seems weird that fast-food joints are open on Thanksgiving, and my brother pointed out to me that not everyone has somewhere to go that day. Which I had never really thought about, but gee, that's sad. Even if you spend the holiday bickering with your Uncle Seamus (I don't have an Uncle Seamus, FYI, that's just the name that popped into my head at this early hour), at least you can drown your sorrows in gravy.

Mmm. Gravy. Have I mentioned that I made amazing gravy?

But I digress.

On Monday, on the heels of my toxic cosmetics post, Ethan pointed me to this site, a handy-dandy side-by-side comparison of all that is fast and somewhat foody. If you're anything like me and you have a hard time eating something once you know how truly God-awful it is for your body, this is the cure you've been looking for.

And if you're wo/man enough to get past all those facts and figures, perhaps this nugget from L.A. Dave will do the trick:

Mac & Cheese Snacks
Today I'd like to introduce the term "unrestricted eating." It refers to eating whatever you want, whenever you want it. Like macaroni & cheese, for example. Typically, you'd need a bowl, spoon and both hands to enjoy this quintessentially American dish. Lucky for you, SONIC invented Mac & Cheese Snacks—a cheesy favorite packed into crunchy bite-size morsels. It's portable and pop-able. Which means you can now have Mac & Cheese anytime, anywhere. So like I said, it's "unrestricted eating." Got it?


Just when you thought the fast-food industry had realized that it has to start offering healthier alternatives if it wants to continue to draw customers, someone decides that what's missing from the menu: mac 'n' cheese nuggets.

I love mac 'n' cheese – good mac 'n' cheese – but never once in my life have I said to myself, "Damn! I wish there was a way I could eat mac 'n' cheese in the car that didn't require a bowl and a spoon and the possibility of causing a high-speed accident. We can put a man on the moon but we can't invent mobile mac 'n' cheese?"

I have to get on the treadmill now.

Monday, November 19, 2007

This Ain't Pretty ...

Every morning, I surf on over to Bloglines to see which of the blogs I subscribe to have been updated recently.

I was shocked when I read "Your makeup could be making you toxic" on Back In Skinny Jeans. Stephanie provides a link (as will I) to the Cosmetic Database, which provides safety rankings for all the stuff in our makeup bags.

Each product is ranked (and color-coded) on a scale of 1-10, with 0-2 being low hazard (green), 3-6 being moderate hazard (yellow), and 7-10 being high hazard (red).

I'm not Crunchy Granola Girl. I don't shop exclusively at Whole Foods. I don't wear clothes made out of hemp. I'm a fan of deodorant, yet the only personal product I buy at Whole Foods is my Karite Lips shea butter with vanilla lip balm. (It's crazy expensive as lip balms go, but I love the stuff.)

I think about the fact that I buy moisturizers that I rub into my skin and that they contain more than all-natural ingredients. But I've continued to buy them anyway. Hey, I buy Aveeno. It has oatmeal in it. How bad can it be? Well, let's find out: Phew. Aveeno Active Naturals Daily Moisturizing Lotion is a 2. But several Aveeno products fall into the high/red category, including many of its sunblocks and moisturizers. So much for looking Positively Radiant. Most of those products are rated 7s, but the Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizing lotion is an 8.

So I'm not sure why I really never considered the toxicity of my makeup, especially my lipstick. (It's been said that the average woman consumes six pounds of lipstick in her lifetime from licking her lips and ingesting it when eating.)

I just grabbed my makeup bag. I don't wear a lot of makeup every day, but I slap on a few products before heading out the door. Let's start with my face moisturizer and then move through the products as I apply them:

- Eucerin Sensitive Skin Extra Protective Moisture Lotion SPF 30: 3

- CoverGirl Clean Pressed Powder Creamy Natural: 5 (I buy a face powder at my salon, but it was created by a makeup artist and I don't see a brand name on it; will have to investigate further; the salon stuff is like $40, so let's hope it's not crap.)

- MAC PowerPoint Eye Pencil (eyeliner): 3

- CoverGirl LashExact mascara, black: 8 (Oof! I guess it's time to find a new mascara. Most of the ingredients are rated low to medium hazards, but one ingredient makes it awful. In fact, of all the mascaras on the site, mine is ranked the worst. The best is Longcils Boncza Longcilclassic Cake Mascara (Noir). The best one I recognize is Almay Bright Eyes Mascara, Waterproof Black Brown, Waterproof Black, at No. 25.)

- MAC Frost Lipstick: 3


Not the worst report, I guess. And in the grand scheme of things, I suppose mascara is one of the less-egregious things you put on your face in terms of absorption and surface area. Still, it's kinda hard to swipe on a product every day knowing that it contains triethanolamine, which has been linked to "cancer, allergies/immunotoxicity, and organ system toxicity (non-reproductive)." (But the triethanolamine is only 3% of my mascara! Hey, that's comforting! It's only 3% poison!)

I may not be Crunchy Granola Girl but I am Skeptical Former Journalist Girl so I did a little digging about the Cosmetic Database, which is part of Environmental Working Group. Wikipedia (yes, I know Wikipedia isn't the last word in information, but hey, it's early, and I'm not writing a story for a newspaper here) says: "The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a public watchdog group specializing in environmental investigations in the areas of toxins, agricultural subsidies, public lands, and corporate accountability. They are a non-profit organization (501 c3). Their funding is from 'private foundations, individuals and select corporations.' One of its funders is the Florence and John Schumann Foundation, headed by Bill Moyers. EWG was founded in 1993 by Ken Cook and Richard Wiles, and is headquartered in Washington DC in the United States."

So I clicked the link for the Florence and John Schumann Foundation and read this: "The Schumann Center for Media and Democracy (formerly The Florence and John J. Schumann Jr. Foundation) was established in 1961, by Florence Ford and John J. Schumann Jr. The foundation states that its purpose is to renew the democratic process through cooperative acts of citizenship, especially as they apply to governance and the environment. It is based in Montclair, New Jersey in the New York City Metropolitan Area."

Further, under "Criticism of the Foundation": "Discover the Networks (a group leaning to the political right) asserts that the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy is 'a major supporter of radical environmentalist organizations.' According to Discover the Networks' website the Center's investment portfolio has earned 'immense profits from its investments in gas and oil companies. The Center's investment portfolio contains tens of thousands of shares in such companies as Exxon Mobil, Conoco, British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Petroleum, Ford, Keyspan Energy, Pioneer Natural Resource Company, Noble Affiliates, Royal Dutch Petroleum Company, Columbia Gas Systems, Dow Chemical, Dupont, Shell Oil, Shell Transportation and Trading, and General Motors.' The right-wing Capital Research Center claims that the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy has a 'far-left' ideological agenda."

A organization that cares about the environment that invests heavily in oil and gas? That doesn't make sense, does it? Then again, there's always more to the story, and I haven't even made coffee yet.

Still, the take-home message of Cosmetic Database is sound: Toxic stuff is bad for you. There are products that are less toxic. You might want to consider those.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Slugfest And The Day After ...

Warning: This post is about, essentially, nothing. It is the Seinfeld of blog posts. If you're reading this because you're bored, this post might render you irreversibly bored. Proceed with caution.

I had such high hopes for myself yesterday. A long, long list of things to do. Errands to run, chores to complete. I sat at my desk in the morning, running through my regular online morning routine, jotting notes to myself as more to-dos popped into my head, one of which was "Write Christmas letter."

So I did that. I didn't plan on writing the whole thing, but it just kept coming, so I just kept writing.

And then my productivity came to a screeching halt. (I had an emotional week. I think my brain just wanted to stop for a while.) I had other intentions. I looked outside at my backyard and thought about firing up the lawnmower for one last mow/leaf sucking. But it was grey. And cold. And I was warm, still, in my jammies, and, well, it's not like the leaves were going anywhere. I checked my local listings. Jacques Pepin was due up next on PBS, and, well, didn't I need to watch Jacques make a caramel cage? Of course I did. One never knows when one will be called upon to produce a caramel cage and if one is to learn the caramel cage-making technique, one wants to learn from a master.

And then America's Test Kitchen was on for an hour, and it's my all-time favorite cooking show, so I had to watch those back-to-back episodes, even though I had seen one before.

I dozed off at some point during the afternoon, but I won't count it as a nap because I had no nap intention. (Though is there anything better than crawling into bed in the middle of a cold, grey day and drifting off to sleep then waking up as sky is growing dark? I love that sleepyheaded feeling.)

My Netflix discs have been gathering dust on my coffee table for several weeks so I popped in I'm Reed Fish. Meh. The best thing about the movie was a song performed by one of the characters, but is that song available on the soundtrack? Noooo. I gave it two stars out of five on Netflix. I gave it three to start with, then thought about it, and knocked it down a notch.

I eventually came to terms with the fact that a) it's borderline pathetic to while away an entire day without leaving the house, never changing out of one's PJs, and that 2) I was hungry and had no attractive options on hand.

I ran through all the fast-food options in my head and decided that I didn't want anything from anywhere with a drive-thru which meant that I had to make myself slightly more presentable and venture into the brightly lit grocery store. Happily, there aren't many people in the grocery store on a Saturday night. (Because most people have lives.) I decided to buy soup. Canned soup. Progresso Lentil soup. I came home, heated said soup, and decided, after a couple bites, that it was wholly unsatisfying. But I ate it anyway. There were worse choices I could have made.

Like Cheetos. I bought a bag at the store, as over the past few days, I've found myself craving mac 'n' cheese (I make sen-frickin'-sational mac 'n' cheese), Ok-E-Doke cheese popcorn, and Cheetos. And now, Cheetos (and the entire realm of junk food) boasts 0 grams of trans fats. As if they're all now healthy or something.

I munched on a few Cheetos while my soup was heating. Ick. Cheetos are no longer the same. They tasted extra salty. I wasn't craving salty cheese. I was craving not-found-in-nature fluorescent cheese-like powder, thank you very much. So I decided that I must dispose of the Cheetos. And lest I pull a George Costanza and even contemplate pulling the Cheetos bag out of the trash later, I put the bag under the tap, doused the Cheetos, held the bag closed and shook it up, then poured the Cheeto water down the drain and tossed the bag of Cheeto mush.

Today, by contrast, has been rather productive. When I'm vacuuming window screens and then removing said screens to vacuum the space in between the screen and the window, you know I've hit my stride.

I actually put on clothes and makeup and left the house today. I did a bit of shopping. (Brandon's baby, I learned Friday, will be delivered, one way or another, by the end of the month, so I ventured out in search of a baby gift and found the most adorable thing EVER; I'll post a picture after I give it to him.)

In the local home-furnishings store I love so much, the owner/friend of mine said, "We saw your name in the paper today." Huh? She pointed toward her mom, who was behind the counter further back in the store. Her mom was waving the section at my mom and me. We walked back there and, yup, sure enough, there was an article of mine in a special section. It was this year's holiday cookie story, which I wrote back in July for a freelance client. I never know where my stuff is going to end up. I Google myself from time to time just to see.

"A celebrity in our midst!" said the mom.

"Hardly," I laughed, and started to browse again. It's a weird thing, attention. I think I want it, yet when I get it, I can't wave it off fast enough.

I managed to ditch my mom so I could buy an early Christmas gift for my parents, a Christmas decoration, which necessitated giving it to them in advance of the holidays.

(I spied it in a store last week and went back to buy it today. I told the woman at the store that the yellow snowman looked like my mom. "This looks like you mom?" she asked. "Well, the face reminds me of her. She has a sweet face. She's not tubby like a snowman," I said.)

So I took it over to their house. Them, actually. I took them over to their house. Three snowmen. They came as a set. I really only wanted the little yellow guy because he reminded me of my mom and yellow is her favorite color, but then I realized that the green snowman can be me and the red snowman can be my dad, because green and red are our favorite colors. Yellow Snowman is missing his black pipe-cleaner cane. I think I must have left it behind at the store.

From my folks' house, I stopped by my brother's house to take gander at the kids' Christmas lists. My niece's list takes up an entire notebook-paper page. My elder nephew's list is only slightly shorter, but more than a third of it is books. Real books. Even some George Orwell. I found my younger nephew with his head between his knees on the stairs.

"You OK, honey?" I asked.

"I'm contemplating," he said.

He had only managed to contemplate four things on to his Christmas list. I asked him if he thought he could have it done by Thanksgiving, so I could look at it then. He seemed to think that was reasonable.

When you were 13, did you have trouble thinking of what you wanted for Christmas? I don't remember having that problem.

Back home, I even tackled a PowerPoint that showed up in my mailbox for work. I try to never work on Sundays, but this is a last-minute presentation and I thought I'd try to make life easier on my co-worker tomorrow by getting a jump on things today. Airport layovers are annoying enough without having to deal with e-mailing files to clients. No, he should be able to get a cup of Starbucks for 14 smackers and enjoy his inevitable flight delay just like everybody else.

Tonight, I started watching The Hoax but have turned it off for the time being. Even Richard Gere can't make the '70s look good.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Gray's Anatomy ...



Years ago, a friend of mine was going through a bad breakup.

Some breakups are good, for the most part. They might sting for a little while but you quickly move on. This was not one of those. This breakup was confounding. This breakup hurt.

And so we spent many nights on the phone, my friend and me, as he tried to come to grips with what happened and why. Of course, I couldn't supply a "why." The only person with the "why" was the one person to whom he was no longer speaking.

My heart ached for him. It's hell to be in that pain, torture to have to move through every day, to find the strength to outlast it. Because time is the only real cure. And time moves at its own bittersweet pace.

One night, he said he wished that he didn't have to feel what he was feeling. And I remember saying something about us not really wanting to live in black and white, that life happens in the grays. Or, as it came to me tonight, white is birth, death is black, and gray is our life in between. Or maybe it's black when we're born and white is the light at the end of our lives. Either way, our days are grays.

Some days are darker. Some days are lighter. Gradations can be moments or minutes or hours or days. If white is bliss and black is despair, some days fall much more toward the white end of the spectrum, some days fall much more toward the black.

Of course, bliss and despair are relative. As much as some might like to think they suffer, suffering is relative, too. Whenever me and my friends get pissy about something ridiculous, we simply say, "Tsunami." As in, "You think you're having a bad day? Try having your entire family, home, village, and means wiped out in a single moment." Sadly, there are plenty of other similar trigger words: Darfur. AIDS. Katrina. Wildfires. They're all relative to one another and you can rank them any way you like. The point is, if your hair doesn't behave or someone scrapes your Mercedes or you lose your cell phone, life ain't so bad.

Last week, after I left J-D's salon, I drove past Catholic Charities in River North. I was stopped for a light and noticed the queue of people lined up around the building. It was cold that day. I suspect they were waiting to be let in for the night. And there I was, in the car I'd recently paid off, coming from a salon where I would have dropped $200 for my hair color if I'd had to pay for it, headed to my warm home. An entire home. For just myself. A home with a well-stocked pantry and refrigerator. And a comfortable bed. Where I can take a hot shower any time I feel like it. For as long as I want.

Because money is another shade of gray. Some have too much, some have none at all. And yet, nice as it is, money can't buy happiness. All of Kanye's money couldn't buy his mother's life. JFK Jr. could afford his own plane but the weather doesn't care if your surname is Kennedy.

I like to think that I could divest myself of my worldly goods and live a contented life. Or, more realistically, that I could return to my life in my first apartment, a studio, and be happy with that small amount of space and many fewer things.

But I'm here, now, in this house. It's not a big house, but it's a nice house. I feel safe. Sometimes it seems like too much – I can only be in one room at a time, after all – but it's where I live my life today.

On my birthday, I caught myself wishing for the things I didn't have, and quickly reminded myself to be grateful for the things I did. How dare I not cherish the friends I had around me by letting myself wish, even for a second, for the friend who wasn't there?

I've now been on this planet for 38 years and two days. And I can count on one hand the days when I've felt true anguish, grief so strong my body could not contain it. All in all, my life is being lived in the lighter grays.

I have my darker moments lately. But I'm grateful for them, knowing that they're necessary milestones on this current road, that the only way to complete this journey is to travel down this path.

Toward the light.

Belated Birthday Photo ...

(An Anon just wrote in a comment that I mention my mom on here, but rarely my dad. That's because my dad and I aren't as close as me and my mom. It's a girl thing. Mom and I shop and cook and talk about relationships and stuff. Dad asks me how my car's running. So the proportion of mom mentions to dad mentions mirrors the amount of interaction I have with my mom versus my dad. I love him, we've just never had much in common.)

Anon was was wondering why I didn't post a photo with my father like I said I would.

Well, for a few reasons: 1) Mom wasn't in love with the fact that I posted the photo of her and me because she doesn't think it's a good picture of her, and she wouldn't like the photo from my birthday night, 2) We were sitting against a glass backdrop, so there's a huge glare that I can't successfully eliminate from the photo, and 3) Dad isn't smiling.

So I called up a birthday photo from a couple years ago (taken at the same restaurant, in almost the same location, but on an angle, so there's not glare in the glass, and I realized that my father doesn't actually smile in photos. But at least in this one, he doesn't look pissed off, which is how he looked in the photos taken on Sunday night, when mom and I sat for the one I posted ealier.

And I haven't changed much since then. And mom looks cute.

So, then, here's a shot of me and my parents. Pretend it's two days old, not two years.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Once, Again: The Birthday Disc 2007

Don't ask me why I feel compelled to explain my song choices this year when I haven't bothered in years past. Well, actually, go ahead and ask me why: I feel the need to explain Stolen Car by Carina Round.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The cover of this year's CD reads:

Friends:
Another year, another disc.
And what you might ask, is the meaning
behind this collection?
No meaning, really.
Just a stack of songs that caught my ear.
Some songs I love for their various feels,
some songs resonate with me,
some songs just rock.
Enjoy this latest soundtrack of my life.
xo,
B


The songs are ordered very particularly, for flow from one track to the next. Try to listen along in your head. Here are the songs and my reason for choosing each:

1. More Than A Feeling, Boston
This song was in heavy rotation when I was a kid. My brothers are both older than me (by nearly six and eight years), so I grew up on a musical diet of Boston and Kansas and Grand Funk Railroad and Led Zeppelin and Styx and Blue Oyster Cult and a host of others. This tune, though, is my audio touchstone to my entire childhood. And it has one of the greatest guitar licks in the history of music.

2. Song For Someone, The Frames
This is one of those songs that hooked me in the first few measures and didn't let go. I recently blogged about this album. It's one of the best albums I've bought in a long time. I love the slide on Glen Hansard's voice when he sings, "And I hope she's gonna be the very same." And the contrast between the verses and the chorus knocks me out.

3. Stolen Car, Carina Round
I saw Carina open for Annie Lennox last month and she blew me away, just her and her acoustic guitar and her kooky outfit. I wish her album was as sparse as her set, but alas, it's a studio album through and through. This cut is strange, lyrically – "My body is an open mouth" anyone? – and she reminds me a bit of Bjork, but in a more enjoyable way.

4. I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You), John Mayer
Yes, yes, John Mayer. Which 20-something blonde is he dating these days? This song hooks me with its simple groove. And "... just to get back to the place where I started / so I can want you back all over again" is a great lyric.

5. Anyone, Fiction Plane
Joe Sumner, son of Sting, has himself a spiffy little band here. Every song on their latest album, Left Side of the Brain, was a potential candidate for this collection, but I settled on Anyone for the very cool bassline. I thought Jay'd dig it. (See, Jay? You're back, baby!)

6. Call Me Call Me, Yoko Kanno & The Seatbelts
Ethan gets the credit for turning me on to this song. Yoko Kanno scores anime. I don't watch anime. But this song easily stands on its own.

7. Let Her Know, Estate
I found this song on Organic Josh's MySpace page when I was writing the Design Star blog for Zap2It earlier this year. Fell in love with it instantly. Listened to it about 1,000 times in a row.

8. What Is Love All About?, World Party
My brother works with a fabulously cool Welsh guy named Chris Jones. Whenever I see Chris, we talk music and often trade CDs. He loaned me both of his World Party CDs a couple years ago and I dug them both. Chris is always good for new-music suggestions. And the great thing about World Party albums is that every track is very different from every other track. As with Mayer, I love the groove on this one, too.

9. A Strange Education, The Cinematics
One of those songs that starts big, stays big, and finishes big. Cool beat, cool vocals, cool chorus.

10. Radio Nowhere, Bruce Springsteen
I may have come late to the Springsteen party, but I own a pretty wide swath of his catalog. I love his darker, acoustic stuff, but this is not that. This cut is Bruce and The E Street Band having a great time. "Is there anybody alive out there?" A question that can be asked on so many levels.

11. Love Song, Sara Bareilles
The song is the new Suddenly I See. It's turning up in commercials and I'm sure it'll turn up in chick flick or two. Let the record show that I was listening to this song before before it became so commercial. The piano makes me very happy. And I like to sing along.

12. Far Behind, Eddie Vedder
This track is from the Sean Penn movie Into the Wild, which I have yet to see, and it'll be interesting to see – someday – how this song fits into the movie. But in the meantime, I love this track because I love Eddie's voice and Eddie's acoustic guitar. It's the song road trips were made for.

13. The Story, Brandi Carlile
I can't rave about this woman enough. I saw her at the House of Blues last month and she was even better than she was when I saw her at the Park West last year. This song starts out so sweetly and then really kicks in on the second verse.

14. Love Me, Jeffrey Gaines
I bought Toward the Sun at a used CD store earlier this year. No need to listen to it in advance. I love everything this man does. This song just leapt out at me. I love the simple melody. "I put up such a front, but all I really want / Hold me, kiss me, touch me, love me / Need me, want me, hold me, love me." There you go.

15. Born Losers, Matthew Good
Up until five seconds ago, I loved this song for a reason that no longer exists. I just looked up the lyrics to make sure I was writing them correctly. Here's what I wanted to verify: "That trailer trash pedigree is callin' / It rides you out when you're down on all fours / Me I like to cast my death on yesterday / 'Cause what doesn't kill us now / Just makes us better whores." I always thought he was saying "bitter whores." I like "bitter whores" better, but "better whores" works, too.

16. Time Of Our Lives, Paul van Dyk
This track came from a compilation given to me by Chris, the cool Welsh guy, years ago. This tune is now showing up in commercials, too. It can see why. It has a cool "commercial" sound. Its bed is very electronic, but Paul's voice stands apart from the music while, at the same time, melding with it very well.

17. Big Log, Robert Plant
Oh, is there a better song, Plant or otherwise? This was going to be the last track on the disc, because it's such a fine, fine way to wrap things up, and the languid tempo is the perfect foil, if I do say so, to the van Dyk song that precedes it. And I love this man. (I was listening to Raising Sand in the car today and 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. OK, tangent over.)

18. Fingernail Moon, Annie Lennox
Yes, Robert was going to get the end-cut glory ... until I heard this song for the first time. And then there was no question that Annie would do the honors. The piano haunts me. Her voice haunts me. Haunts and amazes me. What I wouldn't give to be able to sing like this woman. Her concert last month was one of the best experiences of my life. "It don't matter how long / It don't matter how far / I'll meet you tonight / Under the stars."

My Birthday Thus Far ...

It's only 4 p.m. as I start writing this. I wasn't born until 6:10 p.m., so really, I'm not 38 yet. And I could wait until later tonight to write about my whole birthday but I have the patience of a fruitfly. (Buying gifts too far in advance is torture for me, because I want to give them to the recipients right away.) So I'm writing the first half of my birthday now, and I'll write the second half after it happens.

I dreamt about Hugh Laurie last night. Happy birthday to me! I love me some Hugh Laurie. He was the House Hugh Laurie in my dream, being a bit of a jerk, but he softened as the dream wore on. Women like to think we can change men, help mold them into more respectable citizens. At least we have a shot at it in our collective subconscious.

I woke up and sang "Happy Birthday" to myself. Repeatedly. I found myself very amusing.

Jeff (oh, geez, I need modifiers for my Jeffs now; um, he'll be Journal Jeff, until he leaves the Wall Street Journal, then I'll come up with another nickname for him) called me to sing but he opted for the Beatles' birthday song. He yelled into the other room, "Sherry! It's Beth's 138th birthday!" And then, as we were hanging up, he wished a happy birthday and a 100 more. Let's hope so. Though I may have to become a cyborg to reach that milestone.

Patty called and sang the traditional "Happy Birthday" song, as did L.A. Dave. And plenty of people popped up in IM and e-mail. Always nice to be remembered. Patty also sent an iTunes gift certificate. We have a birthday tradition which is that I get my birthday gift when she ships the Christmas gifts. So the iTunes is to tide me over.

Mom came over for breakfast, bagels and coffee. She made veggie cream cheese for me. And we had little breakfast sausages from her butcher shop. They're fabulous.

My on-my-birthday birthday gift from my mom and dad is a santoku knife. Once I wrested it out of its plastic packaging prison, I said, "I have to chop something!" So I hauled out a cutting board and swiped a carrot out of the fridge and sliced it up. I love my new knife!

Mom went on her way and I hopped in the shower and proceeded to produce rather fabulous hair. Last year, my hair was an utter pain in the ass, so I was very pleased that it decided to behave this year. So much so that I took a picture of it, figuring that was the best it was going to look all day. Also, this better captures the color that J-D applied last week.

I arrived at the restaurant a few minutes before my friends. (Every year, I pick a different restaurant and round up a group of pals for lunch.) A few years ago, I struck on the rather brilliant idea of making an annual CD. I add their names and a note to the "cover" of each CD to create a hybrid placecard/party favor. Nifty, no? I'll write a separate post about this year's CD selections. For anyone bristling at the thought of giving away music, it's all music I own, and I figure, it's actually a good thing for the artists involved, because it gives all of my friends a sampler of artists they may have never heard of, and if they like what they hear, they can go buy the albums. (Cheryl couldn't make it today, hence why I still have her CD of which to take a picture.)

"Lunch, The Food" was OK. Nothing extraordinary. But "Lunch, The People" was a hoot. A very good group, though, of course, I have a good group every year, because they're all my friends. In the picture below, from left to right, we have Mike (marketing/writing genius), me, J-D (my hair architect and novelist/playwright), Angela (bestselling novelist-in-waiting), Doreen (accounting mangager by day, massage therapist/BodyTalk practitioner the rest of the time), Jeff (IT analyst by day, brilliant photographer the rest of the time), and Brian (real estate mogul, infinitely more interesting than Donald Trump).




Sadly, I arrived home to find no birthday cards in my mailbox, but I've already received a couple, and hey, I got a card from my insurance agent wishing me a Happy Thanksgiving!

Next up, dinner with my parents then the rest of my birthday cake.

And House.

Update: There's not a whole lot to add to the birthday story, so instead of an entire, separate post, I'll just tack on an update and call it a night. Had dinner at a favorite Italian place with my parents, but it was one of those nights when I couldn't decide what I wanted. The thing that most appealed to me was the bistecca, an herb-rubbed filet topped with roasted garlic and mushrooms, but I thought red meat wasn't the best choice. So I ended up starting with a pizza topped with gorgonzola and pine nuts and spinach, of which I ate exactly one piece, cut another piece in half so my parents could each have a taste, and had the other two pieces wrapped. The cheese-stuffed chicken would have been better if it had been what I really wanted. But my red zinfandel was yummy. And my mom's braised lamb was yummy. (Why I don't just order that every time, I don't know.) We all came back to my house for a bit of cake and I still have a little piece to have with coffee in the morning. I didn't end up watching House but that's OK, as I got to see Hugh last night in my dreams. I spent the evening writing about my birthday CD, and now I'm heading to bed. Thanks to everyone for their birthday cards and comments and e-mails and IMs. It's been a good day.

Monday, November 12, 2007

'Raising Sand' ...

Forget everything I've said about not liking what I've heard of Raising Sand, the Robert Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration.

With my iTunes giftcard, I bought the album this morning, and wow, I was hooked from the first few measures of the first track, "Rich Woman." My musical vocabulary isn't broad enough to allow me to offer the word for the effect on the guitar, but it's as though the sound is fading in and out slightly or like the sound waves are distorted. I love it. It's hypnotic.

And their voices together are flippin' magic. I want to record a song with Robert Plant!

As I told Doreen this morning, I will never doubt him again.

(And speaking of Plant, I spent the rest of my gift card on a pre-order of Mothership, the Led Zeppelin collection that's being released tomorrow. I already own 22 of the 24 songs on it, but pre-ordering the album buys an entry for the chance to win a pair of tickets to see Zeppelin in London next month. I was shut out, as was most of the planet, from the chance to buy tickets to the show, but I figured $13.99 is a small price to pay for the chance to see that show. It's like buying a raffle ticket, really. Keep your fingers crossed. A trip to London to see Zeppelin would be a damn cool birthday gift!)

Birthday Eve Eve ...

I don't normally tell people when it's my birthday, but Sunday night (it's now about 3 a.m. Monday morning), I had dinner at my parents' house along with my brother and sister-in-law and their three perfect children – seriously, they're all amazing and gorgeous and brilliant, and yeah, I'm biased, but they're truly great kids – to celebrate a little in advance because my brother has to travel for work this week and he won't be around for the actual day.

Every year, mom is at our birthday disposal. Whatever we want, she makes happen. I always want her lasagne. I'm sure I've mentioned that my mom is 100 percent Serbian, but the woman makes lasagne like nobody's business. I'd pit her against any Italian woman in a Lasagne Smackdown any day. There should be an Iron Chef: Lasagne Edition just for my mom.

To sum up, then, I love my mom's lasagne. OK, moving on.

So we all convened at their house and the smell of garlic hit me when I walked in the front door – garlic bread was in progress, and I don't have to tell you that mom makes fantastic garlic bread, too. We noshed on a few appys and dug into the main event, which was simply lasagne, garlic bread, and salad. Really, what else is there? Mom even put arugula in the salad, because she knows how much I love it. If there was an arugula dessert, I'd eat it. Arugula brulee, maybe? Arugula pudding?

My sister-in-law bought a very cute birthday card for me featuring a cow wearing a sombrero saying "Hola!" ("Hope your birthday is moo-ey bueno!" She's Mexican and Italian, so a cow wearing a sombrero makes perfect sense, especially since I can't think of a symbolically Italian hat, except maybe the hats the gondoliers wear in Venice. Or the pointy Pope hat, but a pointy Pope hat on a cow just wouldn't be right. I may not be religious, but I respect the pointy Pope hat.) And inside was an iTunes gift card! Score!

My parents told me that they had a gift for me (but will also have a gift for me on my actual birthday) at which point Mom said, "Come on," and headed for the garage.

"Is it a car?" I asked.

"No."

"Is it a red car?" I asked.

"No."

"Is it a shiny red car with a radio?"

(That's a takeoff on an SNL gameshow skit from years ago called – say it with me, Tracy – "The Question Is Moot." Jesse Jackson was the host of the faux gameshow. Dammit, it's not on YouTube. Isn't everything supposed to be on YouTube?!)

Anyway, it wasn't a shiny red car with a radio, it was a ... birdbath.

I've been meaning to get one since I moved into this house. Seven years ago. (I'm a dawdler. I dawdle.) It's very pretty. It's made of cast cement, I think, and it has a lovely patina-ed finish, so it looks like it's been sitting in a garden for years and years. It also weighs about as much as a pickup truck. It's still in their garage. My brother and I – and the entire World Wrestling Federation – will attempt to move it into my garage later this week.

That's the yin and yang of my life, friends: digital music and antiqued birdbaths.

Dad, I'm happy to report, joined the digital age this year and bought a digital camera, which happens to be the same digital camera I have, so I was able to just bring it home and plug it into my computer to download images. Here's my cake. The three candles represent my nephews and niece, which I love. These days, I get the same cake every year. When Kyle was younger (he's driving now), he used to dream up my cake ideas. But now, it's just white cake with lemon filling and whipped cream (not buttercream) with yellow flowers (which, natch, went to the kids).

And this is a shot of me and my mom, who will be uncomfortable that I'm posting this picture of her for all to see, but I'm sorry, how crazy beautiful is this woman? (I'm not posting a picture of me and my dad yet but I'll work on him between now and my birthday proper and see if I can't get him to smile and then I'll post that one.)

But my favorite picture from my dad's camera is the one below. It's one of the first pictures he ever took with his digital camera, and I love that he decided on this subject. This is my mom's stove, the stove that produced tonight's lasagne and garlic bread. Mom always wanted a commercial stove, long before the commercial-stove craze hit suburbia. After several years – seriously, years – of internal struggle, she finally allowed herself to buy it (Mom is not about extravagance) and the day it arrived, she retreated to her bedroom. She was convinced it wasn't going to fit in the house. It did, obviously – with the removal of part of the front doorframe. I was there the day it was installed and went back and forth between the kitchen and her room, giving her updates. It's given her many years of service. It is one of two things that she is leaving for me, expressly. The other is her engagement ring. That's the yin and yang of my mother's life: the diamond ring her father gave to her mother and then my father gave to her, and her stove.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Burying The Lede ...

I was on the phone with my friend Jeff last night. Actually, I have several friends named Jeff – though not nearly as many friends named Jeff as friends named David or Dave – but I was on the phone with Jeff Zaslow, who used to be an advice columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times and is now back at the Wall Street Journal, from whence he came, though he's kind of on sabbatical to write a book, but he's still filing columns.

(When I worked at the Chicago Tribune, I used to refer to it as the Hotel California of Journalism, but I guess the same can be applied to any newspaper.)

We chatted about various things – an upcoming book project of his, why I was at home on a Saturday night instead of out on a date (Jeff routinely asks after my dating status), you know how conversations go – and as the conversation was winding down, he tossed off, "Oh, if you're around a television set tomorrow night, I'll be on 60 Minutes."

Gaa!

Now, Jeff has been writing for a long, long time, but he's also been written about for a long, long time. When he became one of the advice columnists to take over for Ann Landers when she defected from the Sun-Times to the Tribune, he caused quite a media sensation. He was male. He was young. And he had entered the contest on a lark, in order to get an interesting angle for an article for the Journal. He never thought he'd actually win.

But that's Jeff for you, an overachiever. So it's not at all uncommon for him to be the interviewee. Still, in the news business, 60 Minutes is the brass ring. Being on 60 Minutes is very cool.

After we hung up last night, we e-mailed back and forth. Jeff is a huge Bruce fan, and I wrote, "Just have to point out that Bruce was just on 60 Minutes a couple weeks ago and now you're going to be on 60 Minutes. Your respective spheres are getting closer ..."

To which he replied, in part, "Also, I am turning 60 soon and Bruce is turning 60 soonest, so there’s that connection, too. And the fact that he was on stage in Detroit last week and I was in the audience last week, but also in Detroit. So many coincidences."

Smartass. He'll be 60 in more than a decade. Bruce will be 60 in two years.

Actually, I'll be busy tonight when 60 Minutes airs, but I'll set my VCR. (Yes, I still have one. I'll get around to TiVo just as soon as I get around to satellite television.)

Jeff is part of a piece entitled, "Here Come The Millennials: They are in their late teens to early 20s and have been coddled by their parents to the point of being ill prepared for a demanding workplace. Morley Safer reports on the generation called 'millennials.' "

You can see a clip of Morley setting up the segment here.

Update: After I posted earlier, I wondered if Jeff had been on 60 Minutes before. We've been friends since I was 17, since right after he won the Ann Landers contest (I wrote a letter, he published said letter, someone wrote to him about my letter, his assistant Shelley called me, I ended up meeting Jeff – fast forward 20 years – and here we are) so odds are good that this wasn't his first appearance and that I'm just being forgetful because I'm old and addle-brained. He wrote tonight to thank me for the plug. (Hey, 60 Minutes, if you noticed a spike in viewership tonight of about 10 people, you're welcome!) But if you, like me, missed the show in real time, you can watch Morley's piece here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

It's The Cheesiest ...

I'm a three-at-a-time Netflix gal. And the other day, I received three DVDs in the mail. Except I already had one sitting on my coffee table.

Weird, I thought. Did Netflix up me to the four-at-a-time tier without telling me? A one-time promotion? A "Hey, winter is just around the bend and we know you're going to be plopping your lazy ass on the couch more in the coming months" temptation?

Nah. I think it was just a mistake. Especially when I opened the envelope – which was, in fact, addressed to me – to find Danielle Steel's Safe Harbour.

Huh?

I checked my queue. Had I been sleepwalking? Am I prone to adding film adaptations of cheesy romance novels while unconscious?

Apparently not, no. As Danielle Steel had not been – nor will she ever be – intentionally placed in my queue. I will take this moment to boast that I've never read a Danielle Steel novel. Judith Krantz, yes. Danielle Steel, no. And Judith Krantz was for a college course.

No, seriously.

So I presumed that some woman, somewhere (or maybe a gay man – or maybe a straight man, who am I to judge?) was being deprived of their Danielle Steel selection through the error of a Netflix shipping clerk.

Oh well. But, you know, as long as it was in my house, I figured I'd pop it in. Out of curiosity. Movie-making curiosity. Screenwriting curiosity.

Of course, I was able to lay out the entire plot in the first 10 minutes. It's based on a romance novel. I mean, come on. How complex can it be?

Melissa Gilbert plays Ophelia, whose name is pronounced Ophelie, or maybe that's her nickname. She's supposed to be French, but in the first few moments of hearing her dialogue, I was sure I was hearing a Russian accent. Russia. France. They have so much in common.

Ophelie sleeps a lot. She's depressed because her husband and son died when their small plane exploded. We, of course, are informed of this through a dream sequence during one of Ophelie's many naps. But when she wakes up, just as the plane explodes, the look on her face doesn't say, "Ohmygod! How horrible that I have just dreamt of the death of my husband and son!" Her face says, "Oh, I'm awake again. Did I defrost the chicken for dinner?"

Ophelie, in her depression, does a fine job of ignoring her daughter, Pip. So Pip befriends Matt, an artist she meets on the beach while walking her dog, Mousse. (Pip and Ophelie don't live on the beach, they're just spending the summer there, coping with their loss. And the name of the beach town is, of course, Safe Harbour.) At first, Ophelie gets very angry when she sees Matt with Pip and confronts him, yelling something like, "There are words for men like you! Very bad words!" At which point I yelled at my TV, "Are all French women insane?!" (Those of you who know me well know where that's coming from.)

But gee, do you think, eventually, that Ophelie and Matt will fall in love? Do you think that he might be the safe harbour she seeks when she learns – SPOILER ALERT, in case this post thus far had convinced you to rent this baby – that her husband and her best friend were having an affair, and that William, the best friend's baby, is actually ... dun, dun, dun ... Ted's child? And do you think that Ophelie might find a letter from the best friend in the pocket of Ted's cardigan sweater that describes that whole affair very neatly when she's finally ready to pack away his things? And do you think that Ophelie will tell her "friend" to never speak to her again? And do you think that Ophelie will have her own brush with death when she gets shot while trying to help homeless people? And do you think that the friend will end up dying of cancer and ask Ophelie, who is recovering from her gunshot wounds, to take William when she dies? And do you think Ophelie and Matt will end up getting married on the beach, the beach of Safe Harbour?

Yes, I invested 1 hour and 50 minutes of my life in Safe Harbour but it was worth it, even as I repeatedly said out loud, "I can't believe I'm watching this!", because I got to stare at Brad Johnson. Hello, nurse! Male nurse! This still is from another movie, but it's the same face I stared at for the better part of two hours tonight. He is the cover of a romance novel come to life: tall and handsome with dark, wavy hair, oh so sensitive, romantic, artistic, and gallant.

You know: fiction.

: o )

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Famous Is As Famous Does ...

Jay (that's four, honey!) is in a band. (Check it out on MySpace.) We were e-mailing back and forth today about the band's upcoming gig and other things, and the following exchange happened:

Jay:
And I want to challenge you to see how many consecutive days you work me into your blog! I think it would be fun. Plus, it’s your job to make me famous. ;)

Beth:
Challenge noted. I'll see what I can do. As Hannibal Lecter said to Clarice, though, "People will say we're in love." : o ) I'm punchy today. If it's my job to make YOU famous, whose job is it to make ME famous?

Jay:
I don’t think you need anyone to make you famous. You’re on your way.

And then I went out for a walk to mail a card to a friend who called tonight with some spectacular news about a very big book deal. While I was walking, I thought about Jay's e-mail, and when I got home, I wrote to him:

Beth:
You know me: I don't talk about myself much*, but I'm intrigued. A few weeks ago, my friend Henry wrote about our high school reunion on his blog and mentioned that the two most famous people from our class weren't there: me and Ryan Baker, the sports guy on Channel 5. I wrote to Henry: "Do you have a fever? I'm not famous." But to him, I am, because of my DesignStar blog. I told the story to my friend Nat who was here for brunch a couple weeks ago. We hadn't seen each other in 20 years, but she reads my blog. And when I got to the "I'm not famous" part, she said, "To me you're a little famous." Huh? And now you've made this comment. So Beth is letting her ego take over for a moment and asking what it is you see in me that makes you say that. We never seem to see ourselves the way others see us, but it's just odd to me that this word, "famous," keeps coming up in conversations. Clue me in, please.

All of which made wonder: What is the definition of "famous"? We're a fame-obsessesd society, but where is the line? How do you know when you're famous? Are you famous if you're recognized on the street? Are you famous if people know your name from a publication? Are you famous if someone writes about you in a weekly magazine?

I, clearly, would never define myself as famous. Maybe someday – one never knows – but certainly not today.

In your mind, what makes someone "famous"?

* This blog notwithstanding, I really don't talk about myself much. If you were to go out with me in a group setting, I'd be the one talking the least.

Hair Love ...

Update, May 2010: J-D now works his magic from Joseph Michael's.

(And speaking of love, how much do I love you people that I'm willing to let you see me in the morning before I've even put in my contacts or put on makeup or brushed my hair? This is just pre-photo tousle.)

J-D, my hair architect, wrote last week asking if I'd be a hair model for him. As I wrote to Jay yesterday before heading to the salon, "that's just someone on whom he can do a new color thingee, not like I'll end up as those huge-ass posters that look like bad Glamour Shots that you see in cheesy salons."

So I arrived at the salon to find several other women there, waiting for us to begin. Turns out, every few weeks, Dennis (the salon's namesake, Dennis Bartolomei) holds these workshops for his stylists to teach them something new.

It was completely fascinating. Until yesterday, I never really thought about hair color.

Usually, I just go to the salon, J-D and I chat for a moment about what I want to do with my hair, he looks at me in the mirror for a moment (devising a color plan, I figure), then walks away and comes back with a few bowls of goop, starts sectioning my hair and brushing on color and folding foils and the next thing you know, I look ridiculous, but then the foils get pulled out and my hair gets washed and he blows it dry and voila!, it's a pretty new mix of colors!

But yesterday, all the stylists gathered around each model as Dennis talked about what to do with each color challenge. At least one stylist was taking notes. I don't know if he was the note-taker for the whole group or if he's just particularly studious, but there he was, jotting things down as Dennis suggested what color combinations to use on my hair. Many numbers were involved. And formulas. Hair color is a mix of art and science.

J-D got started and Dennis popped over many times to check on his work and make suggestions. Dennis is meticulous. If J-D didn't do exactly what he wanted, he'd wipe the color out of my hair with a towel and have J-D do it again. J-D is hugely talented and I trust him with my hair completely, but Dennis had a vision and it was going to be realized. We're talking about strands of hair here. It got very delicate in the end, as they neared my part. Turns out, you want a very fine diffusion of color there, so you have to select very small amounts of hair to color.

Like I said, fascinating. Maybe not to read about here, but to witness. A lot of thought went into the colors they chose and how they applied them and where. Some highlights were put in at angles, some horizontally. Lowlights here, oh but never lowlights there.

My foils came out in three stages, the first ones on were the first ones off, and then J-D washed my hair. And then, back at his chair, he dried my hair halfway (he gave me a hand mirror so I could see the color up close and I said, "My hair sparkles!" It really did! The light was glinting off it!) and then we went back to the sinks (Dennis calls them "bowls") so that J-D could squirt glaze all over my hair. Blech. Icky-smelling stuff. And then, back at his chair, he squirted some serum-looking stuff on my hair and worked it through. Something about closing the hair shaft and locking in the color, I think.

He gave my hair a quick trim, not a haircut, and then started blowing it out. Normally, he styles my hair, but yesterday was about showing off the color, so he blew it out straight and smooth. Dennis gave him a boar-bristle brush to use. (Whoorl is nodding in approval right now ...) and it did make my hair even shinier.

The picture doesn't do the color justice. I waited until this morning to take a picture so that I'd have some natural light in my office, but you still can't see the full effect. It's darker than it's been because we always go a bit darker for fall. It's the color of caramel with glints of copper and gold. It's spectacular. I love it. Dennis is a genius. J-D is a genius. To have them both work on my hair was amazing. At one point, I said to J-D, "It felt weird to have another man touching my hair," and he laughed and said, "It's OK because I was watching."

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Holiday Gift-Giving PSA ...

I just saw a commercial for the Illinois Lottery, in which a guy, buying instant lottery tickets, says, "My girlfriend's gonna love these!"

Note to all men who have girlfriends: No, she won't.

New Music Tuesday ...

Sometimes, I forget.

I hear of a band or an album and I think, "Oooh! I need to buy that!" and then I don't. Because I am old and addle-brained.

But sometimes, I find myself wandering around Best Buy (as I was last night), with the Alison Krauss/Robert Plant disc in hand, ready to head to the cashier to buy it, even though I've sampled it on iTunes and I really don't like what I've heard, but it's Robert Plant and I love Robert Plant, so I figure I should buy it anyway.

And then my eyes fall on a disc that I remember wanting to buy months ago, and I put Robert and Alison back on the rack and I buy The Cost by The Frames instead.

I am a happy girl. Glen Hansard, the main Frame, opened for Damien Rice last year at The Vic. Jay's friend Mike knows Glen so they were going to be at the show (ah, the guest list) and Jay and I were talking about it the day or so before.

I'd never heard of The Frames, somehow. But for those who don't know (there might be one or two of you), the musical landscape in Ireland looks like this: U2 then The Frames.

Yeah, they're a big deal in their native land. And why they're not a bigger deal here, I don't understand. The Cost is outstanding. Even the album cover is beautiful.

The editorial review on iTunes begins, "If The Frames don't crack it with The Cost something is terribly wrong." The album dropped in February. I haven't been hearing about it all year, have you?

No, I didn't think so. And it's a shame.

I won't compare this band to anyone else to give you sense of their sound. Glen opened for Damien, but I've seen Damien quoted as saying that Glen is the musician Damien aspires to be. So I suppose they're in similar veins, but The Frames deserve to be listened to on their own merits, not because they sound like someone else.

Monday, November 05, 2007

'Weeds' ...

As I've mentioned in the past, I am the one person in the country without cable or satellite television. For the most part, this is a good thing, as I love me some TV, and if I had more options, the likelihood that my flesh would knit itself into my couch would greatly increase. And if I think my ass is big now, it'd be even harder to buy pants if I had to accommodate a sofa cushion back there.

Not having cable, of course, means that I didn't have to get pissed off about the cut to black at the end of The Sopranos. Whatever. It sounded like a clever way to end the show. Because, really, nothing David Chase could have done would have made everyone happy. Kill Tony, it's too cliché, let Tony live happily ever after, it's too unrealistic. Have Tony continue on with his mob ways, why end the show? So cut to black and let everybody make up their own minds.

I've watched some of Rome but I have a lot of catching up to do on that front. But Ciarán is a damn fine Caesar, from what I've seen.

I got tired of Curb Your Enthusiasm. I thought it was brilliant, but after watching several seasons in a short amount of time, I decided that Larry is just a yutz and now that Cheryl's left him, all I can think is, "What took you so long?"

But Jay recently recommended Weeds so I Netflixed the first season, which is 10 episodes. Ten half-hour episodes. I thought it was an hour show. But good thing that it's not, because I didn't have 10 hours this weekend to watch TV, but I managed to find five, broken up over three days.

And WOW! What a great show! Mary Louise Parker and Elizabeth Perkins are fabulous, Justin Kirk is freakishly attractive, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan isn't just Denny Duquette!

I've laughed out loud – hard – on several occasions. The episode in which Shane makes the terrorist video killed me. Brillant television.

So while I'm sad that the writers in Hollywood are striking, I'm also proud of them. They're the ones who create these brilliant shows and they're the ones who get the smallest slice of the pie. Why is it so hard to make people see that without writers, nothing on stage or screen, big or small, exists. That's not to say actors and directors and crew are unimportant, but none of them would have anything to do if the writers didn't supply them with scripts in the first place.

Luckily, if the strike affects my current crop of shows, I can dip into past seasons of everything I've missed on cable.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

My Stash ...

Alison left a comment on my last blog post, about curling ribbon, asking, "Can I come over and admire your stash?", which made me think, "Ooh! I need to do a spectrum photograph of all the colors!" Which is what I did in the middle of editing an 89-page document for work because for the love of God, there's only so much you can stare at a laptop screen before you run the risk of your eyes falling out of your head. (So that's why I didn't post yesterday, because I was working on The Report That Ate Cleveland all day and most of the night, and when I wasn't working on it, I was a) handing out candy to trick-or-treaters and then b) sleeping.)

Looking at this picture now, I'd arrange the colors a bit differently, but I did this in about 2 minutes, and it's really for my own edification. It was a good chance to do a color inventory so I can fill in missing colors and so I can wonder why I have two nearly full spools of hot pink. (Note that duplicate spools are not included in this shot. Also note the mysterious lack of black. I must think black ribbon is too macabre, too The Nightmare Before Christmas, which I love. Don't get me wrong. Tim Burton is a genius. But black ribbon on a package just seems strange.)

Yep, curling ribbon is the kind of thing that thrills me. Which seems weird, until you remember that Mies van der Rohe said, "God is in the details." Details, people. It's all about the details.