Monday, December 29, 2008

I Got Somethin' ...

The title of my last post was I Got Nothin'. At the end of it, I mentioned that I was going to see Jenniffer Weigel's one-woman show on Sunday and mused that maybe I'd have something to say after that. Well ... grab a beverage. And a snack, maybe. And while you're up, grabbing a blanket and a pillow probably wouldn't be such a bad idea, either. I wrote what follows about 2:45 a.m. on Doreen's couch. Let's amuse ourselves, shall we, at what passes for writing from me in the middle of the night.

This blog post woke me up.

I am a newly minted insomniac. I am also crashing on Doreen's couch tonight and I never sleep well when I'm not at home. I was going to bring my laptop. But I didn't. But I now realize how much I need a keyboard available to me. I am writing this – gasp! – longhand. In a small black notebook that I keep in my purse.

So, as I was saying, this blog post woke me up. I looked at my phone – 2:43 a.m. – and tried to go back to sleep, but this blog post kept coming through, one potential lede after another. Writers write, it turns out, even when there's nothing on which to write at hand.

So I gave in after many minutes of mulling, after trying to Zen out my mind, after thinking this thought: "Thank you in advance for allowing me to sleep for several more hours." Keep reading. You'll understand.

Sunday afternoon, Doreen and Angela and I went to see "I'm Spiritual, Dammit!", Jenniffer Weigel's one-woman show based on her book Stay Tuned: Conversations with Dad from the Other Side.

A brief bit of background for those of you who hail from someplace other than Chicago: Jen is the third generation of broadcasting Weigels. Her grandfather founded Channel 26 – Weigel Broadcasting – and her dad, Tim, was a sportscaster in town for as long as I can remember.

Tim died, too young, seven years ago after battling a brain tumor. When he died, I remember thinking about my fried Rick. Tim and Rick were close, and I was sad that Rick had lost another friend. Gene Siskel had died a couple of years prior to Tim, Mike Royko a couple of years prior to Gene. It seemed like Rick was always saying goodbye to someone dear. While I'd seen Jen on TV, I didn't think about her losing her dad as much as Rick losing a friend. I knew Rick. I didn't know Jen.

Last year, she published Stay Tuned. Doreen told me about it. I added it to my never-ending list of books to get around to reading someday.

Many months of somedays later, the book still on the list, Doreen forwarded an e-mail about Jen's show with the following note added to the top:

"OMG - do you want to go with me????"

Doreen loves punctuation. And she is one of my close friends because we share an appreciation – a respect for, a belief in – the realm of "other," "woo-woo," if you will.

Some people are very five-sensory. In their view, if they can't see it, hear it, touch it, taste it, or feel it, it doesn't exist. And some people are like me and Doreen. And Angela.

Here's my take on all things metaphysical: Everything is energy, energy that exists at different frequencies. Some of us are able to tune in to some frequencies that other cannot. Maybe some people don't believe in anything outside the physical realm. Maybe some people don't know those frequencies exist. But they do.

The next time you run across a channel that's fuzzy with static, move around the TV. The picture will change relative to your position to the set. We're all antennas that way. And some of us are antennas for other signals, as well.

As part of my recent commitment to follow whatever paths the universe places in front of me, I instantly agreed to go with Doreen to see Jen's show. And then Sunday rolled around, and for a moment, I thought about not going. But then my brain gave me a little shove and told me, "Beth, you need to see this. There's a message waiting for you."

And so I went.

"I'm Spiritual, Dammit!" is being staged at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. Jen's show takes place in an intimate space. I was happy it was so full on the Sunday afternoon after Christmas when many people were clogging airports and roads, not taking in theater.

She stepped through the darkened space and took the stage. As she spoke, I marveled at her ability to remember her lines. I know that they're all her stories, but they're stories performed in a particular order, in a particular way.

Now, those of you who know me know: I am a sap. As Jude Law says in "The Holiday," "I am a major weeper." There were many weep-worthy moments in Jen's show. She, however, to my great amazement, kept it together. Not only did she remember her monologue, she delivered it with the perfect blend of the personal and the professional. Her eyes welled up but she kept going. And her pacing never let things get maudlin.

She was, after all, talking about her father. But she was also talking about the man most of us knew for his jovial delivery and, um, unconventional taste in jackets and ties. Her show has a lot of laughs. And I love her "mom" voice, the sing-songy, syrupy-smooth, "Hi, honey, it's mom ... . Love you. So proud of you."

As for the message that was waiting for me? There were two. The macro-message: I am not alone in this quest. Jen and I are on similar paths. We don't have identical backgrounds, but we share a media bent. We're about the same age. And we both want to forge our own independent futures, but we're both prone to succumbing to the safety of "real jobs." The micro-message: I need to believe in who I am and what I want. Others can offer perspectives and advice, but none of it will matter or affect me until I can embrace my truth myself. Oh, and I need to figure out what I want. That's first.

After the show, after the lights came up, after she discovered that a good part of the crowd was part of her stepfamily, Doreen introduced herself (she and Jen had been trading e-mails) and then introduced Angela, with whom Jen chatted for a moment, and then me. Annnnnd cue the weeping. Oprah calls it "the ugly cry," that moment when your face crumples and any composure you had whooshes right out the door. I suspect Jen sees that fairly often. She was very sweet. "Have you experienced a loss?" she asked, kindly. I tried to talk. I managed to get out, "I'll e-mail you."

I bought a book. She signed it and included her e-mail address. As we left, I told her that a friend of mine died a few years ago but that he'd recently started communicating with me. Which shouldn't make me weepy. I think it's cool that I can chat with Charles. But I'd just been telling Angela about Alex. Alex, one of Charles' daughters, told me recently that she'd been missing her dad terribly, more than usual, and that she'd said, "Dad, can you send me a sign that you still love me?" And that was the same weekend that Charles and I had our first chat. I turned out to be her sign. Her dad's messenger.

Jen talks about James Van Praagh in her show a lot, how he told her that those on the other side communicate with us in many ways. The signs are all around us. It's up to us to recognize them.

Though that left me to wonder all over again: If they're with us all the time, are they with us all the time? Is Charles there when I go on a date? Not that it's of great concern to me, as I go on a date about as often as I vote for president, but well, don't you sometimes wonder if someone's watching?

I do.

Jen's show runs through February 1, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m. Tickets are $25. Call the CCPA box office at (312) 733-6000 or click here to buy tickets online. I'm posting this link to my Twitter and Facebook pages. Please Tweet it or share the URL with anyone who might be interested in her show. It's absolutely time well-spent.

Once I stopped writing this post, I started reading her book. Jen and I also share a writing style, very conversational. As I was reading, I was thinking about the book's core question – "What happens to us when we die?" And then I thought to myself, in terms of appeal, "This book should be as big as Jeff's book
[The Last Lecture]" just as my eyes fell on Jen's birthday: October 6. The same day as Jeff's.

Oh, one last thing: In her show, Jen talks about shifting our thinking from what we want and need – what we lack – to thanking the universe in advance for what we have, even before we have it. Parking became her experiment. In her car, she would say, "Thank you in advance for the parking spot exactly where I need it." The first time she tried it, it worked. The second time, ditto. Third, fourth, fifth. She kept a tally on a piece of paper in her car. I won't tell you what number she hit before she stopped counting – go to the show to find out – but this morning, as I left Doreen's to make a cookie delivery, I said, "Thank you in advance for the parking spot right in front of Kurtis Productions." Then I realized that I didn't specify which spot I wanted, but I really wanted the end spot right across the street from the building. So I held that thought, turned the corner, and, well, I don't have to tell you that my spot was waiting.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I Got Nothin' ...

Why are you reading this? Didn't you see the title of this post? I got nothin'. Yesterday, my blog received twice the number of hits of an average day even though I hadn't posted since Wednesday. Christmas was lovely and I received my favoritest thing in the world from my niece, but my brain has gone into Windows' Hibernate mode (Look! A PC reference! From a Mac girl!) and consequently, I got nothin'.

Tomorrow, though, I'm going to see Jenniffer (yes, that's how she spells it) Weigel's one-woman show, so maybe I'll have something after that.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Quiet Christmas ...

Many years ago, I made a compilation of pieces that I called Quiet Christmas. Most of it isn't Christmas music, per se, not Christmas music as we've come to know it, but it suits this time of year, snowy nights and the glow of lights, or, in my case, the glow of lights on very early mornings.

This is the playlist. I recommend this particular order.

1. Icicles by Charles Bisharat from On A Winter's Night

2. Sonata For Two Clarinets by Richard Stoltzman from A Winter's Solstice VI

3. In The Winter's Pale by Tim Story from A Winter's Solstice VI

4. Article Of Faith by Fred Simon from On A Winter's Night

5. Engravings II by Ira Stein And Russel Walder from Winter's Solstice, Vol. 1

6. The Sussex Carol by Nightnoise from A Winter's Solstice V

7. Silent Night by Ray Lynch from The Carols Of Christmas

8. Of The Father's Love Begotten by Tim Story from A Winter's Solstice III

9. Flute Sonata In Em by Barbara Higbie, Emily Klion from A Winter's Solstice, Vol. II

10. The Earth Lay White by Tim Story from On A Winter's Night

11. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by Brian Keane from The Carols Of Christmas

12. O Holy Night by David Darling from The Carols Of Christmas

That Holiday Feeling ...

I am awake early again. I don't know why.

But it's Christmas Eve and I've made a pot of coffee and put on my favorite instrumental Christmas CD and a moment ago I walked into the living room with my cup of joe and thought, "This is the last morning before Christmas that I'll be able to sit with the tree."

The last morning this year, I mean. I have every intention of being here next Christmas and for many Christmases to come.

But it set me to thinking about that feeling I feel leading up to holidays, my birthday and Christmas, especially. The day before my birthday feels entirely different than the day after my birthday. Likewise, Christmas Eve feels entirely different than December 26th.

Then again, life is full of moments we anticipate and moments that have passed.

Yesterday, College Boyfriend David was stuck in traffic – imagine that! – and found me on my cell phone. Cell phone-to-cell phone conversations can be spotty in the best of circumstances, but even more so, it seems, when the weather is bad. The weather in Cincinnati was rainy and the weather in my part of the world was snowy – again – so it wasn't the most crystal-clear connection, and yet when we said our goodbyes and I hung up, I was surprised that we had talked for 45 minutes. David and I never talk on the phone for 45 minutes these days. I don't think we talked on the phone for 45 minutes at a stretch when we were dating. And P.S., that was 20 years ago. David and I have known each other for more than half my life. Wild.

But my point – yes, I do have one; cut an insomniac some slack! – is that it was one of my favorite moments of the holidays this year. We didn't talk about anything in particular – his kids, my mom (he loves my mom; those of you who know her understand why), what TV we're watching these days (he's quite insistent that I watch "Battlestar Galactica"; he described it as "Shakespeare in space" for the quality of it, and I told him that I others whose opinions I really trust have raved about it, so I'll check it out) – but the same conversation wouldn't feel the same if we had it a few days from now.

It's kind of like birthday cards that show up in your mailbox the day after your birthday. Nice, but not the same as the birthday cards that show up in your mailbox on your birthday or before.

By all accounts, I'm an adult, but I still get excited about Christmas. I go to bed on Christmas Eve knowing full well that I'll have trouble sleeping and wake up early. The days of going to bed and waking up to a living room full of presents are long behind me, but there's still something about the energy of Christmas morning. It feels different than any other morning of the year. It's a very low-key affair now – no kids bounding around, tearing into packages, shrieking with delight – but it's still special.

I hope that everyone is experiencing that holiday feeling, looking forward to spending today and tomorrow with someone you love, and that the magic of the season brings you your hearts' desires.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Toy Stories ...

It's not like I dwell on them.

The stories of toy torture are for the amusement of my nephews and niece, who get a kick out of hearing about their dad's mischief and malfeasance, especially since their dad turned out to be a creator of toys. (All of this, in case it doesn't come through, is written in good fun. I love my brothers and hold none of this against them.)

But yesterday I was commiserating with my niece, who, like me, is the youngest child with two older brothers, and I was recounting the suffering my toys endured. And because my brain is a strange, strange place (ask me sometime about my dreams last night involving grub worms and finding a baby in a plastic bag on my lawn and that not qualifying for a 911 response from the police – the baby situation, I mean, not the grub worms), I kept thinking about The Sunshine Family.

I received The Sunshine Family for a Christmas sometime in the mid-'70s, I reckon. The baby of the family (the doll baby, not me) was the greatest victim of my brothers' torture. The baby was wee, but the act was especially heinous because, unlike my Dressy Bessy that had been relegated to the toy bin in the garage, I'd just received The Sunshine Family THAT VERY MORNING.

Blow up my Dressy Bessy if you must. (This image, found through the magic of Google Images, is what Dressy Bessy looked like in happier times.) Sacrifice my Skipper doll if it gives you kicks. But please, some clemency for my Sunshine Family baby? For at least 24 hours? Alas.

So this morning, awake early – again – and wondering where I left my ability to sleep through the night (by the way, it's 6:32 a.m. as I type this sentence and still pitch black outside; I wonder if today is the day the world has been plunged into eternal darkness), I Googled images of The Sunshine Family.

This one gave me pause:



I suppose there must have been generations or iterations of the dolls, because I don't remember my mom doll having such sex-kitten hair. And I don't remember my dad doll looking so much like a possessed Kris Kringle from "Santa Claus is Comin' to Town." And I really don't remember my baby doll looking so much like Andy Warhol.

But I also found an image of The Sunshine Family Van, which was what I'd received that Christmas. Though it wasn't a van, it was a pick-up truck and a house/store/craft hut sat in the bed of the truck, presumably so The Sunshine Family could travel around and sell their wares wherever the road led them.

Of course, even then, the dolls had impossibly small waists. But I guess that trend started with Barbie, well before The Sunshine Family brought their crunchy-granola ways to the toy world. You'd think, though, that the creators could have made the eyes a little less creepy.

P.S. It is now 6:55 a.m. Daylight has broken. Phew.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Early ...

Because I am hyper-glamourous, I went to bed last night before 10 p.m. I tried reading for a little while, but I kept reading the same words over and over so I finally took off my glasses and turned off the light and pulled my fluffy covers over my shoulder. At 10:03 p.m.

I had a busy day, I told myself. I cleared a lot of ice off of a lumpy asphalt driveway for several hours. Whereas the ice came up with relative ease on my mom's concrete driveway, when I came home to do mine, progress was made slowly. But I made a lot of progress. When it was almost dark, I threw in the towel for the day. Or night. Whichever.

So it made sense that I'd be tired. And I was happy to be home on a cold Friday night. Heading to the grocery store for provisions was as far as I wandered last night, and that was far enough. Seriously people: salt. Put. Down. Salt. I know it's expensive. I'll kick in a few extra bucks. Just let me know where to send it. If I have to give up something in exchange for being able to drive without feeling as though I'm going to skid into a tree, that's okayfine with me.

Anyway, the point is, I was tired and I went to bed early. And then I woke up – a good thing, generally – at, wait for it ... 3:30 a.m.! What am I? 80?

"No way," I thought, looking at the clock. A friend – I think it was Kelley – once told me that if you wake up in the middle of the night, you shouldn't look at the clock. So I didn't look at the clock. For about 30 seconds, and then I caved. Because me and willpower? Oil and water, baby.

But there was no way I was getting up at 3:30 in the morning, so I turned over and attempted to doze, which I did, until 4 a.m. Score! Not. I've also heard that if you can't sleep, it's best to just get up and do something until you're tired again, that it's not good to lie in bed and wish you could sleep.

So, of course, I stayed in bed. But I finally threw in the towel and threw off the covers at 4:20 a.m.

As for my chosen activity? Yup, drinking coffee. So I'm pretty sure I won't be going back to bed any time soon.

But I have butter out on the counter, softening for later when I will continue/perhaps finish my Christmas baking. (I'm taking my baking one kind of cookie at a time this year. I have seven kinds done. By the end of today, I should have nine. I usually do at least a dozen. But this year, my baking chi is wonky. And holy crap, have you seen the price of butter? At Jewel, it's over $5 a pound! Land O' Lakes, that is. Which is all I use in baking. Yes, there is a difference. No, butter is not butter, no matter the brand. That, however, is another post for another time.) And I have gifts to wrap. I still have a couple things to pick up, but there's no way I am venturing anywhere near stores today.

So I'm sitting on my loveseat in the glow of my tree, listening to very mellow Christmas music, sipping hazelnut-gooed coffee, and doing myself absolutely no favors in the sleep department by staring at a computer screen. But I'll think of it as light therapy, since we won't be seeing the sun for a couple days.

But the ice-coated trees are pretty. And winter arrives tomorrow. I wonder how long it will stay. I'd try to hibernate, but my long winter's nap would probably last about 20 minutes.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Ice Pics ...

This morning, I scampered out of bed (OK, I didn't actually scamper, but I did throw off the covers with a flourish) and looked outside expecting to see a fresh blanket of snow.

But instead of more snow, I saw less.

I padded into the dining room, opened the curtains on my big window, and my eyes were met with the most beautiful like-a-painting picture: all my trees coated in ice.

I went outside a little later to clear what I could (it's very satisfying to dislodge sheets of ice, turns out) and then returned indoors to retrieve my camera.

For those of you who think you miss winter, I offer a few snaps of today's wonderland. (My neighbor and I decided we should head inside when big limbs started crashing out of the tree in his neighbor's yard. Now is not a good time to be under trees. It is, however, the perfect time to have more coffee and post pictures.)











Wednesday, December 17, 2008

On The Importance of Friends (And Getting Enough Potassium) ...

I have amazing friends.

I have friends who lend a hand when I need help around the house.

I have friends who lend an ear when I need to vent about a bad day.

I have friends who lend a shoulder when I need one to lean on.

But most importantly, I have friends who dress up as giant bananas. Well, one friend. But really, when it comes to friends who dress up as potassium-rich fruit, how many does a girl need? Let me assure you, one fills the bill just fine.

How do I know that I have a friend who dresses up as a giant banana, you ask? Oh, I have proof. Photographic proof. Which arrived in the mail this morning. As part of a Christmas card.

Why does this friend dress up as a giant banana, you ask? Well, really, can you think of a reason not to? I'm pretty sure the Declaration of Independence assures us certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and access to giant fruit costumes. Our Founding Fathers had well-known affinities for hosiery and wigs and shoes with sensible heels. Surely fruit-dressing wasn't far behind. But hey, I don't judge.

Suffice it to say that the cute little guy in the photo below really likes bananas. And so does the baby.

I only hope that Mr. Banana bought that costume or that the costume shop uses a really good dry-cleaner. You'll note that the banana's not wearing any pants. I'm just sayin'.






















(Yes, I know it's a grainy photo, but it's a digital photo of a digital photo and the lighting wasn't good and I should have changed the setting on my camera but I didn't. Besides, I think a little anonymity in this case isn't a bad thing. You know, for the kid. And the wife. And the dog. And the tree.)

Stuffed ...

I have a lot of stuff.

I used to have less stuff – when I lived in my studio apartment – and then I got more stuff – when I moved into a 1-bedroom apartment – and now I have even more stuff, because I live in a house.

I have far, far, far more stuff than I need. Which I've been thinking about a lot lately, during this holiday season when money is tighter for almost everyone and retailers are reeling from our collective inclination to buy less stuff.

Stuff is the topic of Anna Quindlen's column in Newsweek this week.

This year, instead of giving me more stuff, my mom is making a contribution to a charity in my name. Well, wait. That's not entirely true. She will be making the contribution to the charity, but I will also receive some stuff because she wants me to have something to open on Christmas morning. I gave her a list of some CDs and DVDs I'd like and told her to pick one or two.

Yesterday, I was thinking about Lyle Lovett's song "Step Inside This House" and these lyrics:

I'll show you all the things I own
My treasures you might say
Couldn't be more then ten dollars worth
They brighten up my day


And I was thinking about families in struggling countries that count themselves lucky to have the most basic of possessions.

Shopping one day before my birthday, I saw a set of dishes I really liked. Now, I don't need dishes. I have dishes. Mom offered to buy the new dishes for me for my birthday. No, I told her. I don't need them. And I don't. I like them, but I don't need them.

And so it seems that this country has finally awoken from our long consumption coma and now we're rubbing our eyes and looking around and asking, "What are we doing with all this stuff?"

I understand that stuff confers status. When you're a kid, the more presents that are under the tree, the better. When you're an adult, the toys become more expensive, but they serve the same purpose: allowing you to keep up with the Joneses or make the Joneses jealous.

But not a cold night goes by that I don't feel a little twinge of guilt. Here I am, alone, in this whole house, while there are people who will sleep on the streets tonight, I think to myself. And I wonder how many of them might not make it through the night.

I think about paring back my life, of shedding most of my stuff and moving back into a small space. Of course, in this real-estate market, I probably couldn't sell my house anyway, so I'll stay put for the time being. But while I'm here, I've started sorting through my stuff and setting some aside for a garage sale (yes, so someone else can assume my stuff, but I'll donate the money to charity) and thinning out my already-thin closet and donating clothes to Goodwill.

Now, I don't intend to become my grandmother who held on to things until they practically disintegrated. But I can certainly get by with less. (Though I will always be a happy recipient of CDs because I love new music. Yes, I can buy it digitally, but there's something about the CD and the liner notes that makes me happy. I mean, I'm not a monk! I'm not giving up everything!)

I bought gifts for everyone this year, but I tried to buy useful things, not just stuff for stuff's sake. The nephews and niece will have some things to open on Christmas Eve at my mom and dad's house, but even they're asking for less these days. And they'll like their presents, I'm sure, but the best part of the evening will be curling up on the couch in front of the fireplace with my niece (she makes sure we do that every year, the love) and then watching a Christmas video with all of them after dessert.

Last year, the grown-ups – that'd be my mom and dad and brother and sister-in-law – sat around the kitchen table and noshed on cookies and had coffee and chatted while me and my nephews and niece retired to the TV room to watch a DVD I gave to my younger nephew. We laughed so hard we were crying. That will go down as one of my all-time favorite Christmas memories.

That's what I want for Christmas: moments that make up memories. Because I can keep them forever.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Music Tuesday ...

Many thanks to my e-friend Karl for turning me on to Schiller and this tune. Think Enigma, but German and cooler.

Monday, December 15, 2008

'Leap Days' ...

I finished reading this book last Sunday and sat down to start a post and just didn't feel like I had a post in me at the time.

So, a week hence, the book is still sitting on my ottoman/coffee table hybrid as a reminder to finish this post and last night I watched "The Visitor" (if you haven't seen it, rent it right now; New York plays a fine supporting role) and I finally feel like I have some things to say.

I can't remember who recommended "Leap Days" to me (Elida, was it you?), but if I was planning a move to New York, it would be a good psycho-sociological guide book.

Mind you, I'm not planning a move to New York. I love New York, but only in small doses. My cousin Barry once asked me when I was going to move to New York. "You belong here," he said. Which was very sweet of him. And if he hadn't had several martinis in him at the time, I'd have been more inclined to believe him.

But then, native New Yorkers aside, who is ever really ready to dive into the mayhem that is Manhattan? Manhattan seems manageable for those with means. But at the moment, anyway, means elude me.

It's not that I feel out of place in New York. Quite the contrary. I feel entirely in my element walking those crowded streets, though I might never get past the curbside piles of trash. Chicagoans do love their alleys, a place to stash life's discards until they can be carted away.

When I was in New York in March, I made a quick trek from my hotel to the MoMA store across the street from Balthazar. On my way back to my hotel, I sped down the sidewalk, weaving around slow-going pedestrians. Who knew anyone in New York moved at that pace? The point is, I walk defensively, with authority, like I know where I'm going (and I usually do). I walk like I belong there, no typical touristy gawking from me. Then again, I've been to New York, well, um, a lot. I don't even know how many times. And for those hours or days, I feel very much a part of things.

But moving there would be another story, I'm sure. For Katherine Lanpher, our real-life heroine, her move from Minnesota to Manhattan made her a stranger in a strange land. There are ways, rules you are expected to know when you alight at LaGuardia or JFK. Reading Lanpher's book is like sitting down with a friend who has gone before you, assimilated, and now offers advice to the tired, poor, and huddled masses.

If I could change one thing about her book, I'd offer more of her New York experiences and less of her life before she took a bite out of the Apple. Then again, in order to know where you're going, it helps to know where you've been.

It's a fun read, to be sure. I regret now that I didn't bookmark the pages I was sure I'd remember. But I'll probably read it again some day and nod my head in agreement all over again.

I don't think I'll ever make the move to NYC. But if I ever do, I'm quite sure I'll want to try the trapeze.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Being Vewy, Vewy Quiet ...

Sheesh, I haven't posted since Tuesday? Hmm.

I've been out and about, running more errands to prepare for Christmas. The baking will commence today, stupefyingly close to the big day, and even more stupefyingly close to the day that I play Cookie Elf and dole them out.

But this year's offering will be a pared-down version of my usual list. Typically, I bake 12-14 varieties. This year, for reasons both financial and mental, I cut back to seven. Seven feels like a manageable number. And, I reason, if I finish all that baking and think to myself, "Huh. I still feel like baking," I can keep making my way through the list.

But a week or so ago, when I was already starting to freak out about all there was to do, I sat myself down and had a little chat and said, "Beth? You don't have to do it all."

Oh! Well, that was easy! Women especially tend to go nuts this time of year, trying to pull off a grand holiday. By contrast, at the mall the other day, mom and I ran into a man she knows from a grocery store (mom is the kind of person who knows everyone everywhere). He was poking around, looking for something for his wife for Christmas. He had no idea what to buy for her.

Now, points for him for shopping two weeks before Christmas instead of running to 7-Eleven on Christmas Eve and buying her a toothbrush and some chewing tobacco, but I thought, "Something tells me they probably give gifts to their kids. Or grandkids. Friends? Neighbors?" If so, guess who's buying all of those? And, more than likely, wrapping all of those? Shipping all of those?

You get the idea.

But today is a "free" day. I have butter on the counter, coming up to room temperature, and I will plow through the cookie list. I will not be going anywhere near retail, unless it's to my local Walgreens to buy more tape. I don't need more tape, but my favorite tape is on sale, so I'm happy to hoard it.

OK, kids, I've started typing about tape. And the coffee is finished brewing. So those are my cues to wrap this up.

When I start typing about tape, I know I've lost you out there. I've nearly lost myself.

Oh, but I'll leave you with this mini movie review: "Fred Claus" is pretty lame, but the Christmas-morning montage made me welly, and Kevin Spacey is, of course, outstanding.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

'Historic Photos of Chicago' ...

I am not a book critic.

I love books. And I can certainly be critical. But when it comes to criticism of the journalistic persuasion, I don't boast any professional credentials. I simply know what I like. And what I don't.

Recently, an e-mail from Liz Chenery from Turner Publishing Company in Nashville, Tenn., popped up in my in box, asking me if I'd like to receive a copy of one of Turner's titles in exchange for a possible review.

I write book reviews on my blog all the time, but they're all from a personal perspective, simply my take on books I've picked up out of my own interest.

I'd never been approached by a publisher to review a book. I know some bloggers who expressly won't. I've never asked them why. Perhaps they don't want to be inundated. Maybe they think solicited reviews would compromise their bloggeristic integrity. But Chenery's missive contained two magic words: "possible review."

There are plenty of opportunities in the blogosphere to blog for money. But today, as I was cleaning out my filing cabinet, I ran across one of the ethics statements that I had to sign every year as an employee of the Chicago Tribune and while I no longer work there, I still hew to those standards. Simply put, I can't be bought.

If I like your product, I'll happily tell the world. If I don't, I won't.

So on this grey, drizzly afternoon, I leafed through Historic Photos of Chicago and I must say, I found it fascinating.

Have you ever seen photographs of the city in the aftermath of the great fire? I hadn't. But I have now.

Did you know that the continuation of Michigan Avenue north of the river was called Pine Street? I didn't. But I do now.

Did you know that when the Merchandise Mart opened in 1930, its floor space made it the world's largest building? Me neither.

Do you know what building usurped that designation 13 years later? The Pentagon.

The very early photos of the city amaze me. It was so sparse. We tend to think of everything in terms of our own time. But when next you find yourself in the park by the Water Tower on Michigan Avenue (nee Pine Street; and I'm talking about the historic building, not the mall that opened in 1976), try to rewind your mind back 100 years to a time when Borders wasn't at the corner of Michigan and Pearson. When the Park Hyatt and Armani weren't just to the west. When Boul Mich wasn't bustling with buses and bicyclists and cabs but was simply a tree-lined street.

On the Acknowledgments' facing page is a photo of the most spectacular mansion. "Where is that?" I asked the page, excitedly. How had I missed that magnificence all these years? Then I read the caption. Potter Palmer's mansion, into which his family moved in 1885, was demolished in 1950. Demolished! Who was the genius who decided to demolish such a refined residence?

Luckily, pages 58-59 provide a glimpse into the grandeur of the space, its walls filled with art, its ceiling soaring. "Subtle," I said, chuckling. It was very Citizen Kane in its outsized opulence.

I've always been a fan of architecture but what strikes me most about old photos are the faces. It's easy to scan over people in photos almost as though they're props. But I stop to look into their eyes and think about what they were feeling in that moment in time, like the woman with her hand to her mouth on page 63. And I think about how, in that moment, she and those around her weren't aware that someone would be looking at their faces 104 years later, feeling a connection to the past that was their present.

Photographs are portals in that way, a chance to stop and consider life in another time. The concerned woman didn't simply appear in that photo. She woke up that day and arranged her hair and chose her clothes and likely made breakfast for the girl whose hand she is holding. Where did they live? How did they arrive in that place, in the frame of the camera?

Books like these never bore me because they're so visually rich. I can skim through the pages or I can land on one photo, dense with details, and study it intently.

Turner publishes a bevy of these titles, from cities far and wide. Taking this tome as representative of its offerings, I encourage you to explore the history of wherever you call home.

Holiday Greetings ...

Those of you who know me may know that each year, finding the right holiday card is more chore than cheer. I typically trudge from store to store grumbling, "What? Do I have to make my own cards, too?"

I'm very fussy about cards. Not just any cards will do. They have to be the right cards. They have to offer the right message.

This year, I was in my basement rummaging through boxes of Christmas accoutrement and compiled all my piles of cards from Christmases past that had been sent to me by family and friends. I brought them upstairs and flipped through them and one from my friend Elida struck me as particularly lovely. (No surprise. Elida is the particularly lovely type.) I flipped it over, saw that Brush Dance was the maker, and headed over to its web site, where it took me about a half a second to find this year's cards.

Each year, I look for a "peace" card. I don't send out Christmas cards, specifically, nor do I send out Hanukkah cards, or any other wintertime holiday cards. Peace, I reason, applies to us all. And so this year's card reads simply on its front, "Peace on Earth," and the inside, "May all your days be filled with peace."

I tuck a letter inside each card – yes, I'm one of those people. Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis will already know the goings-on of my life this year, but for those who are new to this space (Hi, Mike!), this is what I had to say:

November 2008

Family and friends:

It is snowing today. Powdered sugar continues to fall from the pearl-grey sky. As I sit in my comfy chair, writing by the glow of my tree, I am profoundly grateful for yet another year. But lest this letter get maudlin, let’s proceed to a zippy review of 2008:

January: I headed to Dallas for a company meeting. Not Dallas proper, but somewhere off of a highway near Dallas. At a Courtyard by Marriott, the epitome of generic business travel. My friend Ethan met me at the airport. It’s good to have a pal who knows you well enough to know that your idea of sightseeing is wandering around Central Market and ogling the cheese case and the gelato bar.

February: As a mid-winter treat, I booked myself into a little suite at the Hard Rock Hotel for a weekend that included wine, a friend’s birthday fête, and ice-covered steel stairs. Miraculously, a trip to the ER was not part of that combo. But I learned a valuable lesson that night: I need to drink more wine. I also had the privilege of editing my friend Jeff Zaslow’s drafts of The Last Lecture, the book project borne out of Randy Pausch’s final presentation at Carnegie Mellon University.

March: I hopped a plane to New York (Hi, Patty and Barry!) to see my friend Ciarán on Broadway in “The Seafarer.” Backstage, Ciarán introduced me to his co-star (and fellow tall person) David Morse (a k a George Washington in HBO’s “John Adams.”) He looked a bit surprised as he shook my hand. I said, “It was just exceptional,” to which he replied, “Hi, I’m David.” I think he must not be used to meeting women who can look him in the eye.

April: Since I hadn’t gotten my fill of Courtyard by Marriott glamour in Dallas, I picked another city that started with D and headed to Denver with a couple colleagues for a project. There I met George and Brian who were partnering with us on our latest IT escapade. George is a fellow foodie and we became fast friends. I also ventured back into the studio to polish up a few tunes. The Last Lecture arrived in stores and online, as did Hello, Cupcake! by the adorable Karen Tack, whom I’d interviewed for a story last year.

May: During my first full week of vacation since I’d started my job in 2005, I met up with Karen at Sur La Table. She invited me to stay for her class. We made cupcakes that looked like sharks, dogs, sunflowers, and spaghetti and meatballs. Also on my vacation, I took a road trip to Cleveland to see Gemma and Dave and meet their oh-so-adorable daughter Rita. When I came home, I met my friend Cheryl’s little boy, Charlie.

June: In an amazing concert two-fer, I went to see The Swell Season (the cute couple who won the Oscar this year for Best Original Song, and their band) at the Chicago Theater, then Robert Plant and Alison Krauss at Ravinia the next day where the temperature was approximately 20ªF. I now own a Ravinia sweatshirt. Later in the month, I met my friends Chris and Ginger’s little boy, Charlie.

July: July went by in a bit of an unremarkable blur. The weather was nice for my annual 4th of July party. And I ate a lot of peaches. That’s the story for July: “The nation turned 232 years old. Beth ate a lot of peaches. The end.” Oh, that’s right: I saw Coldplay, too. I did not, however, meet any babies named Charlie.

August: Questioning the sanity of walking 60 miles in Chicago in August – again – I embarked on my fifth Breast Cancer 3-Day and met Amy, who has become a good friend. We hope to walk together again next year. One day, perhaps all walkers will be followed on the route by hunky men who fan us with giant palm fronds and feed us frozen grapes.

September: September, too, went by in a bit of an unremarkable blur. The most interesting things I noted on my calendar were the debuts of the TV shows I thought I wanted to watch this season. But I’ve pretty much given up on TV. At least until THC (The “House” Channel) comes along to offer up all Hugh Laurie, all the time. I have a thing for accomplished British actor/musicians who play fictional curmudgeonly American diagnosticians who walk with canes, have compromised quadriceps, addictions to Vicodin, and fears of commitment. See why it’s so hard for me to find someone? But seriously, this year, there was a boy, briefly, but he turned out to be one more “no” on the road to what I hope will one day lead me to my “yes.” It’s too bad things didn’t work out. He’s 6’9”. I could have considered the possibility of wearing heels around him.

October: October kicked off with a Ray LaMontagne concert at the Chicago Theater that was quickly followed a few days later with a road trip to Columbus with Doreen to see Springsteen at an Obama rally. October wrapped up with an Obama rally in Highland, Indiana. In between, I worked my last day as a full-time employee. For the time being, anyway. Now it’s time to start writing the next chapter of my life. Toward that end, I spent a day at the Chicago office of the Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation to take a battery of aptitude tests. Turns out, I’m well suited to be an engineer or an architect. Hmm. No thank you. I think I’ll stick to writing, and baking cookies.

November: I turned 39, which means it’s time to start planning my 40th birthday party. I found an interesting job on a Monday, applied on a Tuesday, and went for an interview on a Wednesday. All in the same week. It didn’t pan out, but it was nice to have a bite so soon after going fishing for a job. Here’s hoping that the job fish keep biting.

And lastly, this: Earlier today, I happened upon a holiday card sent to me years ago by my friend Charles. In his very distinctive hand, he signed the card: “The best, always.” He is no longer with us, and I miss him every day, but his sentiment warms me. The best, always. Because always is forever. And we hold all those we love in our hearts.

The best, always. And my love to you and yours.


The happiest of holidays to you and yours. And, as ever, peace.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

'The Seafarer' at Steppenwolf ...

Earlier this year, after I saw The Seafarer on Broadway, I told Ciarán, "The cast is alchemy."

Yesterday, I went to a matinee of The Seafarer at Steppenwolf. Back home, I wrote to Ciarán and said, "... seeing this version after having seen your version, I have to say, the five of you captured lightning in a bottle on Broadway."

Conor McPherson's play is brilliant in any light, but seeing it again made me realize that my assessment was never going to be fair to the second cast. I spent too much of the afternoon flashing back to the Broadway performance, which was perfect. So even if this staging was perfect, it would still be the runner up.

But this staging isn't perfect. John Mahoney does a good job of filling Jim Norton's Tony Award-sized shoes, but he had to be fed lines four times, which was painful. Granted, the play just opened Thursday, so I'm sure he'll work out the kinks, but each time the woman called out a line for him, I wondered, "Can't they wear ear prompters in case someone needs to feed them a line?" I don't know if that's ever done on stage, but it seems like a good idea. Certainly, it would make for many fewer cringe-inducing moments like the four yesterday afternoon.

A man in the row in front of us (I took my mom because she's always game for some theater) heard me talking about the Broadway version and turned around to chat with me about it. He'd seen it, too. I mentioned to him that it was difficult for me to watch this one and not compare the two performances in my head the whole time, and he mentioned Conleth's Ivan who stole many moments, "and Ciarán Hinds as Mr. Lockhart," he said, and said no more. But the tone in his voice was that of, "Well, there's no way any actor could top that performance."

I, of course, concurred.

Mind you, this cast is very good. Francis Guinan as Sharky brought a surprising softness to the role in the third act. And Alan Wilder did a very good job with Ivan, though I kept thinking that he looks an awful lot like Chris Messenger, one of my college professors. Likewise, Randall Newsome as Nicky would have been more believable for me if he didn't look so much like Liam Neeson. But they're all accomplished performers and do well, embodying Conor's creations. Tom Irwin, who plays a priest on Saving Grace on TNT, had the biggest challenge in front of him, playing Mr. Lockhart. An actor surely has an enormous amount of leeway when it comes to playing the part of the devil, but for me, Ciarán owns that role, now and forever.

The set is beautiful in its grungy glory, the one area in which I can give the nod to Steppenwolf over Broadway.

But I've learned my lesson: When an experience takes your breath away, it's best to let it be. Lightning doesn't strike twice.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Car Woes ...

I grew up in a Ford family.

My father was Ford-loyal for a long, long time. I spent many a family vacation in the middle of the back seat of a Ford LTD. Along with my two brothers, my father waltzed into a Ford dealership one day and informed the salesman that they were all in the market for new wheels. It's amazing what the prospect of selling three vehicles at once will do to incentivize the salesman to make some deals. And so my father drove off in a truck, one brother drove off in an SUV, and the other brother drove off in a minivan. (He was required to buy one by new-dad law.)

My first new car was a Plymouth Acclaim. Recently, my brother Paul told me that he wasn't thrilled with my choice when I bought it, but it served me well, that car. Sure, the a/c stopped working after a few years and the transmission was about kaput by the time I traded it in, but for the most part, I drove that car relatively hassle-free for 10 years.

I don't know a lot about cars, which is somewhat shameful for a woman whose father has worked in the automotive industry his entire life and whose brothers are relatively handy with wrenches. When Paul and I went shopping for my Plymouth, he and the salesman stood astride, arms crossed, looking under the hood, the salesman pointing, my brother nodding. Apparently, there was something interesting to discuss about the way the oil filter was mounted. Easy oil changes awaited. Super. Meanwhile, this is what was running through my head as I stood in the showroom: "When do I get to pick the color?" I chose Driftwood. A greyish color that sometimes looked somewhat champagne in the sun.

A decade later, when it was time to buy New Car No. 2, I settled on an Impala not because I did extensive research but because after sitting in about 20 makes and models at CarMax, the salesman made me sit in an Impala and I had to move the seat up. Sold. I took it for a perfunctory test drive, but so long as I didn't have to start the car with my feet like Fred Flintstone, I was quite sure I was going to buy one.

And I bought one new. Not to stick it to the CarMax guy, who was very nice, but because I figured I would be rolling on a lot of miles in short order and it didn't make sense to buy a car whose odometer was already past 40,000.

That was six years ago. I drove off the lot, bidding my little Acclaim farewell, opened my moonroof and jacked up the tunes. "Hello, baby," I said as I patted the dash of my shiny, black beauty. My new car had get-up-'n'-go, horsepower to spare, unlike my four-cylinder Acclaim that had about as much oomph under the hood as a hamster on a wheel.

"And the great thing is, you won't even have to think about it for two years," my friend Gemma said, talking about the worry-free driving of a brand-spankin'-new car.

And indeed, I didn't. I eventually had to have brakes put on, but that comes with the territory for we folks who like slow down and occasionally bring our cars to full and complete stops.

But then came the winter that it took forever for my car to deliver any heat. "You probably need coolant," said Kelley one night as we shivered all the way from the restaurant where we'd eaten back to her apartment. Coolant in winter. Funny.

I popped the hood and sure enough, the cap had come of the reservoir. I added coolant and the heat returned. For a while. Eventually, I realized that I had a bigger problem. I mentioned it to my father. He's the one who suggested that my engine might be burning coolant because of a bad gasket.

Which led me to this caveat emptor extravaganza. Dad was right. Turns out, what was happening was a well-known problem for which GM never issued a recall. Thanks for nothing, Rick Wagoner.

But even with that taken care of, my car kept fussing.

My mechanic has likely figured out that problem, but in order to test his theory, he pulled a fuse and told my father to put the fuse in the next time I don't need my car for a few days. If my battery drains, we'll have figured out the problem.

The problem is, he's narrowed the issue down to the clock/stereo. So I might need to get that replaced. Because if I'm going to have a car, I'm going to have tunes. Or the access to the radio for traffic information, at the very least.

Then a few nights ago, my car hit a patch of ice and went into a skid that ended with a bit of a jolt as my car hit a curb. All seemed OK until I heard a strange noise emanating from the rear passenger wheel area when I drove.

My father called a local gas station this morning. He knows the owner and trusts his repair shop. Dad explained what happened. Terry told my father what he expected was wrong and that he sees this problem all the time. Oh really? Gosh, I sure can pick a car, can't I?!

So we drove it over there and they put it up in the air and straightened what was bent so I can drive the car for the time being, but it's something I do need to get fixed sooner rather than later.

Oh, and I need a new set of tires. And I probably need new struts.

My poor baby. But I'll get it all taken care of and hopefully she and I will be together for many more years.

At least I don't have to send her to college.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

In Pursuit Of Cookie Glory ...

Yesterday, my cousin Patty forwarded an e-mail to me from Fine Cooking to point out a cookie-photography contest.

That's right: a cookie-photography contest!

Do you know who takes really great pictures of cookies?

ME!

You can check out the cookie gallery here. Note that not all of the images are mine. Just the prettiest ones. *Wink.*

Visitors who like a particular image (or images) can give it a thumbs up, but the winner will be determined by a judges, not by popular vote. But the more thumbs up, I reckon, the better.

The prize is $500 to spend through Fine Cooking's store powered by Cooking.com.

If I win, Patty, we'll go on a virtual shopping spree together. Because even though neither of us really need anything for our kitchens, we always need something for our kitchens!

And if I don't win, the exposure of my photos (no pun intended) certainly can't hurt. Who knows who might discover my closeted, food-styling self?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Rueing The Goo ...

It all comes of needing to put hazelnut coffee goo in my morning java.

Last night, I was almost eerily calm. Not calm, actually. Content. Content despite my oh-so-sexy status as nearly-40, unemployed, and car-challenged.

But my age doesn't bother me and I'm confident the job situation will work itself out, and my car was running, albeit without the radio while my mechanic verifies his theory on the cause behind the Mysterious Draining Battery.

And everything is relative. Tsunami, as we say. What's going on in my life may be an annoyance, but in the grand scheme of things, my life is just fine. I didn't just live through three days of terror like those poor people in Mumbai. Now they have problems.

So I was feeling motivated to run to the store. I didn't really think about the iffy weather. "Boston Legal" was due to begin in 20 minutes, giving me just enough time to scoot to the store to pick up goo and get back for the penultimate episode of a show I've quickly grown to love.

I really should have stayed home. It was cold last night. You know what cold is good for? Forming ice. On surfaces. Like roads.

About 100 feet from the stop sign at the intersection nearest my house, I saw what was coming. There was a dull sheen on the road. In retrospect, given that there were no other cars approaching the intersection, I should have just taken my foot off the gas and rolled right through. But I touched the brake, which sent my car sliding right toward a tree. Luckily, my car's front end went up the curb and missed the tree and but then my car's back end swung around behind me. I had been heading east. Now I was facing west.

But all seemed OK. I tried to drive and turn into a driveway across the street and slid again. But I righted the car and eventually got it into my garage.

Upon exiting my car, I heard a hissing sound. It was coming from my rear passenger-side tire. Ah, crap. I debated whether I should leave my car in the garage (I have a wee one-car garage) or pull it out and leave it in the driveway overnight in order to enable easier tire changing in the morning. I opted to leave it in the garage.

I had called my brother Paul earlier in the evening and once I was back in the house, he called back. I told him what happened.

"You might have cracked a rim," he said.

"What do I do about that?" I asked.

"Get a new rim."

Right. From where?

"A junkyard, ideally. Don't go to the dealer for a rim."

Well, at 10 p.m., I wasn't going to be doing anything, so I put it all out of my mind until this morning.

I expected to find a fully flaccid tire when I went out to the garage. But no. It was low, but it wasn't flat. I checked it with a tire gauge. No pressure. Hmm.

I popped the trunk to retrieve the little air compressor I'd gotten from my bank. It plugs into the car's cigarette lighter. I hooked it up and plugged it in. I checked my tire after a while. Pressure. Hmm. I reconnected the compressor and let it run until the tire registered 20 pounds of air. With that, I felt comfortable in driving to the nearest gas station to finish the job.

Which I did. All seemed OK until I turned into the station and heard a strange noise emanating from the rear passenger wheel area. I drove the short distance home and heard it again.

So now my car is in my driveway, where it will sit until my father comes by tonight and I drive it as short a distance as possible so that he can hear the noise.

And then we'll probably give our mechanic more business.

If only I would have stayed home last night, I think to myself. Then none of this would have happened.

But happened it did. The question now is why my car is suddenly demanding so much of my attention.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Charles ...

A couple years ago, I wrote this post about my friend Charles Barile.

Charles passed away unexpectedly in 2003. We had plans to see each other three weeks before he died, but we canceled them because work was getting in the way. We vowed to get together another time.

Death is never easy, but the sudden death of someone so vital is particularly confounding. Five years later, I still have days when I miss him more than I can fathom.

Saturday afternoon, as I rummaged through boxes of Christmas decorations in my basement, I ran across stacks of holiday cards I'd saved over the years. I brought them up to my office and wandered down memory lane. Of course, I happened upon one from Charles. And I burst into tears.

Charles was terribly suave but his cards always qualified as "cute." They weren't just from him, though. His daughters signed them, too.

He had very distinctive penmanship. As I held the card, I thought about him signing it, about the link between us, something he'd once held in my hands that I was now holding in mine. I put it on my desk in front of my copy of Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture, mementoes from amazing men, both lost too young.

Tonight, in my office, I was overcome with his presence. I wrote to his daughter Alex – she found me this year through my blog post about her dad – to let her know that I found the card and that I felt her dad around me.

"Anything you want me to tell her?" I asked him.

"Tell her I love her" popped into my head.

I rolled my eyes. "Gee, Charles. Do you have anything a bit more specific?"

"She used to have a doll."

Sheesh. Gee, a girl who had a doll? And?

"It wore pink."

And?

"It had blonde hair."

And? Charles was a smart man. You'd think he'd give me something more solid right off the bat. Or maybe he felt like chatting.

"And blue eyes."

"Well, of course it did, Charles. Look at her." Girls, it seems, favor dolls that favor them. "What was its name?"

"Susie."

Finally. Something specific.

I haven't heard from Alex yet. Of course, it's entirely possible that she never had a doll named Susie. But I won't be surprised if she did.

I don't feel him now. I just asked, "Honey, are you still here?" Nothing. "What?" I asked. "Are you having a drink with Sinatra?"

Actually, Bogart is more likely. Charles wore the hell out of a white dinner jacket.

Beth's Christmas Trivia ...

I just received the Christmas version of a "Getting to know your friends" e-mail. I always fill out such e-mails and send them back. Why not? They're cute. But I don't send them to lots of new people nor do I expect the people who receive them from me to fill them out and send them back. But for anyone who'd like to send this version around to their friends, you can copy and paste the list below. Or copy and paste it into the comments and tell me about yourself. My answers are provided for your very much Christmas trivia enjoyment.


HERE IS THE CHRISTMAS VERSION OF GETTING TO KNOW YOUR FRIENDS

Okay, here's what you're supposed to do, and try not to be a SCROOGE!!! Just copy (not forward) this entire email and paste into a new e-mail that you can send. Change all the answers so that they apply to you . Then send this to a whole bunch of people you know, INCLUDING the person that sent it to you. ‘Tis the Season to be NICE!

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Wrapping paper. And an embarrassment of curling ribbon.

2. Real tree or Artificial? Artificial. I used to get a real tree every year until recently when dad was in the hospital in December and there was no way I was going to get around to cutting down a tree. But my artificial tree looks very real.

3. When do you put up the tree? The Friday after Thanksgiving. Though I always want to put it up earlier.

5. Do you like eggnog? Blech, no.

6. Favorite gift received as a child? If the home movies are to be believed, it was a panda bear with a radio inside. I danced around the living room like a maniac. But I remember loving my Sunshine Family, especially the little baby in the yellow onesie, which my brothers put on the Lionel train tracks and attempted to run it over with the train. The cowcatcher left a scorch mark on the butt of the little baby's onesie.

7. Hardest person to buy for? My father, hands down.

8. Easiest person to buy for? My mom.

9. Do you have a nativity scene? Two, actually, but only one gets put out.

10. Mail or email Christmas cards? Mail. Mail, mail, mail. E-mail? Come on.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received? An 8-track tape. Of a band I'd never heard of. And I didn't own an 8-track player.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie? Tough one. I think I've gotta give the nod to "Rudolph." But "Elf" is a strong contender. And I love "The Snowman," the animated, scored film about the little boy who builds the snowman that comes to life. It's like watching a dream.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Ideally, November. This year, oops, it's already December and I haven't even started.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? Nope, but I've recycled a birthday present.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? Chip and dip. My mom used to make it for every Christmas Eve party. The dip is a heart attack in a bowl. We don't make it every year anymore, but when we do, I'm instantly transported back to my childhood.

16. Lights on the tree? White.

17. Favorite Christmas song? Anything by Andy Williams: The Holiday Season, Happy Holiday, It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year, etc.

18. Travel at Christmas or stay at home? Stay home!

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer? Sure thing.

20. Angel on the tree top or a star? Neither. Both of my trees are topped with small wreaths that I made.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Both.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year? Getting anywhere within a one-mile radius of the mall. It's the seventh spiral of hell.

23. What theme or color are you using on the tree? The tree in the living room is red (fake cranberry garland), silver (assorted metal snowflakes) and clear (icicles) with a few special ornaments even though they don't "match." The tree in the dining room is done in off-white, sage-y/olive green, and copper.

24. Favorite for Christmas dinner? Crown roast of pork and my mom's gloppy peas.

25. What do you want for Christmas this year? You know you're a grown up when your answer to this question is "for everyone to be healthy and happy." But if pressed, I can tick off a CD or DVD or two that I wouldn't mind finding under the tree.

26. Who is most likely to respond to this? Why is this question ever included in these lists?

27. Who is least likely to respond to this? See above.