Friday, January 30, 2009

Chipmunk! ...

Yesterday, my cousin Patty forwarded a note from a friend of hers about her two-year-old son that read:

"Hyatt was yelling 'chipmunk chipmunk--he's a chipmunk!!!' at the TV and I ran in to see what was on and it was Blago."

Don't you love looking at the world through the eyes of a two-year-old? Blago = Chipmunk!

And I'm sure that I was thinking about that e-mail this morning when this poem popped into my head.

I did not write it about Blago all those years ago. And yet, it applies to him today, insofar as he is as unwelcome in Illinois politics as that chipmunk was unwelcome on my front stoop.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Items Of Note ...

♪ (David, I misspoke. I don't use quarter notes as my bullet points, I use eighth notes.)

♪ I have no good reason for not posting regularly of late. Just busy doing other stuff. Heck, I didn't even watch "Lost" last night. Let's hear it for streaming video! I'll catch up today.

♪ I bought Springsteen's new album, "Working on a Dream," on Tuesday, its day of release. The day before, my pal Jeff and I were on the phone and he was lamenting that the critics were being very unkind. I told him that Entertainment Weekly gave the album a big ol' A. But everyone must make up their own mind, right? I listened to it as I imported the tracks into iTunes and wasn't overwhelmed, but as I continue to listen, I continue to appreciate this collection. He kicks off the disc with "Outlaw Pete" and I have to say, I'm in love with this song. It's a very big sound, even for Bruce. How many Springsteen tracks kick off with a string section?! And yet, later, he includes that signature harmonica wailing like a train whistle in the distance. It's an amazing cut, actually. And at 8:01, it's more than a song. It's a saga.

♪ Springsteen addendum: Tickets for his next tour go on sale on Monday! Assuming I score, this concert will be my 9th Bruce experience since 2002. I wonder if the man ever stays home and catches up on his TiVo.

♪ I didn't see all of my family for Christmas this year, so in the past week, I've had two more opportunities to open gifts. My brother Paul gave me a portable jump starter. I love it! Not because it's a manly tool-type thing but because of the thought behind it: I'd been having trouble with my car starting (had a bad battery, turns out; nothing more serious; phew!) and he wanted to make sure that I never got stuck anywhere. (Note to men in general: This anecdote does not necessarily grant you permission to buy the women in your life gifts emblazoned with the DieHard emblem.)

♪ My cousins sent along a box of birthday (for me) and Christmas prizes (for me, my mom, and my dad) which arrived on my mom's birthday! Fun! I received a nifty assortment of stuff as I do every year, including herbes de Provence (purchased during a recent trip to France, I expect), a hot-pink flocked Jesus bank (with starter pennies inside), a really beautiful piece of pottery, and the best book of all time. (OK, it's not the best book of all time, but it is the latest in a series of the best books of all time because I own some pretty funny books.)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sing A Song Of Prostitution! ...

When the title for this post popped into my head a few days ago, I was singing it to the tune of "Sing a Song of Merry Christmas!" (Holy crap. I just Googled that title to make sure I capitalized it correctly and do you know who composed it? Mozart! Wow. I'm a pretty big fan of Wolfie, but that bit o' knowledge had somehow escaped me. The things you learn every day, huh?)

Anyway, the title of the post refers to my latest recording effort, a knockout cover of The Police's "Roxanne" by George Michael.

Given the lyric "I won't share you with another boy," this isn't the most logical song for a woman to sing, but the first time I heard this arrangement, I was blown away and knew I wanted to try it someday.

While "Roxanne" isn't my favorite of Sting's songs (that'd be "Don't Stand So Close to Me" for those of you playing along at home), when it's rearranged into a sultry jazz number, I'm all over it.

Well, I try to be, anyway. As ever, this is a work in progress. There are kinks to iron out, but considering that Brian and I cobbled this together from three takes, and I refer to my first take of any song as my "first pancake" because it's the one I'm most likely to want to throw away, we made a fair amount of progress in a couple of hours. George Michael's version tags out more appropriately, but Brian just applied a fade to the end of this track for the time being. I'll attempt the ending the next time we meet. Oh, and the "do do do do do dos" between verses? That's George. We left a bit of him in, though I don't think we sound very different.

And if you need it, the direct URL is here.

I'll also add this track to my post that hosts all my tunes to date.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The 2009 Chicago Breast Cancer 3-Day ...

Well, it's that time of year again.

Every year, I lace up and walk 60 miles closer to a cure for breast cancer.

And every year, it's the generosity of my family and friends that enables me to participate.

This will be my sixth event. Every year, somehow, manages to top the year before. My account of last year's event – my very ... long ... account – can be found here.

If you'd like to contribute to this year's event, or know someone who may, please click here. (An e-mail has gone out to those who have so generously contributed in the past.)

Thanks, as ever, for your support. I truly could not do this without you.



Thursday, January 22, 2009

Yes We Will ...

Now that the metaphorical confetti has settled and been swept away, I'll share a few thoughts from Tuesday.

I marveled at Obama's calm, his composure in the face of the mania that surrounded him. Surely that bodes well for our future. As Obama said in a past interview with Charlie Gibson, it takes a bit of megalomania to believe you can be the leader of the free world.

I believe that Obama will be an outstanding leader. But what heartens me more is what he inspires in each of us. Almost without exception Tuesday, everything I heard and read from those I know and those I don't were utterances of hope and joy. The millions on the national mall represented the spirit of so many of us, so much faith in the future of this nation, faith we haven't felt for the better part of a decade. Faith we'd nearly forgotten.

And around the world, others joined us in our rejoicing.

I'm sad for those who missed the magnitude of the day as they hewed to their insistent anger. It's hard for me to understand how anyone can refuse to see to the change at hand, how they can look at millions of Americans — young, old, straight, gay, black, white, rich, poor — coming together and not appreciate where we stand.

Yesterday, I woke up in a new world, a world in which our national standing began to rise again. Our president is a man of supreme confidence but he is not cocky. He is a visionary who sees both the forest and the trees.

When Biden made a joke at Justice Roberts' expense, Obama was clearly not pleased. Yet when greeting guests for lunch at the White House, his smile was on full display as he said, "Enjoy yourself. Roam around," and then added, slyly, "Don't break anything."

I know some question the apparent carte blanche that he's been given, they rue his "celebrity" status. But I believe that the press – at least the press I watch and read, which I've always found factual, not fawning – will keep him honest. Then again, he took time yesterday, the first full day of his administration, to enact tougher ethics requirements and to put the brakes on the influence lobbyist wield in that town. Of course, I expect Fox News to go on distorting and Rush Limbaugh to go on bashing. And I'm sure some will scoff at what they perceive to be my naiveté. In their eyes, the "damn liberal media" played a large part in McCain's loss. Never mind that Fox and Limbaugh are part of the media, too, and they're anything but damn liberals.

But the McCain camp bought plenty of air time and sought to tear down Obama at every turn and yet it failed in its mission.

And here's why: Because we, as a nation (even those who didn't vote for Obama) had grown weary, to the bone, of the politics of fear. Obama's brilliance extends to many things, but the most fundamentally brilliant thing he did during the campaign was speak of hope and the future, of a new way in Washington, of shedding the policies and the politics of the past eight years in particular, and restoring America's standing in the eyes of the world.

His inaugural address was a beautifully simple repudiation of Bush's presidency. We are, as a nation, wounded. But on Tuesday, as millions packed the national mall and tens of millions more cheered from their homes, we began to help each other heal.

I know that my words have no power to sway those who remain angry and bitter. They will continue to embrace their dogma with their arms folded firmly across their chests. But as Obama said on election night, "I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices."

He will govern for all of us, because we are – all of us – America.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Bushisms, The Last Round ...

As of today, our – ahem – leader has fewer than 24 hours left in office. At this time tomorrow, President-elect Obama will have lost the "-elect."

President Obama will be sworn in by now and immersed in the day's festivities, celebrating with, well, most of the nation. Funny how his approval rating is 79 percent, yet 79 percent of the country didn't vote for him. Could it be that he's won folks over since election day?

But I digress. This is the last-ever installment of Bushisms on this blog, because while I'm sure Bush will go on to say stupid things in his post-Presidential life, I won't be paying any attention, just as I don't pay any attention now. But L.A. Dave got in the habit of sending me a page-a-day calendar of Bush's malapropisms, and so here we are: the last little smattering of Bushisms for your very much president-mocking pleasure. Do not adjust your brain. There are no typos here:

First, a prescient quote from Karl Rove:
"As people do better, they start voting like Republicans — unless they have too much education and vote Democratic ...."

And now, some final words from W:

"I'm not the expert on how the Iraqi people think, because I live in America, where it's nice and safe and secure."
— Washington, D.C., 2004

"I speak plainly sometimes, but you've got to be mindful of the consequences of the words. So put that down. I don't know if you'd call that a confession, a regret, something."
— To reporters in Washington, D.C., January 14, 2005

"This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all."
— Amman, Jordan, November 2006

And last but not least:
"I hope you leave here and walk out and say, 'What did he say?' "
— Beaverton, Oregon, 2004

Over and out, George. Over and out.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Perspective ...

After Christopher Reeve had his accident, he was quoted as saying that he had no patience for people who were able-bodied but who let themselves be paralyzed for other reasons, fear being chief among them, I'm sure.

I thought of him this morning when I watched this video (thanks to Terry Starbucker for the link):

Nick Vujicic is the embodiment of "inspiration."

How dare I complain? How dare I not try harder, every day?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Airing Out ...

Oh, what I would give to be able to throw open the windows and watch my curtains billow and inhale the warm, sun-smelling air.

But tonight, the wind chill is a frightening -40 and spring feels years away.

This blog, though, is feeling musty, settled. Or maybe that's just how I'm feeling about my life. But as goes my life, so goes my blog.

So it's time to snap crisp cotton sheets across my bed and fluff my pillows and find my voice all over again.

Monday, I head back into the studio. Yesterday, rummaging through tunes to try on behind the mic, I purposely sought out songs that depart from my usual "smoky, jazzy" style. Much to my surprise, Madonna's rendition of "Fever" feels rather right. Slightly breathy, definitely flirty.

I'm excited about pursuing a position that will enable me to feed my soul. Hunger is a cause that's near and dear to my heart. But there's so much misinformation about nutrition. I'd love to find a job in which I can combat hunger and provide education, maybe part public speaking, part cooking demonstrations. As much as I say I suffer from stage fright, I like to address groups of people, I like to create a connection with a crowd. Speaking, after all, is much less scary than singing.

But toward that end, I've also hatched a plan to attend open-mic nights on a regular basis, to try out new material in front of a forgiving audience.

Years ago for my birthday, my friend Bob gave me a copy of The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. In it, she suggests artist dates, outings to anywhere new or different that will spark new perspectives and creativity.

I look forward to venturing out more. Just as soon as the temperature cracks zero.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Words By Which To Live ...

I watched Oprah this morning – watching Oprah has become part of my morning routine – and I said to myself, in relation to the discussion happening onscreen, "What I really want to do is help people."

Sure, I want to sing, and I will, but as I look for a job, I will let the spirit of service guide me.

I was pondering how I might do this as I was shoveling snow – the repetitive movements are like a manual mantra – and when I was done, I came inside and wrote this:

Of all the things
my creativity
enables me
to make, I am
most proud of
my ability to
make a difference.

That is my thought for the day. And every day from now, onward.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Something New ...

I don't have much to say. It's 4:19 as I write this and I've been awake since sometime in the 3s. Insomnia, don'tcha know.

But I try to write every day and I hadn't posted since Friday, so now seemed like the right time to say something – anything – so that visitors wouldn't come by and see the same post title again.

At a birthday party on Sunday, I had my first-ever taste of Wii. I'd watched Wiiers but had not yet taken a control into my hand. Turns out, I'm a rather agreeable Wiier. I guess my highly developed spatial sense is good for something after all.

I will not be Wiiing personally, however. If I did, I'd never get anything done. But I look forward to Wiiing with family and friends.

The last time I went bowling, I sucked. Then again, the last time I went bowling, I could show someone my age by holding up both hands, folding a few fingers under, and saying, "I'm this many!"

But in the virtual world, I sailed right past 100! All the way to 111.

So, yes, when it comes to bowling, I still suck. But now I can suck in my own shoes.

Perhaps I'll finding something interesting and coherent to say once daylight breaks.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Dating Game ...

I don't date often. It's not that I'm not social, but, well, you know that adage, "You've gotta kiss a lot of frogs to find your prince?"

Yeah, I don't like frogs.

I'm not about taking the easy way out when it comes to most things. I know that the key to losing weight isn't sitting in an overpriced bottle of pills at Walgreens. I know that I have to eat right and exercise. Effort. It's such a vulgar word. I know that it will take time for me to learn how to play the guitar or knit or understand all the settings on a camera.

But can't there be a shortcut to finding Mr. Right? Are arranged marriages really such a bad idea? Well, yeah, OK, they are. But dating.

Ugh. Dating.

Do you know why dating is such an "ugh"? From this woman's perspective, it's because men aren't women.

Oh, if only I were a lesbian. I think it would be so much easier to find a mate if I were looking for a woman. Sure, we'd still have our differences, but the intellectual wiring would be essentially the same.

But no. I love my girlfriends but I don't want to love my girlfriends.

So this is a story about a boy. But it applies to all boys. So any boy readers may do with this information what they please. (Though I recommend making a mental note for future reference.) (Oh, and I don't mean anything derogatory by the use of the word "boy." I just like the word "boy" when referring to the males of the species. But I can use "men," too.)

First off, let me say that I understand that men carry the burden of getting the dating ball rolling. Men are expected to make the first move. Men have to bear the initial risk of rejection, it's true. But later, men get a pretty sweet deal in return. How many men in relationships out there can remember the last time they bought towels? Washed towels? Bought the soap with which to wash the towels? Paid the water bill and electric bill to ensure that the washing machine would operate? Dried towels? Bought the dryer sheets to ensure static-free, fluffy, fresh-smelling towels? Folded towels? Put away towels? Hung towels in the bathroom? I thought so. And yet, every day when you step out of the shower, there's a towel waiting for you.

Now multiply that by every other thing you do every day.

So, yes, you have to ask women out on the one yard line, but then sometime before the fourth down, we pick up the ball and run the other 90 or so. (And yes, there are men who pitch in with life's daily duties, but the split is almost never anywhere close to equal if my research is correct, and by research I mean asking a few girlfriends who are in relationships if their men do much around the house.)

OK, then.

So, let's say a man is vaguely interested in a woman and he makes a vague suggestion to her that they should think about getting together sometime. It's a low-risk suggestion on the Rejection Scale, right? It's casual, what he's suggesting. Dating isn't even expressly implied. It's just meeting up for a drink or coffee or something. It is, in guy parlance, "hanging out."

So let's say the woman says sure, that'd be fine, and says they'll find a time.

Now, this could be viewed as a vague assent by the woman who might have no intention of ever then finding a time. But in this case, let's say the woman then follows up and suggests not only a date and a general time but also allows that she's going to be in the man's neighborhood which used to be the woman's neighborhood but is the woman's neighborhood no longer, so the woman suggests that the man think about a place where they could meet up.

In the woman's mind, this is cool of her. She's suggesting a date and time so as to avoid the perpetual "When's good for you? Well, when's good for you? Well, when's good for you?" She's not expecting him to pick her up, because this isn't necessarily a date since it was suggested to her so casually. She's going to be in his neck of the woods, so he doesn't even have to travel far to see her. (Note: The woman recognizes that she might have made things too easy for the man, as men like to feel all in charge of things 'n' shit, but she also knows that men, in many instances, are kinda lazy, too.)

So let's recap: All the man has to do is think of a place in his own neighborhood. That's his only task in this entire scenario. That and showing up.

At this point, let's take a little quiz.

Does the man:
a) Respond with a suggestion of a kitschy coffeehouse
b) Respond with a suggestion of a cool bar with a good selection of scotch
c) Respond that he has no idea where they should meet

I probably don't have to tell you that the answer here is c).


Here, the woman thinks, "OK, this guy isn't really interested in getting together. Or he's not the sharpest crayon in the dating box. Either way, this doesn't bode well."

The woman goes on to think, "Seriously? All you had to do was suggest a place. Any place, really, so long as it wasn't a strip club or an overly rowdy sports bar."

This man will use the excuse that he's new to the area, to which the woman will think, "Didn't he move there sometime last summer? Wasn't the summer about six months ago?"

Because the woman is continuing to think, "OK, you could a) ask your roommate for a suggestion, b) surf over to and plug in your Zip code, see what the site spits out, and pick one of those places, or c) look around you the next time you're in your neighborhood, which should be just about every day."

Now, the man may jump to his own defense and pull out this old standby: "Well, I just wanted to do whatever you wanted to do."

Which is sweet, in theory. Except that women know that most men don't really want to do whatever the woman wants to do unless the woman says she wants to drink beer, watch sports, and play video games.

Which brings us to this KEY PIECE OF DATING ADVICE: Men, you can make the "Well, I just want to do whatever you want to do" gesture worthy by amending it with a few simple words up front, e.g., "I was thinking we could do X, but I'm cool with whatever you want to do, too."

That's it. Just a few extra words. Now, the X should, ideally, demonstrate at least a vague understanding of the woman in question. If a man is asking out a dyed-in-the-wool city girl, suggesting sport fishing for marlins would not demonstrate a vague understanding. But so long as one idea is offered, the guy is in the clear. Because here's another key: there's a good chance the two of you won't end up there anyway, yet you earn points just for suggesting it. Because a suggestion implies what? That's right: effort. Minimal effort, but effort.

And that's all women are looking for at that stage of the game. Because Greg Behrendt has made a mint by making we women realize that if a guy isn't trying, he's just not that into you.

Call Me Bumble ...

Because Bumbles bounce.

Wednesday was not a happy day. Yesterday was much better. Today is better still. And tomorrow is Saturday.

Onward and upward.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Where I Am Not ...

This is not the post I would have written two hours ago.

Today started off like any other day of late, my morning drill of bringing myself and the house to life: opening curtains, booting up the computer, deciding whether to have coffee (this morning's vote was a "nay," but this afternoon's vote was a "yea"), reading e-mail, loading my morning batch of sites, hopping on the treadmill. I allow myself a bit of Oprah so long as I'm on the treadmill.

This is Oprah's Best Life week, and I had it in my head that today was Suze Orman day, which was enough to make me not want to watch, because I really don't like her, but I turned on the TV to check and discovered that today wasn't finance day. Today was spirituality day.

All righty then. I'm all about spirituality these days. It's practically all I'm about these days.

So there I was, walking in place, which is a metaphor for my life lately: moving but not actually getting anywhere. (Just yesterday, on Facebook, I wrote, "Beth is feeling like a baby learning how to crawl, metaphorically up on my hands and knees, rocking back and forth, but not yet moving forward.") And Oprah or one of her acolytes (Oprahlytes?) said something about living the lives we're meant to live and I said to my ceiling, "I don't know what life I'm meant to live." And I started crying. But I kept walking. Because in that moment, I had to accomplish something.

Yesterday, after I wrote my comment about feeling like I'm not moving forward, one of my Jeff friends (I'll dub him Photography Jeff) added a quippy comment and then commented again to add, "I made light of your serious posting. I'm sorry. But seriously, you've done so much. I think you're actually in the middle of a sprint, but just taking a moment to recharge."

I didn't mind his quippy comment. Sometimes a little levity is a good thing. But I appreciated his follow-up comment. Not for the apology, because no apology was necessary, but for his perspective of me being in the middle of a sprint but taking a moment to recharge.

Because I sure as hell don't feel that way. People comment to me on a fairly regular basis that I have such an interesting life, that I know such interesting people and I've done such interesting things. And those comments land with a "plink!" inside my brain and I think, "Hey, yeah! I do have an interesting life!"

But here's the truth: Deep down, I feel like a failure. I feel completely overwhelmed. I feel completely adrift. I have no idea what I'm meant to do, no idea where I'm meant to be.

I've been given an extraordinary array of gifts. There is very little I try that I cannot do. And yet, I can't figure out what I'm meant to be doing. And I feel as though the harder I try to figure it out, the more elusive it will remain, like the answer is mercury.

I feel as though I am in some kind of purgatory, a cosmic grey area where I'm aware of the unrest in my life and aware that this unrest is part of a transition to a new place – it's propelling me, in fact – but I'm not yet capable of fully understanding what it all means, as though I'm seeing and hearing the future through static and I don't have the tools to sharpen the picture and sound. It's like being unable to think of a certain word. You know you know it, but for the moment, your brain won't let you access it.

Inherently, I know that I have all the answers, but for the moment, I have no idea what they are.

My mom came by today, unaware of my meltdown-in-the-making, and listened to me vent. (I have the best mom ever.) I told her how I envy those who know what they want to do with their lives. "I wish I could see that point on the horizon," I said. "Even if it was 1,000 miles away and I had to walk there. At least I would know what I was walking toward. I would get there."

Instead, I feel like I'm perpetually scanning the horizon and getting closer to nothing in particular. A spiritual nomad.

I recently realized that I don't have an answer to the question, "What do I want?" And I try not to think of it in terms of want, because "want" implies that I'm lacking and I have an abundant life in so many ways. But it was startling to realize that I don't really know what I'm looking for. No wonder I can't find it.

In Jen Weigel's book, she tells of a dream she had about her dad in which he gestures to everything around him and says that none of it matters, that all that matters are the people in our lives and love.

And in that way, I'm very blessed. I have many people about whom I care and many people who care about me.

But part of the contract of being human is existing in the world in a productive way, making a contribution, and being able to sustain a life. Money, unfortunately, is a substantial part of the equation. Many a savvy mother have said to their smitten children, "You can't live on love."

So there is a very practical side to my efforts to figure out what I should be doing with my life. I have to pay my bills somehow. But there are also the issues of fulfillment and service. I'm almost 40. Presuming my life is about half over, I feel like I should have figured this out already. A whole other biological clock is ticking.

Years ago, when I worked at the Tribune, my friend Rick left a note on my desk. We were meeting up for drink after work and when he stopped by to collect me, I wasn't there. "B," he wrote, "Where are you? Rick".

To this day, I have no idea.

Where am I? I am in my house. I am in my office. I am in my 30s. I am in my head. I am in my heart. But to the larger question of where I am in the world, what contribution am I making, I come up blank.

Earlier, my mom mentioned my compassion and that there was a time when I was going to be a doctor. Maybe, she said, I should be working in a field that brings my compassion to bear, like social work.

I said very honestly that I think I'm too emotional to do something like that. When I was pre-med, I knew I could never be a pediatrician because it would be too hard for me to be around sick children. It'd break my heart.

But I certainly would love to help people. Wouldn't we all?

Talking with mom helped. It always does. I was grateful for the opportunity to expel some of this emotion, to talk through some of the miasma in my head.

At times like these (oh, yes, I've been here before), I also appreciate my surroundings. In lieu of making sense of my thoughts, I make my bed. I do dishes. I Swiffer the floor. I organize books on shelves. I fold clothes. I apply order where I can as if that will alleviate the anxiety in my chest.

The other day, my cousin Lora's husband, Don, asked me if I suffer from anxiety. I said "No." And later, I thought, "Well, that's completely inaccurate." But I found it interesting that my immediate answer was "No." Did I not want to admit it? Or do I not view this as anxiety? And if I don't view this as anxiety, what is it?

Many years ago, my friend Mark told me to ask myself when I'm worried, "In this moment, am I OK?" His point was that while we may be concerned about money or a relationship or something external, in any given moment, absent imminent mortal danger, the answer to "In this moment, am I OK?" is "Yes."

From that perspective, I am OK. And since all any of have is this moment, that counts for a lot. But I wish the answers would come. Then again, maybe they are. Maybe I'm expecting them to appear overtly and they're showing up subtly. Maybe I need a different perspective.

Or a Xanax.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

'The Claw Is My Master! I Have Been Chosen! Ooooooh!' ...

I fell in love with an alien.

When "Toy Story" hit the theaters, I was smitten with the aliens in the crane game at Pizza Planet. For my next birthday, my brother Brian and his family gave me an alien doll. It has a sqiuishy body with a hard plastic head. And when you squeeze its tummy, it says, "The claw is my master! I have been chosen! Oooooooh!" and its head lights up.


So much did I love my alien that when I told my mom that I'd like an original piece of art by my cousin Evan for Christmas that year, she called him with my request and he used "Toy Story" as his inspiration to produce a drawing that casts me as the love child of an alien and Buzz Lightyear.

See? (Click on the image to enlarge it.)

Now, I've never had orange hair nor have I ever worn it that way. I have owned bunny slippers in the past and I do love my coffee, but I've never owned a marabou-trimmed robe and at the time, I didn't wear glasses like that. (Though the ones I own now are rectangular. Maybe I'm slowly morphing into this caricature.) Basically, this looks nothing like me, but I love it, and Evan's quip, "You're weird, Beth," certainly applies in a number of ways. And I've no doubt that strange things are happening to me.

This was packed away in my closet until recently. I uncovered it during a cleaning binge (those occur about as often as comets streak across the sky) and recently set it on the filing cabinet next to my desk. Its original purpose was simply to hide an outlet, but I'm very pleased to see it again every day.

Say it with me now: Oooooooh!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

'Stay Tuned' ...

Last Monday, last year, I wrote this post about Jenniffer Weigel's one-woman show, "I'm Spiritual, Dammit!" based on her book Stay Tuned: Conversations with Dad from the Other Side.

Though Doreen had recommended the book to me when it was published, I hadn't gotten around to reading it before going to Jen's show. Typically, I'm the girl who wants to read the book before she sees the movie. But in this instance, now that I've read the book, I'm glad for the order of events.

Jen's show is the appetizer portion of her story, but the book is the entree. And dessert. And coffee.

And just as with a meal, you can consume Jen's book in one sitting. One leisurely, indulgent sitting. It's not an insignificant book, length-wise – it's just shy of 250 pages – but her conversational style keeps you wanting to turn the pages.

About half the book takes place before her dad, Tim, dies. The other half, after. Just before halfway point of the book, Jen shares the most poignant quote from her father, literally the heart of life's purpose: "I may not be able to read, or drive, or play the piano but none of that stuff really matters. I can still love."

I can still love.

What more is there to say?

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 including a link to this post on 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. And one of your New Year's resolutions is to see more theater, right?

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The Holidays ...

And so the holidays are over. The snowy, frigid, icy holidays. But that was just the weather.

The days themselves were lovely.

My brother and his family arrived at my mom's house of Christmas Eve and my niece was beaming as she walked into the house, carrying a curiously wrapped package. We dove into the appetizers (mom lets the kids pick the appetizers; the kids have exceptional taste) and those were gone in about 5 minutes.

Everyone was hungry, turns out.

And then we had dinner, the completely non-traditional-but-no-muss-no-fuss-at-the-last-minute lasagne and tetrazzini.

Our Christmas Eve schedule looks like this:

Open presents

So, with the first two "Eats" behind us, we retired to the living room to dole out presents. We always gift the kids first. They're old enough now that a) they can contain themselves during dinner, whereas when they were younger, they were practically bursting, so anxious to get to the goods, and b) they don't receive as many gifts because what they receive is more valuable.

My older nephew asked for an art book – called "The Art Book" – that I also have, so I was happy to buy that for him. (I have the mini version. He got the heavy-as-a-phone book version.) He also received an iTunes gift certificate.

My younger nephew will be traveling this summer, so he received French Phrases for Dummies. I have German Phrases for Dummies and while I don't have much use for it these days, it's a very nifty little book. He also received an iTunes gift card.

And my niece asked for an Ugly Doll, which I thought was adorable. We're never too old for soft, squishy, huggable things. I have an Ugly Doll named Ox, who was a gift from all of them for a birthday a few years ago. Ox sits in the "booster seat" created by the fold-down armrest in the back seat of my car. For my niece, I chose Moxy because I like the idea of her embracing moxie in her life. And Moxy and Ox are siblings. We have Ugly Doll siblings. And she also received a Barnes & Noble gift card. I'm always happy to help them procure more books.

Once they were done opening all their gifts from my parents as well as me, including the little treats in their stockings, my sister-in-law handed out the gifts they brought for us. My parents received a gift card to a restaurant as well as tickets to a show. Which is perfect for them. "Consumable" gifts are ideal. They have plenty of stuff. So it's cool of my bro and sister-in-law to give them "experiences." They also received a framed family portrait. Also perfect. Even more perfect, actually. (Yes, I know that you can't quantify "perfect," that "perfect" is an absolute. Don't leave a grammar citation in the comments.)

I received a digital photo frame and a flash drive that my sister-in-law loaded with a zillion pictures but which still has room for a zillion more. I LOVE it. And then she gave me another gift. Two? Woot! The second, of course, was a framed family portrait. Except for this year's photo card, the most recent family portrait I have of them is just a photo taken on vacation one year, and the kids were much younger. So now I'm up to date.

Very pleased with both my gifts, I was surprised when my niece arrived with the curious package and handed it to me.

She had been at my house a few days earlier and once we'd baked cookies, we watched a bit of "Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit." We both love the bunnies. She announced that she was going to make a bunny when she went to work with her dad that week.

The package, of course, contained a bunny. And a carrot. And because I am the sappiest of saps, I started crying. Over the years, the kids have made drawings for me, and I have them all. And my niece, when she was little little, made a "necklace" out of a piece of string and a ball of foil. Onto the ball of foil she affixed two googly eyes and a paper "beak." It's a chicken necklace. And I love it.

But I love the bunny most of all. It's my favorite-est thing ever, and I have a lot of favorite things. I'm not quite sure where to put him. For now, he and his carrot are on my bedroom dresser. I need to find the perfect place of honor, a place where he can be seen and admired but is out of harm's way. I might buy a special display shelf or cube.

After we cleaned up all the wrapping detritus, we headed back into the kitchen for the final Eat on the schedule: dessert and coffee. My niece disappeared into the living room for a minute and returned hugging her Ugly Doll. My nephews had their books with them at the table. There's nothing like new Christmas stuff.

Later, they headed for home and my parents headed to church. I cleaned up the kitchen and put out presents for the morning and tried to stay awake until they got home. I almost made it.

In the morning, I was up first. I'm always up first. Mom followed a minute later. I try to be very quiet, but I always seem to wake her up. Dad eventually emerged from bed, bundled up in his pajamas and robe and slippers. Armed with coffee all around, we doled out presents to each other so that we each had our gifts next to us and could open them without having to get up and pass our another round.

Mom was concerned that I didn't have more to open, but I'd asked her to contribute money to the Greater Chicago Food Depository in my name in lieu of gifts. I have enough stuff. Still, she wanted me to have something to open, which was sweet.

So I received fabulous sheep slippers like ones I'd once bought for her. They're wool slippers and there's a half-sheep on each slipper so that when you put your feet together, you form a whole sheep. (She also received a replacement pair from dad this year. It was a very sheep-slipper Christmas. But dad didn't get a pair. They don't make him in his size. He did, however, get to pairs of slippers, an "outdoor" pair from mom, made of leather, and a squishier pair from me to keep at my house.)

And they very graciously gave me some money toward new tires for my car, the purchase of which is imminent.

But mostly, I watched them open their gifts, which I really loved. Dad is difficult to buy for but easy to please. He was happy with the clothes we picked out for him and his new pajamas. Dad is always up for new pajamas. Some dads receive ties, my dad receives pajamas.

And mom was happy with her gifts, including a really beautiful Irish fisherman's knit sweater and the aforementioned sheep slippers. And books. And her perfume. And she was inordinately pleased with a basket I bought for her. She wanted a serving basket. I found one that I knew she'd like at Crate & Barrel. I think it was the least-expensive thing she received, but mom has never been about the monetary worth of things. With her, it really is the thought that counts.

Christmas breakfast is always a nosh-fest: cookies, toast, leftovers, whatever strikes us at the moment. I made a coffeecake for the morning that we shared with my brother's family. We used to make it every year. This year, it just didn't taste the same. I think my taste buds have grown up. Well, part of me has to, I guess.

Mom and Dad went back to bed for a bit. I puttered around the house. I tried to nap later but it didn't work.

Christmas dinner was just the three of us. Mom roasted a crown roast of pork. For three people. We had a lot of leftovers, which was fine by us. With Christmas Eve's leftovers, mom didn't have to cook for about a week.

Christmas evening, we went to her brother-in-law's house for a little while. We don't usually go anywhere on Christmas evening, but we were invited for dessert, so we went. But we were all tired, so we didn't stay long.

Since then, I've doled out more cookies and still have more in the freezer, awaiting the return of neighbors who are out of town.

And yesterday, I de-decorated the house, which I do every New Year's Eve. I like to start the new year with my house back to "normal."

Every year, I write goals for the next year and seal them in an envelope. When I was done putting away decorations, I sat down at my desk and opened last year's envelope and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I accomplished from last year's list. Then I wrote a new list and sealed it and tucked it away.

Last night, I fell asleep watching "Hancock" (from what I saw of it, it's awful) and then headed to bed well before midnight. I heard some things blowing up outside and presumed it was the new year and then I woke up at 1:45 a.m. "Oh, we're doing this," I said, and turned over. I'm leaving insomnia in 2008, thankyouverymuch.

And so here I am, at my desk in my freshly organized office, coffee cup in need of refilling. The new year lies ahead of me, full of promise. This is the year I turn 40. Last night, the clock ushered in not just a new year for me but what will be a new decade. And I couldn't be more pleased about that.

I hope your holidays were all you hoped they would be, that you spent them with those you cherish.

And I hope you received something special. Everyone should experience the feeling that comes from receiving a bunny molded out of clay and love.