Sunday, October 31, 2010

'Sex And The City 2' ...


I saw the trailer. I read the reviews. Pan city, baby. Pan, pan, pan.

I really liked the series, and I thought the first movie was OK. But I vowed not to see the second. I would not stand in line at the theater. I would not even add it to my Netflix queue.

But then, the other day, in the mail, a card arrived from DirecTV. Five free on-demand movies? Really?

I had never bought an on-demand movie before. But here was DirecTV, trying to convince me that it's not such a bad guy after all, despite the insane amount of money it demands from me every month. (I have no premium channels. I pay for the second-to-last tier – what's the point in having satellite without HGTV? – and have a second box on a second set. And I pay more than $80 a month. Thanks, digital conversion!)

But as I was saying, I'd never bought an on-demand movie before. I hadn't even used the free one-off coupons that I received when I signed up for service and that arrived in one of my first bills. I pay Netflix a wee amount of money every month and can watch as many movies as I can watch and return, so I've never been inclined to give DirecTV $4.99 per.

But free? For free, I would break my vow. Because my objection was based partially on not wanting to add to the box office, but I couldn't help but wonder: How bad could it really be?

Now I know.

It's bad. It's nearly-turn-it-off-in-the-first-15-minutes-because-hey-I-didn't-pay-for-it-anyway bad. I'm all for gay marriage in principle, but if it means ever having to attend something so Blatchtacular, I might have to have plans that day. I promise to send a nice gift.

Liza, as the officiant? Really? Liza, covering Beyoncé, in sequins? Really, really?

Though I must say, Liza is rockin' her 60s. Nice gams, doll.

The one moment I found even remotely redeeming was between Miranda and Charlotte. Every circumstance was over the top, from the private bar in the $22,000-a-night suite to the we-have-nannies-and-we-still-can't-seem-to-manage annoyance, but I applauded the core of the scene: two women who admit to each other that being a mother is really, really hard and that the Martha Stewart/soccer mom/have-it-all facades are loads of crap. I'm not a mom, but sometimes, as Charlotte does, I guess you just have to go into the pantry and cry. Even for a moment. Even while your kid is banging on the door.

As other bloggers have said, it's irksome to see these women remain mired in their superficiality, especially in these economic times. Samantha making a one-off comment about two years of a crappy economy does not do enough to justify their gal-pal romp in the Middle East, even if all the expenses are being paid. Gross excess is still gross excess.

And speaking of Samantha, also as other bloggers have said, enough with the libido and accompanying jokes. I have nothing against a woman continuing to have a robust sex life (though that's purely hypothetical for me), but her desperate attempts to stave off any effects of aging are simply sad. Then again, I've never liked Samantha. She's always been the most fake.

So, I watched. Until the end. Even though I really needed to go to the bathroom. I suppose I could have paused it, but I thought I'd see it through.

Really, Sarah Jessica? Did it not strike you at all as out of your depth to shoot a scene on a camel? Remember when Carrie was too scared to let go of the trapeze?

Your audience forgave the Poughkeepsie pun in the first film. Heading to Mexico in the first film made sense.

But Abu Dhabi? If you and Michael Patrick King are going to make a statement about women and oppression and such, then make it. Don't let it glance off the audience as one of Samantha's snits.

If there will be a third film, keep it in New York. There are eight million stories in the naked city. Surely you can find an arc to tell a handful of them in a compelling way.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies ...

What is there to say?

Suzanne, a new Twitterpal, posted this recipe for pumpkin chocolate chip cookies.

I like pumpkin.

I like chocolate.

It's fall.

So I made them.

Typically, I post the recipes for the treats I feature here, but the recipe is hers, so click the link above to see it for yourself. She deserves the blog hits for it.

Because these things are fantastic.

Look at the stunning fall color.

I used Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Chocolate Chips for a bit of dark chocolaty goodness. I would recommend that you do the same.

My yield for this recipe was about six dozen.

And I shaped the first few trays to get "perfect" round cookies. Nuh uh. These cookies look much better in a more rustic form, so just use a couple of spoons to portion the dough out onto cookie sheets.

But do make them.

Thanks, Suzanne!

Update: I always make a recipe as written the first time around. The next time I make these, though, I'll try old-fashioned rolled oats instead of the quick-cook variety. They should add some nice texture. And I'll also throw in some toasted, chopped pecans for a bit of crunch and toasty, nutty flavor. These are great as they are, but I think a little doctoring is in order for the fun of it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

National Oatmeal Day ...

Just sayin'.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

National Chocolate Day ...

Why bother with words?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Minding Our Words ...

I'd been heads down for much of the day, transcribing an interview, transcribing and transcribing. What takes 45 minutes to record takes much, much longer to convert into written words.

So it wasn't until later in the evening when I read this post from Twitterpal Angelo.

It started out amusingly – Angelo doesn't fancy himself a writer but he does a fine job – but later it landed a emotional wallop. It made me gasp. Tears welled up in my eyes.

Which struck me as a bit of an outsize reaction, so I sat with myself for a moment to understand what was going on.

And I realized that what he had experienced was very similar to something I've written about before.

If I may quote from my post:

But one night, I was in the basement, sitting in front of my brother's stereo, wearing his headphones and singing along. Hearing only the music in my ears, I didn't detect anyone else in the basement until one of my brothers poked his head into the den. For the life of me, I can't remember which brother it was. But I remember what he said: "Oh yeah, that sounds real good."

And that was the night I stopped singing.

I'm sure he just thought he was being funny. Brothers exist to chide their little sisters. But that night, those words dashed my dream. They made me fearful to let anyone hear me sing. Irrational, sure, but a perfectionist's fear is to be found lacking.

Every day, I receive a Daily Inspiration e-mail from Daily Om. Today's message began: "Words carry energy and this gives language its power and its potential to heal or hurt."

How many times have I made a snap, thoughtless comment that affected someone in untold ways?

I shudder to think.

And I apologize to each and every one of them, karmically if not personally.

It takes two, of course. Some of us are more sensitive, some of us have thicker skins.

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent," Eleanor Roosevelt said.


How nice it would be to not be in that position in the first place. To have folks put themselves on a half-second delay when the urge strikes to say something snippy or snide in a sad attempt to seem clever or cool.

Now more than ever, I try to live my life by simple truths. The Golden Rule is really all we need. But "If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" is high on my list. I miss my own mark often, I know. But I'm aware. I'm trying.

Think about it. Literally. Stop before you speak, just long enough to consider that a comment that you'll have forgotten by your next sip of wine may have permanence for the person about which it's made.

"Sometimes when we are generous in small, barely detectable ways, it can change someone else's life forever."

— (No, I'm not kidding) Margaret Cho

Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Meditation On Peanut Butter Cookies ...

Once again, I was in the mood to bake.

It was a late-October fall day yesterday, grey and rainy with spots of sun. Not the kind of weather that beckons anyone outside.

But at the store two nights before, I'd forgotten to pick up a couple of baking staples on which I'd run low, so my options were limited unless I wanted to venture out into the weather to go to the store. Which I did not.

So the recipe I chose was based on the ingredients I had on hand.

Happily, the ingredients I had on hand were exactly what I needed to make peanut butter cookies.

I love peanut butter cookies. The sandy edges, the chewier center, the criss then the cross.

I do not smoosh my peanut butter cookies indiscriminately. I apply the fork vertically and then again horizontally, at as close as I can get to a perfect 90 degrees.

The dough, appropriately, is unfussy. A peanut butter cookie is not a fancy cookie. It is a homey cookie, a cookie-jar cookie, an after-school snack. So with a double batch of dough prepared – the recipe I make yields three dozen, and what's the point in that? – I set to rolling spoonfuls of dough into little balls and spacing them on the cookie sheets in advance of their smooshings, then baking them one sheet at a time.

For the first time ever, I do believe, I hit the yield almost exactly. I baked six sheets of a dozen each, save for the last sheet that had 10 and a half. A half, I say, because there was just a wee bit of dough left, but I shaped it and baked it just the same. I love the wee cookie from the last bit of dough.

So I had nearly six dozen cookies.

I handed two dozen to my mom when she stopped by with dinner, and I was glad to be able to hand her hers as she was handing me mine. Mom is incapable of cooking for two people, and she likes to share, and I liked to be shared with. Win-win.

I took somewhere in the neighborhood of three dozen to my neighbors. I didn't count, I just made two rows of cookies on end in a large Ziploc bag and sealed it shut.

The other day, the wife neighbor called to let me know that the husband neighbor was going to come over and do some work in my back yard. My back yard needed a lot of work. And the husband neighbor loves to work outside. The neighbors' yard is stunning, always ready for its closeup (if any gardening magazines would like to drop by), and mine is, well, not. I've never been the gardening sort. I try to keep the grass mowed at a respectable height so as not to be a total horticultural embarrassment. And some weeks, even that doesn't get done.

"Just tell him to leave the really big trees," I said. "He can cut down everything else."

So I was in my office for a moment and he was on the other side of the window, weed whacking and raking, and I opened the casement to offer my thanks.

"You're welcome," he said.

"What can I bake for you?" I asked.

Nothing, he said. The yard work was good exercise for him and he liked to be outside. (And he'd done all he could do in his yard, so he'd moved on to mine, which was very much appreciated.)

But it was a substantial effort, and I like to bake for them anyway, so I was happy to spend the grey day making cookies.

Making cookies takes me out of my own head. Any and all stresses melt away and I focus on the task at hand. I like the precision of baking. Cooking can be improvisational, but baking is exact. Add too little flour or too much and things just don't turn out the same.

So I enjoyed a couple of hours of mixing and shaping and baking. I learned that I have six cookie sheets. (Why did I think that I only had five? Perhaps I've only ever used five.) And I shared, which is the best part of all.

As I mentioned to a friend the other day to whom I'd shipped snickerdoodles, I love baking because "it's something so simple that brings a disproportionate amount of joy into the world."

And who can't use more joy?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Poignancy In Pumpkins ...

Yesterday, I carved a pumpkin.

My friends Sheila and Jeremy and little Baby Jay invited a slew of family and friends over to carve pumpkins in honor of their daughter and sister, Donna, who passed away on that date the year before.

Last year, friends and neighbors began bringing pumpkins to the parkway in front of Donna's house. Five pumpkins spelled out "Donna," a letter each. Other pumpkins were decorated. Others were carved. But at night, the pumpkins that could be lit were lit, and they flickered and glowed in the autumn chill. I went to see them, intending to add a pumpkin to the patch. But I couldn't find the right pumpkin. I had a very specific pumpkin in mind for Donna and no other pumpkin would do. So I went, pumpkinless, but to see the others and to stand outside their home for a moment and send them my love.

Last night, to honor their girl, Sheila and Jeremy invited us to carve, to eat, and to be.

With the help of adults, many children put their stamps on their pumpkins, some scary, some silly, some with more than one nose. I chose a squatty little pumpkin and opted for a very old-school face: triangles for eyes, a jagged grin. It made me happy.

The pumpkin carving, very smartly, happened outside. Inside, Sheila and Jeremy served Donna's favorite mac and cheese, along with other pasta and an endless array of treats, including cookies covered in sprinkles that were a big hit with the kids. Sprinkles are always a slam dunk. One little girl had squirreled some away in her mom's coat pocket. When she asked for a cookie and her mom reached for the stash, the little girl said, "Mom ... those are for the road." Sheila told that story after most everyone had left. We laughed.

Around 7, when folks had begun to gather their things, we all headed outside to transport the pumpkins from the carving station to the parkway and set about lighting tealight candles to make them glow.

As the last candles were lit, Sheila told us that before Donna died, she gave a little concert for her parents, singing "Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star," "I'm A Little Teapot," and "Row, Row, Row Your Boat," and Sheila wondered if we'd mind singing, too. So, of course, we did.

It was truly one of the most beautiful moments of my life: family and friends of every age, from babies to grandparents, surrounding a flickering pumpkin patch dedicated to Donna, and singing the sweet songs she had sung.

And it reminded me, so starkly, that all that truly matters is being there for each other. Nothing was more important to me last night than being with my friends, being of what help I could be in practical ways, all the while knowing that what mattered to them most was simply that we were there, together.

Be there for someone. Carve a pumpkin. Light a candle. Hug a friend.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Life Lesson Learned ...

As friends, family, and regular readers know, I'm the emotional type. As I've shared here before, the standing joke is that I will cry at a well-made commercial for soup. It doesn't take much to overwhelm me.

Last year, when I met with a candidate about doing some work for his campaign, I was so taken with what he had to say about what he wanted to accomplish, I literally got tears in my eyes.

A week later, in a meeting, I was introduced to another person working on his campaign and she said, "Oh, you're the one who cried."

When it comes to keeping my emotions to myself, well, I can't.

A lot of what I know is visceral. Truths reveal themselves to me along with tears. I know I'm on the right track with certain thoughts because they make me cry.

Likewise, emotional blows glance my head but land squarely in my gut.

But after the initial hit, my head takes over and begins to process the goings on.

And the process yields understanding.

My latest bout with reality has reminded me of this: I feel things intensely. I need to remember that most people don't experience emotions on the same level as me.

If our lives were lived in personal vacuums, this aspect of myself would pose no problem. I would go through life, reacting as I do, feeling as I do, doing as I do.

But however alone we may sometimes feel, our lives are not separate. They are all intertwined, some more intensely than others. The key for me is to understand that given my propensity to feel as strongly as I feel – about everything – I must be ever mindful that many others do not.

It is therefore incumbent upon me to remember, in interactions, that what I may feel does not necessarily translate to others. We may seem alike in many ways, but we are in many ways different, too.

This is especially true between men and women. We see the world differently. We approach relationships differently. We connect differently.

We may find someone who seems so similar to ourselves, but the complexities of each of us present many opportunities for misunderstanding to creep in, misunderstandings that diverge below the surface, until one day the chasm yawns to such a width that it is impossible to ignore, and there we are, standing on opposite sides.

And what then? A bridge? Perhaps. Someday. A new connection forged with time.

But for today, separateness. And the process of setting about on the next moments of one's life, every so slightly wiser.

This is how we grow.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Loss Profound ...

A friend's daughter passed away, one year ago tonight.

She and her husband have kept me in perpetual awe. They have traversed this year with more grace than I can fathom.

What they experienced sets a level in my mind. All other grief is relative to it.

So I'm reflecting on my emotional day and realizing that while what I am feeling is real, it pales in comparison to what others have experienced in the same hours.

Today, others have no doubt been visited with loss much more profound.

My life goes on, sadder for a time, but for the better in the end.


There is peace in the passage of time.

House: A Memoir ...

I really do love where I live.

Some days, I feel guilty about having this much space to myself, though my house, by modern standards, is small.

It is a modest '50s ranch that has had some work done, two additions over the years, a wall removed, the basement finished. It was too small for a family but feels too big for just me.

But as I was saying, I love it.

Over the years, I have filled the spaces, painted walls, hung art, and searched for rugs in vain. Why are rugs so hard to find? Rugs I like, that is? When I first moved in, the family room – what I call my TV room – was all but barren. It is now the coziest room in the house, but it still wants for a proper rug.

My style has evolved over time, as I suppose all styles do. Early on, even before I had my first apartment, I managed to convince myself that I wanted black leather furniture and tables of chrome and glass. That said "city" to me, I suppose. But while I love the city life, I am anything but sleek. My tastes quickly turned completely, and I contemplated a sofa from the era of the ticking-stripe craze.

Neither won.

The first upholstered piece I bought for my new place is the loveseat on which I still sit. It needs new cushions.

But here it sits, today, in my house, its third home. It is where I write and where I read. Most recently, Michael Ruhlman's memoir, "House."

My friend Martha, one of the many layers of silver lining from the dark cloud of my friend Dave's death, recommended it to me more months ago than I care to contemplate. I have a bad habit of buying books, reading a handful of chapters eagerly, and then turning my attention to other things. This bad behavior is in no way a reflection of the most of the books but rather of my restless nature of late, a trait which is greatly exacerbated by the constant distraction of the Internet.

But "House" began calling to me again, perhaps because of the shift in the weather driving everyone inside.

And so, this weekend, I took to it again, and finished it this afternoon.

It is partly the story of the renovation of a century-old house, partly a history of Cleveland and the circumstances that saw the construction of such homes, and partly a reflection on the meaning of life.

As I read yesterday, and the day's light began to fade, I paused to prepare the house for the evening, closing curtains, bringing up lights to their dimmer-enabled glows. I slipped on my well-worn shoes and headed over to the neighbors' for a moment to deliver some brownies I'd baked earlier in the day. And as I walked back to my house in the gloaming and opened the front door, a wave of gratitude washed over me. I am profoundly fortunate, I thought. Ruhlman's book reminded me of how much I love where I live.

I'm sure I was born in the wrong time. For as much as I love technology – and perhaps because of it – I long for what must have been a simpler age. More arduous in some ways, for the lack of present-day conveniences, but more rooted in what matters most.

Someday, I want to put a porch on the front of this house – I long ago sketched out what I would show to a builder – to have a place to sit and read and watch the world go by but also to welcome passers by, neighbors, and friends, who could sit on the porch on a warm day and have a glass of lemonade or iced tea and chat for a while before continuing on their way.

I have a bit of that with my neighbor, who always invites me in for a cup of coffee when I stop over, but it seems like there must have been a time when that behavior wasn't the exception but the rule.

But I live in this time, no other. And I love my modest house. And I love that I'm forever glancing people walk by, that I live in a place where sidewalks persist, where not everyone gets in their SUVs to run every errand, where I can walk to the drugstore and the grocery store, the post office.

Some days, I contemplate moving back to a smaller space, a one-bedroom apartment would suit me, I think. Maybe two. Maybe room for guests. Or an office. I often find myself asking how much space I really need.

Ruhlman and his family move into their new home well before it is completed, and so they set up house on the third floor. He writes: "The playroom, eighteen by twenty feet, now functioned as master bedroom, kitchen, and living room, and it was big enough to handle all of those duties more or less comfortably for a family of four, plenty big enough to live in permanently, that floor alone."

Of course, they would eventually have plenty of room to spread out, a kitchen, a dining room, an office, a living room, bedrooms, the basement, the rebuilt front porch. But we're used to space in this country, in excess. I guess that's what comes of landing on the east coast centuries ago and being able to spread out nearly endlessly before arriving at another shore.

And spread out they do, his family, but he ponders:

"Had we become superficial sybarites, vainly struggling with the meaninglessness of our empty suburban lives by wallowing in an equally meaningless material world, one filled with Ralph Lauren faux furniture and Jeep Grand Cherokees and overpriced Williams-Sonoma terrine molds? I mean, really, what were we doing, and why were we doing it? Was it all for shallow comfort? Given than we already had an acceptable house, shouldn't we be putting our time and resources toward something more meaningful than a larger, more comfortable one on a lovelier street? What were we doing with our lives that made this big gamble, this extraordinary upheaval, a good decision? Was this domesticity that we craved a romantic lie? Nostalgic? Sentimental? Was it always in the searching rather than in the having—would we always crave more goods, bigger houses to fill the existential void?

"I had no desire to flay myself unnecessarily. I'd give myself every benefit of the doubt, but I also didn't want to live in delusions. What did I really want, and was it a good thing or bad?

"Only this: to roast a chicken in my nifty thirty-six-inch Viking oven after a productive day of work, a big Boos cutting board on the spacious island, a fire crackling, Donna spotting her black-and-white prints at the table, and the kids either at my ankles or nearby playing. If it was Sunday, with the Cleveland Browns on in the background, losing. I'd know that all was right with the universe, the planets were aligned. I wanted that, and I wanted at least the hope of seeing grandchildren visit the very same kitchen and to roast a chicken for them as well. I wanted what Rybczynski refers to as domestic comfort, and I wanted it absolutely."

Indeed. Not many pages later, he writes: "The sight of the kids in the low evening sun, in their own time, made me so happy I became sad."

There are endless emotions tied up in our homes and our experiences in and around them, the memories from the places of our childhoods, the endless, carefree summer days, holiday parties, birthdays, anniversaries, morning coffee, the sounds and smells.

For him, his home is very literally a place in the universe, a place of permanence, home to several families before his, some of whom he comes to know. His concern, and mine, is that that sensibility is waning.

"Community," he writes. "That's what it's all about I thought. This was a damn good neighborhood. And it was going to stay that way ... .

"But what happens to a country where we all leave our places on an average of four years? Who will take care to build and maintain an excellent structure, a durable house, that they're going to leave pretty soon? We're going to construct houses and buildings that are increasingly like the rooms at Best Western and the Sheraton; our houses are going to have the quality and appeal of a generic hotel room."

And he's right. Have you watched a design show lately? Some actually feature design, but the shows dedicated to getting a home ready to sell? Could those rooms look any more uninspired? Greige paint on the walls; espresso-finish, do-it-yourself furniture; a few well-placed pillar candles and you're good to go. Everyone oohs and ahhs. And their reactions to a fixer-upper? Work to be done? God forbid.

It is, as I mentioned to a friend one day, the Courtyard by Marriottitization of America. No, thank you.

I have many more sticky notes jutting out from the pages of his book, but I'll stop rambling and simply recommend that you read it yourself. With the hopes that you can do so in a space that you love.

National Chocolate Cupcake Day ...

Why are you reading this?!

Go get a chocolate cupcake! Go bake some chocolate cupcakes!

Cupcakes, cupcakes, cupcakes!

(P.S. Those Hostess numbers with the cursive exercise rendered in Wite-Out on top don't count.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

National Mushroom Day ...

So I stumbled upon this list of national days.

Not every day is National Something Day, yet some days double up. Which doesn't seem right.

But I check it every morning, because it amuses me.

And today is National Mushroom Day.

I am a big fan of mushrooms. Big, big fan. Not of those embalmed bits and slices in jars, though I'll eat them if they appear on my plate, but mushroom mushrooms, earthy mushrooms, funny mushrooms. Morels and chanterelles? Gorgeous. Enoki? They make me think of Dr. Seuss.

My favorite Chicago chef, Allen Sternweiler, used to offer a mushroom dish at the sadly shuttered Allen's. Oh, it was beautiful. Mushrooms sauteed with brandy and finished with an herb butter. Heaven.

Kiki's Bistro offers a ragout de champignons that's the next best thing to Allen's perfection. If you're in the vicinity around lunch or dinner, you should stop in to observe National Mushroom Day thusly.

Or try the mushroom lasagna that Deb was so kind to post over at Smitten Kitchen.

Cafe Iberico has champinones a la plancha, grilled mushrooms with garlic and olive oil. Those are always a must-get.

Give me a good burger, cooked medium, and topped with sauteed mushrooms, grilled onions, melted Swiss cheese, and a healthy splotch of Dijon and I am a happy girl. That's what I like to order at Mity Nice Grill. I order off the menu. They're always happy to make it for me. (By the way, you might want to get the mashed potatoes instead of fries. The fries are fine, but the mashed are better.)

Ooh, or cream of mushroom soup? I love cream of mushroom soup. No, not that Campbell's glop. No, cream of mushroom soup made by someone who knows how to make a great cream of mushroom soup. Sadly, the number of those people are few.

Another now-defunct spot used to offer a portobello mushroom wrap, sauteed with sherry and shallots and piled into a wheat tortilla with mozzarella cheese. So, so good. I would order sweet potato fries on the side. Delicious.

And every so often, as a not-good-for-me treat, I get fried mushrooms. With just a sprinkling of salt. Fried mushroomy goodness.

The one mushroom to which I object is the shiitake. A former colleague who also knew a fair amount about food once told me that it wasn't that I didn't like shiitakes, but rather that I had not had them prepared correctly.

Um, no. I've had them prepared a number of ways. I don't like them. I'm quite clear on what I like and don't like. Shiitakes fall squarely in the Don't Like column. Along with cilantro, although cilantro is at the top of the list. Followed closely by lemongrass. And then shiitakes. Or maybe lemongrass and shiitakes are tied.

Maybe today's observance will be a sausage and mushroom pizza. Monday was National Sausage Pizza Day, which I didn't observe. So tonight, perhaps, I'll double up.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Who I Am And Who I Am Not ...

I don't write drafts.

Not intentionally.

Not here.

I write. Whatever my brain conjures and my fingers type is what you read. I do not write then ponder. I do not mull. I write. You read. Done.

But back in late July, the last day of July to be exact, I wrote a post that I did not publish. Something didn't feel right. The writing was fine – and by "fine" I mean "acceptable" – but I had a sense that it wasn't the right time to share.

And I was right (as we always are, in the end).

Because now is the right time to share.

As precis though, this is part of what I had to say:

This is a moment.

I have been talking to myself a lot this morning, talking through recent events, talking about how I've responded to those events – or, more accurately, about how I've
not responded to those events – and I just said, out loud, "This is not the life I want."

Which may sound ungrateful, and I assure you it is not. I am enormously grateful for the richness in my life. I am blessed beyond measure.

But I have allowed myself, for reasons I am trying to understand, to shrink away from life.

The other day, in a moment of being cheeky, I wrote to Angela, "I'm too talented to be destitute."

But it is in those moments of being off the cuff that we often reveal our truths.

That was a turning point. One of many turning points that have come to me in recent days.

I don't know this person I've become. I am not her. Where did I go?

Part of the talking this morning has been laying out a timeline. And I took it back to when I lost my last job, but it extends back much further.

How much further? I'm not sure. Was I me when I worked at my previous job? No, not really.

Was I me when I worked at the job before that? No.

Was I me when I worked at the
Tribune? The Sun-Times? No. No.

What about when I interned at
Chicago magazine? Was I myself then? No.


High school?

Grade school?

Have I ever been myself?

Of course, I've always been myself insofar as my belief that I'm always where I'm supposed to be, so wherever I've been has been instructive in some way.

But this morning, I arrived at another turning point.

Some background: Yesterday, my friend Bruce and I were trading notes back and forth about movies, about ones we've seen and ones we own, and he ticked off a couple of classics that I haven't seen, and I replied to him, "Oh, geez, I'm such a film failure."

And this morning, I awoke to, in part, this (I don't think he'll mind if I share):

"I found your recent comment worthy of closer examination:

'Oh, geez, I'm such a film failure.'

I know you're intending to sound funny and breezy and flippant here, but listen to yourself for a minute. ... I wonder if you listen to your inner monologue sometimes and detect a pattern of putting yourself down? I hope not, Beth. You've got FAR more going on in that interesting brain of yours than most women I know."

To which I replied:

"No, I don't mean to put myself down. What I meant was some of the ones you were mentioning were some of the classics that anyone who calls themselves a film fan should have seen at least once, if not many times, by this stage in his or her life. ... Thanks for your thoughts. My inner monologue could use some sprucing up, regardless. I was just thinking, in the past 24 hours, that this first year of my being 40 isn't what I wanted my first year in my 40s to be. Must do something about that."

To which he kindly replied, in part:

"What did you want your first year of your 40s to be (if you can share)?"

To which I replied, in part:

"The first part of 40 has just seen me being very much not myself. I've been out of work, I haven't been exercising, I've put on some weight, I'm just 'blah.'

There are glimpses of 'me.' I was thinking the other day of the last time I got my hair cut and colored, and then I went and met my friend Steve, who was in town on business, for dinner. And we had a lovely time, good conversation, lots of laughs. There's something about being with him that makes me feel, oh, hell, what's the word? I'm still sleepy, so vocabulary isn't springing to mind. So let's settle on 'with it.'

And I know that I'm always that person, that it's not like she only comes out when Steve comes to town, but, well, I need to get out more. Seriously."

I know that we can't live our lives always "on." There are rhythms to the days. Some days we're outgoing, some days we want to be alone. Some days we're ambitious, some days we're lazy. I do not demand peak performance from myself at all times.

The problem is, I've demanded next to nothing from myself for too long.

Friends see my life as so interesting, the experiences I've had, the people I know. And they're not wrong. I have had lots of opportunities, been fortunate to meet some really interesting people, and strike up friendships with a few of them.

At a retirement party a couple of weeks ago, my friend Rob's wife, Mary, popped up with a friend of hers and said, "She needs to hear the Vonnegut story!"

And so I told her friend the story of how I interviewed Vonnegut for a college paper (part of that story is here).

In moments like these, in this life I'm living right now, I wonder where that girl has gone.

If I had the courage, nauseous and nervous though I was, as a 19-year-old to call Kurt Vonnegut and arrange to fly to New York to meet him, what's stopping me now?

Now I'm an adult. Now I can do whatever I want. There are no limits.

So why am I so stuck?

Part of it, maybe most of it, is a lack of direction.

I can see my friend Elida rolling her eyes as she reads this, but even as I wend my way toward 41, I don't know what I want to do with my life.

I've been reading a book called "The Renaissance Soul," and it's been helpful, comforting. It's nice to know that there are others like me, that there is an entire segment of the population who doesn't want to be a singular thing or who can find some measure of satisfaction in their job while they pursue an avocation on the side.

When I engage with an idea, there's no stopping me. I will spend hours immersed in it, doing and doing and doing until it's done. Tweaking endlessly, making it just so, manifesting the vision in my mind.

When the idea came to me for the invitation for my 40th birthday party, I got to work, writing, editing, designing, printing, proofing, tweaking, printing, proofing, tweaking, making it just right.

When Angelo made an off-hand comment about a shortbread necklace, I set to conceptualizing, rendering, mixing, forming, rolling, cutting, baking, styling, getting a final shot to share.

I love those moments. But they do not last. Nor are they lucrative. I do not expect to support myself making shortbread necklaces. But there is a bigger issue beyond that: I do not want to make more shortbread necklaces. I've done that. I was happy with the result. Next!

So many people have talked to me about opening a bakery, suggesting I open a bakery, asking why I haven't opened a bakery, and the simple answer is this: I have to be in the mood to bake.

I love to bake for others. I love that people get so excited when Christmas rolls around and they know cookies are coming their way. Or when I just whip up a batch of brownies or muffins or scones and deliver them next door or share them with my mom and dad. It's something so simple, but it's done with love and they're so pleased for the little surprise.

But if that were my job? If I woke up every day and I
had to bake, if my livelihood depended on it? I don't like the thought of that.

Which is where
The Renaissance Soul comes into play, this notion that we can pick several things to do, that each day doesn't have to look exactly like the day before.

But that's not how the world works. Well, not most of the world. In most of the world, you get a job, a singular job. You are an accountant or a doctor or a lawyer or a sales clerk or what have you.

Yes, there are those who make a life for themselves, but they are often self-promoters. I am
not a self-promoter. Little makes me more uncomfortable than having to sell myself.

It's the catch-22 of being both talented and humble. Yes, I have gifts, but I'm not supposed to talk about them.

But my challenge (I made myself change the word from "issue" and "problem") becomes a lack of interest in doing anything long-term. I get into a book then leave it half-read.

I work on the screenplay in very short bursts.

I can't seem to finish anything substantial.

I didn't even want to keep writing this post.

I feel scattered. And lost. And hopeless. And frustrated that I can't figure this out.

What good is being this smart if I feel so pathetic?

Now, let me make something clear before we continue: I do not worship at the altar of Oprah. I record her show every day, but I do not watch most of the episodes. I scan through the folder on my DVR, looking for topics of interest, and delete more than I save.

But a couple of years ago, Doreen shared an article in an issue she had lying around, and as I read, I thought I might like to subscribe. The magazine seemed to be a good fit for where I was in my life (not that I ever really seem to know), and I found a subscription deal on Amazon, so I subscribed.

For two years.

Right off the bat.

Yes, I could cancel, but do you know anyone who ever does that?

Most people – me, anyway – just let the subscription clock run out. Which is what I'm doing.

And we're ending things in a spectacular fashion.

Last month's cover?

"Own Your Power!"

In Big. Italic. Type!

Exclamation point! In case the 72-point "Power" was striking you as a bit too subtle.

This month's cover?

"What's Your True Calling?"

Good question, Oprah. Good question.

I've been trying to figure that one out for years.

Hell, decades.

You'd think I would have stopped what I was doing the moment that issue arrived in the mail and sat myself down and flipped feverishly through the pages until my eyes fell on the single word that would change everything, that would define me, that would make it all – finally, blissfully, relievedly – known.

Yeah, no.

I put it in the bathroom with all the other magazines.

But I'd see it, you know, from time to time.

And a little voice in my head would say, "What are you afraid of, Beth? Why aren't you reading it? Don't you want to know?"

Oh, I want to know. I've always wanted to know. The engine of my life has been revving for 40 damn years. Put it in Drive already, Kujawski!

So, this morning, I read the first piece. And then I started the second. And then I set the issue down, even as I chided myself for it.

"Really?" I asked. "That's as far as you're going to go?"

"No," I answered myself. "I want to call mom and make sure she's OK. And then I want to get these dishes done. I need things to be clean."

I need things to be clean? Who the hell am I?

Whatever. I called my mom. She was fine, just tired and a bit sore from working too hard yesterday. And I did up the few dishes.

And then I plopped myself down at my desk to read the relevant pages. Not the whole issue, just the pages that would help me, once and for all, put me on the road to discovering my true calling.

Patti Smith and Joy Behar, separately, advised following that thing you loved to do as a child, before you let others become factors or influence.

Martha Beck penned a great piece about discovering our hot tracks. "Grab a pen and make a list of every time you remember being utterly, happily absorbed in an activity, no matter how odd," she wrote.

I obeyed.

First thing on the list? Shortbread necklace.

(Angelo inspired the shortbread necklace. Angelo is crazy talented and creative. And, of course, he's my muse. He's Greek. It's kind of his job.)

I took the "What's Holding You Back?" quiz and got bupkis. I read all of the possible answers and none of them apply to me, specifically. Figures.

I read "The Best of Her Abilities," Paige Williams' piece about the battery of aptitude tests at the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation. I went through the process two years ago. So I was pleased to read another testee's take. A woman's, a writer's, no less. She wrote, "I obsess over some mistakes longer than many people stay married." I highlighted those words in florescent yellow, then made an exclamation mark next to them in blue pen.

I read about her testing, recalling my own highs and lows, and highlighted, "The wiggly blocks, for instance—the test that Tim says 'brings people to their knees.' "

"Ha!" I wrote in the gutter, an utterance of victory, not mirth.

I scored in the 95th percentile on Wiggly Blocks.

Take that, knee-bringer!

Of course, that test result threw everything out of whack. My aptitudes say one thing, my interests say another.

One of my recommended careers? Electrical engineer. Which seemed obscure until the day I connected that dot with the fact that Nikola Tesla and I are first cousins, thrice removed. (I don't have the proof on paper. But so goes the story in the family. And there's a definite resemblance. Among the men, that is. Not me. In case that wasn't clear.)

And then I read Elizabeth Gilbert's entry on what to do when your passion goes AWOL. She dabbled in gardening until her writer's block lifted. Which is a viable option when you're a multi-millionaire. For others, not so much.

And lastly, I happened upon Robin Black's appropriately placed "Never Too Late." Of course that one should come last.

Yup, we're late to our callings.

But as she posits, "Maybe it's a case of better late than early."

At least we're more sure.

So, do I now know my calling?


But lately, my brain has been making associations between what I like to do now and what I liked to do as a child, and I'm discovering that I really have always had clues, instincts. But I grew up and I let my rational mind take over.

I am equally right- and left-brained. And for most of my adult life, the two hemispheres have been playing tug of war. My rational brain was sure the answer existed, if only I could think enough thoughts, take enough tests, analyze enough data, I would eventually find the key, the answer, the word. My "Rosebud."

Meanwhile, my creative brain, as a child, wanted to pin a red bath towel around my neck like a cape and spin around the kitchen to the theme from "Batman" in the afternoon. So I did.

Creative! Rational. Creative! Rational. My brain made little progress. The rope would move every so slightly in one direction, then ever so slightly in the other.

And today, I realized that I have to drop the rope.

It's so simple. Just drop the rope. Get out of my own way. Go with the flow. As Angelo would say, embrace my inner Kardashian. (Translation: Find success in being who you are. And don't overthink things. After all, clearly, they don't.)

Years ago, I asked my editor at Chicago magazine why he was a writer. (He was working on a book at the time.) He said, "I'm a writer because it's the only thing I can do really well. You can do a lot of things really well. It's going to be really hard for you."

I took that to heart, held it close all these years. And I have made it true.

A few months ago, as I mentioned, I was out with my friend Steve. We were sitting at the bar at Bandera, having some a couple of glasses of wine before dinner, and I told him about my editor, Joe: "And then he said, 'You can do a lot of things really well. It's going to be really hard for you.' "

And without skipping a beat, Steve said, "Or really easy."

Or really easy.

In 20 years, I had never thought to look at that statement from the other direction. I never thought to just flip it around.

Easy, Beth. Let it be easy.

Yes, I still have bills to pay. I don't have the luxury of Gilbert's gardening spree.

But what a relief it is to drop the rope, to stop trying so fervently to figure things out. The answer isn't at the end of a test, on the last page of a book, or in the latest issue of O.

It's inside me. Where it's always been.

The answer is: Do it all.

And, as my friend Rick would say: Start where you are.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pathetic Fallacy ...

I love this image.

It was a horrible day. The rain and sleet, relentless. The clouds, so grey and thick and heavy. The wind would not relent.

The city streets were all but abandoned. In the time I sat there, in my car, I saw three people slogging through the elements. Not even a car drove by.

The literary device for an element in nature reflecting a character's mood is pathetic fallacy. Isn't that perfect? And indeed, what I saw through my windshield that day was reflective of my emotions. It's hard to imagine anyone being happy in such circumstances.

But I also love this image because the blur of the water makes the scene look like a Monet. To me, anyway. But I hadn't noticed that at the time.

I suppose there is beauty in everything, if only we choose to see it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Men. [Sigh.] ...

What's with you guys?

On Facebook this morning, one of my female friends posted, "It's 8:20 a.m. in the great city of Chicago on 10.10.10. Some folks here have already run a marathon. What have you done?"

Most who commented were women. Most quipped about drinking coffee and the like.

And then a guy popped up with: "My wife ... that was sooooooo in appropriate."

In my world, if you feel the need to follow your own comment with "... that was sooooooo inappropriate," it's best to refrain from making said comment in the first place.

After my friend replied with "Yikes," he deleted it.

But you can't unring a bell.

Or in this case, you can't be unthought of as an ass.

Filter, people. Filter.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Speaking Of Food And Love ...

Last night, I met up with Jay (aka Mr. Busy Guy) for dinner at Scoozi!, a stalwart of the Chicago restaurant scene.

I first went there, if memory serves, in 1989. As in, 21 years ago.

Jay had never been.

So we went.

I love the interior. There are a few restaurants that I wouldn't mind making my home, and Scoozi! is one of them. (Balthazar in New York City is another.) The vast convex ceiling does its part to bounce around sound, and on busy nights, there's quite a din. But last night didn't play to a full house, so we were able to chat with ease.

Perusing the wine list, Jay's eyes lit up when he hit upon a Seghesio Zinfandel, not offered by the glass, which was fine because we intended on getting a bottle anyway. It arrived. It was poured. Yep, I'll be ordering that again.

I knew what I was going to order for my entree. I always get the same thing when I'm there, because I'm not there very often and because that particular pasta dish is sublime, but even knowing, I can stare at the menu for a long time, so we decided to decide on what we wanted to order before we launched into our marathon of catching up.

We landed on a couple of antipasto items, the roasted beets with toasted hazelnuts and the roasted cippolini onions. Why do I not eat roasted onions every day of my life?

And of course, there's the bread at Scoozi! Oh, the bread. Thick slices of it presented by servers from large baskets, along with the plateful of olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese. The bread has changed slightly, and for the better. Still with a hearty (yet chewable) crust and a substantial crumb, but now with a sprinkling of salt on top. Delightful.

One of the lovely aspects of Scoozi! is the pace of the service. We ordered our antipasti but our server didn't ask what we'd like for dinner until our antipasti was nearly gone. Though once we ordered our entrees, they arrived rather swiftly. But such is the case with pasta. It doesn't take long to assemble the components.

Jay had the campanelle with shrimp in a tomato vodka sauce, which I'd never had, so I tried a bite of the pasta, and, not surprisingly, it was lovely.

I had the rigatoni with smoked chicken, spinach, and mushrooms in Parmesan cream sauce, which, as I mentioned, I get every time I'm there because I love it so.

Our server or some other member of the staff arrived every so often to keep our wine glasses filled to respectable levels, but other than that, we were left to savor and talk.

The dessert menu arrived later, and we had to at least look, right?

I am a panna cotta devotee, The restaurant has changed its presentation of it, but it warranted a try.

I liked it the old way, served with fresh berries and covered by a tuile cookie "cage" baked in a bowl, I presume, and inverted onto the plate.

It's now served with a blueberry sauce, which was nicely tart and contained smashed berries, but it's also topped with an oatmeal crumble situation that is completely superfluous.

There is no need to contrast the texture of panna cotta. The texture of panna cotta is the entire point of panna cotta, that and the simple flavor.

I seem to remember that the restaurant served those rustic sugar cubes with its coffee service, and those are gone, if indeed they were ever there. I prefer those to packets. So that, I'd change.

But it was a lovely evening with a lovely friend, three hours of food and wine and animated conversation.

If you haven't been, go. If you've been, go again.

I'll probably see you there.

Monday, October 04, 2010

Food And Love ...

I've been blogging for more than five years. Surely, I've written about food and love before.

But earlier today, I read David Leite's post about cooking for someone you love, and here I am, inspired.

Of course, everyone I cook for is someone I love, and that includes myself. But David's point, and my point, too, is about cooking for The One: husband, wife, partner, boyfriend, girlfriend, significant other or moniker of choice.

David has a The One. I do not.

But many of my fondest memories of relationships past center on food.

There was the guy who proudly proclaimed, "I'm going to make you waffles!" Waffles as in "L'eggo my Eggo," not waffles from scratch, but as with so many things, what counted was the thought.

So I sat at the table and he padded about the kitchen, from the freezer to the toaster, to the pantry to retrieve the syrup to the microwave to warm it up. (I cringed at the thought of nuking a plastic bottle containing syrup, but later noticed that the label prominently proclaimed that that's exactly what one should do.)

I didn't tell him that I was trying to avoid carbohydrates. That would have left him deflated.

So I topped my waffle with syrup – a carb patty soaked with sugar – and drank the orange juice he poured for me so happily.

And then there was G. I haven't written about G for years, as it's been years since we split up. But I remember nearly fainting the night that he filled a bowl with hot water and set it aside to warm.

G could cook. Spontaneously. He didn't have to hover over a cookbook and run his finger along each step. He could compose a sauce on the fly. He shopped at Potash Bros. and Whole Foods. His refrigerator never lacked for a hunk of Gruyere cheese.

He didn't drink coffee in the morning – I never did understand why – but he would make coffee for me, add just the right splash of hazelnut goo, and bring it to me on the couch.

Whatever he prepared was delightful, partly because he could cook but mostly because he simply did.

Sometimes we would cook together, but inevitably he would shoo me out of the kitchen to take my place at the dining table while he finished up, and then appear at the table to set down my plate, then his.

And I would take a bite, and stand up, and walk around to his side of the table, touch my fingertips underneath his chin, tilt back his head, lean over, kiss him, and then return to my chair.

It was the least I could do.

One day, we were watching a movie and found ourselves in need of a snack. He had an idea, got up from the couch, went into the kitchen, and busied himself with the task.

"Can I help?" I called out.

"No," he called back. And then appeared with a glass of wine for me before retreating back to the prep.

See what I mean?

Guys, learn how to cook something. One thing. Anything. Guys who know how to cook earn so, so, so many points.

It's more expected of women to know how to cook, domestically, anyway, so I don't know that the men I've dated have been equally wowed with my cooking skills as I've been with theirs.

But I love cooking for everyone, platonic, romantic, either way.

Though making lasagna for the Italian guy wasn't my brightest moment. It turned out good, but as I was preparing it, I thought, "Beth, you're making lasagna. For an Italian guy. Whose mother probably makes the best lasagna on the planet."

But I'm happy to plan a menu and shop and prep and welcome people into my home.

Or whip up something that someone's been wanting, something as simple, even, as butterscotch pudding.

Because there's nothing more loving than feeding the people I love.

Form. Function. Folly? ...

Some of the interior design folks I follow on Twitter are chatting this morning about design shows, and what they'd like to see.

I am a design-show junkie. I watch HGTV far more often than any of the other channels that I now pay far too much to receive. I thought I would be much more inclined toward Food Network, but I'm not. HGTV satisfies my visual yen.

Some shows – some networks, even – have come and gone, and I can't quite remember what net hosted what shows, but I've sampled a wide swath of 'em in finding my favorites.

One of the topics on Twitter this morning suggested disclosing the budgets for makeovers. I heartily support that idea. Candice Olson pulls off some spectacular spaces, but wouldn't it be fascinating to know it took $50,000 to overhaul a kitchen? Or $30,000 to transform a bedroom? (Or whatever the costs may be.)

Price tags only seem to appear on the low-end shows. "Design on a Dime" makeovers happen for $1,000 or less. "Design Remix" grants folks only $50 to supplement whatever they have on hand.

And you know what? The rooms on "Design Remix" always look like someone spent about $50 to spruce them up.

Even "Design on a Dime"-type shows leave me wondering about what the rooms really look like. They may appear nice-ish for the reveal, but that painted armoire? How does it look up close? Better yet, how will it look in a month, once it's been in service?

Another topic that came up on Twitter, though, was that not every show should be about low-budget design but rather the time is nigh for high-end, luxury makeovers.

Which set me to thinking about the prices people pay, and why.

My enthusiasm for angelo:HOME stems from his mission to make good design affordable.

Which isn't to say there isn't a place for heirloom-quality pieces, but so much of design seems priced for status and nothing more.

It's much the same with fashion. What makes a skirt worth $700? The label. That's it. Which isn't to say there aren't degrees of quality in clothing. Of course there are. Design, fabrics, details, and workmanship all go into the cost of a garment, but much of what goes into the jaw-dropping number on the price tag is the status of owning it.

No thanks.

And so, when I flip through design magazines, I can't help but question the prices of some of the items. Oh, what a lovely bench, I might think. And then wonder why it's $8,000.

Well, because the designer wants $8,000 for it, that's why.

Yesterday, I was at an antique show at the Merchandise Mart. And I saw a lot of lovely things. (I saw a lot of ugly things, too. I'm sorry, but what's the appeal of majolica?)

I saw a lovely painting. It was $22,500. Nope, won't be owning that.

Art, incidentally, is one of the few things I think is justifiably priced much of the time.

But if I consider that painting as one element of a room? That's going to be an expensive room.

I remember watching "Sensible Chic" and balking at the price tags of the designer rooms. Really? $90,000 for a living room? Who are the people who have $90,000 to throw at decorating a living room? But more importantly, why would anyone spend $90,000 to decorate a living room?

How much excess is enough? I know I'm a bleeding-heart liberal, but I couldn't spend that kind of money to decorate a room knowing how much good I could do with that kind of money.

Mind you, I like nice things. And I have far more than I need. Depending on which end of the lens through which you view my world, I live either a very modest existence or one that's very opulent. By Beverly Hills mansion standards, I live in a hovel. By hovel standards, I live in a mansion.

When I bought it, my dining room table set me back a couple grand. It's a solid cherry table. I'll be able to pass it down to someone. It's built to last more than one lifetime. By that measure, it was a bargain.

I paired with it the Parsons chairs that surrounded the former table (which is now in my basement and very handy for extra seating when I have a party) for which I ordered custom slipcovers. I could have bought new chairs, but a) I didn't want to spend hundreds of dollars per chair, times six; b) I really like these chairs; they're very comfortable and I'm all for comfort when it comes to dinner parties, for encouraging people to linger around the table and chat; and c) I couldn't see replacing them because they were in fine condition, save for the fabric, which was looking a bit worse for the wear. So the slipcovers were the perfect solution.

The "sideboard" is a bit too small in scale in relation to the table, but the color of the wood matches the table almost exactly and it does a fine job of holding my stemware and some silver pieces. It easily gets as many compliments as the pedestal table. And I bought it from Crate & Barrel, a flat-pack piece I assembled in about 20 minutes. And it cost $250-ish, if I remember right.

Could I have spent loads more money on another piece? You betcha. But I'm glad I didn't.

So, my point in all of this? Oh, hell, I have no idea. Other than musing about the motivations behind paying large sums for design. Are our lives enhanced in any way because we spent $1,000 for a lamp versus $100? What are we trying to tell ourselves and the world with what we choose to buy?

Because, in the end, it's all just stuff.

Yesterday, my mom and I drove past the property where a dear friend of the family used to live. Her son has since sold it. We hope that the person who bought it brings the house back to life. It's a lovely house on a lovely wooded lot.

It set me to thinking about what happens to our things when we die. At the antique market, Doreen had commented about how things arrive at such fairs. Did someone decide to sell those things? Did someone need to sell those things? Did someone die and the family sold off possessions in an estate sale?

I like buying things at antique stores. I like the thought that items have a past, that they once lived in someone else's space, and were appreciated for a time. I like putting things to use in other ways (my steamer trunk is a coffee table, my wooden drafting stool is a plant stand). And I like that not everyone will have the same things as me.

I like that most everything in my living room has a story behind it. By design standards, my home is devoid of status.

But it's full of interest and items well-loved.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

The Chair In Here ...

This is my loveseat.

I spend a lot of time on my loveseat. It's where I write. If I'm clacking away on my laptop, it's a rather sure bet that this is where I'm sitting.

I am, as you might expect, rather familiar, then, with the view.

Across from me sits my comfy chair. It is not the chair I had wanted for the longest time. The coveted chair was from Crate & Barrel, oversized yet classic, and upholstered in leather. Forest green. I loved that chair. I would go to Crate & Barrel on Michigan Avenue to visit it. The staff would move it around and between the two floors of furniture. And I would worry for a brief moment when I would arrive for a visit and not find it, but I'd wander and there it'd be, my chair.

And then, one day, it was gone.

I was crestfallen. Really. Looking back, I'm very glad that I didn't buy an oversized green leather chair, but at the time, it embodied all that I believed was my taste. It was my taste at the time. But it was gone.

I was sure I would never find another chair I loved as much, as completely.

But I had no other choice.

One day, my mom and I went to Marshall Field's on State Street. We wandered about the furniture floor. Nothing appealed. The Field's building on State Street (it will always be Field's to me, never Macy's – never) covers an entire city block. But I was seeing nothing I loved. Discouraged, I walked through an opening into another vignette, turned to my left, and there it was.

My new chair. Tucked into the corner such that I could have easily walked right by it, focused on whatever was in my view. But I had turned. And it was there. And I knew.

Mom smiled at me. She knew, too.

It was a Beth chair, through and through. Floral, but not expected, not the rose pattern that would soon cover every surface of every home as country invaded decors with a vengeance, as everyone adopted the notion that shabby was chic. No, this floral was different. And the chair was oversized, welcoming. And filled with down.

I sank into it. A salesman came by to take care of business. I plunked down my credit card, arranged for delivery, and left, thrilled.

And it was delivered and unwrapped and inspected and made itself right at home in my latest living room. And friends would visit and everyone would want to sit in the chair. And I would let them.

When I moved from that apartment into this home, I configured this room almost exactly as I had configured that space. Based on the location of windows and doors and the need for flow, this arrangement just makes the most sense.

And so when I look up from my loveseat, I see my chair. I see it every day.

But this morning, as I was sipping coffee and surfing, I happened to look up at my chair and it suddenly seemed so enormous. It is big. It is admittedly big. There is no way to mistake it for small. But today, it seemed disproportionately big.

The fact that the ottoman matches the chair has been bugging me for some time. It's too much, paired with the chair, too much floral. So I've been thinking about slipcovering it, but in light of this morning's revelation, I'm wondering if it's just time to bid my chair farewell.

I thought about moving the furniture in the room. Yesterday, Angelo ended his blog post (about cake) thusly:

"Have a fantastic weekend.
Be creative. Do something fun. Move some furniture.
Have some cake!"

So today, I thought about moving furniture, and then thought, "There's no other way to arrange this room." And then I thought that Angelo would say, "Yes, there is." To which I would say, "No, there's not."

And then I had an idea.

(Apparently, one of the ways to tap into my creativity is to bicker with Angelo in my head.)

I haven't yet begun to move the furniture around. Because once I do, that will unleash a chain of events I'm not yet prepared to complete. But the idea has been had. Oh, and I'll need a console table. Or something more repurposeful than that.

But in all of this chairness today, I tweeted a tweet about its enormity, and one of my Twitterpals replied, "picture?"

So I snapped a few for him. (And by a few, I mean a ridiculous number that I don't even know and wouldn't reveal if I did. But the light in here was waning and my camera likes to focus only about 50 percent of the time and then in reviewing shots I'd see something out of sorts in the background and, well, you get the idea. Yes, I'm more than a little obsessive.)

Anyway, this is the comfy chair. The purple bear is named Miles. As in Davis. There's a story behind that. But I can't tell it to you here. You'll have to come by. Because action is required to properly tell the tale. But he wanted to pose for the picture. He's a subtle sort of bear, but he likes his picture taken every now and then.

A normal person would have seen Jamie's Twitter request, snapped a shot with her camera phone, uploaded it to TwitPic, and called it a day.

But I am not normal, as by now you should know.

Fall ...

Yesterday, though it was warm, I was thinking about the arrival of fall.

October is here. Somehow. Already.

And I thought that surely I'd written before about why I love fall. Because I really love fall. As much as I don't like summer? That's how much I like fall.

So I searched my archives and ran across this, written nearly five years ago:

Why is it that I love fall?

Sure, it's pretty. Crunching through the leaves. Pumpkins. As I wrote to a friend the other day, "The color of the changing leaves changes the quality of the light."

But as I walked on this cold, grey day, noticing the trees that are almost completely bare, I began to wonder if I'm fond of fall because it is the season that forces us back indoors. The weather changes, the days grow shorter, sociability wanes.

Do I like fall because it's aligned with my private nature? Wouldn't the reclusive nature of winter suit me even better then?

There are parts of winter that I relish: Sunny snowy mornings, bundled up and braced for the cold as I step outside to shovel the snow that sparkles. Hollywood snow, I call it. Fluffy, like shoveling cotton, light glinting off its surface like snowglobe glitter. Early in the morning, it is quiet and it is Zen, the repetitive swipes of my shovel sweeping arcs of snow side to side.

But other parts of winter sadden me: Darkness at 4 in the afternoon, malformed piles of dirty snow, barren trees, dead grass.

I've long thought that the earth should be divided into quadrants where each season exists perpetually. Feeling like a little fall? Go to the fall quadrant. In the mood to hit the slopes? The winter quadrant awaits. The summer quadrant would be full of beaches and concerts in parks. And it would always be springtime in Paris.

But for now it is fall. The leaves are down, the wind is up. Winter is on its way.

Yup, that's why I love fall.

And I'd love it more if it lasted longer. It is dishearteningly swift, fall. The trees take forever to begin to turn, and then, in just a few weeks, the show is over. The leaves left on trees begin to wither. The color drains out of the leaves on the ground and they shrivel, curl into themselves, and blow away.

And what remains, for so many Midwestern months, is bleak.

Still, I welcome it. For even once the trees are bare and the cold sets in, I relish the aspects the seasons bring, those moments of feeling chilled and pulling on a favorite sweater and wrapping it around you and the comfort of the onset of warmth.

And the glow of a Christmas tree. I love the glow of a tree, especially at night.

But I've gotten ahead of myself. October has just arrived. There is cider to drink. There are leaves to rake. It is the season of caramel apples and bowls full of stew. And simmering soups. And pumpkin pies. And bread.

I once wrote in a post that in my home, it is always fall. I do not change my house with the seasons. I do not slipcover for summer and change out rugs. I chose this palette because I love it. I am not about cool hues.

And for a month or so, the world outside my windows plays along. Today, it is mostly green with bits of yellow beginning to show. But soon, golden yellows will arrive. And oranges and reds and rusts.

Come by for lunch. We can hold warm bowls in our hands and sit on the front stoop and watch the falling leaves.