Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Four Chicken Moments And A Penguin ... And A Big Boy ...

Yesterday morning, I popped around my house snapping shots of rooms and vignettes to create a slideshow to show some folks who have agreed to let me design their new-to-them, vintage condo.

I figured, if I were letting an amateur person into my home to design spaces, I'd want to see that person's home, just to be sure that their idea of design wasn't milk-crate chic. So I took "grown-up" pictures, overall views of my living room and my dining room and my kitchen, and a slice of my bedroom. (I hadn't yet made my bed.)

(P.S. I still haven't.)

I also took pictures of some of the chicken moments in my home. I have several.

Let it be known that I have been fond of chickens (really, they're almost always roosters, not chickens) since far before the "chicken/rooster" craze hit and chickens/roosters started turning up everywhere.

My friends and family were happy to indulge my tastes, so much so that I had to put a moratorium on all things chicken.

But select chicken moments remain.

And in my TV room, for a bit of kitsch, the tray on my coffee table sports my penguin martini shaker as well as my Big Boy doll/bank, both gifts from two people who know me very well.

Lately, my blog has been sorely lacking in photographs, so I thought today would be a fine day to share some snaps.









Sunday, August 29, 2010

On Friends And Followers ...

On Friday, I was very anti-social.

I left the house. I even spoke with strangers. But before that, I culled my Friends on Facebook.

By the time I was through, my Friend tally stood at an even 200.

From 260.

I really thought I'd get under 200, but it seemed ruthless to cut someone just to get to 199.

Though even while I was clicking and deleting (Facebook does not enable mass deFriending; you have to deFriend each person individually), I was worried that there was someone I'd offend.

Such is the nature of Facebook. Once you Friend someone, it's easy to feel as though you have to stay Friends with them forever. Never mind that real-life friendships come and go. I'm not friends today with every person I've ever called a friend. And on Facebook, the standard for Friending is very shallow.

I know several people who view Facebook as a popularity contest. They'll accept Friend requests from anyone. They Friend all the "famous" people who have Facebook presences. The higher the number of Friends, the more popular they are, or so they seem to say with their Friend counts. Because, really, who has several thousand people they'd call friends?

I don't. Not even close.

So my Friends number stands at 200 for the moment, and some of those people are folks I know only online, who I've "met" through other friends. Some are people I've worked with. A couple are family.

But I know them. Or I've established some kind of virtual relationship with them.

And while part of the appeal of Facebook is reconnecting with people from your past, like I said, the standard for Friending is very shallow. Plenty of my Friends were people with whom I went to high school. People with whom I really had very little contact even then. Did I know them? Sure, in the way everyone knew lots of people in their class. But was I friends with them? No. So, 23 years later, why are we Friends on Facebook? Because it feels rude to not accept their Friend request?

It's not as though I'm publishing my Social Security number on my Facebook page. What I post isn't terribly private. Still, I put a lot of myself online, and I don't feel the need to share everything with everyone. A lot of what I post lately is political, and I had one real-life friend unFriend me because of that, which I found unfortunate. But, again, not everyone stays in your life forever.

With Twitter, though, it's easier to divorce your ego from your Followers number. A lot of autobots follow you and then fall away, so the Follower number is always in flux. At least, you can tell yourself that that's what accounts for any dip in the number. Though I've surely Followed some and then unFollowed them, and I'm sure the same is true for others who follow my feed.

But it's different, Twitter. Anyone can follow anyone, like anyone can read a blog. You don't have to Accept or Confirm your Twitter followers. They just follow and they just unfollow, whereas Facebook requires mutual agreement.

Early on in my Facebook existence, someone sent a Friend request that I accepted, and we traded notes back and forth and commented on each other's walls and such. And then one day, I went to show another friend his profile, and he was no longer in my list of friends. He had unFriended me. I remember feeling a bit offended, as he'd recently asked me to get together for drinks. Huh? He wanted to meet up in person one minute, and then he didn't even want to know me virtually the next?

I shrugged it off seconds later. Still, it just goes to show you how much substance we can ascribe to people who only exist in our lives as 1s and 0s.

So, to anyone whom I've recently unFriended and possibly offended, I apologize for any hurt feelings. Don't take it personally. We all use social networks in different ways.

But know that I wish everyone well.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some Days, I Am Very Aware Of The Light ...

Yesterday, I was driving home, eastward. The sun was in the middle of the sky behind me, shining late-afternoon, late-summer light, and as I was on a road bordered by a lot of trees, my mind was suddenly filled with images of the summers of my youth. And I thought how lovely it would be, right then, to be a kid again, to have spent the day in and out of the lake, padding around in bare feet, wrapped in a beach towel, completely unconcerned with the ways of the world because, at that age, concern was the purview of my parents.

And how, at that hour, some moms somewhere were hopefully busying themselves pulling together the components of an easy dinner while some dads manned a grill, one flipping burgers while the other nursed a bottle of beer. Paper plates and lemonade and thick wedges of watermelon for dessert.

All of that brought to mind by light.

Which then brought to mind the time I was on my way back to the city and it was mostly cloudy but for a moment, the sun broke through, but in such a way that everything around me, looked like a painting, so saturated and vivid, almost surreal. It didn't last long, that light. The clouds doused it too soon. But for a moment, it was like driving through a dream.

And in the mornings now, the sun filters through the trees in my front yard and through my living-room window and through the stained-glass window that hangs inside it and through the antique lace curtains that were my grandmother's – or were they her mother's? – that cast the most lovely shadows on the far wall.

The curtains feature a floral pattern in their weave, but the pattern is very open, lots of vines with occasional blooms that look like clematis. Outside, the locust trees flutter in the breeze. And all of the shadows combine beautifully on the wall and I wish I could capture it properly in a picture and have it forever.

Friday, August 27, 2010

A First Time For Everything ...

I am a Craigslist virgin no longer!

My brother Paul is like The Craigslist Whisperer. Whenever he's in the market for something, he pops by Craigslist, and voila!, there it is, just waiting for him.

I find that very nifty, but I've never had much luck on the site, whether looking for writing gigs or anything else.

Then again, I had never searched for anything specific.

Until yesterday.

I went looking for a floor lamp. I didn't find what I was looking for, but I did find this:

Note the unfortunate shade. Note how it leans. It knows it doesn't belong on that base. It is the lampshade equivalent of being picked last in gym class.

But the base. Oh, I dig the groovy base.

The posting was very brief: "Table lamp up for grabs."

And the price?

A whopping $5.

Which made me think, "Really? $5? Why would anyone bother to sell anything on Craigslist for $5?"

Never mind that I'd seen things advertised for $3, which makes 40 percent less sense.

But $5 is was, so I sent an e-mail off to the poster to ask if it was still available, as it had been posted for a couple of days.

"Yes it is," came the reply, with a name and phone number.

So I called.

And left a message.

And he called me back.

And we made a plan for me to swing by his place and pick it up.

And he asked me to call when I was heading over, just to make sure he and/or his wife would be home.

So I called when I was heading out later.

And he asked me to call when I was close, so he could talk me to his place. (Which seemed odd, but OK. I put his number in my cell phone.)

So I headed over. And indeed, I couldn't find his place, so I called him, and he did indeed talk me over to where he was.

And I parked and he met me outside his building and said their place was a mess (they're moving - to England! Lucky!) but that there was an outlet in the staircase that he could use to show me that the lamp worked, so we went inside and he plugged it in and the lamp lit.

Groovy.

So I reached into my pocket and pulled out $5 and handed it to him and thanked him and wished him well on his move and got back in the car and drove home.

And when I checked messages on my home phone, he had called to see if I had gotten lost, I presume thinking that my home number was also my cell number because who has two phone numbers anymore, right?

It all seemed like an awful lot of effort for $5.

But now I own the $5 lamp. The shade is leaning in the photo because it doesn't fit right on the harp. And one of the welds on the frame of the shade is broken, anyway. As if I needed a justification to replace it.

It's a bigger lamp than I expected it to be (remember, the posting gave no details and I didn't think to ask in all the phone calls that transpired), at least 24 inches from base to top of harp. Maybe 26. Maybe I should get crazy and break out the tape measure.

At this stage, I have no idea where he'll go. (It's a he in my mind. I don't know why.) Maybe I'll give him away. Maybe I'll start a collection of things I can use in clients' homes once I start designing spaces on a regular basis. Maybe the right spot in my home will become apparent when I go shopping for a shade.

In any event, I'm very pleased with him. And he's rated for 150-watt bulb, so I'll have three levels of light from which to choose. Right now, he's sporting a 60-watt bulb, which the seller might have put in just to demonstrate the lamp, or perhaps they liked insufficient light in their apartment.

Regardless, I'm sure my lamp and I will be very happy together, for however long our relationship lasts.

And however long that may be, I've now officially had more success with Craigslist than any dating site of which I've ever been a part.

I'll post an update when he's outfitted in a proper shade.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I Know I Can ...

I might have done something a little crazy.

Good crazy, not crazy crazy. Exciting crazy, not Sharron Angle crazy. "Eee, this exciting!" crazy, not "Oh, God, what have I done?"

For too long, I have been attempting to swim upstream, against the vocational current, apparently.

Things have not worked out well.

Mind you, I'm firmly of the belief that we're always where we're supposed to be.

There is no such thing as failure in my book, though I've just recently arrived at that realization.

Everything teaches us something, if only we're willing to learn.

And lately, life has been swirling about, as it always is, of course, but now I'm more aware of the spinning whorls that ever before.

Instead of attempting to swim upstream, I'm learning to relax and go with the flow, accepting that traveling down this river of life necessarily means leaving some things – some people – behind.

Not everyone is traveling at the same pace. Some who have been by my side for years are by my side no longer, but I'm meeting others along the way. (Just like the 3-Day, actually. The 3-Day is an excellent microcosm.)

But here's the thing: I'm a dork. I allow myself almost no learning curve. I hate not knowing. I hate feeling inept. Paradoxically, I love learning.

I expect of myself to be an expert in all things, all the time. Which is ridiculous, I know.

But when I embark upon something "new," a little voice in my head says, "And what makes you think you're qualified to do this? Others can do this very, very well, but what makes you think you're as good as them?"

Oh, little voice in my head, do shut up!

Thankfully, a more rational voice pipes up in those moments and says, "Um, Beth? Those people, who do those things so well? There was a time when they had not done them before. They all had to do those things for the first time, just as you have to do things for the first time."

Like I said, I'm a dork.

So, the crazy thing?

I've offered to decorate someone's home. They were looking for recommendations for interior designers, which I assure you I am not in the formal sense, and even as I was asking a friend if he knew of anyone, I was thinking, "You should do this, Beth."

But I didn't say anything. I'm not a designer, I told myself. I can't do what those people on television do.

Except that I can. Maybe not as well as them. Not yet. But lately, I've begun looking at my space differently, changing things, mixing things, stepping outside of what I've done in the past and liking the results.

My television room is my laboratory of late. It's a room in which I spend a lot of time, but for a long time, it's languished. Over the years – I've lived in this house nearly 10 – I've added to it and subtracted from it, as is the case with all rooms, but it's been in the past couple of years that I've really started to fill it in, and in the past few months, especially, that I've started to mix elements I previously wouldn't have thought to mix.

(I have my Twitterpal Angelo to thank for this. I really respond to his style, and am so grateful that he's so approachable and helpful.)

So yesterday, I was flitting about to fabric and craft stores, looking for the latest fabric with which to stitch up throw pillows for the TV room, because design can be a chain reaction, and changing one thing often requires changing another, and the pillow I made this weekend suits its host chair just fine, but now I have three throw-pillow fabrics in that room, and they do not play well together, so I need new throw pillows for the couch, and I thought about my friend who was looking for someone to do their space (1920s-vintage condo which will be rehabbed) and I thought, "You should offer to do it."

So I did. I wrote to him and asked if his friend had found anyone yet, and told him that if his friend were amenable, that I'd be happy to donate the time in exchange for photographing the space when it's completed so I can start building a portfolio.

And he replied and said his "friend" was, in fact, him (which I'd suspected), and that he and his wife were certainly amenable and that we should hop on the phone and talk, which we will do today.

There are things that they need to accomplish first, like closing on the property and having new floors installed and such, so whatever I do won't be done immediately, but I'm very glad that I offered. This should be really fun on a variety of levels, not the least of which is that I used to work with him at the Trib and have always been fond of him. He's whip-smart and funny, and who doesn't want to hang around someone like that?

Oh, and I also popped into a friend's store yesterday – she sells home furnishings and I love her taste – and offered to help her when she needs to change out displays and such. She could use an extra pair of hands sometimes, and I could surely benefit from all she knows about decorating and design. And, at the moment, anyway, I have the time.

So, there you have it. Angelo and I have joked in the past that if I had a design show, it would be called, "Beth's House ... Again!" because I'd make everyone's spaces look just like mine.

But that's not really true, of course. I'm confident that I can translate the tastes of others into spaces that suit them. Happily, though, the condo-buying friend and his wife strike me as the types who will want a space that's not hugely different from what I'm used to pulling together. So in that way, it should make for a good first effort.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Oh, and I did find a fabric last night that I really liked. A nice woman at the store cut a swatch for me and yup, it's the right choice in the space. So I'll return today and buy a yard or two. Leave it to me to like stuff that's $45 a yard, which isn't a lot of money in the world of fabric, surely, but it's not exactly the makings of an inexpensive throw pillow, either. Thankfully, it's on sale.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Done ...

Houston, we have a pillow.


And the reverse:


I planned the placement of the design for the right side, the "front," as it were, and allowed the reverse to be whatever the doubled fabric dictated, based on how I cut the front.

I like both options. I may turn the pillow daily, for variety!

And isn't the chair a beaut?! His name is Baxter, and you can see more of him here.

Doing ...

As I wrote in this post, "I do not need to think, I need to do. I need to follow the doing and see where it leads me."

About which my friend Rick asked, "So, what are you doing?"

Geesh. Accountability? What's that about?

But I replied, "For the moment, I'm doing those things that I really don't want to do, but that are necessary. However, once those things are accomplished, I'm also making it a point to do at least one creative thing each day.

Nothing major right out of the gate, but I view it as a locomotive that's been at rest for a long time. It starts out creaking and groaning and it takes a while for it to get up to speed.

But once it's moving, it's damn near unstoppable."

So yesterday, after sleeping in until the luxurious hour of 7 a.m., I put on a whole pot of coffee, fired up the laptop, and called my mother, to whom I hadn't spoken in several days. She came by for coffee and toast (she made bread), and I emptied my dishwasher and did up the dishes that I do by hand, and then did up a few more, post-toast. Mom went on her way, and I puttered around the house, and thought about what my creative pursuit for the day should be.

And I decided that since I'd had the idea a month or two ago but hadn't followed up on it, yesterday would be the day that I'd go and find fabric to make a pillow for the latest addition to my TV room, this very comfortable number, which is named, I do believe, after Angelo's dog. Or Ted Baxter from "Mary Tyler Moore," perhaps. Either way, as Angelo would say, good times.

I had been poking around online for pillows and wasn't finding anything that made me want to enter my credit card information. (There are a lot of flat, matte, solid-color pillows in the world. So, so boring.)

There were a few that piqued my interest, but really? An accent pillow that costs $99? No thanks. And P.S. Greed is a deadly sin. Didn't the people who decided on the prices for those pillows see "Se7en"?

Anyhoo, I decided to take my creative-yet-frugal self on a hunt for a fabric remnant. Which is what I did. One doesn't need much fabric for a pillow cover. And I rummaged through a bin of possibilities, pulling out a few options, but ultimately dismissing all of them: wrong scale, too similar to other patterns in the room, toile.

(Note: I love toile, still, even though I think it was widely overused a few years back. But the ivory-and-red toile remnant I found yesterday didn't please me. The scale was off, the scenes were "meh," and really, toile does not belong on Angelo's very 1940s-style chair.)

So, I wandered among the bolts of fabric, finding nothing that jumped out at me. So I wandered around the corner to the larger bolts of upholstery fabric and found myself bored.

Until my eyes fell upon this:


Which reminded me of this:


(Which I just stole from this post so: Photo credit: Angelo Surmelis.)

When I saw that drawing – which he self-deprecatingly describes as a "doodle" – I mentioned that I thought it would make a fabulous fabric.

So I was very pleased to happen upon my paisley situation, and even more pleased when the nice fabric-cutting lady laid it out on the counter to measure a yard for me and I saw the reverse. I hadn't even looked at the reverse. And I love the reverse as much as the right side. So my plan is to make a two-sided pillow.

I mean, yes, all pillows are two-sided, but my pillow will feature one side of the right side of the fabric and one side of the reverse side of the fabric, so that I can have two looks on Angelo's groovy chair, which is modeling the fabric in the image above, showing the right side on the left and the reverse on the right. (Angelo, if you don't know, is my muse, which is kind of his job, since he's Greek, but he also inspired the shortbread necklace. And for that, I will be forever grateful.)

I'll have plenty of fabric leftover. (Perhaps I'll get into the throw-pillow business.)

And with the kidney pillow form I bought (kidney as in not shaped like a kidney but a horizontal pillow to go behind the small of your back), I spent less than $25. (The fabric was on sale.)

Of course, I didn't think to pick up thread, too, so I'll have to see if I have any that will work, and if not, make a run to the store today to buy something appropriate.

So today's creative task will be the actual sewing of the pillow cover. (And possibly framing the images I've been meaning to get up on the wall in the guest room.)

Other doing will include reading and updating my to-do list and possibly grocery shopping since it is getting increasingly difficult to combine the foodstuffs I have on hand into anything remotely edible.

But for the moment, the most important doing is getting another cup of coffee. Because coffee enables every day's doing.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Latest Favorite Tune ...

Inside ...

With someone else, I might have been nervous.

But the phone rang last night and it seemed perfectly natural to talk to him, even for the first time.

We'd gotten to know each other online slightly. On Twitter. And Facebook.

And as is the case with those who are some degree of "known," I felt like I knew him a bit from what bits I knew of him.

So he called.

And we talked.

For nearly two hours, which I wasn't expecting. Not that I presumed there was a time limit, per se. And not that I should be surprised, because he's very kind and kindness is generosity's kin. And also, because we can both talk to the points of needing to shut ourselves up.

He's funny. And appropriately profane. And was affronted, when called for, on my behalf.

Because he understands.

It's such a pleasure to encounter someone who shares my sensibilities, especially if that someone is a bit further down his respective road than I am on mine.

Because he's proof of what's possible.

He commiserated and empathized, but not 100 percent.

Because he's honest, and sugar-coating serves no one in the end.

So he told me, while assuring me that he knows that it's far easier said than done, that I have to get out of my own way.

That I have to stop thinking.

Because I am too rational. And too analytical. And too smart. And I can think myself out of anything.

And he is so, so, so, so right.

What I need – and this isn't his word, it's mine – is folly.

I do not need to think, I need to do. I need to follow the doing and see where it leads me.

Which, once I breathe through the fear of it, sounds like fun. Like Phoebe, running, on "Friends."

Monday, August 16, 2010

What's Your Favorite Word? ...

I'm not asking, as James Lipton does, for your favorite swear word, though your favorite word may be a swear word, and that's just fine.

My favorite word is "chicken." I like the hard consonant sounds it contains, and it strikes me as silly, possibly because I have a large piece of art hanging in my kitchen featuring four chickens. Well, they're roosters, really, but you know what I mean.



Yes, I'm terribly serious when it comes to art. But how can you not love the silly chickens? I spied this in a gallery window years ago and a few months later, for my birthday, a friend gave it to me and it's been gracing my homes ever since.

So, what's your favorite word? And why?

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Melissa Etheridge ...

In February, I interviewed Melissa Etheridge. Toward the end of our chat on the phone, she said that I should come to a show on her upcoming tour so we could meet.

Her tour is in full swing now. She was in Chicago last Saturday, but I was in the middle of the 3-Day, so I had asked her publicist if we could arrange for me to see her in Milwaukee instead.

He very graciously accommodated that request, and last night was the show. I went with Matt, the editor for whom I did the story, who is also a dear friend.

I'd never seen Melissa live before. But as I wrote on Facebook when I got home, if you only know Melissa Etheridge from Top 40 radio, you don't know Melissa Etheridge.

She was staggering, full of passion and artistry. Four-minute radio cuts became 10-minute musical journeys to fascinating places.

She played for nearly three hours and the time flew by.

My cell phone takes such grainy pictures that I'd have been better off bringing a sketch artist with me for the evening, but here's a shot that conveys a bit of the feel of the show. We had a good vantage point. Artist comps are good, no matter what. But comped seats that happen to be in the front row of the balcony are even better.

This is the link to her remaining dates. Truly, you have to see her live.



And this shot is even grainier, but a shot of Melissa with a guitar is essential. I dig the composition. Her shadow reads well.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The 2010 3-Day: The Day After Chicago ...

Note: Every year, I write a recap of the 3-Day and mail copies to all those who contributed to my fundraising. Those will go in the mail tomorrow. I also post the text here. So some of you may be seeing it twice.

Family and friends:

It began, as it does every year, on Thursday.

I spent the first part of the day packing and the latter part of the day heading up to Northbrook to spend the night. (The walk kicks off from Northbrook Court.)

My lovely friends Sue and Gary (all of my friends are lovely, of course) swung by the hotel to pick me up and we headed off to a pre-walk dinner of pizza. And brownies. Topped with chocolate sauce and ice cream. Because on the eve of walking 60 miles, it’s pretty easy to shrug and say, “Why not?”

Later, at the entrance to the hotel, they said goodbye and wished me well with “launch hugs,” a concept I adore. I headed up to my room and rang the front desk for a 4 a.m. wake-up call.

Yup, 4 a.m. Which, somehow, arrived in what felt like only a couple of hours.

I was on the shuttle shortly after 5 a.m. For the event, I used my phone to send text updates to Twitter. On the shuttle, I sent, “On the coach on the way to Opening Ceremonies. I have been up for more than an hour. I’ve not had coffee. ’Cause hotel-room coffee is awful.”

Little did I know. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself.

I arrived at the Opening Ceremony as I have many times now – this event was my seventh – and within about 5 minutes had met and started chatting with Erin and Kristy. They asked me to take their picture in front of one of the 3-Day, um, giant inflatable thingees. (How’s that for a technical description?) Sassy gals that they are, they wanted a picture to serve as proof that they were there, in case they decided to ditch the event. They’d made a pact not to tell anyone if they didn’t walk. (And their secret was safe with me. I can tell you about it now because they finished the event. But there I go again, skipping ahead.)

As part of this year’s Opening Ceremony, walkers were invited to write names on lengths of wide white ribbon, the names of those for whom we were walking. All the ribbons were joined together and raised as this year’s Opening Ceremony flag. 

On one of the ribbons, I wrote:

Leah
John
Sally
Richard


As we embarked on our journey, their names fluttered in the sky.

We hadn’t been walking more than 15 minutes when we happened upon our first cheerleader of the weekend. A Pace bus driver – who had no passengers at the time, I presume – pulled over, put on his hazard lights, got off of the bus and double-high-fived each walker as they passed, saying, “Thank you for walking. God bless you.”

Such is the spirit of the 3-Day.

I walked with Kristy and Erin, who were walking for the first time, who were walking, as many do, as personal challenges. 

On the route, we found ourselves walking behind one of the 60-Mile Men. The 60-Mile Men are amazing. Some walk every event every year. Some crew. But all of them pose for the 60-Mile Men calendars, which are sold as part of their fundraising efforts. And as such, each wears a sash, a la a beauty pageant, declaring what month and year they posed. We were walking behind Mr. August 2009.

“Sixty Mile Man?”, I called out.

“Yes, darling?”, he called over his shoulder.

“What size bra do you wear?”

“Fifty double-D.”

Mr. August 2009’s name is Michael. Michael walks the route in a very rockin’, feathered pink hat that can best be described as pimp-tastic, a very pink bra (over a sleeveless T-shirt) and a flouncy skirt, which, that day, was pink and grey and white camouflage. He walks with walking sticks decorated with pennants that sport the logos of all of his sponsors. (He very kindly granted permission for me to use one of his photos, because really, words don't do the man or the man's outfit justice. Click on it for a larger version.)

He is quite the 3-Day celebrity. Everyone wants their picture taken with Michael. We had been walking together and I stepped off to the side as he posed for some pictures.

“You waited for me?”, he asked. (Usually, walkers keep walking.)

“We were in the middle of a conversation,” I said. “It seemed rude to leave.”

So we walked together to lunch. Someone offered him a chair under one of the crew’s tents, which he opted to accept. He hugged me and said, “I love you.”

Such is the spirit of the 3-Day.

I couldn’t find Erin and Kristy, so I settled in – at a table ... in the shade! – with two women whose names I wish I could remember and wish I would have written down. But they were very cool, in town from Wisconsin. We had a good chat. And as I was heading back to the route, I spied Erin and Kristy in the medical tent. Erin was tending to blisters. They walked for a good part of the afternoon. At Pit Stop 4, their pain having gotten the better of them, they hopped a coach back to camp. I kept walking, knowing I could always sweep on the route. I didn’t know most of the remainder of the route would have restricted sweep access. So, I walked. Because I really had no choice.

Day 1 is always the longest day, mileage-wise. As I tweeted, “Finished the day, 22.1 miles. Komen miles are longer, tho. Just when you think you’ve walked the listed mileage, there’s another mile to go.”

But I was in camp. And there was steak for dinner.

No, really. The 3-Day hired a new catering company. Gone is the Day 1 dinner of spaghetti. Behind the dining tent was a massive grill, billowing smoke and the aroma of sizzling beef, and some very dedicated men wielding barbecue tongs.

So I had dinner (which also consisted of roasted new potatoes and green beans and a rosemary roll and salad and apple pie, if you were wondering) then headed to the tent area to retrieve my gear and set up my tent.

I ran into Barry along the way. Barry, known for his pink beard, and therefore referred to as Pink-Beard Barry, was part of the crew this year. Barry is Mr. April 2009, a calendar-mate of Michael’s. In years past, he has walked every event. Yes, every event in one year. I can’t fathom being able to walk weekend after weekend. But Barry is pretty amazing.

A lovely woman stopped to help me set up my tent. I crawled in and collapsed. I thought about showering. I really needed a shower. But I was too tired to get up. And I had a tent to myself, so the only one I could offend was me. I fell asleep in my clothes.

I won’t bore you with the details of trying to sleep and getting up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom. 

Morning arrives early on the 3-Day. Once one person starts stirring, a chain reaction kicks off and you’re up whether you want to be or not. So I found myself eating breakfast very early and tweeting, “Breakfast, Day 2. But more important than breakfast: COFFEE. Today's mileage is 19, I hear.”

Um, hold the phone there, bub. Yes, there was coffee.

But it was the worst coffee I had ever tasted. It was coffee in appearance and nothing more. So my Friday-morning tweet about hotel-room coffee being awful? My hotel-room coffee would have tasted like a gourmet brew compared to the stuff in camp.

I love the 3-Day food folks. They do a bang-up job of preparing food for thousands of people. In years past, the coffee has been bad, but this year, with the new catering people, it was even worse. 

Uh oh. Three days without coffee? I hoped to walk past a Starbucks.

I headed for the beginning of the route. I was so early that I had to wait, along with a couple hundred others, for the route to open. I wasn’t sure how much of the day’s mileage I would be able to cover, but as in years past, I was going to take the day one leg at a time.

I tweeted: “Pit Stop 2, 4.8 miles. Those who have my cell number, text me a little boost, please!”

I was tired. I contemplated taking the bus to lunch, and then I realized that if I did that, I would miss walking through Mt. Prospect.

So I got back on the route.

Words cannot begin to convey how much the 3-Day loves Mt. Prospect. No other city goes through so much effort. The cops wear pink shirts and roll out the pink-hooded squad car. The firemen wear pink and pose with walkers in front of a fire truck. Everywhere you turn, folks cluster in impromptu cheering stations or appear in front of their homes to offer water and treats. They tie ribbons around trees. They fly balloons from mailboxes, porches, you name it. They write messages on their driveway aprons in colorful chalk in letters 5 feet tall. It’s magnificent! As I told one of the first cops who helped us to cross a major intersection, “You need to teach the other towns how to do this!” He smiled and said, “Ah, we just make up for all of them here!”

Boy, do they.

Barry and a crop of the crew popped up along the route, too. He high-fived me and clasped my hand. “It’s really good to see you,” I said. And it was. Walkers and crew become like members of your family.

We walked past one home where the most adorable older woman had set up a card table and had put loops of tape on the back of pink silk rose petals. “Take a rose petal,” she said, in her cute little voice. “Because roses mean ‘I love you’ and we love you for walking!”

(Are you crying now? I am.)

Another stand of Mt. Prospect’s finest set up just before Pit Stop 3, offering wedges of rind-free watermelon (brilliant idea). As I neared, they cheered, and I said, “Have we told you lately that we love you?!”

“We love you, too!”, said one of the men, who may have been the mayor. I heard he was out, greeting walkers.

Mt. Prospect: From the bottom of my 3-Day heart, I thank you. What an amazing community of people you are, a very integral part of the 3-Day Universe.

Later in the day, I tweeted, “On a coach, cooling off. 13.6 so far today, 35.7 total so far. 60 miles is a long way.”

I saw Michael walk by the coach, heading back out onto the route. I thought about getting off the coach and walking with him. But I opted to stay on. I had embarked on the day not sure how far I would walk. It was hot and sunny and from previous years, I knew the rest of the route lacked for shade. Having logged about 14 miles for the day, I decided to ride back to camp.

I had dinner (grilled chicken, rice pilaf, assorted vegetables, a breadstick, salad, and chocolate cake, if you were wondering) and the last walker was announced.

Being the last walker into camp is a very big deal. The sound guys fire up the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” and those who are done with dinner head out to the route to clap. Those who are still eating stay put but stop to clap, too. 

Of course, a few walkers precede the last walker, one of whom was Michael, moving rather slowly. Barry ran up and hugged him. And, sap that I am, for the umpteenth time that weekend, I started crying.

Later, I ran into Erin and Kristy, whom I hadn’t seen all day. Kristy was sporting a taped ankle and Erin had her share of bandages on her feet. But they planned to walk the next day. 

I took my much-needed shower, and waited for it to be time for bed. There’s no point trying to sleep while camp is still buzzing.

Sunday morning, I debated. My left hip was displeased with me for sleeping on the ground. I thought I might try the first part of the route and sweep as necessary. But sanity prevailed and I hopped the coach to lunch with plans to walk the second half of the day. Turned out, Michael got on the coach, too.

When we arrived at lunch, just south of Belmont, just west of Lake Shore Drive, he hit the route as soon as it opened. I stayed behind for a bit. But we met up at Pit Stop 3, at North Avenue. And the rain decided to join us.

We continued on the route together, which continued along the lakefront. The rain became more persistent, but given the option of walking along the lake – read: no shade – in the blazing-hot sun like last year or the overcast raininess of this year, I was happy for the rain.

As we arrived at Pit Stop 4, the wind had picked up. It was quite a mess. So we paused for just a few minutes under a tent and kept going.

Next stop, last stop: Soldier Field.

Michael had been telling me about his wife, Monica, who was on crew and who met him in the concourse of Soldier Field. With her recently shaved head, she reminds me of Sinead O’Connor and Demi Moore’s G.I. Jane. Michael had told me that she applied to be on “Chopped,” the cooking competition on Food Network. 

When we got to where she was standing, she announced that she’d gotten on the show.

Michael scooped her up and hugged her. She should be on in January, she thinks. Tune in.

She went ahead of us to get a picture as we walked in. Michael took my hand and we made our grand entrance to music blaring and walkers and crew cheering. It is impossible to make anything but a grand entrance when walking with a man wearing a pimp hat, bra, and skirt. Everyone cheers for everyone. Which is one of the best parts of the 3-Day.

We scanned in at the end of the route and hugged goodbye, trading business cards so we can keep in touch. I saw Barry and we hugged, too. I like being a veteran walker, as it were. It’s nice seeing people year after year.

I added myself to the folks who were cheering for walkers. I asked the woman next to me for the time. It was 1:05 p.m. The Closing Ceremony was scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m. So I scrunched up a couple of pink pompoms and cheered arriving walkers. For about three hours. In the mix of songs, I heard Earth Wind & Fire’s “September,” which I associate with L.A. Dave. I was wearing the Cubs hat his family gave to me. He was one of my biggest 3-Day cheerleaders. I took the song as a sign that he was there.

I saw Kristy and Erin arrive and hugged them as they made their way through the cheering crowd. I saw other walkers I’d walked with during the three days and hugged them, too. It’s good to have someone to hug at the end.

The Closing Ceremony was both rousing and moving, as it always is. There were many walkers. There were many crew members. There were many survivors. And there were so many memories of those we love and have lost.

This year’s Chicago Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure raised $4.2 million, a very large sum that will enable Komen to do many good things. Thank you for being a part of that number. And thank you for your boundless love and support. As we say on the 3-Day, “We will never give up.” Together, we will find a cure.

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Wednesday, August 04, 2010

3-Day Cheers And Closing Ceremonies ...

The 2010 Chicago Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure kicks off this Friday. If you happen to be tooling around towns in the Chicagoland area and you see, oh, about 2,000 people wearing various shades of pink and trailing each other for a few miles, that's us.

Want to join in? Honk your horns as you zip by. Hoot out your windows. Pull over and blare your radio for a while.

Or, be part of a major metropolitan cheering section.

While plenty of folks come out along the route for the 3-Day, there are also official cheering stations, at major intersections, in parks, along the lake and such, where larger groups gather to, you know, cheer.

Cheering stations rock. You have no idea how much of a boost we walkers get from a group of people clapping and otherwise making noise.

They also often bring treats. And supplies. Such as:

Little bags of ice? ROCK.

Baby wipes to swipe the grime from our faces? ROCK.

Freezy pops with the tops trimmed off so we don't need to use our teeth to gnaw them open? ROCK.

Cups of lemonade? ROCK.

Frozen grapes? ROCK.

Twizzlers? ROCK.

Assorted fun-size candy bars? ROCK.

Those cute little bottles of water? ROCK.

Folks who think to put out a trash can for us a few houses down so we can dispose of our trash easily? ROCK.

And the dude who doled out Push-Ups, nostalgic sherbet-y treat from my childhood? SUPER ROCK.

But truly, just your presence counts.

The guy who showed up along the lakefront a couple of years ago with his ukelele and sang songs to us? ROCK.

The Mt. Prospect cops in their pink shirts who always make Day 2 so cool? ROCK.

The Mt. Prospect cops in their pink shirts who surprised us by showing up front of their pink-hooded squad car just beyond the underpass in Lincoln Park? SUPER HYPER ULTRA MEGA MONDO CRAZY ROCK!

You get the idea. A little appreciation goes a long way. We walk because we want to, because we need to, because we can't not walk, but part of the awesomeness of the event is the involvement of the communities.

So head to a cheering station this weekend. You don't have to bring anything but your enthusiasm.

But if you bring a couple of bags of ice, you'll rock.

Cheering stations are arranged for the following locations:
Friday, August 6

9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.
Elder Lane Park
Sheridan Road At Elder Lane
Winnetka, IL

12:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m.
Flick Park
3600 Glenview Rd.
Glenview, IL

Saturday, August 7

7:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.
Evangelical Free Church of Des Plaines
55 W Golf Rd
DesPlaines, IL

11:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m.
Woodland Trails Park
1500 E Euclid Ave
Mt. Prospect, IL

Sunday, August 8

8:45 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.
Lincoln Park
Just north of Belmont Harbor at W. Addison Drive near the clock tower
Chicago, IL

9:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m.
Lincoln Park
Just south of Lincoln Park Zoo, along Stockton Drive
Chicago, IL

Now then: Closing Ceremonies.

If you've never attended Closing Ceremonies, I really encourage you to come, even if you don't know anyone participating in the walk.

Closing Ceremonies are awesome. So much emotion, the best of humanity on glorious display. There is the joy for having completed the event, the sorrow for those we've lost, the encouragement for those who continue their treatments, and the determination to walk, again and again, for as long as it takes, until there is a need to walk no more.

Thirty years ago today, Nancy Brinker lost her sister, Susan Komen. Nancy had made a vow to her to find a cure. That vow has grown into the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure and more.

Come experience the 3-Day for yourself. Be inspired. Be filled with awe. There is nothing more powerful than the human spirit.

My continued love and thanks to all of you who support me in this journey, year after year. I truly could not do this without you. You are my strength.

I hope to see you, Friday, Saturday, and/or Sunday.

Love,

Beth

The official information from the 3-Day is below:

Closing Ceremony
After three days and 60 miles, participants will take a final and incredibly emotional victory walk into the Closing Ceremony. Friends, family and supporters should arrive at the Closing Ceremony site at least one hour early to get the best view of the program. We encourage you to carpool or take public transportation. Not only is it better for the planet, but it will help lessen traffic congestion for everyone.

All walkers and crew members should remain in the Participant Holding Area where they will receive a victory shirt, cheer on fellow walkers and crew members and celebrate one last time together before their dramatic victory walk. The Participant Holding Area is CLOSED to spectators. If you wish to meet with a participant before the Ceremony begins, please have them meet you at the Closing Ceremony site. All participants must return to the Holding Area no later than 4:00 p.m. in order to join the victory walk.

Don't forget to continue the spirit of kindness we'll be building on the 3-Day for the Cure throughout and beyond the Closing Ceremony!

Sunday, August 8
4:30 p.m.

Soldier Field
1410 S. Museum Campus Drive
Chicago IL 60605

Friends and family are highly encouraged to attend, though please note that seating will not be available, so if you are unable to stand for 30-60 minutes, you may want to bring a folding chair.

NOTE - There is a special event that will increase the amount of traffic throughout the area. Please add extra travel time in your arrival plans.

Driving Directions:
Due to major road construction projects in downtown Chicago, it is highly recommended that you check the Chicago Department of Transportation website at http://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot.html prior to heading for the Closing Ceremony at Soldier Field. Parking is available for $17.00 per car in the Waldron Parking Deck on 18th Street.

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Monday, August 02, 2010

Soulful ...

For a good part of my life, I have felt like a failure.

Not an abject failure, but a failure to varying degrees.

Now, some may think "failure" is an absolute, like "perfect" or "unique," but failure can fit into a compartment or it can take up the whole train.

I have never felt like the whole train.

Although, lately, I've gotten close. (I've also realized recently that there really is no such thing as failure. But it took me a long time to grasp that.)

The thing of it is, I'm smart. I'm not saying that to boast. I'm saying that because as a smart person, I have beat myself up for a long time over my inability to figure out what I should be doing with my life.

There must be some missing piece, I figured, the lone switch that would complete the circuit in my brain, and ta-da!, I'd know. Finally, after years of looking outward and in, I'd know.

But no.

I've taken every test you can think of, some more than once. I've bought a slew of books, though I haven't read all of them all the way through. I've spoken with experts.

I can tell you my Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, my Strong Interest Inventory code, the results of my aptitude testing with the Johnson O'Connor Research Foundation.

I can tick off a litany of titles from my bookshelf, an array of tomes from Barbara Sher to Barbara Sher to Barbara Sher (I have three of her books) to Gregg Levoy to others whose names escape me at the moment and I don't want to stop typing to head into the other room to look.

I can tell you the names of a couple of life coaches I've worked with, both lovely women, one of whom is a dear friend, but neither of whom had the answers I was hoping they'd reveal. Because no one has the answers but me.

I have tried. I have tried mightily. I have thought and written and reasoned and surrendered and meditated and researched but nothing would come. Nothing definitive, nothing concrete.

I would get glimmers, moments, fleeting thoughts.

I once had a dream in which my friend Dave sat across from me and gently laid a small figurine of Dorothy from "The Wizard of Oz" in my palm, and I looked at it, and I looked at him, and I asked, "Is this to remind me that I always have everything I need, right inside me?" And he smiled at me and I woke up.

I have amassed a ridiculous amount of data, including having my astrological charts created and read by an intuitive astrological consultant. That's what he liked to be called. Still does, perhaps. I wouldn't know.

Internal, external, somewhere the answer must reside, right?

Everyone else seemed able to do it. Pick a career, pursue said career, live ever after, happily or not.

Never mind that I think we do children a great disservice, asking them from the youngest of ages what they want to be when they grow up.

An astronaut, that'd be cool. There's not much call for cowboys these days, I reckon, but I can see the appeal of a home on the range. Doctor, lawyer, teacher, those are pretty well known.

These days, the answers may veer more toward "basketball star" or "the next Google/Facebook/Twitter guy."

My point is, how can they know?

And even when they get to high school and they're asked again, under the auspices of selecting a school. And then, again, in college when majors must be declared.

These young people, who've just begun to live: Does it make sense to expect them to know?

And yet, there are those who do.

I have a friend who always wanted to be a sports journalist, and she's climbed that proverbial ladder, and pardon the pun, today she's at the top of her game. She gripes sometimes, but that's to be expected. Still, she knew. Oh, how I used to envy her.

And Dave, he of the little Dorothy, knew from a young age that he wanted to be a musician. He went down the "rock-star" path earlier in his life and today, he's a composer and the front man of a band.

I marvel at them. To have known, to have seen those ideas in their minds, to have seen those points on the horizon and start walking toward them? Sure, obstacles may have arisen. Sure, paths may have veered. But ultimately, they knew where they were headed.

I don't know what that feels like. I never have. And I never will.

Because I finally understand something about myself: I am not like those who know. The missing piece is this:

I have never found the job because, for me, there is no such thing as the job.

Or, put a better way, the career.

Do you know why?

Because I, Beth Kujawski, am a renaissance soul.

I didn't come up with that title. That's the brainchild of Margaret Lobenstine, who penned The Renaissance Soul. (She has a web site, too.)

A very long time ago, all the way back in 1995 – which, somehow, is 15 years ago, and how can that be? – my pal Judy, who was an art director for a section of the Tribune and who I knew from my internship at Chicago magazine, referred to me as a Renaissance woman, a term that others have applied to me since, over time, too.

Randy, one of my bosses at the Tribune, once said to me, "You don't want to work for Martha Stewart. You want to be Martha Stewart."

Martha. Hell. Martha is the queen of Renaissance women. Her kingdom is vast.

And yes, actually, I would like to be like Martha Stewart. Only more beloved. At least I don't have a daughter who would go on TV and mock me.

A year or so ago, I came up with an idea for a business that would provide an umbrella for all the things I like to do, which is precisely one of the concepts that Margaret employs, the umbrella the embraces a number of interests.

So, the notion isn't new.

And I've suffered through a couple of jobs that absolutely did not suit me in the name of income to prove it to myself, though I didn't fully understand it at those times. Interestingly, those were the jobs from which I was laid off. The others, I left of my own accord.

But the messages persist.

At a party a few years back, a friend of the family asked what I was up to. At the time, I was trying to make a go of freelance writing, which is what I said.

"Oh," she replied, half-heartedly. "Well, I guess that's fine until you get a real job."

Never mind that the are legions of people who make their living as freelance writers. I don't happen to be one of them, but still, they're out there. One freelance writer has made such a go of freelance writing, she wrote a book about freelance writing. As a freelancer, of course.

And then there was the very good, longtime friend – male, which is germane to this anecdote because men seem more inclined to focus on solving problems and getting results, while women are more willing to lend a sympathetic ear – who said, of my seeming lack of direction, "If you were my daughter, I'd be banging my head against the floor."

Very nice. Thank you for that. That was very helpful. Gosh, I feel so much better now.

Over time, the need to figure it out grew. I was approaching 40, the age at which I was meant to be firmly on my life's path, right?

And what a nurturing climate! I lost a job, I started to look for a new job – though I had no real idea what that job should be, so I fell back on what I'd done in the past, though a good chunk of that "career" had resulted in lay-offs – in the worst economy since the Great Depression, I experienced the shock of the sudden death of a dear friend, another longtime friendship vanished at precisely the time I needed it most, and I tried to navigate assorted family stresses.

I'm not looking for sympathy, just pointing out that it's not necessarily easy to figure out your life when you have some semblance of routine and security, but strip that away to a large degree and suddenly, finding an answer is more important than ever before, but stress saps creativity. And everything else.

But while reading this book, I thought a comforting thought, and it dovetails perfectly with my dream about Dave and the little Dorothy. I even took the time, while reading, to jot it down.

This is what I wrote:

The first 40 years have been about laying the foundation. The next 40 years will be about building – erecting, constructing, composing – the "masterpiece." Like being an editor, I've been doing the work you don't see. Now, moving forward, just watch! So many people tell me that I have such a cool life and I don't see it. But I do. I've done cool things, met cool people. I need to reflect on that and embrace it and appreciate it.

On page 68, Lobenstine writes, "People who aren't fully committed to the values that their activities represent sputter through life, pulled in one direction by their commitments and in another by their spirits."

That's me. I've been sputtering. I've been getting enough oxygen to function, but not enough to hum along at anything close to peak performance. I've edited IT documents when what I really wanted to do was sing. Or bake. Or write. Or paint a room. Or wrap presents. Or volunteer. (My bio, that one, over there, to the right, begins, "My dream is to get paid to sing." But it is not my only dream. It is one of my dreams. But I wrote that out of what I thought was the need to have a singular goal.)

Yes, I still need a job, of course, but I need a job that allows me to feed one of my passions, a job that provides income, sure, but also something that benefits both my employer and me, relevant training or networking opportunities and the like. I'm a really good public speaker, for instance. Lots of people detest that. So if there's a need for public speaking at an organization and others are loathe, that's somewhere where I can fill a corporate need as well as fuel a personal interest. You get the idea.

For a long time, I tried to explain my difficulty in making a decision to others. It's like I'm standing in the middle of a circle, I'd tell them. And all around me are 360 degrees of possibility. And all I have to do is take a step in one direction, but I can't choose. So I stay where I am.

The faulty logic there, of course, is the notion that once I chose a path, there was no going back. But in a world in which we're defined by what we do – it's the first question anyone asks at a party, right? – I believed that there had to be one answer.

Lobenstine understands. She uses the analogy of an ice-cream store. It can be really difficult to pick one flavor from 30. But what if you could pick four flavors, an ice-cream sampler? And then, the next time you visited, you could pick four new flavors, or select one or two favorites from the first visit and then try two or three more.

Focus, is her point. Focus, not choice. Focus on a few things about which we feel passion and see where they lead, knowing that at any time, we can swap out items and focus on something new.

I recognize that many people may think this is obvious, that I should have known this all along. And maybe, on some level, I did. Maybe I've had these thoughts, individually, over the course of my life, but to sit down and read them in one collection provides a measure of comfort for which I am so, so grateful. To see myself in these pages, to recognize that it's not just me, that lots of people feel this way, is just what I needed. We sometimes forget, as we live our particular lives, that our experience is not necessarily universal.

Those who aren't wired this way don't understand why we Renaissance Soulers behave the way we do. Lobenstine writes, "What we can't do is make those outreach calls effectively when we are in a solitary writing mood, and we can rarely force ourselves to sit and write anything useful when we are full of social energy." Of course, there will always be things that we're reluctant to do. All of us have those moments. But for us, what we feel is more than a twinge of resistance.

I've been clacking away and this has gotten almost comically long. As I was reading this book, I started to wonder if perhaps I'd uncovered the kernel of what my book should be. I have a lot more upon which I could expand. And Lobenstine encourages us to be role models, to share our stories. She writes, "As Renaissance Souls become more comfortable with their new identities, shame lifts and something more positive settles in its place."

Yes, shame. It's hard not to feel shame when everyone else seems to have figured it all out, when people who love you say things like, "If you were my daughter, I'd be banging my head against the floor."

She adds, "As the truth about Renaissance Souls spreads, more of us will begin to grasp that honest self-acceptance is crucial to our sanity, our sense of well being, and the contributions we can make to the world."

One of the exercises she suggests early in the book is to envision that we're at our 80th birthday party, and to write the toasts we'd hope to hear from key people in our lives, a family member, a friend, someone I've worked with, and a person from the community.

So I put pencil to paper, and discovered that writing those toasts was much more difficult than I expected it to be. But the theme that emerged wasn't one of fame or fortune. Basically, I want to be remembered fondly for being a good person, and that I know how to do.

Granted, it's not all there is. There is still income to be earned and accomplishments to be achieved and help to be offered and brownies to be baked.

But it is what lasts.

And in that way, I am far from a failure.

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Sunday, August 01, 2010

In (Comment) Moderation ...

Hey, all —

Just a quick note to those who comment on here that I've enabled Comment Moderation, not because I want to prescreen what you have to say, but because one very clever spammer has been working overtime in his parents' basement to find a way around the word-verification process and has been spamming the hell out of this blog over the past couple of days.

That is all. I now return you to your regularly scheduled Sunday!