Saturday, October 29, 2011

My Fisher-Price Phone ...

I have only three contacts in my phone: a mouse, a kitty, and a puppy.

I'm being ridiculous, of course. I can call a bunny, too. But my phone, for all its bells and whistles back in its day, is now one generation removed from a tin can and a piece of string.

Today, out and about, I turned it on [I keep it off for two reasons: a) no one ever calls me on my cell phone, and 2) I don't want to get hip cancer from leaving the thing turned on while it's in my pocket] to snap a couple of shots of a pretty tree:

And when I tried to post it online, my battery crapped out. That fast. Yes, how dare I take a picture and expect to post it.

It's beyond time for me to get a new phone. This poor baby just can't take much more. The battery cover pops off. The battery drains faster than Charlie Sheen doing a line of coke. The reception sucks. (Though it may suck on a new phone, too.)

I thought about driving to the phone store, right then. I thought about biting the iPhone bullet once and for all. Data plan be damned. Fine, send me a ridiculous bill every month.

But I didn't.

I've been waffling about a new phone for a couple of years. I don't know what I want. I don't need an iPhone. I don't want that level of connectivity. My palms are practically fused to my laptop as it is. Do I really want more access?!

But in this era of smart phones, "regular" phones truly do have all the heft of something by Fisher-Price. There's no there there. They don't feel like they'll be able to make a call. And also, while I know I can recycle devices, I hate the idea of replacing electronics. This is my fourth phone ever. Which is not such a big deal, considering the first one came in a bag with a battery the size of a box of concession-stand Sour Patch Kids.

Yes, I keep each phone for a long time.

But the time has come for me to heave myself into the next tier of cell-phone technology.

What should I get?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

From Whence I Come ...

I grew up in a modest house. A bungalow on a street of bungalows, dot dot dot, one after another, like Monopoly houses, not hotels.

There was a time when my parents struggled, but that time was before me. I don't remember any lack in my childhood. Not that I was spoiled. Though I did sometimes badger my mother until she gave in.

But I moved from that modest house, with my parents, to a slightly less-modest house. A bit more square footage, perhaps. Certainly more land. That's where my parents live today.

I lived at college for two years in modest dorms. Nice dorms. New. But small.

My first apartment was a studio. And I loved it. Though eventually the day came when I thought it was time to have a grown-up bed. So I found a one-bedroom apartment and that felt like a luxury. It was nice to have a modest bedroom, but the dining room, while rather normal in size, dwarfed my studio-scaled kitchen table and chairs.

And then I bought a house, which felt extravagant. So much space for one person. A basement I wouldn't even use. I've since furnished it a bit but it rarely sees any activity.

The first winter in my house was especially guilt-ridden. I thought of the people sleeping in the streets, on lower Wacker, hoping they found shelters, hoping they'd be OK. Why should I have a whole, warm house, I asked myself, when so many people had nowhere to call their own?

I'm still here, of course. I haven't sold my house. Not in this market. I've thought about downsizing again. I probably will someday.

But this weekend, I've been vexed by stories and shows I've seen that speak to a level of excess I can't understand.

I saw a story in the Wall Street Journal yesterday about a couple who's having trouble, in this economy, finishing construction on their 90,000-square-foot home.

No, that is not a typo. Yes, that's right: a 90,000-square-foot home.

They bought Segways – one for each member of the family – to get around. Inside.

Here's a thought: When bipedalism is not a sufficient mode of transportation for you to get from one end of your home to the other, perhaps your home is too big.

They're building a 7,200-square-foot ballroom. That can host 500 people. It will have balconies.

Most people I know don't live in a 7,200-square-foot house.

Doesn't your heart just bleed for them? At the moment, they're having to make do with their 26,000-square-foot mansion. Such injustice in the world.

And earlier, flipping channels, I stopped on "House Hunters," against my better judgment. The house hunters on "House Hunters" always irk me. But this episode featured a search on the Gold Coast, and I'm always up for seeing what promise to be amazing spaces that I can't afford.

The house hunters in this episode, from what I was able to glean, were two wealthy, single guys who wanted a place to crash in Chicago. This would not be their primary residence. One of them had at least one home, in L.A. The other had at least one home, in Las Vegas. But they were looking for a landing spot in Chicago, and their budget was $1.5 mil.

Yup, $1.5 million for a bachelor pad in the Windy City.

Naturally, they brought along their friend and designer for guidance.

You know how that is.

The first place they saw was a runaway bargain at only $750,000, which would allow them to renovate to their hearts' content.

The apartment had some amazing views. One exposure overlooked The Fourth Presbyterian Church on Michigan Avenue, a protected structure. No chance that a high-rise will ever go up on that spot and spoil the sight line.

The kitchen was perfectly lovely if a bit traditional. White cabinets, stainless steel.

Of course, the friends and the designer agreed, it would all have to be torn out. All of it. For the look they'd want to achieve.

Well, yes, of course. How could a couple of club-going guys, one of whom had tiger-striped hair, who wouldn't be in town very often, possibly abide a kitchen that was entirely modern and functional but just didn't say anything about them?

I had to turn off the TV.

I can't bear to see any more of that shit.

What is wrong with people? How self-absorbed, how narcissistic, how superficial can humans be?

Where the hell has substance gone?

At the end of their lives, will those two bachelors consider their lives well lived because they had a designer kitchen? Who are they trying to impress? What are they trying to say? Why would they want to spend time with people who value such things? How do they spend time with themselves?

The vapidity. I can't take it.

I know I'm no nun. I have my share of comfort compared to many in the world.

But a 90,000-square-foot house? One and a half million on a place to stop by and nurse a hangover?

All I keep thinking is, "Don't you know how much good you can do with that kind of money?"

And maybe they're philanthropic. Maybe they are. But a 90,000-square-foot home? How does anyone justify building a 90,000-square-foot home?

I just don't understand. And I'm quite sure that if I ever came into a gross amount of money, my brain wouldn't suddenly say, "You know what you need, Beth? A palace with 23 bathrooms and a 20-car garage."

My house has one bathroom. And I can touch opposite walls without fully extending my arms. Eyeballing it, I'd say it's 5' x 8'. That includes the tub.

Sometimes, I think it might be nice to have a second bathroom. For when I have guests. That might be my next extravagance.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Makes Beth Happy, October 20 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

Oh, I just giggle and giggle ... .

The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Lamb Tagine in a Roasted Whole Pumpkin

I love lamb. Love it. And I love this presentation. And I love that David Leite, the namesake of the above-linked site, refers to this dish as "a one-pot meal...with a hat." Who doesn't want dinner that arrives at the table wearing a hat?!

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

French Kitchen Island

Mind you, I have no need for a French Kitchen Island, and that is due to a lack of space, not the island's $999.00 price tag, but I love the look of it. I want to roll out pastry on it. And I think the lamb tagine – sporting its pumpkin hat – would look very at home on it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

The Scourge Of Our Airwaves ...

I am seething through my tears.

I am nauseous, sick with rage.

How can such an evil, heartless, soulless, repugnant man have the ear of millions of Americans? How can he spew such disgusting filth so recklessly? How can people be so mindless and believe him?

Tonight, on Facebook, my friend Sandy posted this photograph and this story:

"This 8-year-old, little Helen, survived after Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army shut all her family and friends into their huts and burned them down. She cried in my arms for 45 minutes. Her pain is so great. Now, the USA is finally sending 100 troops to help end the horrors of this brutal war, which has been waged against children like Helen and their families, for over 20 years. It has destroyed so many hearts. Please pray for the people of Uganda, and for the success and safety of the troops. Please pray for peace. And if someone says that Obama is wrong about this, think about this little girl. Her scarred arms and haunted eyes... Keep her in your heart, and pray for peace."

And later, unfathomably – unfathomably – I read this headline: Rush Limbaugh Endorses the Lord's Resistance Army.

Which reminded me that I had read this headline – Limbaugh's Latest Smear: Obama Is "Target[ing] Christians" In Uganda – but hadn't clicked through.

Until tonight.

That this man has achieved such a disgusting measure of wealth and "fame" and has attracted such a vast following of listeners who parrot his bigoted, hate-filled, disgusting but most importantly, in this case, ignorant views in lieu of thinking for themselves makes me weep for this country.

Limbaugh supports the murderers of the Lord's Resistance Army because they battle Muslims. And Limbaugh hates Muslims.

And Obama is sending troops to Uganda in an attempt to quell the horrors committed by the LRA, and Rush hates Obama, ergo "Obama Invades Uganda, Targets Christians."

That is the headline on Rush's website, with the transcript of his show.

After attacking Obama, he said this:

"Is that right? The Lord's Resistance Army is being accused of really bad stuff? Child kidnapping, torture, murder, that kind of stuff? Well, we just found out about this today. We're gonna do, of course, our due diligence research on it. But nevertheless we got a hundred troops being sent over there to fight these guys – and they claim to be Christians."

That's right: Rush went on the air and attacked the President of the United States without having any knowledge of the reality of the situation, without having any knowledge that the Lord's Resistance Army engages in "child kidnapping, torture, murder, that kind of stuff."

"... [T]hat kind of stuff."

Like burning Helen's friends and family alive.

Rush Limbaugh defended the murderers because doing so allowed him to attack the president.

I cannot fully comprehend how any human being can, simultaneously, be so vitriolic and so stupid.

Thankfully, there is Sandy. Recently, in a recommendation, I said of my friend, "Sandy is a quiet force of nature. Her gentle demeanor belies a woman who is fiercely committed to helping those in the greatest need. ... [S]he's built an impressive career in the non-profit sector that has taken her all over the world. She is kind and talented and compassionate. There may be nothing she can't do."

She is one of my heroes.

Tonight, I thanked her for being there for Helen, for showing her compassion in the face of unfathomable suffering.

It is the one thing that calms me, the image of my beautiful friend holding a grieving child, the knowledge that there is still great good and love in the world.

I focus on that image and breathe.

And try to find pity, somewhere, anywhere inside of me, for a man who will never know such grace.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Good Times, October Edition ...

The October cookie installment for the angelo:HOME blog features Pecan Crispies and Pumpkin Cream Cheese Bourbon Dip. Because Angelo really loves pumpkin and pecans. Which I just found out on Thursday. And the bourbon? Well, why not?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On The Occasion Of My Upcoming Anniversary ...

"Was it yesterday?" I wondered, with a start.

October 10th?

No. A search of my email revealed that the date was October 15th.

The "10" in my mind must have come from "October."

It was this month, that much I knew.

How curious that I didn't remember the day.

You would think, wouldn't you, that I would remember the day I said goodbye to a person who had been in my life for more than 15 years.

You would think that I would remember the day that I had dreaded and avoided for so long, so sure was I that I would never be able to handle the pain.

And yet, in the end, I learned this: It is easier than expected to say goodbye to someone who wasn't really there.

I am not about all things being equal. I am not that friend who expects you to pay for coffee because, the last time, I picked up the tab. I reach for the check, always. I am happy to treat.

I bake for people because I love to bake. And because I love them. Sometimes, I do it to repay a kindness that they've done to me. But often, I do it for no reason other than to please them. Most people like the unexpected. Especially if sugar is involved.

But when a relationship grows too lopsided – that was his word for it, "lopsided" – it begins to teeter.

And then it falls.

It does not, however, vanish. It is still there. It may be lying in the dirt, but it is still there.

So, I could have stood there, standing over it, mourning it, rueing it.

Or I could walk away.

Which is what I did.

Now, the lopsidedness may have been largely of my making, but there was an insidious factor at play:

We never talked about it.

And one person's take on a relationship can vary greatly from another person's take on a relationship. But if neither of you are explicit, bad things can arise. Paths will veer. Assumptions will be made.

So, despite the fact that I knew, for some time, that it was best to say "The End," I didn't.

And I didn't.

And I didn't.

Because it never felt like the right time.

As if there is a right time to give up something – someone – you love.

But as many of you know, I am a firm believer in everything happening the way it's supposed to happen.

And context is a wonderful thing.

I had had a somewhat similar experience a few years before, having heard from a one-time friend who wanted to reconnect. That relationship, too, had been lopsided, though in a different way.

And it was extraordinary to tell him "No."

No, I didn't not want to rekindle our friendship.

Our friendship had, for years, been nothing of the sort. It was about him taking and my getting next to nothing in return.

Mind you, like I said, I am not the person who needs everything to be exactly equal. Far from it.

But the year he called me on my birthday (three days after his; rather easy to remember) to talk about himself, that was the beginning of our end.

And so when he resurfaced, years later, it was not difficult to tell him that I wished him well but that, for me, it was best to leave the past in the past.

When I tell mutual friends that story, their faces change.

Is their disbelief that I would do such a thing – that I am capable of such a thing? – or that any person would behave thusly?

I never ask.

It was the right thing for me. I never looked back. What could I possibly be missing? More of the same?

I'll never know, that's true. But so the saying goes, a leopard doesn't change its spots.

And so, in that way, I was a bit prepared for last year.

A bit, I say.

A tiny bit, apparently, as I literally shook as I wrote that letter. Not out of anger, but out of fear and awe. I was finally doing something I had known I had to do but had put off doing. For several years.

I could scarcely believe I was writing those words. That I was standing up for myself. That I was saying, verbosely, "It is not all right for you to treat me this way." That I was revealing, fully, nakedly on the page, how much he had hurt me.

And in the end, he had no idea.

Or so he said.

His reply was one of surprise for what I had written.

But then, assuming he was being honest, of course it was. I had never spoken up. I had, by not condemning his behavior, condoned it.

The timing, it turned out, was not ideal. For him. And I felt bad, slightly, for unwittingly piling on.

But it had been the right time for me. And that was my foremost consideration. It had to be.

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways.

And it is fitting that my brain, just now, would recall a lyric from The Beatles' "Help!"

Because it was exactly that that I had needed and didn't receive.

And so I moved on.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Makes Beth Happy, October 9 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

While the meaning of the word does not make me happy, the pronunciation of it surely does. Say it a few times. It's funny!

The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Challah Knots

I have a desperate, unfortunate infatuation with white flour, especially in the form of risen breads. Also, I like saying "challah knot."

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Netto Table Lamp

I have a bit of a lamp fetish. And while I never really pondered if I had a favorite shape, I surely am drawn to circles these days. Also, yes, I like saying, "Netto."

A little aside for Lowe's: The "Nobody beats our prices. Nobody." shtick is bunk, my friends. I first saw this lamp on Amazon. The price today? $112.05. Your price today? $186.78. And my options to obtain it? Pick it up in a store or truck delivery for $59.

Let's see how that stacks up, shall we?

Amazon: $112.05 + Free Shipping = $112.05

Lowe's: $186.78 + $59 Truck Delivery = $245.78

Difference = $133.73

On the product alone, you charge $74.73 more than Amazon.

And, for what it's worth, every other retailer that stocks this lamp – as ascertained through Google Shopping – charges less than you, by at least $30 (and that's The Home Depot, your arch nemesis).

Bottom line?

Everybody beats your prices. Everybody.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

A Meditation On Whole Foods On A Friday Evening ...

Holy hell.

Have you ever been to a Whole Foods on a Friday evening?

Right around 5:30, just as office buildings everywhere are disgorging workers for the weekend?

It's a kind of madness.

And I'm no supermarket manager, but perhaps the best time for the produce guys to be stocking isn't when the store is mobbed with people, since it's hard enough to navigate the narrow aisles and spaces, even with two-tier mini-carts.

I was just along for the trip, as Doreen was doing a bit of shopping for the weekend? The week? I'm not sure how long her provisions last. Fruit doesn't have a very long shelf life, especially when it's organic.

We stopped by the meat counter so she could pick up chicken (surprisingly affordable) and some lovely ground beef. The man behind the meat counter changed gloves in between.

"They should have a 'beef' guy and a 'chicken' guy and a 'pork' guy," I said. For all of Whole Foods' eco-consciousness, it seemed absurd for the meat men to go through so many pairs of rubber gloves. Why not just move down the case and have different people wait on you? The chicken guy could fetch your chicken, then the beef guy, well, you get the idea.

I noted that the beef tenderloin steaks – aka beef tenderloin cut into hunks – were $30.99 a pound. Ah, Whole Paycheck, you continue to earn your reputation.

We thought we'd pick up dinner there, but, as usual, I had no idea what I'd want. We strolled around the prepared-foods section, and I settled on ... cheese.

I always want cheese. A handsome cheese-monger man asked if he could help me.

"Do you have Parrano?" I asked, knowing full well that he did, just not knowing where.

He came around from behind he counter.

"Would you like a salted caramel?" he asked, which was a perfectly fine response to my cheese query.

I always want a salted caramel.

He handed me two.

Did I mention he was handsome? A handsome man who trades in cheese and hands out salted caramels is one of my ideas of perfection. And I didn't even know I had that idea of perfection until last night.

He showed me the stash of Parrano, many wheels of it stacked with cut, wrapped wedges on top.

I thanked him and set about selecting my wedge, a wee wedge, with minimal rind.

Doreen appeared, having returned from elsewhere in the store. I handed her my second caramel.

She spied some, in a bag, near the cheese counter.

She asked the handsome cheese man if they were the same as the ones he had shared with us.

Indeed, they were. (He handed her two more samples.)

And into the cart they went.

We made our way to the checkout lanes and got in the least foreboding line.

Doreen transferred her goods from the cart to the belt.

Our cashier wore a very large name tag. His name was Julian.

"Julian looks like Clarence," I said.

Doreen looked up and nodded. "He does."

When it was our turn, Julian greeted us and I told him that he reminded me of Clarence Clemons.

Julian thought for a moment and then smiled. "Is it the hair?" he asked, of his hair which was decidedly '50s and not at all Clarence.

"No, it's your face," I said, noting his sapphire-blue eyes. Contacts, I presumed. I hoped. They were a bit unnerving.

The bagger piled all of Doreen's loot into one of her reusable canvas Whole Foods bags and out the door we went, to hail a cab, lest her frozen blueberries defrost on a walk home.

Once there, she set about putting things away and snipping flower stems while I sat on the other side of the counter noshing Parrano and fresh figs.

Later, she broke into the caramels.

They were bigger than the ones we'd had in the store, and soft, unlike the samples from the cheese man, which were cold.

When I was leaving, she asked if I'd like to take the cheese home.

"If I leave it, will you eat it?" I asked.

She said she would, with the figs.

So I left it. (She had paid for it, after all.)

Though I'd have eaten it with the caramels.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Makes Beth Happy, October 6 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

For much the same reason as I love "Wheedle!" Words that end in -dle are particularly fun!

The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Roasted Pears with Espresso Mascarpone Cream

No explanation necessary, right?

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Round Silver Leaf Frame

I have a thing for round frames. And aged finishes. And pretty much anything Italian.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Indeed ...

‎"Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

"The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it ... ."

— Steve Jobs, 1955-2011

My first Apple experience was programming BASIC on an Apple IIe in Mr. Silagyi's* class in 1985.

I have been loyal to Apple since that day.

* Mr. Silagyi died in 2004. Like Steve Jobs, he was 56.

Let It Snow ...

Not just yet, of course.

Before I traverse winter, I want to savor fall.

It is warm here this week. The forecast calls for mid- to upper-70s. Indian summer, so they say.

Fine. Have your way, weather. But then bring me my fall. My beloved fall. My vibrant trees and fallen leaves and nip in the air.

I just read a story that the Chicago area will experience the worst of winter for this trip around the sun, a repeat of last winter's massive snowfall, nearly 60 inches in a part of the world that normally sees around 30.

My first reaction was a disheartened, "Swell."

My second reaction was, "Meteorologists are often wrong about the weather for tomorrow." So I'll believe the weather when it arrives.

Or doesn't.

As I root for fall, friends are warning me, as if I'm not aware that winter is on the other side.

I know winter is looming. And I am more than willing to welcome winter so long as fall and I can have our time together first.

I don't mind winter. Yes, last year's blizzard was a bit of overkill, but I work from home most of the time. I do not have to commute in it every day.

I still get excited for the first snow of the year, the first real snow, an inch or two, more than a halfhearted dusting.

I like waking up in the morning to falling snow and putting on a pot of coffee and starting my day.

Sometimes, I put on a scarf. I like wearing a scarf inside. It's cozy.

And I am always mindful and grateful for the warmth, that I have a home to shelter me from the snow and wind and cold. I know that many are not so fortunate.

So, let it snow, weatherpeople. I'll be ready.

But today, I have to rake some leaves.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Indeed ...

"This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.

I am a member of a community and as a member it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can before I die. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch that I want to make burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations."

— George Bernard Shaw, 1856-1950

With thanks to my friend Sheila for sharing.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Makes Beth Happy, October 2 ...

The Makes-Beth-Happy Word of the Day is:

A whole lot of consonant awesomeness packed into one syllable!

The Makes-Beth-Happy Recipe of the Day is:

Chocolate Tart with Pine Nuts

Chocolate? Yes. Pine nuts? Yes. Chocolate and pine nuts?! Lemme at it!

And the Makes-Beth-Happy Objet of the Day is:

Copenhagen Square Coffee Table

I'm on a table kick. And I have no business putting a 40-inch-square coffee table in my tiny living room, but then again ... maybe I do.