Tuesday, February 28, 2012

'The Thank You Economy' ...

At some point last year, my very smart friend Mike told me that I should read Gary Vaynerchuk's Crush It!, so I did.

I liked it. A lot. I liked Gary's enthusiasm – nay, passion – and conversational-bordering-on-insistent tone. I liked that he is the one who introduced me to MOO. I love MOO. So will you. You should click this link and bookmark it so you can MOO, too.

So, no one had to tell me to read his next book, The Thank You Economy.

Now, Gary is a business owner, among other things. And I am not. A business owner, that is. Not yet. Someday, maybe. A "someday" that seems to be getting closer by the minute. But business or no, I was moved to read his second book because I liked the first and wanted to continue the conversation, so to speak. And also, because I'm a user of social media. Not as much as some, but much more so than others. In any event, I knew that reading it would be worth my time.

And it was. And I recommend it for anyone in business, both for those who are using social media and for those who shun it. Everyone can benefit from this book. The man knows whereof he speaks.

And I recently had an experience that drove home exactly what he conveys about the importance of caring for customers.

In advance of traveling to Detroit for Jeff's funeral, I did a bit of research online to get a sense of where to stay. Every time I'd been in that part of the world in the past, I'd stayed at Jeff and Sherry's, but this time called for a hotel. My past hotel experiences came into play and I decided that given the sadness that surrounded this trip, a little extra comfort was in order. I'd appreciated Westin's Heavenly Bed on business trips, so for this stay, Westin won again.

I went to Westin's web site to check the rate and then called the hotel directly to book, employing what little travel knowledge I possessed to ask if the hotel offered a bereavement rate. Money is not a plentiful commodity in my life right now. The hotel transferred me to reservations, which I presumed was for the entire chain or all of Starwood, but at least I was speaking to a person, not booking online.

She asked if I was attending a funeral. Yes, I told her, while wondering what other kind of reasons for bereavement there might be. She searched for a moment and then informed me that while the hotel did indeed offer a bereavement rate, it wasn't available for the night I needed. That night, specifically. I was about an hour away from getting in the car.

I didn't put up a fuss. I was too weary. But I did mention, since the call was likely being recorded, that it seemed a bit silly to offer a bereavement rate that didn't apply to every day of the year. It's not like one can plan when they might need it.

She was kind about it, as good customer-service reps are trained to be, and told me she'd find me the best possible rate, which turned out to be exactly what I would have paid if I would have just booked online.

I gave her my credit-card information and she enrolled me in Starwood's affinity program (I didn't bother to decline), I wrote down my confirmation number, and we hung up.

I knew I'd be writing a letter to Starwood later, when I returned. But in the meantime, just to vent, I tweeted this:


And then I proceeded to pack.

In the meantime, someone at Starwood saw my tweet, followed me, and replied, expressing their condolences and asking me to follow back so we could exchange private messages. They asked for my confirmation number, which I supplied, and within an hour, I'd received two messages (it's hard to write much in 140 characters) letting me know that they'd spoken to the manager on duty and that my rate had been adjusted for the evening (it turned out to be $80 less than what I'd booked). I replied to thank them for their attention and condolences, finished packing, and drove to Detroit. Somewhere in that process, I tweeted, publicly, my thanks to Starwood for their prompt attention and resolution. Credit where credit is due.

The stay was pleasant enough, given the circumstances and given that I have insanely high standards for hotel rooms and service, but that $80 gesture bought a lot of goodwill with me and I'll be more inclined to stay at Starwood properties in the future for that reason alone.

In his book, Gary writes a lot about those who are slow to adopt social media or who don't see the value in it because it might not reflect in the short term on their bottom lines.

But my Westin experience illustrates his point: Yes, I paid $80 less for one night in one hotel, but over the course of my lifetime (however long that may be), I'll think of their brands ahead of many others, and they'll earn much more back in the months and years to come.

Also, and more importantly, I was touched enough by the nearly immediate response to my problem that I'm now writing about it and sharing my good impressions of Westin/Starwood with anyone who might be searching online for just such a story.

How much is that worth to a brand? A hell of a lot more than 80 bucks.

So, businessfolk, read Gary's book. Social media users, read Gary's book. It's a great read, a quick read, a fun read.

And consider booking into a Starwood property on your next trip. They're good people.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Seeing ...

I have a suitcase. I've used it as a pedestal for a long time. Today's the first time I noticed it smiling at me.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Enduring ...

These were on my kitchen counter when I returned from Detroit. I saw them that night and thought it was very sweet of my mom to have flowers waiting for me. The next morning, February 14, it dawned on me that they might be intended for Valentine's Day. But no, they were just-because flowers, to cheer me. As they continue to do. They're still lovely, as you can see. Thanks, mom. I love you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

'Kisses On The Bottom' ...

I may have been born in the wrong decade.

I love standards.

Some are swanky. Some are lush. The low notes on an upright bass. The whisper of brushes on drums. Let me settle in on a well-worn banquette and sip a glass of Scotch.

Which is exactly what I want to do upon hearing "Kisses On The Bottom," Sir Paul McCartney's new collection of standards old and new. (The title is a lyric from "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Write Myself A Letter," if you didn't know.)

What I wouldn't give for this man to do a tour of small jazz clubs. Well, small jazz clubs that could accommodate an orchestra, too.

Sir Paul wrote two of the tracks. The rest are songs you may or may not know. That depends on the depth of your standards knowledge.

"My Valentine," one of his originals, is one of my favorites. But then, I can't immediately recall a song of his that I haven't loved.

I can't help but smile and sing along with "It's Only A Paper Moon." Charming arrangement.

And I'm entirely smitten with "My One And Only Love."

It's lovely to hear the nuance in his voice and the intimacy of his delivery.

Order vinyl or other incarnations on paulmccartney.com (or find it on iTunes here), dim the lights, pour yourself a glass of something on the rocks, and take it all in.

Save the Beatles for another day.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Books ...

Coffee-table books on a coffee table. Go figure. Though, really, it's an ottoman.


This morning, Angelo posted a post about a personal problem: He loves books and magazines.

Hello.

Me, too.

I carry a list of books in my wallet, just in case I find myself at the library and somehow unable to remember a single book that I want to read. I write my wallet lists on lined index cards. My book list covers three index cards. Both sides.

It's a good thing that I'm trying to train myself to use the library more and more. Otherwise, I'd have to take out a second mortgage to buy books. And then I'd have to take out a third mortgage to buy another house in which to shelve them.

I did a rather big book purge a couple of years ago. I gave many of them away to good homes. Friends were able to call dibs on whatever they wanted. And the rest went to Goodwill, where I hope they've since been bought and appreciated.

I have, over the years, subscribed to many magazines and let many magazine subscriptions lapse. My latest to go is The New Yorker. I love you, New Yorker, but I can't take the guilt. I can't read you fast enough, and you pile up, and then I feel so daunted by the pile that I know I will never, ever get through because more magazines just keep coming. And there it is, all that erudition just waiting to be consumed, and oh, the pressure, it's too much, so I turn to The Bullseye page of Entertainment Weekly instead.

I did the same thing with Vanity Fair a few years ago. I am a serial subscriber and lapser. Surely, I thought, if I read Vanity Fair on a monthly basis, I would become irresistibly urbane.

[ SNORT! ]

Have I met me?

I am many things. Irresistibly urbane is not one of them. Thus has it been. Thus will it ever be.

So magazines come into my life and magazines go. The core remains. I am a faithful subscriber to a few.

And I could lose myself for hours in a used book store. I like used books. I like new books, too, but I like the idea of used books having another home, another life.

I love Better World Books because it saves books from landfills and shares the proceeds with literacy programs. Smart, that.

And I love Open Books, too. Similar missions, but closer to home.

I marvel at bookstores. So many books. So many ideas that have made their way into print. So many people who cared enough about every topic under the sun to spend portions of their lives translating ideas into words on pages and binding them and releasing them into the world.

It irks me that designers see books purely as objects, and often bothersome at that. I don't understand why anyone would cover all of their books in coordinating papers. How the hell is anyone supposed to know what they own? The other night, I saw a reveal that had all the books turned backward on the shelves, so only the edges of the pages showed. What? A stager once pulled all the book jackets from books before replacing them on the shelves.

Screw aesthetics, people. Respect the books!

I shudder at the thought of a Kindle. I understand the practicality of it for those who travel, but oh, I hate the notion that someday, physical books will be rendered obsolete. I don't want to hold a tablet and press a button to turn a page. Or worse, swipe my finger across a screen as though I were leafing through a magazine.

What about children? I love buying books for babies. I love starting their little libraries with books that I've loved. How will babies Pat The Bunny on a Nook Color? What about reading to a group of children and turning the book toward them so they can see the pictures? What if there's a glare on the screen? Will readers to children use an HD monitor instead?

Sigh.

I suppose the day may come when I simply content myself with the books I already own, if books are no longer printed, only digitized. I will be the Miss Havisham of books. Minus the wedding dress.

I think I just talked myself into never giving another one away.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Be Informed. Be Afraid. And Vote ...

This is a big deal. A big story. With big repercussions. In an election year. And beyond.

You may or may not know about legislation that is about to be signed into law in Virginia – signed into law by Governor Bob McDonnell, who is making it very well known to the GOP that he would like to be that party's vice presidential nominee – that would require a medically unnecessary vaginal probing which a woman would not be allowed to refuse and which her doctor would be required to perform in advance of an abortion.

This is not a post about abortion. But whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, you should be outraged that the Commonwealth of Virginia is about to mandate rape.

I am not being hyperbolic. I am not overstating the case. Women would be forcibly penetrated with wands for the purposes of obtaining ultrasounds in advance of undergoing abortions. Also, they would be required to wait an undisclosed amount of time between the ultrasounds and the abortions, presumably in the hopes that they will change their minds.

An amendment was added to the bill (by a Democrat) that would have required a woman's consent or would have allowed her doctor to opt out of performing this medically unnecessary procedure.

The amendment was voted down.

All legislative bodies in Virginia are under Republican control presently.

This is today's GOP. The party that insists it favors smaller government is about to sign into law legislation that is as hideously invasive as anything I can fathom.

I remain stunned that birth control is currently the hot-button issue in the GOP primary, that in 2012, old, white men have decided to revisit whether women should have access to contraception. This extends beyond whether religious institutions should be required to provide such access through health insurance. That has been addressed. No, this goes far beyond that talking point.

Congressmen, Senators, Governors, hear this: Women vote. We have enormous power. We are the majority of the population of this country. We are sorely underrepresented in government. And 98 percent of us, now or at some time in our lives, have used birth control. You can convene all the panels of men you wish to convene to decide this issue on our behalf, but know that you will pay for these actions with your political careers.

That Governor Bob McDonnell is about to sign into law state-mandated rape – state- ... mandated ... rape – is reprehensible. And, in turn, that he is openly campaigning to be the next vice president of the United States terrifies me.

And as a citizen of this country, it should terrify you, too.

For more on this story, read Slate's "Virginia’s Proposed Ultrasound Law Is an Abomination," or watch Rachel Maddow's reporting on the issue, "Really Really Really Big Government" and "OMGYN."

Perception ...

Does anyone see themselves clearly?

Are we incapable? Like how we're unable to hear our voices the way others hear them?

I see the world from my point of view – with wide-angle peripheral vision – but I can't see behind me. I can't see inside.

So I've been mulling an exchange with a friend on Friday who wrote to express his condolences about Jeff and included: "I marvel at your strength, Beth."

Huh.

Really?

What strength?

I don't feel strong.

When L.A. Dave died, I was flattened. I functioned, but not well. At least, not well by my standards.

And perhaps that's the crux of the matter: my standards.

Still, I don't feel strong in the face of these losses.

Then again, I don't know what qualifies as strong.

Last Saturday, I procrastinated. I knew I had to call Sherry, but I had no earthly idea what to say. And I knew that calling her, that hearing her voice, would make everything real. Not that it wasn't real already, but speaking to her would cement it. I finally dialed their number and she answered. I told her the only thing that made sense. I told her that I loved her. Sherry was strong. Her voice was weak but she managed to speak. I, for my part, managed to speak, too, but I could barely say goodbye. I told myself before I called that I had to keep it together. I am incapable of keeping it together.

Last Sunday, I tended to details and got into my car and drove to Detroit.

Last Monday, I attended Jeff's funeral and burial and then drove home.

Nothing about that strikes me as strong. Necessary, yes. Strong, no.

Jeff is the fourth friend I've lost since 2003, the third of those friends to die unexpectedly. And while the fourth friend was older and had been ill, even his death came sooner than any of us expected. There was no time for me to get to him to say goodbye.

This time, though, feels different.

Yesterday, I had a good day. I was struck by the fact that it was a good day. In the morning, I walked into the kitchen to get more coffee, marveling at the fact that I felt good, not sad. "Yeah, well, wait five minutes," I told myself. When Dave died, I was often fine one minute then sobbing the next.

But I decided to proceed with the day by being fine in the moment. If sadness arrived, I'd let it move through me, but in the meantime, I did the dishes. I did the laundry. I did all of the laundry. I wrote a note to Sherry and drove to the post office to mail it. I wrote to an author of a column about Jeff to thank him for giving form to the angst. I traded emails with a friend who may have heard about Jeff belatedly and who asked me to tell him about the funeral. I did a bit of reading. I took out the garbage and the recycling. I sorted mail and ordered bills and shredded papers. I flipped through catalogs. I put away catalogs. I watched a bit of TV. I had some lunch. Later, I had some dinner. I Swiffered my floors. I found a pair of shoes underneath my bed (the ones I was sure I had thrown out and therefore did not take with me to Detroit which required that I buy a new pair of shoes for Jeff's service because my ratty gym shoes would not suffice). And I had a few teary moments, but they were brief.

And so I went to bed having had a good day. And I woke up to what I hope will be another.

I have decided, this time, that I cannot let grief consume me. I simply can't. And Jeff would not want me to let it. Not that my other friends would have. Charles never let me wallow. Dave would have told me to have a milkshake. John would have commiserated and shared insight and wisdom from his vast, deep experiences, but then he would have given me a task or sent a book or a CD to provide something to ponder or a distraction.

So maybe this decision to carry on counts as strength. But how can I do otherwise? The days continue to arrive. And I am grateful to have each and every one of them, more grateful now than ever. Today, I really need to restore some sense of order to my closet. And I should probably deal with the dust that I discovered yesterday underneath my bed. And I have books to read and recipes to reimagine and more dishes to do.

Life goes on, in all its richness and all its glorious banalities.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Jeff In His Own Words ...

This is a great clip of Jeff giving a TED talk.

And here I thought I knew all of his stock jokes!

Watching this reminded me – not that I needed reminding – that he truly lived his beliefs.

He is a shining example of authenticity.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Memories Of Jeff ...

Since Friday night, my mind has been scanning itself, pulling out details, snippets, memories of my beloved friend.

Some make me smile. Some make me cry. I cherish them. They form a more intricate picture of him and our nearly 25 years of friendship.

I'm quite sure he would not mind if I shared that ...

... he once had dump trucks on his checks. They were green security checks but next to his name and address, where some might opt for an initial or other icon, he had selected a dump truck. I asked him why. Because, he said, he loved that it was an option, that it was such an odd thing for someone to have on their checks but that's why he liked it. Sometime last year, I received a note from him. His return-address label featured a bull. I smiled when I saw that, thinking of the dump trucks on his checks. Everyone who spoke at his funeral talked about his sense of humor. It was rare and strange and marvelous.


... he could type faster with his two index fingers than most people can type with both hands. I loved to watch him type.

... he said my name in a really exaggerated way that he knew I loved. In reading through some emails from him this morning, I ran across this: "Betttttthhhhhhhh (doesn't work the same way)....but happy birthday tomorrow. I wanted to be the first to wish you all the best and all happiness and that the year to come should be the Year of Kujawski! Happy birthday!" Nope, it doesn't work the same way in print. But I love that he tried.

... he sent Bruce's box set "The Promise" to me (my first-ever Hanukkah present), and in the email exchange that followed, added, "I’ll also be sending you the box set of 140 Hanukkah love song duets by Ted Nugent/Doris Day. Very rare, but that’s good, too. So are the liner notes." Like I said, his sense of humor was rare and strange and marvelous.

... he appeared in my inbox with random thoughts to make me laugh. To wit, this suggestion: "Hey Beth, Hope all is well with you. I clicked on your blog the other day to see you thanking some other Jeff for suggesting you do a blog. I suggest you write a symphony. Get on it! And you're welcome."

... he and I had dinner after one of his speaking engagements a couple of springs ago. We were parked very near each other, but he walked me to my car anyway and hugged me goodbye.

... he didn't always "sign" his emails to me, but when he did it was always with several "kisses" (though he may have thought they were hugs). In January, I wrote to him, "Hey, you. I read another 90 pages of 'The Magic Room' tonight, and stopped when I realized how late it had gotten. But I was thinking about you as I was getting ready for bed, thinking about that first summer that you called to offer me a job, and I realized (or maybe rerealized, but this feels like a thought I haven't had before) that my first 'real' job, with regular hours and a regular paycheck, was for the Chicago Sun-Times. Huh. My mind's kinda blown by that. ... That's a cool realization. Empowering, of a sort. So thanks for hiring me!"

And he ended his reply to me thusly:

It is interesting to recall that 100 years ago, I was your first employer. You were special then…I knew it…and you still are.

XXXX,
Jeff

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Donna's Good Things, Valentine's Day Edition ...


This is a post about Donna. And love. And wonder.

I love this picture of her. I love that her neurosurgeon made a bandage for her in the shape of a heart. I love that she is reading a book and that the page we can see reads, "WOW!" I love the way she is sitting, knees together, feet apart. I love that she has flowers on her shoes.

I love her.

As readers of this blog will know, I never had the privilege of meeting Donna. Donna's Mama, aka my friend Sheila, and I reconnected just a month before Donna died. Sheila and I were friends in high school but had lost touch. We are closer now than we ever were then.

I love Donna's Mama, too. And Donna's Daddy (aka Jeremy). And Donna's brother, Baby Jay.

I love all things Donna.

And all things Donna includes Donna's Good Things, the charity that Sheila and Jeremy established in Donna's name, to honor Donna's memory, to parent Donna in a new way.

It is the little charity that could, growing from the single act of writing a check to fund dance scholarships for two young girls to its latest event which is on pace to smash through its fundraising goal of $20,000.

This is where you come in.

On this day of love, a group of bloggers are combining our voices to spread the word about a St. Baldrick's event to raise money and awareness for pediatric cancer.

This is the link where you can contribute.

And, between today and February 18th, your donation will be matched by an anonymous donor, up to $2,000. So your $25 today becomes $50. Or $5 becomes $10. Or $250 becomes $500. You get the idea. Matching donations are a very Good Thing!

For the love of Donna and children everywhere, I ask you to contribute what you can. Pediatric cancer research is sorely underfunded. And St. Baldrick's is an amazing organization.

For more information about how you can become a shavee or establish an event if your area, visit StBaldricks.org.

Thank you for your generosity on this day of love. Your kindness warms our hearts.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jeff ...

My very dear friend Jeff Zaslow died today.

Those words seem too impossible to be real.

But there they are.

Our last email exchange was on January 30th.

"Want to come in for Springsteen?" he wrote.

I replied, "I am always up for seeing a Springsteen show with you, my friend."

Listening to Bruce will never be the same. Jeff was my mentor in all things Boss. He adored Bruce. Worshipped might not be too strong a word. He sent "The Promise" to me the moment he could. Not just the album. The whole box set.

We met when I was 17. The year after, he gave me a bottle of wine for my birthday.

"Jeff?" I said. "You know I'm not 21, right?"

He looked a bit surprised.

I worked for him for two summers at the Chicago Sun-Times when I was in college.

Our friendship flourished.

He was the only man who consistently asked for my number. Almost every phone call over the past decade or so has been preceded by an email: "What's your #?"

And moments later, the phone would ring.

"Beth," he'd say, in his very exaggerated way.

He was funny. He was kind. And he had the worst handwriting I'd ever seen.

Jeff Zaslow was born to type.

And type he did, features for the Wall Street Journal and then countless advice columns for the Chicago Sun-Times after he'd won the contest to replace Ann Landers. He had entered to get an interesting angle for the story. But with so much talent, it's no wonder he won.

He wrote a book about that journey, and a couple more. And then, after he'd returned to the Journal, he wrote about Randy Pausch. And there was no way that story wasn't going to become a book, too.

I was at his home in Detroit before it was released. He showed me a mockup of the cover, the same cover that anyone who has read The Last Lecture has held in their hands.

He was proud. He had every right to be.

Just last night, for some reason, I was thinking about the conversation we had when the bidding for the publishing rights had finally come to an end. "Beth," he said. "We have to sell two million copies just to earn back the advance."

"Jeff," I said. "It's going to sell eleventymillion copies. It's going to be on the New York Times' best-seller list for at least a year."

"How do you know?" he asked, sincerely.

"I just do."

It has sold more than five million copies in English and has been translated into 48 languages. And the New York Times' best-seller list? 112 weeks.

After The Last Lecture, he wrote books at an astonishing pace: The Girls From Ames, Highest Duty, Gabby, and The Magic Room.

When he was in Chicago to do a reading and signing for The Girls From Ames, I picked him up at his hotel and drove him to Oak Park for the event. On the way back into the city, we talked about the possibility of me writing a book someday. When I had a proposal ready, he said, he'd introduce me to his agent.

I almost fell out of the car.

It was such an enormously kind offer, a lovely endorsement of my writing. But then, Jeff had always been very generous with his praise.

We had dinner at his hotel. He signed my copy of The Last Lecture, which he had arranged to be delivered to me on the day it was released.

He opened the front cover and he wrote.

And wrote.

He wrote for a long time.

He closed the cover and then opened it again.

He added one more line. "This book is better because of you," he snuck in before the final sentence: "I am proud to be your friend!"

As am I, Jeff. As am I.

All my love to Sherry and Jordan and Alex and Eden. And to all of Jeff's family and friends.

Monday, February 06, 2012

My 7 Links ...

Mary Tyler Mom tagged me to take part in My 7 Links, which appears to have been making the rounds for some time.

It was sweet of her to tag me, a reminder that this little outpost in cyberspace is actually visited by folks from time to time. I don't contemplate who's reading. I just write.

I've been writing – blathering, I like to call it – for damn near 7 years now. So it took a little doing to think of which posts to include here. My brain isn't as sharp as it used to be. If my brain were a knife, it might not be able to cut Play-Doh.

But I thought for a bit and some posts came to mind. And then I wrote a post that Mary Tyler Mom pimped on her Facebook page and all hell broke loose with my traffic. So, that post warrants a nod here now.

The goal of My 7 Links? "To unite bloggers (from all sectors) in a joint endeavor to share lessons learned and create a bank of long but not forgotten blog posts that deserve to see the light of day again."

So then ... .

Most Beautiful Post: Joyous. This was written about three and a half years ago and a lot has changed since then. Not that my life has become notably less joyous, but rereading this post is a potent reminder that some things that feel very real and forever sometimes go away.

Most Popular Post: Komen, I Give Up. This was written just last week, the night the news broke that Koman was severing its ties with Planned Parenthood. I don't often post links to my posts on Facebook and Twitter, but I posted this link and the hits started coming. And then Mary Tyler Mom posted the link on her Facebook page and 60 of her fans shared it and the next thing I knew, my hits headed into the thousands, which never happens to any of my posts. And I'm OK with that. Like I said, I write for myself mostly. It was fun, though, to watch the stats climb. Thanks, Mary Tyler Mom. And sorry, Mike Rowe; Komen stole your spotlight. But based on comments, Mike's still my post popular post. (Most people arrive at it because they query – no pun intended – "Mike Rowe gay" in a search engine. My post appears on the first page of results. The comment section on that post is quite the "Yes, he is!" / "No, he isn't!" tennis match. For the record, I think he's straight, but I don't frankly care. He's handsome. He's funny. And he has a voice that makes me melt. Gay, schmay. Straight, schmaight. Whatever.)

Most Controversial Post: It Matters Not. This was written the night Gabby Giffords was shot. It is not my most controversial post based on comments, because I did not allow comments on that post. Sometimes, as with my Komen post, I use my blog to make statements. I do not wish to engage with the other side and I do not need, although I appreciate them, congratulations from those who share my views. Some of my friends weighed in with me privately. One disagreed with me. But I stand by every word I wrote that night.

Most Helpful Post: Sump Pumps And Sadness. This was written two months after the death of my dear friend Dave as I tried to understand how my psyche was processing the grief of losing him. Mostly, this post was helpful for me. But it was helpful for others, too. I'm very fond of my sump-pump analogy.

Post Whose Success Surprised Me: Muse Of The Moment. This was written because the idea behind it was too amusing to not pursue. I think of it in terms of "success" insofar as it led to a baking and blogging adventure with Angelo that continues to this day.

Post That Didn't Get The Attention It Deserved: Who I Am And Who I Am Not. This was written, in part, and then tucked away and then finished when the time felt right. It's long, and more confessional than I tend to be. But no one's life is always sunny. And I would be a fraud to only blog the bright spots in my life. I'm so grateful when I read a heartfelt post by someone and think, "Yes! That!" It's such a comfort to know that someone else has felt the same way. So this was my offering in that vein.

Post I'm Most Proud Of: L.A. Dave. This was written a few hours after I learned that my dear friend Dave had passed away. Three years ago, impossibly, just a few days back. I'm proud of this post, though "proud" feels like the wrong word. Dave's family asked if they could use this post as the eulogy at his memorial service. His aunt read it because I knew I couldn't. But I was very honored that they asked and so grateful to be able to share the Dave I knew with a bit of the wider world.

Post I'm Most Proud Of Addendum: I need to shine a little light on My Friend Charles, too. I'm friends with one of his daughters on Facebook, and tonight she mentioned the post about her dad – "which I just love reading and I've read it about a thousand times" – which warmed my heart and in turn reminded me of one of the comments on the post, which took my breath away when it first arrived:

"I was with Charles on that fateful vacation. I still think of him often as well. Thus, the search of his name on Google and finding this blog.

Your writing brought him back."

So stunning, that sentence. "Your writing brought him back." Which is why, I gather, his daughter has read the post "about a thousand times."

I am so grateful to have the ability to write.



And finally, as part of the challenge, I pass the virtual baton to five other bloggers. They may never see this. (They may not read my blog.) Or they may not have the time. That's fine. I consider these tags invitations but also a way to let them know that I enjoy the glimpses they provide into their lives. More please, blogger friends. More.

My 5 Blog Nominations, in alphabetical order, numbers first:

37 days

angelo:HOME

Life As A Plate

The Thrifty Chicks

Random Esquire

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Makes Beth Happy, February 5 ...

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

Foist!
No commentary needed. Though I keep thinking of it as "first," also.

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

Lemon-Ricotta Bars

Lemon and cheese together? Sign. Me. Up.


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

New England Shaker Nesting Tables

I appreciate a well-made, simple form rendered in beautiful wood with lovely joinery.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Parting Thoughts On Komen ...

News about Komen's "reversal" hit yesterday just as I was about to walk out the door.

I read the statement. And I thought it was very artfully written. I thought the language was meant to quell the current outrage but leaves the door open to deny Planned Parenthood funding in the future. And then I thought, "Komen wouldn't be that stupid, would it?"

Maybe it would. Will. Time'll tell.

I'm stunned at how badly the organization has played this. From "quietly" ending funding to Planned Parenthood in December – Did it really think this story would not come out eventually? – to telling multiple versions of the "truth" as to why the decision was made – It was because of the Congressional investigation! But this isn't a political decision! No, it wasn't that at all! We want to fund more direct care! See? This is not a political decision! Whoops! You weren't supposed to find out that Ari Fleischer was a consultant! – to "reversing course," if indeed that's what it's done.

Way to go, Komen. Now you've managed to piss off everyone. No small feat, that.

This week has been a sad, emotional education. Friends and family have expressed their condolences, as it were, over my loss of something that I believed in. And I appreciate their kind words. They're sweet. And I respond with reassurance that while this is unfortunate, I met some of the most amazing people in the world through Komen, and I've done something I did not think I could do. And those are good things. Those are great things.

And meanwhile, I've educated myself about the organization in ways I should have educated myself before. And I've come to appreciate that the best use of my charitable dollars – what few there are these days, but someday there will be more – is to contribute them directly to causes in which I believe. I know that no organization is perfect. But from this day forward, I will be more diligent in gathering information about charities and contribute to those groups, not to organizations that raise funds and then disperse them. (I still believe in the Greater Chicago Food Depository and Kiva.)

I feel as though I should apologize to everyone who has contributed to my fundraising for Komen over the years. I feel as though I should have known better, learned more. But then I think that surely some of those dollars went on to help someone, and there is solace in that.

As for Komen, I'll be interested to see what becomes of it. Whether or not the organization has fundamentally changed, people's perceptions of it certainly have. I presume the races and walks will continue. I wish the participants well.

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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Life After Komen ...

Every blister was a lie.

That's how I feel tonight, 48 hours after writing my post about giving up on Komen.

I've spent a good part of the past two days learning things I should have known for the past 10 years.

But I wanted to believe.

I walked my first 3-Day in 2001, three weeks after September 11th. Maybe that heightened everything. Maybe the feel-good atmosphere was rarified air that I desperately needed to breathe. Maybe it was seeing Adam, who had been missing from my life for too long. Maybe it was the pink sorority I pledged for those few days. Maybe it was the need to be a part of something bigger than myself, to feel the palpable power of numbers and good.

I walked my second 3-Day in 2005. I had fallen away from the event when Pallotta TeamWorks shut down, after Avon used Pallotta's framework to begin its own series of events. It was ugly. I should have seen the ugliness as a sign. But I didn't. In the fall of 2004, I had met Brooke Ellison. I was at the premiere of "The Brooke Ellison Story," Christopher Reeve's last film. I was in the green room afterward, waiting for my friend Marlea who was doing the publicity for the event. I paced while I was waiting, and then suddenly stopped. I realized, in that moment, that I was able to pace, that I was able to walk, unlike Brooke, who I would meet in person just a few moments later. That night, I vowed to walk the 3-Day every year until a cure was found.

I walked every year – 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010 (I was registered for, but had to skip, 2011) – and each year, friends and family supported me, many monetarily, some logistically. One friend was very honest and told me that she could no longer support Komen but that she wanted to support me, so she didn't contribute money, but gave of herself instead. From her perspective, Komen and all it stood for had become nothing but a business, and as a business, she believed, it wasn't in their financial interest to find a cure. I remember being taken aback by her cynicism.

But she wasn't being cynical so much as I was being naive.

I know that now.

Still, I walked. Every year. Events lost a bit of their luster for me. The route doesn't vary from year to year. Once 3-Day staffers have secured permissions from municipalities, they don't reinvent the wheel. So the route became rote, but I met new people on every event.

The people. The amazing people.

I lost touch with Pat, the woman with whom I walked my first event in 2001. But I met Catherine on the route in 2005 and we still exchange Christmas cards. I met Erin, Shel, and Mike in 2006. We're all still in touch. The group who adopted me in 2007 and I have mostly lost touch, but I met Amy in 2008 and she is one of my dearest friends. She walked again in 2009. It was nice to begin an event with someone I knew. In 2010, I was on my own again, but I met a couple of girls at Opening Ceremonies, first-timers. And on the route, I met Michael, a force of nature. And later, his wife Monica. We're still in touch, too.

They are what I am holding on to now as everything I wanted to believe about Komen disintegrates by the hour.

Nancy Brinker has done the most to disillusion me. I was on the event in Chicago in 2009 when her son told us that President Obama had awarded her a Presidential Medal of Freedom. You've never heard such cheering.

Today, I wondered if he was rueing that decision.

The more I hear her talk, the more I hear her try to spin the decision to sever ties with Planned Parenthood ("This is not a political decision," she says. It's ostensibly based on an investigation happening in Congress. How much more political can you get?), the more I hear her sound like the politician she's become (George W. Bush appointed her Ambassador to Hungary), the heavier I sigh.

It is indeed a business. An enormous business. I find much of the merchandising behind it annoying and opportunistic – no, I don't need a pink KitchenAid mixer, thank you very much – and some of it downright disgusting.

Did you know that Smith & Wesson donates a portion of its proceeds from the sale of a pink-handled pistol to Komen?

I cannot tell you how much I wish I was making that up.

Look closely. You can see a ribbon on the barrel.

The absurdity of it is almost too much to comprehend.

I've heard the laments from women over the years who decried October and its requisite painting of pink. "But we're trying to help them," I told myself.

I truly thought we were. Helping them, I mean.

But for all the years and all the money and all the research, we still don't have a cure. Today, 1 in 8 women will battle breast cancer.

The question is: Why?

This film should provide some answers. In an astonishing stroke of perfect timing, "Pink Ribbons Inc." arrives in theaters in Canada tomorrow.

Watch the trailer. See if you get as incensed as I did when you see that the first-ever breast-cancer ribbon was salmon and how it came to be pink.

And read "Cancerland" from Barbara Ehrenreich. It was written in 2001. Nothing has changed for the better. It's only gotten worse.

I still believe in a cure.

I still believe in a world without breast cancer.

But I now believe that walking there isn't the way.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Good Times, February Edition ...


The February cookie installment for the angelo:HOME blog features Browned-butter Scotch-glazed Madeleines. Oh, yes, you read that right: They're glazed with powdered sugar and Scotch!