Sunday, January 19, 2014

[ Sung To "The Way We Were" ] Blurry, Out-Of-Focus Memories ...

I've been thinking about space. Specifically, how much we need. Or, more specifically, how much we don't.

I stop on my fair share of house-search programs and I remain forever baffled by people who want great amounts of space. Recently, I heard one woman lament that a master bedroom wasn't very grand. It was a new-construction home, so she expected a large master.

"Why?" I asked my TV. People spend most of their time in their bedrooms in their beds. Does anyone really hang out elsewhere in their bedroom? If I were the type to read a print newspaper anymore and I was inclined to read it in my bedroom, I'd read it in my bed. I wouldn't get out of bed to sit in a chair to read it instead.

And then there was the guy who specifically stated that he wanted a home with a grand entrance because he wanted people to be impressed when they came to his house.


Anyway, beyond the house-search shows — Aside to HGTV: There are too damn many of them. Enough already. — I've been thinking about how much space my living space takes up in the world and while I appreciate the compactness of those cute little homes literally built on trailers – mind you, I am not referring to trailer homes – that's maybe a bit too little space for me. I don't relish the thought of a home that could be blown over in a respectable wind.

But I have been thinking about my first apartment, a studio. And my second apartment, a one-bedroom. The one-bedroom apartment had a dining room that was too big to be practical but I liked having a separate bedroom with enough room for a queen-size bed. I could have fit a king in there, come to think of it, positioned on the longest wall. Hmm. I should have thought of that then. I love king-size beds. But I digress.

In terms of square footage, my one bedroom apartment was a bit larger than I really needed. On the other hand, my studio was just slightly smaller than I wanted. It would have been perfect if it could have accommodated an adult-size bed instead of the twin I had tucked behind my love seat.

So I guess I think that my ideal amount of space would fall somewhere in between my studio and my one-bedroom. Which is why a whole house feels too big for me, as much as I love this home.

All this thinking about my studio sent me rummaging through my bins of photos to find the envelope containing the shots of my studio from when I first moved in. (The pictures of pictures are taken from an angle so as to eliminate the glare as much as possible.)

I rented the place not for its location – which was awesome, right down the street from Wrigley Field – nor for its price – which was affordable-ish, given my pathetically low first full-time salary at the Tribune – but for the kitchen. When I started looking for an apartment, I would have been perfectly happy to rent a kitchen large enough to accommodate a bed.

The kitchen in my renovated studio was beautiful to me then. Now, I smile at the cheap materials. But I had a dishwasher, dammit!

My kitchen was the first room that I spent any time on when I moved in, as I had been hoarding kitchenware for a couple of years leading up to moving into my first place, so while I had almost no furniture or art or anything else, I was rather prepared on the kitchen front.

The KitchenAid was my housewarming gift from my mom and dad. And The Pillsbury Doughboy, Mr. Potato Head, and Big Boy were my kitchen muses.

The opposite end of my kitchen had a small area for a small table, which clearly, I had yet to buy. But I loved the panel moulding. My apartment had nice touches, one of the benefits of living in a restored vintage building. The woodwork was stunning. It almost looks painted here, but it's stained and polyed. And the floors had been refinished.

The windows sported the requisite white plastic mini blinds. Good God, those things got filthy and were damn near impossible to clean. But they looked nice when I first moved in. I had almost no furniture, as I mentioned, but dammit, I had a stereo and TV. And a lot of CDs.

And it wouldn't have been a first apartment without the requisite futon. I didn't have that when I moved in. I bought it the second day I lived there. Which means that I spent the first night in my first apartment on the floor. The hard, wood floor. For anyone about to move into their first place, I don't recommend it. As you embark on a life on your own, nothing will make you question what the hell you're doing more than spend the night in your first place on a hard floor. At least, that was my experience.

And then there were the large double doors that took up a good amount of wall space in my rather wee studio. I suspect that back in the day, they closed on a closet that housed a Murphy bed, which would have been awesome, had it remained. Alas, by the time I moved in, it was just a closet. Though a nice-sized closet for a studio, considering I also had a front-"hall" closet just inside the front door. As well as a door that also led into the big closet, so that folks could, as my neighbor did, put furniture in front of the big double doors yet also access the closet.

And having access to the closet from the single door or the double doors was important, because through the closet lay the bathroom.

And what's the bit of color you're seeing reflected in my medicine chest (also an original detail)? Why, it's my Elvis shower curtain, which seemed like a terribly good idea at the time. And yes, those are fuzzy dice hanging on the towel rack at the head of the tub.

I never did take pictures of the other elevations of the living space. I'm not sure why, other than I didn't feel the need to capture my desk and nothing else. I eventually bought a fold-out love seat and later the twin-size bed. And I got a rug, if that painful jute bastard warranted being called a rug. And other things.

It was a cozy place. And, best of all, it was just a short walk down Waveland and across Halsted to the video store – VHS, eh? – and, to this day, the best Chinese-food joint I've ever had the good fortune to frequent. Oh, how I miss that place. And just beyond New Life (which came to be known as Mama's, because every time I'd pop in, the cute Chinese lady who ran the place would ask, "How's your mama?") was a 7-Eleven, so on Friday nights, I would hop off the bus on the inner Drive and walk west, stopping in Mama's to order my usual, the heading to the video store to pick up a couple of movies, then crossing back to 7-Eleven to pick up something to drink, then popping back into Mama's, at which point my order would be ready.

And then I'd head across the street to my building and up to my apartment (Note to those about to rent in an older building for the first time: Rent on the top floor.) and settle in for the night, if not the weekend.

Maybe I'll downsize again one of these days. Although not there, s the building may or may not have gone condo and as much as I loved the space, it ain't worth $460,000. Nor $1,400 for rent.

But then, I'll still want room for a grown-up bed, anyway.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cookies Past ...

It is cold and windy today. And I am thinking about cookies. And the thoughts of cookies make me feel slightly less shivery on this blustery day. So I decided to compile all of my Angelo cookie posts into one mega post and revisit them like others might flip through a photo album of a favorite trip.

Come to think of it, some palm trees and some sand would not be a bad idea right now ... .



Shortbread Ottomans


Componentized Chocolate Chips


Liz Lemon Cookies


Walnut Cheese Cookies


Dark Chocolate Espresso Biscotti and Sablés


Sesame Cookies with Roditis Cream Cheese Dip


Parmesan Toffee Cookies


Drumstick Cookies


Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich Cookies


Pecan Crispies with Pumpkin Bourbon Cream Cheese Dip


Bittersweet Baci


Almond Spice Drops



Coconut Chocolate Almond Biscotti


Browned-Butter Scotch-Glazed Madeleines


Red-Wine Zabaglione with Crumbled Shortbread


Cinnamon-Sugar Croutons with Cheesecake Fondue


Portlandia Cookies


Don Draper Cookies


Caramel-Filled Pecorino-Romano Pecan Sandies


Almond Graham Biscotti with Hot Fudge and Marshmallow Fluff


Blackberry Madeleines


Pumpkin Cookies with Sweet Cheese and Pecans


Cookie-size Cherry Crostatas


Bite-Size Dark Chocolate and Peppermint Sablé Sandwiches



Goat Cheese Cheesecake Cookies


Tuscan Cookies


Curious George-Inspired Big Cakey Cookies with Soft Chocolate Frosting


Wee Biscuits with Honey Glaze


Cream Cheese Cookies with Lemon Curd


Dark Chocolate Pretzel Bark Toffee Squares


Saganaki Sablés


Small Espresso Sablés with Whipped Cream and Limoncello


Big Flourless Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies


Double Pumpkin Alfajores


Vanilla Squares with Dark Chocolate and Scotch Ganache


Wee Walnut Shortbread Squirrels

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The New Year And Book Coaching ...

On Thursday, September 20, 2007, my now-dearly departed friend Jeff Zaslow published this column in the Wall Street Journal.

It didn't take long for the story of Dr. Randy Pausch's last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University to start being bandied about as a book.

The bidding for the publishing rights was fast and furious. Jeff called me every night with the latest news.

And when the deal was done – $6.7 million later – Jeff was about to embark on his highest-profile book project ever.

"Beth," he said, "we need to sell two million copies just to earn back the advance."

I assured him they would.

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

"I just do."

And so, over the course of the next couple weeks, Jeff would call and we would talk about what the book should be. His editor had one take. Jeff had another.

I was on Jeff's side. Our chats helped him clarify his ideas and make his case.

Later, after he had written about half the manuscript, I asked if I could read it. Jeff sent it along. I asked if I could put notes in it, if I happened to notice anything amiss as I read. Jeff agreed.

Jeff was not a precious writer. Some writers are precious. Some writers – I worked with a couple of them at the Chicago Tribune – think they are God's gift to prose and no one – no one – should ever change a word of it.

But Jeff was not a precious writer. Though Jeff also didn't need much editing. His copy just flowed.

So I read, and I made notes, and I sent the file back to him.

He called and he scrolled.

"You're a really good editor," he said.

I had worked for him for two summers at the Chicago Sun-Times when I was a teenager but I was never in charge of editing his work. I was in charge of transmitting his work from Chicago to New York where his syndicate editor would edit his work. So for all the years I had known him, he had never seen my editing.

Until that day.

After he had completed the manuscript, I asked if I could read it again. He sent it along. But added, "You don't have to read the whole thing since you've already read half of it."

"No," I told him (we spent a lot of time on the phone in those days), "I'm going to read it all the way through."

So I did. And I found more things to note. And I sent it back to him.

And a couple months later, in April 2008, it arrived in the world. And the initial run of 200,000 copies sold out almost immediately. (To date, it has been translated into 48 languages and has sold 5 million copies in the U.S. alone.)

The next year, when Jeff was in town to promote The Girls From Ames, which he had been working on but had put on hold to write The Last Lecture, I drove him to the event and then afterward, we had dinner.

Jeff signed both copies of my books that night, copies he had sent to me.

He opened The Last Lecture and wrote. And wrote. He wrote for a long time.

This is what he inscribed:

Beth, I am completely grateful to you for the advice, editing, cheerleading, and creative input you gave for this book. I remember being very unsure of where this was going, and I appreciated your clear-eyed skill at pointing me the right way. This book is better because of you. I am proud to be your friend.

I read what he had written while he sat across from me. I was very touched.

I saw Jeff for another event in 2010. Afterward, we had dinner. Afterward, even though we were parked very near each other, he walked me to my car and hugged me goodbye.

The next year, he was in town for another event but we didn't have time to see each other.

And the following year, he died.

I very much miss my friend.

But recently, while doing dishes, I remembered what he had written inside my book. And I started crying. Because I am a legendary sap.

But also because my friend and colleague Michele Woodward and I had recently discussed my offering book coaching in 2014, and what Jeff wrote that night over dinner registered with me as the testimonial to end all testimonials.

I have helped other people with their book projects but none are so well-known as The Last Lecture.

And I know that Jeff would give his blessing for me to use his words to let the world know about my official foray into book coaching.

So, here we are.

If you need someone to help you get your book project moving in earnest, I'm here. Let’s talk about what’s holding you back. Let’s talk through the areas that you feel aren’t working. Let’s work on an outline and a writing schedule so you can put into the world the things you most want to convey.

You can find more information and contact me about your project here.

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Sunday, January 05, 2014

More Beauty ...

Well, snow, you're even prettier in the daylight. But really: You can move along.

Saturday, January 04, 2014

Beauty ...

Well, I must say, it's beautiful outside. And it's even brighter out there than this unaltered image conveys.

It's rare that 10:30 p.m. on a winter night is so visible.

Update: Actually, now that I see the image published, it's pretty true to what I see outside. It's like Blogger took the liberty of lightening the shot a bit for me!

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Glow ...

I miss my tree.

My living room looks empty. And it's snowing, snowing, snowing, and the glow of the tree would be just the right, cozy thing.

But I have a glow alternative.

My lone strand of white lights (good for nothing, it seemed, as the bulbs won't work in my pre-lit tree and some of the bulbs are burned out besides) found a home as part of the lamp in my TV room. I piled the strand atop the shade's spider and dropped the plug end down alongside the base, which is tucked behind a chair, so I don't see the plug.

It's just the right amount of ambient glow when watching a movie. And it doesn't feel overtly "holiday" so I am thinking that those lights are going to stay put, year-'round.