Monday, May 26, 2014

The Way We Wrote ...

Today, I had a flashback to friends and I writing notebook-paper-length notes to each other and folding them in fun, weird ways. Now kids text.

I grabbed a piece of notebook paper to see if I remembered how to fold a sheet of notebook paper into an arrow.


Way to be useful, brain!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Effortless ...

Today's post-mowing moment of nature, the lovely Lily of the Valley, which was my maternal grandmother's favorite flower and which I was delighted to discover growing here, my first spring in this house.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Shiny Red Lining ...

If there is a bright spot to be spotted about the absurdly long winter that we just endured (apparently it ended just yesterday, with one final snow fall in the 'burbs; I will presume it was the final snowfall as it occured in the second half of May and – newsflash! – this is not Minnesota), that bright spot is that I was able to exchange holiday gifts with a friend yesterday at long, long last.

She gave me very fluffy socks adorned with hearts and this lovely, lovely ormanent (as my niece used to call them) which is even prettier in person than I could capture, but I am very, very pleased with and touched by my gift of comfort and love.

Which is all I want for the holidays and every day, too.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I Must Have Missed The Memo ...

I just read a piece titled "Why I hate Mother's Day," written by a mother and I writer whom I usually admire, but she lost me with this:

"I hate the way the holiday makes all non-mothers ... feel the deepest kind of grief and failure."


There's more to that sentence, as the ellipsis indicates, but I cut it since I cannot speak for the other people she references.

I can, however, speak for myself.

I am a "non-mother" and I do not today feel – nor have I ever felt – "the deepest kind of grief and failure" on Mothers' Day. (I place the apostrophe to form the possessive for all mothers, not just one.)

Or on any other day, for that matter, at least where being a mother or not being a mother is involved.

So, no, Anne, all "non-mothers" do not feel the deepest kind of grief and failure today because at least one person does not: me.

There was a time, when I was a teenager, when I was sure I didn't want children. And then, as I got a bit older, I realized that my "principled" teen angst was ridiculous and that yes, in fact, I would very much like to be a mother. Being a mother, I realized, would be the most important thing I would ever do.

But my life has not progressed that way. I could have had children if I really wanted to pursue motherhood. Or I could have adopted.

But I didn't and I didn't. And I'm fine. My life is not devoid of meaning. I do not spend my days in despair. I do not wander the aisles of Babies R Us sighing wistfully. In recent days, folks at stores have wished me a happy Mothers' Day. They do not know I am not a mother. I am of likely mother age. I just smile. The intention is thoughtful.

I appreciate that today is a difficult day for some people. Some people were not fortunate in the mom department and their upbringings may have been less than ideal or perhaps even hell. Some people have lost their moms and find today a harsh reminder of the women they love and miss. Some people have lost children and experience Mothers' Day through that glaring prism.

And yes, today may be a windfall for the greeting-card and flower and candy and brunch industries.

But I am happy to spend a day doing a little something for my mom. As much as I like to think that I convey my appreciation of her enough every other day of the year, I'm sure I fall short.

And in so doing, I am not wracked with the deepes kind of grief and failure for not having my own kids to do the same for me.

Today is a nice day. The sun in shining. The birds are chirping. The temperature is temperate. Moms are feeling a little extra love. Or so I hope. They carried and birthed human beings. That's worthy of a nod.

It is one day. Let's let them have it. Let's not deconstruct it. I am not religious. I do not begrudge anyone their religious holidays. I do not inform them that they should not observe them because I might take offense.

Some things apply to some people. Other things do not.

Mothers' Day is not a vendetta against the motherless.

Now eat somthing. You look too thin.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Growth ...

Considering that we had snow on the ground less than a month ago, there was plenty of yard work to do today.

And now it is done. And now it is dark. And I will be interested to see how mobile I am tomorrow, because, at the moment, my muscles are not pleased with me.

But it was good to be outside. It was nice to open the side gate to my back yard and be greeted with the white flowers you see above. I have no idea what grows in my yard. Some of it I can identify but most of it? Shrug. I dunno. But most of it's pretty.

And I like the sunlight in that image, the palette of greens it creates. My yard may not be well pruned but it's green. Rather lush, even. Thistle sure grows well.

As I was mowing the part of my lawn that is furthest away from my house, I started thinking about what I would do with my yard if I had access to a) plentiful cash to dedicate to my yard and b) people who knew what the hell they were doing.

I've written before about my lovely neighbors and their prinstine yard. It truly is a masterpiece. They devote such love and care to it every year. And, unfortunately for them, they live next door to me. On a personal level, we're good: I love them like family. But oh, what a disappointment I am in the yard department. But it has potential. In "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" terms, my yard is Toula.

She and Ian turned out OK.

Perhaps I should skulk around home-improvement stores in the hopes of running into one of those handsome "Yard Crashers" devils. I bet one of them could help my lot.

In the meantime, I need to take a shower. And an Advil.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Makes Beth Happy: Silver Oval Tray Edition ...

I have a deep and abiding of love of silver oval trays. I don't know why. Why does anyone love what – and who – they love? But when I spy them in antique shops and resale shops and garage sales (note to self: frequent more garage sales), I pick them up. I don't own many. I don't buy every one I see. But I have a few.

And yesterday, I pulled one out of the cabinet in which I keep such things and corralled the items that I'd been amassing near where I sit. (My kitchen counter has become my de facto office.)

It is a very simple change but it makes me inordinately happy. Everything looks better on a silver tray.

By the by, I am also slightly addicted to Karite Lips lip balm. I keep tubes of it all over the house – and in my wallet and in my car – so one is never far out of reach. The timer belonged to one of my great-aunts who left me the contents of her kitchen. I love its heft and its purposeful "DING!" It's almost stern, which, now that I think about it, makes it all the more perfect that it belonged to that particular aunt. She was a nice person but she didn't take any guff.

And who isn't cheered by a chicken-topped highlighter? Yes, I know it's a rooster, but my favorite word is "chicken." I use it when I can.

Oh, and my ever-present refillable water bottle. It's difficult to forget to drink enough water when that beautiful blue keeps catching my eye.

Another Take ...

This is an interesting follow-on read to the confidence stuff I posted yesterday. Should the world be more equitable? Of course. But in the meantime, it would behoove women to manufacture a little more gumption and make strides in the world in which we live.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

'The Confidence Gap' ...

You really must read this.

It's lengthy. Grab a beverage and settle in. If you're a woman or you've ever known a woman, I guarantee that you will find it fascinating, illuminating, and possibly many other -atings.

"Ruminating" springs to mind. ("Nauseating" does not count.)

Ruminating is what I've been doing since I finished reading the piece, so while one part of my brain is saying, "Go outside and cut the grass, Beth," another part of my brain is saying, "No, write this post. Write it right now while you know what you want to say."

You can see which part of my brain has won out. Also, it's supposed to be nearly 90 degrees today and the trees are not yet in leaf so there is almost nothing in the way of shade out there and so, well, screw you, grass, you can stay long another day.

The post in The Atlantic – which I linked to in the first sentence but I'm linking to here again in case you haven't yet clicked – look at how many words I am devoting to this hotlink; I really want you to read this article – I'm nesting thoughts set off by multiple sets of dashes, for God's sake – may as well be a mirror.

A very comforting mirror. I am not alone in my experiences. A goodly portion of my gender experiences the same thing.

The gist of the piece is that women lack confidence more than they should whereas men are often overconfident when they have no good reason to be.

The reasons, however, behind this reality are many and far-reaching, all the way back to our early childhoods.

Yes, the brains of men and women are different. Yes, we process information differently and store memories and emotions differently. "... women seem to be superbly equipped to scan the horizon for threats," for instance. The writers were speaking evolutionarily, but the trait remains. Now, however, women aren't noticing a wild boar charging toward men who are no doubt oblivious as they're too busy reciting every baseball stat ever recorded. No, now we womenfolk use our hyperkeen powers of threat-scanning to notice spiders when we walk into rooms.

Well, I do, anyway.

And it's a trait that never failed to amaze one of my brothers when we still lived under one roof. If there's a spider to be spotted, I'll spot it. But if there's a man in the room, spider-smooshing duty falls to him.

But seriously, the piece brought to mind many moments and instances in my life in which I've hesitated and others have balked at my hesitation. And those "others" have been men.

Which, having read the piece, now makes more sense.

Their brains are wired differently. They were conditioned differently. They don't experience the world the same way women do.

Relations between men and women can now make a quantum leap. Truly, this is important information.

Angelo once wrote to me, "No Someday. Now. Stop looking so hard. You're too talented and smart to keep waiting for 'inspiration' or something. Just do. Please."

It's very good advice. And I appreciate his encouragement. He's a very good encourager.

But those words resonate in a slightly different way today.

Of course that's his prescription. He's a man. That's how men think.

Women, for a host of reasons (presented so well in this article), proceed at a very different pace – if they proceed at all.

I'm also reminded of a salon visit to my beloved hair architect, J-D. I was in his chair. He was standing behind me. We were talking to each other in the mirror, the way stylists and clients do. He was suggesting a cut or a color technique that we hadn't tried before. I was pondering, even though I trust him implicitly when it comes to my head. He tolerated my hesitation for about 30 seconds before he looked at me in the mirror, shrugged, and said in a this-is-gonna-be-great tone, "Let's just do it!"

And so we did.

Mind you, this post is not meant to absolve me of all action. I know I still need to do.

But I'm comforted, having read the piece today (I'll refrain from linking to it one last time; you get the idea) that it's not just me. It's not just my hesitancy and fear and perfectionism.

It's a lady thing. A girl thing. A knowable thing. A changeable thing.

We really do need to start speaking to young girls differently. We really do need to dispense with the notion of girls being "bossy" and conveying to them that that's bad.

I was "bossy" as a child. "Mom, she's playing Mother again," was my brothers' lament.

I was mature for my age (and girls mature faster than boys). I was (and am) smart. I saw good ways to do things. Yes, I once corrected my 2nd-grade teacher. To her face. She was wrong. (Yes, that was a teachable moment for me about decorum.)

But I'm more than a little awed to sit here and think about how life might have been different if I didn't learn, as a girl, to tone things down, to know my place.

How might the world be different if that were true of women of all ages, everywhere?

I look forward to watching the next generation find out.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Good Deeds ...

Yep, that's right. Easy good deeds. Not that all good deeds should be easy, but if you can help others with ease, that frees up more time to do more good deeds.

Free Good Deeds

My browser's homepage is set to The Hunger Site and the site is also the first bookmark in my "Morning to-dos" folder. So I visit, I click (all the tabs for all the sister sites), and then I share the link on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, with a little nugde: "Have you clicked today?"

It takes mere seconds to click through all the sites. It costs nothing. It is a fine way to begin the day.

When I want to while away a few minutes, do a good deed, and challenge my brain, I pop by For each correct answer, Free Rice donates 10 grains of rice to the United Nations World Food Program. The site is addictive. Before you know it, you'll have donated a lot of rice.

Check out all the categories (I'm partial to Famous Paintings and English Vocabulary myself):

Get-Something-In-Return Good Deeds

If you're local to Chicago, you need to know about Open Books. It accepts donations of used books, sells those books in a fab book store in River North, and uses the proceeds to fund literacy programs.

And if you're not local to Chicago, you need to know about Better World Books. It saves books from landfills, sells them, and uses the proceeds to fund literacy programs and libraries.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving Good Deed

And then there's Kiva. For $25, you can help fund a microloan to an entrepreneur almost anywhere on the planet. Once the lendee repays the loan, you can loan $25 again. Over and over and over. I've relent the same $25 eight times. (Only one of my loans has not been repaid in full, and that lendee only defaulted on a dollar of repayment to me. I feel bad for her. I hope she's OK.)

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Monday, May 05, 2014

'How To Be Black' ...

Once upon a time, I pondered converting to Judaism.

I was working with a rabbi on his materials for the High Holy Days. What I was reading made a lot of sense to me. It resonated in a way that none of my religious instruction as a child ever did. I went through confirmation when I was 13 because it was expected of me. But, to paraphrase a line from "Shadowlands," I am a lapsed Lutheran.

I never did convert but it was fun to entertain the moment of informing my parents that I was becoming a Jew. (I do like chopped liver ... .)

Saturday, I popped by the library to pick up Baratunde Thurston's "How To Be Black." As I stood at the counter, I chuckled to myself thinking about what might be going through the mind of the library clerk as she pulled that book off of the Hold shelf for me. Tall, middle-aged (Jesus, I've never used that phrase to describe myself before, but it applies), white chick checking out a book titled "How To Be Black"?

Unlike Judaism, that conversion would have to be an honorary thing.

But I follow @baratunde on Twitter and folks are always tweeting good things about his book and he tweets well and often and he appreciates Chicago, so why wouldn't I read his instruction manual?

Also, on the back cover, these conditions are set:

– Have you ever been called "too black" or "not black enough"?
– Have you ever befriended or worked with a black person?
– Have you ever heard of black people?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, this book is for you."

So, given the parameters of his desired readership, I meet at least two of the three criteria. To my knowledge, I have never been called neither "too black" nor "not black enough." In the "too white" arena, though, I was once informed that I had a "Wayne Gretzky tan." I am no fan of the sun. But I digress ... .

The copy I picked up at the library (I rediscovered the library after a massive purge of my bookshelves; I love authors and I want to support them but a gal can only buy so many books before she has to own up to the fact that she's never going to read most of them again; someday, I plan to be in a financial position in which I can buy books, read them, and them pass them along right away, but in the meantime: library) is smaller than I expected and softcover. That seems to bode well, instruction-wise. If "How To Be Black" resembled the Yellow Pages, fewer people might be swayed. We have ceased to be a nation of big readers, it seems. Hence the popularity of Twitter. At the moment, @baratunde's followers number 152,280.

Yesterday, fanning through the pages in anticipation of a day of reading, I nearly spit out my coffee when I saw the chapter heading "Can You Swim?"

The day was grey and chilly and provided the perfect excuse for staying inside and reading.

So I stayed inside and read.

This is the book, sticky-noted in places where I thought I might want to call something to your attention:

I was conservative with my sticky-note usage this time. (Note: That may be the only way in which I am conservative.) As I read a book, I often want to remember passages or sentences but know I never will (see: middle-aged reference, above), so I sticky note. But then I'm also mindful that what engages me isn't necessarily what might engage you, so whenever I set about writing a blog post about a book, the gist of it, if I liked the book, is simply: "Read this."

So, read this.

I will tease a few things, so as to whet your appetite, as it were, so we can all be comforted that the sticky notes did not die in vain.

— On his name and its invariable mispronunciation: "Who will see a Q where none exists?" Yes! We have that in common. People are forever inserting an L into my last name. I don't know why, but Kowalski seems less terrifying to people than Kujawski.

— Eight pages later, my jaw literally dropped. In a book titled "How To Be Black," you can probably surmise the offense, but the context made me extra sad.

— Go, Baratunde's grandmother!

— "I didn't know much about wine and still don't, but I didn't want to ask the shop employee and then pretend like I cared about her in-depth description involving earthy hints of nutmeg and subtle karmic rainbows of frankincense or sadness or whatever." Best wine-pretention takedown ever! I can't wait for a snobby wine person to ask me what I detect in a glass and answer, "Sadness."

— Two sentences that appear relatively near each other, page-wise, that made me laugh: "I like brunch!" and "We ate couscous!"

— "Never underestimate the media's hunger for a rhyming Negro." My life is better for having read that sentence.

— My life improved by a factor of eleventymillion, then, when I read this: "If you find yourself in the media spotlight, being asked about nuclear proliferation or Riverdance, don't panic." I literally laughed 'til I cried.

There are many, many laugh-out-loud moments. But this book contains a lot of poignancy, too.

W. Kamau Bell, a member of The Black Panel (which comprises six black friends / colleagues / suppliers of insight ... and one white guy), shared this amazing thought:

"I think that all people who are fighting for oppressed people should only be allowed to work for the group that's one over from them. Black people should only be allowed to work for the Mexican immigrants' struggle in America. Mexican immigrants should only be allowed to work for gay marriage. Gay marriage should only be allowed to work for black people. I feel like if we all just stepped one group over, I think we would get things done a lot quicker."

I rather love that. How often are we willing to expend even more energy on behalf of someone else than we are on ourselves? Of course, we can do both. More people lending hands to help more people would be a good thing.

The very last paragraph is a quote from one of his friends. And it made me cry. Powerful, powerful words.

I read the Acknowledgements because I read acknowledgements. And I smiled when I read, "My literary agent, Gary Morris, for having my back." I had known Gary was Baratunde's agent because Gary was also my friend Jeff Zaslow's agent. But I had forgotten that Gary was Baratune's agent. And I had been thinking about Jeff yesterday, remembering his funeral, at which Gary spoke. And so seeing Gary's name just kind of tied it all together. The world is smaller than it seems.

So, as mentioned: read this. Indeed, as set forth on the back cover, if you have ever so much as heard of black people, you will find meaning in this book.

Many times as I was reading yesterday, I was wishing that L.A. Dave could have read it. Oh, the conversations that would have ensued.

When he died and I wrote this post, I remember my friend Angela, who is black, informing me that she bristled when she read, "We spent hours on the phone every week, whiling away minutes on banalities – like the finer points of french fries – but shifting with ease into thoughtful topics like politics and religion and race."

She wanted to know why we were discussing race.

And then she Googled Dave.

And she found his blog.

And she saw that he was black.

I had never mentioned that, she informed me.

Nope, I hadn't. It had never come up. He was my friend Dave, not my black friend Dave.

I had a lot of Daves in my life at one point. They all had modifiers. Dave's was "L.A." ... because he lived in L.A. I didn't announce his race to other people in conversations.

But yes, he was black. He was so, so proud when Barack Obama was elected. And I remain forever grateful that he witnessed President Obama's inauguration, if only on TV.

He would have loved this book.

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