Monday, February 29, 2016

More Thoughts, Connected ...

I was raised to follow the rules.

I never cut a class in high school. By the time I arrived in my senior year, I no longer knew the name of my dean. New administrators were assigned to the alpha slices from time to time and I never bothered to keep up.

I did exactly zero underage drinking – beer disgusts me – and while I have earned a few speeding tickets in my lifetime, that's the extent of my moving violations.

I went to college because attendance was expected.

The only time I've set foot inside a police station was to pick up a copy of a report after a minor incident outside my home that I wanted on the record, just in case.

On the rare occasions when I find myself on an airplane, I watch the flight attendant perform the pre-flight safety demonstration, though, in that case, my attention isn't based in expectation but rather feeling bad that he or she is standing up there and almost no one bothers to look up. The infrequent performer in me cringes at the thought of standing up in front of a group of people who couldn't be bothered to look at me. I'm sure flight attendants are accustomed to the snub, but still, I watch.

Which isn't to say I haven't done some spur-of-the-moment or downright ballsy things in my life. I've trekked to New York City for less than 24 hours to see a friend's play. I've headed to London for a few days when I found an airfare that was too low to pass by. I've traveled to Long Island to interview Kurt Vonnegut for a paper I was writing in college.

But I realized the other day that a lot of my life has been about permission and playing by the book. Specifically where writing is involved.

I've written for most of my life for myself. For free. When I was a kid, I'd write and illustrate little books. This blog is almost 11 years old. I have composition books and binders of loose-leaf pages filled with thoughts that range from musings to inane recountings.

I've written for a good part of my life for others. For money. Once upon a time, a check arrived in my mailbox from Chicago magazine. I was an intern. It never occurred to me that any money would be forthcoming. But there it was: a check for $100. I still have the photocopy of it, the first money I ever earned for anything having to do with words.

When I worked at the Chicago Tribune, I wrote from time to time. My paychecks did not reflect that extra effort – almost everything in my Tribune experience was branded as "opportunity" (that's Tribspeak for "uncompensated") – but the bylines were nice to see.

Post-Trib, I've written for other clients. For money.

The place at which my mind still stalls is at the intersection of writing for myself for money. But which I mean writing a book or a movie or a play and selling it. As a commodity.

I barely dabbled with the idea when I published
my cookie e-book – my wee-book, as I refer to it, as it's rather short – but that effort was really about starting a project and finishing it, as I tend to get interested in something and then not follow through.

But the idea of writing something of length and maybe even of note and receiving, in return, compensation that would support me to some degree?

That notion has long been blocked by the voice that asks, "Who am I?"

As in "Who am I to think that someone would want to read what I'd have to write?"

The only person to grant the permission to write something salable is myself.

That was a big – if seemingly obvious – realization.

Granted, someone else will need to be a part of the "support me" equation. Someone will have to buy what I am selling.

But the idea of writing something first and selling it later, even if that "something" is a pitch or proposal, not a finished product, is the antithesis of everything I've ever done where writing and money are concerned. I've received assignments – permission, if you will – and then written. Some projects were pitches, come to think of it, but most were of the "Hey, we need a piece on X. Can you take that on?" variety.

Being a writer isn't like being an accountant or a psychologist or a doctor. While there are degree programs in writing, most writers learn writing by writing. Because most of us were taught to write at some point. It's a skill set most people possess.

Granted, not everyone can write well. But commodifying something most everyone does is a notion that has had my brain spinning for a long, long time.

Perhaps process is part of the problem. I don't think in terms of writing proposals or treatments and selling ideas before writing. I think of writing and then selling. And then my brain says, "Really? I can do this? I can just sit here, clicking and clacking on my keyboard, and put something out into the world and people might buy it?"

I know it makes me seem dim, but truly, that blows my mind.

If I were creating paintings and selling them, that wouldn't surprise me. That people want me to bake for them doesn't surprise me. That editors call up from time to time and ask me to write a feature for them doesn't surprise me.

But the notion of clacking out all the stuff in my head onto a page and selling it? Whoa. Even though my cookie e-book has demonstrated that to me, albeit on a very, very, very, very, very small scale.

Remember bookstores? (I'm glad they're making a bit of a comeback, by the way.) I used to walk through Borders and look at all those books and marvel that that many people had accomplished such a feat.

There's truly no reason why I shouldn't be one of them. I'd do well to get out of my own way.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Really, Jayson? Really? Closeout Edition ...

I never knew, until today, that Jayson offers closeout items. Fascinating. Could it be that the Jayson poobahs may have started to get a glimmer of the beginnings of an inkling that their wares are insanely overpriced?

So I clicked. And I scrolled. And wouldn't you know it, I saw some merch that I've included in past Really, Jayson? Really? posts.

Poor merch, stranded on the online equivalent of The Island of Misfit Toys. Will Santa arrive in time to save it all? Or will someone with an American Express Black card decide the deals are too good to pass up?

So, then, a collection of past favorites and new possibilities. Oh, Jayson, never change.

Vintage Metal Atom Model

Vintage Metal Atom Model – Was $4,795, Now $1,999

What I wrote then:

It is, of course, from France. As most Jayson Flea items are, but "Huh," I thought. "That seems like quite a lot of money – even by Jayson standards – for a model of an atom."

And then I checked the dimensions.

Would you like to know the dimensions?

63"W x 55"D x 42.25"H

That's right, this model atom is more than five feet wide.

And it's not necessarily that old. It's listed as "20th century."

Do people in France have very poor vision?

Or did someone make a model of an atom that would be to scale if it were viewed from space?

I greatly appreciate the very precise height dimension of 42.25 inches. Because how upsetting would it be to get your giant atom home only to discover the perfect display space is a quarter inch too short?

I would like the meet the person who buys this big-ass atom. If that's you, please do drop me a line.

Well, no wonder I never heard from the person who bought the big-ass atom. The big-ass atom is still for sale. And drastically reduced. Do you think it's occurred to someone that it would have been better to leave the big-ass atom in France?

Vintage Yellow Dining Chair

Vintage Yellow Dining Chair – Were $995 (each), Now $399 (each)


Behold the Vintage Yellow Dining Chair. It's 20th Century. It's American. It's priced individually but there are four to be had, if you're in the mood to drop more than $4,000 (tax, don'tcha know?) on someone's crime against chairkind. Remember Trading Spaces? One of the designers was a woman named Hildi. She created a dining room in black, white, canary, and chrome. The homeowners were horrified. I have a sneaking suspicion that these chairs are from that room. I hope the homeowners have long since gotten over their shock. And painted. Or moved.

That's right, kids! Now you can have the set of four for not much more than you would have paid for one! But you're going to need an extra long table so you can put all four chairs along one side, so you don't have to look at them while you eat. Drape any mirrors that might reflect them. Or wear blindfolds while you dine.

Antique Faux Bois Table and Chairs

Antique Faux Bois Table – Was $3,495, Now $999

Antique Faux Bois Chairs – Were $1,895 (each), Now $899 (each)

If the canary nightmares aren't your taste but you've always dreamed of living life like a Keebler elf, Jayson's got you covered! The table is 31"W x 30"D x 20.5"H. I thought perhaps the height dimension might be a typo, but then I remembered that elves are small. No need for a human-height dining table. Of course, if you're human, you'll want to be the type who likes to relax while hunched over, and really, who doesn't? Haven't we all reclined long enough?

The matching chairs – there's a set of six available, and yes, they do total $5,394! – are 27.75"W x 23.75"D x 29.75"H with a seat height of 16.5" and a seat depth of 17.5", so it's a good thing the table isn't a normal height or else you'd need thighs no bigger than the thickness of notebook paper to scooch yourself underneath.

The table is early 20th Century and hails from England. The chairs are early 20th Century and were discovered in France.

Oh, and did I mention they're all made of cement? How delightful!

And lastly ...

Lane Square Ottoman

Lane Square Ottoman – Was $2,395, Now $799

Another stealerino! According to Jayson: "Our Lane Square Ottoman exudes refinement." It's 45"W x 45"D x 16.5"H and upholstered in graphite percale. (I'm pretty sure "percale" in this case is a fancy way of getting someone to pay too much for "cotton.") Except, of course, that no one's bought Lane yet. Which is odd, because all Jayson shoppers exude refinement. Except me. The last time I was there, I was embarrassed to be the only one not sporting a top hat and monocle. I'm surprised they even let me in. It must have been Pity Day.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Donna Day 2016 ...

Have you met Donna?

This image of her sits on my desk. It melts my heart. The words "Choose hope" appear below her.

And that – as with everything I write about Donna – is what this post is about.

Donna died on October 19, 2009. She was four.

She may no longer be present but she is still very much with us.

Today marks the fifth Donna Day. Today, on blogs and on Facebook and on Twitter — #donnaday — and across the Internet, we are sharing Donna's story and Donna's sweet, sweet face and doing our small parts to help Donna's Good Things raise money for St. Baldrick's.

Each year, many teams contribute to the Donna's Good Things St. Baldrick's event.

To date, the total stands at $373,472.

With the addition of this year's goal, that total will sail past $400,000. But with the generosity of folks like you, really, the sky's the limit.

Kids with cancer need us. Here's a statistic that should shock you:

"Only 4% of U.S. federal funding is dedicated to childhood cancer research."

Four percent.


Donna was four when she died.

But in those four years, even though she lived with cancer for more than half of her life, "Donna danced on the stage of the Auditorium Theater, consumed a mountain of macaroni and cheese, worried the winter trees were lonely and cold without their leaves and finally enjoyed the big girl swing all by herself. Donna was singular."

Donna was singular indeed.

But she was not alone.

"Worldwide, a child is diagnosed every 3 minutes."

By the time you finish reading this post, another child will have been diagnosed. And the lives of everyone who loves that child, in that instant, will have changed, inexorably and forever.

Each year, I am profoundly honored to be a part of Donna Day. And you can be a part of Donna Day, too. Share this post, share the St. Baldrick's link, learn more about childhood cancer, use #donnaday, and pledge to do more.

I encourage you to read Donna's Cancer Story. Meet Donna. Marvel at her intelligence and humor and truly indomitable spirit. She will inspire you as she's inspired so many of us.

Read about childhood cancer and the important work St. Baldrick's performs.

And then, please, contribute to this extraordinary cause.

And choose hope. Every day.

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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Sometimes A Girl Just Needs A Cookie ...

For as much as I like to bake, I haven't been quick to attempt many grain-free recipes. Which is for the best, really. Because when I do bake something, those somethings don't last.

To wit, my latest favorite flourless cookie.

I found a recipe a while back for flourless peanut butter cookies. With dark chocolate. And I made them fairly often.

But I'm mostly off of peanuts in addition to being off of grains (save for the occasional out-and-about, ready-to-gnaw-off-my-arm emergency Snickers bar), so I've become a devotee of almond butter.

And the other day, having made a Costco run, I had a bag of dried tart cherries in the house. Which I'd been eating out of hand but which, in a flash of inspiration, became the latest inclusion in the almond butter cookies. Which I'd been making with dark chocolate. And chopped toasted almonds, too.

Folks have asked me for the recipe and I've shared the link for the flourless peanut butter numbers and then explained all my tweaks. It'll be easier to share this link. And so, I give you ...

Flourless Almond Butter Cookies with Dark Chocolate, Toasted Almonds, and Dried Cherries

1 cup creamy almond butter*
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
Dark chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips)
Toasted almonds, chopped**
Dried tart cherries

Dump the first five ingredients in a bowl and mix until incorporated. Mix in the chocolate, almonds, and cherries. Portion in two-tablespoonful mounds onto parchment-lined baking sheets. (I use the large OXO cookie scoop.) Bake one tray at a time at 350°F for 13-15 minutes. Cool on baking sheet for five minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: About 24 cookies

* You could use crunchy if you like, and perhaps skip the chopped toasted almonds. Or supplement the chopped toasted almonds, better yet.

** I toast mine from the freezer for about 15 minutes at 350°F. Regardless of their starting state, just toast 'til they're fragrant, then let 'em cool.

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