Monday, December 31, 2007

Great in '08

Christmas has gone by in a blur of road trips, canceled get-togethers, sick days, elder care, crazy preparation and moments of pure relaxation. Both Craze and I have been sickly and snotty and generally under the weather. Nevertheless, I got some lovely and thoughtful gifts from family and enjoyed time just sitting looking at the Christmas lights with the snow falling quietly outside. And for once, I let myself eat little chocolate Santas without feeling guilty. This Christmas has been remarkable in the delight I've found in it being quite unremarkable. I've enjoyed the quietness of this holiday more than I can say or would have expected.

And now, New Year's Eve is already upon us. Unlike other years, I don't feel the need to make a list of resolutions or run around tidying up to get a jump on things before the new year strikes. Instead, I plan to tip toe quietly into 2008 and pull up a cozy chair and just get to know it a little before I bowl it over with a list of expectations. I don't know what's ahead, but I feel in my heart that I'm going to like this new year. In fact, if it doesn't sound too completely cheesy, I think me and '08 are gonna get along just great. If this new year was a person, I think it would be a kindred spirit. Someone who would knit me a nice, wooly scarf just because and tell me honestly, but kindly, to get a grip when I need a reality check. I look forward to making its acquaintance.

And as 2008 approaches, I'm hoping that everyone can feel some of the peace of mind I finally feel that I have. The peace of mind that I've worked so hard to find over the past few years.

I won't be wishing for more at midnight. I'll be looking around and gratefully counting my blessings. I won't be contemplating what this new year might bring to me, but I'm sure I'll be smiling as I think about the wondrous things that I could bring to it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Dab of Christmas Magic

Today I ran around finishing up some last minute Christmas shopping. And even though the past week has been super busy and I'm running on only five hours of sleep, I was in a great mood. I was noticeably more amiable with cashiers than usual. I let cars pull in from of me. I stopped to let people cross even when I didn't have to. I smiled at tired little children in shopping carts.

The more cheerful I got, the more it seemed to spread to those around me. People were helpful when they didn't have to be. More human even. Funnier.

Maybe that's just a bit of that Christmas magic we're all lead to believe exists around this time of year. If so, I'd like a bottle of it under the tree this year, please, so I can dab a little behind the ears whenever I'm feeling cranky and misanthropic.

And I'm hoping that everyone gets a dose of what I'm feeling and enjoys a wonderful holiday.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Hello, My Old Friends

I had a bad day today. It started out fine enough and a quick call sent it all speeding right downhill.

See, the thing is that a couple of weeks ago, I found out that my Dad has prostate cancer. His health is already pretty poor (he's been in a nursing home for five years even though he's only 76) and we're just waiting to find out if the cancer has spread elsewhere.

I've been kind of a rock about the whole thing. Very matter of fact. Hopeful that it hasn't spread and that, with hormones and radiation, we can just nip it in the bud. That without too much discomfort, we'll be able to maintain his quality of life.

But today just chatting with one of the nurses at the nursing home about all the testing appointments for my dad, the nurse Kim said this, "I'm so sorry to hear this about Charlie. He's such a nice man."

For some reason, those two sentences pushed me over an edge that I didn't even know was there. I couldn't talk for the next minute or so and burst into tears once I'd hung up the phone. Luckily, I had a counseling session already planned for today and so I went to Jane's office and just basically cried for an hour. I felt better afterwards and decided to put my bawling aside and get on with the rest of my day: Going to PetSmart for food. Filling the car with gas. Mailing our last little Christmas packages at the post office.

By the time I accomplished the first of these things it was four o'clock and, not having eaten lunch, I was starving. At that instant, what should conveniently be looming ahead of me but my old high school hang-out, Steak and Shake. I thought about just getting the grilled chicken sandwich and a bottle of water. Instead I went a little nutty.

"Yes, I'd like the Steakburger with Cheese, large onion rings and a vanilla shake. With hot fudge," I heard myself saying into the ordering podium, the possibility of a healthier lunch already forgotten.

Here's the thing: I have spent a good chunk of my life comforting myself with bad food. And, for the most part nowadays, I'm a pretty healthy eater. I might order one of the things I did today as a treat once in a blue moon, but never all three at once.

But I have to tell you, as a pulled away from the drive-thru and took the first sip of shake, things really did seem more right with the world. It wasn't just a "takhomasac" or whatever they call a hot bag of high-calorie foods at Steak and Shake sitting on the passenger seat next too me. I felt like I was in the company of old friends. It felt warm and reassuring. Certainly drive-thru dining is not a long-term coping strategy (unless I want to weigh 400 pounds!), but at that moment, it was just what I needed.

Oh, Christmas Tree

I am way overdue to Christmas-ize our home. When I was a kid, we were never allowed to put up our decorations too early. Though, oddly, I can't remember my mom's exact rule. Was it no holiday decorations until the week before or two weeks before Christmas? I honestly can't recall. What I loved though is that we always kept the tree up until Epiphany (Jan. 6th). And even though, as a kid, I was always annoyed that all my friends had festive trees and decor on the home front long before me, as an adult, I've pretty much kept to my mom's prohibitions (even if I can't remember the exact time frame).

When it comes to our Christmas tree, every year I like to drag out the same old stuff I've collected over the years--including the tree. I love the idea of a fresh tree, but hate the idea of cutting down a living thing for that purpose. Also, I like the idea that the same tree can spend so many happy times with my family. My particular fake tree is a skinny six-footer that I bought in the after-Christmas sales at Target more than ten years ago for less than five bucks. It's nothing special, but once it's decorated, it warms my heart with its loveliness.

And the decorations I've had for years. Ornaments from childhood are my favorites, those that bring back special memories of loved ones still here and those long gone. They're reminders of happy Christmases from long ago, those days when we had so much less, but never seemed to notice. I'm lucky to have hand-made treasures from friends and special children. Each year they're carefully unpacked and put in a place of honor. And the best part is the angel. When I was about four, my mother made a bunch of angels for a charity bazaar and kept just one. My angel is small and made of burlap and gold ric-rac with a friendly painted face that I have a vague memory of mom painting at our dining room table in those far-away days when we lived on Mackinac Island. Every year that angel looks down from the tree top with a kind of sweet benevolence. It reminds me that there are moments when, indeed, my mother is still here.

My tree definitely has no contrived theme. No matching color palette of carefully placed garland, ornaments and bows. On my tree, nothing matches and that's just the way I like it. The course of my life is the only common thread that unites its elements. Every little oddity has a story, a tree of tales you might say.

My big change this year is that I'm going with the larger, multi-color LED lights. They remind me of the big colored lights that we had when I was really little (before it was revealed that they were burning down people's homes and my parents hastily got rid of them). The new lights are more environmentally friendly. So, while things are much the same, we're greening up the Christmas tree a little you might say.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Happy Birthday, Bug!

The Bug is three years old today. We are so lucky to have her.

In the Spirit of the Season

I found this on Ms. Mamma's site and decided to join the gifting fray. Here's my proposition to any bloggers who may read my blog:

I will send a handmade gift to the first THREE people who leave a comment on my blog requesting to join this PIF (Pay It Forward) exchange. I don’t know what that gift will be yet and you may not receive it tomorrow or next week, but you will receive it within 365 days. That is my promise.

The only thing you have to do in return is Pay It Forward by making the same promise on your blog.

Anyone interested? The first three takers are in and I'll confirm the giftees.

And if you're really feeling generous and/or flush, please join me in getting a gift for a needy child this holiday season. I'm sure there are appropriate charities in your area. Personally, I'm going to get a letter to Santa via the Chicago Sun-Times Season of Sharing Fund. Ho, ho, ho.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

One of the Best Gifts

Yesterday Craze and I made our way to a suburban shopping mall to jump into the Christmas shopping thrall. I had painstakingly compiled a gifts-to-get list and felt particularly flush because I had a Bloomingdales coupon for an extra 20% of sale items AND a $250 Bloomingdales gift card that I got before leaving my old job by cashing in accumulated AMEX points. I was good to go to score some bargains. . . or so I thought.

Before we went too crazy, I decided to find out how much money was on the card (I thought it was mostly unspent) only to be told the card had expired and I was sent to customer service. Up on the third floor, a young, bespectacled woman was happy to help re-instate my cash. But sadly, I had clearly gone shopping in a now long-forgotten spree and only $62 bucks was left on the card. Can you say Christmas buzz-kill?

Nevertheless, we soldiered on and found some good bargains that should make everyone happy. When we tired, I cashed in a Starbucks coupon for a free "get a friend" coffee I've been carrying around in my wallet for weeks. I had the usual, Venti Skim Latte. Craze prefers the more extravagant fare and ordered a Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha. With whipped cream, thank you very much.

What I love most about these shopping expeditions with Craze, which don't happen very often, is that we work as a team. He carries the heavy stuff and never loses patience even though he doesn't love shopping. He doesn't mind when I spend fifteen minutes perusing the clearance racks in every department and holds things, even my purse, while I scout out bargains. He happily follows wherever I lead with never any rolling of the eyes or loudly expressed sighs of exasperation.

What a difference from shopping trips with old boyfriends and even some girlfriends.

I guess in the end, what I bought doesn't really matter. But the trip does reiterate that when it comes to really great gifts I've gotten in my life, my husband was and continues to be, one of the very best.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Snow's Not the Only Thing I Shovel

I've always been a good liar.

My mother always used to say that a liar has to have a good memory. Luckily for me, mine is excellent. And while I think myself particularly talented in the telling of untruths, I also value honesty very highly and usually try to stick to the straight and narrow as much as possible. It just feels lighter living with a clean slate. Leaves valuable memory cells free for more important things.

That said, I've certainly shoveled my fair share of shit over the years. But, I've almost never lied about anything really important. Probably my most significant, premeditated lying occurred in my early teens. For example, I made up a couple of stories and got my brother to back me up so that my parents wouldn't find out that we'd been smoking my dad's cigarettes.

I lied about how the yellow candle wax got on the sculptured, green upstairs hall carpet. I can't even remember what lie I told, but it was enough for my parents not to ground us right before my friend Sarah's thirteenth birthday party. Which is exactly what they would've done if they'd have found out that we'd had all the neighbor kids over one afternoon for a seance and knocked the candle over when some spooky shadow (shaped like an ax!) appeared on the wall. To my mind, that lie was pretty justified. After all, if my parents really wanted the house to be a seance-free zone when they were at work, they wouldn't have left me, at 12, solely in charge of my 9-year-old brother. All day. All summer long.

And of course, as I got older, I had new life experiences to weave tall(ish) tales about.

I've lied about how many men I've slept with. Not because I've done a lot of whoring around but because, on occasion in conversation, the number seemed pitifully low and it made me feel unsexy and undesirable to admit it. And besides, I totally feel that it's only right to count one man twice since there was a twelve-year gap between our sexual adventures and we were both different people during the second go around. There you go. Not lying, really.

I sometimes tell the story of the boyfriend I had just before I met Craze because it makes people laugh. The pre-husband boyfriend, Joe, had the smallest penis I'd ever seen except for, maybe, while diapering a toddler. So little in fact, that I only saw it once when it wasn't erect and it was like a little, flesh-colored button really. What's unfortunate about that story is that it doesn't involve even the tiniest bit of a lie.

I do though tell white lies occasionally about things most people lie about. How much I weigh for example (I claim less). How tall I am (I claim just slightly more).

I've told people they look fine when they really don't look their best but telling them so would only make them feel worse. I've told recruiters that I make more money than I actually do. Since working for myself, I've claimed to be on a conference call when I was really just catching up on laundry so I'd seem more in demand.

I've bought expensive items in their original boxes on eBay for a pittance, given them as gifts and let some people think I spent a fortune. Though I guess that last one isn't lying per se. It's just being kind of sneaky and, to my mind, pretty clever actually. Financially astute, even. Come to think of it, I pat myself on the back for that one.

Probably the worst lie I ever told was said to my mother. She had collapsed suddenly early one Sunday morning and couldn't catch her breath. After calling 911 for an ambulance, I sat with her trying to calm her. Sitting on the floor together at the side of my parents' bed, waiting for what seemed an eternity for the paramedics to arrive, I told her the same thing over and over again.

"Shhh," I'd say to her as she tried to speak, brushing her hair back from her forehead the way she always did to me as she sat at my bedside when I was trying to fall asleep. "Just be quiet. The paramedics will be here in a minute and you'll be fine. . . You'll be fine."

But she wasn't fine.

After she finally got to the hospital, she died less than three hours later after a particularly nasty battle with a rogue blood clot. She was only 50. "You'll be fine," was probably the last thing I ever said to her, yet again, as they carried her from our house on the gurney.

That's the only lie I've ever told that's really tortured me. Why, I'm not really sure. "You'll be fine," was really more a statement of a wish on my part than some contrived untruth.

Twenty-two years after her passing and thanks to two years of therapy, I've finally gotten over the guilt of that lie. And the stupidity of it really is that, wherever mom is, I'm sure she's never held it against me. Not even for a second.

But the candle wax, cigarettes and sex with HOW MANY men? That might be a different story altogether. . .

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Shoe That Doesn't Fit Anymore

Last week I interviewed for a job that I was somewhat excited about. . .initially. Though, since that day, I've had some misgivings about going back to fast-paced, corporate life. I need more of a regular income and, theoretically, if I got a job doing what I used to do, I could clean up.

But I have a feeling that it's not gonna happen.

I thought the interview last week went pretty well. I was witty, well-dressed and imminently qualified. But frankly, I had a job interview a couple of months ago that I thought was a shoe-in and nothing came of it. So much for my take on things. It's beginning to make me doubt myself when I've usually had such good instincts in the past.

The reality of the whole situation is that I need to make more money. My freelancing isn't reliable enough to keep my family afloat long term--at least not at the current pace. But going back to what I used to do just feels like I'm trying to force on a shoe that doesn't fit any more. Maybe prospective employers are sensing that, too?

When I think of being back in an office every day, the traffic of the commute, the hoards of weary-looking people, the traveling, the annoying clients, it makes me die a little inside.

I did the same work for almost twenty years and I'm honestly at a loss about what else I could do where I wouldn't have to start at the absolute bottom. I love to write and I feel more committed to that than ever. But in the short term, that's not going to help pay my mortgage.

I do feel certain about a way ahead for myself in terms of a long-term goal. I need to work on my writing projects and actually finish something. Be more goal oriented. Try to get something published. Be more authentically myself. That is the way forward.

But how do I find work in the meantime that makes me a decent amount of money and gives me some personal fulfillment? That is the quandary.

I wish so much that I knew the answer. Now. Today.

But the truth is that not knowing is just another part of this journey. And I need to embrace the uncertainty, too. Because the answer is up ahead, just out of sight. I'll find it soon enough. But I guess, if I've learned anything over the past couple of years, I know that how I come to it is just, if not more, important than the answer to it all.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Everything I Need to Know About Life, I Learned in My Kitchen

They said it would come and it did.

We got a good five inches of snow last night which I'm mentally readying myself to get my ass outside and shovel. I love how bright it is outside with new-fallen snow covering everything. It's like the world is glowing and the most ordinary things become, if only for a short time, magical works of beauty.

And then I fuck everything up by marring the perfection with my shoveling. Ah, the impermanence of it all. . .

On a completely different subject, but something I've been thinking a lot about lately. . .I know that people travel the world seeking enlightenment. They go to shrines and ashrams and the like. And I've done my fair share of globe trotting. But so far, no trip has ever been illuminated by the irrefutable clarity of some great life lesson. I seek, but I just don't find.

So, why is it that my most meaningful life moments always seem to take place in my kitchen?

It's where precisely 26 months ago I sat at our old, red linoleum table at the very end of my rope and actually decided that I was not smart enough to pull myself out of that pit. That for once in my life, I needed someone else's help.

And it was in the kitchen again yesterday that it came to me that these past 30 months of indecision, worry and searching have not been for nothing. These painful but also sometimes joyful moments and months weren't just something to get through. They were, in fact, my gift. And I also realized that the answers I've been searching for were there all along, walking beside me. It just wasn't time yet to see them.

At my darkest moment, what I needed to know sat right across from me at that old table. It looked at me, patient to wait, and wondered how long it would take for the light of recognition to come into my eyes.

The light is finally there I think. And like the glow of the newly-fallen snow, it is vibrant and lovely and so, so bright. I am happy to finally see it and surprised by its familiarity. And more than that, it feels like it lights a path in front of me and I think I finally know what it is I'm meant to do.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

December Lameness

Two days after Thanksgiving, the day we were down in Dixie readying ourselves for a 10+ hour drive home to the Land of Lincoln, I got it. That horrible, sore, scratchy throat feeling and the need for an endless supply of tissues (preferably the kind "with lotion").

For a week, I haven't been able to shake it off. It's one of those colds that just makes you feel sleepy all the time (perhaps from lack of oxygen, since breathing has been an issue)--so between sniffling and naps, it's hard to get motivated to start, let alone finish, new household or holiday projects.

Then in the middle of this, I had a job interview. I geared myself up with as many over-the-counter remedies as I could take at one time so as not to appear snotty and germ ridden. I think I pulled it off pretty well. Then I drove home, wrote a follow-up email to my potential employers, put on my "I'm sick, I don't have to look presentable" clothes, laid on the couch and promptly fell asleep for three hours.

When I'm not interviewing or napping, I've been watching a lot weepy holiday movies on the Hallmark channel and crying way too much. Craze just shakes his head in dismay at my overdosing on the bad Hallmark productions. "Meet the Santas" with an overly tanned, glibly-ho-ho-ho-ing-at-every-occasion Steve Guttenberg was particularly awful, but never the less had me tearing up a couple of times.

A virus made me sick. But I don't believe that same bug can be blamed for making me so exceedingly lame!

Monday, November 26, 2007

All That Really Matters

I'll never know the particulars of how it happened.

In my imagination, it's always a youngish woman who dropped her off at the shelter. But it could have been a man or even a couple. And they might not have been young. And I don't know if they were white or black or Hispanic. I guess it really doesn't matter. I always imagine that they weren't very well to do. After all, I always think it's the less-educated, lower-income people who don't get their pets fixed in the first place and allow them to breed. Maybe some don't know any better. Or they just can't afford it. Or they're careless.

All I know is that the person who brought her to Chicago Animal Care and Control told the employee on duty behind the wide beige official-looking desk that their dog, a collie mix, had had puppies. "Midnight," as she came to be known at the shelter, was the only one that they couldn't find a home for and, so, at seven weeks, they took her from her mother and brought her there to be rid of her.

Whether they just sat her on the seat of the car, bundled her in an old towel or put her in a cardboard box for the car trip to the shelter I don't know. It must have been cold outside though, because it was January. I can imagine that she cried being taken from her mother and the only people she'd ever known out into that cold world.

I'm jealous if I'm truly honest. Jealous that I never saw her when she was really tiny. Jealous that mine weren't some of the first hands to hold her and pet her soft, fluffy black and white fur like I do now every morning when I wake up and she's lying on the bed cuddled up next to me.

I think of the people who owned her mother as cruel. Taking a little puppy from its mother so early and leaving her to an unknown fate in that chilly, concrete place. Only the month before her arrival, the Chicago shelter had had a rampant outbreak of distemper and every dog in the place had to be put to sleep. But that didn't stop them from leaving her there all the same.

I blame them in a way for making her so shy, so fearful. But these people who I judge so harshly, and I'm also sure unfairly, unknowingly gave me the best gift ever. Because it was at that same shelter two weeks later when I first saw that little dog and, like the proverbial thunderbolt out of the blue, I knew she had to be mine.

It really was love at first site. And I didn't even go there to get a dog. I was just there for work. But once I saw her and then held her for the first time, I knew I couldn't be parted from her.

It took me several days to work on Craze. To convince him that we should get this dog he'd never even seen. That we did, in fact, need a dog in the first place. But finally he gave into my relentless nagging. He wasn't happy about it, but I think he'd have done anything at that point just to shut me up.

And the next day when I called the shelter, "Midnight" was still there. Still homeless. Just a little ten-week-old collie mix all alone in the world. And I told them I'd be there that night to get her.

Now, almost three years later, I'm so thankful to those "cruel," faceless people who brought her to the shelter. Today all thirty-five pounds of the Bug, as I call her now, sits near my feet gnawing on a rawhide as I type this. She is still black and white and fluffy and so, so beautiful. And while she is fearful of most people she does not know, she is the kind of dog that seems to smile most of the time.

People stop us all the time and ask what kind of dog she is and we can never answer. All we know for sure is that she is ours and we are hers. And as far as her story goes, that is all that really matters.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Good Night Gratitute

Lately as I snuggle down into my pre-warmed bed (my heated mattress pad is the savior of my seasonally Arctic bedroom), tucked around with my favorite duvet and soft, well-worn sheets, the Bug at my side (she's always in bed before Craze), it's one thought that comes to mind.

And it doesn't matter if I've had a happy day, a boring one or even a day that I mentally described as a "write-off." At the end of each day, just before I drift off to sleep, I try to think of three things that I'm grateful for.

Typically, I find myself saying the same things:

No. 1) I'm grateful for my wonderful and frustrating husband who often annoys me but I wouldn't want to live without.

No. 2) I'm grateful for my dog who is the most beautiful mutt you've ever seen and is the best dog ever (even though she really isn't) and has brought a special joy to my life that I didn't have before I found her.

No. 3) And finally, I give a word of thanks for my house. It is old and ordinary. There's not an inch of granite or stainless steel to be found (unless you count the cutlery), but it is warm and comfortable and cheerful. I love that it holds some of my favorite pieces of furniture from childhood and the bright colors of our walls. I like to think of the families who lived here in the 81 years before we bought it. I think they must have been happy because it's just that kind of place. And I feel lucky that, for now, I get to call it "home."

And then in that space of time between wakefulness and sleep, I often get annoyed with myself that I am so repetitive in my gratitude. Always with the husband, dog, home. So predicable! So I challenge my brain to be a little more searching of my day and creative with my thanks and more things pop to mind.

The other night I said I was grateful for being asked to make Thanksgiving brunch for 25 people at my husband's uncle's house, even though that morning I was frankly pissed off to have the assignment dumped in my lap. But then I decided I was just being sort of lazy and I should take it on with a better attitude. And I was grateful that this culinary request had challenged my thinking in that way.

I also find myself remembering and being thankful for little moments during my day. Snapshots really, of something only I, in all the world, saw or experienced. The little sparrow endlessly preening on my back porch railing. The way the evening sunlight cast a golden aura during my dog walking. The breeze that felt chill on my cheek, that particular mixture of autumn with a hint of the winter to come.

And even on the days that I do deem a "write-off," my gratitude Top 3 are still there. And that in itself could be reason No. 4. . .

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Making Allowances for His Mess

For the past couple of days on Oprah, they've been featuring a story about the lives of hoarders. Specifically, one poor woman in her '60s who had turned her 3,000 sq. ft. home into a maze of paths through four- or five-foot-high piles of stuff.

And it reminded me that, while my husband is not anywhere near this bad (thank God!), he clearly does have a problem.

When we bought our house, it had a giant unfinished basement that we were going to remodel and make into his collection/music room. In addition to this giant space, he also had two bedrooms for his own use. One room was for records, the other for CD's.

In the six years that we've been here, none of his spaces has ever been organized and are now SO disorganized (because he's continued to add to his crazy collections) that you can barely walk into the rooms. A couple of years ago, I kicked him out of the record room because it was a dark and dingy hovel that you couldn't get into at all. Instead, I made it into an office that is light and bright and a usable space. But the other two areas have remained a mess and I just really can't take it much longer.

While watching Oprah, I made him watch part of it, too. And I couldn't stop myself from telling him that he has the same problem as this women, just not so bad. I also told him that I'm tired of having a home that's defined by his problem. With his stuff everywhere, it's not a fair representation of both of us. And it's certainly not the home I ever imagined owning or living in. Everything is a compromise to his clutter.

Now compromise is certainly key to marital harmony, but it's not fair that I'm always the one making allowances for his mess.

To be fair, he has gotten rid of some stuff in the past year or so. About a year ago, he finally parted with the dust-mite-ridden, broken, stained and downright ugly La-Z-boy recliner that he insisted on bringing from his old apartment to our new home. Once here, it had languished untouched in the basement for five years. To this day, it riles me up that we paid movers good money to transport that hulking piece of crap instead of just putting it out on the curb.

And as I've written about before, we did have a yard sale about a month ago and got rid of some stuff. But truthfully anything that Craze got rid of was just a tiny fraction of the stuff he's still hanging onto.

I'm a little bit at my wit's end. How do you convince someone that they need to purge when they don't see a problem? In the past, I've threatened him, yelled, cried, pleaded. Nothing seems to motivate him to get it organized and under control. He's perfectly content for our overnight guests to squeeze past thousands of dusty, piled up comic books and action figures to get to their bed in what's supposed to be the "Guest Room" (not the record, CD or comics room). To me, it's a sad, embarrassing and unacceptable joke.

And the worst of it? I often think that all these piles of musty stuff are so much more important to him than I am. After all, he actively reiterates this daily in his unwillingness to organize what he has and his constant purchasing of new items that have no place to go despite my pleas to stop.

And that's the saddest part of all.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Something Worth Buying

Have you seen those pop up ads online for a product called Dermitage that show a REALLY, REALLY, REALLY wrinkled woman who magically morphs into a fresh, line-less beauty before your eyes? And somehow we're supposed to believe that their product not only does this, but according to their ad it bestows the miracle of "less wrinkles in 10 minutes."

Every time I log into yahoo mail, there she is again. That hideous wrinkled face smiling at me. "Hey lady, if I looked like you, I sure as hell wouldn't be smiling," I've found myself muttering at the computer screen when her visage pops up again.

This kind of bogus advertising really annoys the crap out of me. Are people, especially women who are clearly their target, REALLY that stupid? I'm guessing not. But, I SO hate ads like this that insult the intelligence of me and every woman I know.

For one thing, the woman in the ad looks to be in her '30s, but she's been photo shopped to look like an ancient cadaver freshly unearthed by grave robbers (except for her lovely blond hair, which is picture perfect at all times). No one I know in their '30s,'40s, '50s or even 60+ looks this awful. Not even my now quite-wrinkled, sunscreen-eschewing, sun-worshiping friends. I think you could really only look this bad if you've been involved in some kind of unfortunate boiling oil accident. Or possibly if you've smoked all your life and are pushing 140.

I know this type of advertising isn't regulated by the FDA, because it's not a food or a drug, but surely there's got to be a governing body that should be taking issue with this junk. It's an outright lie.

So needless to say, I am not fooled by their fancy photo shop gimmicks. And I won't be giving the Dermitage people a penny of my hard-earned cash. Staying out of the sun and a daily dab of sunscreen may not work "in ten minutes," but I'm sure they're both better long-term investments in a less-wrinkly me.

Now, if only I could find product that would wipe the image of that old hag off of my computer screen in ten minutes. That might be worth buying.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Love in the Time of Lunch

Today like most days, I found myself sitting in front of the computer writing around noon. And since I didn't have any consulting jobs in the hopper, I was just goofing around.

Then the phone rang. It was my cute husband bemoaning the fact that he was half way out to the northern suburbs when his job got canceled. So, he was turning around and heading back to his office in the Loop.

And then, unexpectedly, about 30 minutes later, I heard the back door open and the Bug excitedly ran down the stairs. Her master was home. Surprised, I yelled down from upstairs, "Do you want me to make you some lunch?"

"You weren't expecting me, huh?" Craze said mischievously, his head appearing around the banister on the stairs. The next thing I know he's standing next to me and he says with a smirk, "I have to go back to the office but I came here first to see if I could get some sex. Know where I could find some?"

That Craze is a naughty, naughty man.

Needless to say, he found what he was looking for before being sent back to work with a sack lunch and a smile on his face.

All I can say is that lunch here at home isn't usually so. . .interesting.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Future Finally in the Making

We had a visitor this past weekend.

Craze has a friend named Alan he's known since high school who is a really troubled guy. Until about six months ago, he lived in a one-bedroom apartment in a questionable neighborhood in Chicago. And to be truthful, more than his neighborhood was questionable where Alan was concerned.

He'd given up having any kind of real job more than ten years ago and instead become an unlicensed "massage therapist." I use that term loosely as I know, for a fact, that more than just massage was involved in his late night out-calls.

When I met him for the first time more than seven years ago, he had been surly and high. He didn't think twice about lighting up a joint right in front of me in Craze's apartment and ignored me in such a way that made it clear that he didn't think I'd be around for long. And my first opinion of him was that there wasn't much to like about Alan.

And months later when Craze filled me in about his suspicions about Alan's line of work, I couldn't believe that I even knew someone like this. After all, I had always been squeaky clean where any illegal or immoral activities were concerned. I certainly wasn't perfect and one person's morality can certainly be another's immorality, but I'd never in my life imagined that I would hang out with anyone engaged in prostitution. To this day, the word still sticks in my throat when I try to say it out loud.

P-R-O-S-T-I-T-U-T-I-O-N. Surely it was a word, at least in my life experience, reserved for bad Lifetime and ABC Movies of the Week. How could I know someone who did this for a living?

Over the years, Craze and I have had about a million conversations about Alan. We both knew he was on a bad path and tried to tell him as much many times. But he never wanted to listen. Things were going fine according to Alan, and while he said he appreciated our concern, we could basically go to hell.

That is, until two years ago.

Around that time, Alan's best customer moved out of town. And with him, went Alan's main source of income. What followed were 24 torturous months where Alan finally began looking for a real job. But with his lack of any real work experience and far greater lack of social skills, he never had a prayer. Several suicide attempts followed, two of which landed him in Chicago Reed, the local mental hospital, where they took away his shoe laces and sharp objects.

Through all this, Craze stood by his friend. Not because Alan was even moderately likable on many, if not most, occasions, but because Craze knew that he literally had no one else except his parents who live hours away in Michigan.

And his parents are another story entirely. They're two of the oddest people I've ever met. Blue-collar, conservative Catholics with more than a hint of right-wing fundamentalism (and some staunch beliefs that seem downright Amish!), their life experience where Alan has been concerned is an odd mix of sympathetic help offered through the filter of their stilted belief system. And to put an even stranger twist on their pious personas, in Alan's younger years, much of his relationship with his parents involved extreme violence.

How do I know this? Well, over the years as I got to know Alan more, the man, who at first haughtily ignored me and, honestly, I still found it difficult to like, began to confide things in me. Always in odd, unlikely moments when Craze stepped away for a second. He told me how as a kid, his father had beaten him up numerous times. Once he was so badly beaten that he couldn't go to school for several days because of all the bruises. Or I heard about the time he lay powerless in his childhood bedroom just listening as his father beat and then, he believed, raped his mother while she screamed.

They were the kinds of stories you cringe upon hearing. Stories that someone like me, who was lucky enough to have mostly kind parents, finds hard to fathom.

But once I knew these things, Alan's inability to create any kind of normal life for himself became much more easy to understand. And as a result, my judgments about him and his life choices became less harsh. As obnoxious as the guy could be, it was clear that, on most days, he hated himself.

And then about six months ago at the end of his financial rope (he owed money to us and his parents, his landlord, the phone company, you name it) and with the realization that he really didn't want to kill himself, he actually did something he swore he'd never do--he moved home to Michigan to live with his retired parents and try to get his life together.

The solution that I was sure would come to blows in the first week, has, shockingly, worked out pretty well. I think in trying to make amends for his horrific childhood, his parents have actually provided him a strong base of support. They encouraged Alan to go back to school to become a patient care technician and he's the star pupil. And they drive him to his evening job, where he's joined a rag-tag mob of pot-smoking outsiders and gang-bangers who work as charity fund-raising telemarketers. He's paid us back some of the money he owes us and is also paying back his parents. At 41 with the help of mom and dad, he finally seems to be getting his shit together.

And then, he arrived last Friday for a weekend visit via Amtrak. I could tell from the outset that he was trying hard to be on his best behavior. He even thought to bring me cans of the Cafe du Monde coffee he knows I like.

Saturday, we invited a few friends over for cocktails since Alan rarely gets a lot of time to socialize in suburban Detroit (after all, it's hard to build a new social network when, at 41, you have neither cash nor a car and live with your parents). But at our gathering, he actually went out of his way to make conversation, which was out of character. And he seemed to have a good time.

Sunday morning after a unusually meaty breakfast of sausage, bacon, eggs and toast in Alan's honor, Craze was about to take Alan back to Union Station when he ducked into the basement to look for a CD. Putting his coat on, Alan looked across the kitchen at me and said out of nowhere, "Do you think I'm doing good? Do you think I'm doing the right things? I'm so stupid. I've wasted so much time."

"You can't look backwards," I said after a moment, taken aback somewhat by the question. "The past is the past. You can't change it so there's no point spending your energy wishing it had been different. All you can do is move forward. . . And you're on a good path, Alan. I know it's got to be tough living with your parents, but you just have to keep reminding yourself that it's temporary. It's something you need to live through to get you to a better place. You're on your way now. And you'll get there."

Alan shook his head in agreement, but not with any kind of real confidence, as Craze emerged from the basement. And a moment later, they were both gone. Craze to Union Station and then to errands at Home Depot. Alan heading back to the train that would take him away from his old hometown and back to the place where his future is, fingers crossed, finally in the making.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Dream On

It happened again last night.

That recurring dream about the house I'm moving into with undiscovered rooms. From dream to dream, the houses are always different, but I'm always delighted to find more living space that's NOT filled up with Craze's crazy hodgepodge of stuff.

In each case, I set about putting it all in order with an immense sense of satisfaction. And, as I've done unsuccessfully in my own home in real life, am able to contain Craze's collection so that it isn't everywhere.

And then I wake up.

The good feelings about getting my house in good order dissipate pretty quickly. Believe me, I've looked for hidden troves of additional storage space inside my own four walls, but they're just not there. And the realization is a sad awakening.

But more than anything, I wonder what this dream says about me. Could it all just be about my frustration with my husband's stuff? Or does it have some deeper meaning? Perhaps there are hidden "rooms" within me, filled with wonder and delight, just waiting to be uncovered. Capacities for good things I can't yet imagine? Uncluttered spaces within where my life's journey hasn't taken me yet?

Either way, I look forward to that day of discovery. I'd put the space to good use.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Detroit Did, Indeed, Suck

Last night Craze and I did something quite out of the ordinary. We actually attended a sporting event! Now, for any normal person, this might not seem extraordinary. But for the couple who regularly profess to abhor most professional sports, it was extremely out of character.

One of the things I loved about my husband when I first met him was his lack of interest in the manly pursuit of sports viewing. He doesn't care about basketball, football, you name it, and I've always thought that was GREAT. But for some reason, my Motown man has decided in the past couple of years that professional hockey isn't so bad. And he loves watching his home-town Detroit Red Wings whenever he can. And so about a week or so ago when he heard that they were playing the Blackhawks at the United Center last night, he's been buzzing about getting tickets.

And since I should make an effort every now and again to do something I don't think I'll really enjoy, just to try something new, I begrudgingly agreed to go with him.

We scored free parking near the United Center, which was a coup. And then got two tickets from a scalper for $20 each (saving $24 off the box office price). When we got to our seats, the teams were already on the ice.

Oddly, once I started paying attention, I actually thought it was a lot of fun. It's amazing to watch the players glide around the ice at incredible speed with an odd combination of grace, agility and aggressiveness. The Red Wings were on a nine-game winning streak and only had to beat the Blackhawks for a ten-win league record. But it was not to be.

The Blackhawks scored two goals in the first period and the Red Wings just couldn't catch up. On a couple of occasions, sticks were dropped onto the ice and punches were thrown. And in between all the on-ice action, there were the loud random chants of "Detroit Sucks!" and the calls of the sweaty, overweight beer man hawking his $6 Buds and Bud Lights.

So, am I going to become an NHL fanatic? Probably not. But the experience did remind me that sometimes it's actually worth getting off the couch and out of the house to try something that I don't think I'll enjoy. If I make the effort to do something out of the ordinary, I might be pleasantly rewarded. Sadly, this was not the case for the Detroit team last night who did, indeed, suck.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Chilly State of Affairs

My brother and I have a semi-adversarial relationship.

It came to a head just a little over a year ago when I got one condescending email too many from him instructing me about something I was supposed to do in quite a rude manner. I retorted with one of the longest, and probably meanest, emails I've ever sent into the ether telling him I'd had enough. Needless to say, what followed was several months of silence on both our sides.

I refused to communicate with him and he with me. And if I'm perfectly honest, I didn't really mind that. In fact, I even sort of liked it.

Being incommunicado meant I didn't have to participate in any of the strained family gatherings that had come to be a semi-annual norm. There were no gritted teeth and fixed jaw during our brief phone conversations because there was no contact. And since our only real tie is an elderly father in a nursing home with limited memory capacity, our estrangement really didn't effect any one else either (except for my husband who is close to his family and thought the whole thing was "crazy" and "weird"). My young niece and nephew might have noticed Aunt Maggie's absence if their father had every really made an effort to make me a regular part of their lives. However since he hadn't, not seeing me was, for them, the norm.

But the thing about my brother is, he's all about appearances. He drives a Lexus. Wears Ralph Lauren at every opportunity. Lives in an affluent suburb devoid of any old-growth trees where every house looks like the one next door. Maintains a perfectly manicured lawn with tasteful seasonal decorations that never go up too soon or stay up too long. And so, when Christmastime rolled around, it clearly seemed unforgivable to him to let it pass without extending an olive branch and pretending like none of the silence and anger between us had ever really happened.

But for me, that just wasn't acceptable.

I had stored up so many slights over the years that there was no way that I was just going to move on without letting him know that the status quo of our relationship had to change dramatically. So, one cold and snowy day about a week before Christmas, I met him at the neutral ground of a suburban sports bar/restaurant for lunch and told him everything I'd been holding back. For three hours, he sat through my barrage of anger and hurt feelings shaking his head every now and again, his mouth hanging open most of the time in what appeared to be disbelief. And while he never denied a single thing that I accused him of, frustratingly, he never apologized either.

At the end of that meeting, we agreed to move forward and in the year that followed he's made some small efforts to bridge the gap between us. I have to, at least, give him that.

But today, on the phone with him again, I felt that horrible yet familiar feeling creep up the back of my neck. My jaw tensed. My teeth began grinding silently together. In chatting about Christmas, I told him that I was going to take my Dad out of the nursing home and have him stay with me for a couple nights. He's done it before and loves it. And he's never broken a hip or gone into a diabetic coma on my watch.

When I told him of my plans, my brother said flatly, "I don't think that's advisable," in a voice that for him, seemed like the final word on the subject. This coming from the man who lives about 15 minutes from my dad, but barely has time to visit him maybe once a month.

For some reason, my younger brother feels like he has veto power over my decisions regarding my father. And the reality is, he doesn't.

Why is it that any time we discuss holiday get-togethers, it feels like a battle? Why can't things just be more easy going between my family and his? And why is it that within the confines of the tiny family I have left, we can't actually like each other. . .even a little bit?

If my mother was alive, she'd be none too happy about our chilly state of affairs. But maybe if she was alive and had been with us for the past twenty-plus years, it never would have come to this. My brother and I really couldn't have been more different growing up. And the truth is that the love for our mom was probably one of the few things we did have in common. "Did" being the operative word.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

It Was Never in the Bag

I was reading a well known blog today where the writer mentioned that she had a hankering for a very expensive (almost two grand!) Gucci bag. Unless you've seen the posting yourself, you cannot imagine the tidal wave of vitriolic comments that followed.

While I personally don't give a hoot whether the writer (someone I don't even know) shells out big bucks for a status purse or not, it totally reminded me of my own high-priced handbag fiasco.

A couple of years ago, I was about three months into my new work-for-myself-from-home, try-to-get-back-my-life phase. I'd quit my high-profile job with a big company and while you'd think that I'd be reveling in my time off, it was not the case. I was mired in depression and self doubt. Being blackberry and conference-call free wasn't getting me out of the hole I'd dug myself into with my workaholic ways.

And aside from spending much of my days in my PJ's and, oddly, tuning into Jerry Springer, I developed one burning obsession--the Balenciaga Le Dix handbag, preferably in a decadent, chocolaty brown leather.

I had seen it in the hands of celebs on the pages of US Weekly and People. I knew that it sold for well over $1,000 but I felt like I had to have one. Trying to find a bargain, I was tempted to go on ebay to see what was available there. And, let me tell you, there were lots to be had.

Suddenly I found myself pouring over auctions highlighted with glossy photos of the Olsen Twins casually carrying this coveted item on their Starbucks runs. I carefully checked the feedback stats of potential sellers to try and weed out the authentic bags from the knock-offs on offer. I thought about that damned bag constantly. Dreamed of how my life would be so much more glamorous if I possessed it. How I would feel different. How somehow in possessing this bag, all the pieces of my life's puzzle would suddenly fit neatly and comfortably together.

I broke down really late one night and bid on a brown one that was guaranteed authentic and won. And while I never paid four figures for it, it was and is the most expensive purse I've ever bought. Days passed as I impatiently waited for the mailman to bring me my miraculous purchase. Each day that it didn't arrive seemed painful.

Then I got it.

Actually having it in my hands was, sadly, an enormous anti-climax. It looked like the bag I committed to purchase online. It had all the tags with the right words and authentic-looking serial numbers. A little golden plate stitched inside the bag proudly proclaimed "Balenciaga." But it didn't feel right. Surely the leather of a super expensive bag would be of much nicer quality. And wouldn't it have something better than plain, old black fabric lining? I was sure I'd been duped. And to confirm my suspicions, the moment that I decided to email the seller about my dissatisfaction, he was permanently removed from ebay by ebay. No explanation was given--he was just gone. No doubt because there were other women across the country who had stared at their expensive purchases with the same misgivings. And so, I was stuck with it.

Ashamed of my idiocy, I stuck the bag straight in my closet and didn't use it for a year. Not only did the sting of being ripped off smart, but more than anything, I felt really stupid for coveting something so ridiculously expensive and giving it so much power over my thoughts and desires. It was, after all, just a stupid handbag. And since when had I ever given a flying fuck about anything that Mary Kate or Ashley Olsen had? It was completely irrational.

Last year around this time, I finally took it out of my closet and decided to use it. I couldn't return it, so I decided I might as well get some use out of it. Lots of women I knew would "ooh" and "aah" over it when they saw me carrying it. But only I knew that they were, in a small part, being as foolish as I had been. Carrying that bag didn't make me cooler or smarter or more successful. In fact, it didn't solve anything in my then-fractured life.

Given the choice again today, I would totally put the money towards the mortgage, buy some stock or just put the cash away for a future rainy day.

But all-in-all, buying the questionably-Balenciaga bag was an interesting life lesson about giving things the power they don't deserve. I realized that no fancy bag (replace "bag" with "car," "diamond, "house,"--it's all the same) can change my life or draft a better and more whole definition of who I am. Only I have the power to do that. And while making my life better was never "in the bag," the self knowledge I gained from the "Great Handbag Debacle 2005" was actually worth every penny.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Christmas in. . . November? Bah! Humbug!

I get that the holidays are grossly over-commercialized. And I rolled my eyes and cringed when, a few weeks before Halloween, I heard the first TV commercial for the Radio City Music Hall Rockette's Christmas Spectacular. But I get that they sell tickets in advance, so it wasn't too much of an afront.

But then a day or two after Halloween, I was driving in my car and turned on the radio to WLIT ("the Lite" as it's known here in Chicago) only to have my ears and sensibilities thoroughly assaulted by a chorus of Little Drummer Boy.


Now, don't get me wrong. I LOVE Christmas as much as the next birth-of-Jesus celebrant. I bake cookies. Wrap presents. Decorate a tree and watch Scrooge and A Christmas Story far too many times. But do I want my Christmas season to begin on November 1st? No. No, I don't.

When I should be looking forward to the most American of holidays, Thanksgiving, and thinking of all I have to give thanks for, is it Little Town of Bethlehem and It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas that I want playing in the background of my life? Absolutely not.

Since when did the November-December period cease being about individual holidays and start being Thanksmas? I don't like it one bit. Not one little bit.

And so, a couple of days ago, I decided to do something about it. I actually went to the radio station Web site and sent them an email telling them that I didn't want to hear a single Christmas song until the day after Thanksgiving. And to show my displeasure about their premature caroling, I told them that I was not going to listen to their station AT ALL this holiday season. And further more, I was deleting them from my cherished radio pre-sets.

If you asked Craze, he'd say that I get what I deserve for listening to the lame, middle-of-the-road pop music that they play on The Lite anyway. But for me, it's really about keeping something special. I love chocolate, but if I had to eat it all the time, it wouldn't be so great. Christmas song favorites are a little like chocolate. Especially delicious when only eaten occasionally but sickening if consumed too much and too often.

Monday, November 05, 2007

More Right Than Wrong

Windows got cleaned with hot water and vinegar. Window screens got hosed off and dried in the sun. The drafty front door finally got weather-proofed. The broken storage chest upstairs is now fixed. Halloween decorations were carefully stashed away for next year. And that pesky fan with the power cord that the Bug chewed through has been banished. All the spaces underneath the couches are now dust-bunny- and animal-hair-free zones. And the new curtain rod for our bedroom that's been sitting in my closet for a year is now actually up and holding curtains.

This weekend didn't achieve all my ends in terms of new order cleanliness/tidiness, but it was a great start. Craze was not happy to spend most of his weekend on various projects, but got in there and worked hard none the less. I still have to conquer my office which is a real mess, but with all this other stuff done, I feel renewed enthusiasm.

I know the holidays are going to be busy and I'm trying to get out in front of them. I really want to enjoy them this year versus running, running, running and then feeling like I'm still running out of time. I don't want to worry that I haven't had time to dust the ceiling fans or the edges of the book shelves that I just know my sister-in-law will look at with disdain and stand in judgement of our household habits. And besides worrying about her, I get sick of looking at that dusty light fixture every day. What a pleasure it will be to look around me and find more things right with my home than wrong.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Clean Up Day

Our house is a morass of clutter. In every room there's some randomly placed item(s) that has been left there and will stay there forever unless drastic measures are taken.

Therefore, today has been declared "Clean Up Day" by yours truly. Craze is none too happy about it, but it must be done. We must bring order to the chaos. Tidiness will reign again.

Ok. . .let's see how far we get. . .more to come.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Rules of Halloween Engagement

Last year Craze went on a tear at Halloween (you can read all about it in my 11/1/06 post). This year, we had even more spooky decorations casting a green glow down the street. Mini tortured heads floated in the breeze of our front porch. A glowing man appeared to be trying to claw his way out of our front lawn and eerily lit skulls were dotted in front of our bushes.

However after a long day at work, Craze was cranky when he donned his Dracula cape and ghoul mask to hand out candy to the local kids. And for the most part, the trick-or-treaters did nothing to lift his mood. Many were really quite annoying. So, as the evening wore on, he came up with his list of rules for proper trick-or-treating. Here they are:

Rule 1) Only one visit per person. You can't keep coming back to the same house multiple times to get more candy. And that means you, Brian (our 9-year-old neighbor who not only came back twice, but possibly FOUR times)!

Rule 2) No costume. No candy. Since when do people just get to come to your door for free stuff without making the least little bit of Halloween effort? At the very least, stick a cheap-ass pair of Dracula fangs in your mouth. Jeez! Every time one of these costume shirkers came ringing the bell, Craze would just look at them with dismay and say sarcastically, "What are you?"

Rule 3) No skanky-looking adults (pretty much all 30-40 year old men) sans kids claiming that they're collecting candy for their kid who's in a car (somewhere out of sight). Please. Are you really that hard up for candy? You can get a Jumbo Bag of peanut butter cups for $2.50 at K-Mart. Is your financial situation so dire that you need to get your candy fix by knocking on strangers' doors (uncostumed no less!) and claim that you're collecting out of the goodness of your heart for your non-existent child? Weird and pathetic.

Rule 4) Along the lines of Rule 3, what's up with parents who come up to the door with their kids and an extra bag? Some claim that they are also collecting for another unseen child. Some say it's for "the baby" (and why the hell is your baby eating candy, ma'am?). While others just mumble something undecipherable under their breath and you just know that they are getting candy for themselves. What the?!?

Rule 5) Do not ring my doorbell after 9 p.m. looking for candy for the sleeping toddler in a stroller on the sidewalk that you're dragging around the neighborhood. If the kid conks out, stop ringing doorbells and TAKE THEM HOME and tuck them in bed. What's wrong with you people? It's way past their bed time.

Rule 6) Proper Halloween etiquette should be followed at all times. That means when we open the door, you actually say, "Trick or Treat!" and hold up your bag for me to deposit your treat. Don't just stand there looking at me with an annoyed expression as if I'm not giving you the candy fast enough. Once you get the candy, say "thank you." We spent our hard-earned cash on candy. The good stuff, mind you, not the crappy candy we hated getting as kids. You get it for free. The least you can do is offer a word of thanks. Especially if you're over the age of six (or sixteen, as we saw in several cases last night).

Rule 7) Show some enthusiasm. Craze loves it when kids are delighted by all his decorations and his own scary get-up. He'll enthusiastically complement the kids' costumes, too, and frequently talk to them in a funny, monster-ish voice. It cracks up the kids and their parents. When you show that you love Halloween and really get in the spirit, fun ensues. It's a win-win for everyone.

Note to Self: Six jumbo bags of candy are enough. DO NOT BUY NINE as you did this year. It's just overkill. And give extra candy to the kids who are living up to the true spirit of Halloween. God knows we don't need leftover peanut butter cups hanging around the house. Or more precisely, making their way into your mouth and eventually onto your behind.

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Way I Am

I'm totally in love with this song. Check it out at:

(Sorry people, if indeed anyone ever reads this, I haven't figured out how to put in links yet)

But back to the song, I think the lyrics are brilliant (how can you not love a song that references Rogaine and patches?). I wish I'd written them myself. Yes, that's right, Ingrid, I'm jealous. But I love your song more. And your voice is pretty great, too.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Every Stitch, A Wish for Happiness

My mom was one of the greatest knitters of all time.

And while this statement may possibly exaggerate her skills, her talent was truly awesome. It probably came from growing up in England during the war. With everything rationed, my mother and her twin sisters were charged with knitting their own sweaters from an early age. When they grew out of something, she told me how they'd unravel the garment and use the old yarn to make something new for themselves or someone else. Nothing went to waste and their knitting prowess provided them with what they needed for those damp, bone-chilling English winters.

So, growing up, I always had the nicest handmade sweaters. Usually in a favorite color, purple or red were popular, and they featured the lovely, lacy open work patterns that my mother was so good at creating. She knitted tons of baby clothes before my arrival and was well-known for doing the same for friends and neighbors. For at least a couple of years as a youngster, my brother wore navy and white striped sailor sweaters that mom seemed to favor. He also had a little chunky blue overcoat that my mom had knitted and carefully lined. And even once, when I was about ten, she made me a red, white and blue bikini that unfortunately for me didn't hold up well once you got it wet.

I remember distinctly as a little girl grabbing a small skein of yarn out of her knitting bag and a pair of needles and trying to do what she did. Her hands always moved with such amazing speed that it looked to me like she was just stabbing the yarn and the resulting knit work would just magically grow in length from her knitting needles. Of course, when I tried to replicate this, absolutely nothing warm and woolly appeared on my needles.

Mom tried to show me several times how she did it, but she was always too quick. It was as if fast was the only speed she knew when it came to knitting and my second-grade dexterity was no match for this master.

Finally one chilly, Saturday autumn morning at the age of about eight, she had my father drive me to our little town square and drop me off at the local yarn establishment. It was there in a basement shop, next to the Murphy's dime store and the JC Penney, that I began weekly knitting lessons. My teacher was an old and slightly cranky woman whose name I don't remember. But what she lacked in social skills, she made up for with patience. And while I never developed the mastery of mom, to this day I can hold my own when it comes to casting on, knitting, purling. . .I'm a good basic knitter.

And for some reason lately, I feel the need to knit something (winter scarves are a favorite project). It occurred to me this week that I'd knitted two lovely scarves for an old boyfriend, Lee, but never, ever knitted anything for my husband. Both of the boyfriend scarves were fashioned in the basket weave pattern I like to do when I'm showing off. One was gray made from the softest yarn I could find at Wal-mart back in our college days. The second scarf was made years later when Lee unexpectedly reappeared in my life. That one was the same pattern, but made from expensive alpaca yarn in a rich, caramely brown.

In fact, that scarf was the last thing I knitted. And that was over ten years ago.

There's something about knitting that's like meditation. Each stitch a wish for happiness. Every finished row a declaration of care. The final product an act of love, created by and touched over and over again by the same hands that in happy moments could hold yours.

I asked my husband this morning what color scarf he might like. "Burnt orange," was his answer. And so burnt orange it will be. It's high time Craze had a Maggie original of his very own. Something that might warm him in more ways than one during the coming winter.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Sushi with a Side of Dread

Today was supposed to be a fun day. I've been busy this week and last weekend on various work projects, but today I had set aside to meet my British friend Ellen for a manicure/pedicure, girlie gossip and a sushi lunch to follow.

I slept in, drank coffee in my PJ's watching The View and then got dressed and joined Ellen at a neighborhood nail salon. After the requisite soaking, scraping and painting, we headed off to the Japanese joint next door for the lunch special.

As we sat there chatting, I started getting that horrible, sinking feeling. You know the one, like your house is on fire. Or you just realized that your mother-in-law's birthday was a week ago and you've completely spaced out on it. In the midst of my miso soup and tuna maki, I really felt like something was terribly wrong.

After lunch, I checked voicemail and called a client. No problems. Called the husband. No worries. House and pets still intact upon arrival home. Hmm. . .

So, after thinking that perhaps I'm just developing some psychotic tendencies, I went on with my day. We met up with our friend, Mindy, for dinner at Hoanh Long in Lincoln Village. It's a Vietnamese place and quite possibly some of the best food I've ever had. Soooo good. Really fresh and delicious. Clearly nothing to dread in a plate of sweet and savory papaya salad with shrimp.

Then we went to the movies. Cue reason for day-long dread. We saw "30 Days of Night" which has got to be one of the scariest movies I've ever seen. My heart was beating like mad for almost a full two hours. The film stars some of the craziest, feral vampires you have ever seen violently laying waste to the light-deprived citizens of Barrow, Alaska, during their annual month-long dark-fest. I was still scared walking to the car and couldn't go to bed until Craze came with me. And I kept waking up all night expecting to see the pale, blood-smeared vampire leader with his '50s Brylcreem hair style looking down on me (though to be truthful, in one scene of the film, we learned it wasn't Brylcreem but blood that gave his hair that special sheen and holding power). Thankfully though, neither he nor his hairdo made an appearance bedside.

And my dread? It finally dissipated with the morning sunlight shining through my window.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

That Far-Away Feeling

Do you ever wonder if the reason you're thinking of someone you haven't thought of in a while is because they're thinking of you?

I had that distinct feeling today while I was driving on the expressway. I have it once in a while but it always seems like a feeling outside of myself. Something that's traveling over miles and miles to come near me, not something that originates within me. I'm sure there's a name for this sort of phenomena (isn't there a name for everything?) but I've no idea what it is.

Conversely, there might be nothing phenomenal about it. It might just be me thinking of someone and a part of me hoping that they sometimes think of me. After all, don't we all like to think that we're remembered, hopefully with fondness, by the people who were once, but no longer are, a part of our lives? Don't you like to imagine that there's someone far-away who smiles whenever your name randomly pops into their head?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Golden Moments

There is something about the light in autumn that is amazing. Right at the end of the day, before dusk or darkness fall, there is this beautiful, golden quality to the sunlight that is unlike any another time of year. It lasts only moments, maybe a half hour at best, but under its spell even the most mundane things, the red of a brick wall, the green-veined leaves of the trees still unturned, a passing car, look magical.

It reminds me of something I read recently at Have you ever checked that out? People send in their innermost secrets on postcards. Some are shocking or sad. But most of all, I find them truly fascinating. There was one I saw recently that I felt I could have written myself. It was a postcard covered in real autumn leaves and it said, "Why do I feel most alive when everything around me is dying?"

Ghost Hunting

A couple of weeks ago, I went back to a small town in Iowa to attend my 20-year college reunion. Twenty years! Remembering the uncertainly I felt when I left that place and how I was so stuck and unclear about how to move forward, it's hard to believe that time has elapsed so quickly.

It was a strange experience. So many of my old haunts just aren't there anymore. They've been torn down for newer on-campus offerings or, oddly, are buildings that look the same on the outside but have been gutted and reconfigured within. The house where I had my first great love affair and lost my virginity is now a parking lot. Lee's cold, dimly-lit basement room with its off-white-painted and poster-covered cinder block walls and green astro-turf-style carpet exist now only in my memory.

The places that are mostly unchanged feel so much smaller than I remember. The brown house where I lived. The library. All seemed diminutive and cloyingly foreign.

And the oddest thing of all is that even though my exact campus, circa '85, isn't there, there were moments when I caught myself expecting to see people I knew. Not as they are now, but as they were then. Lee riding his silver bike down the Mall wearing a tan Member's Only jacket, his shaggy blue/black hair shining in the sun. Noelle carrying her books into the Student Union sporting a red plaid cotton blouse and an au currant hairstyle that is now disparagingly known as a mullet.

In those flickering moments bathed in the light of Indian Summer, my heart hoped so much to see them. But they just weren't there. Those ghosts don't haunt the small-town hang-outs and silent class rooms of Iowa. I guess the only place I'll find them, if the mood strikes, are in the dusty and yellowing photo albums that lay out of sight under my dresser.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Woman Takes Eight Years to Board Train

I actually had an interesting job today. I spent the entire day brainstorming in a big group about airline frequent flier credit card rewards. Sounds a little bit mundane, you say? Well believe me, when you spend most working days brainstorming with yourself, dressed in pajamas, unbathed and talking only to the dog, being out of the house, showered(!) with a group of real creatives was a thrill.

And the biggest achievement of the day? I actually took the El and a CTA bus home from the loop. . .alone! I have lived in the city for eight years and, until today, I've never taken public transportation by myself! I AM SO LAME!!!!! What am I, ten?

My husband always looks at me like I'm crazy for not taking the train downtown more often, but I seriously have some kind of mental block about it. But it turned out ok. The train took a long time to come (as did the bus that followed), was super crowded, but it was fine. Not comfortable or speedy, but I got where I needed to go.

I'm not sure what my issue is/was about the CTA (that's Chicago Transit Authority for anyone who might read this and not hail from Chi-town) besides the afore-mentioned utter lameness. Sad. But I guess it's one short ride for woman, one giant leap for public transportation. Uh. . .right. . .

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Moving Sideways

I guess the job search is going ok. I've had some interest. I've had a few interviews. Most of the opportunities I've been offered are for jobs I KNOW I do not want. Too dry. Too serious. Too corporate.

I've interviewed with a couple of people who seemed to be very impressed by my skills and my long and high-profile track record. "You'll definitely be hearing from us," they've said. But weeks have gone by and I haven't heard a peep.

Part of me thinks I should just go out there and make hay while the sun shines, as my mom used to say. That is, just thrown myself headfirst into the fast-track and make as much big money as I possibly can. But that would mean going back to my old life. Checking the blackberry all the time. Working long, long hours. Not being home frequently. Never feeling that my time was my own. Putting up with a whole lot of BS.

Lately though, there's also a quiet, little voice inside of me that keeps asking the same question, "Isn't it sometimes smarter to move sideways than to move up?"

Wouldn't I be better off in the long run to settle for a calmer, more mundane job? Less high-profile. Less money but one that left me with more of my own life?

The great American work ethic teaches us to climb the ladder and keep on climbing. And that's just what I did until a couple of years ago. But who says that if I get back on, I have to keep going up? Maybe there is wisdom in moving sideways. Maybe up isn't always better.

Purge & Profit

My husband has many interests. He's a fascinating, clever person actually. And he's certainly not perfect. In fact, he has one crazy obsession. Collecting things.

I knew this from our initial meeting when he admitted as much. And it became all too apparent from my first visit to his large yet stacked-to-the-ceilings-with-stuff apartment in Ukrainian Village. Lots of the things he loves, or merely takes a passing interest in, he has to own.

And so when we moved in together, his stuff came with him. Music, movies, toys of his childhood and lots of other random curiosities. The skull of some long-dead bovine. A bottle of ancient "Nasal Oil." More Donald Duck toys than you've ever seen in one place, ever (probably even at Disney!).

And while I had great visions of containing his things in select areas of our home, it's never quite worked out that way. From the beginning, they've spilled beyond the borders of their confinement and slowly but purposefully crept into virtually every room in our home. You cannot do a 180-degree turn anyplace without seeing a box of comic books, a stack of DVD's or some other pile of Craze's junk.

What at first I found fascinating, now periodically enrages me. I would like so much to have more of a normal life and one not filled with these piles of incongruous and frustrating clutter as far as the eye can see. On probably more than a hundred occasions over the years I've made impassioned pleas for Craze to purge. Keep the stuff he really loves and ditch the stuff that's just collecting dust. He always hangs his head sorrowfully and agrees I'm right, but his words just evaporate in the air and are never converted into action. Until recently.

I've begun to see a tiny glimmer of hope. We did, in fact, have a garage sale last weekend. We got rid of a bunch of stuff--some mine, some his, some random stuff that had been dropped at our doorstep by family and friends over the years. And we made over $500. This excited Craze, the idea that overlooked items could be converted into cash. That purging could bring more rewards than just getting your wife off your back. That letting go of stuff could make a buck.

What went out of our garage door with strangers was just the tip of the iceberg. But, I've seen the glimmer in his eye. The wheels are definitely turning. And you can't imagine how much it excites me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Something Wonderful

I haven't written in ages. For some reason, it became too hard. Like a job. I just didn't enjoy it anymore. But so much continues to well up inside me that I need to get out and this seems like the most logical way.

It's been two years and almost four months into my "no real job" existence. What have I learned and where do I find myself now? Those are two really BIG questions. Financially, I need to get a real job again. My consulting has really slowed down and we can't live on just my husband's income. So, it's been off to job interviews and updating the resume. I haven't done that in over nine years! Finding a job is definitely different now. There's the sometimes impenetrable email wall between you and employers. It seems so passive aggressive. I frequently find it quite annoying.

On the personal front, I've made headway in lots of ways. I'm so much happier with myself now. I still don't have all the answers but at least I'm content with the fact that that's ok. I'm imperfect, but I find that there are moments when that's sort of glorious. And I've finally figured out that most of my aches and pains can be banished pretty quickly by just ceasing the consumption of wheat and other gluten-containing grains. That sucks for the bread-lover in me. But I've found some good pasta substitutions and I'm figuring out good swaps that leave me feeling satiated and still don't mess up my system.

My weight, that life-long adversary, continues to be an issue. A part of me has just come to terms with the fact that I'm pretty lazy where exercise is concerned. I hate it. But at my age (42), I'm starting to see that in order to live a healthy, long life I need to find a way to co-exist with it as a daily part of my existence. I don't like it. But I NEED it. The mental game of this is still something I struggle with but I think I've finally come to accept it.

And to make my middle-aged, jobless situation even more crazy, my husband and I have actually decided to try and have a baby. A baby! Good god. My new ob/gyn seems to think that I should actually be able to conceive and have a healthy baby at my age. I was actually quite taken aback while sitting on the examination table, dressed in nothing but a sloppy, ill-fitting blue gown with a piece of paper over my naughty bits, when my doctor didn't just look me in the eye and say, "Are you out of your freaking mind?" when the subject of pregnancy came up.

Hearing her talk about a potential pregnancy, I actually found to be way more emotional than I'd expected. Most of my life I've been really ambivalent about having a kid and my husband seemed quite disinterested. Two years ago when I quit my job would have been, theoretically, the best time to go for procreation. But I was in such a bad place mentally. Exhausted. So unhappy. On the verge of a rare and aggravating medical condition that took a three-day hospital stay, a colonoscopy, trips to numerous specialists, two surgeries and 18 months to diagnose and finally cure. Not a good time to be pregnant or have a little baby to care for.

But my employment status aside, now seems so right. Craze and I are in a good place in our relationship and our lives. The prospect of bringing another individual, taking their first tentative steps into this world, seems thrilling and wondrous. What a blessing it would be.

And I guess when I think back on the last two years or so, that's what I keep coming back to--all the blessings in my life. The simple things that hold so much weight and meaning. I've come to appreciate the beauty in my life. In little moments and quiet spaces. An illness cured. Feeling good. Reconnecting with old, dear friends. The miracle that a new little life might bring. Breathing in the cool air of autumn and knowing that there will always be something wonderful, no matter how small, in the day that lies ahead of me.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Today I feel grateful.

I'm not sure if it's the unexpected sunshine and almost 60-degree temps, but I'm happy to be alive. I cleaned up my office. Walked the dog and then brushed out her long, border collie-ish fur. I'm grateful for the way she smiles when she's doing something she enjoys like walking or getting brushed. I love to see her turn her face toward the sun and close her eyes, enjoying the warmth on her black fur. I'm grateful I can afford to have pets and keep them healthy.

I'm grateful for my cozy little house. The way the kitchen curtains blow slowly in the breeze of the open window. The cheerful colors of my familiar walls: deep red, butterscotch, golden yellow and pale green like the center of an Andie's chocolate mint. I love the worn spots on the old '20s waterfall desk where I type this, the desk I bought for $17 bucks and fixed up. The desk that sits at the top of the stairs in that undefined area of our house. Not office, not bedroom, just a long open space in what used to be part of the attic.

I'm excited by the prospect of ironing. Smoothing out the lines of hankerchiefs and pillowcases. Bringing order to cotton. Breathing in the smell of hot fabric and steam. Weird.

I have renewed enthusiasm for my work which I do seated where I am right now. At home. By myself. With only the dog and the drone of the TV for company. It's good that people like what I do. Clients really think I'm smart and creative. It's such a pleasant change.

My life is so much better now than two years ago at this time when I had my own parking space just off of the Mag Mile and a huge office with a sweeping, 11th floor view of downtown Chicago. Life is quieter now. Less babble. More introspective. Less stressed. More joyful in simple, awe-inspiring ways. And no more crazy workaholic boss who liked to email me on major holidays and vacation days. The blackberry is long gone--praise the lord! Some other poor sap carries it around now.

For me, I carry around a lot less. And it's not just the blackberry. Less care. Less sadness about where my life is headed. I'm still not exactly sure where I'm going. But the sun is shining on the way there. And I'm grateful for that.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Happy Birthday

Today would have been my mom's 72nd birthday had she not died all too young at 50. I just went and bought some flowers for her. I think it's more fitting to celebrate her life than remembering the day that she died. I loved her so much but it's been so long since I saw her I often feel sometimes that I never had a mother at all. Twenty-two years of soldiering on will do that to a person I guess.

I bought pink and orange tea roses with some purple and green flowers mixed in. I think she would have liked them. I'm hoping she can see them wherever she is and that they make her smile. What I wouldn't give to share just one more cup of tea with her and chat like we used to do. Or hear her say my name again. To see her laugh so hard that tears would stream down her face like they sometimes did. Or have her tuck me in, kiss me goodnight and run her hand over my forehead.

She was such a quiet woman but steely in ways I did not realize until she was gone. She gave me a love of beauty and taught me kindness. Her name was Grace, which was so fitting for the woman she was.

Loving her and then losing her made me who I am.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

So Sorry

I’m so sorry that your brother is dead. I know you had a tumultuous relationship, but it still has to hurt. If I could, I would hold you in my arms and just let you cry for as long as it took for you to feel even a little better.

But that would require us being together. In the same room. In the same state. And since I haven’t seen you for years, that’s unlikely to happen. I cannot comfort you because you won’t let me.

Still, at this moment, I’m wrapping my arms around you. Can you feel them? I will whisper in your ear that everything will be all right. The pain will subside. Life will start to feel normal again at some point not too far down the road. The hurt will not be so sharp in the days to come.

I am sending my love for you across the miles hoping it fills you with warmth and strength and comfort. Remember that people love you. I, among the rest.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


I'm not sure if it's because Monday this week was officially deemed the most depressing day of the year (scientists figured this out people--I'm not making this up), but I can't seem to get going this week.

I've had a low grade headache for three days and my stomach is bothering me. I just feel whiny and cold. I'd like to take a Valium and just have a long nap. Not sure what my problem is, but I'm definitely out of sorts. My house is a mess, the dog is unwalked and everything I should be doing just keeps piling up. And no matter how many ibuprofen I swallow, my head just keeps hurting. It all started last week when I had a few too many vodka and lemonades one night (which is very unlike me, since I hardly ever drink). Can a hangover really last a week? That seems to be my trajectory here.

I've been drinking water, taking my vitamins, eating yogurt crawling with live cultures and nothing seems to be working. Can you die from January? Or more precisely, January in Chicago? I'm starting to wonder. . .