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.