Saturday, July 19, 2014

Blueberries …

Awaiting their muffin destiny ... .

Friday, July 11, 2014

Interactive Résumé, Updated Edition ...

I created this post in 2011 but it was due for an update. A lot has happened since then. And several links had broken. Turns out, not everything on the Internet lasts forever. Here, then, an update:

Funny thing about humility: It's not the most desirable trait to put forth when looking for a job.

Not talking about oneself for fear of seeming boastful? Some other time, kid. Not now.

One day last week, I applied for a job for which I thought I was qualified and well-suited. The following day, I received a boilerplate "After careful consideration, we regret to inform you ..." reply. It was nice of someone to reply, but I don't think there was a whole lot of careful consideration; in my book, careful consideration would have involved several staffers under the tiresome glow of florescent lights, all night long, in a conference room, their sleeves rolled up, their hair mussed from so much head clutching, the table strewn with grease-soaked pizza boxes littered with discarded crusts and congealed, plastic-seeming bits of cheese.

My résumé, by virtue of being static, can't convey all that I have to offer. But here, here I can create an interactive experience. Granted, prospective employers may never click on the link I supply to this post, but it will be out there, in the world, an opus of 1s and 0s, a beacon of awesomeness, and people everywhere will be drawn to it, drawn by its burning intensity of fabulousness. It will become a symbol of hope for all mankind. And I shall wake one day to find pilgrims from around the globe camped out on my lawn and in the street and throughout my neighborhood, city, and state, all waiting, waiting for me to step out onto my front stoop, coffee in hand, to share with them my awesome creativity.

Or it might help me to land a job. Either outcome is fine with me.


❑ To lay the groundwork, allow me to share with those who may not know it, the story of the day I interviewed Kurt Vonnegut at his home in Sagaponak, New York. I was writing a paper about Nelson Algren. For a college class. I was 19. Yes, it's a well-known tale to some, but it's an unknown tale to others, and if I can reap mileage out of it in this situation, I'll reap. (For those who may be so inclined, they can read the back story of the adventure here.)

❑ While in college, I spent a couple of summers holding down the fort of Jeff Zaslow's office at the Chicago Sun-Times. I was 17 when I met Jeff. We're still friends. [Even now that he's gone, I think of him that way.] I form lasting relationships. Both my personal and professional networks are vast and varied, and they often overlap.

❑ Also while in college, I interned at Chicago magazine. It wasn't a paid position, but one day, a check arrived in my mailbox, my first-ever payment for something word-related. (I Xeroxed it. I still have it.) I called my editor, confused as to why he had paid me. He told me I deserved it. Also, it was at Chicago that I came to understand that brownies are one of the keys to forming the aforementioned lasting relationships. People appreciate small gestures. Especially if those small gestures involve chocolate.

❑ After college, in a less-than-perfect job market, I landed a part-time gig at the Chicago Tribune. In Sports. Those who knew me asked, skeptically, "Beth, do you know anything about sports?"

"There are three periods in hockey and four quarters in football," I replied. "I'll figure out the rest as I go."

My plan was to stay at the paper for six months, maybe a year. I figured I could round out my résumé with another name-brand publication and wait for the job market to strengthen.

I stayed nearly five years. So much for plans.

I did OK in Sports – I could code a box score with the best of 'em – and then moved on to the News desk where I acquired the enviable title of "Dumper." Thankfully, my editor, Randy Weissman, indulged my curiosities and presented me with opportunities as they came along. One such opportunity led to a full-time job in Features, where I wrote my first article for the paper, for which I interviewed Bill Kurtis. At the end of our phone conversation, he said, in that legendary voice, "Well, Beth, you'll have to come by sometime and see what we do here."

So I did. I was 25 when I met Bill. We're still friends. In terms of baked goods, however, he prefers oatmeal raisin cookies.

❑ I left the Tribune to take a job with the now-former Thomson Newspapers. Thomson exists. Thomson Newspapers does not. But while there, I had the great good fortune to work with some truly exceptional people, including Paul Camp, who remains my best boss to date. Myself not included.

❑ More recently, I had the privilege of lending an editorial hand to The Last Lecture, the missive that Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch left for his children that he was kind enough to share with the world. Jeff Zaslow was Randy's co-author, you'll remember, and I was one of Jeff's editors, though Jeff was such a talented writer, there was not a lot for me to do. But if you pick up a copy of The Last Lecture and notice that Thin Mints is capitalized, that's my doing. Editing. It's a glamorous life.

❑ Also, I interviewed Melissa Etheridge for my first-ever celebrity profile. We kept chatting past my allotted time and she invited me to come backstage during her then-upcoming tour to say hello. As luck would have it, her Chicago date was right smack dab in the middle of the Chicago Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure (in which I walk every year), but her publicist kindly arranged for me to meet her in Milwaukee a few nights later.

So I did. Unlike with Jeff and Bill, Melissa and I have not become friends. But I was thrilled to see her perform that night. She's an extraordinary artist.

❑ And I bake. And write about what I bake. And photograph what I bake. One of my recipes was featured in Fine Cooking and is now part of this cookbook. And in January, I began contributing monthly posts to angelo:HOME, the lifestyle site of designer Angelo Surmelis, who, like others, has become a friend. Our baking adventure began with a shortbread necklace which inspired January's entry, and I've since created February's, March's, April's, May's, June's, July's, August's, September's, October's, November's, and December's.

And for 2012, January's, February's, March's, April's, May's, June's, July's, August's, September's, October's, November's, and December's.

And for 2013, January's, February's, March's, April's, May's, June's, July's, August's, September's, October's, November's, and December's.

And for 2014, I'm posting every now and again.

❑ And for those who like images of food – and who doesn't? – I created a Flickr page.

❑ And then I spent some quality time with iWeb and started noodling around with a web site.

And my résumé contains other conversation-worthy tidbits. We have to have something fresh to talk about in person, right?

And I didn't even mention that I have two voiceover demos and that I sing jazz. Until now.

I have two voiceover demos and I sing jazz.

❑ Since creating this post, I've completed the shift to working for myself (yep, this bullet point is an update), and am pleased to work with a great slate of clients on word projects of all stripes.

❑ One of those clients is the estimable Michele Woodward. I am delighted to be a part of her team and help her clients and others create great resumes, write more creatively, and get book projects off their starting blocks.

My name's Beth and I'm a creative.

What can I create for you?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Crumbled ...

I never was a cupcake maker.

I have no childhood memories of baking cupcakes with my mom.

I have childhood memories of selecting cupcakes at Cub Scouts meetings when I was very wee. I have childhood memories of looking for the cupcake with the most frosting. I have childhood memories of scraping the paper cupcake liner against my bottom teeth to capture the bit of cupcake that was left behind.

But the only cupcake-baking episode I can recall happened a couple of years ago and resulted in the cupcake at the top of this post. I baked a whole batch. I didn't frost most of them. I threw most of them away. My pursuit was a singular, picture-perfect cupcake. I did eventually eat it. It was OK.

Yesterday, when I read that Crumbs, the cupcake chain, had closed all of its locations overnight, my only thought was "Of course it did. Fads don't last."

How anyone thought they could build a sustainable business on a single food product is beyond me. McDonald's doesn't just sell hamburgers. Starbucks doesn't just sell coffee.

But even if they did, hamburgers and coffee are much more staples of the American diet than cupcakes.

The precipitous rise of the cupcake foretold its precipitous fall.

I never did buy into the cupcake craze. I never ate a Crumbs cupcake. I never set foot into a Crumbs store. (The reaction on Twitter yesterday was decidedly anti-Crumbs. If tweeters are to be believed, Crumbs cupcakes were dry and topped with overly sweet frosting. If that was truly the case, it's no wonder Crumbs didn't last: There are only so many curious first-timers in the cupcake world.)

For that matter, I've never had a Magnolia Bakery cupcake or any other. Cupcakes don't entice me. And I really dislike fads.

I make really good blueberry muffins and I make really good cream currant scones. I bake sensational brownies, I don't mind boasting. But cookies are my thing.

And cookies are my thing because the borders of cookies are so malleable. When I baked monthly cookies for Angelo, and I would clack out ideas, many were the time that I had to rein in my thoughts because I was really exceeding the boundaries of what constitutes a cookie.

But, like hamburgers and coffee, cookies will never go out of style. Cookies are as timeless as they are infinite.

If I ever do open a bakery, though, I will sell more than just cookies. Not much more. I will not try to be all things to all people, but if someone walks in and wants a brownie, they will be able to buy a brownie. Biscotti? You bet. (Yes, I know they're cookies, but some biscotti are second cousins to cement and have gotten a bad rap and are sometimes shunned. Mine are buttery and crunchy but pleasantly so.) Scones? Maybe not every day. Maybe I'll have a rotating special.

But if anyone wants a cupcake, they'll have to go elsewhere.

If there's anywhere left to go.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Once Upon A Time, I Was 'Very Sure' ...

One of the many, many, many things that I love about my niece is that her idea of a good time is hanging out at my house on a Friday night and talking for three hours.

She's in the throes of college planning before her senior year. She is a very, very good student and has a very clear sense of what she wants to study. At the moment, however, she does not have a very clear sense of where she wants to go to school. There are contenders, but no school stands apart from the pack. And she hears the clock ticking.

I reassured her that she has, at the very least, the next two months to noodle around with all of this. I also tried to acknowledge that while yes, this is a very big decision, it is not a decision that will be cast in stone.

But she is very much a planner, my niece.

I can relate.

We talked about the ACT and the SAT and the importance – and unimportance – of test scores. They are one component, I reminded her, not the sole point on which any admissions officer will base a decision.

And as we talked, I thought about my own scores, pretty sure that I still had them in a file, tucked away.

So today, I looked.

Yep. Lower drawer, all the way in the back. My past.

What a trip, this glimpse into the time when I was 16 years old and "very sure" of what my future held.

Some of it made me laugh.

Recently, I reviewed the layout of the book of one of my clients, a doctor. I created a rather lengthy list of tweaks for her to share with her publisher. She cc:d me on a very nice note to the woman who had introduced the two of us. She wrote, in part, this: "Just wanted to let you know that when Beth read over the Interior Layout proof of my book, I decided she could also be a pathologist or a diagnostic radiologist or a forensic investigator. She can see things that the average person cannot."

Today, looking at my ACT results, I saw this:

I had forgotten about my radiology plan. It was secondary to my pre-med plan.

I am, of course, neither a doctor nor a radiologist. But I'm smiling, thinking that I've retained the trait that would have made me a good one. I've simply put it to another use.

At the time, though, I was very sure about medicine:


On the SAT, I was very certain. Leave it to the SAT to use "certain" instead of "sure."


I'm amused at my self-professed need for help with math skills. At least I knew that much about myself.

And I love that I wanted to go to a school that had programs for vocal music and student government.

I started singing in grade school. I sang in junior high. I sang in high school. I continue to sing today.

I was never a part of student government, but I like that it interested me as I headed into college.

If I had it all to do over again, I would major in political science.

Of that I am very certainly sure.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Good Times: Summer Begins Edition ...

I felt the need to bake ... . Yep, summer officially arrived and my brain said, "Hey, turn on your oven!"

And I really do love creating cookies for Angelo's blog, and I'm not sure why I never thought of this hybrid before, but now I have.

Allow me to introduce you to snickerdoodle sablés.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Messages, Messages Everywhere ...

A few weeks ago, I had dinner with a friend. I can't remember the context of a particular part of the conversation, but singing came up.

As in, my love of it and my fear of it.

Speaking in front of a group of hundreds of people? Piece of cake for me.

Singing in front of a few? Whoa, somebody get me a Scotch.

At the end of the evening, he said, "Sing in front of people."

I smiled at him.

"You're not going to, are you?"

"I'll work on it," I said.

To begin with, I told myself, I can start going to open-mic nights again, if only to hang out and start mustering up the courage.

And then, a couple of days ago, I saw this inside my Dove wrapper:

Hmm. Yes, I should do that. Though there's really no "discovering" to be done. There's "doing" to be done. I really want to sing.

And then, yesterday, an email popped up from a new client, subject line: "Random side note" with this inside:

"Your voice is STUNNING! (Yeah, I just lurked around on your website, I admit it!) Absolutely gorgeous!"

And then, last night, before I went to bed, I can't even remember if I was reading something online or watching something on TV, but I started crying (I'm a bit more emotional than usual these days) and said to myself, out loud, "I have to sing."

And then, last night, I had a dream about my friend Briggetta, whom I met in a voice class at The Old Town School of Folk Music and with whom I performed a song at Davenport's as part of a class outing, and in the dream, we agreed that we'd start taking Gwen's class together again.

And then, this morning, I had another bite of Dove, and found this:

OK, Universe, message received.

Perhaps life will be a bit more normal on Monday.

Perhaps I'll hang out at Davenport's.

Perhaps I'll even sing.

Monday, June 16, 2014

For The Love Of Words ...

I blame the Puritans.

Somehow, despite my not be raised by Puritans, their damn work ethic bored its way into my brain: Work must feel like work – arduous, exhausting – I thought; anything less didn't count.

I tried the arduous and exhausting path.

It was not fun.

And so, I have since exorcised the Puritanical way of thinking and instead started constructing a life that I find much more rewarding.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about book coaching, a new offering in the new year, part of Michele Woodward Consulting.

In the post, I recount my experience with editing The Last Lecture, written by Randy Pausch and my dearly departed friend Jeff Zaslow.

This is what Jeff inscribed in my copy:

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

I was very touched to read that that the night he wrote it. It didn't dawn on me until this past year that his inscription is the book-coaching recommendation to end all book-coaching recommendations.

I really love helping people talk through their projects and I really love helping them work through the nuts and bolts of editing and proofreading and formatting.

Starla Fitch, M.D., author of the soon-to-be-released Remedy for Burnout: 7 Prescriptions Doctors Use to Find Meaning in Medicine, recently wrote to Michele:

Just wanted to let you know that when Beth read over the Interior Layout proof of my book, I decided she could also be a pathologist or a diagnostic radiologist or a forensic investigator. She can see things that the average person cannot. And, it is going to make my book a better read for my clients, which is awesome. Thanks again for the referral.

I've edited titles of fiction, business, and wellness, too.

I've also connected with a client who's in need of help with writing for her job. I look forward to our weekly calls to discuss pieces she has in progress and to talk about ways to make her writing more lively and clear.

I credit my mom with my love of language. She taught me how to print my name when I was 3. And I've been writing ever since. She also read to me and encouraged me to read and set a fine example: Mom sitting on the couch reading is one of the indelible images of my childhood. She was a big fan of Reader's Digest Condensed Books. They looked very nice on our bookshelves after she had read them.

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

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

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Pondering ...

My father is in the hospital, which I reveal not to elicit sympathy or concern but rather to set up the "What's it all about?"-ness of this post.

Time is warped inside a hospital. And focus is checked at the door for anything that is not related to the situation at hand. I found myself watching golf in one of the waiting rooms. I don't watch golf in any other moment of my life. But I found myself strangely intrigued by the skill of the cameraman (or -woman) who captures the ball in flight.

Boredom and worry become fast friends and pursuits arise, such as venturing down to the cafeteria to check out the day's soup. (Thursday: turkey vegetable. Friday: chicken noodle.)

But "normal" life, the day-to-day-ness that we take for granted until it's interrupted, continues beyond the hospital campus, and so it was that I found myself on Friday morning, about 10 hours after speaking with Dad's surgeon, standing at the edge of a field, staring at the vastness of the pristine blue sky and thinking about Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Mom's car was scheduled for an oil change well before Dad ended up in his present situation, so I drove to the hospital, met up with her in his room, stepped out into the hall to receive an update, swapped keys, left the hospital, got into her car, adjusted her seat and steering wheel and mirrors, and drove to our mechanic's garage, which is on the same property as his home, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere, hence the vastness of the sky.

He was helping someone diagnose a problem – which he did, and refused any money for it, because that's who he is – and I stood by Mom's car, noticing the windmill I'd never noticed on his property before – the kind you see on farms, not the kind you see as cookies – and wondering what, if anything, it powered, and looking at the blue sky, thinking about pictures of Earth from space and how, if someone on the International Space Station, say, was looking down at that moment, or if some satellite was snapping images for the always-creepy Google Earth photos that reveal far too much, that I was a part of what they'd be seeing, me and seven billion other people going about our lives, some awake, some dreaming, some in hospitals, some in offices, at least one standing next to a car adjacent to a field, appreciating the wind.

And I was thinking about the final episode of "Cosmos" that I had just watched the other night and how the final image pulled back until the Earth was just Carl Sagan's "pale blue dot," and wow, yes, in the grand, grand, infinite scheme of it all, things that seem so hugely consequential are truly anything but, except that they are. It's all about scale.

It was a good, grounding moment, a place for my brain to return when I get riled about something, a standard against which to measure an instance and decide whether it's really worth the anger or the fretting.

Scott finished his work on Mom's car and showed me why his garage contains an anvil and he wrote up the bill and I wrote out a check and I headed back to the hospital. Mom and I borrowed some chairs from an office and set up in the hallway where we could keep an eye out for Dad's surgeon if he happened to make rounds, and chatted and snacked and found a few reasons to laugh. Laughter feels a little victory inside a hospital.

This morning, it was nice to wake up and make coffee and listen to the birds and catch up on things online. The grass needs to be cut, boy does it ever. And Dad has been moved off the ICU floor into a regular room. So I'll visit later, once I shower off the aroma of mower exhaust. And Fathers' Day will be spent on unfortunate furniture (honestly, who designs those fabrics?) in a small room and if his dinner consists of Jell-O that will be a big deal. (He hasn't eaten since Tuesday morning.)

And Monday will, with hope, bring some sense of routine with it and I'll resume client work and break away for a visit to his room, grateful that my life is such that that's possible.

And onward we go. Spinning faster than we can fathom and not quite standing still.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Hello, Iris ...

... my lovely, sculptural friend.

Thanks, Mom.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Worth Saving ...

I love the doors in my house.

They are not original. They were rescued from a renovation in another state. They were coated with years of paint and destined for the construction bin.

I did not do the rescuing. That was the doing of the previous owner of this house. But I can do the appreciating. And I do. Some days more than others. Some days, I look up from where I'm sitting and appreciate just how lovely they are and how glad I am that they didn't end up in a landfill or put through an industrial shredder. Perhaps someone along the line would have recognized them for their worth. But all of that is moot, as they'll enjoy a long and happy life here.

I'm always a bit baffled by people who want homes that are cookie-cutter and new. Why do they want granite countertops, I wonder, when there are so many more interesting options from which to choose? New construction often looks flimsy to me. How long will houses built today last? Will advancements in home-building technology matter when houses are slapped up with such astonishing speed? In former cornfields? Who wants to wait 30 years for trees?

I love the book "The Not-So-Big House." I've written about it before. I'd much rather have a small space with beautiful, timeless appointments than a new build with finishes that will look dated in a few years. Why do people persistt with iridescent glass backsplashes? Backsplashes are forever.

Well, not really. But it's not like snyone wakes up on a Saturday and says, "Hey, let's demo our backsplash and retile it today!" Painting a room? Sure. Tearing out a tile backsplash? Not so much.

Of course, my kitchen is backsplashless. Which is OK, given the position of my sink. My sink is not original. Nor is my countertop. I'd love to replace it someday. But I can assure you that granite will not be on the list. I think soapstone would be nice.

For now, though, I'll just keep admiring my doors.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Weather Gods Have Been Appeased ...

The morning has been dreary. Sodden, really. No sign of sun. Rain, followed by more rain, followed by drizzle, followed by more rain.

I have been resisting the urge to make peanut butter cookies but today's rain wore me down.

They are stupidly simple, go together in a half a minute, and bake nearly as quickly. Twenty minutes, start to finish, assuming you're going to eat a few warm.

Behold:

1 cup peanut butter (I use creamy Jif)
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Dump everything into a bowl. Stir to combine. Portion* onto parchment-lined baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 15 miuntes.** Cool five minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to a cooling rack.

* I use a two-tablespoon cookie scoop.
** Space the oven racks in the upper-third and lower-third positions; halfway through baking, rotate the sheets top to bottom and front to back.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Lesson From My Childhood ...

I talk to myself.

Usually, I talk to myself as if I'm having a conversation with someone else. Partly, that is a function of having an ear for dialogue. Partly, that is a function of wanting to control situations. And partly, that is a function of simply seeming less nuts.

But this morning, here in this early quiet and light, I started talking about where I grew up. Because of leaves.

The block on which I grew up contained homes differentiated only cosmetically. They were all the same bungalow – ours was slightly taller than the other house because my very smart mother had the builders lay extra courses of brick to raise the height of the basement because my father is tall – and owners added personality through accents. Mom had chosen three opaque green glass blocks – the color of jellied and sugared spearmint leaves – that were set vertically. They were visible inside the house only if you were in the master bedroom closet. Each one featured a minimalist leaf shape – or maybe they were just pointed ovals – and they were set to vary the patttern:

/
\
/

And part of the scrolled railing was painted to match, so our house was "green." Joyce and Shorty's house was "black" and Ava and Ed's house was "beige" and Sharon and Jim's house was "blue" and our house was "green" and on down the block they went.

But what I was really remembering was fall, and raking leaves, and how we kids would rake the leaves into a pile somewhat near the house, and then we'd climb the stairs, sling one leg over the railing and then the other, and turn ourselves to face the pile of leaves, hanging on to the railing behind us.

And what I was really, really remembering was how much time I stood there, deliberating.

Given the height of our house, my feet were at most six feet off the ground as I stood on our porch. But my view made the distance feel much greater. And I would stand there and consider the pile and whether it was really enough ot cushion me and I'd count. And I'd get to the end of my count and I wouldn't jump. So I'd count again.

Thinking about it now, I've spent a lot of my life on "One." I'm comfortable with "One." Maybe even "Two." "Three" is a scary place.

Eventually, I'd get impatient with even myself, and the count changed. It morphed from "One ... two ... three" into a hurried "Andaoneandaoneandaonetwothree."

Writing that just now makes me realize that I gave myself extra "Ones." The comfort of Ones.

Six feet, of course, is not very far down and so the time in the air was a second perhaps.

But this morning, what I'm really remembering is the feeling between the moment of deciding and the moment of letting go.

That moment is everything.

That moment after Three.

That is where I need to go.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Past ...

My father is a saver.

He gets that from his mother, no doubt. She lived through the Depression. We take on the traits of our parents. And so, he saves.

My mother, for the most part, is a tosser. She's not wasteful by any stretch but she has the ability to let go. To some things. Not all.

And so it was yesterday as I helped her sort through some stuff, long-forgotten stashes of – well, let's be honest: crap – that had been saved because, well ... because.

It was a time warp. "Is that a lint brush?" I asked. Yep. Tins of shoe polish, the contents of which were no doubt petrified by now. A cloth measuring tape coming apart all along its lengths, looking like a long-haired woman in a convertible on the highway.

And the small pink box of Ko-Rec-Type. Executive Ko-Rec-Type.

Whoa.

I remember using Ko-Rec-Type, back in the days before technology combined correction film and typewriter ribbon.

I slid the box apart. "Are you sure you want to get rid of this?" I asked my mom sarcastically. "There are still unused sheets." She gave me the look.

I slid the box back together and dropped it back into the bag.

But I had to rescue the Ko-Rec-Type for a wee photo shoot.

I took out the two used sheets and held them up to read what someone had corrected long ago.

Sometimes, these posts write themselves ... .

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Way We Wrote ...

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

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

Yup.

Way to be useful, brain!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Effortless ...

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

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Shiny Red Lining ...

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

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

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

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I Must Have Missed The Memo ...

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

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

Huh?

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

I can, however, speak for myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mothers' Day is not a vendetta against the motherless.

Now eat somthing. You look too thin.

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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Growth ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

She and Ian turned out OK.

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

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

Friday, May 09, 2014

Makes Beth Happy: Silver Oval Tray Edition ...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Take ...

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

Thursday, May 08, 2014

'The Confidence Gap' ...

You really must read this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, I do, anyway.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But those words resonate in a slightly different way today.

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

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

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

And so we did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I look forward to watching the next generation find out.

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Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Good Deeds ...

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

Free Good Deeds

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

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


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

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



Get-Something-In-Return Good Deeds

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


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


The Gift That Keeps On Giving Good Deed

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

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Monday, May 05, 2014

'How To Be Black' ...

Once upon a time, I pondered converting to Judaism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

So I stayed inside and read.

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

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

So, read this.

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

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

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

— Go, Baratunde's grandmother!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She wanted to know why we were discussing race.

And then she Googled Dave.

And she found his blog.

And she saw that he was black.

I had never mentioned that, she informed me.

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

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

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

He would have loved this book.


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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What In The Actual Hell? ...

Has Instagram applied a washed-out filter to the world?

Is this part of Google's ongoing effort at world domination?

Has Apple's "1984" ad finally come true, 30 years hence?

I know it's prosaic to talk about the weather, but holy mother of God on toast, I can't take much more of this.

I am very sorry for all the people affected by the storms over the past few days. And I am very grateful that this area has been spared.

But the grey. The grey. The seemingly never-ending grey.

I've been to London. I have appreciated London's weather. I like the occasional damp, chilly, grey day. I do. But after what feels like six months' worth of them, I need some spring, please. Before summer arrives.

In the meantime, I needed to see some sun today.

So I made one.

You're welcome to share it, too.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Good Times, Not Necessarily Planned Edition ...


The monthly baking for Angelo's site has come to an end but I create posts for him when inspiration strikes.

The other day, inspiration struck.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Stamps ...

Hey, we have cool black and white stamps of men and women building things. We should build more things. Like roads and bridges.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Pear ...

... and the bowl have become friends. (I may have to do a pear series.)

Sometimes ...

... I buy produce simply because it is too beautiful to leave it at the store.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Whole30 ...

I haven't had coffee in 30 days.

The day after St. Patrick's, my friends Amy and Alison and I embarked upon Whole30, the gist of which is "Stop eating crap," but more specifically, it requires the elimination of dairy and sugar (among other things) and so, given that I've never been enough of a grown-up to drink my coffee black, coffee ceased to be an option. Without my beloved hazelnut coffee goo or cream and sugar at the very least, I couldn't abide. I can drink espresso straight but not black coffee. I do not know why.

Whole30 teaches you about yourself. What I learned about myself and coffee is this: I do not have a bad caffeine habit. I was able to cut out coffee with just the slightest of withdrawal. I was a bit tired for a couple days. I had a slight headache. But I wasn't in the habit of drinking a lot of it. I'd make just more than enough to fill my favorite travel mug and that was it each morning, except Sundays, when I'd allow myself some extra if I wanted it. I rarely wanted it. Some days, I would drain my travel mug and be sad to find myself tilting my head as far back as possible to drink the last drop, but other days – many days – I would get a few sips in and think "I don't want this" and I'd pour most of it down the sink.

What I did miss about coffee was the ritual. There's something about waking up and padding into the kitchen and putting on coffee that just feels right. And, given that winter has been an egomaniacal bitch and has stuck around for six months, there were many mornings when the thought of the warmth and sweetness appealed.

But instead, I drank water. Not hot water. Cold water. And I turned up the heat.

Whole30, though, is a bit of a misnomer, as the point isn't to eat really well for 30 days only to arrive at Day 31 and binge on doughnuts and Doritos. It's really the first 30 days of a new lifelong way of eating, which looks silly as I write it, as "new" really means "the way I should have been eating all along."

Some people extend to a Whole45 or Whole60, but my mindset at the moment is of MostlyWhole[Infinity Symbol]. I'm relieved that I don't want to go nuts tomorrow just because it's "allowed." Because it's not allowed. By me. I won't allow it. I have abused my body for decades. And now that I'm in my 40s, I want to stop. I want to be healthy. Not fanatically so, but mindful. I like that when my body says, "Sugar, please," I say, "Here, have an apple," not "Here, have a bag of gummi bears." (Whole30 definitely taught me that I have more of an addiction to sugar than I realized, but I presume that's true for most people.)

I've known I needed to make this shift for, literally, years. But all of the information I've been gathering over these years have been like steps that have allowed me to arrive at and start walking on this new plane. These 30 days haven't been a "diet," they've been the jump start to a new way of eating for the rest of my life.

Which isn't to say I'll never have another bite of bread or another cookie, but I've abused this body for too long. It's time to start giving it what it needs. I plan to keep going – I'm in this for the long haul – but maybe life is 90/10. I don't want to obsess about food but I want to continue making good choices.

Yesterday, I went to the store – on Day 29, with the "end" in sight – and I bought broccoli crowns and an English cucumber and onions and garlic and a pork steak. Last night, I sat down to a braised pork steak with a side of beautifully caramelized onions and garlic. Bites of pork crowned with caramelized onions and garlic is a delicious, delicious thing. I have taken to making a "salad" of English cuke and broccoli florets dressed with a balsamic and Dijon and garlic vinaigrette, but I wasn't in the mood for it last night. That will be lunch today. I've developed a new-found appreciation for sweet potatoes (I've only ever liked them in French-fry form before) and I've rekindled my love affair with big-ass salads. They're seriously absurd in volume, but lettuce and greens are mostly water.

And while my intention is first and foremost about getting healthy, not simply losing weight, the fact that I can now wear jeans I haven't worn in five years is a lovely thing. My "goal" jeans have become simply my jeans and I have a new goal pair hanging on my closet door. When I hold up the smallest size I want to fit into, they look almost impossibly small, but then I remind myself that our natural disposition is to be lean. If we're eating the right foods and moving around and getting good sleep, our natural state is rather lithe. Most of us have just been doing everything wrong for a really long time.

One of my brothers was here this weekend, working on an electrical problem* for me, and I probably ran up and down my stairs 20 times, flipping breakers on and off, and I barely felt the effort. I've gotten back into the habit of walking and it's nice to log two miles or more without even blinking.

My sleep has improved greatly. I fall asleep easily and wake up when I wake up. I can read a book without falling asleep. On Saturday, I read a book cover to cover in five hours. In the past, I would have dozed off about 15 minutes in.

At the store yesterday, my one "treat" was a fresh bottle of goo, not the kind I've bought before but a new brand that a friend told me about that is, indeed, just milk and cream and sugar and flavoring (though I'm not sure what "flavoring" entails). I'm looking forward to the option of coffee in the morning, but first, I'll ask myself if I really want it. And then I'll see how I fare with reintroducing some dairy. I may not be long for coffee in the end.

Perhaps I'll learn to like tea.

* My "electrical problem" turned out to be a tripped circuit breaker that I hadn't noticed because it was on the other side of the panel from those labeled "family room." Whoops. But he discovered some wiring that didn't meet his standards, so he remedied those issues for me, bless his kind and helpful heart. And I learned to check every breaker should an issue arise again. Also, the formerly unlabeled breaker now has an identity. All's well that ends well.

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Saturday, April 05, 2014

Spring Ahead, Indeed ...

It all started with a cobweb. I blame the sun.

I was walking through my living room and spied a cobweb between a lampshade and the wall. I hadn't noticed it before – not that I walk around hunting for cobwebs – but the sun was streaming through the window in my front door at just the right angle to illuminate it, so I backtracked, grabbed the vacuum, and sucked that sucker up.

That was about five hours ago.

I've been at it ever since.

Not just vacuuming, mind you. Oh no. This fit of housekeeping included the use of a measuring tape to see if one of my desks would fit into my walk-in closet off my office. (Yup.) And my filing cabinet got tucked in there, too. And now, the chair that's been sitting in my living room in a somewhat awkward spot since December (oh, the "perils" of knowing a generous furniture designer who's quick to gift me with things I admire, so I've stopped admiring things) is now tucked into a corner of my office with a view of my wall of quotes, a cozy little spot for me to plop down and read through manuscript pages, say. My super-uber-ergonomic mesh and metal office chair is spiffy but it is not cozy. Now I have options.

And I also really, really, really need to have a garage sale. Spring is arriving just in time.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

Occupational Hazard ...

I've never been a voracious consumer of fiction. I've always been more of a non-fiction kind of gal.

Some novels have thrilled me – my two all-time favorites are The Power of One and Animal Dreams and I inhaled the Harry Potter series once I bought the first installment to see what all the fuss was about and I love Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Tiny One by Eliza Minot and Hugh Laurie's The Gun Seller pisses me off it's so good and John Green's The Fault In Our Stars should forever stay a novel and not become a film, ditto Lauren Graham's "Someday Someday Maybe," though maybe that's destined for television, I can't remember – but anyway, as I was saying non-fiction is more my speed.

Which I reaffirmed today when I sat down to read a friend's novel, which he sent to me in exchange for a review.

I am so proud of people who publish. It is a feat unlike any other. A lot of people talk about publishing but most of them never do. So anyone who has the stick-to-it-tiveness to finish a manuscript and usher it into the world earns a lot of respect from me.

But the editor in me can't turn off that part of my brain. I want to, I really do. But I can't seem to not notice errors in punctuation or odd word choices or inconsistencies in tone.

Words are like notes. I hear they way they relate to each other. Passages are like melodies. And when I read a "wrong" word in a paragraph, it's as though I've heard a note that doesn't relate to the others in a song. It takes me out of the moment.

I find myself wanting to read with a red pen in my hand. Which is why I stopped reading a particular newspaper. Oy vey, the thing was loaded with errors. I presume it still is. I interviewed with a couple of folks there once. They really should have hired me.

I consume a lot of news online. A lot of news. Some might say too much. But I suspect that that's why I can ingest so much non-fiction, even if it's not the newsy kind. My brain is more forgiving of non-fiction works. I don't question the plausibility of things rooted in fact. I'm not going to question someone's autobiography. If that's what they say happened, that's good enough for me. Ditto memoirs. I'm especially interested in memoirs since writing about myself is what I know best. Which sounds egotistical, but hey, I've written a blog for nine years.

Though, given that this is the first post since February 27th, my blogging days appear to be on the wane.

Which is fine. Nothing lasts forever. Not even books. Though it's nice to have them around while they're here. Even if not all of them are my speed.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Donna Day ...

Have you met Donna?


This is Donna. And today is Donna Day.

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

Here's a statistic that should shock you:

"All types of childhood cancers combined receive only 4% of U.S. federal funding for cancer research."

Four percent.

FOUR.

Donna was four when she died.

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

Donna was singular indeed.

But she was not alone.

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

Today, Donna's parents parent her through they good they do in her memory, through Donna's Good Things and, each year, in concert with St. Baldrick's.

To date, Donna's Good Things has raised nearly $200,000 for St. Baldrick's and its ongoing efforts to not only find cures for childhood cancers but also to prevent lifelong damage that results from the cancer treatments that children undergo.

If you've not yet read Donna's Cancer Story, I invite you to read about Donna's life through the exquisite words of Donna's Mama.

And I ask you to contribute what you can to Donna's Good Things for St. Baldrick's.

Or become a shavee, too!

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

Let's watch more children grow up and lead amazing lives.

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Life Lesson No. ... Hell, I've Lost Count, Not That I Was Ever Counting In The First Place ...

Oh, ego, must you be so egotistical?

Last night, I discovered something that was a bit of a slap in the face. It wasn't the first such instance.

But it was the last.

This morning, I started a blog post but none of the starts made sense. So I scrapped the thing and did dishes.

I like doing dishes. It's good therapy. Takes me out of my head for the most part as I transform the pile of dirty dishes into an array of clean dishes, resting on the kitchen towel, drying, waiting to be put away.

But while I was doing the dishes, I asked myself, "How do I want to respond to this?" (I'm pretty sure that was your voice, Michele Woodward.)

My bruised ego wanted to be bitchy and petulant.

But my logical self, my – dare I say "grown-up" – self didn't want to feel that way, didn't want to leave that impression on the moment, because I knew I'd regret it later.

So, by the time I was rinsing the suds out of the sink, I'd arrived at a good place. I'd owned my role in the situation. I shouldn't have let it go on for so long. I should have stood up for myself sooner and either gotten what I needed or cut ties.

Women tend to make a lot of excuses and exceptions. We tend to cut a lot of slack. Some of us cut too much. Some of us take longer to learn certain lessons.

But learn we do. Eventually. I do, anyway. I have.

And so, here I am, on the other side of a life lesson, one I feel like I should have learned before, but maybe I'm more of an optimist than I realize. Or maybe I'm more of an ostrich.

Either one. They both begin with Os.

As does this:

Onward.