Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Wow.  As much as I love the holidays, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas always seems to get shorter and shorter every year.  And because yours truly was tragically behind on planning, as usual, most of last week was spent scrambling, and not blogging.

So, without further ado, I present - perhaps a little out of order - The Week (and a bit) in Numbers.

2 cakes
I have a wonderful crew of colleagues.  We have this cute game where we "try" to surprise each other with a card and cake every year, although we've all gotten wise to the idea, so we pretty much know when it's coming from a mile away, especially if a birthday is on a workday.  (The only time it's iffy is when the birthday is on a weekend or holiday, then it's anyone's guess if the ambush comes on Friday or Monday - ha!)  So under the guise of a meeting (which was actually canceled, unbeknownst to me), my colleagues "surprised" me, with a most excellent midnight-chocolate-with-buttercream-frosting cake (made by my boss), and adorned by our division's Happy Birthday candles that we've used and re-used for at least the past two years.

And then on Christmas Eve, Matthew and my in-laws surprised me (they really did!) with another birthday cake.  And their rendition of Happy Birthday was sung with so much love and caring that I didn't mind at all that it sounded like three cats on a carburetor, nor that I was blushing six ways to Sunday.  It was...perfection.

4 courses
For my birthday, Matthew and I went to dinner at one of our favorite spots: the Atwood Cafe, on the main floor of the Hotel Burnham.  It's a beautiful place - lots of warm velvety colors and dark wood, amid wrought iron work from the 1900s and mosaic tiles that had once been covered by concrete and "rediscovered" in the late 90s when they redid the whole building.  We got a table by the window, and, halfway through our shrimp-chowder-bay-mussels-duck/steak-chocolate-cake dinner, it began to snow those big puffy white flakes that blanket everything and dull every city noise.  A magical way to start the week before Christmas.

45 Facebook messages, 8 cards, 4 e-mails, 3 phone calls
Birthday greetings came from around the world, at all different times, and I'm grateful for each and every one.

20 dozen cookies
Every year, I make a plethora of cookies to give away to family, friends, colleagues and neighbors.  Some years, the results are better than others, and I was determined not to repeat the hockey pucks that I subjected everyone to last December.  So, I went a little crazy this year making seven different types, and more than I've ever made before, but I made some of the doughs ahead of time, so all I had to do during the week was bake them.  I have to admit it was gratifying when a neighbor told me that he liked the double chocolate shortbread so much that he didn't even want to share it with his kids...

One beautiful Christmas morning
For the first time in several years, we woke up to a white Christmas, with about 3 inches of snow covering everything.  And even though I grew up in a place where Christmas is in summer, I can't imagine it being at any time but winter anymore.

8.5 gallons, 450 miles
At a time when gas prices are going through the roof, we had a Prius for Christmas weekend.  'Nuff said.

26 discs
....of pure viewing pleasure.  Tahmoh Penikett = yum.  Jamie Bamber = yummer.  Merry Christmas to me.

6 inches of snow
We came back home to a whole lot of snow that had piled up, which necessitated cranking up the snowblower for the first time this season.  Don't know what it is, but every time I use it, I feel oh-so-very butch.  Vroom vroom.

40 minutes
And in non-Christmas or birthday news, 40 minutes is all it took yesterday for a podiatrist to take a cast of my woefully-flat feet to make some orthotics that will hopefully relieve some of my shin splint pain (while also encouraging me to walk less neanderthal-like), as well as recommend physical therapy that I will start in the New Year.  Marathon aspirations temporarily iced.  Sigh.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Seinfeld didn't mean it this way when he said it, but today I am Master of My Domain, thanks to my wonderful friends, Dan and Meredith, who very thoughtfully secured "The Wizard and I" for me this week.  So while you, gentle readers, probably noticed no difference in getting here if you've bookmarked the prior link, yours truly will be broadcasting from my very own home on the WWW from henceforth.  And while seasoned bloggers will probably laugh at me for saying so, I think that is frakkin' awesome. 

I've known Dan since high school when he was a ridiculously cool band geek with an earring, and I was the incoming freshman with no personality and a strange accent.  In the twenty years since we've known each other, I've lost the accent, and he lost the earring.  Can't say much about my personality.  And even though we don't get to see each other more than once or twice a year, I always know that I can depend on him through thick and thin, and he's just a phone call or an e-mail away.  Which really came in handy today, since he even helped set up the new domain for me.  (I consider myself tech savvy - but not that tech savvy.) 

Even more good friends 
On top of Dan and Meredith, this has been a very friend-centric week.  (Hence the lack of postings and dwindling readership.)  I always love this time of year, because even in the midst of waging all-out war in the mall parking lot gift shopping, writing Christmas (and other non-holiday-specific) cards, and baking up a storm, I really enjoy the opportunity to see good friends amid good cheer.

Like Cynthia, who was in town briefly for a conference, but still made time to meet us for dinner, where we reminisced about military parades, bad conductors, and good times on the road - that schlep between Montreal and Prince Edward Island, or the all-too-frequent trip that I dreaded between Montreal and Ottawa in the summer, because it meant being away from Montreal at a time of year when it was really cool to be there.  And while Cynthia and I hadn't seen each other for more than ten years, it was just like old times.

Or Lisa, Amy and Carol, who - bless her heart - went early to the Walnut Room to get us a spot in line for dinner, because everyone and their uncle wants to have dinner at the Walnut Room at Christmas.  (Note to Macy's - those pseudo-snow-falling track lights look more like worms running down the tree.)  Thankfully, we got a table in a quieter part of the restaurant that was much more conducive to catching up.

Good times, all.

So even though I've found myself doing things a little later than I would like (um...those of you on my ever-shrinking list of holiday card recipients might see yours showing up a wee bit after Christmas...2011), I spent much of today churning out a few holiday goodies, or at least preparing the dough for cookies to be baked later this week in the mad rush to Christmas.  On this year's list:
  1. Eggnog cheesecake bars (combining two of my favorite things on a graham cracker crust)
  2. Vanilla shortbread (half dipped in a chocolate glaze - my poor attempt to replicate those awesome Au Bon Pain shortbread cookies)
  3. Double chocolate shortbread (using cocoa and bittersweet chocolate)
  4. Cherry delights (vanilla cookie with candied cherry topping) - a recipe passed down from my in-laws
  5. Sour-cream apricot roll-ups (kinda like rugulah, but with apricot preserves and coconut) - ditto
  6. Thumbprint cookies with strawberry jam
And these pretty puppies - "snow-capped" macaroons:

And now I'm so tired that I can't think of a witty way to end this post.  Oh, and it's my birthday in three minutes.  Huh.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Weak eyesight runs in my mom's side of the family.  My mom and her siblings all wear glasses (except those who've had Lasik), so it was no surprise that I would need glasses at some point.  I managed to stave it off until I was in tenth grade, when I found that it was becoming increasingly difficult to see clearly.  At the time, I thought it was because I was spending too much time in front of a computer learning Turing, a now-extinct programming code that I used in my computer class to build a tres-gay database of 1992 Olympic gymnastics and swimming results, complete with text-character recreations of the Olympic sports symbols.  But - alas, no - it was just my myopic gene finally catching up and having its dastardly way with my vision.

And my eyesight must have been really bad, because apparently I couldn't see that the first pair of glasses I chose for myself were horrendously ugly.  I'm talkin' square-cut, old-school, never-gonna-get-kissed ugly.  And, horror of horrors, I had them for the next four years.  It was like they were their own form of birth control. 

(To give you a sense of how ugly they were, when I got military-issue glasses a few years later, they were almost an identical match to my own.  Yeesh.)

I finally got new glasses in 1996, when I went through my Shaolin monk phase, because in a undecided crazy moment about what to do with my hair, I had my stylist shave it all off, leaving about an eighth of an inch all around.  But because my hair seems to have a life of its own and grows outward, rather than close to my head (hence the copious amounts of product I use on an annual basis), I had to get it buzzed every three weeks to avoid looking like an Asian chia pet.  And nothing would have said loser like my big square glasses on my big Asian chia-pet-like head.

Cut to 1997, when I decided to try contact lenses, and I haven't - sorry, pun alert - looked back.  And since the optometrist was okay with giving me a free sample pair so I could ostensibly try them for future purchasing consideration, I took some colored contact lenses that were green, so I could be just like that fulfilling-a-legend Asian girl in Big Trouble in Little China and cause men to chase after me.  (1986, Kurt Russell, because the white guy has to save the day when Asians apparently can't.)  But - argh, foiled again! - my eyes being naturally dark negated the color in the contacts, meaning that no one could tell that I now had cool, butt-kicking green eyes but lonely ol' me and my very unresponsive mirror.  Sigh.

I've never considered Lasik, because I'm too squeamish about the thought of a laser cutting into my eyes.  Bleh.  So every morning, I roll out of bed, load up my two-week disposables and see as clear as day for the next 12 hours.  And save for one little incident involving jalapeno peppers*, I've been relatively problem-free with contacts ever since trying them out.

I still have glasses, which are thankfully a wee bit more trendy than the ol' honkers I had in my teens, and which I use at night or when we're flying (because the dry environments of planes suck every drop of moisture out of my eyeballs and skin).  And I like having glasses with fitted magnetic clip-on shades, so that when we step out of the airport into the (preferably) bright sunlight of our destination, my eyeballs aren't scalded.

So, apart from boring you with the mundane history of my poor vision (which has apparently - thankfully! - plateaued for now), the whole point of this posting is - to show off my new glasses!  Even though I don't wear them often, I got the "Cadillac" package:  polycarbonate lenses (equals lightweight), anti-reflective, semi-rimless, blah blah blah, which - thanks to my insurance - didn't cost me a month's salary as I had feared. 

Aren't they purr-ty?

* A few years ago, in an attempt to undertake new culinary adventures, I made the rookie mistake of dicing jalapeno peppers with my bare fingers while trying to follow an overly-complicated recipe for quesedillas.  Even though I washed my hands thoroughly (or so I thought), when I went to put in my contacts for an event that night, I seriously thought my eyeballs were being burned out of my head.  (Ask Matthew - he remembers the blood-curdling screams.)  Needless to say, I wore my glasses that night, and now there's a bottomless box of disposable gloves in our pantry for handling those fiery frakkers.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


I get a lot of crap in the mail.  It definitely helped that I signed up on some do-not-mail list a couple of years ago that has prevented me from getting random credit card applications every day, but still, like many others, our mailbox is typically full of marketing junk that I mostly find annoying, particularly from businesses with whom we supposedly have a relationship, tangential or otherwise. 
Like the Lane Bryant flyers I used to get all the time, probably because I spent too much money shopped at Bath and Body Works, and because I like to smell nice moisturize, they assume I am a woman of larger stature.

I also managed to get put onto the Victoria's Secret mailing list for a good chunk of time.  At least Vicky would send me coupons for garments, and since I'm not about to pass up anything for free, even if it is for someone else's benefit, I used to bring them to my former all-women-but-me office, where one of my colleagues was happy to take them off my hands without slapping me.  (You know I'm still talking about the coupons, right?)

At least I figured out that I got put on these lists because these stores are all owned by the same parent company.  Fine, I get it.  Everyone in their marketing department has to earn a living, but clearly someone should be filtering their mailing lists a little better. 

And then there is the surreal junk mail that makes me go - Huh?

Like this lovely gem in today's mail:

I assure you I'm nowhere near the membership age requirement. 

Like I said - Huh?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


This awesome cartoon was originally posted on the Shoebox blog, but I was directed to it by AfterElton.  Hi-la-ri-ous.  It combines two of my favorite things: Christmas and Star Wars.  Total geekout fest.

'Scuse me, I gotta go find my lightsaber now. 

Monday, December 6, 2010


This week, I hit a bit of a milestone:  I finished a book.  Cover to cover.  A book with words, and those words weren't in bubbles over pictures.  Whoa.

Cue sarcastic, yet polite applause from my perplexed, yet kind blog readers.

As someone who managed to painfully claw his way to an English literature degree many moons ago, it's a bit embarassing to admit that I rarely finish a book these days.  Don't invite me to join your book club - I'd be the worst member ever.

The truth is that I read and write all day for my job, as well as keep up with the regular newspaper, business newspapers and magazines (so I know what sectors are making money, even in these times) and fundraising periodicals (which make me feel inadequate provide helpful tips on raising money, even in these times).  And between all of that, with my Entertainment Weekly current event and cooking magazines, not to mention all the other crap I get in the mail (because I can't seem to get rid of my old United airmiles except by ordering more magazine subscriptions, and God knows I can't pass up anything that's for free), I don't have much time to crack open a tome by the end of the day.  (And yet here I sit, blogging and not reading...huh.) 

So unless the book is published by Marvel, DC or Dark Horse these days, it's likely to sit on my nightstand until I can muster up the courage to read it.  Even so, there are books that I start, but have to put down, and by the time I get back into them, I have to start at the beginning, because I've forgotten the parts that I've read.  So the constant question is - do I pull the trigger on actually starting a book, or dance the inevitable dance of having to restart it?  It's a delicate pas de deux that usually ends with a torn hamstring and tears.

But...there are a few authors for whom I will always make time:  Amy Tan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Armistead Maupin, and Carole Henikoff.  Which leads me to this posting - the occasion of having finished Mr. Maupin's latest book, Mary Ann in Autumn, a continuation of his Tales of the City series.

(So I'm trying out this new widget from the HarperCollins site which should direct you to an excerpt to read, if you're so inclined.  Hopefully it'll work, since I just copied the HTML from their site.)

Maupin's original Tales series chronicled the lives of a disparate group of San Francisco residents - straight, gay, transgender - and appeared in serialized format in a San Francisco newspaper, beginning in 1978.  The series was later published in book format, which I only discovered when I moved to Chicago, along with the television adaptations of the first three books, starring Laura Linney (to whom Mary Ann is dedicated) and Olympia Dukakis.  (Dukakis was at a Chicago book event a few years, and when I asked her how she came to play Anna Madrigal, she said that Maupin instantly thought of her for the role when the TV adaptation was in progress.)

There's definitely a soap-opera-ish feel to Maupin's books (now numbering eight in the Tales series, but I've read his others as well), with many characters chronicled and interwoven through the years.  Despite some pretty outlandish subplots (transmogrification - really?!), I think what I've enjoyed most about his books are the sense that for those who live in places where you have no relatives, family is what you create.  This is certainly true for his troop of Barbary Lane residents, who arrive in San Francisco with their own baggage - physical and otherwise - and come to depend on each other like family. 

Mary Ann in Autumn picks up a few decades after the original Tales series, and follows on the heels of Maupin's intermediary Michael Tolliver Lives.  The once idealistic Mary Ann is now 57 years old, and has spent two decades on the East Coast, essentially isolating herself from her ex-husband Brian, and her daughter, Shawna.  Now in a crisis of her own, she finds solace once more in her long-time friend, Michael "Mouse" Tolliver and his husband, Ben, and her San Francisco family, including D'Or, DeDe, and Mrs. Madrigal.

I won't go into much more detail, other than to say that - like the other Tales books - it's a quick, easy read.  I like that Maupin reverted back to his typical third-person, multi-story arc format (whereas Michael Tolliver Lives was in the first person and perhaps borrowed a wee bit too much from Mr. Maupin's personal life), and while the book probably won't win a Pulitzer, I have to admit that it's comforting to find out how each of the original, surviving Tales characters has turned out.  It's like the Facebook of the Tales world - which is somewhat ironic, since Facebook actually figures prominently in this particular book. 

Bottom line - if you love Tales of the City as much as I do, then this is certainly a worthy successor, and a fun read.  Much like Maupin's other books, loose ends always get tied up by the last page, and while some of them you can see coming from a mile away, it's reassuring to know that there's a - spoiler alert! - happy ending by the time you reach the back cover.

Which I did, quite proudly. 

The End.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


While I was making our Turkey Day non-turkey dinner last week, Matthew got the house all Christmasfied.  It's a process that we both really enjoy - he loves decorating for the holidays, and I get left to my own devices in the kitchen.  Win-win.  Plus, my decorating gene is apparently recessive, so I'd no doubt put everything in the wrong place. 

We got this pre-lit tree for our second Christmas together, and it seems to be going strong.  Still, every year we bring it out and wait with breath that is bated while we assemble and plug it in.  And even though I'm so not mechanically inclined, I've managed to resuscitate it in years past if the lights don't work, unlike our outdoor garland, which apparently has moved onto lighting heaven despite my best efforts to bring it back to life, and which now has a DNR. 

Our plush Rudolph with his Santa hat is seated at the base of the tree, having come to us as a gag gift from a party.  Press his antler and he belts out a rock n' roll version of Jingle Bells in his best Goofy-like voice.  We only ask him to sing two or three times a year, because we're afraid he'll eventually give up the vocal ghost.  But, even if mute, he's a welcome furry addition to the household every Christmas.

All of our tree ornaments have some special meaning to us, having been passed down to us by our parents, given as gifts (to each other), or picked up on our travels.   Here are a few of my favorites:

These two anatomically-incorrect reindeer were our first Christmas decoration purchase together.  We always put them together on the tree because they're so darn cute.  I love the preppy-ish striped scarves, hanging stylishly to the side.  And much like us in person, we can't tell them apart.  Although the one on the right seems to say more jazz hands! than the other in this particular photo.   He's such a little extrovert.

I freakin' love the Goodman Theatre's annual production of A Christmas Carol.  Yes, we all know how the story ends, having seen countless renditions/rebootings/reimaginings of this story, from Bill Murray to Mickey to the Muppets.  Still, it must be awfully dusty in that theater because every time the Cratchits have their Christmas Eve dinner, and Bob Cratchit talks about a Christmas without Tiny Tim in the future, my eyes get watery.  It's allergies, I tell ya, allergies! 

And then there's the scene where the Ghost of Christmas Present throws up some sparkly stuff and the whole rear of the stage is suddenly backlit to look like a star-filled night.  It's a simple, corny, really cheap lighting trick, but it gets me every time.  And even though I know the moment is coming, I get a kick out of hearing all the kids in the audience ooh and ahh, much like I did the first time I saw it.

We got this ornament of Scrooge and Tiny Tim after our first trip to the show a few years ago, although we later found out that Tim is missing his crutch - a prediction of things to come for our little fella?  Ah, happy endings.

In 2005, we spent Thanksgiving in New York and saw the parade live, where we took this photo of Santa and Mrs. Claus.  We had a great vantage point, close to where they kicked off the parade, and we were able to see the bands, floats, stars (Kristin ChenowethJeff Corwin! Leeann Rimes, pre-home-wrecker!), and huge balloons in all their glory.  And now we get to remember that fun trip in a deeply-discounted-post-holiday-but-still-awesome commemorative Pottery Barn frame for years to come.

A sweet story behind this one:  every year in Chicago, the city hosts a downtown Christkindlmarket, a German-style outdoor Christmas market that has many different vendors, one of whom makes flag ornaments.  Two years ago, Matthew wanted to surprise me with a Canada flag ornament, but the vendor said that he didn't make them, and that he would the next year.  And true to his word, the good guy did.  Hence my maple leaf Christmas ornament that makes my maple-leaf-emblazoned, maple-syrup-bleeding heart go pitter-patter.

O Canada.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


Things I've experienced for the first time over the past few days:

The first 200 pageviews:
I never really knew what to expect when I started this blog (although I promise a posting in the next few weeks about why I started it), but it has been fun to see my "self-esteem counter" hit and surpass the 200 count.  And I have official followers!  You like me, you really like me!

Sorry - we've been watching last year's season of Brothers & Sisters on DVD, so I'm on a Sally Field high.

My first pumpkin pie:
I had never made one of these before Thursday, although it was surprisingly easy.  We're still enjoying the leftovers this weekend, and I plan a repeat performance at Christmas.  And a hat-tip to our friend, Sarah L., who suggested using my stand mixer to beat up mounds of whipped cream awesomeness that is a perfect pairing with this puppy. 

The first holiday party of the season:
We were invited to Greg's wonderful cocktail party at his home off the Mile with several former colleagues from my prior job.  While I've kept in touch with everyone through Facebook, I hadn't seen some of them since I left two years ago, so it was wonderful to catch up in person over good nosh.  Though Greg and I never actually crossed paths work-wise, we've connected through some of our volunteer committee work, and it was great to meet his boyfriend.

My first full meal at a great Indian place called _________:
After said party, we headed over for dinner at an Indian restaurant that - for the purposes of today's posting - I'm going to call Johnny Drama's, because I don't want to give them a bad rap unnecessarily, when we actually had a good time last night, but where we've experienced drama in the past.

See, a few weeks ago, we went with our friend, M., to Johnny Drama's for dinner - my first time there.  M. is severely allergic to nuts, and was very clear with the staff about it.  When our food came out, we confirmed that they got it right with her main course.  Unfortunately, they didn't get it right when it came to one of the dipping sauces, which had ground cashews in it, and which they didn't know or confirm until she had already eaten some. 

Whatever portion of the dipping sauce M. ate probably did not have an actual chunk of nut in it (or I would probably be posting a much more morose story), but she immediately started to experience difficulty in swallowing.  Even after swigging back three Benadryls, she was in increasing discomfort, so we left Johnny Drama's in a hurry (leaving a barely-eaten meal behind) and headed over to Northwestern Memorial, where we spent the next three hours in the emergency ward as they pumped her full of steroids to bring down the swelling.  Thankfully, she survived (relatively) unscathed to tell the tale, except for the big hole in her arm where they inserted the IV.

Lessons learned:
  1. When someone says that they have a severe food allergy, they probably mean it, and they're not just saying it because they don't like something.  Clearly, Johnny Drama's failed to do what it needed to do in both knowing and disclosing the ingredients of its food, especially when M. was really upfront about her nut allergy. 
  2. If you are sick and want to be taken care of by very good-looking doctors and nurses - go to Northwestern's emergency ward.  I swear, every person who came in that room was model-quality - especially that cutie-patootie student nurse.  But, buyer beware - your thrill of getting a sponge bath from one of these gorgeous people will probably be tempered by feeling old because of their Doogie Howser-like youth. 
The silver lining to this story is that M. read the riot act to the restaurant manager, and got us a free dinner.  Which we thoroughly enjoyed last night, with copious leftovers for this week. 

I cooked mussels:
I took some inspiration from my younger sister, who has settled into marital bliss by becoming a very adventurous cook, and decided to cook mussels for the first time.  A few years ago, Matthew and I went to the Ocean House in Cape Cod, where we had the most amazing mussels ever, cooked in sake with cured Chinese sausage.  We'ver never stopped thinking about them, so for my inaugural mussels adventure, I attempted to recreate it, adding garlic and ginger, with a multigrain baguette to soak up the broth.  And it was awesome.

My first (and hereafter only) ninth anniversary:
Our anniversary is at a tough time of year because it's so close to the holidays - and has actually been on Thanksgiving itself in the past - so being able to celebrate it at home, by ourselves, was wonderful.  And its only competition this year was my Black Friday shopping, which was restrained, as predicted, although I did pick up a pair of snazzy Sugoi running pants that will make it just the teensiest bit easier to separate myself from the bed in the cold winter mornings...

So apparently the traditional gifts associated with the ninth anniversary are willow (?!) or pottery.  Let me just preempt you by saying that willow (tree, Palin or otherwise) does not go with anything we have.  So go with pottery.  I'm just sayin'.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Today's posting is brought to you by the number Nine.

Nine is the third square number - which, for the math-uninclined among us, means 3 X 3.

Nine used to be the number of planets in our solar system - until the Powers That Be decided that Pluto wasn't big enough, so now we have eight. 

Nine is the official number of innings in a baseball game - a team sport fact that I actually know.  Just don't ask me anything about football.

Nine is 27% of the 33 years I've inhabited this planet.

Nine is considered a lucky number, because it apparently sounds like the Chinese word for "long-lasting" - which I can't really verify, because I don't speak the lingo.  Still, if it's true, it's kinda fitting for this post.

Because it was nine years ago today that I had a first date with a man in a puffy red coat, over a slice of pumpkin cheesecake at Nookies in Lakeview.

I had just returned the prior night from my last visit to Montreal.  It was just a few months after 9/11, and I had wanted to close out my stint in the reserves, because - however illogically - I was a bit afraid that I might be called up into service somehow, given all the crap that was going on in the world.  And for whatever reason, coming back from that trip, it just seemed like a page in my life was turning - without pause or regret - and I was ready for more.

And there he was, waiting for me on a windy November evening (because I was late, as usual).  And even though I was wearing a tragically-unfashionable black trenchcoat with epaulets, he didn't run away. 

3,285 days, hundreds of desserts, one green card, a home, and many adventures later, he's still with me.  And for that, I am a better man.

Happy Anniversary, Matthew - I love you.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


I'm lucky to celebrate two Thanksgivings every year: Canadian Thanksgiving (the second Monday of October, also known as another day to close schools Columbus Day south of the 42nd parallel), and American Thanksgiving (also known as the shotgun start to the frantic shopping rush to Christmas).  And because I'm known to wear my maple-leaf-emblazoned, maple-syrup-bleeding heart on my sleeve, I keep getting asked why Canadians have Thanksgiving, or if the Great White North is just copying its neighbor to the south.

From my brief WWW search of historically-factual sites (that is, because it's on the WWW, it means that it's the absolute truth), Canadian Thanksgiving apparently came first - ha! - in 1578 to celebrate the end of the long, god-forsaken journey of one Martin Frobisher who was trying to find passage from England to Asia, but ended up on Newfoundland instead.  (Dude, you totally went the wrong way.)  On the American side, the first Thanksgiving is widely accepted to have been held by Native Americans and Plymouth colonists in 1621 in Massachusetts, to celebrate the colonists not starving to death fall harvest.  Hence the annual reenactments featuring paper hats and headdresses.  But minus the smallpox. 

And while Canada supposedly had the first Thanksgiving, the traditions are said to be similar thanks to American loyalists bringing the turkey, trimmings and pumpkin pie to Canada during the Revolution.  Fortunately, the US kept the patent on Black Friday, although Boxing Day comes a close second.

But enough history for now. 

This was supposed to be a pretty busy four-day weekend, but since my younger sister and brother-in-law had to unexpectedly cancel their visit, we've now found ourselves with four days of peace and solitude - a Thanksgiving by ourselves, for the first time in several years.  And after gearing up for visitors, but then realizing we'd be on our own, we've actually turned down dinner invitations for today (nor extended any), as we're just looking forward to the time together.

Still, we have to eat, so first up on today's agenda is preparing for Thanksgiving dinner, with the main course being a Turkey Day non-turkey ham.  Why no bird, you ask?  Well, I've never actually roasted one (even though everyone says it's the easiest thing in the world to do), because, frankly, I don't like dealing with bones in meat, and I can do more with ham leftovers than I can with turkey.  Sides will be a sweet potato casserole (recipe courtesy of my only non-Martha-branded Food Network magazine), green beans (with parmesan and lemon juice), and corn - because nothing says "fall harvest" like ripping open a bag of Green Giant's finest.

And to top it all off, I'm going to make a pumpkin pie.  For the very first time.  I'll let you know how all of this turns out.

Of course, one of the beauties of being able to cocoon over the long weekend is that I can do my Black Friday shopping unencumbered.  And no, I'm not talking about lining up outside Best Buy at midnight (but kudos to those who have the fortitude to do so).  Instead, I'm going to be surfing away on my computer in my PJs and enjoying the deals and bargains from the comfort and warmth of our house.  Last year, I was a little trigger happy with the mouse, so this year I'm trying to restrain myself, especially since I'm saving up for some significant horn-related maintenance and gadgets (more about that in another posting).  Still, I'm scoping out some more winter running gear, and possibly a Blu-Ray player with WiFi (although I'd prefer a DVR with WiFi instead, but that doesn't appear to be in the cards).  I'm determined to do my part to stimulate the economy.  Sacrifices, all.

To all my American friends and family, wherever you are - a warm, happy and safe Thanksgiving.  See you on the other side - a little heavier from dinner, a little lighter in the wallet, but still thankful for all we have.  Or bought.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010


Dear Allaya,

Thanks for taking my call last night.  You were just the right person for me to talk to, even though I was pretty mad at what I thought was a royal clusterfrack on Verizon's part. 

As you correctly noted, I've been a loyal customer in good standing since 2002, after having jumped ship from Sprint because I could never get a signal in my own apartment at the time.  In fact, I recently started paying your employer even more money every month after finally retiring my 3.5-year-old Razr that wouldn't hold a charge longer than two hours, and upgrading to a Droid and data plan so I can be constantly joined at the dysfunctional hip to the Web or e-mail, or use the CTA's life-altering GPS system to see just how long I have to sprint to catch the bus or risk waiting another 30 minutes in the cold.

So I wasn't too impressed when I got my latest bill and just about had a coronary when I saw that Verizon wanted to charge me an extra $98 for data roaming fees in Canada.  It appears that the previous customer rep to whom I spoke didn't know that "I'll be in Canada from this date to this date" meant that she actually had to put that info into your system so I wouldn't be charged crazy-ass data fees when I was north of the 42nd parallel.  Instead, the global data plan was on my phone for just one day - the day before I left for my trip

I appreciated your professional demeanor as I declined your first and second attempts to pacify me with a wholly unsatisfactory partial credit.  And even though I had to really push to get the full $85 credit that I was expecting (as I know I would have paid $13 had I actually been on the plan I requested), I'm grateful that you saw things my way in the end, and that you were willing to make it happen.

As I said, I don't envy you your job, because I'm sure it's the pits when you probably have multiple d-bags raging on and on at you every day.  I like to think that I was not one of them by remaining as calm and polite as possible.  As I saw things, it would've been pointless to ruin your night when it was really one of your colleagues who mucked things up in the first place.  Keep up the good work, and thanks for making things right.


P.S.  Is that Verizon iPhone thing really happening?

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Things I've learned (or reconfirmed) this weekend:

Our furnace still works.
Since moving here, we've been using a local company that provides annual check-ups of our furnace and AC.  The first year was tough, because the technicians they sent so good.  Case in point: when the blower motor blew out in 2008 (on one of the coldest days of the year), the guy tried to sell me a new $5,000 system, when the motor was ultimately replaced for just $300.  So when we found a technician from this company whom I felt we could trust and wouldn't try to fleece us, we kept asking for him every time we needed a maintenance call.  Until this week, when we found out that he quit, and we don't know where he went.  Now, to me, a good HVAC technician is like a good stylist: you find one you like, and you stick to her like conservatives stick to their guns and religion. (Trust me - we've been through two salon moves in four years with ours.)  Thankfully, our new technician, Frank, seems like a decent fellow, so I'll be requesting him in the future.  That being said - Tom Y., if you read this, call me!

My feet are bigger than I think.
We spent Saturday afternoon in Lincoln Square, enjoyed a buffet lunch at an Indian restaurant, and - while Matthew perused the Book Cellar - I got fitted for some new running shoes at Fleet Feet.  So it turns out that for several years I've been buying running shoes a full size too small for my humongous flippers.  Armed with this new information and a bruised ego over my no-longer-so-daintys, I grabbed the recommended pair of Brooks, then drowned my sorrows with three pairs of fancy running socks, a "beanie" hat, a pair of gloves with a little "cap" over the thumb so I can still control my non-fruit-symbol-engraved music player, and Yaktrax, which strap on your shoes and supposedly let you run on snow with better traction.  I'll let you know how they turn out - should be a fun winter.

Like butter, bacon should be its own food group.
I think bacon makes everything taste better, but particularly when flavoring a hearty vegetable soup that will last us the week - if we're lucky.  I had to clear out a lot of vegetables in the fridge to make space for the turkey day ham, so I threw a bunch of stuff in the pot, including some kale (the green stuff).  Hey, quit coveting my Cherry Red, 7.25 quart Le Creuset dutch oven that I spent years deciding to buy...

There are people on the bus who really shouldn't talk to strangers.  Ever.
Last night, we managed to overhear the conversation between a 40-something woman clutching her bible - let's call her Chatty Cathy - and a 28-year-old fellow (we assume Eastern European).  Chatty Cathy was trying to engage this total stranger in conversation for whatever reason, and she would not stop talking the entire freakin' bus ride.  The poor guy - whose English was fractured at best - tried his damndest to keep up, but she kept on yapping.  We learned from their conversation that Chatty Cathy's mother was a pastor for 40 years (although at first we thought we heard her say bastard but then she repeated it five more times during the conversation - just to make her point), and she kept trying to get more personal information from him, but his limited English did not help. 

Chatty Cathy:  So do you have any siblings?
Eastern European Fellow:  I have one seester and brudder.
Chatty Cathy:  So just one sister and your mom?
EEF:  No, B-r-udder.
Chatty Cathy:  So only one sibling?

Then he asked for her number, which she didn't want to give, but she took his, and made no promise to call him.  She did reiterate several times that she was a born-again Christian and she didn't drink or smoke, and that if he was the type of person that drinks or smokes, then she didn't think they could be friends. 

And when we finally - mercifully! - got off the bus, EEF tried to cop a hug from Chatty Cathy, except she stuck out her hand and said "Shake my hand!  Shake my hand!" as a preemptive strike.  It was a good thing she did that, or that bible would likely have gone places it had never gone before. 

We are fortunate to have great friends in our lives.
We were taking said bus ride to get downtown to meet up with our good friend, Patrick, at Quartino, which was packed to the gills.  Patrick and I were roommates for a year when we were both in grad school, until I ditched him moved out when Matthew and I got our first place.  A few months later, Patrick followed his dream of moving to NYC, where he's been ever since. 

Yesterday marked the birthday of Patrick's late best friend, Robert, who passed away last year after a long battle with a brain tumor.  Robert was a much-loved high school choral director in Palatine, and Patrick felt that he needed to be here this weekend to celebrate Robert's life - 'cause that's just the type of friend he is.  We love Patrick to pieces - he's one of the most genuine, heart-on-his-sleeve, kind-hearted people we know.  And since we don't get to see him often, we were thrilled to catch up, and recall some of our memories of our Buena Park apartment.  Patrick and I connected through a roommate matching service (since I was still relatively new to Chicago and Patrick was in Louisiana at the time), and he asked Robert to check out the apartment on his behalf.  And when I asked Robert to take off his shoes when he came in the door, apparently he knew right off the bat that Patrick and I would be a good match. 

So here's to you, Robert - happy birthday; the world misses you something fierce.  And here's to you, Patrick, for being such an amazing friend in so many ways, in so many lives.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Back in the 80s, before the dawn of the Web age that now gives us easy access to pictures of celebrities to shamelessly steal, re-post and fawn over, pre-teens like me used to cut photos of movie or TV stars out of trashy magazines and keep them in a scrapbook, post them on bedroom walls, or do whatever it is that hormone-infested teens and pre-teens do with pictures of their idols. 

Scenes from my childhood, part 1

The setting:  The family dining room.  A sunny afternoon.  My twelve-year-old self has been going through my ritual of looking through magazines and picking out favorite photos, with my sister seated at the opposite end of our long table.

Sister:  "I think it's strange that you only have pictures of men.  Look, you've got Tom Cruise, Tom Selleck, Harrison Ford - why don't you have pictures of any women?"

Me:  "But I do have pictures of women."

Cue hurried scrambling through masses of hunky movie and TV star photos.

Me:  "See?  Here's Dolly Parton."

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


For the past few months, I've been following NoFo, a blog written by a guy named Jake who lives on the North Side.  I can't even remember how I stumbled across it, but I've been thoroughly entertained, and have read almost all of his postings.  And he's been at it since 2003, so there are a lot of them.  And while my self-esteem counter is only in the double digits (for now!), his pageviews are nearly at 1 million.

What I love about his writing is that he is unabashedly, unrepentantly, unrelentingly himself - a happy gay man.  It's who he is, and he's not afraid to put it out there - with honesty, introspection and vulnerability.  Here's a man who won't hesitate to dress as Beyonce and her "Single Lady" crew for fun (and even choreograph a routine along with it) on one day, but will benchpress you into oblivion the next, while helping to care for his husband's developmentally challenged brother, and scheduling tapings for the It Gets Better Project at the Center on Halsted.  And though the topics of his writing have evolved over the years, his blog still maintains the humorous, self-deprecating, husband-and-family-centric tone that I admire.

So imagine my surprise when I'm walking out of my office building last week on my way to pick up my new glasses when I see all 6-foot-1 of Jake-ness in the lobby.  So I paused, unsure of what to do next, because I was already running late.  And then my mild crush overwhelmed the left side of my brain, so I decided to wait until he finished talking with his clients.  And when he was done, I gathered my petticoat, introduced myself, and gushed like a schoolgirl on speed.

He was a true gentleman, very friendly and approachable, and appreciative of my compliments about his blog.  And then we commiserated briefly over a very distant mutual acquaintance who turned out to be a psychopath.  But that's a posting for another time.

And get this - it turns out he works in my frakkin' building.  And has for the past year and a half.  (But I was there first. Seriously.)  I've never seen him in person previously because he's at the office earlier than me (which I know from reading his blog), and we use a different bank of elevators.

So, Jake, you probably won't read this, and you may not remember me if we bump into each other in our little corner of the Loop again, but I hope you don't mind that I consider you my blogging Yoda.  You've inspired me (as you probably have many others) to take a chance in starting this blog, and just be who I am - unabashedly, unrepentantly, and unrelentingly. 

Just without the Beyonce ensemble.


I have a healthy-sized CD collection that I've managed to amass over the years, primarily classical (horn, chamber music and orchestral), some vocal and choral, a bunch of movie soundtracks, and the oddball Animaniacs set (because the music is both brilliant and hysterical, and I'm a big kid at heart).  So despite having studied music throughout college, and having made an attempt to be a professional musician, it may surprise you - yes, all five of you who are reading this (hi, Mom!) - that for several years after I graduated, I hardly listened to any canned, classical music at all - at least of my own free will.

I'll save the whole saga for another posting, but since getting a digital music device that doesn't have a fruit symbol engraved on the back, and trying to start running again to compensate for the drubbing that my metabolism took when I hit my 30s (again, another story for another time), I've been slowly getting back into the listening game again. 

So there's a back story to every track or album that's on my playlist - of course, it's not random, because I chose them - but each has some special meaning in my life.  And I swear - I could listen to this same music for hours on end and never, ever tire of it. 

So, in no particular order, here's what's currently on my what-would-you-take-on-a-desert-island playlist:

Kreisler - Praeludium and Allegro (in the style of Pugnani)
I've had the good fortune of hearing Midori play live (in a sold-out concert hall that had no AC on a hot spring day, no less), which is fitting, since the two times that I've ever wanted to be a violinist involve her.  The first was when I watched her play the Carmen Fantasy for Leonard Bernstein's 80th birthday celebration, on TV.   The second was when I heard this recording with her and her long-time collaborative pianist, Robert McDonald.  I realize it's probably not a "masterwork" of the violin repertoire (even though every violin playing prodigy from 9 years old seems to have a made a recording of it that's now up on Youtube), but something in this music just gets to me every time - or at least how Midori plays it.  Or maybe I'm just a sucker for a sequence.  (And that's sequence, not - ahem - sequins.)

Celine Dion - Because You Loved Me, I Drove All Night, Taking Chances, I'm Alive, To Love You More, The Power of Love, etc.
Despite what some might consider a gratingly saccharine personality, the French-speaking girl from humble beginnings in the Great White North has amazing pipes, scandal-free longevity (other than her husband's alleged gambling problem and the nightmare that was her first-born's hair), and a loyal fan base in our household of two.  A few years ago, Matthew bought us tickets to see her show at Caesar's Palace ('cause that's just the type of partner he is), which we l-o-v-e-d, so when her show came out on DVD after she ended her Vegas run, I promptly bought it as a Christmas gift for him.  And, yes, I freely admit to loving her stuff, especially those I consider her "power ballads."  And better yet, I find that the slower ballads don't screw up my running pace when she powerwashes my eardrums through my non-fruit-symbol-engraved music player.  Score!

Wicked - Broadway Cast Recording
Idina Menzel has it all - an amazing voice, a rockin' hot husband, a Tony award, and Glee credits to her name.  Sigh.  Some girls have all the fun.  (Although I count myself lucky at 1-for-4 - I'll let you guess which.)  And while Wicked has its preteen following, you can count me as a fan, too.  I guess it's that whole I'm-different-but-I'm-not-gonna-let-that-hold-me-back attitude of Elphaba that speaks to me.  And now you know where the not-quite-sure-if-it's-permanent title of my blog comes from.

John Williams:  The Best of Space Music
Growing up, I used to watch Evening at Pops as often as I could on PBS, and even got to see a live show on a high school trip to Boston in 1991.  My favorite episode was John Williams' last at the helm of the orchestra - when Jessye Norman sang, and a pre-paralysis-accident Christopher Reeve walked on stage and said that there was no Superman without that ubiquitous theme song.  And he was totally right.  When the Superman Returns movie came out a few years ago, I got goosebumps when I heard that first rumbling of the theme, even though the franchise had been practically dead for two decades.  In addition to Superman, this soundtrack holds golden oldies including the first three Star Wars movies (the good ones) and E.T

Richard Strauss - Four Last Songs
My college horn teacher once told me that there's something about the last thing that a composer composes: Mahler's 9th, Beethoven's 9th, and these incredible songs by Richard Strauss for soprano and orchestra (about death, but they're in German, which I don't understand, so I'm blissfully ignorant).  I've been told that the Elizabeth Schwarzkopf recording is better, but I'm quite content with Jessye on mine.  And while it's been years, I still have fond memories of playing 4th horn on this in college.

Non Nobis, Domine from Henry V Soundtrack
The first time I heard Patrick Doyle's incredible scoring for this movie was in 1992, when Paul Wylie used it to skate to an Olympic silver medal.  I promptly went out and bought the cassette tape, and practically wore out the damn thing from playing it over and over again.  (I've since upgraded to the CD.)  And even though it's a bit repetitive, I love how it starts out with a single male voice, joined by more and more male voices, and then the orchestra.  Sends chills through me every time.

Make Our Garden Grow from Leonard Bernstein's Candide
Similarly to the Carmen Fantasy, I first heard this when it was performed for Bernstein's 80th birthday on TV.  Yes, the lyrics are corny, but I frakkin' love this one, which is why I was terribly disappointed by the truncated rendition given for Stephen Spielberg when he got his Kennedy Center Honors (even though hottie-McHot Nathan Gunn took the lead).  There's a brief passage when the chorus sings a capella that gets me every time.  Every time. 

And while there's much more on my non-fruit-symbol-engraved music player, these are the tunes that have been keeping me company on my transit ride home when I'm not with Matthew, or on my solitary runs around the park.  So, one of these days, if you come across a runner singing along to a Celine power ballad, or a Wicked show tune, please resist the urge to trip him and laugh - he's just rockin' out with his girls.

Sunday, November 14, 2010


Since I don't have any nieces or nephews, and Matthew's two nephews are now (both almost) teenagers, we're always excited to be guncles (gay uncles) for our friends' young children.  Of course, we were thrilled when our friend, Pauline, said that she and her daughter, Mia, were coming to town and wanted to stay with us. 

So, for two nights, Matthew and I played host to a bundle of cuteness - and energy! - whom we absolutely adore.  There were no crying jags or temper tantrums - which we attribute to our good guncleness - just tons of special reading time, Tinkerbell DVDs, and hide-and-seek.  Mia has trouble pronouncing certain consonants, which kept us in stiches the entire visit:  "I'm not tree (three), I'm pour (four);" "May I be accused (excused)" and "the pooky porest (spooky forest - from her Dora Halloween book)."
You're the best reader ever, Uncle Matthew!

Thankfully, my not-so-friendly kid menu went down well.  She particularly loves fruit, of which I had plenty on hand, so there was a back-up plan if nothing met her approval.  And what's a visit to our home without a taste of my crumb bars - made with frozen blueberries that we picked over the summer - which she promptly wolfed down, just like the adults at the table:
Thank you, Martha Stewart!
But, now they're gone, so the house is quiet again.  And while we enjoy the peace, we certainly miss that pitter-patter of feet, and the endless supply of hugs and kisses.  Still, what better way to drown our sorrows than with this really cool thank you gift...