Neither Either


less faking it

Urgency Day 177

500 Things Items 322-23: Fake Foliage

  • History: Bought to “liven” up the decor
  • Value: More dusty than delightful
  • Parting Pain: <cough cough> None!
  • Un-possessing: Donations

How many school ceremonies have you had to endure gotten to enjoy?

  • Back to School nights
  • Orchestra/band/choir concerts
  • Plays and talent shows
  • Holiday celebrations
  • Awards—deserved and invented
  • Graduations and Movings-on

Since I have only the one child, you may think I’ve gotten off easy. In fact, I probably have. But I also have two almost-children, nieces, and I invited myself along to every one of their events I reasonably (and possibly unreasonably) could.

Most especially to their ballet recitals.

Oh how I loved Miss Ginny’s annual ballet recitals! The Self-Contained Unit’s chosen activities of soccer and music did not allow me to become a ballet mom. You’ll have to ask my girls if I was a ballet aunt.

No. I haven’t seen “Black Swan.”

On February 23rd, I fondly remember one school ceremony in particular from decades ago. It was for my older niece Laura when she was in fourth-ish grade. Her mom, my sister, wasn’t able to attend, so her dad and I went to hoot and holler for our girl. I don’t have a clue what, why, how many or how good the thing was that she did and for which she was getting an award. Here’s what I do remember.

At a certain point in the ceremony, gifts were being brought forward for a few of the teachers. An adorable little girl was the first to make her way to the front, proudly carrying some truly wretched tribute—think dying plant or dead flowers, and you get the idea. My brother-in-law Jim and I could barely restrain our giggles, watching the look of doe-in-the-headlights horror cross the intended recipient’s face as she realized she was about to receive this “gift.”

Just before the child could reach her mark, however, the principal frantically gestured for the child to STOP! Obviously some mistake had been made. She then motioned for another child to come forward with her gift instead. A flash of relief barely had time to wash over the teacher’s face, when she saw that the alternate gift was equally if not more horrible– think bigger deader flowers.

And with impeccable timing, Jim and I turned to each other and simultaneously whispered the Stephen Sondheim lyric:

“I don’t want the other either!”

(Sunday in the Park with George)

Fortunately, our perverse mirth was drowned out, and we quickly joined the gentle giggles and commiserating applause from the other dads, moms and, I am confident, besotted aunts.

For my darling bro:

Happy February 23rd.

Happy Birthday.


Key to My Past


past keys; locked locks

Urgency Day 179

500 Things Items 315-321: Locks and Keys

  • History: Opened, locked, secured
  • Value: Adequate until can no longer identify
  • Parting Pain: None
  • Un-possessing: Metal scrap at dump

“Can’t sing. Can’t act. Can dance a little.”

( The assessment of Fred Astaire at his screen test.)

This quote popped into my head this weekend while I was giving a demonstration at a charitable event. I am sure the very same evaluation could have been made of me, but without the irony.

On Saturday, I got the chance to perform. I really haven’t been on stage in years– unless you count soggy toasts or homemade birthday videos. But what we did on Saturday very nearly counts as theater.

The Naperville group I work with and have promoted on this blog, Families Helping Families, presented a nutrition/cooking-class event for our clients and their teenaged children. Our program’s wonderful registered dietician gave a fantastic presentation on the many benefits of healthy eating; we gave away enough cooking-related gifts to rival Oprah’s Favorite Things; and our clients got to assemble and take home four delicious and balanced meals for their families—sort of like the “Dream Dinners” concept. And I, well, I didn’t sing, I didn’t dance (much), but oh I hammed it up big time.

Well, maybe not “hammed.” Maybe “turkeyed” it up—heart-healthy style.

How often do we get to resurrect some earlier version of ourselves?

I used to perform. For years, it was an essential part of how I defined myself. And I had no idea the last time I got on stage would be the last time. Performing simply vanished from my life.

You can probably fill in your own blank: I used to ___________. If you had the chance, would you reclaim that part of yourself?

Our group has a generous grant to hold four more of these events. The goal is to promote healthy eating through home cooking for our hardworking parents, people who are short on both time and money. (Whose life doesn’t fit that description?) And so, I will get four more chances to get on stage and ham it up in the name of good nutrition. I can’t wait.

Maybe the relevant quote I should have conjured was the one about Fred’s partner, Ginger Rogers:

“She does everything he does,

only backwards and in high heels.”

And she cooks a little.

tackling problems

Urgency Day 184

500 Things Items #313-14: Boxes of Fishing Tackle

  • History: Left behind by fishing family
  • Value: I prefer crabbing to fishing
  • Parting Pain: Shipping fees
  • Un-possessing: Shipping back to fishing family

When Neil Armstrong took his small step/giant leap onto the lunar surface, my grandfather fretted.

“They better not mess with that Moon.”

It wasn’t that my grandfather doubted that people had landed on the Moon. From his perspective, it was far worse. Contrary to what conspiracy theorists spin, he knew we actually had, with little more than slide rulers and gumption, sent humans to the Earth’s moon. But Granddaddy was a fisherman. The Moon matters to fisher folk.

Don’t mess with stuff that matters.

Yesterday, I got a lovely message from one of my best friend’s mom. Brigid told me she admired my project and wished she had the “gumption” to downsize. But emotional attachments to her things were preventing her from decluttering.

Gumption: That’s a great word I hadn’t heard in a while.

There’s an implication of spunkiness in the word gumption that I would enjoy being associated with. My decluttering efforts contain an undeniable element of calculation and hardheartedness.  I wrestle with that. When your project includes downsizing:

  • A miniature replica of your dead dog given to your husband by his also-passed mother;
  • Your own mother’s second wedding frock;
  • Your child’s toys (especially anything cuddly with glassy eyes that look at you beseechingly);
  • Copious artifacts from the glory days of high-impact entertaining with friends;
  • And,  apparently, ANY book:

well, you seem to be open to accusations of ruthlessness. But spunkiness! Spunkiness seems to fly in the face of ruthlessness. Would you accuse spunky Laura Ingalls of being ruthless? Anne of Green Gables? Eilonwy?

Spunk matters. Stuff doesn’t.

That’s my message. I want to be the spunky heroine of my own story. Spunky heroines travel light and get the job done. They are resourceful in a pinch, sensible, and not afraid to speak their minds. They know what matters.

Gumption. Spunk. Adventures to the Moon.

That’s what I want.

I’m working on the traveling light.

Breaking Up


purple phase

Urgency Day 186

500 Things Items #311-12: Purple Glasses

  • History: From the purple glass collection
  • Value: Especially fun quaff-containers
  • Parting Pain: Under the circumstances, huge relief
  • Un-possessing: Gift

On Valentine’s Day, no one wants to talk about breaking up.

Fortunately, this break up is about a set of glasses, not a pair of lovers.

Recently, I broke a glass. We were having a lovely evening with some very lovely friends at their lovely home. Yes, wine had been served and consumed, but don’t blame the wine. I am just clumsy. I broke a glass. A lovely purple wineglass. I felt terrible.

But as I watched in slow motion the glass overbalancing and I listened to the horrible crack of delicate crystal shattering against unforgiving granite counter, in that unnerving moment, I harbored a secret.

But first, a Fun Fact!

Just yesterday in the Sunday Chicago Tribune, I learned that there is such a thing as a Color of the Year. Not the usual “pink is the new black,” but a very very specific color of the year. The Benjamin Moore Paint Company pronounced its “chocolaty purple” paint color Vintage Wine the Color of the Year.

It is a beautiful color; not at all a cloying lavender or dated mauve or garish-sports-team screaming-in-your-face PURPLE. You should check it out. It would be gorgeous on an accent wall, a throw pillow, or in glass.

But back to my secret.

When I broke my friend’s  glass, I knew exactly where to get an astonishingly similar one: In a cabinet in my kitchen. Coincidentally, I own virtually identical glasses as my friend’s. In my acquisitive past, I nurtured a special passion for purple glasses. So if my clumsiness happens to take down a purple glass, at least there is a strong possibility that I own its replacement. Crazy, but true.

But which is crazier? My affection for purple glasses or the coincidence that I would, in fact, break a purple glass that I could so readily replace? Maybe there is a deeper meaning to this occasion of my clumsiness. Maybe in my clumsiness, there was a harmonic convergence: I could replace the broken glass and so downsize a little; repair my damaged reputation; and discover my affection for purple validated. At least for this color year.

How often are our passions validated?

Even on Valentine’s Day.

Wishing and Wanting


this shelf is history

Urgency Day 189

500 Things Item #310: Tatty Wicker Shelf

  • History: We think it conveyed.
  • Value: We think it should go away.
  • Parting Pain: That would be none.
  • Un-possessing: Donation (I’m so sorry.)

Where were you when?

It’s become almost cliché, like adding –gate to the end of a scandal. And like other clichés, it’s a useful shortcut, a quick start to a conversation in which you place yourself at a pivotal, iconic moment. I think of Woody Allen’s character, Zelig—“Oh he was there, too!”

At the most macro-level, we are all present at every event. But some events and certain moments, you wish you could be there to witness, to be part. To be there.

Today, I wish I wanted to be in Cairo.

I will always remember where I was when I heard the news from Cairo.

I had just returned from having a coffee with my friend Melanie. I turned on the radio in my kitchen and started slicing an avocado for lunch. The exultant cheers had returned to Tahrir Square, and I will forever more associate guacamole with Egyptian liberation.

When I was young, around ten years old, I wanted to be an archeologist specializing in ancient Egypt. I drew color-coded maps of the Nile basin and constructed models of the pyramids out of my father’s dental-impression cement. I set up a museum in my basement and would have charged my friends 25 cents for a tour, if any of them had been willing to pay to listen to my insufferable pedantry. I was hopelessly unpopular, but I didn’t care. I was passionate about Egypt.

I wanted to be there.

There have been other moments.

In 1989, Paul and I were living in our crazy, fabulously cheap apartment in Fredericksburg, Virginia when we heard the news from Berlin: “The Wall has fallen!” We were riveted by the images of the joyous crowds hammering at the graffitied rubble. We cried and cheered and yearned to have enough money to hop on a plane to go to Berlin.

We longed to be there.

Twelve years after Berlin, Paul and I had added the nascent Self-Contained Unit to our family and were living in a much less crazy, ridiculously expensive house. That Morning, I had climbed fully-clothed into the bathtub—it was the only place from which to adjust the antennae on the small bathroom TV— and was getting ready to take a shower, when it became clear from the voices that something was very wrong in Lower Manhattan. “You should come look at this,” I called to Paul.

We cried and worried and called our family and friends; to hear their voices and know they were safe, and to find out where they were when they had heard about the towers in New York.

But we didn’t want to be there.

As I get older, I am less often swept up by the desire to have a front row seat, whether to history, a movement or even to a concert. A cautious distance seems to be more my comfort zone now. It’s not a very passionate place, the comfort zone. But it is certainly safe.

Today, I am in awe of what the Egyptian people have accomplished. Revolution is a large word, trivialized through overuse in marketing campaigns and at sporting events. Today, there was a paradigm shift, a true revolution.

And today, I desperately wish I wanted to be there.

purged while listening to "Lion in Winter"

Urgency Day 191

500 Things Items #306-09: Four Soundtracks

  • History: Liked the movies, bought the soundtracks
  • Value: Less than any John Barry soundtrack—he died last week
  • Parting Pain: I’m sadder about Sir John’s passing
  • Un-possessing: Donations or gifts

This morning, I told the Self-Contained Unit that I was going to be Very Enthusiastic all day.

<blank stare> “Why?”

“It’s February 9th!”

<……….> “Okay.”

That really was my complete argument for a day of vigorous enthusiasm:

It’s February 9th.

I don’t have any loved ones with a birthday today, it’s about 6 degrees outside, and my skin/hair/belly are at their mid-winter nadirs. Flaky/drab/ flabby. I’m unlikely to be jetting off to Aruba, so my flaky-flabdrabbiness is not on display, but it bugs me. So I decided to control what I could– my outlook and my stuff.

Oh yeah, I am organizing today, February 9th. Enthusiastically!

I organized:

  • Tax documents (given the last year, encouraging);
  • Financial-aid papers (given the next four years, overwhelming);
  • Recently-used recipes (annually predictable: anything with Meyer lemons).

I purged:

  • Several bottles of questionable vitamins (When did I think I had a Niacin deficiency?);
  • Reams of college-applications materials (Stay tuned: Final decisions still to come);
  • Two library books (returned not pitched!) that after renewing the allowed five times, I finally admitted I would never finish.

That’s a good morning’s work!

I don’t subscribe to horoscopes, old-system or newfangled. I’m aware that I’m a Vata, and while that describes me insanely accurately, I just can’t give up pears and brussel sprouts to appease my imbalanced dosha. Honestly, I’m just not that rigorously dogmatic about much of anything. Much…

<far-off stare> Gluten. I avoid gluten religiously. High fructose corn syrup? The actual devil. And I like things tidy.

I am Very Enthusiastic about tidiness, everyday.

Happy February 9th!

Pressing Concerns


pressed out of service

Urgency Day 192

500 Things Item #305: French Press

  • History: To see me thru Paul’s absences
  • Value: Reinforced my lack of javablilty
  • Parting Pain: Zilch
  • Un-possessing: Gift for the first requester

How many cups have you had today?

I’m on my second cup of cafe de Paul. I’ve said it before, there are several things I simply cannot do. Coffee is my most co-dependent addiction.

Every evening, My Beloved prepares the automatic coffee maker: Hand-washing the parts, filtering the water, adding the whole beans. The entirety of my involvement?  Pushing the button at 6:04 a.m. Occasionally, I endure a withering hairy-eyeball, because I neglected to buy the beans, but it’s totally worth it. Fresh coffee, every morning, at the push of a button.

This is our ritual. And for the almost 15 months of Paul’s un- and under-employment, there was a comforting reliability to this ritual. A bit of continuity from our other life. Got coffee? Okay, on with the show.

When Paul was a traveling man, I usually resigned myself to tea. I do love tea, and I love that the Self-Contained Unit loves tea. (He has recently been completely won over by Kara’s fantastic Chai tea.) But on the days I just couldn’t manage without a cup o’ joe, I had a French press.

It is a wonder of efficiency. And that’s about it.

But maybe it’s me, again.

Not long after we moved to Naperville, I stumbled on a vastly, scathingly more satisfying way to score my coffee when Paul traveled. At the end of our street, the dry cleaner we use gives away FREE FULL-SIZED CUPS OF STARBUCKS COFFEE when you drop off and pick up your cleaning!

So, let’s say Paul would be traveling for 3 coffees– I mean 3 days.  Day one, I would drop off one shirt, get a free cup of coffee. Day two, pick up the shirt, get a free cup of coffee. Day three, latte rinse repeat.

Bye bye, French press.

One coffee-related point Paul and I both very much miss, our favorite independent coffeehouse in our old stomping grounds of Fredericksburg, Virginia:  Hyperion. It has everything you want and expect in a great locally-owned coffeehouse, and it has dear friends running it and running in and out of it.

There was a piece by western-suburbs blogger Tara Burghart in the Triblocal today that caught my attention:  “5 Great Locally-Owned Coffeehouses.” Her reviews have me plotting some fun weekend outings. The closest of the five is about 20 minutes away, so none of these is likely to become our new Hyperion. But one, Arcedium Coffee House in St. Charles, is right off of our favorite half-century cycling route.

Oh man, I am suddenly looking forward to mile 29!

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