Good Yarns

Maybe I should have done more it during my extensive vacation from the office, but today I made my first official outing to learn more about my adopted city. (This will give me something to offer when co-workers inquire what I did over the holiday. A response about reading and hanging curtains just doesn't seem so captivating.)
The Chicago History Museum. Here was the full story I was seeking regarding Chicago burning during the Great Fire in 1871. I was amused that the historical society seems a little trapped between its responsibility to verifiable historical fact and the wish to spin a good yarn. There was an homage to the legend that Mrs. O'Leary's cow tipped over a gas lamp and started the conflagration, but it was presented as a side note. The Mayor apparently officially pardoned Mrs. O'Leary and her cow a few years ago, since there was never any conclusive evidence to blame them. The museum offered enough of a tribute though, to allow the sale of red cowbells in the gift shop.
It was a seemingly tenuous thread that drew me to the museum today though, an exhibit of Christian Dior dresses from the 1940s and 1950s. (How did this Parisian designer tie to Chicago? Marshall Field's was one of the biggest sellers of Dior couture in the U.S.) I learned that it was Dior silhouette, the "New Look" as it was called (narrow shoulders, full bosom, tiny waist, big hips, full skirt) that drove the invention of the push-up bra. And Dior invented the "A Line." Dior found an investor who was a textile manufacturer, who loved his designs with their voluminous skirts -- some dresses took up 25 yards of fabric!

A Hearty Tarpaulin of a Man

Once in awhile the evil forces evade my Yahoo! spam filter and a misguided promotional, doubtless virus-laden, e-mail ends up in my in-box, masquerading as a legitimate message. I usually rely on Yahoo! to sort through the junk mail (and wish I had a similar servant at home!) so I rarely actually read the nonsense that goes into these messages. However, I inadvertantly discovered (by a slight mis-click) that instead of being entirely perverse, pornographic or explicit content that I expected, select spam seems to have evolved into a poetry unto itself:
stand looking dumbly at the device while I quietly died of thirst or
to work in an office anymore.
This went on until you couldnt see the trees for the mountains of
And with a million credits in the bank you can buy lawyers, live the Great. How do we get to meet Heimskur?

This pitch is supposed to entice you to buy Viagra. Really, very poetic and profound. No? Get Viagra, plus free sweet nothings to whisper in your lover's ear.

In addition, this message, with subject line "To Nightmare":
Since you are so particular, says I, I will amend my question, and in the part, and we had not got to the second merchants before she was moon nor stars to guide us; only the whiteness of the way in the midst Lesmahago, I believe, a very hearty, friendly tarpaulin of a man...

Had I taken a few more English classes in college maybe I'd recognize some of the prose as lifted from other places. Others have recognized this as art unto itself: The Spam Poetry Institute.
All good art may at some time face censorship by those who just don't understand. Your tax dollars are hard at work on the FTC website offering tips via underwater cartoon characters and cheesy (or, fishy) jokes warning us about phishing. Ironically, the site offers the option for you to spam your friends with an anti-phishing e-card from the FTC.

Powered by Procrastination

Wonderful Day 5 of Holiday Vacation. So glorious that, in fact, I had to consider what day of the week it was. I was momentarily horrified when my computer calendar incorrectly said it was Thursday! I was then truly dismayed to see that my first day back to work has made it onto the 7-Day Weather Forecast on the evening news. ("A weekend in every forecast!") That's at least one reason to prefer the 5-Day Forecast.
Despite this being my vacation, there are a few work-related tasks that I assigned myself during the break, like doing my year-end review and spending time thinking about a presentation filled with clinical data and such. My task is to provide the summarizing slides. My history major, summarizing scientific relevancy for physicians. Yahoo!
But there's a much longer list of tasks that have been accomplished in procrastination of the real work: planning curtains for the guest room, reorganizing the closet (both of them), finishing reading my book, hunting around for the best post-Christmas sale on kitchen knives. In my mind, knives are devastatingly expensive. However, when it's your little fingers at stake, it seems that a blunt instrument might be dangerous. So there are new knives in our home. (60% off too!) I also researched a Pottery Barn coffee table, comparing prices of floor samples versus web sale. Jason has remarked that he likes my having free time, since our dinners have leapt forward in their taste. And just the mere consistency of their being a dinner planned each night is impressing me too.

My Popular Education

Definitive proof that my family was not normal: This is the first year I'm watching A Christmas Story. Sure, it's one of those movies that is so strong in the undercurrent of popular Christmas culture that there are catchphrases I already knew ("you're gonna shoot your eye out!") and never once was I discouraged from putting my tongue on a cold pole without an allusion to A Christmas Story.
This Christmas Jason turned the channel to TBS, leaving me with my Christmas Eve homework: watch. With the movie on a 24 hour loop I don't feel guilty about wandering away from the TV to surf the net, or clean the kitchen. (Which I've cleaned and then sullied by cooking about twice already today.)
I did have to ask Jason towards the beginning, "So does anything happen in this movie? Is it going to be sad? A holiday tear-jerker?" Nope, just literally a story about Christmas, nothing tragic. Unless you count the shattering of that ugly lamp.
In a funny coincidence, the movie we watched last night, The Breakup, featured now adult Ralphie, in a minor supporting role. Seeing him in a role where he has kids of his own is surely a sign that I am woefully behind in my popular education. I think we must have spent too much time folding origami for our Japanese Christmas tree.

Our Dirty Laundry

A popular amusement for Jason, when we find ourselves in mixed company, is to ask the couples in attendance, "If you don't mind my asking, who does the laundry in your house?" His research to-date (not coincidentally supporting his thesis, due to what I believe to be selective sampling) delivers the conclusion that he is the only man in a relationship in America doing his own laundry. There's a quick head turn to me with the accusatory (mocking) question, "See, why won't you do my laundry?" Followed up by self-pitying frown.
Before I go too far, I will allow Jason a rebuttal here so that he won't continue to moan about being the "whipping boy for my blog." (That's a real quote, with overtones of melodrama.) When threatened with publication of this debate in blog forum, Jason rushed to include a statement that he is a "new age guy" and doesn't really think I should be doing all of the laundry. But he did make some comment about doing laundry being in exchange for the generosity of being granted right to vote. (Mocking again.)

I counter that now that we have important matters to consider like voting, there's just no time for extra laundry. My opinion is that my female peers who are doing their hubby or boyfriend's laundry are a failure in the solidarity with fellow women-folk, succumbing to the archiac, societally prescribed roles for women, that are no longer relevant since women are doing much more these days. (Woah, felt like I was back at Oberlin there for a minute...) I asked my Aunt Eleanor, who has been married twice, who did the laundry in her marriages. I found it telling that during her 1970s marriage, she did. In her 1990s marriage, the task was shared.
Some of my survey participants noted that their agreement to laundry had not been unconditional; it was in exchange for other chores assigned to him, i.e. keeping the kitchen clean, cleaning the bathroom. However, there was universal agreement that the woman's tolerance for dirt was lower than the man's and the chore often ended up being done less frequently than desired. I guess that bathroom cleanup has no neat definition of need and urgency such as, "I don't have any underwear."

Jason does see some of the rationale of my argument that he should do his own laundry, especially since he works from home, just 12 feet away from the washer/dryer. When I consider that my own commute is a grand total of 2 1/2 hours a day, I begin to consider if he should be doing mine.

The NYT recently offered an article on those pesky kinds of things that should be sorted out prior to marriage. The accompanying article offers tips like that you shouldn't just submit the list to your partner as though it's a quiz. (Which I did because I read the list first and then the article. Oopsie.) Agreement upon the divyving up of household chores like laundry makes the list at #3, and oddly so does whether or not there should be a tv in the bedroom.
NYT: Questions Couples Should Ask (Or Wish They Had) Before Marrying.

Finally, for the record, Jason does his own laundry, proving perhaps that he is the only man in a relationship in America that I want to be in a relationship with. And I do my own laundry.

Flaky Post

Here's a fun little seasonal activity from Juliet & the Salvation Army: Create Your Own Snowflake.

When Will I Find the Time?

I browsed the aisles of Barnes & Noble last night, Christmas gift card from Aunt Marion & Glenn tucked in my hand (secretly glad that they'd switched off of the annual summer sausage and cheese gift box) eyeing the spines of each book for an interesting title. Mom once worked in a used bookstore in Philadelphia's 30th Street Station, a dusty and cavernous shop, and met someone who was killing time before their next train. I don't know how the conversation arose, although I imagine it might have been while mom was punching up their total on the calculator at checkout and spied a distinctly oddball collection of unrelated titles. It turned out that this shopper merely bought books for their amusing titles. A game, for their friends to notice during parties and dinners. I wonder if this is why I have an inherited book, "How to Tell Your Friends From the Apes" on my bookshelf today.
I haven't read it, but that brings me back to my dilemma: the backlog of books that I am dying to read, but haven't found the time. And last night I added Marie Antoinette by Antonia Fraser and Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd to the pile.
Sadly, I am still working my way through the first of the pile of books that Juliet bought me for my September birthday, Sophie's Choice. (Juliet's gift giving theme was housecleaning my amazon wishlist.) My author, William Styron died just as I started reading the book, but I had to block out reading the obituaries, just in case there might be some surprise ending that I'm approaching page by turning page.
Despite the growing pile, I want more books. And I optimistically stack them up on my bedside table, feeling that I will get to each and every one of them, in just a little bit. Which one next? And how shall I welcome the new volumes that I hope Santa Claus may bring?
Evelyn, not coincidentally both a bookworm and my mother's best friend, read (and once valiantly tried) a home organization tip to put stickers on the spine of each book you have waiting to be read. Only when you have collected 3 stickers (peeling them off as you complete each book) can you purchase a new book. But certainly there must be an exemption for gift cards from Aunt Marion and Uncle Glenn.

All I Want for Christmas (Not a Toaster)

If there's one thing (we all know there's more than one thing, but let's pretend) that irks me about the holiday season it's the ads for items like vacuums, mops and emergency car starters that frame these items as the PERFECT!!! holiday gift for wife, girlfriend, sister or daughter. (If you really love her and care for her safety in perilous roadside situations, you wouldn't wait for Christmas to get that car starter.)
Clearly these ads are aimed at unfortunate men who have no idea what to get their wives for Christmas. Driven by a practical and well-intentioned impulse they think to themselves, "yes, Sweetheart does clean the house often, perhaps she would like the Dirt Devil Cone Vac." This new product even caught Jason's eye one evening as we browsed the aisles in Target. "Don't you think this is cool?" he asked, admiring its design which camouflages its purpose as a dirt sucker. I think it lights up too. "It's a vacuum," I replied flatly.
Answering questions like "Don't you think X is cool?" around Christmas time deserves caution as it is often a loved one's covert attempt to test your feelings on finding that item under the tree. I therefore tried to be kind but firm that this cleaning tool is not be an item I'm interested in seeing in gift wrap. In hindsight, I should have suggested that if Jason liked it, he could get it himself, and start vacuuming the house too. :) Or better yet, maybe it'll be under the tree with a gift tag addressed to him...
While other daughters may take lessons from their mothers regarding the perfect seasoning for lamb chops, from my mom I learned the rule that there should never be any gift under the tree that has an electric plug attached to it. No vacuums, no toasters. I suggest the addendum that if it's something for the kitchen or cleaning -that has not been specifically asked for- it should also be left on the store shelf.
However, I write with the bravado of someone who does not know what she's getting for Christmas. I will be very bashful and guilty if I open a gift from Jason or others who have decided that I would like the new Swiffer Sweeper Vac.
I felt very sad yesterday, waiting in line at Macy's, when a man came up asking if they sold Vera Bradley bags. The answer was no, and the sales associate could not even suggest where he might find one. The man looked crestfallen, "Oh, I had heard you carried them." He left, shoulders slightly drooped in failure. I wished I knew where they sell those bags, because I worried that after this initial attempt met with failure, he might end up in the aisles of Sears instead, considering a different gift. I wanted to shout after him, "TRY ONLINE! E-BAY! E-BAY! Just please, keep trying! She doesn't want a Dremel!"
p.s.: All I want for Christmas is here.

Merry -oops- Christmas

Sunday was definitely one of those days where it is good that brain surgery was not my chosen path. An unfortunate day when bad luck and mishaps jumped out at me as I turned every corner.
After spending a good half hour (likely an hour plus an eternity by Scroogy Jason's timekeeping) we determined that our crooked Christmas tree just could not be righted, so we shoved one issue of InStyle and another issue of Cooking Light magazine under the stand and called it done.
I started to wrap my strand of pretty multi-colored lights around, only to realize that I was just one third up the tree, but with 1/16th of the strand left in hand. With determined patience I hopped in the car to return to Lowes. Lowes let me down. Three weeks ago there had been a full aisle of lights, of many and sundry types, shapes and sizes, and beckoning lighted Santa Claus', snowmen and miniature motion-activated carollers. This week there were about twelve types of extension cords but none of the lights I'd seen on my last visit. (Mental note that if you don't get to Lowes the weekend after Thanksgiving, you will have a very dark Christmas.) So off to Home Depot, where there were lights, but none to match the kind I had at home. As someone who feels like she occasionally puts up with too much of "almost good enough" I was determined not to have mismatched lights. So I bought two new strands. And then back drove home, (stopping by a gas station where I put 75 cents in the vacuum machine to suck up the pine needles in my trunk and backseat, from the tree's journey home, only to learn that the machine apparently breaks down in the cold and therefore had no suction to offer. I drove on with needles hastily brushed away instead. See what I mean by putting up with 'almost good enough?') I returned to my tree only to realize that one of the new Home Depot strands did not even work. Even after fuse replacement that certainly mirrored brain surgery. ARGH. (Lights pictured above courtesy of Target.)
And I burnt a batch of Christmas cookies too. Then I tried another type later that night and they never seemed to cook well enough. Since these six dozen cookies were for a Girl's Night Cookie Swap I certainly couldn't offer up undercooked treats to people who I consider friends. This is where I learned that you cannot re-cook your holiday cookies, especially after you have painstakingly lifted them off of the pan and onto delicately balanced cookie racks.
If you don't hear back from me and Jason for a few weeks it may be that I have killed us with under-cooked salmonella infected cookies. Or that our tree has fallen down off of its magazine perch, with lights blowing out and hit us on our heads. If so, perhaps the cat can carry on this blog.
Merry Christmas!

Home Stretch

You may have heard in the news that there was some craziness in downtown Chicago lately. Namely, a gunman who went after a patent lawyer who he thought had stolen his idea for a truck toilet. The patent lawyers must have felt that they'd gone into the safest facet of law practice, not criminal defense or prosecution; just shuffling paperwork through the government patent office. Sadly, not.
The personal impact of this event was that the office building where the shooting took place also happens to be terminus for many of the suburban rail lines, including the one that takes me home from work. All the trains were halted immediately, and for about 2 hours. Although my offices are located in "North Chicago" they're really nowhere near Chicago proper. I was seriously stranded.
But my commuting colleagues and I rallied, quickly flipped open cell phones to comparison shop the cost of two different taxi companies and one limousine service to arrange alternate transport home. Ultimately it felt like we were all going to prom together, not just trying to get home on a Friday night, as it was the limousine service that gave us the best price home. A stretch limo no less.
In looking for some photo to make this post more visually interesting, I couldn't happen but reflect on how many different cars they turn into limos: hummers, SUVs, and even the little Mini Cooper. Seems like the Mini is supposed to be the philosophical antithesis of a limo. (No such fun for us though: we made it home in a staid, traditional towncar.) To any bystander it might have look those darn wasteful pharma executives, taking limousines home from work, geez.

The Winter I Was Promised Arrives

...but I'm not there to see it. However, the Chicago Tribune offers coverage and these photos, which seemed a nice contrast to my post of a couple, warm and sunny, days ago.


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