Kitty + Cupcakes = Calm

For nearly two years now, I knew that the best respite from no a good, very bad day was not planning my escape to Australia, but just checking out one of my fave sites, Now the research supports it! Hello Kitty, my life coach.
Juliet was telling me about an article she'd read that revealed the secret life of super high-powered female executives (like C-levels) who go home to pink frilly bedrooms, hello kitty, care bears and all things cute. For all the corporate toughness they have to present 9-5 (or probably 7-7 for today's workplace) it finds balance in super sugary softness at home.
And who can't find comfort in a cupcake? This NYT story ties the cupcake to social evolution:
" the modern age, the cupcake may be more American than apple pie — because nobody is baking apple pies.”
The emotional connection is one that even the PTA won't give up.
And if that fails, there's always a pep talk from Peyton Manning. I have faith, from the Mastercard commercials, that he'd support me, no matter what. He's cute, but Hello Kitty might have the edge.

Sure Sounds Smart

Do you ever find yourself quoting a phrase, without any earthly idea where it comes from?
I find the saying, "go gently into the night" to be often apt, and therefore weave it into conversation when it's appropriate. A co-worker totally surprised me today by completing the thought, asking me if I'd prefer to "rage against the darkness." Somewhere in my head, I knew those thoughts connected, but I was also stupified by my co-worker's obviously better mastery of poetry. Yikes, someone might be smarter than me, and he works in the same office!

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

- Dylan Thomas

While googling to complete the thought, I also ran across this, which might be good to know, for conversations or crosswords:

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by frost.

- J. R. R. Tolkien "Lord of the Rings"

(I watched the movie and *totally* missed that. ;)

Letters of Recommendation

I have been pondering the value of a recommendation of a friend, as both a general and a specific phenomenon.
A neighborhood friend recommended a newly opened restaurant. Based on her advice that the food was tasty and the ambiance perfect for a summer evening dinner, I invited two other friends to join me for a meal. The outdoor patio was pleasant, making it easy to forget that we were sitting outside in a supermarket parking lot, aside one of the busiest thoroughfares in the zipcode. But the food was terrible, in all sorts of different directions. The salad wasn't washed well. The lamb kofta balls were exceedingly dry. One of my friends barely started her meal before placing her fork down for the evening. The eager restaurant manager stopped by our table and asked how everything was, explaining they'd just opened a few months ago. This was a moment of truth. Should we tell him how bad everything really was? Where to begin? Or was he asking to be polite, as a matter of restaurant routine. I meekly deferred to my friends, and none of us said anything. We are now "voting with our feet" and eating elsewhere. When the recommender later asked I was more honest, but still gentle, taking some suggested responsibility, by saying that maybe we hadn't ordered the best specialities of the house.
Another dilemma arose when the same friend effusively offered further recommendations: seamstress, Mexican restaurant, nail salon etc.
This is surely one of the benefits of friendship: the word-of-mouth recommendation. It's how we found our house cleaners, a great cozy bar with delicious burgers, and my wedding dress.
The generosity of a friend who finds something they love so much for themselves that they want to share it with everyone they know is a notable everyday charity. (Case in point: Jason's persistently asking me if I'm sure that I don't want an iPhone.)
I wondered though, if my friend's opinion of a restaurant was so off-target, could her judgment be trusted on anything else?
What else should be taken into consideration? Our neighborhood is in its retail youth, so "acceptable" anywhere else is often "great" here. Just the presence of a new restaurant is a trend to be encouraged and fostered.
Our friendship is early too, having only met through commuting to work. Has she known me long enough to know the degree of finickiness in my tastes - or for me to know her level of scrutiny to details like the chipping paint on the wall of a store?
Or is she one of those civilians employed by nefarious marketers to recommend products?
Or one of those people who's just really gratuitous about it? (Oprah's Favorite Things. After googling for this I learned that I have inadvertently adopted many of her favorite things: Uggs, Edy's WholeFruit Popsicles, Graeter's Black Raspberry Ice Cream - an Ohio thing, SugarDaddy's brownies - also from Ohio.)
For now I take the recommendation with an open mind, but also with the knowledge that I will have to weigh in with my own judgement.
I might also consider the recommendations I give too.

X Approaching the Limit of Forgetting

"In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra."
- Fran Lebowitz
(My Google homepage quote of the day.)

Ah, if only that were true, but I confess I have found application for algebra in real life. I wish that hadn't happened. But sadly, calculus never came in handy before I forgot every little lick of it.
It's also regrettable that despite being a History major, I rarely ace the Jeopardy category "US History." The beauty of the liberal arts major is its own curse: you know a lot of stuff, but not a whole lot about it.
I should read more. I recently suggested that Jason and I start our own book club, after watching Jon Stewart's interview with Alan Greenspan promoting his new book. (The interview had us both agreeing that the Daily Show should be an hour long. Bill Clinton's the guest tomorrow night! Best thing about Central time zone: not having to stay up so late to catch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.)
During Greenspan's appearance I admitted that I really have no idea what it means when the Federal Reserve raises/lowers interest rates - a true sign of my security with Jason. I was impressed that he had the "how you would explain it to a fifth grader" explanation ready, probably due to all those hours he spends on Wikipedia.
Jason woke up one weekend morning and remarked, "You know, I stayed up until 3 am and I was reading the history of Skokie. Did you know the Nazis tried to march there?" This is the typical intriguing non-sequitur I get from my betrothed on a Saturday. So maybe I don't have to read, I can rely on him for a continual feed of trivial knowledge.
But this would mean a lifetime of humbling defeats in trivial pursuit ahead of me, especially for that darn orange slice of pie: sports & leisure. This would be unacceptable. (And unbearable for the inevitable gloating that would follow from Jason.)

Happy Day

Do you ever feel more loved than on your birthday?
For me it's almost embarrassing all of the people who remember my birthday. While I graciously accept their best wishes, in the back of my head I wonder, "When is her birthday? Did I remember it this year?" Every time I wander through a card store or enter Target where the greeting card aisle truly "greets" you, I ask myself, "Whose birthday is this month??" Sometimes I remember, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I remember, but then ask myself, "But wait, do I exchange cards with her?" All the more reason to be kind and giving to people everyday, for no particular reason, since they might be more congenial when you lapse on their birthday. (Abby. Hope you liked that yarn from Australia!)
At work, as the only member of the team born in September (which seems surprising) it's my name that takes up the entire top of the monthly cake. I think for May the birthday cake had "Dawn, Todd, Bill, Susan and Shelly" all squeezed on top in tight icing script. There were the jokes of this being my 25th birthday, to which I replied, "Yes! My car insurance will finally go down! I can't wait. (I switched to Geico - haha.)" I never replied with my true age. Not for shame of being too old, but since both of the men who work for me are also older, I am cautious about having ageism discredit me, if archaic sexism hasn't already. Maybe that's paranoid. But I figure, don't give them an inch... or a year.
For our official celebration, Jason and I will be going to see the Blue Man Group next weekend. Like President's Day, the birthday is officially honored on another day, in this case the weekend between our birthdays. Why not extend the celebration?

Night at the Opera (with Flip Flops)

Although there have concerts there all summer, (and many of them like the one last night are free,) I never made the plans to go to Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion. I've wandered into the Park as a daytime tourist to marvel at the Frank Gehry-designed pavilion. It's always made me think of a barrister's wig, tossed down onto the ground.
Last night, in attendance of the "Stars of Lyric Opera" free preview concert, I learned that during a concert the pavilion metamorphoses as the lighting designers pace their cues to the music. When lit blue, the ribbons of stainless steel look like cool ice cubes in a glass. When lit hot with orange and red the silver skin looks like a blacksmith's metal in the forge, ready for the strike of a hammer.
The annual concert from Chicago's Lyric Opera is a sampler performed by the orchestra and stars of the Opera. This was pleasant for the opera novice (me) since they sang a few tunes from operas I've heard before like La Traviata and Man of La Mancha. Sitting in the park, sipping a margarita from a plastic cup brought by a friend, in my t-shirt and flip flops, reminded me of the joy of doing something so formal (A Night at the Opera) so casually. One of the enjoyments of being a student at Oberlin, with its regular operas and music performances, was to put down your studying just ten minutes prior to curtain time, toss on your sneakers and walk over to the opera. Next to you in every seat was another equally shabbily dressed college student. It took the high-brow intimidation out of opera. It's just another concert.
I learned last night though, that unlike rock concerts, opera stars and the orchestra do not come back for another set based on audience applause. They just bow more.
The overall experience was stirring. When the chorus stood up and joined their voices with the orchestra you felt the force of the sound push you back in your chair. And I really liked one piece from Tosca that featured deep drumbeats.
I don't think there's a more enjoyable way to enjoy music than outside. When I think over some of my most memorable concerts, many were outside. Last night, there was a cool summer evening breeze, and I looked above to the skyline of Chicago, lit office windows making a pseudo-starry sky. At 9 pm the lights of the fireworks at Navy Pier lit up the eastern sky, and there was the occasional ambulance siren competing for control of the nighttime sound.

Geico Finally Got Me

I knew that the advertising dollars for Geico car insurance were really paying off when the guy in front of me at airport security was pulled aside by TSA and the airport inspector announced, "Well, sir I have good news and bad news for you. ... The good news is that I just saved a ton of money by switching my car insurance to Geico. The bad news is that you have a bottled water in this backpack which I'm going to have to take."
But admittedly there are a ton of Geico ads (like every other one on TV) that I just never got. Why would I want a gecko to sell me car insurance? He looks so small, he'd be squashed in traffic. And that's not an event I want related to my car.
And those cavemen?
This Slate article solves the mystery of the seemingly most disparate advertising campaign ever. Essentially, the author points out that when you look at the people who need car insurance, we're a really motley bunch. Grandmas in their Camry's; hip-hop wannabe's in their souped up wheels; teenagers; new college grads with no money but the car their parents handed down to them as a "gift" or curse.
Who is Geico selling to? Pretty much everyone—man or woman, gay or straight, black or white, hip or hick. If you drive a car, they want your business. Even extremely broad brands, like Coca-Cola, still have niches they're trying to dominate (it's mostly young people who drink sugary sodas, for example). But car insurance companies know no niche. We all drive. We all have insurance (I hope). And we all stay insured through every stage of our lives—no matter our mood or marital status or income.

Tonight, Geico finally got me. (Because, again, those caveman ads were just getting weirder.) About time too, since they've apparently spent $140 million on advertising between January and June 2007.
Ben Winkler, born in 1983, is a grown-up Cabbage Patch Kid, whose car insurance decision helped turn around his downwardly spiraling former child-star life. Watch below.
My first Cabbage Patch Kid, Marcie Bessie, was also born in 1983. I am the parent of a 24 year old. I keep her in my storage unit. In there, she is doing ok without car insurance.

Good Thing I Got New Luggage

Barely had my heels cooled from the trip to Australia, but now:
This is Spain's headiest city, where the reveling lasts long into the night and life is seized with the teeth and both hands. Strangers quickly become friends, passion blooms in an instant, and visitors are swiftly addicted to the city's charms.
- Lonely Planet - MADRID

I am going to Madrid next month! Another conference! This either means that good work pays off, or it's all about keeping a current passport on hand. I tried to send one of the guys that works for me but my boss said I should go. The conference will be high profile for our team...and the guy's passport had also expired in February.
This is one of Claire's life maxims: Always have an up-to-date passport.
And work hard too, of course.

I (Heart) NY - and So Does My Tummy

Chicago is home of the deep dish, can of tomato sauce, half a wheel of cheese, pizza. But sometimes I really want that floppy, thin and soft NY style pizza. Olive oil drippy on top, sliced like a pie, and it folds in your hand. And one slice is bigger than your hand (or your iPod.)
But in the Midwest there's an entirely different take on thin crust. Cracker thin crust. And despite the pizza being a big circle, the slices are little squares. This can be appreciated for its own taste, but nothing gets me more than when this style of pizza is advertised as NY-style pizza. Just because it's thin, doesn't mean it's NY style. Tonight we went on a little wild goose chase to find this neighborhood pizza place that was billed as one of best in Chicago, particularly for NY-style pizza. (And it was in *our* fledgling little neighborhood no less!)
I clasped the warm cardboard pizza box closed on my lap so that it'd stay warm until we arrived home, so I was dismayed to see little square slices as I lifted the top of the box up. NO. THIS. IS. NOT. THE. PIZZA. I. WANTED.
ARGh. This is the second time this has happened to me. Seek out a special place for a flavor of great East Coast pizza, and get these darn little cracker squares.
The last time I had a decent slice was at the S'barro at LaGuardia. And that's just ridiculous.

Don't get me started on how much I also miss doughy warm bagels. (But I have never found anything that compares to the warm brown bags full of bagels Dad would wake up and get early in the morning in Philadelphia...from a store called Brooklyn Bagels.)

Time (Has Run) Out Chicago

This was a weekend full of the activities that I think I dreamed of when I first signed us up for a subscription to Time Out Chicago. Typically I find myself reading Time Out in bed, days late, after all the fun events, street fairs and exhibits have ended. It's a little depressing to flip through the pages and sign, "Oh, that would have been fun."
On Saturday though I was sitting on the grass in Grant Park listening to jazz music at Chicago's JazzFest. Much more diligent Time Out reader (and friend of Abby & David) Gen suggested the outing. We were bemused to observe that this is one summer festival where the median age is likely 50 years old, which is weird.
And thanks to Jason's mom we buzzed all around Chicago today on Segways for our City Segway Tour. This ended up being a good tour for us locals because the narated tour bit was light, but the ground covered was extensive. Past Millenium Park, through Grant Park (that's us in front of Buckingham Fountain - look Mom! No hands!), around the Museum Campus, up to the Planetarium, over to Northerly Island and back again. I only ran into Jason once, but I blame that on his haphazard zoom forward-stop suddenly pattern of driving the Segway. He will point out that shortly afterwards I had to jump off the Segway to stop its trajectory straight towards a stationary sign post.
The Segways are pretty remarkable: lean just a little forward and off you go! Just think about going backwards and your body leans back a little and you're backing up. Zooming up the looping walkways of the museum campus made me feel like I was on a carnival ride that had jumped the fairgrounds fence to rove the streets. Whheeee!
Sadly, time has run out of Chicago's three-day Labor Day weekend. We're going to toss some steak on the grill for a nice close to the weekend.

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