Bon Voyage

I have to prepare you (handful of loyal readers), that the blogging may be light in the coming days.
In the next two weeks I'll be in two states and one different country: Florida, North Carolina and Canada. Unfortunately the trips to Florida and NC land me nowhere near the family in either state (Ashville being far from Durham, and Fort Lauderdale far from Tampa.)
I am excited by the green satellite picture of Asheville alone, and that one poetic cloud in the sky.

And I've been practicing for Montreal by greeting my peers, "Bonjour!" However, I may need more than a couple words to get by, so I'll be peering through the shelves of my bookcases to see if there's a French phrase book anywhere.

I've been to Montreal once before and the language barrier wasn't any trouble, but I remember being mistaken for a French speaker. When someone greets me 'Bonjour!' I am happy to reply 'Bonjour!' even if this is where my French begins and ends.

I think it's polite to try to speak as much of the native language as you can manage without offending anyone. But it's misleading for hotel clerks and waitresses. The joy of these upcoming trips: the climate -- and therefore clothes to pack -- are totally different, so I can start putting aside for both trips simultaneously, without trying to figure out how to get to the dry cleaner in between. (This is the glass half full!)

Have a Seat


How fun is this couch? It's exactly what I'd buy... for my childhood dollhouse where the couch might cost $3.49 - not the $3,499 it costs in real life.
This set-up has the J.Crew effect going on that always misleads me: do I like the color of just the one object? Or do I like it because of the combination of colors it's presented with? I do think it'd go so well with this wallpaper I covet. But likely also reasonable in dollhouse proportions.

A Woman's Brush

Most of the time, I am very satisfied with the role of women in America. Going to college for our Bachelor's - not our M.R.S. - degrees. Working jobs with the same rank as our husbands, just like Michelle Obama - although her husband has gotten ahead of her lately! Women with outstanding roles and empires in their own right: Madeleine Albright. Condaleeza Rice. Martha Stewart. Oprah.

But every once in a while, I'm taken aback by something impossible and archaic. While checking out Domino magazine's retrospective of White House rooms, they mentioned Hillary Clinton's interest in working modern art into the decor. I like that. What I didn't like: the Georgia O'Keefe painting in the green room was the first work of art by a woman ever to be hung in the White House.
Serious?

Glass Half Full, Really


My boss told me the other day that all month long, it seems like I've been having a case of the Ziggies. Dental problems, endless car repairs. And then ridiculous happenings like the service department's voicemail not working so they never got the ok to do any of the hundreds of dollars worth of service.
And then my temporary filling fell out.
And that's not what I ordered, why did they send me this?
And why have I been on hold for over seven minutes??
And that's still not the right kind of lightbulb (after buying 3 different types.)

It's been like being buried alive, by individual grains of sand.
Little grains of sand should be easy to cast away. Take a deep breath and blow them away. I just have to remember to be a little assertive about these little needling woes.

I don't know if I'm up for anything so formal (and maybe cheesy) like a Gratitude Journal. If I turned the blog into one, I think you'd quickly sicken.

Nevertheless, today I was trying to remind myself to remember the good BIG things: a home that's so comfortable and nice; good health (cavities not counting); our jobs; our goofy cats (even if they broke that vase last night); a warm fire; a hot shower; Friday night drinks with friends; making a call to a distant friend or family member and catching them at home, with lots of time to talk; finally finding the right lightbulb.

I will also remind myself to do the little good things that might make a difference in someone else's lousy day: reloading the printer with paper, even if I'm not printing anything; waving in someone who's trying to pull out into traffic; holding the elevator; holding the door.

And just trying to take that deep breath before replying to that stupid, stupid email.

Lovely



I adore window-shopping at Flowerbud.com. They are probably one company where I don't mind being on the email list, since every message comes with a breath-taking arrangement, bursting with color and verve.

I've sent bouquets to friends and loved ones, like to Evelyn after she let me crash at her house for two winter nights when my landlord wouldn't accept that the heater was broken. It's a bit of a splurge, but staying with Evelyn was cheaper and more fun than any local hotel.

I'm waiting for the perfect bouquet to send to myself someday.

These flowers look like the ones I wore in my hair for our wedding reception, is that reason enough?

Going to Great Lengths


A short fashion post, about an issue of length. Pant length, specifically.

I recently realized that probably a lot of my pants were too short. I think I discovered this after the foot surgery had me reaching for flats more often than heels. (I still stand by my position that bunions are driven by genetics, but admittedly the heels probably didn't help.)

In flats, suddenly my pants were the length I wanted, with the hem of the pant leg breaking over the front of my foot, the back just a whisper away from the ground.

Here's why it matters (as much as fashion can matter, this isn't world peace): "Covering up your shoe, but allowing your toes to peep through will elongate your leg and make you look slimmer. This is flattering for any body type, at any age and any height. That’s why it is stylish to keep those pant lengths perfect." (Thanks to AndraSue for the guidance.)

After learning the lesson, I nearly laughed aloud at the Banana Republic website, featuring pants clearly paired with heels that were too high. BR fell in my esteem. Who was in charge of this photoshoot? Had the stylist called out sick and left the photographer's assistant to choose shoes? Actual explanation is here: turns out it's because those poor models have to wear the sizes made for us ordinary (short) people. But still you'd think they'd pick a shorter heel to compensate.

Winter Cure

Last night we hustled down the block in the cold, cold weather to see some live music. A sure sign that our neighborhood is growing is the theater that opened around the corner last fall.
As I pulled my hood over the hat that was already trying to keep my head warm, and then shoved my mittens deeper into my pockets I considered that if Frank Sinatra had been a weatherman, his lyric might have been different, Chicago being the town most apt to the chorus, "if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere." After being out in the cold here, everywhere else seems toasty. When Juliet and I went to Antarctica, it was warmer. A lot of the gear I purchased for that trip has found new life in Chicago's winters

We warmed up quickly with a couple pints of beer and a front row balcony view of the band, Funkadesi. You can't help but find yourself smiling broadly while listening to their reggae, Indian, jam-band-like music.

One song transitioned from Punjabi singing, to "Sweet Home Alabama." And admit it, everyone knows how to sing along to that.

The drummers of the band took to the dance floor, parading amongst our dancing neighbors.

And Jason and I made mental note that this venue will be a place to bring all future out-of-town guests. Here's how someone who writes about music for real describes the band:"Multi-ethnic band Funkadesi is based in Chicago and it performs an explosive music of bhangra, spicy Afro-Latin beats such as merengue, Jamaican rapping and dub, groovy funk, Qawwali, blues and lots more. Funkadesi is the result of the increasingly multicultural spirit of Chicago, a city that has enthusiastically embraced world music

United States Presidential candidate Barack Obama raves about the band “Funkadesi really knows how to get a crowd going. I can't say enough how energizing this band is. There's a lot of funk in that desi.”


I think more live music will be added to the list for a Winter Cure.

Funkadesi's MySpace page is the best place to listen for yourself. Their songs are also on iTunes. Makhana was a really fun song, which involved a loud, rambunctious, crowd, shout-along. I also loved "Beautiful Thing" and it made me want to be in a Chicago park, enjoying Funkadesi's music at a summer festival. But that's a few months away...

Office Politics


There's one decision where I disagree with absolutely every single President in our modern history.

Why doesn't the desk face out towards all those great windows? Why face inside? Surely when you're president people will manage to rearrange themselves so that you can see them rather than you having to spend all your time facing in towards them on their comfy couches? (But I agree with EmilyStyle that a fireplace in the office would be lovely. A roaring warm fire was one of the perks of working from home this morning... even if the morning also included waiting for the gas company and then having to call AAA to jump the car.

(This blog is one to two posts away from becoming Claire's Car Repair Blog. Stupid car.)

Happy Day

I'm a little gleeful for Tuesday, Inauguration Day.

It was stirring to see Sunday's kick-off, with Barack Obama, the man about to be the first black man elected president, standing at the feet of Abraham Lincoln, in the same spot where Martin Luther King Jr spoke of the dream of equality. I'm not sure that many moments are more possibly poetic and historic.

(Remember early in the campaign when people were asking whether Barack really counted as an "African-American" since his experience growing up was really vastly different than that of many black people in America? Now that's just a detail, he's someone we'll all readily embrace!)

Jason's office is setting up wi-fi in the conference room so that they can all work via laptop and watch the inauguration. Unfortunately, I'm stuck at an offsite in a windowless conference room.

Coming Home to This

I'm not a big candle fan (childhood fear of fire.) But this candle is the yummiest scent. Not too floral or fruity. Instead it's poetically introduced as "...mysterious, big and indulgent. Combining addictive absinthe with Persian lime, precious Kashmir woods, and midnight Jasmine, Black Fig is a sensory explosion that blends the ancient world with a modern day experience."

It's the scent that I wish greeted me as I walked into my bedroom at the end of day, or every hotel room I ever check into. (It has occurred to me that if I were wealthier, I do have a little bit of 'crazy rich lady' whims like this that are just ready to become demands of my staff.)

More scents here, but Black Fig is really the best. I told Jason I'd have to find some employee selling discounted damaged ones on eBay though, because the price is out of hand.

Just in Case Obama Calls

While I haven't received my invitation to the Inaugural Ball(s) yet, I'm sure that's an oversight. To be ready, I've planned a few possible outfits.

Regardless, I'm excited for Inauguration Day, even if I will be in my flannels on the couch during the balls.

But it's Better Inside

This week chilly week I'm reminded of my mom's refrain about wrenching yourself out of bed in the morning, assigned the theme song Irving Berlin's "Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in The Morning." The lyrics go through my head on days when I am really reluctant to get out from under the covers. (I've also tried singing them to Jason when I'm trying to get him up, but my singing seems to foster a greater desire from the listener to burrow their head deeper into the covers.)

When I looked up the lyrics, I found a wicked twist that kind of surprised me, that this was a song mom saw fit to sing to her children,

"“Oh! how I hate to get up in the morning,
Oh! how I’d love to remain in bed;
For the hardest blow of all, is to hear the bugler call;
You’ve got to get up, you’ve got to get up, you’ve got to get up this morning!
Some day I’m going to murder the bugler,
Some day they’re going to find him dead;
I’ll amputate his reveille, and step upon it heavily,
And spend the rest of my life in bed.”

But being my mother's wicked child, I like it.
On days like today, despite the weather being a seemingly tropical 20 degrees, I'd pen the second verse, "Oh how I hate to leave the house in the winter!"

This week's lowpoint was going to my car at the end of the workday, in the dark parking lot, minus 16 degree temperatures, and finding that the battery was dead. Thankfully the arms of my big, upper-midwest-headquartered, corporation folded around me protectively and after a call to security a guy with a battery jumper arrived. But with the heat still not working (or maybe just barely working) in the car, it was still a chilly drive home. Seeing your breath in your car is not a good thing.
I contemplated: if I gave Jason full choice over our next car purchase, would he be willing to take on total responsibility for prompt car repairs?

My third verse: "Oh how I hate to go to the car mechanic! Oh how I'd much rather that the car just ran! For the hardest blow of all, is to hear the mechanic call: you're gonna pay up, you're gonna pay up, you're gonna pay up for this tuning!"

(Sing a long here.)

So What Are You Thinking About?

Frankly, the problem with a blog is that you know my every thought and musing. You know what my cat looks like now that he's in his third year, and joined by a little sister. What I had for dinner, the last pair of shoes I bought, and the sport I think will finally help me discover my latent athletic talent. (I don't think it's going to be skiing.)

But I know so little about you ...and what your favorite reality tv show is nowadays. It's like the ultimate monologue. It can make a girl feel a little lonely sometimes, pacing the stage wondering who's out there in the dark theater seats.

I took my RealAge test recently, and was surprised that one of the factors making you younger is the number of personal connections you have and how often you connect with them. I wondered if reading someone's blog counts, since there are people I don't even know but I keep up with them and their vacations and costume parties. Does it count if someone reading is reading mine?

Happily, with or without counting blogging, I am apparently a year and a half younger than my chronological age. I attribute this to fruits and vegetables. But I need to lift some weights once in a while.

My Blizzard? A No-Show! (But No Sun Screen Needed Either)

I stayed up a little bit later than usual last night, with the confident self assurance that today would be a "snow day" meaning the hour I normally spend commuting could be spent slumbering. No such luck. No such blizzard.

Instead, just a lousy day. Back to the dentist only to be told that my treatment would cost twice what they'd explained before... and just about as much as a mortgage payment. Jason's point of view would be that I bring this upon myself by actually responsibly going to the dentist whenever they send me the cleaning reminders. Not what I like to hear.
I also didn't like to hear that, after an hour of digging around in my mouth, the custom inlay didn't even fit and I'd have to come back a third time. I'm still not allowed to eat bagels. Now I just want bagels even more. Bagels. Bagels. Bagels!!!

Drive to work and back home again, and have I mentioned that the heat in the car isn't working? (The pessimist in me knows that I'll bring it to the mechanic and because the smartypants computer will say that there's no blip so really the heat must be functioning, despite the below 30 degree air blasting me in the face.) After minute 44 the heat seemed to finally perk up, but I was nearly home by then anyway.
The smallest end-of-day blessing was that there was not too much traffic and the iPod selected a song I hadn't heard in a very long time which was an apt framework for a day when the little things were needling me:


Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of ’99
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.
The long term benefits of sunscreen have been proven by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience…
I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth; oh nevermind; you will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they have faded.
But trust me, in 20 years you’ll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked…
You’re not as fat as you imagine.
Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing everyday that scares you.
Sing.
Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts, don’t put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Floss.
Don’t waste your time on jealousy; sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind…the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember the compliments you receive, forget the insults; if you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters, throw away your old bank statements.
Stretch.
Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.
Get plenty of calcium.
Be kind to your knees, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.
Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll have children,maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary…whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either – your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s.
Enjoy your body, use it every way you can…don’t be afraid of it, or what other people
think of it, it’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.
Dance…even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.
Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.
Do NOT read beauty magazines, they will only make you feel ugly.
Get to know your parents, you never know when they’ll be gone for good.
Be nice to your siblings; they are the best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go,but for the precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle because the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young.
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard; live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.
Travel.
Accept certain inalienable truths, prices will rise, politicians will philander, you too will get old, and when you do you’ll fantasize that when you were young prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.
Respect your elders.
Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one might run out.
Don’t mess too much with your hair, or by the time you're 40, it wil look 85.
Be careful whose advice you buy, but, be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way o fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
But trust me on the sunscreen…

Will Make You Cry (in a Good Way)

Troops welcomed home by their dogs!

Blizzard???!


This might be my first blizzard. It's scheduled to arrive tonight. This is not just the exaggerated claim, "ooooh, it's a blizzard out there!" No, legitimately a little message ran across the bottom of the TV screen and a shrill beep interrupted 24 to advise me that a blizzard warning is in effect.
I understand, primarily from the alarmed hearsay of my co-workers, that what particularly defines a blizzard is high winds and blowing snow. Maybe really low temperatures too.
(I thought the photo above from ChicagoTribune.com was adorable. But thankfully our building has a guy that does a rocking job on shoveling up.)
Leaving me to shop for Jamaica vacations from my couch. And the right attire too.

Bootsie

You know you live in Chicago when it snows all day long, but you still refuse to be deterred from going outside. Instead you go shopping in Lincoln Park, outside. No sheltered indoor mall that you drive to; instead taking the El to walk the snowy sidewalks.
And you realize while shoe shopping that you own four pairs of weather boots. (Above.) And you wonder that you might want another pair.
Time was that just one pair of winter boots was reasonable, and they made a few appearances, when the snow was serious. But my wardrobe has grown.

And I have talked myself out of pair #5. (It also wasn't available in my size and preferred color, which made discipline far easier.)
I do think I need another scarf maybe.

Vote: Mr Skittles!

Yes, I confess I can't wait to find out what pup comes to the White House. And this Daily Show bit made it even funnier. Reassuring to know that Anderson Cooper has some self awareness of the silliness of the debate moderator role.

And Another...

I thought about it, and what does it matter if I pile on lots more new year's resolutions? Cast your net wide and there are certain to be some resolutions that come out successful, right? A friend resolved to try a new restaurant, in a different neighborhood each month. I liked that and offered to be her dining buddy whenever needed.

I'm planning on going skiing Thursday night. More outdoor sports might be a resolution: skiing, tennis, and remember those rollerblades?

Or, is it ok to resolve the things you're not planning on changing? The things you like just fine about yourself?
- I resolve not to give up caffeine. I like Diet Coke.
- I will continue to expect the best of people. Even if I have second thoughts that the girl who asked to borrow my cell phone on the bus was about to run off with it at the next stop. (Corollary is that I will probably try to figure out how to back up my Contacts before the year is out, just in case.)
- I'm going to continue putting on my seat belt even in situations where other people might look at me funny, like taxi cabs. It helped me out once, so I'm going to keep it up.
- It's ok to put on a pair of clean socks when I get home at night, even if I'm just going to wear them for a couple hours and then go to bed. They make my feet feel cozy and happy, and if happiness is as easy as a pair of soft, clean socks - why not?

Already Looking for the Exit

Having lunch with four coworkers on Friday, I learned that each of us has a resolution to lose weight this year. (Ironically, shared over Indian buffet, after most people had gone back for a second plate. I restrained myself*, although another samosa would have been really good.)
At the gym yesterday morning (my usual weekend routine) I had to wait 10 minutes for a machine. I could not have agreed more with an NPR story this weekend that began,

"All right, so it's January, right? That means you're very likely to be in one of two groups: new member at the gym or old member at the gym who can't get on one of the elliptical machines at the gym because some new member is on it. Dang new members. The online slang compendium UrbanDictionary.com has a name for this phenomenon: "January Joining." It defines a "January Joiner" as someone who "joins the gym in January as part of a New Year's resolution and by February is back to being a couch potato."


I can't wait for February. My new resolve to be at the gym more often is already threatened. I stare daggers at the people who blithely sweat their way into minute 41 (past the 30 minute cardio machine time limit,) when there's a line of four people waiting for machines. New members must not know the rules yet, and the four Bally's employees lounging at the front desk would never offer a helpful public service announcement over the PA. (I think these guys may be the most useless employees in America. The guy at Best Buy who greets you to make sure you don't steal stuff is more friendly and engaged.)

Today I may just test the idea that housework burns calories. No line at the vacuum here.

*I'm far from perfect though: to salvage our outing to go see a Frost-Nixon last night which ended up being sold out, Jason and I decided Dunkin Donuts might be a nice stop.

Nifty, New '09

Happy New Year! Before I proclaimed my resolutions for the year, I figured it might be wise to look back at what I hoped to achieve in '08. You know, if we don't learn from the mistakes of history we are doomed to repeat them?

1. Sit up straight. Stand up straight. Eh, I kind of forgot about this one. I'll try again.
2. Drink more water. My resolve on this comes and goes. I'd give myself a C+.

3. Take vitamins. Fail.

4. Take the stairs. Fail.

5. Eat smaller portions. I did have great success this year when I started doing online calorie counting...until Lance Armstrong and his ego took over my favorite free site and emblazoned it with ads and his image all over the place. It made it impossible to get to what I needed to do. Lance Armstrong is now on my nemesis list. I recently signed up for My Net Diary instead.

6a. Getting to the gym once a week, on a weeknight.
Sort of, for a while, until the Foot Surgery of '08.
6b. Buy the running shorts AndraSue advised me of, and see if running might be something I like. Success! I even did a 5k! And I plan to do it again this year. But I blame the foot surgery again for breaking the pattern, and the fact that once October arrives, 5k's in Chicago are a ridiculous idea.

7. Make business travel more fun. Travel more for fun. Consider adding a day onto business trips for a tourism visit or to see a friend. Take Jason with me. (The corollary resolution for the Husband is to make him get a passport!) Success for me, as you've seen I gallivanted to Scottish castles and got to see my grandma and friend's new baby. Jason, on the other hand, STILL does not have a passport! Urgh.

8. Floss. And maybe find a new dentist too. I found a new dentist, but the flossing has admittedly been hit or miss. Try again this year.

We had a goal of buying a house in 2008, which we did. And what with the Phillies winning the World Series and Obama winning the presidency, I think it's been a year of good achievements.

I'll roll over a few of the '08 resolutions - they are still good and noble ideals, but add some thought to making them more achievable in '09. Like keeping a water bottle at work to make it easier to use the water cooler. I will also add:

9a. Don't buy clothes that I am doubtful look good on me. Even if I love the style or the color, if it doesn't work for me, I should not buy it. Instead I should respect it and admire it like a piece of art on the wall of an art museum, but leave it on the wall.

9b. Become a patron to the Salvation Army.
Get rid of stuff that I don't wear or use. Take the books I won't read again to Half Price Books to sell them, or give them to friends. In general, don't let the new big apartment mean that I just accumulate lots of nonsense stuff. Get rid of the storage unit.

Now I feel like I always did on the first day of classes at a new semester at college, overwhelmed with all the work that lay ahead of me. But I do have 12 months, right?

If you're looking for inspiration, this resolution site is a good place to start.
 

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