Thursday, December 30, 2010

Enjoying them enough while they're around

"I just hope I enjoyed them enough when they were around."
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An empty-nester friend of mine I work with said those words to me about six months ago and I swear I've thought about what he said almost every single day since.  The last of his kids had just left for college and the way he said it, it made me wonder if I were truly enjoying my kids enough.


It's become a go-to phrase for me. I use it every time I feel really freaking overwhelmed, which is just about every morning from when the alarm clock goes off until, approximately, the time I end up back in bed at night. (Does anyone else out there feel like they get shot out of a cannon every single morning?) Or maybe, say, over a long holiday break when everyone is home, all day, every day. I use his words to get me through the times I stand at the bottom of the stairs to the basement wanting to cry at the mess that never seems to go away--the soda cans and granola bar wrappers, banana peels and video games, Legos and guitar amps and nunchucks and dust. And the times when there aren't enough hours in the day to buy groceries, go to the bank, cook dinner, help with homework and dole out the lunch money I didn't get at the bank. When the mouse that got away this week was a big one--I completely forgot to go to my own dentist appointment. Just plain forgot!

I use it to remind myself of what it will be like when they're out of the house completely and the place is quiet enough for me to write, or maybe to even think, which is a concept that goes a long way toward explaining the quality of my writing to date. I think about what my friend said, about the importance of enjoying our children while they're with us, because they really are only with us for such a short amount of time and wasn't it just yesterday they were babies?  So I take deep breaths and try to enjoy the noise, the mayhem, the mess. Really. I do.

And it helps. Really. It does.

The kids are at their grandparents for a few days this week and I'm getting a little taste of that empty nest feeling. It's glorious. I'm soaking up the peace and solitude like a serenity-starved palm tree that's reached an oasis. You know, if palm trees could walk to an oasis or be, somehow, serenity-starved.

This regenerative peace and solitude is only wonderful because I know it will end soon.  Tonight when all three of them come home with laundry, and crap they will pile on the countertops and stories from their trip they will fight to tell me, stepping on each others words in the process, I will go to that phrase again, but this time it will be easy. It's the times that it's not so easy that I must keep this promise to myself. I will endeavor to enjoy them enough while they're here.



Training Fish

I have a trained fish.  I know this brings up an obvious question: Why?

Mel is my writing companion. (After Herman Melville. Get it? Moby Dick?) Mel's a mostly pink Betta fish that lives on the bookshelves next to my writing desk.  (And don't get any ideas just because he's mostly pink. He's still a fighter.) For years now, I've kept a Betta Fish in my office. In some weird way, I feel it forces me to spend more time there. Yet, not necessarily more time writing in there. Only a writer in the act of actively not writing would take the time to train a fish.

My husband says Mel is just trying to fight with me, seeing as how he's a fighting fish, (Jeff has always been the romantic one.) but I disagree. None of my other Betta fish would ever come to the side of their bowls and kiss my finger the way Mel does. Not Sushi, not Maguro, not Unagi. None of them. Mel is special. The day I walked into Petsmart to get him (after waiting, of course, a respectable time after Unagi's funeral (burial at sea) ) I was headed toward the dog food aisle when Mel caught my eye. He was flashing around wildly in his little round container. When I came back to get him, I knew he was the one. He had the ugliest little face. If I didn't buy him, no one would.

At home, Mel continued to flash around in his bowl whenever he sensed someone walking into my office, probably from the vibrations of the floor in our old house (Although, unlike me, he's immune to the vibration of the floor that happens every time the El goes by.) So every day, as part of my pre-writing ritual, and the pre-writing ritual is a long one so as to procrastinate as long as possible before the act of actually writing, I feed Mel, but first I insist he come to the side of his bowl to say "hello." And he always does.

I've talked to other writers about this. About our writing rituals, that is, not training fish. And we all have our own quirky writing rituals. (Although I wouldn't mind hearing from anyone who also has a trained fish. Perhaps we could share the number of a good therapist?)  I don't know what it is about forcing yourself to sit down in the chair that is so hard some days. And it's way harder when you're writing fiction, I think, than when you're writing anything else. At least for me it is. Especially these days, when I'm working on a third novel and my second one is still collecting dust on a shelf, because the publishing industry is in such a state of turmoil that even published authors, even authors waaay more successful than myself, NY Times Bestseller list successful, cannot get the attention of an editor unless we're the star of our own reality TV show.

The eternal optimist in me knows the publishing industry will somehow sort itself out and that authors will have ways to get works out there, and get paid for them. In the mean time, Mel has been fed, the incense is burning, my email has been checked, my blog has been written, which only means...it's time to train the cats. 
They look at me from the armchair in the corner of my office with eyes that say, "Fat chance, sister."

So even though writing novels seems sort of like a disease, in that it's something I feel I absolutely have to do and for which there's no cure, these days it can sometimes feel as pointless as, well, as pointless as training a fish.



Christmas Cookie Call of Duty

How do you make Christmas cookies with thirteen year old boys? Violently. 
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Baking Christmas cookies together has been a holiday tradition of ours since the boys were old enough to say "artificially colored sugar."  It's been great fun, sometimes even for me.  As the years have gone by and they've gotten older, it's even become easier.  They used to like to make a big mountain out of the flour and they would call it "Hunter Island." It's where, they told me, the evil hunters that hunted animals lived. And then, as we added eggs, vanilla, etc,. they would systematically and diabolically...drown all the hunters on Hunter Island.  Really gets you into the spirit of the season, doesn't it?

In recent years, we've come to make more, um, creative Christmas cookies. One year, after having been turned-on to food coloring markers, all the people-shaped cookies had butts drawn on the back. And who knew my favorite little star cookie cutter could be used to make ugly bugs?

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I hope the cookies that display reindeer and bears eating Santa and angels are just a throwback to the boys' Hunter Island days and not any kind of indication they've been playing too much Call of Duty.

My daughter made cookies with us for the first time last year and I was hoping she would add a more gentle, feminine approach to the process. No such luck.

Regardless, today is the day we've set aside as cookie baking day, and so we need to get to it, our Christmas cookie call of duty, so to speak. All three of the kids told me yesterday they were looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to continuing our tradition, and perhaps even secretly, to the evil results. Because, from the baking to the eating, the whole process is still delicious.
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A Birthday Promise

My daughter has wanted a cell phone since she arrived here a little over a year and a half ago. (In case you're new here, I don't have an especially precocious one-and-a-half-year old; we adopted Tanya from Russia when she was ten.)  We told her she could have one the day she turned twelve and, today is that day. The Winter Solstice, a Lunar eclipse and my daughter gets a phone. Does it feel like the world should start spinning off its axis to you?

We decided to give our twin sons cell phones the summer after they turned twelve, but the boys were, for the most part, completely ambivalent about it. They still are. Between the two of them they use about fifteen of our shared minutes each month and write a few texts. Most of the time I have to remind them to turn their phones on, which is challenging for them unless I also remembered to tell them to charge their phones the night before. (Although they have managed to download a few games they haven't paid me for yet. Ahem.) At the time we bought the phones, the boys were going to be starting at a new school thirty minutes away and taking a bus there and they'd never taken a bus to school before and after thinking about it calmly and rationally, this mother freaked out.

So we bought our twelve year olds phones. Of course Tanya wanted a phone, too and we told her, "When you turn twelve," which seemed oh so far away at the time.

Turns out the boys didn't really need them. The day Kyle missed the bus, he called from the school office. Although I have to admit the phones have come in handy, like the time I was running late to pick Ethan up from Cross-Country practice. I was able to tell Ethan, who thought is was a good idea to run in shorts and a T-shirt on a thirty degree day, to go back into the school to wait for me.

It's hilarious to us to see the different attitudes toward the phone that exist between boys and girls. Before Tanya arrived here, the ringing of our home phone was mostly met with indifference, sometimes even annoyance depending on the time of the call, and more often than not it would go to the machine.  She hadn't even been here a week when she took a diving leap for the phone when it rang.  We sat in the kitchen and watched this in awe. The girl didn't even speak English.

Even though we know from experience that our daughter does not need a phone, we decided to give her one anyway. It's about the promise we made.  At the age of twelve, this little girl has been the victim of far too many broken promises.

So today the lunar eclipse is over, the days begin to get longer, my daughter turns twelve and gets a phone.  All is right in the world.  That is until we get that first bill.


Getting "Lanced"

It seems maybe that Do-Gooder Graffiti I wrote about last week is having an effect.  My sons and I went for a run along the lakefront this afternoon and for the first time in a long time I didn't get "Lanced."  If you've ever run the lake, then you know of what I speak.  "Getting Lanced" is the term I use to describe the cyclists who brush by closely, too closely if you ask me, when they pass.

I hate that.

I know it's hard to be an aspiring Lance Armstrong within the city limits of Chicago; our lakefront path is crowded. But maybe you "Lancers" should have thought of that before you moved into Chicago to train for the Tour de France. And I know this is what you must be doing if you get so annoyed with anyone getting near your precious bike path that you feel the need to Lance us by speeding by so closely to show us you're annoyed. Sometimes I swear you take off some of my dog's ear hair when you go by.

I'm out there trying to take up as little space as possible,which is even harder in the winter when ice and snow take over the running path adjacent to the bike path. I must admit some days even I get annoyed with the strollers and people out for a stroll and the flocks (they must, apparently, be required to do this in flocks) of women power walking (and you know they're power-walking and not just out-for-a-stroll because they purposefully pump their arms to show you) but then I remember all the things our kindergarten teachers taught us about sharing and being kind. So I try to stay Zen and just run around them, remembering to clear left every time lest I get run over by someone in yellow spandex training for the Tour de France, which would be an ignominious way to die.

And yet today, on this wonderful, glorious Sunday afternoon, I ran with my sons (and the three of us, with the dog, are like a double-wide coming down the pike) and not once did we get Lanced. Not once!

Maybe it's the spirit of the season. Maybe it's the Do-Gooder graffiti inspiring all the Lancers to be kind. Or maybe it's just the fact that when the temperature 19 degrees, yellow spandex just doesn't keep you very warm.  Regardless, today I celebrate a Lance-free run!



A Christmas Eve Carol - When a Family Tradition Comes to an End


For over fifty years my eighty-nine year old mother has been hosting a Christmas Eve party at her house, and while my husband and kids and I will be heading over there this year, we are the only ones who will. It seems this family tradition is coming to an end.
           
I have fond memories of this party. One year, my Uncle Mike announced Santa had come early, leaving presents for the kids on the second floor landing of my grandmother's two-flat (we lived upstairs, grandma down.) I think I must have been around four years old, and for many years afterward, I couldn't understand why this year Santa had only shown up just that once.  My cousins (mostly boys) and I would play together wildly and, being raised an only child, it was both fun and slightly terrifying.  In those years, I would have to guess attendance hovered around thirty people, probably more. 

           
But kids grew up and moved out and had their own families.  Families moved farther and farther out to the exurbs and it became harder and harder to make it to my mom's house for Christmas Eve.  "I have to work until five,"  "I have church at seven,"  "We're going to So and So's house this year," "There's just not enough time to see everyone." In recent years, sometimes there've been as few as ten of us.
Bravely, my mother and father soldiered on. I've offered many times to host the party for them, to no avail.  My mother loves this party and she would not give it up.  (How many times have you been successful trying to convince your eighty-something Russian mother to do something else?) In many ways, I think this party keeps her going. And so the few of us who've continued to attend would sit downstairs in the wood-paneled basement drinking our traditional bourbon-spiked punch and eating cocktail weenies (Say what you will, they're always gone by the end of the night!) and, some years, awkwardly listening to the clock tick. No, it's not the most exciting or boisterous party ever held on Christmas Eve, but that really isn't the point.
We don't have the closest extended family in the world, but we mostly still like each other and enjoy each other's company.  We're not getting together every weekend for birthdays and anniversaries and unless there's a wedding or a funeral during the year, Christmas Eve is usually the only time we see each other, which could explain why it is we all mostly still like each other and enjoy each other's company.
This year, my cousin decided she's hosting a Christmas Eve party at her house, and poof, the remaining guests are now gone.  My mother is handling it well. Better than I am. (I understand my cousin's house is small, but she could have at least invited my parents. Although I guess that would have meant inviting the five of us too and I think you begin to see the dilemma that's had me start to write a letter to Ask Amy three separate times.
My mom insists on cooking dinner for us, a ham, which she says makes her happier than "dealing with the caterers." My Dad will still go out and get a tree and decorate it.  My kids say they're looking forward to going to Grandma's, and I guess I am, too. 

No tradition lasts forever, I suppose.  Which I think means we should all enjoy each other's company while we can.



Friday, December 17, 2010

Do-Gooder Graffiti?

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Love. Be good. Do right.

These  words are graffitied on the boarded up and winterized concessions stand down at the lakefront just south of Belmont harbor.  It looks like someone tried to clean off the words Do right and Be good at some point and then someone else came along and spray painted Love over the top of the result.  It always makes me smile when I see  it though.  Such happy graffiti.  So positive and uplifting.  In spite of the ironic fact the graffiti artist who wrote Do right and Be good was doing neither when he or she decided to spray paint those encouraging words of wisdom on someone else's property.

"Why do people do graffiti?" one of my sons once asked me.
"Heck if I know," came my reply. "I guess they just want to be heard or to leave their mark, somehow."
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It seems there should be a better way to do it. I personally have never once wanted to spray paint anything in my life, except for maybe the metal patio chairs, but I don't think that should count. Although I guess I must admit to attempting to write, I don't even remember what, on some wet sidewalk cement we came across down at college late one night - until the owner, lying in wait in his car in his garage - flashed his headlights on when we stopped and bent down in front of our prospective canvas. He should have let me at it, because he must have fallen asleep or left his post at some point. Walking past later, I saw someone had managed to leave their message. And it wasn't Love or Be good.

Maybe graffiti artists don't have moms who fussed and fawned over every scribble on construction paper that came home from school.  Maybe they just like the thrill of getting away with it.  I don't know.  I do know it's sometimes hard to be heard in this world. I think this must be why I blog. Most days I can't get the attention of a single person in my household unless I raise my voice, wave my hands frantically over my head or impersonate a Wii controller.

Whatever the reason graffiti artists do what they do, and no matter how wrong we may think it is, I still take pleasure in seeing those inspirational words down at Belmont Harbor.  Because if you must try to be heard or leave your mark, even if it's illegal and wrong, I guess it's best to at least try to be an inspiration instead of profane. So with that in mind, I leave you with:

Love. Be good. Do right.

Oh, and Be Kind, too. Because I found this today down near the theater by Fullerton.
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I am a pilot, but I don't play a cardiologist on TV

I'm not a cardiologist, but I did sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night...

I am a pilot, but I don't play one on TV.

Did you hear about this guy?The airline pilot who was pretending to be a cardiologist? How would you like to find out he'd done your by-pass surgery? (Although there's no record he ever actually treated any patients. Pilot duped AMA with fake M.D. claim
Naturally, flying big jets requires a certain amount of ego. (A whole lot of ego, the husband says.) And we can get defensive (see previous paragraph) when people try to minimize the skill it takes to do what we do, because it does takes a lot of skill and a lot of knowledge, training and practice. At times, I've found myself  thinking, Well, if I can land a heavy jet on 27R at O'Hare, then I can certainly use this drill to hang a picture, even though I've never once, ever, used a drill. So, I can sort of understand Captain William Hamman's line of thinking. Well, if I can land a heavy jet, then I could be a cardiologist...That may be so. If he went to school and had actually trained, studied and practiced to be a cardiologist. William Hamman allegedly had a few years of medical school and never finished.

That he was able to fake it for so long is astonishing. I'd like to see a cardiologist try to fake being a pilot. We have a saying in my industry on the consequences of incompetence or neglect, "Dead bodies everywhere."  Yeah. it's morbid and dark, but it's also the reason most pilots are rather intolerant of other people's screw-ups (see my post last Friday Two-Do List) It also makes little things seem like, well, little things. I burnt the Christmas cookies. So what? Are there dead bodies anywhere?

Unfortunately, part of what Hamman was teaching--the crew concept--is important. In the airlines we call it Crew Resource Management (CRM) and it deals with letting all members of the crew have input. It's not meant to diminish Captain's authority. It's meant to prevent a Captain from flying a plane into the side of the mountain or running it out of fuel while all the other crew members sit quietly by and watch. I have a friend who is a big deal pediatric neonatologist and she told me how much she loved a class she attended on CRM, which was based on the airline industry concept.  Apparently, questioning or advocating a different course when talking to a surgeon in surgery is similar to questioning a Captain. That CRM has saved lives in airplanes is well documented. I have no doubt it could do the same in the medical field, e.g. Sir, did you mean to leave that scalpel inside the patient?

Hamman is no longer pretending to be a cardiologist.  He's no longer flying for United Airlines, either.  The man's ego and delusions of grandeur are what enabled him to pull-off a career as a airline pilot while simultaneously pretending to being a doctor on the side. It was also the source of his downfall.

I can only hope the only ill-fated consequences of my pilot ego in the other parts of my life will be a large hole in the drywall in the basement rec room and the fact I like to call myself a writer.

The E-End of Borders on Michigan

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After I'd finished some Christmas shopping at Water Tower Place earlier this week, I walked across the street to the Borders on Michigan Avenue to say farewell. The store is closing, everything is on sale (except calendars, as I was secretly hoping) and there was quite a throng of people there. But there's always been quite a throng of people there. The closing of the Borders on Michigan is just another reminder of the huge zeitgeist shift in the book world. 

The Michigan Borders was, IMHO, their flagship store in Chicago. It was THE place to do a book signing.  All the celebrities signed their books there.  In fact, I seem to remember Al Gore did his book signing at the Michigan Borders on the same day I did my very first book signing. The only difference is, I was signing my book at the Borders on Clark and Diversey.

When I was at the store this week, the shelves had been pretty well picked over, and although I was tempted by a paperback history book on Riverview, the temptation went away when I saw it was still fifteen dollars on sale.  Of course I went downstairs to see if my novel, Wish Club, was still on the shelf. (It wasn't)  It reminded me of all the times growing up when I'd go to bookstores and imagine where my novels would be placed. (Right after Steinbeck!)  Seeing my book on a store shelf for the first time (at the Borders at Clark and Diversey) was weirdly anticlimactic. I didn't burst into tears like I thought I would.
   
I didn't buy any books that day. I have an iPad. My husband wants Santa to bring him a Kindle. I'd already spent way too much money at the American Girl Place across the street and the thought of carrying any heavy books back down Michigan Avenue seemed ridiculous, especially when I could just go home and download them. 
   
A friend of mine was lamenting the closing of all these bookstores.  "Where am I going to go to find out what to read? I love to check out the tables. Get recommendations from the booksellers. Then I go home and buy them on Amazon."   Really. She said this. And without any trace of irony.

I guess each of us, in our own way, is contributing to the change.

It's hard to imagine a future without tangible books. I look around my house at the crazily packed bookshelves in just about every single room and try to imagine a Star Trek-like version: sleek shelves that contain only one important keepsake tchotchke and maybe an electronic photo frame.   "At least you'll never spend half a day looking for a book again," my husband says, and I find some comfort in this.  But I didn't grow up imagining where in the electronic library my book spines would appear.  I love real books. I mean, I really love them. Perhaps unnaturally so.  I suppose there will always be print-on-demand for us dinosaurs that can't give up our paper books.  But I think when my next novel gets published, most probably as an e-book, those tears may finally come. .



Two-Do List

Has your To-Do list become a Two-Do List? Scatological inferences aside, it feels like everything I try to accomplish these takes two steps (or more) instead of what I think should be one. And, well frankly, this makes me feel like number two.
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For example, I can't remember the last time I made any kind of appointment in one phone call. When I call, I have to leave a message because they're away from their desk right now but my call is very important to them and they'll call me right back. These days I know better than to check "make dentist appointment for Ethan" off my list. If I trust the system to work, I know I'll be standing in my kitchen eight years from now staring at my toothless son Ethan wondering why he hasn't been to a dentist in so long. I must wait until they actually do call back. But then I won't be home. Repeat.

Eventually the appointment gets made, but how much time has been wasted? And it's especially frustrating to me this time of year. Have I mentioned in the last fifteen minutes I have three kids with birthdays this month? And one next month. I have one next month, too. My husband's.

So when I email my website lady and ask her to make a change, do I take it off my list? No. That would be silly! I must wait. A week later, when I check my website to see if said change has been made, and it's one of the times it hasn't been made, which is about fifty-percent of the time, I then get to email her again. And she provides an excuse and says she'll get right on it.  Do I take it off the To-Do list now? Of course not. Repeat.

And what about being on hold, oh, say with your favorite cellphone company because your son lost his cellphone (Yeah, under his desk. We turned the house upside down, re-traced steps, checked school lockers and Lost and Founds.  He found it yesterday under his desk. I will not post a picture of what it looks like under his desk, you must work that frightening visual for yourself.)  When I talked to the nice computer lady, I gave her my cellphone number, but when I typed in my son's she said, "I'm sorry, I'm just not getting it." She didn't even seem sincere.  She never did get it, although my dog left the room when I started shouting expletives.  And here's what gets me: I had to give said computer lady the last four digits of my Social Security number. And then, when I finally was able to talk to an actual person about turning my son's phone service back on, guess what I had to give him? That's right! I had to give him all the same information over again. I had to repeat it.

Busy Moms barely have time to do things once, much less three and four times, so
I won't go on and on, finding more examples of life's little time wasters. I think you get the idea. Besides, I've got my Two-Do list to get to.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Monday, December 06, 2010

Retiring Number Ten--Saying Good Bye to Ron Santo

Never in my life have I cried over the death of a celebrity. Ever. Yet every single time I read anything about Ron Santo I burst into tears. Not huge hiccupping sobs, but tears. I feel like I've lost a friend.
  
I'm a Cubs fan, of course. (Our dog is named Wrigley, for crying out loud.)  I've lived within a mile of the stadium for the last 21 years. And yet I feel that even though I grew up liking the Cubs, a fan, I never really loved the Cubs until we moved into the city, at Cornelia and Reta, in 1989.  We lived so close, when we sat outside and watched the game on our fire escape of a back porch, we could hear the cheers in the air around us before we heard them on the TV.

My husband is the truer baseball fan, even though he came into it later in life. Growing up downstate, he was dangerously close to becoming a St. Louis fan. (I know!) And he somehow ended up married to the girl who won't even drink St. Louis beer at the ballpark.  Yeah, that's right. The beer snob is married to the Old Style girl.  But he's the one that got me started listening to the Cubs on the radio and now I can't believe Ronnie's gone.
  
I was in North Carolina the day Elvis died. My sister and I pulled through the drive-through at the bank and I didn't understand why the teller was crying.  I thought she was ridiculous.  I thought it was equally ridiculous the day my Polish Catholic babysitter showed up at my house in tears on the day the pope died.  I mean, she didn't even know the guy. But today, I get it.  Ron Santo was known to me as only a voice on the radio, but oh, he was so much more than that. He expressed our pain, our love, our frustration.  I'm not the biggest Cubs fan that ever existed in our world. (That title probably goes to my friend Rick Kaempfer, or maybe my friend Dane Placko.)  But I'd be surprised if they're shedding any tears tonight, and I'm trying to understand why I am.

In case you may have been wondering what caused our team to have such a rough season last year, it wasn't pitching or injuries. It was that we finally got season tickets. Sitting at all those games though, it felt like something was missing without Pat and Ron in my ear.  Knowing that Steve Bartman had WGN on his earbuds when he caught that ball can almost make you forgive him.

My favorite Ronnie one liner, was set-up when Pat said, "It's so cold I can't feel my toes." And Ronnie replied, "Neither can I." Which is hilarious and bittersweet and speaks so highly of a man who lived through so much, but never, ever, dwelled on the negative.
  
I think of so many summer evenings with Pat and Ron on the radio. The weather is warm and the kids are goofing around in the backyard. My husband is cooking on the grill and we're drinking a beer and if the wind is right, we hear the cheers from the stadium before Pat tells us about the double play and Ronnie yells, "Oh yeah."
  
Maybe it's this. These moments that he's a part of that I don't want to let go, that I'm afraid are slipping through my fingers as I watch my children grow older and prepare to leave the nest someday sooner than I'll be ready for them to go. Maybe Ronnie's death is a reminder nothing is forever and to enjoy every moment and always look on the bright side of things.

I don't know who will be the color guy next year. It doesn't matter. Ronnie's in my Hall of Fame. And I know, next year, and for many years after, my Cubs world will forever be a little grayer.

Now pass me a tissue.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Little Black Dress Dilemma

My husband and I are going to a Christmas party tomorrow night and I'm in a dilemma about what to wear.  I have several little black dresses and the difficulty is in deciding which one.  It's an office party. My "office." And while I want to look, you know, sexy, I don't want to err on the side of hoochie mama. Because, after all, who ever wants to err on the side of hoochie mama?

I thought having a daughter around would be a great help in situations like this, but it's a bit trickier than I'd anticipated. It's not that my daughter isn't helpful. She is. And she has an amazing sense of style.  With a hairband and some ponytail holders, in nothing flat, she can do her hair up in the coolest fashions.  When I bought her curtains for her canopy bed, I forgot to get tiebacks for them, but when I came into her room the next day, she'd tied them around the posts in such a way I immediately told her she had a future as an interior decorator.  
        
Her fashion sense, well... Did I mention she's from Russia? I've spent a lot of time in that country and, for a woman who spends the better part of her life in a blue polyester uniform, or jeans and a sweatshirt, let's just say I didn't blend. When my daughter first arrived here, her critique of my aforementioned fashion sense was swift and severe.  Seems I never wore enough make-up. Simultaneously wearing all the jewelry in my jewelry box was still not jewels enough.  And whenever the time came to help me pick out an outfit, the tighter, the louder, the sexier the better. And don't even get me started on high heels.
     
But back to my point. I basically have it narrowed down to two dresses for the party.  The first is a silk Calvin Klein. It's conservative, not very form fitting, but with the right jewelry, could be great.  The second has lace over skin-tone fabric on top, is low cut and has a form fitting tulip skirt.  I secretly really want to wear this one, (Is it still a secret if I announce it here?) but this is the one I fear leans toward hoochie mama.
         
At work, I've only been seen wearing a most unflattering uniform, complete with a man-tie and a hat, and the thought of wearing the less figure flattering Calvin Klein pseudo-tent feels, well, like more of the same. But it's the other one, the form-fitting one, that my daughter loves.  Keep in mind her taste in clothes, and I think you can see my dilemma.
     
I still have some time to decide.  I can make my daughter happy and risk joining the ranks of all the poor women before me who've had the misfortune of donning what they considered a sexy dress, only to become the woman at the party who was wearing "that dress." Or I could show up in a Calvin Klein yurt.
       
Whatever I decide, if after the party I'm remembered at all for what I was wearing, I can only hope, at the very least, it was for an ill-advised little black dress, and not a lampshade.