Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Life Mirrors Comedy Routine

Mirroring someone’s behavior is an important technique often employed by sales people, so I’ve learned. But the other day I was in a meeting with a woman whom I’d just met and she was trying to sell me a service. And she was mirroring me. Badly. I’m guessing when a good salesperson does this, it’s not supposed to be so painfully obvious. When I leaned forward and acted serious, so did she. When I threw a hand up in the air in the “What are you going to do?” gesture, so did she. It bordered on the ridiculous. I felt like I was in that I Love Lucy episode when Lucy does the Mirror Routine with Harpo Marx. It was almost creepy.

Now I’m no salesperson. I’ve often said if my family had to rely on my selling ability to survive we should just start the food strike immediately and get it over with.  So maybe I’m not the best person to write about good or bad sales techniques. After all, I did end up buying her product (tutoring for my daughter).  But seriously? When I shake my head in the Can you believe it? gesture, she shakes her head too?  In the same exact way. It was as though we were in a joint audition for a Miss Clairol commercial.

I suppose no one likes having their idiosyncrasies pointed out, much less mimicked. Can I be the only one who’s ever gotten annoyed when a game of monkey-see, monkey-do goes out of control, meaning the kids won’t stop playing and start following me through the house making fun of—I mean imitating, every thing I do?

Maybe that’s why this woman’s mirroring behavior annoyed me. It felt like she was making fun of me. People that are good at it, I imagine, would do it imperceptibly.  In a study I read about for this article, successful mirrorers were found to be more well-liked by their mirrorees.  Regardless, acitymom was not going to just let this opportunity for comedy go without taking the opportunity to amuse myself. I decided to do my own scientific study on bad mirroring technique and gave this poor girl a workout. Leaning forward, leaning back, crossing my arms, crossing my legs, uncrossing and re-crossing, throwing my head back to laugh and gesturing with my hands as if I were channeling my inner Italian. Which is when it occurred to me, maybe she didn’t realize she was doing it. Maybe I was now the one making fun of her. 

For the remainder of the discussion, I sat pretty still. And not surprisingly, so did she. I guess in the end mirroring, bad or good, isn’t anything to go ape over.

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Amish Encounters of the Third Kind


A friend of mine told me a story at work the other day and it was so compelling, I asked if he'd mind writing it down for my blog. And he did.

An Amish Encounter
By Michael Overbeek

A year ago, a photographer friend of mine, Ken, invited me to join him on a trip to Breman, Indiana to photograph the Amish. He’s fascinated by the Amish culture and hopes to put together a “coffee table” book illustrating their lifestyle. Now, even with my limited knowledge of the Amish, I knew they would prefer not to be photographed. I just didn’t know why. We received a few nasty looks, but overall most would just ignore us. Some even waved. No, not what you’re thinking. They used all 5 fingers.

On the second day of our visit, a 16 year-old named Joe approached us on his bicycle curious about, well, everything. Joe asked us about our cameras, car, even asked if we had an iPhone. We spoke for over an hour and our conversation ended with an invitation to his home for dinner.

Last week, over a year later, I drove my two sons (13 and 14 years) to meet Ken back in Breman and have dinner with Joe’s family. As we began the drive my youngest son, Logan informed me that he had a new song on his iPod he’d like to share with us while I drove. Turns out he had downloaded Weird Al Yankovic’s Amish Paradise. The lyrics are sung to the melody of Coolio’s Gangster’s Paradise. While the song isn’t “disrespectful” of the Amish culture, it highlights the differences between their culture and ours in a very humorous way. Lyrics like “There’s no phone, no lights, no motorcars, not a single luxury. Like Robinson Crusoe, it’s as primitive as can be” and “Hitchin’ up the buggy, churnin’ lots of butter, raised a barn on Monday, soon I’ll raise a nutter. Think you’re really righteous? Think you’re pure in heart? Well, I know, I’m a million times as humble as thou art.” My boys’ belly laugh would have warmed Weird Al’s heart. I told them the song would seem even more amusing after the visit.

We were greeted by Joe and his entire family. They’d dressed for our arrival in what was probably close to their Sunday best. The children (all six, ages 1 to 16) were lined up to greet us. We all sat down in their living room and shared stories about how our cultures differ. They knew much more about our culture than I knew about theirs. I learned the primary reason the Amish don’t have their photo taken is their extreme distaste of vanity. To display a photograph is a form of honoring oneself. My, how different life outside the Amish community would be if vanity were shunned in a similar fashion as say, drunk driving is.

Joe’s father, Mark, apologized that his boys would be busy that afternoon. They’d hired a neighbor’s equipment to bale 6 acres of hay and it was the only time the equipment was available. I asked if my boys and I could help. While the beard covered most of his smirk, Mark placated us by inviting our assistance. So, we baled hay, were shown the livestock, and drove a horse drawn carriage. We also ate a fabulous meal of “fresh” chicken cooked over an open pit fire, vegetables from their garden, and homemade dessert.

I brought my sons in hopes they would not only recognize how well off they were, but how hard some children their age worked. When we left I wasn’t sure who was better off. The simplicity of the Amish life with the closeness of the families, or our tech savvy, “Cat's in the Cradle” inspired existence. I envy what the Amish have. I could never give up the technology that I’ve become so accustomed to, but neither could I criticize it.

We spent 9 hours with Joe’s family. We learned much about baling hay, and cooking chicken over an open pit. We also learned about the bond of a family who works together, prays together, and respects each other. As we drove away 9 hours after we had arrived, we realized we’d made some new friends.

On the way home, Logan played Weird Al’s Amish song again. This time none of us laughed.

Michael Overbeek is the owner of Overbeek Photography, www.overbeekphotography.com. Every time I look at his website, it makes me want to squish back into my wedding dress so he can do one of his amazing Trash the Dress photo shoots. He's also a pretty darn good writer. (Be sure to check out the photo gallery below to see pictures from his visit!)

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Chicago Wiener Wars

The wiener wars are being held in Chicago. As if we needed anything more to be proud of in our great city. And no, I'm not talking about the age-old battle of what defines a Chicago dog, you know catsup vs. no catsup (and let’s just get this on the record, if you say catsup, acitymom thinks you should move.) We're talking about a battle between Oscar Meyer and Sarah Lee, between the Oscar Meyer Wiener and the Ball Park Frank. The question that hopes to be settled in court, at I'm sure no small expense to taxpayers, is which company has the better wiener? Personally, I think the question should be who is a bigger wiener?

Reading the USA Today article, Wiener Wars Lawsuit, I'm reminded of every playground argument I've ever had, "Am not." "Are so." "I know you are, but what am I?" "You don't make America's best hot dog." "Yes we do." "Our hot dogs are 100% pure beef." "No they aren't." "Yes they are." The documents filed in the lawsuit go on for thousands of pages in a case that's lasted three years. That's longer than any playground argument I've ever had, even including the ones with Bonnie Skulniki.

I suppose to these huge companies, defending their corporate honor is important, but the whole thing seems plain ridiculous to me. They're hot dogs, already. Lighten up.

At least the judge in the case seems to have a sense of humor about it. A little comic relief for your tax dollars. According to the USA Today, Judge Morton Denlow said at the beginning of the trial, "Let the wiener wars begin."

It's naive of me to take the common sense approach, that our country has so many more important things to worry about these days, like unemployment, or the deficit, than some pseudo brat-fight (sorry) that's only going to make the lawyers rich. Honestly, are you going to switch your favorite brand of hot dog because of the results of this court battle?

When I was growing up, my dad was unemployed for several years during the recessionary 70's. We ate hot dogs. A lot. I was far into adulthood before I could even look at a hot dog without gagging and I imagine a lot of folks out there struggling to make ends meet might feel the same way someday soon, if not already.

I know, I know, the tax money spent on courts and judges comes from a different pool than the money used for unemployment benefits or developing alternative energy sources or paying teachers' salaries. But I hope against hope someday we'll figure out a way as a country to put an end to expensive frivolities and focus our energies on what's important. Otherwise, I think we'll all be the hot dogs.

While we’re on the topic, if you still care about hot dogs and really don’t care who makes them, come to the North Center Street Fest this weekend. It has a hot dog theme, and not just because it’s happening frighteningly close to where I live. Northside Summerfest No Catsup! I might be watching.

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Oh Mickey What a Pity: A City Mom in the Ring of Fire

Saturday night I tried Karaoke for the very first time. Perhaps you noticed your dishware cracking? It would have been around seven p.m. Central Daylight Savings time.

Friends of ours were having a 25th anniversary party and to celebrate they had a huge bash replete with live band karaoke. The host went first, which I thought was well…thoughtful, because it helped break the ice—at least as much as the Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

I don’t know why I have this unnatural fear of Karaoke. Oh, wait. Now I remember. It has to do with making an ass of myself in public. But the saying about how you should Do one thing every day that scares you came to mind. I love that saying. But scare is one thing. Terrify is another.

When my husband and our sons took the stage to sing Johnny Cash’s, Ring of Fire, they were wonderful. I was so proud. Captured the whole thing on video.

“When are you going up there,” my husband asked.

“Hopefully never.”

My voice is not the worst, your busted-up stemware notwithstanding, but singing in the shower or screaming out the words to Three Dog Night’s Joy to the World while I clipped my young sons’ fingernails is one thing. Singing in front of a crowd is quite another. (The Jeremiah was a bullfrog technique really works. The boys would immediately stop squirming and become mesmerized, allowing me to clip their nails. Over time, this method became so useful in snapping any of us out of a negative state, we began to refer to it as “The Frog.” e.g. “Look at mommy being crabby. We need to give her ‘The Frog.’”)

On Saturday, my friend, we’ll call her “Lynée,” was very encouraging, though. She’d just tried Karaoke for the first time recently and said she’d sing a song with me, telling me she was afraid the first time, too, but then after that it was like, Hand me that mike. Uh oh.

We looked over the playlist. We picked Toni Basil’s Hey Mickey. Easy song, right? Wrong. Turns out there’s no background melody except during the chorus, which we nailed, if I must say, but we were totally lost during most of the rest of it. In our defense, there was no follow-along video screen but only written lyrics, with instructions in red ink that said stuff like “sing this four times” that I didn’t notice until we were almost finished. (I could NOT wear my reading glasses up there even though my friend Rick told me he was pretty sure all the rock stars do it.)

Ethan even put down his video game controller and found his way out of the basement to watch his mom make an a— I mean watch his mom try something that scared her and this more than anything else made me happy I’d done it. Honestly, I don’t think many people cared or judged or were even paying much attention to the fact we’d gotten lost with the lyrics. But I do know if I don’t get that video back from Ethan, he will be getting The Frog indefinitely and unmercifully.



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National Book Week, or Why I'm glad Claudia didn't eat a booger on page 56

It’s National Book Week, at least according to Facebook, and in celebration, you’re supposed to reach for the closest book, go to page 56 and post the fifth sentence as your status, which really makes me happy the fifth sentence of my novel isn’t, “Claudia ate a booger,” or similar. And this is not because I carry it with me everywhere I go. I’m just saying.

When I did this earlier in the week, my sentence was “Beat in the brown sugar, oil and applesauce.” As you might imagine this was because I was in the kitchen and I grabbed the closest book, which happened to be a horror novel because don’t you think oil, brown sugar and applesauce just sound nasty together? Regardless, it’s a fun little exercise that happens around this approximate time every year. I haven’t been able to pin down the exact dates; it varies depending on where you search on the Internet. This is fine with me because personally I think every week should be National Book Week.

Just yesterday I was introduced to someone else as an author and the man said, “Oh, I don’t read books.”  He seemed rather proud of this, which I think is along the same lines as being proud of not holding the door open for little old ladies.  I mean really? You’re proud you don’t read books? Or perhaps he was just afraid I was going to try to sell him the copy of Wish Club I keep in my pocket.
Personally, I wish I could read more books. I wish I could spend my days lolling on the couch, or the beach or anywhere for that matter (who wouldn’t like to loll more?) reading massive quantities of books.  When we were on vacation earlier this summer, we all brought our Kindles and we read, read, read. It was heaven to soak up so much literature. And nothing makes me more proud than to watch my kids immersed in books. It makes me feel that as a parent, I’ve done at least one thing right.

What I don’t like about the Kindle though, is you can’t see what people are reading because you can’t see the book cover.  And this is not because I’m worried my kids are reading Harold Robbins. Listen, Ethan just finished Freakonomics.  He’s fourteen. Scary enough, right? I just like checking out book covers when I’m at the airport or beach or on CTA, just to see what titles are hot right now without having them filtered though somebody else’s published list. Maybe those folks at Amazon could figure out a way to have covers display on the outside of the Kindle somehow.  Or maybe they could just display the fifth sentence from page 56 on the cover of whatever book the reader is e-reading, because judging from what I’ve seen on Facebook, that can be enticing enough.

Happy National Book Week, everyone!

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My Dog is a Poser


At nine years old, my dog Wrigley has been my faithful running companion for almost eight years now. Most days she has more energy than I do, running out in front of me as if to say, “C’mon!”, pacing on anyone who passes us, which is just about everyone. Speed has never been my forte in the sport of running and I’m pretty sure my slow miles just annoy the hell out of her, judging from how when we come home after an hour or so on the streets, she’ll tear around the backyard at full speed, mostly just to piss me off, I think.
I worry about her in the heat, though, and so on days when the temperature tops 83 or so, I usually leave her home and this summer that’s been happening a lot. When I went out the door yesterday, the way she flattened her ears down on her head when she saw me taking off in my running togs without her broke my heart.

When the weather is on the warmer side and she does join me, I stop for water often and watch how she reacts. In cold weather, she’ll whine at my delay tactics, “Let’s get going!” Only during longer runs on warm days will she ever take a drink from a fountain herself, and if she ever sits down at a water stop, I know we need to, um, dog it for a while.

Last week we were running together on a warmer day. Although the morning had started out with temperatures below eighty, by the time we got to the lake and were halfway through our jog they were clearly inching up. I let her set the pace, and instead of running out in front of me, she remained at my side. Not a good sign.  But suddenly in our last half mile, she got a burst of energy. Way out in front of me now, she changed her gait from her usual working dog, head to the ground stride to the heads up energetic trot of a Lipizzaner stallion. I was relieved. She’s fine! Look at her, tail wagging, trotting along out in front of me, full of energy in this heat. Look at—Doggie Beach, off to our right.

Why you little poser, I thought. Showing off for the other dogs!

I’d seen this transformation in her gait before. It happens whenever another dog is in sight. Usually it’s just any dog passing us, so her show-off trot shouldn’t have surprised me when we passed an entire beach full of dogs.  It’s hilarious to me that a dog could be so much like a person. I wonder if she would wait to turn a corner before she stopped to walk, or would start running again just as she turns down the block for home. Not that I would ever do this, I’m just saying.

Regardless, I think it’s safe to say both my dog and I are looking forward to cooler weather, when we can consistently trot out to show off—I mean, go for nice, long, albeit rather slow, runs together.

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Sunday, August 07, 2011

A City Mom is the D.B. Cooper Story Pooper

A City Mom is the D.B. Cooper Pooper 
Isn’t it exciting? The FBI seems to be on the verge of solving our country’s only unsolved hijacking! The D.B. Cooper story has been the subject of speculation and folklore ever since it happened in 1971. But wait a minute, folks. I hate to dump a big pile of acitymom skepticism onto the parade, but the woman coming forward with the new evidence is writing a book about it.

Gee, do you think this new evidence might help her sell a few books?

According to yesterday’s Chicago Tribune, Marla Cooper said, “she is working on a book about her uncle, but said that wasn’t her primary motivation for coming forward.” Really?  I mean, because who wouldn’t want to read a book about Lynn Doyle Cooper, some obscure guy from nowhere that died back in 1999? I’m sure all those literary agents and publishers were beating down her door before she approached the FBI with her new evidence. Can’t you see them behind their big desks in their fancy New York offices: “The Lynn Doyle Cooper Story! I must have it at any price!”

Have we learned nothing from James Frey and Greg Mortensen? Will Marla Cooper be our third cup of deceit?  She says she remembers all this stuff about her uncle, that he was plotting in the garage with another uncle. That he showed up all bloody and bruised after the hijacking happened. She didn’t remember any of this before now? She didn’t think the FBI would be interested in knowing earlier? Please.

As a person who has a foot in both worlds, flying and publishing, I can tell you the D.B. Cooper story is a fascinating and potentially lucrative one.  If Marla Cooper really has new evidence, then shame on her for sitting on it all these years. If she really doesn’t have any new, hard physical evidence besides these “memories” from when she was a girl, well then, just shame on her.

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I LOVE Not Camping




Every August around this time, my husband takes our children camping. All of them.  This leaves me home alone for about five days. I LOVE not camping.

The tradition started about eight or so years ago as the Men’s Camping Trip. My husband and our sons, his brother and his son. Then my niece, at the age of four or so, decided she didn’t want to be left out. Apparently deciding my brother-in-law should not be left in the woods to care for a four year-old, my sister-in-law insisted on coming along, too. And then it became the camping trip for everyone except Kim.

How I’ve managed to get away with this for so long is a mystery to me. Wait. I know. Maybe it’s because I insist to everyone that I hate camping. I’ve been known to say,  “My idea of camping is two stars.” Hey, I am ACityMom after all. But my disdain for sleeping in a tent in the great outdoors is fake. In fact, I often went camping with a childhood friend when I was growing up and loved it. I know there’s a big difference between being the grown-ups and being the kids when it comes to camping. The only preparation we had to do as kids was imagine how we wanted our marshmallows done.  I still marvel at the bravery of Mr. and Mrs. G. They had three kids of their own and still didn’t seem to mind one more tagging along.  Or maybe they were like me, once you have three you don’t even notice a few more.

“Who are you?” I ask the strange kid at our dinner table.

“Gracie. I live down the street.”

“Right. And you?”

“Trevor. I’m Ethan’s friend from school.”

“Fine. Eat your peas.”

Which is why having my entire house to myself for so long is like therapy for my soul. I feel like a sponge soaking up the solitude. The order.  The quiet.  When was the last time you had a day stretch before you in which you didn’t have to take care of anyone?

I write in big thirsty chunks of time. I go for a run whenever the hell I want. I eat when I’m hungry. I don’t cook. No meal planning, no chauffeuring. I won’t have to run the dishwasher until Sunday. When I put a piece of paper on a kitchen counter, it’s still there three days later!

As they were making their way out the door yesterday, my husband said, “You’re going to miss us.”  I almost replied, “Whatever gets you out the door,” but he’s right. I will. I do. And I did almost start to run down the steps to get one last hug, one last peck on the cheek from each of them.

In no time they’ll be home and the noise and the mayhem and the chaos will return. All the wonderful things that make being a family so perfect. In the mean time, don’t hate me because I’m not camping.

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Tuesday, August 02, 2011

A City Mom raises a stink

Remember the line from Avatar, “I see you.”  The Navi would say that to each other and to the animals they killed and at first I thought, Hmmm. That’s kind of dumb.  But the more I got to thinking about it, the more I realized, it’s the problem with all of Western society. We pretend we don’t see each other.

The cashier pretends we don’t exist. The customer pretends the cashier isn’t a real live human being and stands on his side of the counter talking on his phone to someone else. When that woman cut you off with her car, it wasn’t only that she didn’t see you, it was also that she thought you didn’t merit the space you were in.  Do you begin to see (sorry) how things would change if we just saw each other? The whole world would be like Trader Joe’s, except maybe without all the Hawaiian shirts.

I don’t know when we all stopped treating each other like human beings. Maybe when the world population topped six billion. Perhaps it’s like city life. We’re all smushed so close together, we avert our eyes to afford each other some privacy. But how about giving each other some common decency instead.  If we all saw each other as human beings or children of God or points of light or destined to be worm food, maybe we would be a little nicer to each other, kind of like how we all treated each other in the weeks after 9/11.

The other day I bought some fresh Alaskan Cod at a local grocery chain. The next day when I opened the fridge to start dinner, something stunk. Bad. Suspecting the fish, I brought it out. It smelled fishy, but not too strongly so I started washing it in the sink, which is when I gagged so hard I almost had to step outside. I quickly put it back in its packaging and wrapped it in a plastic grocery bag then wrapped it again in one of those sturdier Target bags and drove back to the store (windows open in 90 degree heat) to get my money back.

When I arrived at the service counter, there was nobody there. The store was crowded, but none of the cashiers or baggers or workers hustling around would look at me. So I stood waiting. And waiting. Five minutes. Six. Doesn’t seem too long writing it here, but it’s plenty long when you’re first in line at an empty counter holding a stinky bag of rotten fish and everyone that works in the store is pretending you don’t exist. That they don’t see you.

I put the bag down on the counter and waited some more.  At around the ten-minute mark, a cashier did say someone would be right with me. But still I continued to wait.  That is, until I got an idea. A wonderful, awful idea.  I opened the Target bag and stepped back.

My refund followed swiftly.

All I’m saying is we should do what we teach our children: be nice to each other. And then no one would have to raise a stink about wanting to be seen.

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Forced Scrapbooking: Cruel and Unusual


Forced Scrapbooking: Cruel and Unusual

What's worse than waterboarding? More cruel than the rack?

Forced Scrapbooking.

Words can't express how grateful I am to never have been subjected to this most heinous of all forms of torture. When I received an email from one of my girlfriends, we'll call her "Sally," I was ready to fly to The Hague to report the crime to the United Nations myself.  Here are some excerpts from Sally's email:
When my sons played high school soccer, we were expected to create a page for them to be included in the scrapbook, as well as attend weekly Scrapbooking sessions.
Weekly scrapbooking sessions? Add this to the soccer war crimes tribunal.
I declined this "opportunity" and was hounded by the scrapbook mom who was in charge. She said, "how disappointed my boys would be if they didn't have a personal page " in their book.
Really? Two teenage boys? Last time I checked, the only thing that could disappoint teenage boys in this manner was teenage girls.
The book was ridiculous. Over 100 pages long, to remember every single moment in a short soccer season of six weeks. "Look! My kids eating pizza!" Photos of parents sitting in the stands. And the best pages? Pictures of everyone's car driving them to practice. (Yep, mine was the dirtiest car, had not been washed in weeks.)

Now, my daughter's team just announced they wanted a scrapbook page by next week.
Next week? Cruel and unusual.
This is the team for which my daughter often played ten minutes out of an eighty-minute game. Should I just send her a picture of my daughter sitting on the bench, as that pretty much summarizes the season?

Any way to get out of this? Sam (Sally's husband) thinks I should just bite my lip and do it...but I do not want any memories of this soccer season (nor did I take any pictures and the season is now over.)
I don't scrapbook. My photos are in boxes, bags and in several different files on the computer. It is my major weakness that I haven't documented my children's lives in an artistic fashion and although I don't want to screw up the team's eighteen scrapbooks, (we're expected to make eighteen color copies), I could care less if my daughter is included. (She's trying out for a different team next year.) Or should I just go ballistic and say, "ARE YOU CRAZY? MY DAUGHTER BARELY EVER PLAYED AND WE ARE TRYING DESPERATELY TO FORGET THIS MISERABLE TEAM AND TYPE A PARENTS! "

OK, I feel better now. Just tell me I'm not crazy.
No my dear friend, Sally. You are not the crazy one. Can you imagine? Forced Scrapbooking. Eighteen color copies. All this after enduring an entire season of soccer, which in my experience, is its own form of torture.

I told Sally she should send Scrapbook Mom some stick figure drawings, or maybe just cut and paste words from magazines and newspapers, like a ransom note, with a thinly veiled threat, perhaps telling Scrapbook Mom her crime against humanity will not go unpunished.

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