Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dear Sons, Your carpeting is showing

Dear Sons,

Welcome home. As soon as you’re finished eating (are you ever, really, finished eating?) you need to march right upstairs to your room. I mean, honestly. Have you seen it? The way you left it this morning? There appears to be some carpeting showing in the far corner, over by the window. I know!

I suggest you get up there right this minute and throw some laundry over it immediately before anyone sees what color it is, forever ruining your outstanding reputation for slovenliness.

Thank you.

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How to Become Fabulously Successful and Lose Ten Pounds in Only Nine Days

Has anybody heard of a book or program like this? Because I need one. Stat. My (gulp) thirty-year high school reunion is coming up. I know it shouldn't be about impressing other people; it should be about getting back in touch with old friends, finding out what they're up to and reliving fond memories. I know! And doesn't that explain why everyone pulls up in a rented Mercedes Benz?

It’s true I shouldn't compete and overall, I do feel like I've been mostly successful. But it's during occasions like these I find myself getting defensive, realizing that even though I'm half-way through my life, by my own definition, I'm not where I'd wanted to be.

Inevitably I'll have to explain to someone why I'm still a co-pilot and that yes, I do land the plane and no they can't just land themselves. I'll have to explain why my second novel hasn't been published yet and accept the condolences that my first one wasn't on the New York Times bestseller list. And I will listen patiently while someone tells me how my airline lost their luggage back in 1989.

And while I can brag about my successful 22-year marriage and my three beautiful children and my nice house in the city, in my mind it would feel oh so much better if I could say I'm a wide-body captain (and not a wide-bodied captain) with several best-selling novels under her belt, a belt that's wrapped around a waist that's ten-pounds thinner.

At the ten-year reunion, no one had changed much. The assholes were still assholes and the cool crowd was still too cool to talk to me. By the 20-year, everyone had seemed to get-over themselves and it was really fun. I'm hoping this go round, everyone will be even more over themselves and like me, will just want to reconnect with old friends, find out what they're up to and relive old times. Because I'm not going to rent a Mercedes Benz and I'm not going to be able to lost ten-pounds by next Saturday. But I may just elect to suck my stomach in, and not exhale for three- hours.

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The Best is Yet to Come: a post 9/11 sign from Frank Sinatra

Whenever our family moves, it’s tradition that the first song we play once our stereo is set up has some significance. For example, when my husband and I bought our first house, the song we played was, “Little Pink Houses” by John Mellencamp. This is because it was pink. And I suppose I can’t drop this without an explanatory digression. We’d only seen the house once. At night. In our defense, when we drove by the next morning and realized it was pink not tan, we lowered the offering price five-percent. So yes, we bought a little house with pink asphalt siding. Gorgeous.

When we moved into the home we live in now, our first song was, “My Kind of Town (Chicago is)” because buying this house meant we’d made the decision to stay in the city and raise our children here. Moving day was September 7, 2001. The airline pilot and IT guy who worked for a Wall Street bank, stretching fiscally to buy their dream house. What could go wrong?

As Frank Sinatra crooned and my husband and I danced in the living room, our four year-old sons watched. It was a few days after 9/11. A time when I’d been spending most of my waking hours unpacking, all the while wondering if I should just be putting everything back in the boxes because surely, in light of recent events, we’d never be able to stay here. So when we danced our first dance to our first song, I started crying. Because it wasn’t supposed to be like this.

My husband tried to comfort me, saying that at the very least, we could always look back fondly on that one year we lived in a really cool old house. He got the laugh he wanted, but it wasn’t until Frank Sinatra spoke to me that I felt hope. I’m a pretty superstitious person and I love my signs. As we danced and talked, Frank started singing the next song on the CD and miraculously through my tears and our conversation, I heard him:

“Still it’s a real good bet, the best is yet to come.” 

“Oh my God, listen!”

“I’m gonna teach you to fly. We’ve only tasted the wine. We’re gonna drain the cup dry.” Because after all, who doesn’t like a good drinking song when they’re upset?

Yet I knew in my heart this was my sign from the Universe that everything was going to be okay.

“You think you've seen the sun, but you ain't seen it shine.” I kept my job. My husband kept his.

“Wait ‘til you see that sunshine day. You ain’t seen nothing yet.” My novel was published. We adopted a daughter.

“You think you’ve flown before, but baby, you ain’t left the ground.” Ten years later, we’re still living in a really cool old house.

9/11 changed everything for everyone. The last ten years maybe have not been the best they could have been, but they were still very good years. (The CD we’d played was “Sinatra Reprise,” the subtitle of which is “The Very Good Years,” a sign I should have noticed in the first place.) And I know, because Frank told me so, The Best is yet to Come.

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9/11 Ten Years Later: an airline pilot's mostly unremarkable story

Whenever I thought about what to write for the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, the only thing that kept coming to mind was that admonishment from The Onion that asked ballad singers to exercise restraint. I know I should chime in, being an airline pilot-blogger and all, but it just seems so, I don’t know, unrestrained.

Even though the attacks involved my airline, and airplanes I had flown, I didn’t know anyone who was killed. I wasn’t at work; I was at home. Considering it was the worst day of my entire life, my experience of it is rather unremarkable. I wrote a little about it back when Osama Bin Laden was killed this past May. [Bin Laden is Dead: A City Mom May 2, 2011]  It was the first time I’d ever done so. I couldn’t bring myself to write about it before that, aside from a few glancing mentions, in a way that I suppose is not dissimilar to how my father never talked about World War II until recently.

Early on the morning of 9/11/2001, I looked out my kitchen window at that surreally gorgeous blue sky and said out loud “Today will be a better day.”  That was the last time I’ve ever said that. My son had just been diagnosed with a hernia that required immediate surgery. Four days earlier we’d moved into our new house. The work being done on it still wasn’t finished and everything was covered in tarps and plaster and dust. The movers had broken a leg off of the most expensive piece of furniture we owned: my antique mahogany dining room table. I’d poked myself, drawing blood, on a TV antenna during the move. The same TV antenna the most HIV-positive looking mover had just poked himself on, drawing blood, and was going to start the HIV testing procedure that afternoon.
Needless to say, my day didn’t get better.

After the crashes, broken tables and minor surgical procedures seemed, well, minor. Everyone I knew called to check on me. I kept my kids home from school. I’ve never been happier to see my husband, who worked at the Board of Trade downtown at the time, walk through our front door. I wish I had a better story for you, but I don’t.

Perhaps more interesting than 9/11 itself, is what came afterward. It’s in the ways it changed my life so profoundly. It was going back to work on the 19th, not wanting to go. Afraid. Were the terrorists still out there? As I shut the gate and looked up at my house, where my husband and young sons were still sleeping, I wondered in all seriousness if I would see them again. I’d written a note, just in case. To tell them how much I loved them and that I had to go. Because if I didn’t, then they’d already won. At work I saw a terminal empty of passengers and filled with flags and patriotic music. And one anonymous passenger who told me, “Bring it back.” Words I’ve never forgotten.

I have to ask permission to go to the bathroom now when I’m at work. Some of my friends carry guns. My salary was cut nearly in half and I lost my pension. I can’t listen to the national anthem at a Cubs game, or anywhere else for that matter, without having my eyes well up with tears. After our retaliatory war in Iraq started, we were treated so poorly in Europe—by people who would have been speaking German if it hadn’t been for men like my father and millions like him who’d died—that we began to say we were from Canada.

Ten years later, it’s better, but life will never be the same. Everyone was affected by the events of 9/11, which is why my story doesn’t stand out. It’s no different than anyone else’s. Unless someone you loved was killed. Unless you were there. Maybe this similarity is what binds us, why we tell our stories with such lack of restraint. We try to make sense of the event by talking and writing about it. To quote from some famous writer or teacher whose name I can’t remember, We are the sum of our stories. And 9/11 is a big one. So hang a flag tomorrow and let’s all tell our stories, so we can show the world how we brought it back.


     United Airlines Flight 175
     American Airlines Flight 77
     United Airlines Flight 93
     American Airlines Flight 11

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What Do Women Want?

Come and find out at the "What Women Want" Expo!!  I am their "Headline Guest" (I know, right?) and will be there selling and signing copies of my novel, Wish Club and possibly my second novel, Down at the Golden Coin, too.

This very PINK Women’s Expo is all about Chocolate (!!), Pampering, Inspiration and Shopping. SO, COME AND BE PAMPERED, INSPIRED...and SHOP, TOO!

It's all happening WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 28th 2011 - 10:00am-3:00pm

Portion of the proceeds benefit American Cancer Society.
More info:
Click  here for the Application to have a booth at this event.

WHERE:       Holiday Inn & Suites,150 S. Gary Avenue, Carol Stream
RSVP:         (630) 665-3325
ADMISSION:   $5 or $4 for Seniors

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Illinois Public High School Students don’t do as well in college as they did high school

This is the insightful information gleaned from what I assume would be an expensive and taxpayer funded study of how high school seniors perform during their freshman year at college. I think they should have just called the study, “Duh.”

The Chicago Tribune reported on the new information, only recently made available to the public, last week.  Public H.S. grads struggle at college  Fortunately for you, ACityMom stumbled on the article yesterday, because no one in her house had managed to clean off the coffee table since August.  At first I was worried, Are my kids not being prepared well for college? But wasn’t that the point of the article: to instill fear? Of course it was.  Yet, as I read more closely, it occurred to me that this “phenomenon” isn’t a phenomenon at all. It’s normal.

The article stated that average GPA’s fell from high school levels during a student's freshman year in college, stating colleges liked to see an average GPA of 3.0 or higher that first year. Gee, do you think this is because college is harder? Do you think this is because colleges are selective? Do you think this could be because even though you were a shining star in high school, you are now surrounded by all the shining stars from all the other high schools? Of course it is.

And how about all the distractions that freshman year? The newness. The freedom. The beer. And let's not forget all the members of the opposite sex. Combine all this, and not necessarily in that order, and it looks like a recipe for failure, never mind lower grades. My two lowest college GPAs (identical at 3.75) occurred during the first semester of my freshman year and the final semester of my senior year. THIS IS NOT NEWS, PEOPLE.  I asked my husband, one of the most intelligent people I know (with perhaps the exception of one glaring marital error) about his high school GPA vs. his college GPA.  It had gone down, too.

Okay, so my husband and I do not a formal scientific study make, but if I had to guess this is the standard. A better expensive taxpayer-funded study would tell us how many of our high school grads go on to successfully complete college, once they get the hang of it, and really, isn’t getting the hang of it what freshman year is all about? According to the Tribune, “Educators say GPAs often improve following freshman year” and  “The disconnect between high school and college performance isn’t unique to Illinois, ‘It’s a national issue,’” according to April Hansen, director of postsecondary services at the ACT company.

Like I said. They should have called the study, “Duh.” Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go clean off the rest of my coffee table.

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When your life's a rollercoaster, who needs an amusement park?

It’s tradition in our family to take the kids to Six Flags the day before school starts. Tradition because, you know, we did it that one time three years ago. Personally, I would rather chew on broken glass than be dragged through an amusement park, but my daughter was begging to go. In fact, she’d been begging from the minute she found out what an amusement park is. She’s a twelve-year old girl who’d never been on a rollercoaster. It’s like we owed it to her.

First off, I have to say I was pretty shocked at the prices. $59.99 per person. Fortunately for us, my husband’s employer provided us with half-off passes. It’s like Six Flags was on sale! Since we were fresh out of broken glass, and I just can't pass up a sale, off we went.

I don’t like rides. Wait, that’s not strong enough. I. Hate. Rides. I did go on the teacups, yesterday. (That’s right. I said, “the teacups.”) And the bumper cars, but that was it. I’m a total ride wimp. The last time we were there, I went on some awful Cajun Crab ride thing. Worst two minutes of my entire adult life. And don’t even get me started on rollercoasters. My kids asked me why I hate rides so much. I honestly don’t know. I told them that “unexpected moderate CAT on the North Atlantic Tracks is all the ride I need,” which seemed to satisfy them in the way only fancily worded obfuscation can.

I spent a lot of time sitting on benches waiting for them while they went on their rides. And to think I used to say the airport was the best place to people watch. This place was almost worth the price of admission just for the spectacle. And I'm sorry, but no woman over the age of fifty should be wearing bright red hot-pants and cowboy boots. Ever.

Toward the end of the day, my daughter had had enough. Apparently her idea of a rollercoaster and the actual experience of one were very different. She liked them enough, but not so much that she wanted to go on every single one. Thank goodness. I mean, I see folks in line for rides like Vertical Velocity and I have to wonder, What’s wrong with you people?  For a little girl with thrill-seeking tendencies, it’s good to know we found something that scared her.

This new tradition of ours will probably be expected to continue next year, which is fine by me. We all had a great time and it was good to do something fun together as a family, one last fling before school started today, which is when I get my reward: a house full of silence. Next year on the last day before school starts, if you hear screaming from Gurnee, you can bet it won't be me on a rollercoaster, but merely my reaction to an increase in the admission fee at the door, or maybe another pair of bright red hot-pants on a woman dangerously close to my age.

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Sunday, September 04, 2011

A Two-Step Command Epic Fail

In order to get into preschool, my sons were required to follow a two step command. At the age of fourteen now, I want to know what the hell happened.

Yesterday, I asked Kyle, “Hey, you going downstairs?”


“Can you bring this down and put it on the coffee table? Thanks.”  And I handed him a red Netflix envelope. A two-step command, not any more complex than, “Pick up the blue truck and put it in the toybox next to the wall.”

Yet, less than twenty minutes later, I went downstairs to find the very same Netflix envelope not only on the floor, but on the floor under his desk with one leg of his chair resting on top of it.

That’s right, Netflix. We’re those people.

I mean, how is this possible? How did we become those people? How does a bright red envelope not only end up on the floor, but on the floor with a desk chair paperweight on top of it? Did Kyle think the envelope might try to escape? Fly away? Unionize the cats? (The movie was Norma Rae.)

I really don’t want to know what goes through the mind of a fourteen year-old boy, because I’m afraid it has way too much to do with fourteen year-old girls, although I do wish I could bottle that loping, unhurriedness with which they do everything. It’s as though they live their lives on the inside of a lava lamp. Perhaps that’s the trouble. It took him so long to get down to the basement he forgot his two-step command.

Fortunately, the DVD wasn’t damaged, but still, I’m wondering with some trepidation: Do colleges require two-step commands?

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What's a card-carrying union member CPS parent supposed to think?

As both a CPS parent and card-carrying union member, I'm torn. I think my daughter should have a longer school day, and a real recess. But I also don't think teachers should be asked to work hours that are 29% more for a two-percent increase in pay. What's a card-carrying union member CPS parent supposed to think?

Before my daughter first started at her school, I was on the phone with the office gathering information. (For those of you who aren't regulars here, my adopted daughter just joined us two-and-half years ago.) I asked questions like, "She'll be starting mid-year, do I need to register her?"  "Is there a dress code?"  "What time does school start?"

"And school gets out at one-forty-five," said the cheerful voice on the other end of the line.

Of course, she was cheerful about it, but I began frantically beating my palm against the receiver of my phone. "I'm sorry," I said. "I think we must have a bad connection, because I swear you just said school gets out at one-forty-five?"

"That's right."

Golly. I'm no expert, but do you think five hours and forty-five minutes of actual classroom time (Wait! Take out twenty minutes for lunch!) might be a contributing factor in the abysmal percentage of high school seniors (7.9%) ready for college? For the low test scores? I don’t know when this short school day began. I doubt it was always this way and if I had to guess, it probably was the solution to somebody else’s budget shortfall.

The school day should be longer. It should include recess.

And yet, think what you want about unions, but it’s wrong for workers to always have to bear the brunt of mismanagement. Teachers work hard at one of the most important jobs there is: teaching our children. I do not begrudge them one nickel of their pay and benefits.

As an airline employee I know all too well that when it comes to the economy, we’re always on the leading edge of the downturn and trailing edge of the recovery. I took a nearly fifty-percent pay cut six years ago and have yet to recoup any of it. (Don’t worry! Management’s been getting nice bonuses!) The teachers union knows what every union member knows, once you give a concession, you’ll have to fight tooth and nail to get it back, if you ever do.

My property taxes are going up and I’m not pleased about that either. Times are tough. We all have to make sacrifices. Let’s hope they all can find an agreeable solution soon, so I don't have to make up my mind what to think, so that in this case the thing that’s sacrificed isn’t the CPS children.

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How Do I Tell Anne Tyler She Sucks?

I’m afraid I did a bad thing. I passed off some of Anne Tyler's writing as my own. But I was curious and figured, what the heck? Everybody else is doing it. I hear plagiarism is really trendy these days. Okay, seriously now, here’s how it happened:

Recently, I took a writing class to give my fiction a bump. I’d never taken a writing class before, and had heard good stuff about this one. I knew for sure I’d learn some things and hopefully get inspired, so I gave it a shot. The teacher started out by railing against all the other writing courses and books and methods out there. He said he hated how they all taught that their way was the only way. Then guess what? Get ready for some literary irony here: he taught that his way was the only way. I know, right? He did pull me aside after the second class, when he’d had a chance to read some of my work. He knew right off I wasn’t a beginner, which was nice, but after the initial love-in, he proceeded to eviscerate every scrap of writing I turned in.

Now lest you think I’m overly sensitive to writing critique, I want to defend myself.  I’ve been getting critique for many years and have developed a business-like approach. If it helps the story, I take it. If it doesn’t, then I don’t. Obviously every writer wants to be told how great their work is, that their words sing from the page. My philosophy on critique is, if it hurts, then it’s probably true. In other words, if the critique stings, then it must mean on some level, you agree with it. I’ve been telling this to my kids for years; the only way someone’s words can hurt you (and I believe words can hurt waaay more than sticks and stones) is if you believe them.

His critique of my writing didn’t hurt my feelings the way true criticism usually does, when I know I need to go back in and make the changes. Although he did make some valid points, most of it flat out didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and a lot of it centered on how I wasn’t following his formulaic method for writing fiction.

I pulled out copies of all my favorite novels, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Breathing Lessons, I Know This Much is True. I mean, Irving, Tyler, Lamb—these guys are the best. My idols. Surely they must be following his secret formula for literary success? It was then I got an idea. One of my wonderful, awful ideas. I copied word for word eight random pages from Anne Tyler’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Breathing Lessons, and handed it in. (Full disclosure: since he already knew my writing style, I changed the formatting of hers. She writes big, long paragraphs. I don’t. So I broke her paragraphs down. I also changed the character names and said it was “a few pages from another novel.”)

Yeah, I know. It was a bitchy thing to do. But I learned more from that exercise than the whole rest of the class. Copying her words, it felt like I was channeling her style, so different from mine and then simultaneously, weirdly, not so very different underneath it at all. I learned there’s no precise formula for writing a great story. Sure there are rules and guidelines and I suppose you have to know the rules before you can break them, but every great story is as individual as the writers that wrote them. And when Teacher eviscerated Pulitzer Prize winning Anne in the same way he had me, I felt vindicated. If in his eyes I'm such a terrible fiction writer, at least I'm in very good company.

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A broken chair small price to pay for trip down memory lane

“Do you want us to sit on your lap now?”

This morning Ethan asked me this when he and Kyle had finished their Honey Nut Cheerios and I went all soft and teary-eyed, because I’d forgotten that was our after-breakfast routine for years. One boy on each knee for a hug and a cuddle before we’d get started on the rest of our day. At six-foot-plus each, if they’d tried it today, we would have broken the chair, and we already have one kitchen chair that’s broken, but that’s not why it made me cry.

These days my sons get themselves ready in the morning. While school hasn’t started for them yet, (Public Service Announcement: CPS start September 6th!) they’ve had cross-country practice at 8 a.m. every day for the last couple of weeks. They wake up with their alarms, feed themselves breakfast and walk down to the bus stop to get themselves to school. I am dangerously close to becoming irrelevant. This morning I joined them at the table for the first time in a while and the reminder of how they both used to fit on my lap got me all verklempt. In fact, this ritual was so important to us, we had to know right away if we’d be able to incorporate Tanya into it. She’s pretty tiny, so it was kind of a slam-dunk, but a relief nonetheless when we were successful. I believe my words when we took this picture were, “I told you this would work,” and it did, literally following symbolically.
She fits!
She fits!
This morning I know Ethan felt bad he’d made me cry. I told him it was just me being ridiculous, but everyone tells me how fast high school goes and then they’re out the door. I told him we should all just be grateful I was shedding happy tears because my children were turning into such fine young people and that I wasn’t sniffing about how I have to go bail any one of them out of jail again. And I should knock on wood here, because I know the fat lady isn’t singing yet.
As I watched the two of them walk down the sidewalk away from me, I really did start crying. And even though it was for all the right reasons, it doesn’t make it any easier to take. One more broken kitchen chair seems a small price to pay, to make time stop moving so quickly forward, for a trip down memory lane.

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My sons are just an upscale accoutrement

How do I explain to my sons, identical twins, that, according to Slate, they’re nothing more than an “upscale accoutrement”? No wait, I think a better take on this would be to ask my husband why my life isn’t more “upscale”!  

Are Twins Taking over?

Airline Pilot #1 Most Stressful Job in America

No kidding. Being under so much pressure could be the reason I didn’t hear about this study until now. But actually, I think it’s results from non-scientific studies that stress me out the most
Airline Pilot America's #1 Most Stressful Job