Saturday, December 29, 2007

48 Hours

Forty-eight hours. Two days. 2880 minutes. That's a pretty short period of time in the overall scheme of things. Yet sometimes, 48 hours is a lifetime.

48 hours ago I was in sunny, 80-degree Crystal Beach, Florida. I was wearing capris, a short-sleeve shirt, and strappy high heels and I wasn't cold. My sunglasses were on my head (when they weren't on my face) so I wouldn't lose them. I was driving around in my sexy G-6 rental car (fully loaded with OnStar, XM Radio, sunroof, 6-disk CD changer and more) with the sunroof and all four windows open and the air-conditioning on - because I could. I could feel the sun beating down on my face through the open sunroof, as I adjusted my sunglasses so I could still see. I was laughing and catching up with an old friend and sipping Stellas at Hannibals in Winter Park, and he was in shorts and a polo. I could smell the salt-water wafting off the Gulf of Mexico even as I drove further inland. I was eating fresh scallops caught that morning. I walked outside barefoot, showing off my newly pedicured toes. I held Nana's hand and hugged and kissed her for what I'm certain will be the last time in my life.

And then I boarded a plane.

Today I'm back in Chicago and it's 20 degrees and snowed yesterday. I should have shoveled yesterday, but I just wasn't ready to face the bitter winter outside my door. And this morning, I paid for it when I had to shovel a driveway of ice rather than a driveway of fresh snow.

What a difference 48 hours makes.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Memories

I used to think that for it to be Christmas, it had to resemble a Norman Rockwell painting or Hallmark Holiday Commercial. And in a way, maybe I still do. I honestly miss those big, lavish Christmases when my whole family - aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and all - would gather round. Sure, not everyone got along all the time, but we were still family and it was Christmas, so we were together.

The past few years have not resembled anything like what I remember growing up. I've spent Christmas entirely alone or I've spent Christmas with Dave. He's not much into Christmas, so we pretty much go to the movies and I make stew. And sometimes I made it to church on Christmas Eve. And truthfully, I've grown accustomed to our almost non-existent celebrations. He's family and we're together.

This year, we couldn't get together and I had planned to spend the day with a friend, which I was looking forward to. But then a couple of weeks ago, Mom called me from the nursing home with Nana and Nana said to me "I just wish I could see you. I miss you so much." I had an airline ticket within 24 hours for Christmas in Florida with Mom and Nana. I even made plans to see an old college friend while I'm in town.

My trip has not been without its ups and downs. The airline lost my luggage, which might not have been so bad had I not slept a wink the night before and hadn't eaten all day. I was overwhelmed about seeing Nana and was at my wits end. As silly as it sounds, the reason I cared about my luggage had nothing to do with my clothes or any other material items in it, but with the fact that the last couple of slices of Nana's Fruitcake were in it and I brought it to share with Nana on Christmas. It seemed like everything went wrong on Christmas Eve.

But then today was wonderful. Santa delivered my luggage in the middle of the night. I woke up in Nana's house that she built with most of her life savings. The weather was beautiful (how could it not be, it's FLORIDA!!!!!). And in keeping with our new Christmas tradition, Mom and I saw Charlie Wilson's War, which I highly recommend, had lunch at Waffle House, and then had dinner with Nana. After that, we saw the most amazing display of Christmas lights all throughout one Palm Harbor neighborhood.

Today was a good day for Nana. She knew me and knew it was Christmas. She even had moments of humor. I read her The Christmas Story from Luke 2:1-14 and Santa Mouse, both of which she enjoyed. Then Mom mashed up a couple bites of fruitcake, but didn't tell Nana, and then asked her if she could tell what Mom was feeding her. Immediately, she said "It's my fruitcake" as her face lit up.

Giving Nana that moment of joy was the best Christmas gift I could ever receive and reminded me about the true meaning of Christmas. She probably won't be here next year, but I'll always have the memories of how she loved her fruitcake right up until the end and be grateful that I chose to spend Christmas with family this year. And that's better than any Norman Rockwell painting or Hallmark adaptation.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Girlfriends Creed

Tonight my friend Shannon and I exchanged Christmas presents and she found the most perfect gift in the world for me (of course, she has a gift for finding the perfect gift) - a book titled "girlfriends get together: Food, Frolic and Fun Times!" It's filled with party menus for all types of girlfriend get togethers and I absolutely love it.

My favorite part, however, is found just on the inside of the book where authors often place a quote or acknowledgments. It's called The Girlfriends Creed.

The Girlfriends Creed
We will know each other in our lifetimes. We will not be secrets from each other.
We will say what we want to say now and not wait until a passing.
Our friendships are living, tangible realities, in which we rejoice.
May we always come together when we are able.
May we always give our stories freely and have space in which to hear them.
May we always get dressed up - every once in a while in our fashion -
Give our best and widest grin,
And raise our teacups high.
- KC Chapek

The Girlfriends Creed moved me tonight, as I pack for a trip in the morning I've got mixed feelings about. I am reminded that what's important in life is relationships and the bonds we share. And the best relationships are the ones that stand the test of time. The ones where we share not only the good times (those are easy and fun to share), but also the difficult and sorrowful times - the ones that require us to be vulnerable. My life is so rich because of my friends and as I think about all my many blessings, I count each one of you.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

12 Days of Christmas

Last night Christopher and I were IMing and he introduced me to this wonderful You Tube video. Tonight, Phil Ponce of Chicago Tonight explained the backstory. This version of 12 Days of Christmas was sung in 1998 by the a capella group "Straight No Chaser" at Indiana University. Phil Ponce and his wife were in the audience that night and if you look closely, you'll see Dan Ponce of ABC7 News.

I hope you enjoy Straight No Chaser's version of 12 Days of Christmas!

Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Survey

Ok, my cousin Andrea is firmly to blame for this. But it gave me something to write about tonight, when I'm procrastinating writing about a topic that's too raw to put on paper still.

Here's what you're supposed to do and try not to be a SCROOGE!!! Just copy this entire survey and paste into the Comments Section. Change all the answers so they apply to you. It's the season to be cheerful!!!

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
I far prefer wrapping paper. I love the whole wrapping process and making them fancy with beautiful bows.

2. Tree--Real or Artificial?
I love real trees, but Ross plants his fat ass under the tree the second it goes up and doesn’t move until it comes down. So artificial it is. Plus, I’m lazy and don’t want to clean up fallen needles.

3. When do you put Christmas tree up?
The day after Thanksgiving.

4. When do you take the tree down?
Epiphany – January 6th. Once the Three Wise Men arrive in Bethlehem, Christmas is over and I can take down the tree.

5. Like eggnog?
Not even with alcohol.

6. Do you have a nativity scene?
3 that I can think of.

7. Favorite gift received as a child? I
I’m STILL waiting on that damn Easy Bake Oven!!!!! Seriously, what does a girl have to do to get an Easy Bake Oven???

The gift I actually received that stands out as my favorite, however, is that every year my mom would get me a new doll. She would look high and low to find just the right one and then she would make clothes for it, so even if one of my girlfriends had the same doll, most of my doll clothes would be one-of-a-kind designer originals. Every year I looked forward to the new doll and was sad when I no longer received a new doll for Christmas. Somehow, Christmas lost its magic for me then.

8. Easiest person to buy for?
Dave – now I give him the same thing each year and he loves it. I cook and cook and make extra of everything – soups, stews, breads, sauces, etc. – and freeze it in single serving containers. Then he gets to go “shopping” in the freezer. Whatever fits in his cooler, he gets to take home.

9. Worst Christmas?
The Christmas when I was 12. It was the last Christmas my parents were married and we went to visit my Gardner Grandparents in Florida. The whole Christmas was a miserable disaster and my grandmother was just mean beyond words.

10. Mail or email a Christmas card?
Mail. I HATE emailed Christmas cards.

11. Favorite Christmas movie?
It’s A Wonderful Life. I cry every time I see it. Click on the link and you can watch the entire movie.

12. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
I Christmas shop all year.

13. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?
I plead the fifth.

14. Favorite food to eat on Christmas?
Nana’s Fruitcake.

15. Clear or colored tree lights?
Clear lights on the tree.

16. Favorite Christmas Song?
Oh Holy Night by Celine Dion.

17. Travel during Christmas or Stay home?
This year I’m going to Florida to see Mom, Nana and an old friend. :)

18. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer?
Dasher, Pole Dancer, Prancer, and Horn-dog, Vomit, Drunkard, wait, I think I'm forgetting a few. This was actually Andrea’s answer and I liked it so much I kept it.

19. Angel or Star on Tree top?

20. Open presents on Christmas Eve or morning?
Christmas morning. Even though there’s no one to tell me not to and I won’t be here on Christmas, I haven’t even opened the presents my dad sent me this year. I will probably wait until I return from Florida to open them.

21. Most annoying thing about this time of year?
Grumpy people!

22. What is your Christmas wish this year?
Well, I did ask Santa for a man.

Have a great Christmas, everyone! Hope all your holiday wishes come true.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The True Meaning of Christmas

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas Season is how it seems to bring out the best in people. Whether it's holding the door open for someone at the Post Office or dropping gold coins in the Salvation Army Red Kettles, nothing says "Merry Christmas" as much as random acts of kindness, especially anonymous ones.

When I awoke this morning, I discovered about 1 1/2 inches of new snow on the ground. Quite unfortunately, I had bet incorrectly on the 50-50 chance we had of getting snow overnight and did not give myself enough time to shovel, get dressed and to my 9:00am appointment on time. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, I'd just shovel when I got home, but I also had clients all afternoon, here at the house, and would not have time enough to shovel and be presentable between arriving home and their arrival. So off I went to my 9:00 appointment and decided to worry about my unshoveled drive later.

Imagine my surprise when I pulled in the drive a few hours later and discovered it had been shoveled for me! Shoveling is one of my least favorite chores, so I was absolutely elated. So thrilled in fact that I didn't even mind shoveling it late this afternoon after we had another 1 1/2 inches. I even shoveled the sidewalk.

To whomever shoveled my driveway this morning, thank you. I appreciate your kindness more than words can express. Your generosity is the true meaning of Christmas.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gift Giving

I love giving gifts. I love thinking about the perfect gift for the recipient and then finding or making it. I also love wrapping gifts and being there when the recipient opens the gift I've picked out.

Over on Gourmet Goddess, a blog I enjoy, there was a discussion the other day of gift giving and how Heather (Gourmet Goddess) is unhappy with Christmas shopping this year. It seems her family has put a moratorium on one of her favorite aspects of the holiday by requiring everyone to purchase a generic gift under $15 for someone of their same sex. And then on Christmas Day, everyone will choose from the appropriate gift pile. Heather is unhappy because she doesn't know where to begin with buying a generic gift and would much rather give a meaningful, personal gift, even if under $15.

That got me to thinking about gift giving under $15 or $20 and both what I might like to receive and give. So here's the start of a list of gifts I'd like to receive or give (many of which I've actually given):
  • A framed photo of a special memory
  • Homemade anything
  • A hand-made book of favorite recipes of a close friend who is a great cook, maybe with all the ingredients for one
  • A scrapbook of a family vacation or girlfriend weekend
  • A homemade Christmas ornament or an ornament signifying something special in my life
  • A beautiful journal and pen
  • A book by my favorite author (preferably one I don't have) and hopefully signed
  • A collection of holiday, birthday, get well, congratulations, sympathy, thinking of you, etc. cards
  • Cozy, fuzzy slippers
  • A subscription to Ms. or Utne Reader or National Geographic magazines
  • A handwritten collection of favorite memories (maybe a group could go in on this and each person write one and then have it bound)
  • A handwritten letter telling the recipient how much they mean to me and the impact they've had on my life
  • Time (not the magazine, but some specially carved out time to spend with someone special)
  • Lavender linen spray
  • Relaxation or Meditation CD
  • A book of motivational/inspirational quotes
  • The book "Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, and It's All Small Stuff" by Richard Carlson
  • The book "How to Be Like Women of Influence: Life Lessons by 20 of the Greatest" by Pat Williams, et al.
My all time favorite gift is one that Dave gave me for my 21st birthday, as he graduated from high school. As a project for one of his art classes, he made me a silver pendant of two people standing together. He then wrote a paper for one of his English classes explaining the meaning of this particular piece. He described how the piece signifies the two of us because we've always been there for each other and I played such a significant role in his life growing up when our mom couldn't. I remember reading the English paper for the first time and the emotions it brought up in me. I cherish that piece of jewelry like it's the finest treasure in the world because to me, it is. Gifts don't have to cost anything to be meaningful.

That's about all I can think of now. Please add your own ideas in the comments section.

UPDATE - December 15th:

I came home this afternoon to discover that one of my neighbors shoveled my driveway, which in my rush to get to my 9:30am client, I didn't have time to do! This is a gift I always appreciate!

Over on Lively Librarian, Shannon suggests that customized stationary would be a great gift and I wholeheartedly agree!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

I'm Walking On Sunshine . . . And Don't It Feel Good!

WAHOO!!!!! The sun is shining today!

I have lost count how many days it's been since I've seen the sun, but right now I'm hunting down my sunglasses and that feels great!

Yeah for the sun!

And in even better news, Mike Kaplan on Channel 7 is predicting the 40s next week, but you'll have to take my word for it because I can't find it on their website.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I'm Blonde . . . In Case You Didn't Know

A couple of weeks ago, my car locks froze and required me to stand outside with my hair dryer in sub-zero temperatures just so I could go grocery shopping. As a result, I have not been locking my car doors at night.

Well, sure enough after that huge snow and freezing rain & sleet storm last week, I went out to my car the next morning and my car doors were frozen shut. All of them. I stood out there with the hair dryer again, but nothing happened. My locks were REALLY frozen. Needless to say, I was unhappy, but luckily for me, Superman Dave has been in town and was planning on coming out to visit me over the weekend. So I put "unfreeze my locks" on his Honey Do list.

Now that you have the background, here's what happened last night when Dave put his super hero skills to the test:

Dave (as he's getting out his tools): Jess, are you SURE they're frozen?

Me (pulling on the car door): Yes, they are FROZEN and won't budge. I held the hair dryer on all 4 doors for almost 30 minutes the other day. They are FROZEN.

Dave: And you're SURE they're not locked?

Me: Nope. Since the locks froze I have not locked the car doors. I'm sure.

Dave (with a crowbar trying to pry open the doors): Man, Jess, I don't know. You're right these doors are stuck. And you're SURE they're not locked?

Me: Nope. I already told you. I didn't lock them.

Dave: Jess, just go get your car keys.

Me: Okay, but I'm telling you, they're not locked.

Me (a few minutes later as the key slid into the lock and unlocked the door, which then easily opened): Dave! Stop laughing at me!!!!!!!

Yep, the doors were locked, not frozen.

After hearing the story last night (and laughing at me for more than 5 minutes), my mom called this morning to remind me to unlock my car doors.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

2nd Annual Marshall Field's Memorial Dinner & Christmas Party

Last Saturday night was the 2nd Annual Marshall Field's Memorial Dinner & Christmas Party. Designed to pay tribute to the World's Greatest Department Store after its demise into Macy's, this dinner really is just an excuse to get my closest friends together at the holidays.

In keeping with tradition, because Marshall Field's is nothing if not tradition, tastebuds were once again titillated by the tantalizing tastes of Epicurean Christopher Bellios' kitchen. Guests enjoyed the smells and tastes of days gone by -- when the Empire Carpet man appeared live, when the Christmas season was a treat and when the Walnut Room actually meant something.

The menu came straight from the Marshall Field's Cookbook. Well, most of it anyway. I did add a couple of my own special touches.

2nd Annual Marshall Field's Memorial Dinner & Christmas Party Menu
Hors d'oeuvres
Shrimp Cocktail
Assortment of Puff Pastry Petites

Field's Special Salad
Asiago-Crusted Chicken with Mustard-Glazed Carrots and Fingerling Potatoes
Fresh Whole Berry Cranberry Sauce

Triple-Treat Chocolate Layer Cake
We also served Fieldtini's to drink, which Shannon, Diana, and I discovered on our last trip to The Walnut Room just before Christmas 2005 when it was still Marshall Field's.

Thanks to Diana for the "hard work" it took to perfect this recipe!

3/4 shot Midori
1 shot Raspberry Twist Vodka
1/4 - 1/2 shot Lime Juice
Maraschino Cherries

Shake Midori, Vodka, & Lime Juice in Martini Shaker with ice. Pour into Martini Glass. Dress with 1 Maraschino Cherry dropped into bottom of glass. Enjoy!

Much to my surprise, everyone oohed and ahhhed over the cocktail sauce accompanying the Shrimp Cocktail and wanted to know where it came from. Like almost everything else I serve, I made it from scratch, which no one could believe. It seems no one I know does this, which surprises me because cocktail sauce is one of the easiest things to make and I think buying pre-made cocktail sauce is not only a waste of money, but also adds nothing to the shrimp.

So here's my recipe. I have no amounts because everything is to taste, pretty much the way I make everything.

Cocktail Sauce
Stir together ketchup, horseradish, Worcestershire Sauce and a splash of fresh lemon juice. All to taste.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,

I know it's been many years since I've written you a letter at Christmas. Usually, my desires at Christmas are so mundane that I don't want to waste your time. But this year is different. You see, Santa, I'm looking for a very specific gift this year that I think only you can deliver. No, I'm not looking for an Hannah Montana tickets or even Barbie's Dream House. This year I want a Man. Yes, Santa, I know I just said I want a Man. A real live Man.

He should be single meaning not currently married, in a relationship, or in the midst of breaking up. I'd like him to be emotionally mature and available with all working parts. I hope he takes care of himself to ensure he will be around for many years. I don't want a model that breaks down after playing with him just a couple of times. Ideally he will date between 1965 and 1975. And while this probably goes without saying, he should be straight.

Beyond that, I'm not terribly picky. The reason I'm coming to you Santa is because I've dated some men in the past who were ok. But the Man I'm specifically asking you for is an extraordinary model. He's the rare kind whose actions speak as loudly as his words, who lives by the Golden Rule, who deserves me, and is not tied down by his past.

I'm not trying to be arrogant here, Santa. I realize that I have my flaws and that no one is perfect. But I think that when the Elves pull out their records, you'll see just how good I've been. I treat others the way I want to be treated, I stand by my commitments, have never cheated on anyone, don't do any illegal drugs (never have), love my family, and do charity work. I'm also taking better care of myself because I deserve to have the healthiest body I can have.

Santa, I know you're busy. And this is a most unusual request. But given the magic of the Christmas season and all the other much more difficult requests you've got to fill (e.g., Hannah Montana tickets), I'm sure you can handle this. Frankly, if anyone can fulfill my Christmas Wish, Santa, you're the only Man who can.

Please don't feel you have to wait until Christmas morning to deliver my Man. If you find him sooner, please feel free to deliver him early. Of course, I can't make any promises about waiting until December 25th to unwrap him. I'm good, Santa, but even I'm not THAT good.



P.S. I'm really over that whole Easy Bake Oven debacle from when I was 5. I forgive you. And I promise to never mention it again.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Snow Day! Snow Day! Everyone Loves A Snow Day!

In a rare move yesterday, Arlington Heights School District 25 gave all elementary and middle-school kids an unexpected Snow Day. I say rare because, during the 9 years I attended Arlington Heights School District 25, schools were never closed. The only memorable Snow Days came during the famed Blizzard of ’79 when snow piles reached our roof and we sled directly from the roof to the street. Other than that, no Snow Days.

ABC 7 reported live from Arlington Heights yesterday (and just how cute is my friend Sue Burky's daughter, Emma???) and stated that village officials told school district administrators that they could not guarantee the roads would be clear in time for children to get to school. Parents I spoke with yesterday, however, believe the real reason schools were closed had more to do with the schools not being closed last winter when a storm dumped almost a foot of snow overnight and children being stranded for hours at bus stops.

My only question is with all the kids out of school, why couldn't I find anyone looking to earn some extra money and shovel my driveway?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

I'm Done With Winter Now

Yep, my fickle nature has kicked in and the romance of the first snow is now gone.

What caused me to change my mind about Winter?

Shovelling and icy roads.

I'm officially ready to return to the regularly scheduled programming called Summer.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The First Snow

Tonight we are getting the first measurable snowfall of the season. Sure, it snowed on Saturday, but it was more like white slush, didn't even measure an inch, and was gone before Sunday morning. Tonight, on the other hand, it's snowing big pretty fluffy white snowflakes with just enough moisture in them to stick to everything. Suddenly I live in a white forest with all the trees and branches completely covered in snow. It's beautiful.

The first snowfall always reminds me of a first kiss. Tender. Romantic. Anticipatory. The only two people in the world are me and the man I'm kissing, just like when I watch the first snowfall and I forget about everything else. I love to curl up on the love seat in my living room with all the lights turned out, save for the Christmas tree, and watch the snow in eager expectation.

My ability to commit to winter lasts about as long as the first snowfall. Tomorrow I'll be ready for a new season. But tonight, I'm in love.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Nana's Fruitcake

Growing up, nothing said Christmas like Nana's Fruitcake. Now I know that fruitcake gets a bad rap, but I had no idea it was the butt of so many jokes until well into adulthood. I simply knew I loved Nana's Fruitcake and looked forward to her box of homemade goodness each December.

I still remember coming home from work one night in early December 1993, my first Christmas in DC, and being surprised by a box of Nana's Fruitcakes. That's when I knew I was an adult. She didn't send it to me when I was in college, but now that I was on my own (and over 21), she felt no guilt in sending me her bourbon-soaked fruitcakes.

I practically ran all 9 flights of stairs as I salivated in anticipation of the goodness to come. Ripping open the box, I was not disappointed. The rich smell of bourbon seeped through the layers of wax paper, saran wrap, and aluminum foil. I unwrapped a small fruitcake to have just a taste before making dinner, but the phone rang and suddenly I was sitting on the couch chatting with a girlfriend and chowing on Nana's Fruitcake. When I tried to get up to make dinner, I discovered that much to my surprise, I was drunk!

Almost 2 years ago, on a post-Christmas trip to Florida, Nana and I made fruitcakes together. Although she'd long ago sent me her recipe, it was important to me that we make fruitcake together. Knowing the fruitcakes we made that day would be the last she ever made, I have stored them in the freezer, eaten them sparingly and sharing has not been an option.

As I've begun preparing for tomorrow evening's 2nd Annual Marshall Field's Memorial Dinner & Christmas Party, I decided that in Nana's honor, I would share slices of Nana's Fruitcake with my friends. Christopher was over today to start cooking and made a snide comment about fruitcake, so I pulled Nana's Fruitcake out of the frig and carefully unwrapped it to give him a taste.

As I prepared to slice into the last of Nana's Fruitcake, my eyes started to fill with tears. The thought that when this cake was gone there would be no more was just a bit overwhelming. I cut us each a small slice, but couldn't look at Christopher the entire time I ate mine. I just knew that if I looked at him, I would start to cry and I was doing a pretty good job of keeping my composure.

I've spoken with Nana each day since Thanksgiving and each day her voice has grown weaker. The good news is that she still knows it's me on the phone and not because the nurses have told her. She knows because she says "It's my granddaughter" and then tries to say my name. When I told her I had opened the fruitcake we made together, her voice perked up and she said she wished she could taste fruitcake again. I wish she could too.

I hope it's ok, but I just can't share the last of Nana's Fruitcake.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Count Your Blessings

As I count my many blessings today, I'm reminded of the old children's hymn "Count Your Blessings". The refrain contains the lyrics:

Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

This Thanksgiving, my blessings include:

Being able to speak to Nana and hear her call me by my name. No voice has ever sounded sweeter. And although I know her time is short, the nursing home called in Hospice 2 days ago, I'm blessed today to have spoken to her.

Nana's fruitcake. I know fruitcake gets a bad rap, but Nana made the best white fruitcake I've ever had (of course, I won't eat any other fruitcake, so I may be biased). It's full of bourbon, which probably explains a lot of things. Almost 2 years ago, Dave and I went to Florida after Christmas to visit Mom and Nana and Nana and I made fruitcake. I have 1 fruitcake left. It's the last of her fruitcakes and today Mom and I may have a little.

My friends. They keep me grounded and humble because they know where the skeletons are hidden. :)

My family. For the first time in years, I'm spending Thanksgiving with my mom. In an hour or so I'll start cooking and we'll share a nice dinner. But most importantly, we'll be together. I've spoken to my dad and Dave today and both are fine.

The Greens. Although Joan passed away a few weeks ago, I'm eternally grateful she was in my life for 30+ years. I am the woman I am today partly thanks to her. She and Don and their son Bill were always there for Dave and me, and we have many wonderful memories of times spent with them. And Don still edges my sidewalk. The Greens are family. I'm also grateful Dave got to see her in the days before she died.

On a larger scale, the men and women who selflessly give of themselves and volunteered to serve in the military are a blessing. We may be fighting a war I have serious questions about, but I'm grateful for the people doing the job. I'm also grateful for the brave people fighting to bring the military home.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Brad Meltzer for FREE!

You know how much I love Brad Meltzer. Not only is he my favorite writer, but he's also just an all-around super cool guy. I could list all the cool things he does, but that list would be a novel in itself. So just take my word for it and keep reading.

Over on his blog today, he proved once again, just how cool he is.

Brad announced that starting tomorrow (11/13), if you visit iTunes or, you can download his novel, The Millionaires, for FREE. Yep. For FREE. No catch.

He writes legal and political thrillers and I've read all of his books. I absolutely love them all. While his books aren't a series, I normally would recommend reading them in order because you can really see his evolution as a writer, and I've always preferred real books to audio books, but it's FREE! So since you can download The Millionaires for FREE, just do it! Oh, and of course, listen to it.

You can thank me later.

P.S. Thanks for letting me use the pic of The Millionaires Brad!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

It's A Small World

Over the last 5 weeks, I have been bombarded with friends from the past.

First, at a college reunion, I ran into a guy I had a huge crush on in college. I swear he hasn't aged a day in the last 15 years and neither have I. It was a great weekend and I had a blast, but as Tim said, that was the greatest reunion where nothing happened. :(

A couple of weeks later, the woman who gave me my professional break in Washington DC in August 1993 contacted me via LinkedIn. It's been fun catching up with her.

Three or four days later, my best friend from DC, Kelly, emailed me and caught me up on all of our friends from DC. She told me that there's a big party planned for February and I have to be there because it's been too long since we've seen each other (7 1/2 years). Kelly and I met Jimmy Smits together at the 1997 Presidential Inaugural Ball and used to get in all kinds of trouble together. In fact, it's partly her fault I have Betsey and Ross. :)

Last Thursday, the grandfather of the last guy I dated in DC died. He flew the Enola Gay. Until I read about it on CNN, I hadn't thought about him in forever.

This week, Rick, another DC friend contacted me via LinkedIn and we're back in touch.

And this morning, I discovered an email from my friend Steve from high school. We haven't spoken since the summer after freshman year of college. I can't wait to hear what he's up to.

God, I love technology!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hungry Kitty

Betsey and Ross have done ALL of these things to me, except use a baseball bat. When I first watched this video, Ross was sitting on my desk watching me. I hope he did not get any ideas . . . Maybe I'll sleep with one eye open tonight, just in case.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Name Game

So tonight was kinda lame (as you’ll see in a sec) and I was reading a whole bunch of blogs when I came across a blog post called The Time-Waster Name Game! I laughed so hard that I had to copy the post onto my blog (and now maybe some of you - you know who you are - will stop complaining that I haven't written in 3 weeks! :) ). I’ve told you my (hideous) names below. What are yours?

1. YOUR ROCK STAR NAME: (first pet & current car)
Betsey Honda

2. YOUR GANGSTA NAME: (fave ice cream flavor, favorite cookie)
yo, I'm Peppermint Oatmeal...word

3. YOUR DETECTIVE NAME: (favorite color, favorite animal)
Detective Blue Kitty at your service.

4. YOUR SOAP OPERA NAME: (middle name, city where you were born)
Lynn Tampa (I’m thinking with that name, I’m not gonna have too many steamy sex scenes with my yummy co-star!)

5. YOUR STAR WARS NAME: (the first 3 letters of your last name, first 2 letters of your first)
Garje (I think that’s kinda cool!)

6. SUPERHERO NAME: (”The” + 2nd favorite color, favorite drink)
The Yellow Cosmo – saving the world one drink at a time

7. NASCAR NAME: (the first names of your grandfathers)
Christian Jesse Gifford (I had a step-grandfather too and that is the perfect redneck name!)

8. STRIPPER NAME: ( the name of your favorite perfume/cologne/scent, favorite candy)
Bella Frango (Is that too upscale for a stripper?)

9.WITNESS PROTECTION NAME: (mother’s & father’s middle names )
Westbrook (mom didn't have a middle name)

10. TV WEATHER ANCHOR NAME: (Your 5th grade teacher’s last name, a major city that starts with the same letter)
Gerch Glasgow

11. SPY NAME: (your favorite season/holiday, flower)
Fall Tulip

12. CARTOON NAME: (favorite fruit, article of clothing you’re wearing right now + “ie” or “y”)
Strawberry Hoodie

13. HIPPY NAME: (What you ate for breakfast, your favorite tree)
Oatmeal Palm

14. YOUR ROCKSTAR TOUR NAME: (”The” + Your fave hobby/craft, fave weather element + “Tour”)
The Breezy Writing Tour (I’m thinking no one is gonna have a problem getting tickets and scalping won’t be an issue!)

UPDATED: My cousin Andrea just pointed out that the best name of all isn't on here . . .

15. YOUR PROSTITUTE NAME (First pet's name and first street you remember living on)
Betsey Dover

For the record, Andrea's prostitute name is Coco Wildway.

Monday, October 8, 2007

I Believed

Baseball, like love, is something that requires unwavering belief and hope. You have to open yourself up to being hurt and accept that most of the time you're not with "the one." You have to enjoy everyday of the journey, remembering that there are going to be highs and lows, but overall, you'll end things having been better for the experience, even if your heart is crushed into a million little pieces.

As I do every year, I opened my heart up to the Cubs early in the season, felt my love swell as the season progressed, and was so over the moon in September with three players joining the 20 homerun season club and finishing first in the Central Division, I could hardly keep my joy to myself. I felt like a giddy schoolgirl again. And I knew this time it was right. Pinella, Soriano, Rameriez, Lee, and Big Z all but promised it. This would be the year the Cubs didn't break my heart. I believed and I loved. And I didn't care who knew it.

This year my love affair went further than it had gone in years. The Cubs made it to October with me. But then it all came crashing down in three humiliating nights and days. The power hitting and pitching was gone.

And now I'm mourning. But only for a few weeks. Because like any other hopeful romantic, I believe in next year.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Some Things Simply Confuse Me

I love where I live. I really do. I live 45 minutes from Chicago, 5 minutes from the train to get there, 20 minutes from O'Hare, we have some of the best schools in Illinois in my town, great live theater and many other wonderful ammenities in my community, plus my closest friends.

There's just one thing I don't like: the ever increasing property tax bill.

Once every three years Cook County reasseses all properties within the county, sends out a property assessment and then property taxes are increased in accordance with the new assessment. My assessment arrived about 10 days ago. It increased 45% over last year. Yes. 45 PERCENT. And my assessment included many fallacies about my home including a 1 1/2 car garage, basement, 2 1/2 baths, an extra bedroom, a fireplace, and about 300 extra square feet.

The good news is that assessments can be appealed. The bad news is that we've appealed in the past, each time disputing all these extra rooms in the house, and are always denied. I swear these rooms don't exist, but no one seems to believe me.

Tonight I attended a meeting with a Cook County Assessor's Office official who was supposed to explain the process for appeals and answer questions from property owners.

To say that this man evaded all questions would be an understatement. He simply ignored questions and when he got tired of someone said it was time to move on. After he explained that property assessments are determined entirely by the square footage of the home, but that other characteristics (e.g., number of bathrooms, bedrooms, fireplaces, air conditioning, etc.) were important, and then again contradicting himself in "answering" other questions, I raised my hand and asked him to please clarify whether the assessment was based solely on the square footage of my home OR whether characteristics were taken into account, and if so, to what extent. I was holding the appeal form and said I did not understand why, if these characteristics did not matter and the only thing that mattered was square footage, it asked for all the information about bathrooms, bedrooms, AC, how many cars fit into the garage, etc.

I swear to God, his answer was "Well, ma'am, some people like to know the characteristics of their home." After picking my jaw up off the floor and the laughter in the audience died down, I replied, "With all due respect, sir, if I want to know how many bedrooms I have, I walk around my house. So now could you please answer my question?" And he repeated himself! So I again replied “You see I’m confused because for YEARS my assessment information has said that I have more bedrooms and bathrooms than I have and although I appeal it, I keep getting denied. Now if you can come out to my house and personally show me where my 4th & 5th bedrooms and 3rd bathroom are located, I’m happy to pay for them, but until then, I really don’t want to pay for them. And I'm thinking that if your office believes I have more rooms than I really have, that could affect my square footage. Can you at least tell me how to definitively prove that I do not have all these rooms and ammenities you think I have?” So he tells me to appeal. I again say I have and he says “Well, you seem to be irritated by all of this. Next question.” And some guy from the other side of the room says “The lady is irritated because you refuse to answer her question which is a question we all want to know the answer to.”

I had to leave a short time later because I absolutely cannot stand incompetence. And this guy was its poster child.

But if anyone can show me where my extra bathroom is and can point out the extra 1/2 garage, I'd truly appreciate it.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Love Mail

It's not too often that anything but bills and junk arrives in my mailbox, but today I hit the jackpot. I had two honest-to-goodness pieces of love mail! Not love letters, but fun, happy mail that put a huge smile on my face. I received a heartfelt thank you note for a class I taught over the weekend and a package of CDs from a girlfriend of mine with an inspirational note!

Oh, and no bills!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Thank You Holy Baseball Gods

Thank you Holy Baseball Gods.

The Chicago Cubs clinched the National League Central Division moments ago thanks to the sorrowful playing of the Milwaukee Brewers losing tonight and their previous two games AND a fantastic outing by Big Z and Alfonso Soriano of the Cubs.

I will sleep well tonight, but let's keep this in perspective. Winning the National League Central Division is NOT the final destination. The ultimate goal is to win the World Series. We still have 3 more series to play.

So again, I ask you to please let us continue winning throughout October.

In Harry Carey's name, Amen.

A Visit from Grandma & Grandpa

Last night I had a dream. Well, not so much a dream, but a visit. My grandparents - Grandma & Grandpa Gardner - came to visit me last night. The thing is, though, they're both dead. I don't think it was a dream because in my dreams, I don't have conversations with people. I can't smell or taste things. Dreams for me are very one-dimensional. Sometimes they feel real, but they are still one-dimensional for me.

In the visit I had with my grandparents last night, they were both excited to see me and they were both completely healthy. Grandpa could walk using his legs, not prosthetics. Grandma wasn't on oxygen. They were living in their home on Sanibel Island. And I was my current self - a 36 year old single woman.

They never really knew me as an adult, having both been really ill from the time I was 21 until their deaths when I was in my mid-20s. In our conversation last night though, they both clearly knew me. They knew my hopes and dreams and even my most secret fears. They knew about the times I'd fallen short, but told me that's part of life and what's important is that we get up and dust ourselves off. They told me how proud they were of me and that they both loved me more than I ever knew. Truthfully, we had a great visit. We had a couple of drinks, Grandma enjoyed a few cigarettes, and we laughed. I don't ever remember laughing with Grandma Gardner when she was alive. In this visit, Grandma was almost a different person than she'd ever been with me. It was nice.

What made this dream or visit significant is that I've had it before. 11 1/2 years ago, the night before Grandma died, Grandpa visited me (he'd died a 18 months earlier). Knowing that Grandma and I had always had a rocky relationship, Grandpa told me that Grandma loved me and was proud of me. I think he came to me that night because he knew I was having a difficult time reconciling my feelings about her impending death. When I woke up the morning after Grandpa's visit, I was calmer and more peaceful than I'd been in days. And when Grandma died later that afternoon, I cried and was sad, but knew that she loved me the best she could. She just didn't really know how.

Grandma and Grandpa told me one more thing. They told me about my Nana's love for me and how proud she is of me. They told me that even though she couldn't say it herself anymore, I should never let go of that knowledge. They told me that I don't need to worry about letting her down because I could never do that. They knew I have been having diffuclty letting Nana go and have been balancing on eggshells the last few weeks as her physical and mental health have deteriorated. They told me that death isn't bad at all. That the after-life is a glorious place without sickness or other hardships of this world.

I wish I could say I woke up this morning feeling more peaceful and less emotional, but I didn't. In fact, the opposite is true. I know the end is near for Nana and I have to let her go, but I simply don't want to.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Dear Holy Baseball Gods

Dear Holy Baseball Gods,

I come to you tonight, not for myself, but for all Cubs fans since 1908. You are probably aware that the Chicago Cubs have not won a World Series in 99 years. 99 years. I don't know exactly what happened in 1909 or at whatever point in the future, whether it was really the Billy Goat, Steve Bartman, or something else, but obviously there is something going on.

Cubs fans have always stuck by their team. We're there during the snowy April games and we continue to sell-out Wrigley all season long, even when the Cubs are losing. We don't run for the hills when the going gets tough. Sure, we may boo a pitcher when he thanks us for his new $91 million contract by going 0-for-August, but lesser fans would have run him out of town. We have suffered through 1945, 1969, 1984, 1989, 1998, and 2003. Haven't we repented enough for whatever transgression occurred low those many years ago?

The bottom line is that we have 3 games left in the season and our magic number is two. (Thank you for letting Milwaukee lose tonight. That really helped our cause.) Despite having three players in the 20 homerun club this season and top-notch pitching, we managed to get swept by the Marlins over the last three days.

So please, please let the Cubbies get it back together and win the Division and ultimately the World Series. Please let Zambrano stop cramping. Please keep our power hitters, Soriano, Rameriez, and Lee healthy and hitting.

In Harry Carey's name I pray.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Music That Speaks To My Soul

Music moves me in a way nothing else ever has. I can feel it in my bones and deep into my soul.

I remember in December 1999, a guy friend of mine called me up from Florida and told me he had something for me to hear. The next thing I knew, he was playing the guitar and singing Southern Cross to me. He had learned it simply by listening to Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, a live CD by Jimmy Buffett that I'd bought him for his birthday. Knowing it was my favorite song (and I have a strong preference for the Buffett cover over the original by Crosby, Stills, & Nash), he listened to the CD over and over until he'd mastered it. I was so moved, I cried. That was the first time I realized I was in love with him. Things didn't work out, but to this day, I still think of him everytime I hear Southern Cross - either version.

Many other songs move me the same way. They are tied to events or specific times of my life or friends.

What speaks to my soul the most? Here's my favorite iPod playlist:

Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson
Hands by Jewel
Life Uncommon by Jewel

Time Of My Life by Bill Medley & Jennifer Warnes
All Fired Up by Pat Benatar
Born to Fly by Sara Evans
Change Your Mind by Sister Hazel
Circle of Life by Elton John

Don't Stop by Fleetwood Mac
Hero by Enrique Iglesias
Hooked On A Feeling by Vonda Shepard
I Could Not Ask For More by Sara Evans
I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack
I Will Survive by Gloria Gaynor
It's My Life by Bon Jovi
Standing Outside the Fire by Garth Brooks
Strong Enough by Des'ree
That's The Way It Is by Celine Dion
The Best by Tina Turner
The Greatest by Kenny Rogers
The River by Garth Brooks
These Are The Days by 10,000 Maniacs
This Year by Chantal Kreviazuk
Unanswered Prayers by Garth Brooks
When You Know by Shawn Colvin
Ready to Run by Dixie Chicks
Landslide by Dixie Chicks
Wide Open Spaces by Dixie Chicks
Man! I Feel Like A Woman by Shania Twain
Unwritten by Natasha Bedingfield
Fame by Irene Cara
Flashdance What A Feeling by Irene Cara
Eye of the Tiger by Survivor
Searchin' My Soul by Vonda Shepard

Testify to Love by Wynonna
In My Daughter's Eyes by Martina McBride
This One's For The Girls by Martina McBride

Live Like You Were Dying by Tim McGraw
What a Beautiful Day by Chris Cagle

Amazing Grace by Elvis Presley

Hallelujah by Bon Jovi

O Holy Nightby Celine Dion
Anyway by Martina McBride
(Women Should Be) A Priority by Sweet Honey In The Rock

Life Is A Highway by Rascal Flatts

Updated 12/23/2007: I can't believe I forgot this song! It's really on my "Music that Speaks to My Soul" iPod playlist! Karen introduced me to Des'ree when we were both still at Hogan. I still remember how she was so insistent that I hear this song and one night when we worked until the wee hours of the morning, we snuck into the parking garage probably about 10:00ish and cranked this on her car CD player. Then we were able to get through the next few hours at work. She was right. You Gotta Be is one of the greatest songs ever!

You Gotta Be by Des'ree

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ratings - Updated

Now that my little old blog has been around nearly 3 months, I decided it was time to check on my rating and see if anything had changed since my original PG and PG-13 ratings.

Boy was I in for a shock!

Because of 8 mentions of "poop," 6 mentions of "death," 4 uses of "pooped," "crap" 3 times, "sexy" twice, and 1 use of the va-jay-jay synomym, I NOW have a rating of NC-17! I had no idea I was writing such smut!

What Neo-Con runs this rating website?


Monday, September 17, 2007

Life Lessons

Shortly after Dave's birthday, when I was probably 9, my mom hid the extra birthday cake in some Tupperware in the oven, where she knew no one would find it. The hiding spot was so good that even Mom forgot about it and when she and I went to pre-heat the oven to bake cookies, it started a fire that destroyed not only the birthday cake and Tupperware, but also the oven.

Fast forward almost 22 years . . .

This afternoon the phone rang and a client asked if she could come over about 15 minutes later. To say I wasn't prepared for company was an understatement. Clean clothes sat in a chair waiting to be folded, piles of dirty clothes on the floor waiting to be washed, a clean and full dishwasher, and a few dishes in the sink waiting to be washed. I only had time to hide the mess, as opposed to actually clean it up. So I grabbed the dirty laundry and tossed it in the pantry, threw the clean laundry on my bed and closed the door, and put all the dirty dishes in the oven inside a Tupperware bowl and said to myself "Do not forget to take the dishes out of the oven before making dinner."

After my client left, I was on the phone with Tim and proceeded to start dinner which included pre-heating the oven. About 15 minutes later, I opened the oven door only to find the Tupperware bowl melted and a bit of smoke coming out. My life flashed before me and I was suddenly 9 again. The parade of four-letter words probably shocked poor Tim and I was forced to tell him what I'd done. Luckily, no harm was done except to the Tupperware bowl and we were able to laugh.

I've heard it said that we are doomed to repeat our mistakes until we actually learn the lessons we must learn. I SWEAR I've learned this lesson and am so grateful I didn't have to explain catching my kitchen on fire - AGAIN!

Life Lesson: Never store Tupperware in the oven, even temporarily.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Today I'm Grateful For . . .

Nana walked!

Four weeks ago yesterday, Nana was rushed to the hospital. She had been asleep for 24 hours and the assisted living facility was unable to wake her. Once arriving at the hospital, she was diagnosed with a severe urinary tract infection (this would be the second or third since May), an obstruction in her esophagus that prevented her from swallowing, and internal bleeding. The hospice people and her doctor told my mom that Nana had 2-6 weeks to live and that because of her weakened state, there really was nothing they could do for the internal bleeding. While in the hospital, she also developed pneumonia.

Most days when I would call, she had no idea who I was and could not even speak to me because the hospital kept her so drugged up. Each time I called, I would just sob and sob and sob. I hate seeing Nana in this state.

But Nana is a fighter and on Friday night, she was discharged and my mom moved her to a nursing home for rehab (hopefully). She will never be able to go back to the assisted living facility, but at least she'll be comfortable and well taken care of.

I'm not naive enough to believe that Nana will get well and will live another 10 years. She's 91 and has lost almost 30 pounds since May. She weighs a mere 80 pounds and is a shell of her former self. I know that we're at the end and every day I can tell her I love her and hear her sweet voice, even if she doesn't know who I am, is a gift and a miracle.

I just spoke to Nana and the nurse told me that the physical therapist helped her to walk for the first time today! The tears I cry today are tears of joy, not the tears of sadness I've been crying for the last four weeks. She'll probably never walk again on her own, but the fact that she's walking at all is more than I had allowed myself to hope for four weeks ago.

Nana walked today. And for that, I am grateful beyond words.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Today I'm Grateful For . . .

Everyday I'm grateful for many things. But today especially, I'm most thankful for my Mom.

I don't know if she knows just how much she inspires me, but on a daily basis, when confronted with a challenge, I ask myself "how would Mom handle this?" She has had many obstacles in her life, but she has never given up. Like David, she has taken on many Goliaths and won. She has faced personal demons and fought to overcome them. And she does it all with a strength I've never seen before.

I believe that my mom's strength comes from helping others. She has always worked to help make the world a better place. Whether she was using her master's in remedial reading to teach kids to read, delivering food to home bound elderly with the National Guard during the Blizzard of '79, developing an anti-vandalism program ("Be Wise, Don't Vandalize") with the Arlington Heights Junior Woman's Club, working with disabled people to get the State of Illinois to provide them services in the least restrictive environment in accordance with the Olmsted Decision of 1999, or advocating on behalf of my grandmother with Verizon to provide assistance to blind people, my mom has worked selflessly to make the world a better place.

My mom has also been an incredible caregiver to my grandmother the last few years. And now we're down to the end with my grandmother and I know it's hard for my mom. She's dealt with doctors who simply think she's overreacting and a busybody, but no one has worked as hard as my mom has to ensure my grandmother is receiving the best care and is comfortable. She's also dealt with family members who like to arm-chair quarterback my mom's decisions and care-giving abilities, but have made no effort to help in my grandmother's care.

Mom makes me proud everyday. I hope she knows that.

Today's her birthday. Happy Birthday Mom! I love you. Thanks for being such a great mom.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Thank You

Someone did something incredibly nice for me yesterday. He knows who he is and he knows what he did. I don't know if he knows how much it meant to me to be able to just escape all the stuff in my own life for a short time, but his act of kindness changed my whole day. He insisted it was nothing, but to me, it meant the world.

Thank you so much. I'm glad we're becoming friends. And I'm glad you enjoyed the applesauce muffins.

Monday, September 3, 2007

I'm Great!

"I'm great!" is the typical response I give to the question "How are you?" and it always seems to confuse some people. When I gave this response recently to a client that I don't know very well, she stopped dead in her tracks and then asked me how I can always answer that way. Life ISN'T always great she said to me.

The truth is that she's right. Life isn't always great. In fact, sometimes life just plain sucks. But I have a belief that says that most people don't want to hear about the crap in my life. And truthfully, I don't want to hear about the bad stuff in most people's lives. That's not to say that I live in a fantasy world where everything is always peachy and I expect everyone I come in contact with to live in that same world. I don't. I live in the real world where we all have difficulties.

I have confidants with whom I share the all of life's ups and downs and they share their entire lives with me. And I am beyond grateful to have those people in my life. They are my touchstones. They are the ones I know I can call at 3:00 in the morning when life is falling apart. And they can call me then too.

I also believe that I have a choice in how I live my life each day. I can look for the beauty in everyday and be grateful for it or I can focus on all the stuff that goes wrong and the tragedies that surround us. I choose to find the beauty and the everyday miracles. And that makes my life great, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

I'm STARTING To Believe

As any diehard Cubs fan knows, September typically means nothing to us. The Cubs are usually so far out of playoff contention that none of the games matter. They haven't won the World Series since 1908, when they were the first team to win back-to-back World Series titles. We know all about the Curse of The Billy Goat and, of course, we still physically feel pain anytime Steve Bartman is mentioned.

Each spring we talk about "you just gotta believe" that this will be THE year. Every fall we tell ourselves "wait 'til next year" as we lick our wounds from our current and latest disappointment.

This year, the Cubs have had their ups and downs. But the great moments have outweighed the bad ones: Winning the Crosstown Classic against the White Sox 5 games to 1 game and beating the hated St. Louis Cardinals so far this season 7 games to 4 games with five games left to play.

But today is September 2nd and the Cubs are solidly in first place of the National League Central Division. Ok, I'll admit that they're in first place in the weakest division in Major League Baseball, but first place is first place. And I know there is still a month left in the season and a lot can go wrong. And then we still have to get through the playoffs.

But they are on a roll. Just the other night, they had a lead of 2 runs over Milwaukee in the 9th inning. For some dumb reason they let the bases get loaded by intentionally walking a batter. And then Milwaukee scored when the next batter walked too. But the Cubs pulled it out. That was great baseball. A nailbiter to the end. Today, they were down 5-1 against the Astros, and then Derrek Lee knocked a two-run homer in the bottom of the 8th to give the Cubs a 6-5 lead that the Cubs held on to.

And now I'm starting to believe. Because heck, if the Red Sox and White Sox can overcome their curses, why not the Cubs?

Check out the YouTube video below for a great version of Steve Goodman's "Go Cubs Go!"

UPDATED 11/1/07: Who knew? Steve Goodman went to Lake Forest College, class of 1969. Just like me (except class of 1993). Small world.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

I've Become Izzie Stevens

If you watch Grey's Anatomy, you know that whenever Izzie Stevens is stressed, she cooks and cooks and cooks.

Given all that's going on with Nana right now, to say I'm stressed out is an understatement. I have almost no appetite, I am not sleeping very well and I start sobbing at the drop of a hat. But I have managed to compartmentalize pretty well. I've had one of the best months at work that I've had in a long time, which is saying a lot since I was out of town for almost two weeks.

So I've started cooking. And cooking. And cooking.

Yesterday, I made a shrimp curry over brown rice. Today I took a bunch of tomatoes from my garden and created a pasta sauce like no other I've ever made. And now I'm moving onto applesauce muffins. I rarely cook from recipes, so the shrimp curry and pasta sauce are my own creations, but the muffins came from Epicurious, one of my favorite websites.

I'm going to make meatloaf next, but I'm going to have to find someone to share it with. My freezer is full.

Pasta Sauce

1 extra large Vidalia Onion, chopped as large or small as you like
Cloves of garlic, minced (do not use the already minced stuff you can buy in a jar or garlic powder)
3 medium to large Carrots, chopped into very small pieces
4 stalks Celery, choped into small pieces
1 large Green Pepper
Olive Oil
Oregano, to taste
Basil, to taste
Italian Seasoning, to taste
Black Pepper, freshly ground, to taste
Tomatoes, chopped (I think I used about 10 with a combination of beefsteak and plum)
2 T Tomato Paste (approximately - to thicken)
Ground beef or turkey, about 1 pound (optional)

1. Saute onion and garlic in olive oil. I think I used about 10-12 cloves of garlic because I like garlic, but it's not necessary to use that much. Put aside.

2. In a separate skillet, brown the meat. When done, drain off the fat and rinse in cold water to remove the rest. Set aside.

3. Saute carrots, celery, and green pepper with spices in olive oil. When done, add sauteed onions and garlic and tomatoes and water and tomato paste. Finally, stir in meat. Add additional spices and water if needed. Cook for about 20 minutes.

Makes one very large dutch oven full of pasta sauce.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Books That Inspire Me

I love to read. It probably started while my mom was pregant with me. She was a reading teacher and I'm certain that she read to me during those 9 months. Once I was born, my parents read to me so much that one night when I was two, my dad saw me in my bed reading Twas The Night Before Christmas (my favorite book). I was reading the words out loud and turning the pages appropriately. All excited, he ran to tell my mom what a genius I was. For a few minutes, they actually believed they had a prodigy on their hands and then they took the book away from me and I kept reading! At that point, they realized that I wasn't reading, I had memorized the book because they had read it to me so often! Ok, so maybe I wasn't a toddler genius, but I really did start kindegarten already knowing how to read.

To this day, reading is one of my favorite pastimes. I would rather read than do almost anything else. Really. I read everything from the back of cereal boxes to the manual that came with my cell phone. I prefer to read non-fiction over fiction, but read fiction to escape, especially while I'm on vacation.

There are books I love because they are great books and then there are books I love because they inspire me to be better. These books have each given me an "ah-ha moment" at some point, and many more than once.

What books inspire you? Let's start a discussion in the Comments section.

In no particular order, these are some of the books you'd find on my bedside table.

by Og Mandino

by Tal Ben-Shahar

Think & Grow Rich
by Pat & Ruth Williams

The Power of Focus
by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hanson, & Les Hewitt

More Than A Pink Cadillac
by Jim Underwood

The Bible

The Secret
by Rhonda Byrne

Permission to Succeed
by Noah St. John

Chicken Soup for the Women's Soul
by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, Jennifer Read Hawthorne, & Marci Shimoff

I Can Do It
by Gillian Hennessy-Ortega

Oh, The Places You'll Go!
by Trina Paulus

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Climbing Baldy

I wrote this almost three years ago and as I get ready to depart for Michigan in the morning, I thought this was the perfect time to post it on my blog.

Every summer that I can remember, my family has vacationed in a quaint resort in Northern Michigan. It’s a wonderful time that I have always used to relax, read, swim, hike, bike, and generally restore my spirit and soul. One of my favorite activities had always been a particular hike up a huge sand dune named Baldy. This hike is partly an easy walk through the woods where I enjoy looking at the scenery, birds and flowers, etc, but the last 1/3 of it is truly grueling. In fact, the last ½ mile is almost entirely straight up. For many reasons including having gained a significant amount of weight, I have not made this trek in 12 years. But this summer, I was determined to do it. I had until mid-August to reach my fitness goal.

One of the important things I’ve learned about setting goals is to share them with someone who will hold me accountable and be loving simultaneously, because, when I feel like letting myself off the hook, if I’ve made my goal public, then there’s usually someone there to keep me from giving up. That’s exactly what happened in August. Two nights before I was scheduled to come home (and having not climbed Baldy yet), my brother Dave wisely announced towards the end of dinner that he and I were going to climb Baldy that evening. Understand, I’d had a pretty big dinner and a couple glasses of wine (it was vacation after all) and at that moment, I simply wanted to roll out of dinner and go watch the sunset in peace. Remembering the promise I’d made to myself, I agreed, changed clothes, grabbed my water bottle, and off we went. Frankly, without Dave announcing to all of our friends that we were doing this, I would have found an excuse to get out of it.

The beginning of the hike was beautiful. The sun was starting to set, the leaves were changing and I thought I was in Heaven. Well, until we really started to climb. Dave is in awesome shape and this was easy for him. In 12 years, I’d forgotten about quite a bit of the difficulty of this climb – all except for the last little bit. No one ever forgets the last part of the Baldy hike. As we reached the end, I was working harder than I remembered being necessary and had many moments of uncertainty about my ability to finish. Dave reached the top about 40 minutes before I did and sat patiently waiting for me (although out of my view). The truth was that this was my battle and it was nice to have a cheerleader, but he couldn’t do the climb for me and nothing he could say would make it easier. As I trudged through the sand – my feet sinking up to my mid-calves with almost every step – I was unsure I could make it.

Some people aspire to climb huge mountains like Mt. Everest and they train for it their whole lives. My Mt. Everest was named Baldy and it represented more than just a big sand dune to me. Baldy was truly a metaphor for many things I’d fought to overcome. As I struggled through the last part of the climb and with each step fought to stay on my feet, self-defeating thoughts kept going through my head. I stopped frequently, but always kept going. Finally, I reached what I thought was the peak and I called out for Dave because I didn’t see him. He yelled back and told me to keep climbing! “KEEP CLIMBING???” I thought, “Good God! I thought I was done!” But it turned out, that just around the bend, there was 1 more mini-dune that was probably 50 feet tall, pure sand, and no trees or branches to help me balance and stay on my feet. I took a deep breath, a big gulp of water, and started up the almost 90 degree climb (I swear this is not an exaggeration). Even though it was only about 50 feet, I still had to take frequent breaks because of the difficulty, and at one point about ½ way up the mini-dune, I made the almost fatal mistake of sitting. I say fatal because as I sat there and looked out over Lake Michigan and Lower Herring Lake I thought “I’ve gone far enough. This is gorgeous and I don’t need to really reach the top to feel good about this. I'll just climb back down the way I came and call it a night. No one will know the difference.” A second later when I was ready to give up, another thought entered my mind. “I'll know! When else in my life have I given up on an important goal just short of the finish line and let myself off the hook?” The long list of times I had stopped short flooded my head and I rushed to my feet, determined that THIS time I would finish. Failure was not an option.

About 25 feet later, I reached the top. As I did – I turned around to see where I’d started and what I’d gone through to reach this goal – my eyes just filled with tears. I was so proud that I’d set a huge goal, worked hard, encountered obstacles, overcome them, kept going, and reached the prize. The view was more magnificent than my 12 year old memories had provided me. My belief in myself was higher than 10 sand dunes named Baldy. As Dave and I sat on top of the dune and watched the most breathtaking sunset of my entire vacation, I knew that I wasn’t really watching the sunset. I was seeing my old doubting self disappear for the final time, knowing that my journey up this dune had been about more than just climbing a dune. It was about confronting my fears and walking through them head on. I looked my fears in the face and said “I WILL NOT BE STOPPED!” I said good-bye to my old self who doubted her every move and enthusiastically welcomed the new me who could achieve anything I dreamed of. For proof, all I need to do is remember the feeling of pride I felt that night and continue to feel each time I tell this story.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Being Dave's Sister

I have a younger brother. His name is Dave and he's 3 1/2 years younger than I am. Dave is one of those guys that give guys a great name and I've always been proud to be related to him. But let's be clear, I have "oldest child syndrome." I like the spotlight and I'm not terribly fond of sharing it with anyone.

Growing up, until I was 17, I was known for my own accomplishments - be they academically, because of my debating skills (come on, you knew I was on the debate team!), as part of the marching or concert bands, because I was a cheerleader (don't pretend you didn't suspect this too), or my appearance on the Today Show. Dave was also known for his accomplishments on the soccer field. To say he was a great goalie would be an understatement. We ran in separate circles and until my senior year of high school, I pretty much ruled the school . . . because he wasn't there.

Then Dave arrived. And I kissed my status as Jessica Gardner, person-in-her-own-right, good-bye. I suddenly became Dave's Sister. At first, it was kind of cool. My little brother was the new darling of the Varsity Soccer Team. And I was proud. But after about 15 minutes, it got old when suddenly all anyone talked about was Dave's performance on the soccer field.

And being Dave's Sister continues to this day. Now that I'm living in our hometown again, I regularly hear "oh, you're Dave's Sister" when I'm meeting people. Even when I run into people who were in my high school graduating class. It even happens at Watervale, where we've both spent significant portions of our lives. And with people I've known for years. Somehow they've forgotten that I even exist. And when I have to reintroduce myself, the easiest thing to say is always "I'm Dave's Sister." Usually, that works. On a few occasions, I have heard "I didn't even know Dave had a sister." That one cuts me.

And then tonight, I had a table at The Mane Event. About 6:30 a couple in their mid-30s walks up to my table and we chit-chat for a couple seconds. The wife looked familar, but I couldn't place her. After a few seconds, she leaves and the husband starts to follow, but then stops and looks at my name tag. "You're Jessica Gardner from Hersey, right?" I almost fell over. "Yes, I am." It turned out both he and his wife were in my graduating class and he stood there and talked to me for another 5 minutes like it hadn't been almost 20 years since we'd last spoken. And since we didn't really know each other well in high school, being remembered by him was quite a surprise.

The best part was that the whole time Dave didn't even come up. Maybe I've finally turned a corner.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Quotes That Inspire Me

There are many things in this world that inspire me, but sometimes all it takes is for me to read one of the quotes below and I am instantly reminded to keep beating my best. This list continues to evolve and as I find more inspiration, I'll add to it.

What inspires you? I'd love it if you posted your favorite inspirational quotes in the comments section.

"Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."
Hebrews 11. 1, The Bible, King James Version

"Do or do not. There is no try."

"There are only two ways to live your life: as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is a miracle."
Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955), Physicist & Nobel Laureate

"Life goes by pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it."

"No woman is required to build the world by destroying herself."
Rabbi Sofer (1762-1839)

"I've missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot... and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
Michael Jordan

"The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience."
Eleanor Roosevelt

"Believe it can be done. When you believe something can be done, really believe, your mind will find the ways to do it. Believing a solution paves the way to solution."
Dr. David Schwartz, author of The Magic of Thinking Big

"That is what greatness means: to keep never let anyone stop you from what you love doing...even when the most impossible odds stand in your way. I believe there is greatness in all of us. And especially in the smallest of us. Every single story I write is about that. Every story . . . is about fighting the fight for what you love (whether it's your wife, your universe, your family, yourself, or your team). And the best fights are the ones where you're fighting for who you are. The odds never matter. What matters is who we are underneath. What matters is that we're true to what we love. And what matters is never ever ever changing to be anything but who you are."

"Brevity is the soul of lingerie."
Dorothy Parker

"Life shrinks and expands in proportion to one's courage."
Anais Nin

"One cannot consent to creep when one has an impulse to soar."
Helen Keller

"No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Eleanor Roosevelt

"Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature . . . Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable."
Helen Keller

"I'd rather attempt to do something great and fail than to attempt to do nothing and succeed."
Robert H. Schuller

"If you listen to your fears, you will die never knowing what a great person you might have been."
Robert H. Schuller

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ross's Surgery

In August 2005, Ross had surgery to remove a lump. I was absolutely a wreck about the whole thing, completely worried and not sleeping in the days up to the surgery. I was so distraught that I didn't know what to do except write. The notes below are from the week of his surgery and are emails I sent to my friends and family to keep them updated. Again, these are from August 2005 and aside from a little anxiety, Ross is perfectly healthy - although fat. I'm sorry, I mean stocky. He has a football player's build. My mistake. PLEASE don't tell Ross I called him fat and don't tell him I published these emails, especially the one he wrote to Diana, and the pictures.

My Cat Ross - Tuesday, August 23, 2005, 9:25am

Good Morning!

I am writing you this morning because I need a favor.

You probably know my two cats - Betsey & Ross, who I adopted 9 years ago when they were mere kittens. I was living in Washington DC at the time and the best we could estimate, they were born on the 4th of July - hence their names. :) My friends Karen & Kelly went with me to look at them (it was Karen's idea, as I recall). At the time, I had no idea I would ever grow so attached to them because I didn't have pets growing up and never understood how people thought of their pets as part of the family. Boy was I in for a shock!

If you know Betsey & Ross, you know how much they absolutely love each other (and me) and how much I have fallen in love with them. Despite their age - 9 years - they both still race around my house like they were kittens, fly through the air for their feather toys, and the unconditional love Ross gives to everyone. Betsey, on the other hand, is a bit more suspicious of everyone other than me. But when she warms up to you, her love is unconditional too.

About a month ago, I discovered a lump on Ross's left hip. Because I've been traveling so much since then and my vet was out of town, the surgery to remove it is today. They don't know yet if it's cancer or if it's just fatty tissue, but in cats, lumps are of much greater concern and more likely to be cancerous then lumps in dogs. I dropped him off last night and to say I'm a nervous wreck is an understatement. And since I walked back in without him, Betsey has been searching high and low for him - sitting in all his favorite spots and "talking" up a storm questioning his whereabouts.

The good news is that Ross's bloodwork is normal, his disposition has not changed and his eating, etc. habits are all normal. Given the speed at which he was racing around yesterday afternoon and since I've gotten home from Michigan, he has no idea that he's even got this lump and is not in any pain from it.

As I said, I'm a nervous wreck and so I'm turning to my friends for help. His surgery is between 12 and 2 (Chicago time) today and I'm supposed to be able to bring him home this evening. The biopsy results won't be returned for a week (hopefully sooner). If you could just say a little prayer around noon today that he's ok and that it really is just a lump of fatty tissue, I would greatly appreciate it.

I will email you later with the results. Thank you very much.

Jessica & Betsey & Ross

Your Prayers Worked, Thank You! - Tuesday, August 23, 2005, 2:41pm

Ross Update:

Dr. Kinnavy called me at 12:50 to say she was getting ready to start Ross's surgery and that all last evening and this morning, he was very social and talkative to all the staff and wanting to play. That sounds just like him! She explained that it would probably be about an hour or so before she called me back.

At 1:25, as I was standing in Costco, she called back. I was a little nervous becuase it was so early. But my fears were only temporary when she said she was done and that it had been the easiest procedure she'd ever done on a cat.

She opened him up and found a very small lump - about the size of a raisin encased in a layer of fat under another layer of fat. It turns out that what I was feeling on him was the fat casing around the lump. She also said that this explained why the lump was so difficult to isolate and could not be aspirated and most people would never have felt a lump as small as Ross's. The best news for me was that the lump itself came out very easily and there was no blood with it, which leads her to believe that it's probably just a fatty cyst. In any event, she's sending it out for a biopsy and I'll have those results in about a week.

Ya know, sometimes it feels so good to know I'm a good mom to my cats and will be a good mom to children someday.

All in all, Ross was very well behaved and I can pick him up today at 5. Oh, he's coming home in a full little kitty gauze body suit and Elizabethan collar so he won't lick or scratch the wound. I'll send pictures because it's certain to be a sight!

Thank you so much for your prayers and your warm wishes.

Jessica, Betsey & Ross

Ross - Wednesday, August 24, 2005, 7:15am

Ross came home at 5:00 yesterday afternoon. When the vet tech brought him to me, he was calmly curled up in his carrier under his favorite towel and wearing a bright yellow gauze body suit. To appreciate how silly this looked, Ross definitely thinks of himself as a man's man. He reminds me of the men of the Old West. Likes to be loved, but not in public. He's rough and tough and would never be caught wearing clothes like you see Paris Hilton dressing her little freaky dog in, Tinkerbell. To see him wearing this bright yellow body suit made me laugh outloud!

The tech told me that Ross was still very groggy and would probably just spend the night in his carrier. No matter what, I needed to keep him from running and jumping and doing all the things he loves. And I was not to feed him until this morning. I just looked at the tech and said "Have you met my cat Ross? It's easier to nail down wind than to keep him still." She then explained that cats typically self-regulate their behavior after surgery. I took him out of the carrier and gave him a big hug and let him know how handsome he looked - not sissy-ish at all. He would be the envy of all the cats in the neighborhood.

Upon our arrival at home, our welcoming committee, Betsey, walked right up to the carrier, stuck her nose in the grating and gave him a kiss. I only wish I'd had my camera. No sooner had I opened the door to the carrier than he was off and running - without the body suit that must have taken Houdini-like efforts to remove. 15 minutes later, I had caught him and put the suit back on. He continued to race around the house in what I can only assume was an effort to ensure that all was still safe and no one had breached the security of the house. He jumped and flew around reminding me how I almost named him Air Jordan (after Michael).

It turns out his groggy behavior at the vet was all an act for which he deserves an Oscar.
He will be quiet today because he's confined to my bedroom without his sister. When I left this morning (at 6:00), he was wearing the body suit, but I don't expect it to still be on when I return. Tonight, I'm adding the Elizabethian collar to his outfit. He'll just LOVE that!

Pictures will follow as soon as I figure out how to download them from my camera.

Jessica, Betsey & Ross

When I arrived home from work late Wednesday night, Ross had not eaten, drank any water, peed or pooped all day. In fact, he hadn't even moved off my bed. This continued into Thursday, so I called the vet who told me to bring him in right away. Because I was at work, I called Diana who told me she'd cover for me for a couple of hours so I could tend to Ross's health. To say the least, it was not a good sign that he was so lethargic. Ross insisted on personally writing Diana the following thank you note Friday morning. It seems that he had developed a bit of a crush on her (because she called him cute once), which much to his dismay was an unrequited love because Diana is allergic to cats.

Thank You - Friday, August 26, 2005, 11:08am

Dear Diana,

I've asked my mom to write you this thank you email because you would not be able to read my kitty scratch and I don't know where my mom keeps the stamps.

I truly appreciate that you are such a good friend to my mom and that you were able to help her out last night.

You have no idea how badly I had to poop, but all the drugs they gave me on Tuesday made it too difficult and it hurt. I feel very bad that I worried my mom so much, but I didn't know how to tell her I couldn't poop. So I just pretended to be sick so she'd get Dr. March to help me.

I didn't even mind having to sit quietly at Slender Lady while you helped mom clean the fans.

When we got home, I ran and played all night and even pooped on my own (in the litter box so mom wouldn't be mad). I slept well and am back to my normal studly-self.
I know my mom is a bit irritated that I made her get me kitty liposuction, but as you could see, I'm quite a sexy cat and despite all the exercise I get and the very healthy diet mom has me on, I just could not get rid of the lovehandles. Now they're gone and I know I am much more attractive to the babes. The only thing I didn't anticipate was that Betsey - my main squeeze - would be so jealous. All she does is hiss at me!

Oh, I think you're very cute too. :) Maybe once I get these stitches out and my hair grows back we could get a drink - if you know any bars that allow very handsome and charming cats.

Thank you again for helping me out last night. I don't know what my mom would do without you!

Ross (as dictated to Jessica)

The Ross Chronicles - Conclusion & Statement from Ross - Monday, August 29, 2005, 11:11pm

Dear Friends,

All was going well with Ross, until I realized he hadn't eaten, been drinking any water, peed or pooped for almost 3 days. Oh, he was quite lethargic as well. According to the post-surgery information I was given, these are all bad signs.

I called the vet and rushed Ross back in to determine the source of these new problems. After a few moments of private consultation with Ross, Dr. March walked back in and informed me that all of his vital signs were good, but that he was dehydrated and constipated and she was certain he really needed to relieve himself and she could make him. Trust me, you don't want to know how they make cats poop.

After about 15 minutes of blood-curdling screams by Ross (all while I was in another room - I'm still squeamish about some things and believe we all deserve privacy during some moments), Dr. March brought him back to me and announced that he had now pooped and would be fine.

We walk out to the front desk and am told that Ross's poop just cost me $75. As I wrote the check, I just looked down at my poor baby, who was in a bit of discomfort from being forced to poop, and told him that I must love him an awful lot to pay $75 for him to poop! As I was standing there just shaking my head, Dr. March says "Oh, your toxicology report just arrived. It was a benign fatty lump."


Betsey, Ross and I thank you very much for your support and prayers last week.


Statement from Ross:

Thank you very much for your prayers over the last week as I had a small medical procedure. I feel grateful knowing that you all care about my mom and me so much.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to clear up a few rumors:

1. Despite what my mom says, I was not having "kitty liposuction." I had a legitimate procedure that will help ensure my health for years to come. I'm a very sexy cat who must look good for the ladies (both Diana and Shannon have commented on how handsome I am since my procedure last week), and I must deny these rumors that I had cosmetic surgery. I am 9 years old now (I don't know what that is in People Years), and that isn't young anymore. At some point, the clock starts ticking for all of us and we must make decisions about our health. I feel that I was being proactive and luckily my health insurance (Jessica) covers preventative medicine.

2. I must also firmly deny the rumor that I was rushed back to the vet because I would not poop. My reasons for seeing Dr. March on Thursday evening are personal and it is unfair (and possibly illegal) to have my private medical records made public without my consent. I'm having my people look into this.

3. Finally, it seems that some paparazzi took some unauthorized photos of me wearing a yellow onesie in some compromising positions. This was a necessary medical device and I resent that anyone tried to take advantage of me in my time of vulnerability. Any postings of these photos on the web or anywhere else are entirely without my consent and I will offer a reward for the identification of the paparazzi and the return of these photos.

Once again, I thank you for your support. Trust me, my mom wouldn't know what to do without all of you. :)

Ross Gardner