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.