Monday, December 30, 2013

13 for 2013

Kevin reflects on the year with me.
Kevin suggested I make a list my “favorites” of 2013. If nothing else, it’ll be fun to look back on this next year at this time.

Here’s my Top 13 of 2013 in no particular order:

First picture I took:
Cow's heart at MSI
1. Best acquisition: Sony Alpha-NEX 6 camera. Having a really, really nice, idiot-proof camera has enriched my life. Viewing the world from behind a camera is strangely freeing. I can really look at people, landscapes, food — whatever, with an excuse to study. And better still, I can capture moments and relive them up-close at my own pace.

Jenny Scott, Laura Vasilion and I
on way to Lit Fest
2. Best event: Printers Row Lit Fest, author discussion with Aleksandar Hemon and Colum McCann. Hearing two of today’s most exciting authors discuss their work and their friendship was a big dorky thrill for me. Hemon answered my question about how he met McCann and the answer turned into a group sing-along of “Molly Malone” lead by McCann. Later we met the authors in person and got signed copies of their books which leads to….

3. Best book(s): “TransAtlantic” by McCann and “The Book of My Lives” by Hemon. Each is so beautiful it its own way. “TransAtlantic” is a rich tapestry, lyrically weaving three historical events across time and continents with vivid characters creating a deeply moving story. “The Book of My Lives” is Hemon’s memoir of his life in Bosnia and eventual immigration to Chicago and struggles to assimilate. One of his stories made me cry so hard that it took my breath away.

4. Best Team Effort: Assisting in the election of my friend Steve Vasilion to Batavia’s city council. Kevin and I co-managed Steve’s first foray into local government. Steve won handily. But perhaps the best part was getting to work on this campaign with Kevin and share some great memories of his brother Patrick to boot.

5. Best Individual Accomplishment: Public reading of “Betty’s Performance Review.” I submitted this work to the Waterline Writers group’s call for animal related stories to be included at a reading for Anderson Animal Shelter’s top donors. The reading was a blast and the story actually got a lot of laughs.

Lisa Jevens and I in Macataw, Michigan.
6. Best Trip: Southwest Michigan wine tour. A work project on Michigan’s wine country happened to coincide with my dear friend and writer Lisa Jeven’s stay in Macataw, Mich. She invited me to stay in their cottage. We spent one beautiful summer day touring wineries and enjoying tastings.

Becky Parr at the VB Outlet
Sale in Ft. Wayne
7. Craziest Trip: Vera Bradley Outlet Sale, Ft. Wayne, Ind. Yep, I did this. I took time off work and traveled with college roomie Becky Parr to Ft. Wayne’s convention center where an entire showroom floor was filled with acres of Vera Bradley quilted madness. For our allotted 2 hours we grabbed up all kinds of deeply discounted wallets, purses, totes, scarves, belts, etc. We were among thousands of other women. Whoa.

8. Best TV show: “Game of Thrones.” I binged-watched the entire series over the course of a month, catching up in time to watch the current season. This show is “Lord of the Rings” with women and sex. It’s beautifully shot, well acted and all-around dazzling.

9. Best restaurant experience: Kevin and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary at Altiro, a Latin fusion tapas restaurant in Geneva. I love fancy tacos, cucumber cocktails, and extremely dark restaurants. Altiro has all of the above.

10. Best home dining experience: White Chicken chili: Together in the kitchen for just this one time only, Kevin and I made a healthy chicken chili. We copied the recipe from his sister Mary Jo, who served it to us at her place. We recreated it and actually made it better (spicier, Joey). It was delicious — mostly because we made it together.

11. Best movie: “World’s End.”I think I saw less than a handful of movies this year. This zombie comedy was the most entertaining, but it was a weak year for movies in my opinion.

View from Jeweler's Building
at night.
Mark Bonne and Spencer at
Kemper Building.
12. Best “Art” Exhibit: Open House Chicago: Hard to narrow it down this year, as I saw three excellent exhibits at the Art Institute, including Impressionism and Fashion, the Neapolitan Creche, and Art and Appetite. But the CAF’s Open House Chicago event was spectacular this year. I was fortunate to have a VIP tour that included the top of the Jeweler’s Building (JAHN) at night. But better still was spending a wacky day with my ex, Mark Bonne, and my son Spencer touring the entire city and sites as varied as the Aqua Radisson Hotel, the Decorator’s Studio (maker of plaster decorative moldings since the Columbian Exhibition), and Chicago’s only contemplative monastery, The Monastery of The Holy Cross where we heard the monks chant Vespers. Spence said CAF should stand for "Cool As Fuck."

Lana and I at my birthday party.
13. Best Celebration: 50th Birthday. My friends and family helped me throw a decadent “7 Deadly Sins” party. I was the embodiment of Pride that night — so proud to count so many wonderful, fun, amazing people among my friends and family.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I Hope You Like My Gift

My family doesn't go in much for traditions at Christmas, or any other time really. The holidays are typically fraught with phone calls over who is doing what and where. Organized efforts are never met with resistance, but never expected either.
My family of origin, plus cat Liesl, 1984.
This used to drive me nutty, especially when polite inquiries into others' holiday plans are answered beginning: "Well, we always...."
I am the one who typically answers such questions this way: "We are doing something different this year...."
This year is traditional in its non-traditional way. Kevin and I will spend Christmas Eve and
Christmas Day alone together. I can't speak for him, but for me, this is just perfect. We have or will catch up with all our other family and friends over the coming weeks. But these two days are just for us. We made plans for an early church service and dinner reservations at the local Italian restaurant. He came home with a stack of dvds from the library ("Bravehart" and "Heaven's Gate" among them). I'm going to attempt to make butternut squash soup for the first time. We will take turns walking the dog in the bitter cold. We will exchange small gifts and stocking stuffers.
I can't remember a Christmas I have so looked forward to since I was 10.
Perhaps the greatest gift of all will be the time to reflect on all of my Christmases past. I will think of those no longer with us. I will remember the shots of imported German brandy my Grandfather Edward poured for his very under-aged granddaughters. I will recall the beautiful hand-knit sweaters and walnut torte my Omi crafted. I will remember their foreign conversations, my dad translating everything he thought would be interesting. And I will remember the ride back from Chicago to the suburbs sometimes ending with a stop at White Castles.
I will remember my dad raving about Aunt Jean's cooking. I will remember her and Uncle Ronnie's and the 7-foot tall white, rotating Christmas tree with a colored spotlight beaming up to it from the floor. We opened gifts underneath that tree, one year listening to Uncle Ronnie's new favorite album: Elton John's "Goodbye Yellowbrick Road." And I will remember my cousin Judi taking me upstairs to her impossibly groovy attic bedroom for a glimpse into her world of a popular teen girl.
I will remember my Grandpa Bernie dancing an Irish jig. I will remember my Grandma Cogan's free-flowing martinis, crazy outfits, and "dizzy blonde" stories.
I will remember Kevin's brother Patrick's garlic mashed potatoes, his washing all the dishes, and rough-housing with his six nephews and one lucky niece.
And as it has been now for the past six Christmases, the memories of my Dad at Christmas will be overwhelming. I will cry when I remember how much he claimed to hate Christmas and openly mocked "the little baby Jesus," drank too much, and always, always opened every gift from me and said: "You shouldn't get me a gift. Being with you and my family is all I need."

Monday, December 2, 2013

Thanksgiving in the dog house

I spent Thanksgiving with some members of my husband Kevin’s family in his sister and brother-in-law’s beautiful historic home in Galena, Ill. This is a trek from our house so we were invited to stay over until Saturday.
Being a truly wonderful hostess, and an all-around nice person, my sister-in-law, Joey and her equally wonderful husband Ralph, were gracious enough to invite my mom along for the weekend, and allowed us to bring our dog, Betty.
But Thanksgiving morning my mom called to report she was ill. Could be a head cold, could be the flu – but definitely would be difficult to remain comfortable for three hours in the car. Also, it wouldn’t be a good hostess gift to spread illness among the guests. Wisely, my mom decided to stay home. I was disappointed, as was she, but I understood.
Joey's Thanksgiving table.
We arrived at Joey and Ralph’s historic home overlooking the storybook town a few hours before dinner. Joey, a retired nurse, is an outstanding cook. (I have a theory that those in the medical professions and sciences make the best cooks. Maybe it’s attention to detail, maybe it’s basic chemistry?)
Joey had command of her kitchen and all aspects of the Thanksgiving meal. She eschewed any assistance with food prep but assigned me to set the table. This is in my wheelhouse. I actually know where the silverware is supposed to go, and tablescaping her gorgeous Mission-style dining room table was a lot of fun.
Other guests were due to arrive in a hour or so and I tried to make myself useful whenever asked. I was contented to be part of such a well-orchestrated Thanksgiving in a beautiful setting.
Then it happened.
“There’s dog shit on the carpet. BETTY!” I heard my husband yell.
Us, before the incident.
My stomach lurched and I raced to the dining room to see that my 17-pound Maltipoo had left a massive turd, the biggest I have ever seen come out of her,  on the wool Persian rug next to the dining room table. And, it was discovered by my mother-in-law who stepped in it.
Stifling gags, I held my breath and carefully attempted to clean it up. Bottles of club soda were employed, along with disinfectant and a fan. Betty was locked off into a dog jail – a fenced off sunroom where Joey and Ralph’s much better behaved dog Lola, stays. Betty whined and cried. Clearly, she was going to ruin the day. Eventually we had to let her out, but Kevin or I had to be with her at all times — watching her like a two-year-old child.

The next day Joey, my mother-in-law and I went to Walmart. Yes, that’s right, Walmart on Black Friday. Everyone always needs something at Walmart, and I needed a portable pet cage for Betty. The store was surprisingly calm when we arrived after noon. I selected a model I knew my friends used for their dog who is just a little smaller than Betty.
I had a few melancholy pangs as we shuffled around, passing the toy aisles and the holiday decorations department. Long gone were the days when I had to set foot in a toy department. And with my small family’s traveling plans and other obligations, I wouldn’t be hosting anyone in my own home. There would be no need for fun new decorations. I wouldn’t even be putting up a tree.
We had plans to go out Friday evening to dinner and a performance by Jim Post, a Mark Twain interpreter. We set Betty up in her new “apartment” which was placed in our guest bedroom, and I tossed in a new bone and stuffed toy. We shut the door behind us.

Though I tried to enjoy myself through a delectable meal and an entertaining show, I kept thinking about Betty. I thought of her confused look in her neon green portable cage and her refusal to sit down in it.
Back at Joey's, everyone was curious to see how Betty did in her apartment. Kevin went upstairs first and didn’t immediately come down with the dog. I went up to the bedroom and Kevin informed me that Betty had gotten out of the cage, having somehow broken the zipper. She knocked over her water dish, but it didn’t immediately appear that she had done any other damage to the room.
“Check carefully,” Kevin said.
I reported that I didn’t see or smell anything funky.
“Wait, what’s this?” Kevin said, pointing to the bottom of the door. “That wasn’t here before was it?”
“Gosh, I don’t really know,” I said, harboring a thought that maybe, just maybe it was the work of Joey and Ralph’s cat, Jack.
Then I saw the paint chips scattered around the floor. It was fresh damage for sure. Betty had tried to claw or chew her way out of the room. The wreckage was significant — the door would need to be sanded and repainted.
We decided we’d tell Joey in the morning. We didn’t want to spoil what had been a nice evening for everyone.

I took Betty out for a walk. Being angry at a pet is so strange. You know it’s your own damn fault when your pet misbehaves, but it’s still an unpredictable animal and one with a mind of it's own. Much like parenting a child.
My disappointment with my dog was especially bitter. I already felt like an outsider. Spending a long holiday weekend with my husband’s family, and not with any members of my family of origin, suddenly felt sad. It was me and my stupid, ill-trained dog wrecking my husband’s perfect family holiday.
Big fat tears rolled down my cheeks. I missed my mom.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Bald face truth

I'll always have my marshmallow hat
to keep my head warm.
I bitch about a lot of things. From the overuse of the word awesome, to the misuse of my tax dollars, to bad drivers, poor customer service, and icy cold weather. On a near daily basis I find something to get annoyed about enough to post a snarky comment on facebook, or go on a mini rant to my co-workers, friends and family.

On a day when I posted on facebook my annoyance with people using the words "reach out" instead of more direct and active verbs, I came across an editing assignment that stopped me in my tracks. It was a press release to be included in the Highwood Great Pumpkin Fest special section. It was for the St. Baldrick's Foundation.
This was the original paragraph:

St. Baldrick’s funds more in childhood cancer research grants than any organization except the U.S. government. Worldwide, more than 175,000 children are diagnosed with childhood cancer each year – that equates to one child diagnosed every 3 minutes. In the US, the cure rate for childhood cancer is 80% - which means that one in every five children diagnosed with cancer will not survive. Even so, childhood cancer research funding accounts for less than 4% of all cancer research funding allotted by the federal government. Since 2005, St. Baldrick’s has funded more than $125MM in childhood cancer research grants and in 2013, has raised more than $32 million, with more than 1,300 events registered and more than 57,000 shavees. 

Paragraphs packed with numbers are big ol' waving red flags for editors, especially when they don't contain a "sez who?" A quick google search did not immediately verify any of these facts. When I say quick, I mean a 30 second search. I didn't feel like devoting a lot of time to fact checking a press release when I could be ranting on facebook. So, I emailed the PR firm who sent the story.
The response came from the senior director for corporate relations at St. Baldrick's Foundation. Line by line she had reputable attribution for every sentence.


St. Baldrick’s funds more in childhood cancer research grants than any organization except the U.S. government, according to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. Worldwide, more than 175,000 children are diagnosed with childhood cancer each year — that equates to one child diagnosed every three minutes, according to the World Health Organization. In the U.S., the cure rate for childhood cancer is 80 percent, which means that one in every five children diagnosed with cancer will not survive, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Even so, childhood cancer research funding accounts for less than 4 percent of all cancer research funding allotted by the federal government, according to the National Cancer Institute. Since 2005, St. Baldrick’s has funded more than $125 million in childhood cancer research grants and in 2013, has raised more than $32 million, with more than 1,300 events registered and more than 57,000 shavees, according to the foundation.

I was disappointed. I had hoped these were exaggerations to tug at the heartstrings. But those are the facts.  Many kids get cancer. Many are not cured.
I did a little more google research, this time into St. Baldrick's Foundation. I spent more than 30 seconds this time. and the give it good reports, the Better Business Bureau lists it as an accredited charity. Charity Navigator reports more than 80 percent of it's funds go to programs.
I spent more than 30 seconds researching St. Baldricks, and I'm devoting a rare blog post to it for one reason: I'm thinking of shaving my head for the cause.
But, I need your help. I have a goal in mind: $2,000. I didn't have this goal in mind originally, but one of my facebook friends suggested it and pledged the first $20 (thanks Russ Proctor!).

As I stated earlier, I complain a lot. I've even bitched about my own health. And I've certainly bitched about my hair. I won't miss it.
Want to see me bald for a good reason? Let me know. If I get enough interest I'll start a donation page with

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Black and White

This photo of my son received a lot of "likes" on FB and quite a few comments about who he looks like.

I see some of myself, some of his father, some of my grandfather.

I see a young man in black and white whose future is black and white: dark with challenges and disappointments; bright with successes and joys — the gray areas softening the dark and making the brights shine.

Most of all I see my child, my message to the future.

Monday, May 27, 2013

One immigrant's story

My Grandfather, Edvard Wallner, 1930.
Probably like every immigrants' story my grandparents' story includes a twist of fate.

My grandfather was in his 40s during the World War II and was likely pressed into some sort of service as all able-bodied German men and male children were toward the end of the war. It was never clear what my grandfather did during the war. My father was born in a refugee camp in Grotniki, Poland in 1941. This always seemed dubious to me. How was a conception and pregnancy possible during this part of the war?  They were German nationals who called Lithuania home: What were they doing in Poland? There were vague stories about my grandfather being an officer's driver, and the family fleeing a fire-bombed Dresden which my father claimed to remember. There are many holes in the story and I can only assume the holes are filled with a combination of heroics, shame and survival.

Questioning the story was not possible. I didn't have a good enough command of German (and no comprehension of Lithuanian) to ask the questions myself. All answers were filtered through my father's translations. Things were left out and my imagination is not kind.

But the story of their immigration to the United States has been told and retold many times, and the details aren't as sketchy. It is filled with heroics, shame and survival too.

Though the exact timeline isn't clear, it began sometime in the late '40s. Starving in post-war Germany, my grandparents made plans to emigrate. Their families had scattered around the globe after the war. My grandmother's family immigrated to Australia. My grandfather's family were in Canada, Chicago, and West Germany.

Having siblings already living in Australia and Canada, my grandparents tried to emigrate there first.

Tuberculosis was a threat. Because of this, all emigres had to have clean chest X-rays. My grandmother's showed spots. She had survived TB, but her X-rays called her out and Australia and Canada denied their visas.

Tapping into the resourcefulness that got him and his family through two wars, my grandfather came up with a plan. The U.S. required immigrants to have a sponsor. My grandfather contacted his cousin who was living on Chicago's south side in the Marquette Park neighborhood.  She and her husband agreed to sponsor my grandparents. But there was still the hurdle of the chest X-ray.

Wising up this time, my grandfather stepped on my grandmother's X-ray, obscuring the TB spots. Her X-ray now looked like many others — a poor-quality medical record. They were granted visas to the U.S. and told they were only allowed to bring $20 in cash per person with them on the boat voyage west. Ignoring this, my grandfather sewed $20 bills into his socks and the family embarked a ship leaving Hamburg for New York. They arrived in October, 1950.

The rest of their story is all-American. They got jobs, learned English (somewhat) and became U.S. citizens — my father being the last to become naturalized in 1976. ("I wanted to vote against Jimmy Carter," he told me once.) They led prosperous lives. Whenever the subject of the old country would come up, as it often did when we were all together, there was never longing. They were thankful to be here. Their gratitude was handed down to me.
They never returned to Germany. But I did. I went to Berlin in 1978, driving through East Germany to get there. I silently thanked my grandfather every mile of that drive. And I thank him  every Memorial Day, Flag Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Election Day, Veteran's Day, every time I hear the "Star Spangled Banner", every time I say the Pledge of Allegiance, every time I see the U.S. Flag, every time I call my myself an American.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Not So Great Gatsby

My husband and I are long past the double-date stage. We seldom go out with other couples for dinner, rarer still, a movie.  I have no theories on why we are this way. It's never bothered me enough to give it a second thought.

Last weekend we found ourselves in the company of two other couples for dinner. It was a spontaneous thing and it was a lot of fun. During this dinner, the conversation turned to the upcoming film adaptation of "The Great Gatsby." I'm sure I squealed (yeah, I'm a squealer) "Oooohhh I really want to see that!" The others were already making plans to see it opening night.

"You should come!" squealed Laura. (There's a reason we are friends.)
"Yes! Can we?" I asked Kevin.
"Have you read anything about it? You should because I don't think you are going to like it," he said.
"No, but I've seen the trailer and it looks dazzling. I want to be dazzled," I said, sounding like the feather head I become in mixed company after two healthy pours of Chianti.

The conversation turns to other versions of the movie, but it's clear the three of us women really want to see the new film. One of the other husbands, Steve, wants to see it as well, and I think that might bring some masculine credibility to the venture. I quickly forget why Kevin thinks I will not like the movie and I'm caught up in thoughts of how fun it will be to see a movie with other couples. Any movie. (Excepting porn.)

As I've mentioned before, I love it when men make social plans. So I thought it was cute when our friend Steve asked me the following day if Kevin and I were in for the movie Friday. He and his wife were going to select a time and theater and get advanced tickets. I asked Kevin if we were indeed in.

"I don't know. Let's wait and see if Chip gets back to me about a meeting Friday," he says.
"You're stalling. You don't want to see the movie, do you?" I accuse.
He denies this and I drop it.

Steve emails me the following day, asking if we are in. I explain the delayed response, perhaps maybe whining just a wee bit.
"Do I need to send him a 'what kind of hubby are you email?' Steve volunteers.
"And how would that email go?" I ask, knowing such an email would not go over well at all.
"Just a nudge about doing something just because your best girl likes it. And a reminder that chivalry and generosity gets returned ten-fold," he writes.
I decline his offer. Just the other night Kevin rescued a dying, half-paralyzed wild rabbit, setting it up in a cozy box in our garage with some spinach leaves. He then drove it to the animal hospital the next morning so they could humanely end its life. Kevin needs no reminders of chivalry. Ever.  
Another day passes and Kevin calls me at work to check in. He says an odd thing.
"There wasn't much in the mail for you today. Your "New Yorker" came. Wait'll you see it."
"Oh, that's right, they've got a piece about 'Gatsby'. It's on the cover too, right?"
"No, not the cover. There's a 'Gatsby' review. You're going to want to read it before you consider going to see it."
"Why? Is it scathing?"
"It's bad."
"I don't care. I want to see it. You don't have to come along." I snap like a petulant 12-year-old.

This morning Kevin gets up before me and makes me buckwheat pancakes and coffee, and I am reminded again how he would never need a nudge about generosity and chivalry. My heart swells with love. We sit down to eat and he says: "Did you read that review in the New Yorker last night?"
"No. I was reading about Syria," I say defensively.
"We're not going to Syria Friday," he shoots back.
"You're not going to read it are you? I know how this goes," he says with more than a little contempt.
"And you are going to hate this movie no matter what," I shoot back. "You are going to base your opinions on this one review? You don't even like the New Yorker!"
"No, I base them on what I've seen in the trailer too. I don't think I will like it and I don't think you will either. The reviewer got motion sickness from the camera work. Beware," he says.

He asks questions about the logistics of going to the movie as if it were an entire weekend getaway.
"Did Laura's email mean we are to buy our own tickets or were they buying them? What time is the show? When do we need to be there to get a seat together? It's not that theater way out there in Naperville is it?" he continues.
We are now snipping at each other and I'm incredulous. Why is this outing turning into a pain point?
As I head out the door for work he comments on my outfit. He does this a lot and creatively.
"Lori's all in black and white today. Yin and Yang. The duality of man," he says.
"Yes. That's me. I'm a duality," I say.

Kevin is very likely right. All signs do point to me hating the "Great Gatsby". Questionable camera work, an incongruous soundtrack, a filmmaker whose previous work "Moulin Rouge!" I loathed— all adds up to a fat thumbs down. He knows me well.

Once at the office, I check the email trail regarding the movie and I buy our tickets online, happily responding that the B.'s have purchased their tickets. I'm weirdly excited that we're "in." It is then that it dawns on me: I want to see this movie, on this night, with these people because I don't want to be left out. I need to be part of a mini society of happily married couples. What I overlooked is how strong-arming my husband makes me a lesser member of that society.

There's a solid chance Kevin and I will be leaving the theater tomorrow night disappointed in the movie and wishing we could have those four hours of our lives back. If that happens, I know I will have to apologize. But I know Kevin will not say "I told you so."

I guess that would make us a happy couple after all.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Betty's Performance Review 2012-13

To: Betty White Draper Boop
From: Human Resources

RE: Performance Review

You have been a member of our household for approaching one year now. It's time for us to assess your performance as Pet I. You will be assessed on a five point scale on these criteria:


1-5 scale:
5. exemplary: ready for more responsibility or even another pet
4. very good, worthy of human bragging
3. good: acceptable behavior for a Pet of your experience level
2. needs improvement: lacking in some Pet basics
1. Unacceptable: long-term cage restrictions or a visit from The Dog Whisperer.

Rating: 3
Betty, you have made great strides since coming on board in 2012. Growling at your human dad has diminished significantly, and you have learned to walk on a leash.  You rarely bark. You have made good progress refraining from rolling over and squirming your back into the grass when you perceive something smells good. However, you need to master several of the basic pet skills with more consistency. Those skills include bowel and bladder management, and avoiding unnecessary chewing of human objects,  seeking out, retrieving and chewing every single piece of paper you encounter, and refraining from dining on goose shit and dead birds.

Rating: 2
Your diva-like attitude needs some adjusting. Betty, you are not the alpha bitch of the household. That position is already held by your human mom. While you are mostly enthusiastic when you see your human mom, occasionally there are lapses and lackluster affection when she returns home. Rarely do you show any love to your human dad and often do not even leave the cage when he comes in to see you. Your obstinacy over walking is borderline ridiculous. Your human dad should never have to carry you down the stairs to take you out for a walk. Additionally, it is unacceptable to attempt to run back inside once you are out with him when know you have business to conduct. When you are walking with human mom, you need to keep up the pace and refrain from stopping every two feet to smell, lick, or eat grass and other non-edibles, then shooting her aggravated looks and refusals to move when prompted.

At the dog park or other situations where dogs are included, your social behavior is spotty at best. You are choosy about who you will sniff and sometimes are downright aggressive in your behavior toward larger, alpha male dogs. Betty this makes you look slutty. You will be wise to remember that you have been rescued from a life of canine prostitution.

On a positive note, Betty you have made good progress in allowing your human dad to pet you between 10 and 10:30 p.m. Let's expand on that, Betty.

Rating: 4
It cannot be denied you are adorable. And, while your human mom once described you as the "Heidi Klum of the dog world," recent weight gain has required her to amend that to the "Shelly Winters of the dog world." Your soft, fluffy white and beige fur, your perfectly tousled floppy ears, and your impossibly sad eyes make you irresistible. Your occasional smile is cause for celebration. Your sweet face begging to be let up on the bed, your little paws on human mom's knees when she sits on the commode, and your gorgeous wagging tail running away from your human dad is super loveable.

Overall rating: 3

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Honorable Mention Mom

As Mother's Day approaches I've started seeing a few blogs where moms list what gifts they want to receive from their offspring. One particularly amusing entry on the blog Moms Who Drink and Swear lists the five things she doesn't want. It was this entry that inspired me to conjure up another five things I don't want either. But in thinking about it, I realized there is nothing I would discourage my son from giving me.

So, what would I encourage him to give me? Seeing as he is a recent college graduate and very low on funds, I decided the best Mother's Day gift from him would be hearing a few key words and phrases in a conversation — any conversation be it on Mother's Day or any day.

Here are the top five verbal gifts I'd like to receive (without sarcasm, thank you):

5. "You were right about ______."  That blank could be filled by just about any word(s) from "college" to "drinking 10 cups of coffee a day" to "Game of Thrones." The day he acknowledges my input is the day I will know I've raised an adult.

4. "I made an appointment with Dr. _______." That blank could be filled by any medical professional. Dentist, internist, optometrist, psychiatrist. I'd even accept witch doctor. The day he makes his own appointment to deal with any physical complaint will be the day I know I've raised an adult.

3. "I got a haircut." Yep. Adults do this too.

2. "I accepted your friend request on Facebook." Ensuing dialog should not include the words "but you are on a short leash."

1. "Thanks Mom." Actually, he is very good about this. I'll make this simple for him. My Mother's Day gift need only be this very phrase.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I have become my grandmother

Me in the office on a rainy Tuesday.
I'm one of those people who sets the alarm clock one hour before I really need to be out of bed. I've never been able to pop up and hit the ground running.
During that hour when I'm hitting the snooze button every nine minutes, I think about what I'm going to wear. I don't get out of bed until I have an idea of what I will put on my back.
Today, I got out of bed with no outfit in mind. Annoyed that the weather is dictating I should be in boots, but the calendar saying I should be able to break out the peep-toed pumps, I was uninspired.
With the gray sky peeking through my bedroom blinds and radio reports of rain, I faced my closet and grabbed orange. Then I said oh what the hell, embrace the rainbow. (The results are pictured at left.)
As I dashed out to the car my husband got a glimpse of me.
"Really putting the crazy out there today, huh?" he said chortling.
"What, too colorful? Fuck it. I am colorful and I don't care if people think I'm crazy," I snipped back to him.

Now ensconced in my boring beige office, I go about my day. Part of my job entails editing a newspaper section for people over the age of 50 (we politely avoid the term "seniors"). A story I assigned months ago has been submitted: "It 'girls': Grande dames with individual style are free to be". The subject matter is women of a certain age who embrace fashion: "Fashion for them is not about slavishly following trends but about expressing the supreme comfort they feel in their own skin. Whether their look is bold, eccentric or put together classic, they do not go unnoticed," as our staff writer Ro so eloquently wrote.
I thoroughly enjoy reading this story that goes on to quote a man who has documented the stylish older women of New York City and the world in a blog, a book and a soon-to-be documentary. (Advanced Style is the blog linked here: Advanced Style.)
I loved this quote from a woman, Ari, featured in the book: “I was never fearful of being extraordinarily different,” Lubi says in the book. “I would rather be considered somewhat different and mysterious than ignored.”
Yes. That's what I want to be when I'm old, I think to myself.
My Grandma Cogan with my son in 1990.
(Photo courtesy of Mark Bonne)
I walk over to Ro's desk to tell her how much I enjoyed the story. As I approach her she is already smiling — undoubtedly at my crazy outfit.
Just as I'm telling her how much I liked the story, it dawned on us both: I have become the eccentric woman of a certain age.
"We should use your picture with the story," she says. She took the picture above.
Looking at the photo, I see why my husband called me crazy.
I see that I have become just like my grandmother pictured here at right, in 1990 when she was well into her 80s, rocking a hot pink lion sweatshirt and coordinating neck kerchief.
And I'm just fine with that.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The power of the purse

This photo is the very genesis
of my love of fashion. But that's for another entry.

I've had a long standing love of purses, wallets, suitcases — really just about anything with handles that allows me to tote around my most important possessions and make a fashion statement at the same time. I remember my first purse (picture on the left) but I cannot possibly imagine what the four-year-old me held it that sweet little white handbag.

My love of purses has been handed down from my own mother and her mother. Old purses were often given to my sister and I to play dress up with, and purses were frequently gifted to us — always containing one penny.
"It's bad luck to give anyone an empty purse," my mom informed us.

In moments of boredom, like long car rides or waits at doctor's offices, our mom would sometimes let us go through her purse. The scent of gum and lipstick, the crumpled tissues, the matchbooks emblazoned with restaurant logos and wedding dates, the bright lipsticks, and perhaps best of all, the muffled, mysterious sound of items jostling around the dark interiors could hold my interest more than a Highlights magazine. I especially liked going through her wallet; reading her drivers license and looking at the photos of a younger me, my sister, cousins and my dad, and seeing how much money she had — counting down to the last penny. There was always at least a penny.

But rifling through her purse was strictly by permission only. My own father wouldn't dream of placing a hand on that secret world without express permission.

It seemed to me that carrying a purse was the very essence of womanhood.

Recently my dear friend Teresa lost her beloved grandmother. In a quiet moment, away from the rest of her grieving family, she went through her grandmother's purse. She cataloged the items and shared this amusing list:
  • Two tubes of cherry Chapstick.
  • One half-eaten strawberry nutri-grain bar, in open package, folded over (obviously saving it for later), and one empty nutri-grain wrapper.
  • Three crusty combs — the small kind (with tiny teeth) that old-man barbers use.
  • A snapshot of Opi, but his head isn't in the shot — all you see are the bottoms of his ears, his nose and then the rest of his body. (Why did pick that one to put in her purse!??)
  • A little black case thing with two Happy House business cards in it. (Happy House was an antiques store she owned years ago.)
  • One tube of Revlon lipstick: "Softlit Ruby"
  • One folded up restaurant napkin, two folded up tissues and three used tissues.
  • Two prayer cards of "The Miraculous Infant Jesus of Prague.
  • A laminated prayer card: "To St. Raphael the Archangel"
  • Her YMCA pass that expired July 31, 1982 (her photo is fabulous!)
  • One goldfish cracker (yes, one!).
  • A pill that looks like she spit it out of her mouth into her purse.
  • Her wallet, which contains nine bobby pins (no cash!); another little plastic case with seven more Happy House business cards in it; and an old piece of scrap paper with her social security number, her name and address, Mom's work phone number, Mom & Dad's home phone number, Sabrina's phone number (and her old Palatine phone number crossed out) and a really old phone number of mine.
  • A loose stack of note paper, unused, all with strawberries and flowers on each one (undoubtedly purchased at a garage sale for a nickel)
  •  charm embossed on top. It's so tiny that I can't read who it is.
  • And one more little plastic case. This one's jam packed: Grandma's Illinois State ID card; three band-aids; a small sticker from the Pike Brewing Company in Seattle (??); Jacob's sixth-grade school photo; an AA card, with the 12 steps and 12 traditions and serenity prayer on it; a Crystal Lake Motel business card; various other business cards (physical therapy center, day care center and podiatrist); and -- yep, you guessed it -- two more Happy House business cards!

The purse inventory gave Teresa, and those of us she shared this with, an intimate peek into the last days of wonderful, colorful woman.

After Teresa shared this with us, she and our friend Anne made a pact: "I vow to immediately confiscate your purse after you die and go through the contents." I take this oath as seriously as my marriage vows. The contents of my final purse can be analyzed only by my dearest girlfriends.

A woman's purse says so much. It's contents not withstanding, a woman's purse symbolizes a woman's economic power and her ability to provide for her family. Many of us continuously juggle family, jobs, and our own needs. It's difficult for me to imagine the struggle of a woman who has little or no financial means to help "fill her purse."

I just joined a great organization, Mothers & More who is dedicated to helping these women every year with their  Power of a Purse campaign.

A nonprofit organization,  Mothers & More is a 25-year-old organization dedicated to improving the lives of mothers through support, education and advocacy. For five years now they have been running a Power of a Purse program.  Members and chapters donate more than 20,000 purses and thousands of personal items financially disadvantaged women through shelters and other nonprofit organizations.

For the month of April, Mothers & More is running a Writing Contest in celebration of Power of a Purse that is open to both members and non-members. Contestants are invited to share, in 300 words or less, how the mission of Power of a Purse resonates with them through their “purse-onal” story. Mothers & More will publish the top 5 stories on their blog, Mothers' Voices. The top story will be featured on Brain, Child magazine's website.

And the coolest thing (and a shameless plug for me) I've been asked to be one of the judges for the essay contest. 

So, for details on how to enter, the fabulous judges, and a complete list of prizes, please visit the writing contest page here.
To learn more about the campaign, visit Power of a Purse 2013 on Mothers & More’s national website.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Game of Thrones

I just did a shameful thing. I spent 13 hours Easter weekend watching one TV show. I got sucked in by a cable promotion offering me free access to a series of premium shows during a "watchathon."
What started as an innocent way to while away a late Friday hour turned into a mini-obsession that kept me from more productive pursuits like laundry, paying bills, walking the dog, cleaning house, and writing letters to my congressman.

How easy it was to ignore the world around me and plunge into a fantasy world of seven kingdoms, medieval intrigue, visceral sword fights, and brothels of "Game of Thrones." I woke up Monday morning with a TV hangover and vowed to get a grip on reality.

For me, those were 13 hours poorly spent. Not because the TV show wasn't good; it was very good indeed. But because there are so many, many things I should have been watching other than  TV. That message was driven home to me later that Monday.

Recently I've dipped my toe in local politics by helping a dear friend Steve Vasilion who is running for 5th ward alderman (my ward.) It has been an eye-opening experience, and actually kind of like courtly intrigue the closer we get to election day. What has been most surprising to me is the arrogance of our elected officials. How like the kings of a fantasy world they are.
Proposed $120,000 River Walk Arch

Like a good serf, I have been working hard to pay my taxes — which have doubled since I moved to Batavia nine years ago — and pursuing my own creative interests, the lords of the manor have been ripping me and my neighbors off.

While our utility bills crept skyward,  like peasants we adjusted our thermostat, bought energy saver appliances and tried to cut down on our electric use. Meanwhile, our elected masters of coin obligated me and my neighbors to a $250 million coal-fired energy plant deal that has been increasing my utility bill and will continue to do so indefinitely.

While I attended openings and events at the town's local gallery, wishing I had the money to  purchase one of the works of a talented local artist, my city council has been planning on spending more than $120,000 on their own art: a decorative arch, not designed by a local artisan, over a congested and confused street.

While I was at my full-time job, or volunteering at my church, at our town's United Way chapter, my city council was organizing committees to figure out how to spend my money. Committee meetings and hearings I knew little about and don't recall ever being invited to attend.

Monday night, the city council told a few concerned residents that they were too late in their comments and questions about the council's recent folly.  We should have been at the committee meetings and public hearings they said.

Apparently now they want our time AND our money. It's not enough to elect a council to serve the best interest of it's citizens, we now have to watch their every move.

Like a game of thrones.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

My sick Valentine

It's Valentine's Day, 1970 and I'm in third grade at McKay Elementary School in Chicago's Marquette Park neighborhood.
I wake up that day feeling queasy. I'm sure I didn't know the meaning of that word when I was 7, but it's how I remember the feeling today. My dad worked nights, so mornings were typically very quiet in our wee little two-bedroom apartment as my parents slept late. My mom typically got up at last minute to see me out the door. I avoid telling her that I threw up just a bit that morning. Instead, I remind her that I'm —rather she's— responsible for bringing the pop to the school Valentine's Day party.
"You look pale. Do you feel alright?" she asked.
I told her I had a bit of a stomach ache, but thought it would go away. I was a sickly kid so she probably believed me. There was no way I was going to miss the school Valentine party. There were rumors that one boy, a very ostracized boy with the odd name of Arunus (really!), was going to be giving out whole boxes of candy to each student. He needed to buy some love.

Because I had vision problems I had recently been moved to the front row of the classroom so I could see the blackboard better. Always a mediocre student, it was thought my vision was keeping me from high achievement. But really I was just a daydreamer and a "social butterfly" according to my report card. I remember my mom explaining to me that being a social butterfly wasn't a bad thing so that became ingrained in my personality. Forever. Valentine's Day was a big deal for the third-grade me. This was in the pre-politically correct days. You handed out your store-bought and hand-signed Valentines only to the kids you liked. Numbers were important to me: There were 32 kids in my class and I wanted a card from each one. Including Arunus. 
Sitting in my front row seat my stomach begins to roil. I start watching the clock. I  just need to make it to 2:00 for the class party. I had to be there to pass out my own Valentines. Some kids would just toss their Valentines on every kid's desk then sit down. Others, like me, would make a BFD out of it. Girls who were especially bitchy would stop by a desk, rifle through the envelopes, and ceremoniously bestow one upon your desk. And, if they weren't going to give you one, they'd stop anyway, rifle through their cards, and then move on without leaving one. At least that had been my experience in second grade. My third grade teacher may have nipped this behavior, but I wouldn't find out.

Somewhere around the first hour of school I start to get dizzy. I know I'm about to throw up, but I try to will it away. I'm sitting in the front of the classroom by a door and a very large garbage can. I cook up a plan to quietly throw up in the garbage can while the teacher is not looking. Or, I think I can dash out the door and make it to the girl's room. But my stomach doesn't wait for my scheming and I lose it all over my desk. Before I'm even escorted to the nurse's office, the janitor is there spreading the pink sawdusty stuff all over the mess.

I will have to go home. My mom picks me up and drops off a couple of 8-packs of bottled Pepsi for the party I will now miss.

I won't remember the rest of my sick day. I'm sure it was filled with ginger ale, Saltines, trips to the bathroom, and watching soap operas that were unintelligible to me. But I will remember that when I returned to school, my teacher have me my Valentines. I only got 19 and missed out on the full-sized candy bars Arunus passed out — my popularity already waning. In an instant I go from "social butterfly" to "girl who threw up in school on Valentine's Day."

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Thanks Dad

Dad and I on my wedding day, 1999.
Last night I had one of those great dreams that everyone who has lost a much-loved parent longs for: the visitation dream.
I was at a boisterous party among a great circle of friends. My parents' friends were there too. And I saw my dad's best friend, Joe (also passed away) walk into the party and say "look who I found." It was my dad. He looked just the same as he did on my wedding day. Robust, happy.
"Dad! I'm so happy you are here. I've missed you. How long can you stay?" I begged.
He looked at me with his twinkling green eyes and gave me a wide smile. He said:
"It never ends, you know. The love you have never ends."

In reality he never would have said something so overtly philosophical. But he would have lived it. He lived his life like the love would never end. There would always be room to add one more friend to his wide net. Always time to help fix a car, paint a house, listen to a weepy phone call, buy a drink, share a boat ride, make a hospital visit, babysit a grandchild, play a round of golf, shoulder a good cry, be a pall bearer.

There was infinite time to share joy and sorrow.

As my own circle of friends and family grows over the years, and I struggle to juggle it all, I think of my dad. I remember the hundreds of people who spoke to my family at his memorial service. Through their tears and grief, they spoke of how my dad was there for them when they needed this or that — everything from helping a nephew get his first job to saving a drowning friend after a boating accident. There were many, many funny stories — a lot involving fast cars, boats and alcohol — and it was clear he was an entertaining guy to have around. He was much loved.

The gene pool didn't bestow me with his mechanical abilities or his green eyes. But I did get his easy smile and broad shoulders. And best of all, I was on the receiving end of his enormous capacity to love and be loved.

Just when I needed a reminder of why I have cast my own wide net,  he provided one.

That love you have never ends.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Snow blind

Every tooth in my head is throbbing. To top it off, I've got a migraine, surely brought on by the two hefty pours of red wine last night. Wine imbibed to kill the pain of my teeth and to numb my senses to my mother-in-law who is visiting. The dog is pawing at my neck. I have to face the day.

I get dressed slowly trying not to move my head too much. I pad out to the kitchen and startle my mother-in-law. She cries out and freaks out the dog.

I fumble in the medicine cabinet for migraine pills. She politely asks after my jaw. I whine about my pain then look out the window. It's snowing again. I cry out as if this was a personal outrage.

"Dammit again?! It's snowing again!?"

"Oh, that's not even the worst of it. It's only 13 degrees. This snow will stop around noon, then start up again tonight. But it won't be that bad. Only 2 to 4 inches," she reports.

"I cannot wait to move away from here," I say.

"What's that?" she asks. She didn't hear me. Probably for the best.

The dog doesn't enjoy the snow but she loves being outside. She is like me in this. As we walk a litany begins in my head. My teeth head hurts...K. left me alone with his mother yesterday and today while he conducted church's all so ridiculously unfair....I want to leave this

I try to let each falling snowflake wash away my resentment. Why can't I see the purity and beauty  in the snow? I see hazardous, blinding white.

When you're pissed off and resentful and in pain, every movement becomes fraught. Simple things like taking off your winter gear feed my resentment and pain. So by the time I head back to the kitchen in my stocking feet again, I'm near seething. I pour a cup of coffee and see that my mother in law has brought us some lemon Paczkis. Not my typical breakfast, but I can't deal with anything else.

I sit at the kitchen table and eat the sugary breakfast and I take out my phone. I go to and search for one-way flights to Austin, April 10. Determined that if I don't make these plans to leave this town today, I never will. K. can figure out whether or not he wants to come along. I can't stay here a minute longer without making a final plan to escape.

My mother in law walks in and I thank her for the Paczki. She sees I'm eating it with a fork and knife and asks after my mouth again. She is a retired nurse and has a direct way of asking people about their medical problems. I lament again and tell her I've run out of pain killers.

"I'm just not used to living in pain," I whine.

"People who don't live with pain don't understand how it drains you. It takes away from everything you do. It colors your life," she says.

She gives me good advice to call my doctor and ask for a temporary refill. And if I can't get ahold of him, call the pharmacy and see if they will fill a one day supply.

"That's a great idea," I tell her. "I'm going to do just that."

My pain dissipates a bit for having shared it. The snow has stopped falling and my warm kitchen smells of coffee. My satisfied dog is sleeping at my feet. I lick the last bit of lemon filling off my finger.

I abandon I look up Dr. N.'s number instead.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Scouting report

It's Saturday morning and I'm just finishing up some online banking for the my friend's alderman campaign fund. Wallet in hand, I pass my front door when I hear a knock. Because I'm working on a political campaign, I don't hesitate to open the door hoping to generate good Karma when I may soon be knocking on my neighbor's doors.

I open the door to an an adorable girl of 8 or so. Over her pink puffy coat she is wearing her Girl Scout vest. The badges and pins immediately take me back to my own happy days as a GS. She seems startled that I opened the door so quickly. She blinks up at me and I hear her dad:
"Go ahead, ask her."

"Would you like to buy some Girl Scout cookies," she shyly asks.
I look over to her dad who looks very young himself. He is holding the girls bedazzled scooter.
I tell the girl sure, I'd love to buy some cookies.
"Wow, door-to-door, the old-school way. Cool!" I say, taking up her order sheet.
"Hum, what's good? What's your favorite?" I ask her.
She enthusiastically answers, "Samoas!" and her face lights up and all the sudden she just a little girl who loves cookies.
Dad chimes in "Thin Mints too. Everybody wants those."

As I look over the sheet I see that the Girl Scouts have added a few new features including energy bars and boxes on the order sheet to mark off if you'd like to donate boxes of cookies.

"Tell her how to order and when you'll be here to drop them off," dad prompts her again.
He looks like a blue-collar dad. He's wearing a short jacket, the kind my own blue-collar dad used to wear when he was puttering about in the garage on a cold winter day. But he is taking the time to go door-to-door with his daughter. I can't recall my own dad ever doing that. And as a mom, I know I've never done this when my son had to sell anything for field trips and band fundraisers.

The dad says: "Give her a pen, honey."
I ask "Are they still $5 a box?"
"Sheesh. I remember when I was a Scout. I think they were $1.75 a box, maybe even less," I say.
I look in my wallet and I have one five dollar bill. Rare for me, as I almost never have cash.

"Yeah, the girls will hardly see any of this money," the dad complains. He starts talking about how the GS establishment makes a fortune off this. I sympathize with him and nod in agreement.

When my son had fundraisers and would ask me to bring the order sheets to work and to my friends, I'd say no. "I'll just write your school a check for $50 outright. That way the school gets the money directly." But he didn't care about that. He wanted whatever prizes there were for top sellers. I would counter with "but I can BUY you that prize and give the money to the school and still come out ahead. The school gets more money and you get a prize no matter what." His dad circulated the sales sheet instead. My son was satisfied with got whatever trinket those sales were worth. I wrote the check to the school. My son was hardly involved at all. And neither was I.

I say to the Scout in my cheerleader voice: "Well, you'll get a badge for this, right? That's the best part!"
I hand the girl the cash and her dad reminds her to say thank you.
Satisfied she has completed this task, she scoots off on her bedazzled scooter that her dad dutifully handed her.

I don't recall ever having purchased Girl Scout cookies from a stranger. In fact, I can't remember the last time I purchased a box from an actual Girl Scout. But I buy them every year when someone posts a sheet at the office or a friend makes a facebook plea.

I get it that you can't let your girls go door-to-door selling things anymore. But it is perfectly fine to go with your dad. Sure the dad may really be making sales, and all the proceeds won't make it back to the troop. But spending a day in the neighborhood with your dad is better than a thousand boxes of Samoas.