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.