Sunday, June 13, 2010

Movers and Shakers

I had been thinking about having a party for friends and family once we finally got settled in our new home. Today, as I unpacked what seemed like the 200th box, I thought "Why not invite everyone in Glen Ellyn?" After all there are only 27,000 residents and by the looks of things we have enough glassware for everyone, no need for tacky plastic or paper! I mean, we do live in a green age, though the soap and water to wash such a lot of dishes might not be environmentally friendly.

What would I serve? Casseroles, as I unearthed 16 corning ware dishes of various shapes and sizes. Silverware would not be an issue as flatware, including the Caldwell family silver, silverplate and two sets of stainless would provide service for 40. We may need to resort to paper plates though as we only have service for 24 with our everyday dishes and china.

Our guests could take home leftovers in the myriad of Tupperware and Rubbermaid plastic ware that now completely fills its own cabinet. No need to worry if we ran out since we also found 3 rolls of plastic wrap, 3 rolls of aluminum foil and four boxes of Ziploc bags.

If brunch were the menu, we could surely provide efficiently and abundantly with two waffle irons, two griddles, two microwave bacon dishes and six frying pans. Two coffee makers working in tandem would offer decaf and regular in an array of blends--those found in the finest hotel chains as I found 36 packets of hotel coffee.

Following the meal, a conference call could take place with a speaker phone in every room. Ever safety-conscious, we also have at least 8 power strips with surge protection.

If all of this sounds a bit excessive to you and you are reminded of Richard Scrushy or Imelda Marcos, rest assured, you are not alone. One of the highlights of our unpacking today was when I opened a box marked "office" and discovered not one--but four pairs of cute black pumps! Technically the label on the box was correct as all were appropriate work footwear.

After five years of living in two houses 500 miles apart, why am I surprised to have doubles of everything? (OK so it explains the phones and kitchen items, but maybe not the shoes) It is daunting and more than a little embarrassing. As I view it all, I am ashamed that while there are starving and homeless people around the globe, we are opening boxes and asking ourselves two questions--1) Where in the heck are we going to put this? and 2) Why exactly did we think we needed it in the first place?

Unpacking is hard enough work but agreeing on where to put things presents another set of challenges. After opening a huge box only to discover it contained china and crystal, my inclination was to put this box in the garage or basement since we would not be needing these things for the foreseeable future, (this was before my great idea of inviting the whole village over for brunch) my spouse told me it could easily be put away and there was 'plenty of room' in the new kitchen unlike the garage or the 900 SF and thus far empty basement. As he proceeded to fill the uppermost shelves of each cabinet with crystal water goblets, champagne flutes, wine glasses and cordial stems, I began thinking that it was probably a good thing that I had not yet found the Cutco gourmet knives that I had been fervently searching for up until that point.

This notion was quickly dispelled as my darling husband changed course and helped me rebox the crystal and pack it in a smaller box for storage until a later time. He also took the time to put all the empty boxes out at the curb, making enough room to park my car in the garage; he put the barbecue grill together and cooked us hamburgers and hung a favorite family photo of the three of us.

Moving has been a part of our lives for 29 years. We have become pros at it, with this being our ninth house. We are getting rid of the duplicates though, as we don't expect to need two (or more) of everything any longer... Right after the big shindig...

Thursday, March 11, 2010

On Frozen Pond

As the sunlight flickers in through the blinds and I listen to a faint breeze from the open patio door, it is more than a little strange that I am gazing across the street at a pond with ice floes still in tact! Spring has made an appearance in Chicago this week. The low-tech dial thermometer on the deck registers an unofficial 60 (ish). And while we know Miss March is fickle and spring will not be staying, it's only here for a limited engagement; we are intoxicated with the promise of what's to come!

We have had snow on the ground in some form or fashion since early December. A couple of times, the meltdown began and just as the last of the slushy old snow was disappearing,
a new layer of the white stuff would follow. It was kind of like the lazy bimbo who doesn't actually wash her makeup off and start anew before she goes out for the night, she just layers on a new coat of foundation trying to freshen up her tired visage, hoping to fool the public.

Since our last snowfall around February 25, our neighborhood has gone from the pristine loveliness of the soft cottony fluff reminiscent of a newborn baby's blanket to the look of that same blanket five years later when its owner is headed off to school. Shrunken, discolored and full of holes, it is anything but attractive but somehow still provides a level of security and cannot be parted with.

The snow banks piled at the end of each driveway that once resembled the sugary dunes of my favorite Gulf Coast beaches have evolved to dirty pyramids a la the Luxor hotel in Vegas and then after thawing and freezing again morphed into icebergs dotting the North Sea with their sharp edges and gray translucence. Finally, by yesterday they had dwindled down to nothing more than used scraps of steel wool, leftover from some project--fuzzy and dirty and flung about the lawn.

Despite my hatred for the snow and my impatience for its departure, I have discovered some creative uses for it. I mean, isn't that what we are all about now? Repurposing? Certainly it is easier to clean up after one's dog when it is surrounded by a blanket of fluffy snow! However, based on what has been revealed since the meltdown, I am apparently in a very small minority of dog owners who think so! And those useless snow piles that linger long after the rest of the stuff is gone? A foot washing station for muddy paws! After all, dogs are like children-take them for a walk on a drizzly day and if there is mud, they are sure to walk in it! One trek thru the snow pile at the end of the driveway and voila--wet paws only! Much easier to clean.

When I awoke to rain this morning, a light mist was rising from each filthy gray pile and I could just imagine the Wicked Witch of the West shrieking, "You cursed brat! Look what you've done! I'm melting! melting! Oh, what a world! What a world! Who would have thought a good little girl like you could destroy my beautiful wickedness?" just like she does at the end of the movie when Dorothy accidentally douses her with a pail of water. When the sun came out at lunch time and I took Phoebe and Slugger on their midday walks, is it any wonder I felt like singing, "Ding Dong the Witch is DEAD", while we fairly skipped down the yellow brick road, er...I mean...sidewalk.

So, now as I stare at the pond that is dark murky liquid around the edges with grayish-white disks floating in the center, I am contemplating a bucket brigade or at least a hose long enough to destroy the the wickedness that reminds us that after all, it IS still winter. Just call me Dorothy...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Banned in Alabama

Since moving to Illinois, I have pondered the differences, some of them vast, between my new home and my old one. Certainly the most obvious one would be the climate. Alabama is beastly hot in the summer which generally lasts from May to October, followed by a glorious fall, a short winter and a brief rainy spring. Chicago is bitterly cold in the winter which generally lasts from October to May, followed by a short spring, a glorious summer and a brief rainy autumn.

I learned recently that Chicagoans actually LIKE the extreme cold, snow and ice and are very touchy when it comes to comments from outsiders. I read in the Tribune that it is sort of like a family member: NATIVES can complain as much as they want, but if OUTSIDERS say it sucks, they do so at their own peril.

There is another little matter that sets Chicago apart from Birmingham. In Birmingham, usually on the day after Christmas and most certainly by New Years Day, all Christmas decorations are down, put away until next year. As we entered the first week of 2010, I continued to see decorations. At first I thought it was because so many people here celebrate Orthodox Christmas so I kept my mouth shut. As I write this on February 3, I see Christmas lights in the yard across the street. Today I read in the Tribune that Chinese New Year's is February 14, so maybe I should keep my mouth shut a bit longer.

Speaking of the Chicago Tribune, that is another difference between my old city, Birmingham and my new one. In Birmingham we had one daily newspaper, The Birmingham News or as I liked to call it, The Birmingham Snooze. I could read the whole paper most weekdays in about 10 minutes, 30 on Sundays. Shortly after moving here, I wondered why I would get up in the morning, eat breakfast, sip tea and suddenly look at the clock to find it was almost noon. It was because it took me all morning just to read the damn newspaper!!

Here in Chicago we have not one but TWO daily rags, the allegedly more liberal yet infinitely more appealing Tribune and the less popular yet more politically conservative Sun Times. I have read both and despite my conservative bent, I prefer the Tribune. Something about that sleazy looking tabloid format of the Sun Times. While it may be easier for commuters to handle on the crowded Metra or EL, it just makes me feel like I am reading the National Enquirer. At any rate, the Tribune features the best local columnists, an excellent sports page and despite its liberal reputation, political cartoons by former Birmingham News cartoonist, the mostly conservative Scott Stantis.

I could go on and on about my newfound love for the newspaper but then I would never get to the point of this post. If it hadn't been for my favorite Tribune columnist, John Kass, I wouldn't be so well informed about Chicago politics and its many colorful characters like Governor Dead Meat and Senator How Ya Doin...I have inside info on how our president got elected, too. Something about Hopium and the Chicago any rate, all kidding aside, yesterday was the Illinois primary and like most Illinoisans, I was casting my vote against corruption. I wish I could say that this is another distinct difference between my new home state and my old one. Sadly it is not. It appears that Alabama and Illinois have an unwritten rule on term limits for governors, one term in office and one term in prison!

So after marking our ballots to "throw the bums out", Burt and I stopped by our favorite local pasta joint for dinner. Clara's occupies space in an unassuming strip shopping center on Highway 53. No fancy decor but the food is fabulous. It is owned by the daughter of "Mama Celeste" of frozen pizza fame and it is some of the best Italian fare I have ever had.

We started by ordering a bottle of red wine. The waitress brought the bottle to our table and I commented on how pretty the label was. She leaned toward me and said, "This label is nothing. We have another wine here with a gorgeous label but it's kind of racy."
"Oh really?" said I, raising my eyebrows. She leaned in closer and added breathlessly, "In fact, it is so racy that the wine is actually banned in Alabama!"

"Well all right then," I drawled in my best Alabama accent. "Y'all bring that one instead!" She looked a bit confused, so I explained further. "You won't believe this, but I am actually FROM ALABAMA and I would love to experience what I have been missing all these years!"

"You are?" she asked wide-eyed. "But what are you doing here?"

"Oh, I live here now. But I just moved here last year..." I trailed off.

She asked if we had moved here for work and before I could say, "No way, darlin. I just wanted to get out of that Podunk state, live a little and drink some real wine in a racy bottle!", my wonderful, ever-so-honest husband joined the conversation. "Yes, we moved here for work," he answered.

Looking across the table at me, he chided, "You are NOT FROM Alabama! We used to LIVE there but you are not FROM there!" While I was kicking him under the table for not going along with my fun, he looked sternly at our server and said pointedly, " We lived there for a long time and LOVED it. It is a great place and I think your story about the racy bottle being banned is urban legend."

Pretty soon she was back, not only with the Cycles Gladiator bottle of wine whose label featured a reproduction of a French art poster of a nymph on a bicycle, but waving in her other hand a printout of article about the wine and how the Alabama ABC did indeed ban the wines from being sold there. The ABC code prohibits any 'labeling or advertisement depicting persons posed in an immodest or sensuous manner.' Burt apologetically told her it was not necessary to bring the article. She replied that the bartender insisted since he didn't like being called a liar!

She suddenly got very curious and started asking about why people would want to ban a wine just because the label featured a little tasteful nudity. She asked if people were really that backward "down there." "Oh absolutely" I told her. "When the Baptists go to the grocery store with their children, the last thing they want little Susie or little Johnny seeing is nekkid folks on the wine bottles!" By now Burt was kicking ME under the table. I leaned in closer to her and added, rolling my eyes, "Why we even have a statue of the mythological god Vulcan that sits high atop Red Mountain with his backside exposed and the state is considering legislation that would make him cover up!"

By now I am having a great time but my husband is paying the check and hustling me on with my coat and out the door. In our rush, Burt nearly knocked the Christmas wreath off their front door! So much for my Chinese theory...Did I mention that the wine was delicious? A rich and dare I say it?.. full-bodied red!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Happy New Year Everyone! We had a great time in Birmingham and the time just flew by. As you all know, I am more into words and not much for pictures, but I am also enamored with technology so when I saw this moviemaker program on the computer, I had to try it!

The attached video is my first attempt at moviemaking! Wow,does that make me a cinematographer, or am I a producer? Or maybe a director? Or maybe all is by far THE coolest thing and I am so glad to be living in an age where I can create something like this with limited knowledge and equipment. Hope you enjoy it!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Classic Shopping Experience

I had to go to Aurora yesterday in order to shop at a Wal Mart that meets my discriminating standards—clean and well-stocked, not to mention staffed with employees who actually speak and understand English. (I know, I know, my expectations are too high!!!) While I was out there, I decided to check out the new Talbots outlet that opened on Friday in the Chicago Premium Outlet Center.

Like Talbots’ regular stores, the entrance welcomes you with the familiar red awning/doors. This store opens to the parking lot as well as having an entrance on the interior “mall” side too. I lucked into a good parking spot so it was just a few steps to the door. This is a plus for those of us who only want to run into Talbots and skip a trip around the concourse and the rest of the center.

Once inside, I was totally disoriented. It was not at all what I had expected. Where were the racks upon racks of past seasons’ merchandise with makeshift signs screaming that each rack was an additional 25-50% off? Where were the messy shoe racks with loads of size 7 Narrow but no semblance of organization? The el cheapo jewelry and hosiery in sizes most normal women cannot wear? I came here expecting to root through the racks in search of another pair of those dark-wash jeans I bought in 2004 that are finally fraying at the hem!!

This store was neat, clean and well-organized (and as an added bonus, the employees had command of the language!!) There were three distinct departments—Misses, Women and Petite. The fitting rooms were attended by a runner who would fetch items in different sizes and colors when asked. Displays were classy and any sale signage was subtle and uniform. Background music featured American standards like Sinatra and Ella Fitzerald. Was this really an outlet store? It felt very much like being in a regular Talbots’ store. Where was I?

I talked to one of the sales associates who confirmed that Talbots has a new a strategy for their outlet stores. All merchandise is now first quality but produced strictly for their outlet stores. This is an approach that Ann Taylor, Banana Republic and The Gap have all employed successfully for years. I asked where the clearance merchandise from the regular stores will go now and was told that it would remain at the regular stores until it is sold or written out of stock. The Outlet stores will feature sales and promotions on their merchandise only.

The quality of the merchandise was excellent, though it was more moderately priced and the selection was limited to what I would classify as everyday casual—pants, sweaters, skirts, a few dresses—all in the famous classic Talbots style. More expensive items such as career wear suits, outerwear, evening or holiday dresses were nowhere to be found. Also, no shoes--a big downer for those of us who seek footwear therapy on a regular basis.

The grand opening special, good through November 16, is 20% off your entire purchase. In addition to that, all dresses are 40% off and all accessories 50% off. By piggy-backing the discounts, savings of 60-70% are possible. I found a cute scarf, a sweater dress and a black and white houndstooth check cardigan. Talbots Rewards points can be earned here and you can also use your Talbots Reward certificates.

Overall, I liked the experience and will make this a regular destination. In fact, I probably won’t shop at their regular stores at all now, since I consider most of their stuff overpriced. However, I WILL miss the old clearance stores and the treasure hunt atmosphere that prevailed! Now, if only I could find that crimson pencil skirt from 1982….it would look great with my new houndstooth cardigan!!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Diary of a (March) Mad Housewife

While it may come as a surprise to some, it is simply ho hum news around here that 15 of my 16 picks are still alive in the NCAA Men's basketball tournament! Doug is a close second and is actually winning our pool with 13 teams still in after his near stellar first round of 28 of 32 correct picks. Burt is in third place with 11 teams still vying for the championship. Things could get interesting as Doug has broken with family tradition and has chosen the despised UCONN Huskies to win it all whereas his dad and I have stuck with our hearts and put all of our eggs in the blue and gold Pitt basket.

Despite some close finishes for Pitt, Missouri and Memphis, this year has been kind of boring with few upsets and devoid of Cinderella stories. Arizona is still in despite being a 12 seed but they hardly qualify as a Cinderella. They are more like an aging movie star who gets an Oscar nomination years after a brilliant debut followed by a period of obscurity. What they do now will be interesting. I suspect they will fold and the final rounds will be filled with single-digit seeds and a final four with all four top seeds still in.

Will Louisville live up to their top seed billing? Will UCONN win another one for the ailing Calhoun? Or will the Tarheels live up to all their billing as the royalty of college basketball? Let's hope NOT. Let's hope that Pittsburgh, with the work ethic and lack of glamour that has made our hometown famous, will follow the Steelers' Super Bowl victory with a championship of their own. Hail to PITT!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

All About The O

If you didn’t already know, one of Burt’s customers got tickets to go to a taping of the Oprah Winfrey Show. I was allowed to bring one guest. It was extremely tough to choose, but I invited my great friend Beverly Hansen. We flew up on Tuesday. Burt picked us up at the airport and after dinner in Oak Brook at The Clubhouse, it was time for American Idol and then rest up for our big day in the windy city.

We had planned to take the train downtown Wednesday morning and then cab it over to HARPO studios but thanks to my wonderful husband, a chauffer picked us up at the house around 9:45! Our driver was a young dark haired fellow named Safar. After our introductions, I asked him where he was from. He asked me where I thought he was from. I told him his name sounded middle eastern, but his accent sounded Russian. To which he replied, “Jew are von smart lady. I am of Turkish descent, but grew up in Uzbekistan!”

Turns out he was a civil engineer back home but has lived here five years and loves driving a limo. He has met numerous famous people-mostly athletes. We chatted with him the entire drive and his perspective on things American was certainly different from ours! According to Safar, Obama would never have been elected without Oprah’s endorsement! The guests he drives for another talk show host, Jerry Springer, are “super dumb” and perhaps most astounding—Gov. Blagojevich is INNOCENT!! Well, at least we could see his point about the “super dumb….”

He dropped us off outside the studio and we got in a line that snaked halfway around the building. We met up with our host, Nancy Szesniak and her guest just as things began to move. From there it was a cross between airport security (metal detectors and bag searches) and Disney World (standing in lines and waiting is part of the whole experience).

While our instructions said to be there between 11-11:30, the show was not actually scheduled to begin taping until 1:00. About 12:00, they began seating everyone. Filling the studio is just as orchestrated as the taping of the show itself. Parties were called by name and the producers seated groups by distributing wardrobe colors and demographics throughout the audience. No sections filled with all young or old, or everyone wearing the same color.

Sally Lou, one of the producers then proceeded to “warm up” the audience. She told us the topic would be “Recession-proof your Marriage” and asked us questions about how everyone was faring in this economy. There were a few folks who had lost jobs, started businesses or were just stressed out from the uncertainty of it all. Throughout her warm-up, Sally Lou encouraged everyone to ‘stand up, talk, share. Let’s help one another!’ It was all very touchy-feely and cheerleaderish in a kind of “we are women, we are empowered. Hear us roar!” type of way.

Finally about 1:00, Oprah’s guest, Gary Neuman-author and marriage counselor-strode on to the set. About 1:10, the Great One finally arrived to cheers and a standing ovation. She is much prettier in person and despite all of the tabloid reports on her weight, looked slimmer than I had anticipated. She was wearing black pants and sweater topped by a dark burgundy satiny wrap jacket. Her accessories were minimal and her highlighted hair was long and flowing.

Almost immediately the camera started rolling and things moved very fast. The show spotlighted a couple of families who were unemployed and had lost their homes to foreclosure. Now their relationships were also on the way out. Not exactly fun stuff but not as depressing as it could be, either. One woman lamented the fact that since losing her six figure income, she not longer had a housekeeper, she WAS the housekeeper. This elicited a very vocal negative response from the contingent of stay at home wives and mothers on the set!! At any rate, Dr. Neuman advised the couples of ways to keep the relationship in tact and an action plan was put on the screen near the end of the show.

One thing I found interesting was Oprah’s choice of words. In speaking of one couple’s home foreclosure, the event was always referred to as “having their house taken away from them” or “the bank came and took their house.” I am not implying that this couple deserved what happened to them, but I found it odd that it was referred to in such a way rather than simply “their house was in foreclosure,” or “they lost their house.” It sounded a little more like victimization than empowerment to me. Something else I noticed was that was whenever President Obama’s name was mentioned, the audience clapped as if on cue.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about the whole experience was that when the cameras stopped rolling, Oprah kicked off her (no doubt very expensive) shoes and threw her legs up over the arm of her chair. She then chatted with the audience for about 30-45 minutes just like we were her best girlfriends! (though I was amazed at the number of men in the audience) She talked about her empire…er… um… I mean her job and her great friend Gayle.

Undoubtedly, this part is just as choreographed as the rest of the show, but she is masterful at making it seem casual and unrehearsed! Love her or hate her, THIS is her appeal and why she has so many fans. 300 people left that day feeling like “Wow! I just sat around talking to Oprah all afternoon.” Of course Beverly and I were feeling the love so much that we marched across the street and bought gifts from the Oprah store to take back to our friends and co-workers! Never pass up an opportunity to help jump start the economy, right?

By 3 pm we were in a cab headed to our next big adventure, shopping on Michigan Avenue. The Oprah show was fun and I can now check it off my list of things about which I can say –been there, done that!!

Note-we were told to check for the air date of this episode. As of this writing, none has been scheduled.