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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 In Review

Still blogging away alongside three other talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.  Ok, sometimes.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

This week, Merryland Girl asked us to recap our top 10 favorite blog posts from 2014, with a sentence explaining why.  They’re not really in any order (though I do like my top 5).  Here we go:

(10)                  My Other Ex book review on Chick Lit Central (Oct. 13, 2014):  Even though this isn’t really a blog post on my blog, it’s a post and I’m counting it.  I really enjoy doing book reviews for this website, and I really liked the book, making writing the review really easy and really fun.  (Thank you, Merryland Girl, for the opportunity.)

(9)                  You Want Ketchup With That?  (Sept. 11, 2014):  I chose this topicwrite about 3-5 things that you used to love, enjoy doing, etc., in the past but now you don’t like.  Or, write about stuff you used to not like but have grown to enjoy.  And feel free to throw in one thing you’ve always loved and always willmostly because every time a Beatles song came on the radio, I realized I liked them more than I used to.  It was fun to think about my tastes now as opposed to my tastes back in the day, and to remember my cousin, Suzie.  And I really enjoyed my co-bloggers’ posts because I learned just a bit more about them.

(8)                  In My Life (I Love You More) (June 21, 2014):  I cheated a bit here and combined two topics I’d missed in prior weeks:  What are some of your favorite song lyrics? And why? and Careful what you wish for.  This is the post where I revealed our decision to move to Tennessee (ha!).  It was interesting to see who reads my blog based on the shock of the large number my friends who didn’t know we were moving even after I’d announced it on my blog …

(7)                   Once Upon a Time (Not So Long Ago) (Feb. 14, 2014):  Merryland Girl pushed us to write some fiction on any topic, and I chose one of my fav subjects in the world.  I have to say, I had a lot more fun writing that post than I’d expected.  Once I got going, it was easy.  And a few of you have even asked me to continue the story, which is sweet.

(6)                  Old Mother Hubbard (Jan. 9, 2014):  Another Merryland Girl topic:  she asked us to find an article in a magazine or online for something youd like to do, self-enhancement-wise and follow *at least* one of the suggestions.  This one was fun because it required us to DO something and then write about it.  This post took on a life of its own – AND I had a clean pantry and clean cabinets when I was done!

(5)                  Got to Begin Again (July 16, 2014):  That week, Froggie asked us whether life begins at the end of your comfort zone.  Her timing was perfect, as I had been pushing my comfort zone a great deal mid-year, and the topic allowed me share a story that I might not otherwise have shared. 

(4)                  Love, Me (Mar. 5, 2014):  As Merryland Girl requested, I chose to write a letter to myself from ten years ago.  Man, was I full of good advice!  If only I’d heeded it.

(3)                  You Say Goodbye, and I Say Hello (Jan. 15, 2014):  Froggie’s topic, and her timing was spot on.  She simply said, It’s all a matter of perspective.  I wrote about my first experience as a hospice volunteer, of which I was in the throes.  I appreciated the chance to process my feelings in the moment, and I loved the comments from my (five) loyal friends and readers. 

(2)                  Saturday Night Widows book review on Chick Lit Central (Feb. 26, 2014):  Oh, how I loved this book and oh how I loved writing about the book.  I’d never before done a book review, so I felt nervous, but my friends were all so supportive – as was the author, who re-tweeted my review on Twitter!

(1)                  The Only Thing to Fear Is . . . Everything (Sept. 30, 2014):  Merryland Girl asked us to write about a time we were fearless.  This post took me down a road I’d been hesitant to write about, pushing me to put on paper feelings I usually suppressed.  The kind words I received as to this post made it all worthwhile and reminded me of why I blog in the first place.

Thank you, my five loyal readers, for your support and kindness and for your comments.  I love when you, in turn, share with me.  And a BIG thank you to my co-bloggers, who are infinitely patient, interesting, funny, kind, and creative.  I consider you all my sisters in writing and my good friends.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why, Yes, That IS Junk in My Trunk!

Still blogging away alongside three other talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

Moma Rock chose this week’s topic, and she asked:  Tell us about something you really love that others can’t relate to.

Boy, I gave this one a lot of thought.  I came up with approximately eleventy billion things that I love more than most people – the Property Brothers, Dr. Drew, TV shows and books about true crime, Circus Peanuts, the color pink – but I truly couldn’t think of anything I love that others couldn’t relate to in some way.

The most obvious answer was Bon Jovi, but I couldn’t write about that here because:  (1) I know I am not alone in my intense fandom (not obsession, thank you very much), and I have the friends and website addresses to prove it; and (2) it would take me exactly 279 pages to write about that topic.  Which I don’t have room for here.  And I know this because I’ve done it and maybe someday it will be a book and you can read it then.

So after wracking my brain for many, many nights – so much so I even dreamt about the topic – I’ve decided I’m going with one of my hands-down favorite misunderstood and underappreciated things:  Junk.

I love junk.  Love love love it.  Any chance I get, I frequent thrift stores and yard sales and estate sales.  I am a regular visitor to flea markets (I love the Nashville Flea Market and – bonus! – it’s open year round, unlike the one in Kane County, which closes for the winter).  I’ve been known to schedule out-of-town trips to coincide with flea markets (L.A. hosts some of my favorites), and I always visit local thrift stores when I’m visiting someplace new. 

I know I’m not alone:  I mean, look at the success of TV shows like American Pickers and Pawn Stars.  Part of the appeal is the personalities, for sure.  But I’d venture to guess that many viewers, including me, like to watch those programs because they feature junk.

I can honestly say I’d fill my house with junk if I could (not in a Hoarders kind of way, no matter what my husband says).  Actually, I’m already on my way there.  Recently, I looked around the first floor of my home and realized almost every single piece of furniture and/or accessory is either:  (a) from a thrift store (the little chest of drawers next to the front door); (b) from an estate sale (my wooden free-standing pantry and my beloved gold etching of a monk); (c) from a yard sale (my awesome red leather bar stools, a steal at $10 each); (d) hand-me-downs (my kitchen chairs, my coffee and end tables, some accessories from my Grandma; or (e) from a flea market (my vintage hat displays from a flea in Paris).  The remainder came from small antique stores (the chipped wooden bench under the front window) or HomeGoods (the mirrors above the little chest of drawers) or Ikea (the couch!), all except my kitchen table, which my husband and his friend, Dave, built new, just for me.

My items have one thing in common:  I love them.  I love looking at them.  I love using them.  I love that their history precedes me and that I am giving them a new chapter in their live inside my life.  Even though they came from different places, they all fit together – to me, anyway.

I could spend days wandering around a flea market or through thrift stores.  I like the dust and the slightly moldy smell.  I like the thrill of the hunt, of looking for a bargain and scoring something valuable, or at least beautiful, at little or no cost.  I know some people just can’t be bothered, and the thought of possessing something previously owned by someone else, particularly clothes, kind of grosses them out.  “Why would you want dead people’s stuff?” they ask.  The answer is simple:  I love the stuff, especially the old, used stuff.  I cherish the age, embrace the imperfection:  the ironstone platter with the glazing that reveals its years; the patina on an old, silver candlestick; the chipped paint on a picture frame.

Estate sales are particularly interesting to me – where else can you walk into someone’s home and openly look at their stuff . . .  and buy it?  I suppose in some ways, these sales are sad:  they almost always follow a death or a divorce or a decline in financial circumstances.  I always keep that in mind at these sales, never wanting to be like the early arrivals who would step on their own mommas if it meant getting their hands on a good deal.  That’s not my style.  One of my favorite authors, Beth Hoffman, summed up my feelings in her beautiful novel, Looking for Me.  She wrote:  “As much as I loved these kinds of sales, beneath the surface they were somber affairs – people picking through the belongings of the dead, or those soon to be.  Rarely did I feel indifference when I touched the private items of perfect strangers.”

I keep those words in the back of my mind whenever I walk through someone’s home and look through their belongings.  Usually, I’m okay, and I can put aside any twinge of melancholy or hint of remorse.  Indeed, only twice has an estate sale really “gotten” to me.  Once, years ago, I walked into a house sale and immediately felt the hair on the back of my neck go up.  I ignored it and continued through the building, but when I hit what had been a bedroom, my feeling of unease grew so strong, I knew I had to leave.  I truly felt like something or someone did not want me in that house, and so I didn’t stay.  Last year, I went to the estate sale for a sweet lady next door to whom my family had briefly lived when we first moved to Evanston.  Marie had passed away shortly after the previous Christmas, and her family had begun cleaning out her house – a monumental task, as (a) Marie was 93 years old and (b) she loved to shop.  During the sale, I found myself looking more at the house than the stuff.  I walked through and tried to picture Marie in the various rooms:  the kitchen, the living room, her bedroom.  I made three token purchases that day.  First, I chose a brooch for my Mom; I believed it lucky, given Marie’s longevity.  Next, I chose a hand-painted bowl and an old book about St. Marie.  Those I bought solely as reminders of my now-gone neighbor, and they sit – alongside other antiques – on the shelving unit/room divider in the middle of my first floor.  I look at those things sometimes, and I remember my friend.

I’ve learned a great deal at estate sales and flea markets and antique stores, and I’ve met some interesting and knowledgeable people.  Junkers are generally kind and friendly.  A few weeks ago, I started talking to a woman at a thrift store, and we spent a good half hour comparing notes on our favorite stores and our biggest scores.  Her excitement at the brass plant stand in her cart was palpable – she’d been looking for something like it for ages, and who could beat $3.99 – and she gushed as she showed it to me.  We complained that the Salvation Army on Oakton had gone to pot and smelled like a sewer, and I urged her to check out estate sales, an area of junking into which she’d not yet ventured.  Our encounter made my whole afternoon.  I’d met a kindred spirit, and I hope I run into her again. 

 A few of my friends are into thrifting, though we never go together.  Two of my Facebook friends became such thanks to junking.  Brad owns an estate sale company in Illinois, and Mary Grace runs a small antique booth in Tennessee.  We met over junk, but when we got to talking, we realized our shared interests didn’t end there.  And real friendships blossomed.

My junk adventures aren’t limited to stores or house sales, though.  I’m not opposed to picking up an abandoned “whatever” from the curb or behind a garage.  My friend Maria gives me a run for my junking money here.  We live mere blocks apart, and we keep our eyes peeled as we drive the streets of our neighborhood.  We like to send each other curbside updates.  “Just grabbed a dresser from the alley behind Hastings!” she’ll write.  A few days later, it’s my turn:  “Found a mirror on the curb across from Three Crowns Park!”  We are happy for the other . . .  but also a tad bit envious.  But there’s enough junk to go around.  Not long ago, our mutual friend Cynthia got rid of her dining room set.  She posted her freebie on Facebook and within minutes, Mariah grabbed the table and I snagged the chairs.  We are forever wedded in junk.

My family has mixed feelings about my habits.  The younger kids, having been dragged through one too many Goodwills, lament thrift store stops (though they always seem to find something they want/like).  My husband calls me a hoarder and is less than thrilled when I pile stuff in the dining room or when he opens the back of the van to find a table . . .  or a chair . . . or a dinged up shelf.  But he never complains when I hand him a book I found for him, or when I ask him to hang a framed picture for which I paid a whopping $2.  My eldest child is finally embracing vintage clothing, and one of her favorite pieces is a polyester men’s shirt featuring weird blurry images of faces surrounded by German phrases.  I found it at a Salvation Army store, and she snatched that sucker up – along with an old piece of carry-on luggage she described as “gorgeous” when she discovered it lying in my pile of stuff.  (She also cherishes the kitten we picked up at the Rosemont Flea Market when the now-19 was just 6 years old.)

I don’t expect anyone to embrace my love of all things junk, and I’m kind of glad more people don’t, because that just means more junk for me!  I’ll keep trolling the aisles of the nearest Salvation Army, scouring the flea markets and estate sales and even the alleys and curbs.  And as I lovingly clean up my finds and look for a place for them in my own home, I’ll stop for a few moments and wonder about their history in the time before me:  who loved them, who used them, why they parted with them.

After all, as Beth Hoffman once wrote, “Old things h[o]ld so many untold stories.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Did You Ever Know That You're My Hero?

Still blogging away alongside three other talented bloggers.  Each week, one of us chooses a topic and we all post a blog entry on that topic, usually on Thursdays.  (Usually we are on time.  Usually.)

Here are the links to the other fabulous blogs:

            This week was my topic, and I said:  Bill Cosby is all over the news for his alleged inappropriate activities.  Many people struggle with accepting that Dr. Huxtable could have done the things of which he is accused.  So I ask this:  Is there a celebrity scandal that would really upset you, simply because you love that celebrity/hold him or her in high esteem?  Has it already happened?  If there’s no celebrity, is there a person in your real life like that?  Here’s my take:

            Growing up, I was a fan of Bill Cosby.  I spent many Saturday mornings stuffing my face with sweetened cereal listening to Bill’s baritone “hey hey hey” while watching Fat Albert.  And, of course, I loved the Cosby show – who didn’t?  There was even a character named Denise!  The man performed hilarious stand-up comedy and hawked Jell-O Pudding Pops with his big, goofy, contagious grin.  What wasn’t to like? 

            But in all honesty, I never really thought about Bill Cosby as Bill Cosby, the person, the man behind the charming face.  Later, as I aged and priorities changed, I began to admire him for urging people to take advantage of opportunities in life instead of playing the victim card.  Respectable.  And I applauded when he urged men to stay with their pregnant girlfriends, arguing that children grieve the absence of fathers, that the loss affects them for life. 

            And then his illegitimate daughter popped up, and he lost just a bit of his authority, to me, anyway.  But that wasn’t too big a hit for me since I’d never really held Dr. Cosby “up” on a pedestal in the first place.    
            As I grew, I crafted a short list of celebrated people who I considered so “special,” so good, any scandal related to them would have broken a tiny piece of my heart.  That list didn’t include Cosby; instead, it featured other famous men:  Bill Clinton, Michael Jordan, Tom Hanks, and Ron Howard.

            Yeah, I know.

            It didn’t take long before President Clinton came a’tumblin down.  (I won’t rehash his well-publicized undoing here – just picture the Gap dress and be done with it.)  I can’t say I was crushed by Bill’s bad behavior, but I was certainly disappointed.  I mean, Monica Lewinsky, really?  Though I continued to like him (and still do), his bad choices knocked him down a few notches in my eyes.  My list was one good guy shorter.

            Soon after, the stories about Michael Jordan started to appear.  The first came from my (then) brother-in-law, who was hired to do some phone installation work at Air Jordan’s home.  Michael’s (then) wife, Juanita, was gracious and welcoming to my BIL.  But then Michael came home.  He took one look at my BIL and turned to Juanita and said, “Who the hell is he?”  Ouch.  Then the news stories appeared:  the gambling, the infidelity, the temper.  I went from really liking the beloved athlete who shares my birthday to feeling mild disgust at the mere mention of his name.  I no longer wanted to be like Mike.  I was down another hero.

            I admired Tom Hanks not for any particular reason but simply because he was America’s Nice Guy.  I suppose he still is.  I even admired his marriage to his wife, Rita Wilson . . . until I found out they started their relationship while Tom was still married to his first wife.  Now, I’m not a prude by any stretch of the imagination (Catholic school years aside), but the way Tom met/courted his wife just didn’t mesh – to me – with his All-American fa├žade.  Another one bites the dust.

            And then there was one.

            Obviously, I survived the decimation of my list relatively unscathed – though I will say that any poor behavior on the part of Richie Cunningham might push me to my breaking point.  I need at least one well-behaved All-American boy to admire.  

            I’m guessing a few of you are surprised to find a certain name missing from my list:  Jon Bon Jovi.  But I never considered Jon as a contender.  I’ve never viewed Jon through that All-American boy lens.  Maybe it’s because he lives in the rock ‘n roll world, but I’ve never really gotten too upset when I’ve heard something negative about him.  When my (then) husband told me he saw Jon being dismissive to a gushing fan at a restaurant in New York, I shrugged.  When Jon himself admitted he hasn’t been a faithful saint, I smiled (sorry – I’m still smarting from that marriage).  When I researched the history of the band and learned Jon could be a bit shrewd in his business relationships, I shrugged it off.  I don’t look at Jon the way I’d once looked at Michael Jordan or Bill Clinton or even Tom Hanks.  I view him through a more realistic lens:  I embrace him with open arms (I wish), flaws and all.  I suppose this is partly because Jon himself doesn’t hold himself out as the poster child for squeaky clean, the ambassador of baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, and Chevrolet.  Those other men have, in large degree.  Jon openly lives the life of a musician – warts (and leather and long hair and groupies) and all.  I respect that.  I like that.  It’s part of his charm.

            Some people have derided me for holding people up on the proverbial pedestal.  And that’s their right.  But I don’t think I’m really engaging in hero worship.  Instead, I think I’m merely searching for that good in the morass of not so good.  We are inundated on a daily basis with the bad, the raunchy, the wrong.  We see images of murders and murderers, of greed and unrest, of crime and illness.  Of the Kardashians!  We all need the face of the good guy:  the celebrity who worked his way up from nothing and stepped on no one on the way up.  The guy who hasn’t let fame go to his head.  The faithful husband.  The generous benefactor.  The nice guy.  We simply don’t have enough of that in our lives, so when we lose another, we react.  It hurts.

            I completely understand the fans of Bill Cosby who resist believing he is guilty of any of the charges currently lobbed against him.  (And, frankly, they should resist, as he is still innocent until proven otherwise.)  I know the feeling of not wanting to believe something about someone, even someone I admired from afar, and so I empathize.  I refuse to judge Dr. Cosby’s guilt or innocence, as that’s not my job, but it’s undeniable that his once squeaky clean image has taken one hell of a hit already.  It’s a shame – we are down another hero.  And we can’t even console ourselves with Cosby re-runs or Pudding Pops, as those are gone, too.

            While I was writing this, an old song popped into my head, one I haven’t heard or thought about in years.  It is sung by Stevie Wonder and Charlene (the queen of my cheesy song references), and it’s called Used to Be.  A few lines stand out because, to me, they sum up exactly why we need Ron Howard to keep it clean, why we mourned the loss of John F. Kennedy, Jr., why two generations are shaking their heads at the Bill Cosby headlines.  Why we need heroes.

Superman was killed in Dallas.
There’s no love left in the palace.
Someone took the Beatles’ lead guitar.  . . .

Used to be the hero of the ballgame,
Took the time to shake the loser’s hand.
Used to be that failure only meant you didn’t try,
In a world where people gave a damn.  . . .

Used to be a knight in shining armor,
Didn’t have to own a shiny car.
Dignity and courage were the measure of a man,
Not the drugs he needs to hide the scar.  . . .

But I believe that love can save tomorrow,
Believe the truth can make us free.
Someone tried to say it, then we nailed Him to a cross –
I guess it’s still the way it used to be.