Tuesday, June 29, 2010


Dut Tah Tah Daaaahhh! My new business!

The last time I was bemoaning the state of the publishing world in general and my lack of paid gigs in particular, Jeff suggested gently that I might want to try a new way to make a little cabbage--the old, "keep writing and blogging and hope I get discovered and on Oprah" plan having not panned out so much. He suggested I turn to one of the growing businesses out there--internet sales and god knows I'm familiar with that market as I buy almost everything except groceries and cars online (I know, you can buy those too, but I don't).

And so after kicking a few ideas around and brainstorming with a renowned retail consultant (my niece Layne) I decided to open an online gift shop of really cool gifts that you could take to a party as a hostess gift. (What, you may ask is a hostess gift? And many have. It's a nice little gift you take to hand the hostess when you have been invited to a party instead of bringing the usual bottle of wine you picked up at Trader Joe's on the way over.)

The entire process of coming up with the idea, figuring out what exactly is entailed with starting an online business, applying for the myriad of business numbers and licenses, meeting with my accountant and a banker, finding and working with a web designer, and oh yeah by the way, shopping for and amassing inventory, would probably take an ambitious web-savvy person about two months. I managed to drag it out to six months. But in my defense. No I don't really have a defense. It just took me that long.

Anyhoo, today I announce to you, my loyal readers, that I have started a new business called Happy Hostess Gifts (second, not so subtle, chance to check it out!). I even hope you might buy something and send the link on to two or three of your favorite people.

My hope is that the site will be fun and entertaining (for the reader as well as me of course) AND a great place to find a hostess gift. Most of the items are gifts I actually have received over the years. Well, not the actual gift, that would be re-gifting--I mean I got the idea from an actual gift. For example, the fun fashion rubber gloves are the same kind Jennifer K. gave me a few Christmases ago at our annual bash and I LOVE to wear those while I clean the toilet and pretend I am Bree VanDeKamp.

My new plan is to get this site up and running, sell a few things then get on Oprah to talk about it and have a wealthy business investor beg me to sell her the site (like the Facebook guy although he still said no to the latest offer of several billion--yes that's with a b--and who can blame him he's only 26 and what on earth would he do with all the money and free time?)

So thanks in advance for helping me realize my dream. And for those of you into that sort of thing you can follow my business on Facebook or Twitter.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Though Jeff and I moved to the Chicago area 24 years ago, we still sometimes say "going home" when talking about going back to Michigan for family events or visits. Last weekend I went home for my sister's retirement party. I don't get back there very often anymore. Before kids we went home every few months. When the kids were very little we still tried to get there for major holidays and events but not so much anymore.

I don't like this but what can you do? When you move away four hours (now up to six hours thanks to ever-increasing and unavoidable Chicago traffic) and when you go from two of you to five of you (and two of them are teenagers with lives of their own) you aren't as mobile as you'd like to be. This does not make the people back home happy. My mother gamely tells me about every baby shower, dance recital, and pig roast that she thinks I should attend involving any of my dozens of cousins (some of them are HER second cousins, I don't even know what that makes them to me, twice removed or something) but for the most part we just can't pull it off which is why we're down to weddings, funerals, reunions, and retirements (for parents/grandparents/siblings/nieces & nephews only).

Those who have not moved away from home and indeed some who have not moved out of the zip code they were raised in, are not very understanding or sympathetic of those of us who have. In fact, I have come to realize there are a lot of unwritten rules about an arrangement like this. I know from talking to other friends who have "moved away" that these rules are pretty universal.

Here are some of the unwritten rules I've learned in 24 years of living away from "back home".

1) If you are the one who moved away, you are the one who has to come visit. It does not work the other way around." Yes, this defies logic and even common sense but still the grandmas and the aunties like to say "Gosh, it's been a long time since you came to visit" even though most of them have never been to your home or have been only once a long, long time ago.

2) No matter how long it has been since you moved away; no matter how far away you now live; no matter how busy you are; no matter how many kids of your own you have; no matter how much traffic you must battle--you are still expected to attend major events. I don't know if this applies to people when they get to a certain level of busy-ness or have so clearly made a new life for themselves far away. Maybe Oprah's cousins still ask if she will be attending the annual Thanksgiving dinner. Perhaps George Clooney's sister expects him to attend her daughter's ballet recital. I don't know but I know in my family and in most families, this stuff is still expected.

3) It is the right, nay the duty, of those who have chosen to stay in the childhood town to make fun of those who moved to "the big city." Though you would not make fun of the podunk town you have escaped, they feel free to tell you that they would NEVER live in the city you have chosen. The traffic is awful, there are too many people, the housing is outrageous, and the last time they visited they had to pay $6.00 for a Coors Light!

4) It's best to sneak into town and out of town without telling too many people. No matter how many of the family and friends you want to visit you will never be able to see them all so you will have to resort to sneaking in to town. My sister now does this to me since two of her three kids live about 20 minutes from me. The fact is by the time you make the long drive and have a nice visit with whomever you've come to see you have NO energy or desire to try to cram in one more visit. I'm okay with that since I've had to do it for about 24 years now.

And finally, the most important rule of all:

5) Regardless of how long you've been away, and how much you love where you live it's nice to know that when you go back home, you are always welcome. Because that's what home is all about.

If I've missed any more rules (Jennifer K. I'm thinking of you by the way) please let me know.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


My former high school Spanish teacher, Ms. Serafa is retiring this month and I wanted to send her a photo of the fantastic trip to Spain she took us on in the summer of '77. So I dusted off my photo album and found this picture. Atticus (16)looked at it with disbelief. "Is that girl holding a cigarette?" he asked--yes, I explained, students used to smoke in front of their teachers if they were over 16. , "And what's in all those cups?" Beer and wine silly! We were in Spain for crying out loud!
Sometimes when I regale my kids with a story of my own teen years Atticus will sigh and say, "You guys had so much fun." Usually this is in reference to something stupid and reckless we did which is now prohibited (which would be pretty much everything)--such as doing donuts in the school parking lot on a snowy day or cruisin' down Main Street with six or seven girls in the car, the radio turned up, and one of us hanging on to a coat hanger because the car antennae had long since fallen off. Current laws forbid driving in a car with more than one non-related teenager until you are 18. The law is perfectly sensible but not much fun.
This picture is just photographic evidence of a time long gone when kids were allowed to get in trouble some times and teachers and parents did not bail their asses out if they did. At our last reunion a friend reminded me of a band trip they had taken to Jamaica in the late 70's. On the way back through customs, one of the drug dogs sniffed out the pot the drummer had (surprise) and the police pulled him aside. When it came time to board the plane the police were still working the idiot over. One of the chaperones said to Willie, our band director, "Hey what are we going to do about him?" and Willie said, "F*** him. We're going home." And they did. No one got sued. I don't think anyone was even annoyed with Willie for leaving the chuckle-head there. In fact, I think his parents let him sit in a Jamaican jail a day or two before coming to get him.
Yes, kids. These things really did happen once upon a time in America. Kids got in trouble and their parents made them pay the consequences without the help of attorneys and phone calls made to authorities (well, unless you were a Kennedy).
It was indeed a different time and I thank Ms. Serafa and her husband Pete who were only in their mid-20s when they took us all to Europe and allowed us to have fun and even if it meant we might get into trouble. I thank them for turning a blind eye to some of our behavior and thank Pete for pretending to believe us when we missed curfew and said it was because we had not set our watches to local time (three weeks into the trip). It was a great trip and I know it changed my life, opening up a world I did not know existed and showing a sheltered girl from the suburbs everything from the running of the bulls in Pamplona to the majesty of the Alhambra in Granada to the late night discos of Madrid.
Now, thanks to overprotective parents and aggressive law suits most teachers don't take these trips. Those who do go have to impose such restrictions on the kids and themselves that they pretty much take all the fun out of travel (a teacher friend recently chaperoned a trip to Ireland. No one, not even the adults when they were alone, had a beer. Not one beer on a trip to Ireland. I weep for humanity.)

So today I salute Ms. Serafa as she moves on from her 35 years of teaching. I thank her of course for her countless hours of fantastic classroom teaching. And I thank her and Pete for showing Europe to me and so many others for the first time. I wish them well as they move on to the next adventure in their lives and I hope they can have a fraction of the fun we all did that summer.
And to Atticus I say, you will have plenty of your own fun and you will be ultimately safer than we were.
But you're right, sometimes, we did have more fun.

Friday, June 11, 2010


We had a dumpster in the driveway a few weeks back. Nothing gets the neighbors talking like a dumpster in the driveway and I don't blame them. You see a dumpster and you know something big is going on--anything from a new bathroom all the way up to a complete house demolition.
So when my neighbors inquired about it I had fun giving them the truth--no project, just throwing some stuff away.

People reacted to this intel in two distinct ways --they either 1) became completely puzzled as to how someone could fill a dumpster of everyday household items or 2) were instantly smitten with the idea and wanted to know how to order one. The difference is based on whether the listener was a hoarder or a pitcher. I am obviously a pitcher. I am an extreme pitcher. If you set it down and don't use it for a few days I am likely to throw it out. Stuff does not make me feel good or comforted. It makes me feel smothered and claustrophobic.
As with all big house projects I didn't just wake up one day and say "I think I'll order a dumpster." No, it started with a small and simple sentence when Wine Friend 1 mentioned that she'd heard second refrigerators use a lot of electricity and we should unplug them. This is particularly relevant around here becaues just about everyone has a second refrigerator left over from a remodel (done back in the go-go mid-2000s) when we all put it in the garage or basement and filled it with extra beer. Then our kids became teenagers and we all emptied our refrigerators.
I went home and checked what was in my second fridge and found two boxes of very old Girl Scout cookies, a dish of pudding circa 2007, and crickets for Lilly's pet frog. I pitched it all (except the crickets) and unplugged the fridge.
But this story goes on in If You Give a Mouse a Cookie fashion because the very next day I was driving along when I heard an ad on the radio from ComEd telling me if I unplugged my second fridge they would come and haul it away AND pay me $25. The only caveat was they needed easy access to it. Which was a problem because it was in the basement in the former laundry room buried under seven years of crap and after careful consideration I decided there was really too much junk to just move it around into different piles. What I needed was to get rid of it all. What I needed was a dumpster. But, I wondered, how does that work?
The very next day I had my final Church Lady breakfast of the year and I threw the question out to the crowd. They are a very resourceful group of women and I knew if anyone would know, they would know. They did. Call our garbage service and they will bring you any size dumpster you want then pick it up when you want (for a price of course).
And that's why there was a dumpster in our driveway a couple weeks ago. First I cleared out the basement, then Jeff moved on to the shed, and finally he finished up with that attic above the garage. He was skekptical at first that we could fill a dumpster but we filled that puppy to the brim.

I share this with you all so that if you are a pitcher you may know how simple it is to achieve pitching nirvana. If you live with a hoarder, I am sorry as I know you could never pull this off and I know your opposing views on stuff cause domestic strife.
As for me, I'm just happy as a clam, light as a feather, and pleased as punch to be 6 square yards of junk lighter.
Oh yeah, and I got rid of the second fridge too. Thanks ComEd!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


So today I turn fifty and I thought I ought to say something about this momentous occasion. I don't have any particular wisdom to impart so I'll just share some random thoughts about the whole thing. To all my peers, NHS class of '78, this one's for you:

- First of all I have to say that fifty really is old. You can no longer put a good spin on it and saying "Fifty is the new forty" does not make it so. No matter how you slice it you are well into middle age and on your way to old age. But I don't find this dismaying--instead I find it liberating.We are grownups and we can stop running so fast and let those younger people carry some of the weight. At last we have arrived.

-At fifty you should stop trying to suck your stomach in. As a friend once said, "The other day I noticed the cat was sitting on my lap. Then I remembered I don't have a cat." The point is, by 50 everyone has a cat sitting on his or her lap. Stop trying to fight it. Enjoy your cat. Exhale.

-We are happier: new studies out just this week declare it so. Happiness peaks at 18, declines rapidly as the real world throws its crap at us and doesn't pick up again until we are 50. So if you feel as good as you did your senior year in high school, you are probably 50 or older. Life IS good.

-People who fight too hard against aging look foolish. Madonna and Melanie Griffith come to mind. Yes they might be thinner or tauter but they are also kind of freaky. They do not look better. So do not try to be like them. As my friend Christie Mellor says in the title of her book, "You Look Fine, Really". Most people would rather look at Meryl Streep than Madonna. Embrace your inner Meryl Streep.

-And finally, when you have an older sister, mother, and grandmother still alive and all quite active, how old can you really feel? Yes, when my sister got her first AARP card (8 years ago) she said it made her feel old. Then my mom pointed out that when your first child gets her AARP card you feel old. Then my grandma chimed in saying that when your first grandchild gets her AARP card you feel really old. So how old can I feel? We have many more years ahead and miles to go before we sleep. Just ask my grandma.

Happy birthday to the class of '78. Happy birthday to us all.