Sunday, December 28, 2014

Stories for the Boy

Will's coming home party, 5/30/09

First, a few changes to the blog.

I've decided to do away with the monthlies "What's Right with the World" and the "GR Foodie." WRWTW was basically turning into a Typing Out Loud and GRF is a topic that is well covered in internet-land and I didn't find much joy in writing about food.

So, what's up?

Starting in January, I will do a monthly feature on childhood stories, either mine or about Will. As I'm losing more and more of my elder relatives (RIP Ciocia Stella and Uncle Poncho), I'm sad in the realization that I don't know many of their stories. I'm hoping as my dearest husband is reading this, that he feels the need to share a few of his stories for this memoir of sorts.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Typing Out Loud: Did I Win the Battle and the War?

cue the Pink Floyd cash register

Back in 2010, I was approached by a flower company to write their spring 2011 catalog. They asked for a quote and were delightfully surprised how affordable I was going to be. I, in turn, was eager to prove to this new client I would be worth the investment. Given a specific deadline, I turned the project in under budget, five days early. When no revisions hit my inbox, I billed and waited for my check.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

When it hit 90 days past due, I hit them with a past due penalty and attempted to phone my contact, who was happily boating in the Caribbean according to his facebook posts.

120 days.

150 days.

180 days.

This was getting ridiculous. Dave suggested talking to his lawyer friend, who drafted a letter on my behalf regarding the delinquent bill.

Then I get a phone call, from the president/owner of the company. He spun a homemade tale of financial woe in order to persuade me to drop my case. I swear I could hear his thumbs sliding up and down is suspenders. He said, "we declared bankruptcy before the season, so we didn't even use your copy." He cut-rated me to $500 to drop the case. Then he tried pulling the small town I'm-just-an-Andy-Griffith-type trying to feed my family, to which I replied "so am I sir, so am I." He then threatened that if I went through with litigation, the chances were high I wouldn't see a penny. Facing a dwindling payout of $1600 to $500 to $0, I was simply furious, and replied "you'll be hearing from my lawyer."

Talking to my lawyer, he said it was good I didn't accept the cut rate because then they could write me off as a entity they owed less than $1000 to.

Over the course of the next three years, I received a ream of paper from the attorney's office, a play-by-play of court proceedings as the company was dismantled. It was a legal soap opera of who was getting what, who was getting shut out. It was made very clear that my stake was minuscule compared to the lawyers, suppliers,  IRS, and the family. I was last in line. By mid-2013, I was pretty sure I was getting nothing and most of the paperwork I received in 2014 did nothing to change my mind, with wording that equated to "if there was anything left, I would be getting 5 cents on the dollar the amount owed." A lousy nickel!

In September, around my birthday, I received a letter stating that as of October 14, the case would close permanently. As 10/14 came and went, I decided to accept it was over and while I won a case, I lost since I saw no money.

Then I got a letter in the mail today, along with a check for $48 or 3 cents on the dollar.

Getting such a paltry sum should seem like a loss, but for some reason, I'm treating it like a victory. I am proud of the job I did, knowing I gave them my best writing. I didn't back down, I stuck up for myself when the suit tried dismissing me. And once I received the check, I immediately alerted my lawyer, with the promise of paying him his 30% cut, or $15, because while others may do shady business, it's important that I conduct business with integrity.

What to do with $33? I want to do something with it to make the investment last well past expectations. Practicality won, and I took advantage of a year-end deal in order to get new glasses and oontacts. I got a very glamorous pair of new glasses for under $40. Since my last pair lasted 10 years, I would say that was a very wise investment in my payout.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Why Art Matters: Mission Statement Piece

I was given the task of creating a piece of art for my department, replacing a piece of "corporate" art that had grown so dull and faded, all the colors were a muted blue-green.

The assignment was given to me in July, with a deadline in October.

One of the roadblocks I faced was the recycling aspect. I was given the framed piece and told to replace it. Again, a dull blue green with a gray border. Talk about artist's block!

And given the corporate color of hunter green, I felt the obligation to work within the blue-green-gray palette. I created a steely cage around my creativity on top of that.

So my brain rebelled, and I had the mad desire to go in the opposite direction. I wanted a warm palette that incorporated the exact opposite. Give me, red, orange and gold please. But what to do with those colors?

I was driving home from the rink, at the 4-way stop at 8th and Leonard. The service ditch was alive with a riot of wildflowers and reeds, practically on fire in the light of the setting sun. I was struck by the philosophy of all gardeners who consider weeds to be plants in search of a purpose. Abstract thoughts flew, God as a gardener, those struggling with mental illness in search of health and purpose, etc.

I found my inspiration.

I fiddled in photoshop and illlustrator to sketch out my idea, but again, my fingers itched to create and touch. I wanted to do this by hand, I did not want to churn this out in a computer program.

I headed over to T-Square and spent entirely too much time enjoying the process of selecting the papers. Comparing and contrasting, switching things in and out, I found my colors.

Next, I drew my landscape on the backside of my paper. I drew daisies, bee balm, cattails, dandelions, grasses, and thistles. With a steady hand, I got out my xacto knife, and carefully cut away the excess, leaving behind a beautiful late summer silhouette.

The craft part kicked in, and I used spray glue to adhere the silhouette to its backing. I was left with spot glue issues, an issue with the technique employed. Hm. The simplest solution was using the excess paper and a craft punch, stamping out enough dandelion fluffs to hide the problem. The happy accident led to a whimsical illustrative effect that was missing from the piece as it was.

I created the statement plate in a classic font in a golden brown and had it printed on cream paper, staying in the warm color palette. To frame, I again chose cream border and a brushed gold frame. This was a challenge, as the assistant at Michaels was entirely too enthusiastic, and got carried away, picking heavy gold scrolls, double frames, border on border. I had to pull her back, stating the framing was becoming more important than the artwork. The other challenge was the size of the piece and the cost of framing. While I wasn't given a budget, I knew the original quote of $60 was going to be too much. I pressed for and finally got her to find an economy border and frame that would be more suitable for the custom work.

The piece was completed and deliver in October, 2014.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Typing Out Loud: RBR submission, the 2015 edition

They have given me so many free runs through their "Submit Your Story" program, I'm almost embarrassed to try it yet another year.

But try I must. I think since music propels me, it must also guide me.

There are many runners who proudly collect their bibs and medals, posting their personal best times on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Me? Under my bed is my boot box. While the box does indeed contain bibs and medals, instead of collecting finish times, I've been inscribing the lid with finish line songs.

In my other competitive life, I'm a figure skater, motivated by music to portray characters that are funny, abstract, and ethereal. I'm keenly aware of how a great tune can push you to new and greater heights. I always build my playlists with that in mind.

I celebrated Detroit to ELO's "Hold on Tight to Your Dreams." It was me and U2's "Elevation" finishing the River Bank Run. I celebrated the Diemer with Bruce Springsteen's "Girls in Their Summer Clothes" and danced at the Color Run to the Isley Brothers "Shout!" Almost every single race in 2013 was finished with a Beatles song.

My training/personal dance party was halted this summer by surgery and forced convalescing. As recovery was slow, I faced the decision to drop out of the Detroit international half and do the 5k instead. When it came time to resume training, I was painfully slow, and pouted. But never say quit; by time I participated in the Step Out for Diabetes (B-52s "Love Shack"), I changed my perspective by including all the finish line songs in a playlist titled "Bulldog, You're Still in the Race."

And the Detroit 5k? Off my PB by more than 6 minutes. But another gem for the boot box, scrawled in Sharpie for 10/18: Dee Lite's "Groove is in the Heart."

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

December Playlist: Christmas Music that Doesn't Suck

We adults here at Georgetown will be scaling it back a bit for our show.

I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas music this time of the year. First, there's the fact it starts the very moment the last fun-sized candy bar hits some kid's pillowcase. Second, the same ol' same ol' gets trotted out every year. Most importantly is the diva requirement that the latest pop princess assault our ears with their wink-wink-nudge-nudge interpretation of "Santa Baby."

So what's good?

Riu Chiu, The Monkees - for every critic out there, Mickey Dolenz' lead backed by a Tork/Nesmith/Jones harmony puts any manufactured claim to rest.

Oh Holy Night, Donna Summer - while I'm a critic of the glory note, all is forgiven in this breathtaking song. I list Donna because I recall her note perfect performance on Solid Gold as a kid, but really, almost any diva rendition will do.

The Happy Elf, Harry Connick Jr. - so this month I was desperately digging up pieces to skate to for the annual Christmas show. Why not use the above songs? Riu Chiu is acapella, and impossible to skate to in a large auditorium. OHN is usually snapped up by May. I dragged up a pile of Christmas CDs to evaluate, and this one jumped right out. I don't know a thing about this song other than it saved me from skating to something dull.

Gabriel's Message, Sting - oh, my first ever skating Christmas show solo! Fitting because I was the angel Gabriel in both the 7th and 8th grade Christmas pageants. It was a favorite from the Very Special Christmas albums.

Christmas in Hollis, Run DMC - "But each and every year we bust Christmas carols!"

We Three Kings - I did a little research, thinking this was going to be something culled from a stone tablet etched in a monastery from the Medieval period. Nope, written by a rector from a church in Pennsylvania in the mid 1800s. This may be next year's selection, if I can rock a middle Eastern look.

St. Stanislaus Church, Christmas evening bell service - temperatures in the low teens, and I took my lovely son out for a walk so we could listen to the bells. Traditionally, the bells started at noon on Christmas Eve, and rang until midnight. One of my favorite memories is playing outside in 1979 and listening to the bells all day.

Sleigh Ride, Spice Girls - it's overplayed for a reason. This version the harmonies are oh so fun. Have considered skating it in a snowmobile suit.

Christmas Can Can, Straight No Chaser - acapella with attitude.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

What's Right in the World: A New Season!

Two sports where not that long ago, I was a no-sport.

The last (?) 5k of the year was on October 18. I took three ice dancing tests October 31. What better way to turn the leaf than declare my seasons over and start a-fresh on November 1? First, a look back.

For the season, I ran the River Bank Run 10k, The Diemer 5k, Sniff out Sugar 5k, Detroit Freep 5k. I completed the Team Orphans Virtual Ironman as well as the YMCA Summer Sweat Challenge. I participated in non-timed events too, Stomp Out Stigma, Rx Run, The Color Run, Step out of Darkness, and the Step Out Diabetes.

I got a PB on the Sugar Run. I got my mojo back at the Diemer. I participated in a variety of events, many of them free since they were sponsored by the hospital I work at. And I "beat the Bob!"

My brain needs to shut up. My hips need to stop hurting. I beat myself up over the failure to run the international half.

Cool Stuff
The swag keeps me coming back. So many water bottles. The medals for all my competitive races were great. At the Diabetes race, we got shoelaces instead of a medal. I received team gear for representing Pine Rest as well as Grand Rapids Running Club. Shirts that will stay in rotation instead of regulated to t-shirt quilt material include Color Run, Ironman, Detroit, Stigma and the Diemer - I love the donut! And I've developed a really nice finish line play list based on the song I listened to as I crossed the tape.

Future for 14/15 Season
My sole focus on the season was the international half in October. I got earnest, focused, dedicated. I felt that by running the 10k in May, I was well on my way towards proper training. And I was... until biology conspired against me and I limped along post- surgery to the decision to drop out of the 13.1 and do the modest 3.1.

But something strange happened in my head. The half was never on my bucket list. The international half marathon on 10/19/14 was. Once that goal came and went, my brain shrugged, and said "there's that." I made the very adult choice to stick with the 5k/10k distances. And I was ok with that. Which leads me to...

I competed at Royal Skatefest, Adult Nationals, and Skate the Zoo. I tested the preliminary solo dances.

Gold in Royal Oak, attempting an axel for the first time. Three golds at Skate the Zoo. Three solid skates at Adult Nationals, including making the front page of IceNetwork's event coverage on Friday. And I passed all three dance to finish the season.

I was disappointed I didn't compete as much as I wanted, but I think I distracted myself with running. My axel attempt was a big ol' fail, as I was given credit for a weak waltz jump from one judge and the other two asked "what WAS that?!"

Cool Stuff
I could list every single moment of Adult Nationals, but instead steer readers to my post back in April. While convalescing post-surgery, I was on a strict "no jump, no spin, no run" order from my doctor, so I worked on dances, moves and all the turns. I got choctaws, rockers, and counters. It was cool. And most importantly, passing my dances renewed my love and faith in skating, and I was able to refocus my love of sport BACK to skating, regulating running to a supporting role.

Future for 14/15
Time to focus! One of my own quotes hit me as I was cleaning out my skate bag: celebrate the journey. Tests to pass include gold moves and the juvenile solo free dance. Competitions to do include Wyandotte, Lansing, and maybe GRO, with the ultimate goal being qualifying to compete at National Showcase in August, 2015. Bonus: competing at GRO also would qualify me for State Games of America which are coming to Grand Rapids in a few years.

Competition programs: Grade 9, Barenaked Ladies (comedy); Hot Stuff, Donna Summer (comedy duo); Magic Man, Heart (silver free skate); Sea of Love, Honeydrippers (juvenile solo free dance test).

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Typing Out Loud: The Customer is Always Right?

I'm sorry... we don't serve ketchup with filet.

There has been of rash of stories in the news lately of outrageous claims by disgruntled customers, who get their comeuppance by owners who just aren't taking it anymore.


A woman in Kansas City requested takeout from a restaurant that plates 7 course meals and does not offer takeout. She threatened to write a scathing review on yelp (which she did) and sue because her husband is a lawyer. The restaurant basically said, "bring it on."

A similar situation happened locally, where a bargain hunter wandered into a favorite establishment on a Friday night, dismayed that she would have to wait for a table since she had not made a reservation when at least "4 or 5  other groups that came in after her were seated right away." Jenna stood her ground, maintaining the restaurant's policy of priority seating for patrons who make reservations.

I have been a carhop, hostess, waitress, cook, bartender, drink girl, and event planner/organizer. I have worked in customer service and public service positions in a variety of fields. Having been in the work force since the age of 14, this is what I know:

The "customer is always right" is NOT a rule, it's a business philosophy.

Let me explain.

The philosophy of "CIAR" is based in discovering customer service solutions and better business practices. Take the angry bistro lady: had she perhaps calmly explained her dilemma, perhaps the owner would have said, "you're right, we should offer a bistro menus for patrons on the go," and come up with a solution that would create a win-win.

But it's not a rule. Given the art of plating and presentation for fine dining, throwing a dinner that should be served on a hot plate into a Styrofoam container to be eaten with a plastic fork is just wrong. And the idea of a customer always being right creates entitled patrons who feel it is their right to abuse staff, create unreasonable demands, and worse of all, stiffing wait staff on tips. It creates an atmosphere where the server becomes the servant.

You do have the right as a patron spending hard-earned dollars to have a great time. But don't abuse that right.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why Art Matters: director John Waters

Awesomely sick bastard.

I'm going to keep this one short and use one scene to explain the odd appeal of shock/schlock director John Waters.

In his mainstream breakthrough movie Hairspray, Waters has teens Tracy and Penny dancing and making out with boyfriends Seaweed and Linc in an alleyway after a record hop at Motormouth Maybelle's shop. Kicking a rat aside, with Toussant McCall playing a homeless man while singing "Nothing Takes the Place of You," Tracy sighs and says to Linc, "Isn't this romantic?"

There is something so nakedly truthful about that scene and Tracy's sentiment.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

November Playlist: Lenny

So hot.

My introduction to Lenny Kravitz was in '89 when he was an indie rock darling with a crazy pop culture pedigree as son of a 70s sitcom star and husband of an 80s sitcom star. He was also a disciple of 60s peace and love rock, a formula that has lasted for 25 years.

He ping-pongs between rock star and everyman. He can lead an arena in chanting his name, but will randomly stop and jam with street musicians. I have fallen quite star-struck to still revel in the thrill of having gotten a hug from him during one of his "I wanna be one with the crowd" chants during one of his concerts. We've seen him at least 4 times.

I've gotten away from his music as local stations frustratingly do not play his new stuff. The local classic rock station rigid in its formula, it doesn't even play his old stuff. As he moves onto the next phase of his career as well being the dad to model actress Zoe, it may be time to put him back in rotation.

Let Love Rule: his calling card, his 30 minute peace and love singalong at his shows.

My Precious Love: mesmerizing ode to Lisa.

Always on the Run: jazz funk that is pure rock.

Stand By My Woman: if I had to pick one song of his that is my favorite, this is it. It is soulful, passionate, sexy.

All I Even Wanted: co-written by Sean Lennon, who couldn't have been more than 16 at the time.

Are You Going to Go My Way? It's the song everyone knows and everyone rocks out to. That drum line is so hard. The question rhetorical, of course we are.

Believe: A marketing exec could have easily positioned Lenny as a Christian rocker based on this tune. And out-rocked the whole lot of them.

Just Be A Woman: kind of Stand part II. Definitely bedroom material.

Circus: Lenny wrote this album, IIRC, in response to his grandfather and mother's illnesses and subsequent deaths. The Circus, I believe, is the chaos that is being an adult child facing the end of your elders.

Beyond the 7th Sky: more groovy Christian rock.

Can't Get You Off My Mind: more "girl, I love you" rock.

Supersoulfighter: more jazz funk dragged through the 60s.

I Belong to You: that Lenny sure is a romantic fella...

Fly Away: straight up rocker that has been used for a ton of sporting event b-footage bumpers since its release. There is footage on youtube of him leaving a morning show in NYC, like the Today show and him overhearing a group of school kids rehearsing this song for a concert in the park. He walked over and assisted in conducting the show, and only joined in singing when coaxed into it by the kids, not wanting to show up their efforts.

Little Girl's Eyes: Zoe has been Lenny's muse since she was born and this is sweet.

American Woman: one of his few remakes, this one done for the Austin Powers film franchise, that eventually became the name of his tour in, I want to say 2006...? By this time, he was no longer a true headliner and while the show was great, the venue was half full and a few songs into the show, he encouraged people to call friends at home to just come "fill the seats" on him. Yeah, there's no cell service in the Van Andel and I'm not sure how many people came to partake in the freebie.

Dig In: more of what makes him awesome.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

GR EAT! Food Diary for Sep/Oct

Headin' on down to Donutville!

After a whirlwind week of eating out, we've stayed in more. Still, I had some tasty vittles along the way.

9/25: Noodles & Co. A chain I know, but I had the birthday freebie, and it was worth noting the Thai Hot Pot. This was delicious. Knowing chains tend to make things a bit more generic for the general public, I look forward to a hot pot from a real Thai restaurant.

10/4: homecoming, Schuberg's. Instead of going with the standard burger that made them famous, I wanted something a little leaner and neater, opting for the steak sandwich and cole slaw. It hit the spot perfectly, a petite sirloin served open faced on a grilled piece of bread with sautéed mushrooms. The slaw was coarse cut with carrot slivers in a mayo-vinegar base. Even though I got no potatoes, I snuck a few from Ryan's plate. The tater tots absorbed a little too much grease.

10/8: Robinette's. Homemade deep fried cake donut, fresh from the fryer. No icing, no sugaring off, just cake. How can something be so heavy and so light at the same time?

10/10: Russ' lunch with Cara. Counts as local since it's a Holland based chain of family restaurants. Cara's grandma used to work there, and knows how to make the secret creamed turkey and French dressing from scratch. She went with the comfort food of her childhood, the fried clams and Slim Jim. I went with the cole slaw and open faced turkey sandwich.

10/13: Perrin's Brewing. I had a couple onion rings, tomato basil soup with herby flat bread and a taco. Also had the single rail ale and Gilda's Cherry. The onion rings were thick and crunchy, with an herb panko bread crumb batter. I could have lived on the soup and flat bread alone. The taco...? Heavy with cilantro so not my favorite, but my fault, not theirs. The ale was light and delicious, and the cherry was pretty but the flavor not to my liking, I wanted more fruit, blame my love for lambics.

10/15: Rak Thai. Forgot dinner, oops. Was on a soup kick, so ordered the Pho. It's essentially a hot pot with rice noodles, jalapeños, herbs, beef broth, shoots, brisket and meatballs. Pho-nomenal. I really could have even done without the beef and gone for a mix of veggies. The portion is so huge, I ate two small bowls and have more left for tomorrow.

10/18: Donutville, Dearborn. Post-race indulgence. I ate a maple on the way home and a lemon bismark with powdered sugar the next day. Iconic roadside sign, bare basics inside, ie., no cronuts, bagels, croissants, lattes, herbal teas, coconut or soy milk. Coffee, donuts. What they do advertise is over 52 variety of donuts, fluffy and airy.

10/19: Real Food Cafe. I feel like this may be cheating because this is a usual spot for us, but we haven't eaten there since the foodie challenge started. I went with my usual corned beef hash and eggs, wheat toast. The portions are huge, so I had enough left over for dinner. I eat the eggs first while they are hot. Over easy there is so delicious and buttery, you want to eat them first. The wheat toast is nutty. The corned beef... oh my. They slow cook it and strip just the right amount of fat off so the meat is tender and juicy but never greasy. The taters the right amount of tender and crispy.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Typing Out Loud: AP15 ideas

Art! Angst!

So I didn't submit for AP this year. When I think back to wonder why, I can look no further than my typing out loud post from June.

So... better planning for this next year?

I have a few ideas I'd like to play with, so I guess this is a typing out loud stream of consciousness sketch book.

42|12: a visual obituary for my dad. My idea was a piece of glass 80" x 10", depicting his lifeline measuring 69 inches in strong, stark colors.

Pancerz, 1928: a cut paper reproduction of my grandmother's family portrait. Why cut paper? To turn it into a family tree of sorts. By adding a lily plant and a rose bush, it's a way to include Stella and Leona, who were born after the picture was taken. By adding cut paper elements like leaves to the tree that frames the photo, every descendant that springs from those children can be in the picture too.

Temporary: paper mache. As a graphic designer, I'm painfully aware that most of the work I have completed in my career has been well crafted but has a short shelf life and ultimately discarded. I was planning on making a fine art-like sculpture of paper mache that may be destroyed at the end of AP.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Why Art Matters: Old School Baseball Logos

Collecting these by eating too much ice cream is another post for another time.

Baseball season is in the first week of exciting playoff games, so thoughts turn to old school baseball logos.

There is a charm to old logos, one that comes from nostalgia of course. But having been educated in the school of legendary graphic designers like Saul Bass, I get giddy when a logo multi-tasks. Example would be the Milwaukee Brewers logo that is not only an M and B but also a baseball mitt. Genius!

Another old school logo in this same vein comes from the now defunct Montreal Expos, the E, L, B blending to create an M.

Some logos, since retired that incorporated the team mascot have a distinct appeal as well, such as the Cincinnati Reds, San Diego Padres.

Ah, but my favorite from growing up would have to be the Houston Astros sunset rainbow softball jersey. So 70s it hurts.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October Playlist: The Spice Girls

This one is going to be short because their career was so brief. They are resurrected due to the movie Spice World popping up on Netflix. Yes it was terrible, but everyone involved was in on the joke.

I was first introduced to the girls Spice in aerobics class, when Wannabe was everywhere. Their message simple, their beat borrowed, their enthusiasm infectious. When I went on my honeymoon to the UK, the daily paper delivered to our door was in the throes of Spice Girl Week, and featured collectible trading stickers. It was such a happy time in life that their music also became a bookmark for the year 1997.

As with anything pop star phenom, they had the books, the collectibles, the dolls, the movie and of course, you argued which one was your favorite. My favorites were, of course Scary, Ginger then Sporty. Baby was ok, but Posh was worthless.

Grown up Spices. Wha' dya do with yer curls then Scary?

As with anything, some of their songs have the timeless sheen of pop magic that will always sound great. Others have dated horribly but were good at the time.

So music-wise, what was good?

Wannabe: Opening with a bawdy laugh and a crash of music, the girls made the party happen in 96/97. Scary leads and the girls trash the place.

2 Become 1: If I was in high school in '97, this would have been the IT song for me. Since I wasn't, I was content to watch in amusement when I used to go dancing in bars with the girls. Pure torch, and a vocal highlight for Emma.

Who Do You Think U Are: Girls tarted it up for the video, a bar hop dance club stomper. Very disco.

If U Can't Dance: Throwaway giggle at the end of the of album with a wicked little horn.

Say You'll Be There: It's one of the bigger singles from the album, not a favorite except for the homage to the movie Faster Pussycat Kill, KILL!

Spice Up Your Life: "Flamenco, Lambada... But hip hop is harder! We moonwalk the foxtrot, then polka the salsa... Shake it shake it shake it, haka!" Arriba Scary.

Stop: So 60s girl group. Charming, adorable. Posh's vocals are horrendous.

Viva Forever: Another torcher that has a touch of melancholy when you realize that by time this was released as a single, Ginger had already left the group, citing exhaustion. In later years, she acknowledges the whirlwind ride that was those two years, all while battling bulimia. Girl power comes as a sacrifice. The video is a terrifying fantasy sequence where the girls are puppet fairies that lead a tween into the woods and kidnap him/her (the child is very ambiguous). hiding him/her in a Rubik's Cube of death or something. Interviews with the band state the fate of the tween was left ambiguous, representing the death of a person/friendship/etc. YouTube viewers state it was the stuff of nightmares.

Lady is a Vamp: Roll credits on Spice World, the movie so bad it's great. Pure burlesque, the girls name drop icons from the sixties on. Seems sorrily dated to be celebrating "power girls in a 90s world" in 2014. I think I still own a bustier, not for public consumption...

I'm The Leader of the Gang (Come On): Not a single on any album nor a hit anywhere, but a fun, energetic romp in the middle of the Spice World movie where they perform in Milan with near naked Italian models. Deleted scene with Gary Glitter, who shortly after filming was the subject of a pedophile scandal. Oops. Nifty nod to the glam rock era for which they borrowed, I wish I had a complete single somewhere. Best I could do was a crappy version someone spliced together from deleted scenes. I listen to the Girlschool version instead.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

GR EAT! A Foodie Promise

ICE CREAM! Mom, throw me some money!

Dave and I went out for a family drive to get ice cream and cruise downtown to see what was going on. We lamented all the eateries and shops we haven't visited in lieu of take out chinese and pizza delivery.

So we made a pact, dating back to my birthday: we will visit no chain restaurants, only local fare for a whole year.

There are exceptions, like business meetings, work potlucks or invitations for which we are not in charge of the party.

That said, we have already been living by example this week.

9/13, some yacht club out in Holland for a benefit. The typical plated dinner fare, but what stood out was the slice potato au gratin and stuffed shrimp in hollandaise sauce.

9/15, birthday at The Score. Ordered spring rolls, disappointed they were deep fried. Ordered the lobster roll upon a friend's recommendation, was an expensive tuna sandwich. Won't be back.

9/19, dinner with the family at Walker Roadhouse. I have never had a bad meal there, ever. Portions very generous, I had the mushroom sage pork chop special, with garlic mashed potatoes and balsamic brussel sprouts. Had half a pork chop at breakfast yesterday and will have the other chop and mashed potatoes for lunch today - that his how much food you get.

9/20, family drive to Furniture City Creamery. I had beer ice cream, no really. It was Elk Brewing's Black IPA ice cream, a surprise and revelation. It was flavorful and rich without being cloyingly sweet. A treat for grown ups to be sure.

This week, with a benefit, a birthday and family visiting we went out more than usual, but I will check in from time with food updates. All signs are pointing to the Mediterranean next.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Typing Out Loud: Grace

Someone I had a difficult relationship with recently passed away. Karma tested me by presenting me with the opportunity to play messenger, and deliver the news to mutual friends and colleagues since I was in the unique position to be the only person to see the obituary.

Saying we had a difficult relationship is underwhelming. To say this woman hated me is an understatement. She unleashed a vicious campaign behind my back to discredit me and successfully blocked a promotion. She was always angry, dismissive and outraged in my presence. "What are YOU doing here?!" she had snarled more than once when I walked into a room.

So how was I going to set about sharing the information, in effect, eulogizing her to our peers, the very group she attempted not so long ago to turn against me?

To ignore the information and not share it would be too easy. It would also be classless. Snarky would be too easy too, and I just wasn't raised that way.

What to do?

Being in the modern world, I typed a carefully worded email to a few "powers that be," apologized for the impersonal email but was compelled to share the news of this person's passing, and provided a link to the obituary online, knowing more than a few people would want to know.

A week later, I was at an event where people talked of her passing, and thanked me for allowing them to mourn. By sharing, it meant more people were willing to talk. And I learned a few things. While it doesn't forgive the way I was treated, I got a little insight into WHY and more importantly, how it may not have been about me at all.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Why Art Matters: I Made a Pinata!

Finished product, the model, and the birthday girl ready to swing.

As we get older, it gets harder to impress friends with gifts. For my friend Denise's birthday, a milestone 40th, she asked Dave and I to host a party on her behalf. Cups, plates and location are all well and good, but I wanted to do something special. Dave mentioned off-hand having a piñata, and I went off on the idea from there.

The overarching theme to the party was wine, so I decided to make a wine bottle piñata. I started with two sheets of poster board and a toilet paper roll. Fancy!

I rolled one sheet into a cylinder, then cut a large circle out of the second piece. I cut that to the center and rolled it into a cone, and taped the toilet paper roll to the peak to form the top of the bottle, then taped all the pieces together.

Once I had that done, I made a 1:1 flour and water paste, adding a dash of salt, the classic kid paper mache formula. I ripped newspaper into strips of approximately 1 1/2" strips, dipped it in the mix, squeegeed the strips between two fingers, and covered my form. Because of the summer humidity, I turned the fan on in the half bath and "cured" the piñata in the little room.

Once it was dry, I had to cover the base. I covered it in criss crossed strips, and secured the strips by wrapping the pieces around the "bottle" and letting them cure.

Using regular acrylics, I painted the bottle green with a silver foil top. In Photoshop, I created a label using pictures of Denise skating in the perfect merlot skating dress.

Once it was dry, I cut a hole in the bottle and began to fill it with goodies. Still unsure of how stable the piñata would be, I alternated layers of treats based on weight. I hit up the party section at the dollar store and got plastic leis, Chinese finger cuffs, yo-yos, birthday greeting wrapped candies, stickers, Tiger pops, hard candies, horn blowers and glitter. I chose the perfect amount, the very last thing filling the piñata to the top.

It was a big hit, to say the least. Once Dee busted it open, everyone dived for the prizes.

As far as arts-n-crafts projects go, this was easy and almost therapeutic. I enjoyed the challenge of making something I haven't made since Girl Scouts and secretly hope another piñata making is in my future. Maybe even Ferris Homecoming...

Monday, September 1, 2014

September Playlist: Exceptions to the Rule

Whitney channeling the Supremes. Florence says, "Gurl, please."

I hate to label myself a music snob, but sometimes, I just cannot tolerate schlocky crap. The biggest genre that offends me is the pop diva songstress. I feel like I have to turn in my girl card for my lack of enthusiasm for those soft rock song birds, but I just can't bring myself to fully embrace their catalog and pay $350 to see them in concert.

Except... for one single.

This is not a conscious decision on my part. I do not dole out one piece of pop music like a singular chocolate candy, indulging in just one bite. It just sort of happened that way.

Mariah Carey, Vision of Love: power diva extraordinaire, I adored this debut single and was very open to more of her music. This is a lovely song, very reminiscent of torchy ballads from the 70s. Then came the vocal gymnastics...

Celine Dion, Heart Will Go On: I didn't despise Celine, I just didn't get her. I reacted to her story (poor Canadian wunderkind with voice of angel, rags to riches if you will) with a bland "good for you." Then Titanic happened and something about her delivery was oh so operatic and awesome, soft and touching then soaring and soul crushing. Then back to bland.

Whitney Houston, I'm Your Baby Tonight: Pretty show pony released one bright shiny penny of a single after another, all with the depth of a teaspoon. Then came the Greatest Love of All, which some saw as self-empowering, I saw as indulgent and laughed when it was parodied in the movie Say Anything. Then came this single, and I found the music complex, and her delivery mature and interesting. I. Loved. This. Song.

Nickelback, Rock Star: Nickelback probably doesn't deserve the vile hate heaped upon them, but I do find them bland. So what, they are laughing all the way to the bank, making fun of themselves in the video for this song. It is charming, self-depreciating, and infectious, but in a good way. Haters gonna hate.

Katy Perry, Waking Up in Vegas and Last Friday Night and Dark Horse: Saucy debut about lesbian experimentation caught everyone's attention, and human cartoon/confection rides a wave of fame that is now 7 years and counting. I don't like most of her music, and find her silly. BUT! I find her sense of humor and self-awareness amusing. She is in on her joke, and for that I respect her. I also seem to have fallen into a Katy Perry "meh... meh... meh... OMG I LOVE THIS!" pattern through her 3 albums.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

What's Right with the World: Summer Resolutions, the Results

I got dirty.

I cannot believe Will is heading to school next week, a clear indicator that summer is almost over. At the beginning and over the course of the summer, I made a few resolutions.

So how'd I do?

In May, I resolved to not go shopping for the summer and instead use what I had in my closet. Outside of one trip to H&M and one 4th of July sale, I managed to stay out of stores until last night. I broke the vow in pursuit of fall and winter jackets for Will, getting him ready for school. It was great to be forward thinking and I nabbed him two jackets for $12. Since my ban was over, I managed two shirts for myself as well. Maybe it was because Will was with me, but I found I was less tolerant of combing racks for a good deal and was willing to pay a little extra for a fabulous top instead of sticking to the strict "69 cent Saturday madness." I'm content with what I added to my wardrobe and have no burning desire to go on any sprees. But I reserve the right to change my mind once the urge for sweaters hits.

The summer was also supposed to be devoted to a triple threat: skating, training for the half marathon in October and completing the Summer Sweat Challenge.

Hm. Results from this is a mixed bag since I had surgery end of July and was in pain the whole month of July leading up to it.

Luckily, I missed very little skating as a result; however the skating before the surgery was compromised, and the three weeks after was nothing more than stroking, dancing and working on turns. The bonus was turns clinics I haven't done in forever, and the result was getting all my forward rockers, learning to be comfortable with the counters as well as choctaws. What sucked is not spinning ro jumping for a month, and losing ground on getting programs put together.

Training for the half marathon... *sigh* this was an all and out fail. I did run a few races this summer, the Deimer Donut 5k, the Rx Run, the Color Run and the Sniff out Sugar 5k. What resulted was weird pain that shot through my ovaries, up my abs and down my inner thighs while wrapping around my hips. WTF? I lost ground during all of this, sometimes even taking a flash nap in the afternoon. I never nap. Instead of increasing my miles, I was doing only 1-2 miles at a time. Post-surgery, Dave asked me to withdraw from the half. I was already 3 week behind in training, with the promise I would be 6 weeks behind once I was given clearance by the doctor to resume normal activities. I transferred my entry from the 13.1 to the 5 last week.

How did I know I was that far behind? Look no further than the Summer Sweat Challenge. SSC is a 10 week endurance race pitting you against other Y members in categories of strength, workout, endurance, activity and community. I struggled with some of the easiest challenges, feeling defeated instead of invigorated. BUT at last look, I was in second place heading into the last week, me and Barry in a league all our own. Not bad for a gal who was in and out of ERs and surgery in July -- thank God for those "eat vegetables and give up pop" weeks to stay in the game!

So, the surgery. There are complications that arise when one has PCOS and is heading into her menopause years. Body does strange things. Wreaks havoc with your melon too.

In response to the self esteem beating I have taken, I responded with the post below this, a month of "you go girl!" Eh, some days I struggled to come up with more than a shallow "you rock" but other days I woke with a "hey, you got all your jumps back yesterday" or "good job handling the crisis at work" or even a "lick your wounds and get on with it." Nice to know I'm capable of getting on with it.

Bring it on, autumn.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Typing Out Loud: 31 Days of Daily Affirmation


News-wise, this has been a bummer of a week. Personally, it's been a bummer of a summer too as I have dealt with some medical issues, my body defiantly resisting righting the ship through diet and exercise.

Wah wah wah.

I also woke up yesterday beating myself up for a myriad of reasons. Could have been my hair. Could have been worrying about bills I caused with recent illnesses. Could have been the fact I tried on my skinny jeans and they protested the fit.

I also have the awful habit of laying in bed and reading Facebook posts as well, and have been inundated with a variety of invites to join various 30-day challenges, like 30 days of thankfulness, 30 days of burpees, 30 days of fitness, 30 days of vegetarianism.

Suddenly, I was hit with the realization it's a month before my 45th birthday. A selfless person most of the time, I gear up for a week of vanity I cheerfully dub "birthfest" which begins around September 8 and concludes September 16.

Why not turn this next month into 30 days of self-affirmation? Thirty-one mornings of "you rock girl!" cheerleading? Couldn't hurt, I thought.

So here we are on day 1, and I was able to shut down the grumbling negative Nancy by telling her "we are being positive now." I couldn't come up with any specific positive thingy, so a generic "you rock" was enough to get me out of bed and on with my day.

It's a start. Bring on day 2.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Typing Out loud: the Guilty Pleasure of Fast Food

Seriously, this list could begin and end with this place if it were still open.
It had the burger, crinkle cut fries, phosphates and sundae.

Since my diet transformation, fast food and drive thru dining has gone from a staple to a treat reserved for only once a week at best.

Has a change in diet changed my palette? Sadly, no. Every bite seems to hit the dopamine receptors in my brain, a swirling euphoria of sugar, salt, fat and beef.

Why is that? For me, it's about being a lazy cook. There's nothing more pleasurable than thinking "I'll just go pick something up," and have dinner, hot 'n ready, 3 minutes later. When I was a kid, fast food was a "treat" doled out strictly on mom's payday, the usual choices being the Burger Chef kid's meal - I still remember putting the racing stickers on my strap on skates.

Also, businesses were fighting a little more fierce for mom and dad's dollars, and did so by being very generous. I remember getting my Burger King kid's club coupons in the mail, along with my free cone birthday card from Baskin Robbins. Trips to the Orange St. library were based on the availability of Little House books and free french fry coupons.

So what is the best of the best IMHO?

Best burger: A Steak n Shake double steak burger. The SnS is most like the Dome/Schlenker's from back home and oooh, those pickles.

Wendy's came off this list because they messed with my pickles, changing the dills to a bread n' butter hybrid. I say nay Mr. Thomas! Also off the list is the BK Whopper, at one time a favorite that has lost its luster due to high calories and poor customer service.

Best fries: Any place with crinkle cut fries. I'm looking at you Culver's.

Best drink: Sonic diet limeade + flavor, a recent love is lemon berry. The key is the fresh fruit. The treat is happy hour when you can get a 44oz for a buck and some change.

Best value meal: KFC with original recipe chicken breast, cole slaw, mashed potatoes and biscuit. Almost too much food. The slaw is the closest to my grandmother's without being exact.

Best value menu item: Taco Bell Fresco taco. That is a whole lotta flavor for chump change.

Best alterna-sandwich: The eat fresh menu at Subway, a cornucopia of fresh flavors and best of all, spinach instead of lettuce.

Best ice cream treat: I am not much of an ice cream eater, but I cannot bring up the nostalgia of fast food without acknowledging a treat from my past, the Tiny Tot Sundae from The Dome. The best was the raspberry with whipped cream and nuts. It was the perfect size with the perfect blend of flavors from first bite to last.

Best snack: A three way tie between fresh squeezed lemonade, Junior Mints and nachos. Lemonade at the ballpark can be altered to your preference - I get half the sugar, twice the lemon. Nachos, you can tell them not to be shy with the jalapeños. And Junior Mints are just Junior Mints.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Why Art Matters: Ringo Starr and the All Star Band

...the OTHER band he's in!

Ringo advocates for peace, but deserves love.

He is one of the best drummers from the emerging rock era of the 60s, the fourth man in the band he was invited to join, the comic support staff surrounded by musical genius.

But he's so much more: he's been an actor, an activist, an artist, the caretaker of The Beatles legacy, the affable everyman. He was the first Beatle post-breakup to score a number one single with Photograph.

He also managed, in his self-depreciating nature, to create an entertaining concert experience by inviting a variety of popular acts to join him on the road, thus creating a celebration of music with the Ringo Starr and the All Starr Band.

He started the tour in 1989, with a line up that included Joe Walsh, Levon Helm and Dr. John and included notable guests like his son Zak, Bruce Springsteen, and Max Weinberg.

First time I saw the tour was 2001, with Greg Lake, Sheila E, Howard Jones and Ian Hunter. The second was in 2007, with Billy Squier, Edgar Winter and Gary Wright.

The WAM for what could instead be a playlist is the concert itself. It is a dazzling display of musical triumph. Ringo is smart enough to let his All Starr guests shine, even if it is at his own expense. He opens the show with a Beatle hit, introduces the stars, then lets everyone have a turn to show off, all while acting the perfect host. As expected, the finale wraps the show up with the song Little Help from my Friends. You would expect a few awkward moments with a large cast sharing a stage, but the banter is easy and the songs tight.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

August Playlist: Duets

A three for three in the duet category!

If a single voice can be the most powerful weapon one has, what does that say about the power of a duet?

I've never really thought about them, but they are always there, lurking on the pop charts, a union between two solo artists or one band super-grouping with the lead singer of another band. The results, if done right, transcend awesomeness.

There's a lot of Artist featuring Artist on the charts these days, which proves the theory that more is more.

Mike Reno and Ann Wilson, Almost Paradise - from the movie and soundtrack to Footloose, this is a definitive 80s power rock marriage between the lead singers of Loverboy and Heart. So 80s it hurts. Ann still sings it with a guest singer on tour. Recently featured on Orange is the New Black.

Meatloaf and Ellen Foley, Paradise by the Dashboard Light - a gleeful ode to teenage love and baseball metaphors that goes on and on. Fun facts: Ellen Foley, who also worked with The Clash, went on to be Billie on Nigh Court and became a pretty big deal on Broadway. Karla DeVito, who lip synched to Ellen's vocals in the video, also worked with The Clash, went on Broadway and married Robbie Benson, who appeared in Ice Castles. It always comes back to baseball and skating for me, doesn't it?

Joan Jett and Paul Westerberg, Let's Do It, Let's Fall in Love - A quirky send up of a classic pop standard by two icons of punk/rock/indie scene. Was never a hit but it should have been.

Moby and Gwen Stefani, Eastside - Surprising hit collaboration between the lead singer of No Doubt and a Industrial music/DJ giant not known for his singing. Industrial pop is a lovely thing.

Gwen Stefani and Eve, Let Me Blow Ya Mind - But pop rap duets are a magical thing. Eve had Gwen guest on her album, and the result was this catchy gem of a couple girlfriends out on the prowl. It was Gwen v. Gwen in the "best" categories at all the award shows that year, and I think they all split honors .

Gwen and Eve, Rich Girl - A few years later when Stefani released her solo album, Eve returned the favor and the girls created a swashbuckling homage to pirates and Fiddlers on roofs.

Estelle and Kanye West, American Boy - Kanye West is an enigma. He is so egotistical, yet when it comes to collaborations, he is more than gracious in sharing the stage, the result becoming more than the sum of its parts. This song is delightful, the video is an elegantly stark black and white romp through Londontown.

Billy Preston and Syrece, With You I'm Born Again - It's been mentioned in the blog before, but bears repeating. The Fifth Beatle crafts a ballad that while a huge R&B hit, to me defies being defined by genre. Beautifully constructed.

The Hungry Wolf, X - Ok, so Exene and John Doe are in the band together and thus perhaps not a true duet, but it would be a crime to not include them. I wasn't a punker but more of a MTV-generation gal and I remember being oddly entranced by this song. I've always favored rockabilly anyway. Interest renewed by the announcement they are playing GR in September.

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terell, Your Precious Love - Old school. Is there a biopic on Marvin Gaye? There needs to be one on Tammi, who did an awful lot of living for someone who passed tragically at the age of 24. I'm fascinated by her.

Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX, Fancy - the song that initially triggered the idea of doing an entry on duets. So far the song of the summer for 2014. All I know is Iggy is an Australian, and her popularity is pissing off people in the rap community. I don't know enough to give an educated, outraged opinion. All I know is that cleaning out the hotel's mini bar is hardly the way to cost effectively get loaded. You have "people" to make a trip to the party store, do you not?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

What's Right in the World: Reasons to be Beautiful

This one makes me feel good.

Life on social media can be exhausting. It is a balancing act of information and connection juxtaposed against judgment and outrage on facebook. Then there's dream homes and gourmet meals (pinterest), being witty in 140 character or less (twitter), and looking absolutely fabulous (instagram). That's only the media I'm involved in, since I avoid dating sites and video sharing like vine.

With so many places for people to judge and criticize your every step, it's nice to have a small movement like the chain post making its way on facebook. It's simply a friend challenging you to post a collage of five pictures where you felt your most beautiful.

It's a nice gesture, but also a challenging one for those battling self esteem issues. When I look at pictures of myself, I see the big nose, the wild hair, the belly I can't get rid of, and an awkward facial expression designed to camouflage what I see as my freak dough face when I attempt a jovial grin.

Also known as someone who desperately needs to believe she's beautiful, somehow.

It doesn't help I'm watching Say Yes to the Dress to see bitchy, judgmental women sitting on a couch doing a number on prospective brides preparing for the day when all eyes are on her.

I guess I'm grateful to my friend Haylea for the challenge, although it's fraught with obstacles. Although I'm my own worst critic, there is a number of people out there that would like to apply for the position, under the guise of tough love. And for some, the high school mean girl never goes away, even in a backhanded compliment like, "oh, so you think you're all that?" Sigh.

I guess I'd like to stay positive and find five pics that radiate happy. And maybe this time, make it all about me instead of beautiful by extension of who I am with, avoiding "without you, I'm nothing" thoughts.

Five go me pictures. I think I can do this.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Typing Out Loud: An Update on Stuff


In May, we went on a garage sale bender, finding plenty of bargains on the cheap, but then I had that conversation with the Ugandan woman who was overwhelmed by her excessive amounts of stuff. It was then that I agreed with her and vowed to go the summer without shopping.

So how have I done so far?

I went to H&M on vacation and bought a t-shirt dress and a Union Jack t-shirt. In an effort to find a costume for skating, I did Saturday Madness this past weekend and instead got a 50s inspired floral wrap dress and a dress top for work. I've also participated in 5 sporting events, each one commemorated with a free t-shirt.

I did, however, skip all the major holiday sales on Memorial Day and 4th of July, as well as the last Tuesday of the month sales.

I did tough love and sent a box to Cara. I cleaned all the 4Ts out of Will's closet too. New dress code rules at work made it easier to eliminate a few things some items on the fence. And when Kellie informed me her co-worker lost her home and the contents, it was easy to do a hard purge, and I was amazed at how easy it was to skim 2 of those and 3 of these, resulting in 6 bags waiting to be picked up.

This problem of excess is strictly a "first world problem." It's probably even a middle-class, middle aged, Midwest problem, given the tinier living spaces on either coast. But what solution or answer am I seeking?

Less clutter. Less stuff. More of what I love and will use. By donating three (3!) tote bags to Kellie's friend, I frankly got rid of three bags I haven't used and wasn't interested in using again. Same with the three purses. Two dresses that had similar counterparts in my closet that I would choose one over the other in almost any situation. Getting rid of trendy. Giving my personal style an ever sharpening focus.

Even Will got into the purge, triggered by declaring some of his toys "for babies". This allowed me to create more room for the toys and belongings he does want.

What's next?  Attacking the crafts. I was given stuff for making clay beads and I have not touched it since it was given to me. GONE! I haven't made a scrapbook since 2006. GONE! Half created doo dads and whatnots. GONE!

I don't know why I go through cycles of acquiring and purging, but it seems like I'm letting more and more go and buying less and less. Better living through less? I keep thinking back to the Ugandan woman and the lesson learned from her. I love pretty things, but don't feel I need so much anymore.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Why Art Matters: The Virgin Suicides

Portraits of Boyhood Obsession

I've been obsessed with The Virgin Suicides, the book and the movie, since it was added to Netflix. Bothered by the mystery of "why," I was compelled to buy the book, consuming it in a matter of days.

The movie made Lux the primary focus of the story, the youngest sister as the catalyst for the story beginning, and Lux's behavior the vehicle to push it along. The book, however, gives you a lot more back story on members of the whole family, making all the sisters protagonists in their destiny.

Having lived in Michigan in the 70s, albeit in single digits, I distinctly remember the desperation of the times. I remember diseased trees as well as beef and milk poisoned with DDT. Polluted rivers and lakes. The author captured all of that, and make it part of the story more so than the film.

For the movie, director Sophia Coppola, like Quentin Tarantino, has a distinct ear for enhancing her projects using soundtrack selections. Her music put me firmly in my cousin's bedroom reading her back issues of Hit Parader and Creem. While the book provided a playlist during a critical moment in the book, it was only one passage. Sophia layered her movie with musical moments. "Strange Magic" by ELO not only captures the magic of the story, but Michigan in the 70s as well.

Coppola always played with mystery. The fact you only get a taste as to what the girls were like lent them a mystery that only can be achieved by being an unattainable teenaged girl.

Kirsten Dunst was perfectly cast as Lux.

But what is the overall appeal of The Virgin Suicides?

The youthful mystique of the Lisbon girls. If I may borrow from The Who, "I hope I die before I get old." The girls, by existing in the past, have become beautifully tragic, almost mythical creatures, worshiped memories. By staying in the past, their myth stays intact; had they lived and grown up, the myth would cease to be. In scenes with the boys on their dates to homecoming, there was every indication sisters Bonnie and Mary would have grown to be as dull as their parents.

By having to story told by the unnamed teenaged neighbors, you become one of them, calling them to play music, taking them to the dance, slipping through the sliding glass doors.

The story refuses to answer the question why the girls killed themselves or explain the complexities of mental illness. That the whole family is mentally ill is obvious; the best possible answer is you cannot explain the unexplainable, only speculate.

It is a tight, wonderfully crafted story. Not a single word is wasted.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

July Playlist: Running Rock

Do ya see me?! Brian Diemer in June.

Running playlists are a big deal to runners. There are articles out there about picking the right tempo for certain parts of your race, getting quite scientific about how many beat per minute you need to get over that suicide hill.

I just pick the stuff that gets me from point A to point B.

I'm now up to 24 different mixes, but have been listening to the same one that I created for the River Bank run the beginning of May. It's an electic mix of old and new that I don't want to listen to too much and ruin before my big race in October.

Motown Philly, Boyz II Men - There's a lot of old school that reminds me of well, school. This was a jam back in college. *sigh* even the use of "jam" dates me.

Girls in Their Summer Clothes, Bruce Springsteen - Just a lovely song that has been on numerous playlists in the past, but I never thought it would be good for running until the Diemer, when I was able to celebrate how incredibly joyful and light the track is.

Hands in the Air, Flo Rida - Oh hot damn! This is my jam!

Push It, Garbage - Remarkable how positively aggressive this song is in the home stretch.

Jump Around, House of Pain - light hearted energy.

Dance Apocalyptic, Janelle Monae - a newer song on the list, just to prove I can keep up with the kids. Janelle is proud to be "not of this planet" (her words), and this jumps.

Talk Dirty, Jason Derulo - again, what are you kids listening to? Filthy sax, as it should be.

Pretend We're Dead, L7 - Riot grrl rock.

You Got Me Floatin', PM Dawn - Jimi Hendrix remake that is beyond cool, buried on a compilation disc.

California Love, Tupac Shakur - back to '93 and while I was heavy in my grunge period, I was not blind to the grooves at the clubs.

Rump Shaker, Wreckx n Effect - ditto.

Summertime Girls, Y&T - I almost see this track as part two a companion to Bruce's song above. Just light as air fun.

Matchbox, The Beatles - after the season I had last year, there will always be a Ringo led track on my playlists.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

What's Right in the World? Let it Go

*sigh* It works for the theme of this post.

I recently made the decision to walk away from an organization I have been a part of for the better part of 16 years. It pained me to do it, and I didn't make the decision lightly.

My reasons for walking away were somewhat practical, but more personal. Feelings were hurt and I suspect recent snubs were deliberate rather than mere oversights.

What is interesting is when I was asked, point-blank, if I was going to continue, I said no, then vocalized my displeasure. It was great comfort to me that the people I was talking to allowed me to say my piece and they listened to me, validating my feelings. They also didn't blame me at all for moving on, as they agreed the organization was "no longer the friendly place it used to be."

I wasn't sure what to expect after that, as I spent the weekend at an event for the organization. Was there going to be tears, anger, accusations, hostility, sadness, etc?

What resulted was... nothing. Perhaps whispered resigned acceptance that I was moving on and nothing more could be said. Perhaps they were happy to be rid of me as well.

But when I was packing up my things, getting ready to go while an event was still going on, I felt, for perhaps the first time in a long time, the freedom to leave without being the last person in the arena helping wrap things up. I can look back at the last 16 years as I put my time in, hoping I made a difference, and I had nothing more to prove.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Why Art Matters: My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding

Y'all are crazy.

One of the bonuses of Netflix is the opportunity to binge on your favorite shows. I watched three seasons of The United States of Tara nonstop over the course of two weeks. Orange is the New Black? Two more weeks, then watched it again with Dave when he decided to start watching it.

Well, I'm on my second viewing of My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding (MBFAGW). What the hell is the appeal?! I'm planning on doing a little typing out loud to figure this out for myself.

Dresses: the crazy, blingtastic creations by dress designer Sondra Chelli are a girly-girl figure skater's dream come true. Crystals and feathers and beautiful fabrics and princess heels and crowns and doo dads and whatnots. The reveals allow you to gasp right along with the girls as the impossible fantasy gowns become reality.

Time warp: it's modern day, but the cultural norms for family dynamics is something straight out of the 50s. The men leave school early to work in the family business, marry and start families with their teenage brides. Most of the women are happy with this arrangement, filling their days with chores and children. On one hand, it seems like a blissfully simple existence full of love for family. But on the other hand, it's a horribly chauvinistic existence that it seems a few of the women, like Melly, bristle against.

Celebration: being Polish, I love a good wedding. And outside of the occasional birthday party, baby shower or baptism, that's what this show is all about. Dramas over dresses, dance halls, tuxedos, bachelor parties, and more just make me laugh. I especially enjoyed the Maryland couple, who had eloped 14 years ago, renewing their vows. She was adorable, he was sweet, and they were a couple clearly in love that had mutual respect for each other, something that was missing from the young couples exhibiting their swagger at the tender ages of 17.

Reoccuring characters: the first season of MBFAGW featured many members of the same family, and you scrambled to keep them straight. No problem, this show offered a spin-off, Gypsy Sisters, featuring the quartet above. Yes, I have a favorite, Kayla, far right, who while second in command to Nettie, seems to be in a happy relationship and is the most level-headed. Melly is a hot mess, but with reason.

Culture: it would be easy to dismiss the clan as white trash, but that would be unfair. I'm aware of the stereotypes that get flung around, I'm Polish and had to endure "dumb polack" jokes as a kid. The gypsies were a marginalized culture abused by the British who brought them to America as slaves. They have kept with them family pride, poetry, music and dance.

Rubberneckin': they are a wild, strange bunch that contradict themselves in all sorts of ways and it's fascinating to watch the powder kegs ignite.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Typing Out Loud: Burning the Candle at Both Ends

I had a few more wicks than that in May.

My friend Mo, running herself ragged at Adult Nationals in 2005, quipped "I'll sleep when I'm dead."

I just learned a valuable lesson in "too much all at once" where perhaps a dirt nap would have been preferable to the schedule I kept.

First, there was the non-stop action of competing three events at Adult Nationals. For a competitor, that many adrenaline rushes over the course of 4 days was a bit much. And my only off day, where was I? At the rink for 12 hours, volunteering as an ice sweeper.

Back home from ANs, a glance at my calendar revealed judging commitments, an ice dancing competition, work, household obligations, and the River Bank Run. Instead of the usual downtime to putz on the ice and rest on my laurels, I was running through the three dances I was planning to compete.

I threw something else into the mix, when Festival organizers dangled an invitation to submit work for the regional arts exhibition.

So what happened? I simply had too many candles burning, and I made a series of mistakes.

I competed the dances, earning three medals. But instead of enjoying it, I was relieved for it to be over, one more thing checked off the to-do list.

For the River Bank Run, anxious that I didn't properly train for it, I overdid the training the two weeks prior to the event. Instead of listening to my body and trusting what I had been doing all along, I feverishly pumped away on the elliptical with vigor, ignoring pains here and there in the vain hope that the cliches were true that this was "fear leaving the body." Instead of being up and eager for the race, my legs were heavy, as if made of lead. The first two miles were awesome, as I posted 11 minute miles. By time I left the zoo, my brain went into negative overdrive and I had a mental fight on my hands for 3.5 miles to the finish line. As a result, I averaged over 14 minute miles, every footfall felt like defeat.

Knowing I would be hurting and pressed for time the day of the race, I nonetheless agreed to judge a "quick" test session as well as skate in an exhibition at another rink. My brain said no, but my mouth said "sure!" As with any skating competition and test session, it ran late and I was disappointed to be a no-show for a skating event for the first time in my life.

And the exhibition for Festival? Even though I thought to myself, "no, you don't have time to pull something together," I slap-dashed a piece into a frame and ran it over to the event organizers, who sent me the "sorry, not selected" email at probably the lowest ebb of the weekend.

I could throw shade at the "snobby" jurors for not selecting my work, but that would be unfair. I hesitated before going downtown, knowing that while the work was great, the presentation was not my best, and at that moment, I argued my art deserved better matting and framing than what I submitted. I didn't allow myself the time to present my best face.

I love showing off my knack for time management, but I need to learn the value of no. Had I acknowledged I was stretched a bit too thin the last couple of weeks, I wouldn't have turned in a weak project, nor would I have dealt with the anxiety of preparing an exhibition program and racing across town to do it. I could have also given myself breathing room by limiting my availability for the test session.

What I did in the aftermath of my marathon weeks was a forced vacation from training. No skating. No running. Wrote a bunch of blogs. Only thing I did at the Y was a little stretching in the hot tub and some foam rolling. Bought a new swimsuit. Cleaned my skate bag. Shopped for new running shoes. Cleaned a neglected house. And slowed down a bit.

Monday, June 9, 2014

June Playlist: I Made You a Mix Tape

My first "mix tape" using a CD burner.
iTunes has brought play lists a long way since then.

Two of my favorite books center around the art of the mix tape. The first is "Love is a Mix Tape," by Rolling Stone columnist Rob Sheffield, chronicling the love story between him and his first wife, and the aftermath of her untimely death. Music brought them together, was communication between them, and helped heal him after her passing.

The other, "I Made You a Mix Tape," is a compilation of stories how sharing music cemented friendships, first loves, or captured that one special moment in time.

A product of the 80s, my early mixes were done the old-fashioned way, with a tape recorder and a microphone next to the speaker, and hoping to God no one walked in and ruined your audio by talking. I was especially diligent during the end of year countdowns, my pre-teen sister forever captured over the strains of 38 Special.

I can attempt to conjure up some old mixes, I think I have some of my college radio shows still on tape, any maybe even some of the older mixes if I didn't tape over them. But for now, here's the compilation I made in 1998 to share with girlfriends, Lipstick on the Mike, my first attempt using a CD burner. Like the old days, you crammed as much music as you could into one piece of audio:

  1. Melissa Etheridge, Bring Me Some Water
  2. Heart, Dog and Butterfly
  3. Bangles, Going Down to Liverpool
  4. Blondie, Dreaming
  5. Stevie Nicks, If Anyone Falls
  6. Tori Amos, China
  7. Belly, Thief
  8. The Fugees, Killing Me Softly
  9. Bananarama, He Was Really Saying Something
  10. Bjork, Big Time Sensuality
  11. Siouxie and the Banshees, Peekaboo!
  12. Joan Jett, Do Ya Wanna Touch?
  13. Hole, Violet
  14. Concrete Blonde, Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man
  15. PJ Harvey, Down By the River
  16. Garbage, Special
  17. Liz Phair, Supernova
  18. Madonna, Beautiful Stranger
  19. Eurythmics, I Need a Man
  20. No Doubt, New

Sunday, May 25, 2014


No, I guess I don't need one more navy blue dress...

The family and I enjoyed a Saturday afternoon searching for treasures by driving the countryside in search of barn, yard, and garage sales. What gave me pause was the woman at the last house.

She was a large, lovely lady who was eager for conversation as she boxed up her wares for the day. Guilty at stopping without really finding anything, I nonetheless picked up a bathing suit for Will. She shared with me she used to own a small children's clothing boutique, and waving a hand over the vast amount of belongings covering her front lawn, she said "I'm from Uganda, where I grew up with one dress. This is overwhelming. I don't need this stuff. My sons didn't need this stuff."


I did my seasonal closet purge a few weeks ago, eliminating those things that were soiled, ill fitting, tired or just not worn. I then went about setting up some arbitrary rules: "no more than 31 tops on hangers," the same rule for t-shirts. Then set a limit to 20 dresses. 20!

The horrible reality is I had a difficult time paring my wardrobe down to these set numbers, and even then, after going through registration for the River Bank Run, ended up with three more shirts. What was interesting is the sense of freedom that resulted in this purge, I knew everything that was left in the closet were things I definitely liked and looked good in.

But still! I'm looking at a vast trousseau that includes over 60 tops and 20 dresses. These numbers do not include the bottoms or sweaters folded neatly, or the purses and bags and totes and belts and scarves.

I'm not willing to pare it down to one dress of course, but what is the magic number to the essential wardrobe? As I'm packing for vacation, I'm curious to see what will be the bare minimum I would need to get by and still feel like a million bucks.

The first thing I plan on doing is skipping a few rounds of thrift shopping the next few months. Let's see if I can get through the summer with what I have. And see what I can part with at the end that I didn't need.

I love stuff, I love new stuff. But when met with the invitation to a fancy dinner/fund raiser, I immediately decided to start shopping for a new dress. Then I remembered the 20 I already had a home. I need to to take a break from acquiring to enjoy what I have.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What's Right in the World: Pseudo-Swagger

Relying on an old giggle from Married with Children: "I! Am! A! Model!"

Still living by the phrase "do something that scares you." What this time?

Women's Running magazine is holding a Cover Model Contest.

I'm 44 years old, short, with a few extra pounds. Besides, I do not currently sport a brunette ponytail to bounce magically about my head.

Yet, I am still going to enter, submitting for their consideration a body shot from Adult Nationals, the Detroit Marathon, the River Bank Run, and a head shot from a party.

My one-liner is: A West Michigan wife and mother, Melissa is a freelance writer and graphic designer who runs and figure skates competitively. I also described myself as fun, determined and creative.

I know I'm not pretty, which of course excludes me from being cover model material. So why do it? I'm thinking back to all my encounters with beauty queens. I have had working relationships with not one, but two former national title holders, Shandi, a Ms Missouri turned Ms. USA, and Kirsten, a Ms Michigan turned Ms America. Throw in a Mrs. America, a Miss North Carolina and a few more Miss Michigans I have also known socially. I was a gargoyle in their shadows.

And yet not.

Shandi was my first beauty queen, a local celeb who was a VIP for Catholic Charities at a Go to Bat for Kids event I helped create and promote. Like any girl without a crown, I was prepared to be a bitch, except she looked so miserable and lonely in the suite, her date off working the crowd, so I sat with her. Damned if she wasn't the nicest girl on the planet, and we bonded over beers, baseball and girl talk. She was eager once her reign as Ms Mo came to an end to take me up on learning how to skate, then she won the national title, wrote a book, and became a game show hostess.

Kirsten was a gal who approached me while I worked at a pysch hospital for a little publicity before the national pageant. While we couldn't use her there, I suggested she talk to the girls at the figure skating club. This was a doozy, she talked about mental health and eating disorders, confessing to having developed issues while a teenager. By putting aside any of my own insecurities and defenses, I was able to bring this girl to an eager population that wanted to hear what she had to say and in a few cases, probably helped turn a few girls around.

Looking back on my chance encounters with these beauties, I see my own successes, radiating a little light on what I have accomplished for myself and others. While my hair may not bounce, it certainly puffs with the energy of a gal that has a lot to offer and maybe I too can preen through pictures and phrases. It's important that magazines such as WR know people like me exist and while not maybe me, but someone like me deserves to be celebrated on the cover of their magazine.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why Art Matters: Documentaries

My newest, latest binge watch.

Being trapped inside this winter meant lots more television than I'd rather watch. This has led to a marathon watching of documentaries on Netflix.

What makes them so interesting?

It's compelling storytelling with the purpose to inform the viewer about something that maybe isn't that widely celebrated. In the case of the recent documentary on ice shows, it was a beautifully packaged 80 minutes chronicling the rise and fall of the shows, from Sonia Heine to today. Knowing some of the players made it even more real and also more magical a time for my sport.

It introduces people and characters you may not otherwise meet. As a fan of Andy Warhol, I was aware of his entourage dubbed The Factory, yet had no real knowledge outside of Edie Sedwick. Then I watched a documentary on Candy Darling, the trans actress celebrated in Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side." It was a very sad tale of a boy who grew to be woman, who in turn became an actress, a performer who performed every second of her existence. All I could think is the line from Courtney Love, "I fake it so real, I am beyond fake," even to the point of demanding full makeup during the final days in the hospital. And the Oscar winning 20 Feet From Stardom was simply magical.

They touch on real life. The documentary Trapped dealt with the subject of politics and societal norms clashing over the subject of international adoption. It was like reliving the years 2003 - 2005 again, as we were jerked around by both the Russian and Bulgarian governments  during our adoption quest, which drew to its end when Dave accepted a job in Michigan while I was in Missouri. This opportunity negated our home study, and also put the Catholic agency in a tailspin because they considered us "separated," even if it were for business. But we were lucky: we were only out $5,000 whereas the families in the documentary pumped $100,000 or more to be reunited with their child. Still, 10 years later, I wonder what our little Beatrix or Katarina is doing on the other side of the world, and hope she is ok.

This has also led to some consumer indignation on my part, watching in horror on the subject of GMOs, fast food and mega-super stores and their effect on economies both great and small. Hard to say not shopping at WalMart makes me some sort of activist, but it's a start.

And simply opening the world around me. CNN is the home to not one but two recent favorites, Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown and Morgan Spurlock's Inside Man. Both shows are part two in both men's television career, Bourdain's No Reservations and Spurlock's 30 Days. Yet different, of course. The first season of Bourdain's PU finds him exploring the more challenging corners of people, food and culture, like Libya and Detroit. What he finds time and again is people are people and local cuisine is amazing. He doesn't sugarcoat issues, like abandoned buildings in Detroit or the uncomfortable culture clash where he was allowed to eat with the men, while the women were regulated to what he called "the kids table." Spurlock again immerses himself as a local to experience societal problems firsthand, like teaching in an inner city school or working the orange groves alongside migrant workers.