We'll Take a Cup of Kindness Yet

Trying to come up with the last thing I will write this year feels incredibly daunting. My instinct is that it should be epic, encapsulate the last 12 months perfectly, and set forth some sort of hope or premonition for the coming year. If I have learned one thing in 2010, and luckily I have learned more than one thing, it's to stop putting undue pressure on myself. If there's one person in the world who should take it easy on me, it's myself. Duh. 

I do know that this last week of this month, last of the year, has been been a whirlwind of somehow talking to or seeing many of my favorite people and doing many of my favorite things. Either 2010 is really trying to turn it around, or 2011 is going to be so incredible that it is leaking into the past year. I like the latter. It is a courteous question leading up the December 31st, to ask people what their plans for New Year's Eve will entail. In doing so I am reminded that I might be the only person I know who considers this their favorite holiday. I love it for three reasons: the countdown fills me with such anticipation that when everyone yells, "Happy New Year!" I tear up with joy. This has been my reaction since childhood and I'm so grateful I haven't lost it yet. Also, the song, "Auld Lang Syne," to hear everyone sing, or at least listen to, a Robert Burns poem set to music is almost too much for my nerdy self to bear. Third, but probably most importantly, is that it feels momentous if you let it, and I always let it. Try it, you'll like it. 

Happy New Year! 


Year On Fire

I used to think that my number one choice for a time travel make-out session would be Al Pacino from Godfather I or II (never III, don't even mention that it exists that's how terrible it was). But I've changed my mind and this video proves it. I realize that I have been mentioning Springsteen with what is now absurd frequency. But what's a girl to do, he has been slaying me lately, just absolutely killing it. 

On Tuesday I went to a party at my friend Sarah's house for the winter solstice. It was less hippie then it sounds, just a house full of ladies, sensible snacks, and bonfire at midnight to rid ourselves of the burdens that 2010 laid at our feet...actually that sounds incredibly hippie. Calling the party Burning Plan probably doesn't help de-hippie it either. Most people I know (definitely the women who showed up) have felt that 2010 was nothing to sneeze at. Burning Plan was a chance for us to purge all the shit we don't want to follow us into 2011, a chance to say our best intentions for the new year out loud to friends who will hold us accountable to a better self, a chance to drink a lot of tequila and laugh really, really hard. I grew up in a household of strong, funny, smart, amazing women and I am so thankful to keep discovering new communities of ladies who are impressive as hell. 


Putting the Ass in Class

My lesson about writing daily was not learned, clearly. New Year's resolution? I blame December! It's really snowing! I have a paper cut on a my space bar thumb!

A couple of weeks ago two of my friends were supposed to DJ at a bar near my house. I showed up like a trooper but due to some technical glitches they weren't going to go on for a while. The real cruncher was that I had just purchased a can of Tecate...but I did not open it. You get were I was going with this? I returned a can of Tecate to the bartender for a refund of $4. As I was walking home I sent a text to another friend who was going to meet me and that message ended with me speaking in the third person (something Meredith never does) "She keeps it classy." It of course cracked me up since I am retelling it, but since then it's been cropping up in my mind again and again because it really points out how unclassy I can keep it. 

Let me first disclaimer that I can keep it genuinely classy with some effort. I am excellent at getting dressed up for fancy things, I am super polite, parents love me, I have this French woman hang up about never letting anyone see me brush my hair or apply lipstick. Which brings me to another old French lady rule, I don't leave the house without lipstick, earrings, and Chanel perfume. I'm goddamn Edith Piaf when I want to be. But I also made fisting jokes at two separate, work-related, Hanukkah parties. I also called a fifty-something, widow from the suburbs, who might be my new interim boss "Dude." Then I told Dude a funny story about neck tattoos. I had a conversation about how choking on a piece of good salami wouldn't be the worst way to die, in fact it might be ideal. I instituted a rule at my ladies only Bloody Mary event that we can only listen to classic rock (predominately Bruce Springsteen). I was trying on new glasses and I said to the salesperson, "These make me look like Bruce Valanch." These are just the things I can remember, these are just from the last week. 

I don't know if there is a lesson to learn from all of this. Maybe the title of my blog really relates more to the fine line between being quirky and charming, and being a weird ladydude. 


How Do You Spell That?

It is a very slippery slope to take one day off from writing, suddenly four have gone by. Lesson learned maybe.

In my workplace right now approximately everyone except me is pregnant. The upside is the snacking, oh the ceaseless snacking. The downside is everything else. When someone rushes into your office and says, “I have amazing news!” I wouldn’t ask what that news is if I ever considered the answer would pertain to a mucus plug. The only appropriate response to that good tiding was to gag and promptly walk away. The other downside (again there are countless) is listening to horrifying details about pregnancy and birth while trying to eat lunch. I had to work hard to enjoy my Polish dill pickle soup from Kasia’s while hearing about clogged milk ducts. I will say that the lunch time discussion I have enjoyed has been about what to name all of these babies, even though no one ever likes my suggestions. I like old Jewish people names. I still maintain that Ida is lovely and I secretly wish that my nephew Isaac was Ira instead, I pushed really hard for that one, no pun intended.

It’s such a tricky thing to think of a name for a little human, and so important. Before I was born my parents were convinced that I was a boy. They had one boy name picked out, Evan, and strangely no back-up plan given the odds. It took them three days to think of a name which they did about two hours before they brought me home. I have heard some of these names and feel incredibly lucky to have left Bronson Hospital with Meredith Jane. Contenders were: Marijane (yes, really and spelled just like that), Daisy, Lucy, Dulcinea (from Don Quixote fame), and the real wild card was Kristen. I can only imagine how my life could potentially be different if I was Daisy or for god’s sake Dulcinea. People have a hard enough time understanding or spelling Meredith, it runs the gamut from Marydeth, to Beredith, to Matilda, to my personal favorite, Mames.

Another dilemma my co-workers are having when trying to think of names is that working at the JCC we become acquainted with 184 names a year and 184 little associations both good and bad. You might have loved the name Leo* for years and then he turns out to be the grossest kid in the school, game changer. It adds another twist to an already complicated decision. It is the name you will likely say the most out of any others, the name that will be associated with the most important person in your life. Make it good, and rethink your decision to name a child Wolfgang.

*I have actually had three Leos in classes and they have each been such a mensch. The truth is I have an Uncle Leo so that's why the name is off the table.


Roll Call

Winter in Chicago became a much more tolerable beast once I gave up good looking outerwear. I said it, my life improved markedly once I got a puffy coat, hunting hat, and sensible boots. Sure I miss my wearing my beautiful coats from France that don't look like a sleeping bag. Would I prefer to wear my Rachel Comey boots for four months instead of my faux fur lined Tretorns that make my feet look like they were transplanted from a Disney character? Indeed I would. For most of my life I have made fun of my practical, Midwestern mother for always choosing comfort over fashion and I still will, except when it's cold because I'm a real nanny goat about the cold. 

I don't like winter at all but what I do like is wintertime projects. So far for this winter I have this blog and soon I will have a podcast with two of the sassiest ladies I have met. There will banter and talk of music so I don't know how much better that could get. Last week I invited one of my oldest friends and his wife to dinner. His email response was one of the funniest, strangest, things I have ever read in a while. He clearly needs to be writing and so I proposed starting some new projects with him. I would like to extend that invitation to anyone I know, or don't know, looking for collaboration. Let's do something other than be outside for a while, the outfits and hot toddies are so much better indoors anyway. 


Good Thing He's Got That Face

Recently, as in a few hours ago, I thought that I really liked James Franco. This began with his role (mustache) in Milk. Then there was a great piece in the The New Yorker profiling his project with the MOCA and oddly "General Hospital."  He's a writer, good actor, his face is pretty, and he's a total weirdo. The theme of the day, nay, theme of my life is don't be surprised when a weirdo turns out to be weird. So I expected Franco to really bring some entertainment tonight when I watched his episode of "Inside the Actors' Studio." I was surprised to find that when he wasn't boring he was annoying. Even his answers to the ten Bernard Pivot questions asked by James Lipton were lame.* With every uninteresting answer he gave I thought about what would have been a better answer, and by that I mean mine. 

  1. What is your favorite word? Squishy
  2. What is your least favorite word? Pantyhose 
  3. What turns you on?  A sense of humor
  4. What turns you off? Insecurity and pessimism  
  5. What sound or noise do you love? Accordion music (yes, really)
  6. What sound or noise do you hate? Fingernails on denim
  7. What is your favorite curse word? Ass ___(I fill in the blank liberally i.e. clown, hat, face)
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? Scandinavian fisherman, this may be due mostly to a love of the sea and bulky sweaters. 
  9. What profession would you not like to do? Taxidermist 
  10. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?  Nicely played Adams! Then we would high five and go bowling with my grandmother. Apparently, in my mind God is The Dude. 
*He did give one, mildly funny answer to his favorite swear which was "shit burger." 


Animal Style

I found out this weekend that the creator of The Museum of Jurassic Technology (and MacArthur fellow) is an alumni at Kalamazoo College, my alma mater. This is interesting to me because a) K College is very small, around 1,200 students, and b) the Museum quickly became one of my favorite places in L.A. the last time I was there. I once heard it described as David Lynch in a box and that is the most accurate review I have heard. It is strange, beautiful, confusing, and easily a vacuum for hours and hours of your day. Also, it is next door to an In-N-Out Burger, a required stop every time I am in L.A. which is with some frequency since my oldest sister has lived there for more than a decade with her husband who is a native to the city. 

I have a very Sam and Diane relationship with the fair city of Los Angeles. I reluctantly love it but I also love to hate it. There's the architecture (it's generous to call it that) of strip malls and stucco. But then there is also the amazing weather. But ugh, the traffic and nothing can be done without hours in a car.  Oh, but the produce, seafood, the avocados alone could convert a Midwestern girl.  Let's not forget though that it is a sea of casual wear for a lady who doesn't own a sweatshirt: tank tops, Juicy sweat suits, and Jesus the amount of flip-flops. I increasingly love Chicago and each day it feels more and more like my city. That doesn't stop me from entertaining the idea of escaping my icy, 12 degree metropolis, to suck it up in L.A. for the number one reasons as seen below. 


Plus It Keeps Me Off the Bread Nachos

I had such good intentions about writing a post last night about how I've rekindled a romance with classic rock, instead I went to town on some bourbon at Big Star. There are some places that I visit religiously (see VFW) and Big Star over the last year has been a nearly weekly stop. Under special circumstances I was there five times in a week, it wasn't my fault but it also didn't trouble me. They have pork belly tacos that you can't get tired of, it's impossible. 

Here's the thing, I love avec, it can do no wrong. An English pea crostini once made my sister and me well up and that was just peas so you can imagine all the ways they can work meat. When The Publican opened with the general focus on the holy trinity (pork, oysters, and beer) I knew I would be spending some quality time in a wooden pen with Kumamoto oysters. As an added bonus they make the best Bloody Mary in city for Sunday brunch. But when I heard rumblings that Paul Kahan was going to add to his entourage with a taco and whiskey joint in my neighborhood all I could say was, "That's all I want in life." I might have even whispered it. If you know me at all then you know that isn't an exaggeration. If we are ranking top three best food categories, tacos, sandwiches, and pizza, they line up in that order for my affection. I would also like to clarify that I don't count hot dogs as a sandwich, if I did they would be in a dead heat with tacos.  Speaking of which you should have seen my reaction when Big Star added a hot dog to their menu, actually you should have seen me mashing my face into it, just boldly mashing.

A year has gone by since I first fell for Big Star. Sure we've had some rough nights together, nights were you wake up the next morning and you have cat food in your tights and beer in one cowboy boot, but we are still going strong fueled by a steady supply of bourbon and pork like an good love affair.


For the Record, Cathy Had a Dog

I have a cat named Birdie. If you don't know her then you will just have to trust me when I say that she is such a love, a real peach, and kind of magical. I will toot her horn and say that several times I have had people say that they don't like cats but they love Birdie. She's a heart breaker. She crawls under the covers to spoon with me before I get up in the morning. I could go on and on but there are certain lady stereotypes that I am trying to avoid, though clearly not trying very hard. 

Knock on wood twice but Birdie hasn't had any major illnesses, just some minor weird ones. There was a time when one eye would swell, then the next week the other eye would swell. This happened only on the weekend when her regular vet was closed of course. To this day my best guess is that she was napping with some spiders. Then she had to get some teeth taken out. The day after her surgery she was in the window, when I pulled back the curtain it was like she turned to face me in slow motion, revealing a weirdly swollen cheek and eye. I swear I heard organ music at that moment, it was very Phantom of the Opera. Most recently she had a bladder infection which while uncomfortable for her, it also cost an uncomfortable amount to treat. Two things about Birdie getting sick: I fear it constantly. I am a keen observer of her quirks and become very worried at any inconsistency. Thing two is that when it does happen or I think it's happening, I cry constantly. I cry when I realize she doesn't feel well, in the car on the way to the vet, in the exam room, and on the way home even after she's fine. It's super unhelpful. 

This morning I thought she was getting another bladder infection. Without going into detail just trust that I had my reasons to believe that was the case. I called the vet from work and then cried in my cubicle. I also cried a little while in my pilates class while doing some leg lifts. Hopefully no one noticed. When I got home from work I was still suspicious that she was ill. Finally, hours after I got home she peed normally and I cheered, I actually cheered. Which really illustrated how truly strange pet ownership can be. People (me) are wacky about their animals. Also, how would I ever manage having a child? I would probably have a minor stroke every time it barfed. 


Karaoke: Like Life, But Better

In about an hour I am going to dust off my favorite cowboy boots and sweater vest for an evening of Fleetwood Mac at Danny's (my fashion sense is a little more Buckingham than Nicks). I have been experiencing a renaissance of Fleetwood Mac lately. This culminated with the discovery that I love to sing their songs at karaoke. 

I'm headed into my third year of frequenting a magical little place I like to call VFW Post 7975 for karaoke and other attractions. This post is not about the Post, mostly because I'm saving it for a short story collection, but more about the few lessons I have learned from karaoke, which like life you have to accept your shortcomings and embrace your strengths. For example, most people love Bruce Springsteen (this is an assumption based on good faith in humankind) but most people can't sing "Born to Run." Yes, it is a great goddamn song, one of the best, but attempting and failing to sing it well will not make your new friends. (Side note: If you do sing it well we should be friends, or better friends. If you sing "Streets of Fire" well we should get matching tattoos). I love Aretha Franklin but I have learned to leave "Do Right Woman" well enough alone. I can sing Dolly Parton's "Jolene" and most of Patsy Cline's hits. Granted, first ladies of country is not my first choice, but I can pull them off and have found satisfaction in doing so. You can imagine my delight in discovering with a friend that we can sing the hell out of "The Chain" and haven't failed with any song off of Rumours to date. These are our first choices and we can kill it on the mic when she sings the Lindsey Buckingham parts and I sing the Stevie Nicks parts (I can't have Buckinham fashions and vocals, that would be too much). 

We started with "The Chain" and again while I have to reiterate that we are really good at all of them, I think that is our finest work.  You have to know some heartbreak, some loss, some disillusionment to get that song right and it's a real cruncher that we can both belt it out so well. But maybe that's exactly the way to the other side of tough times, through a song, with good friends, and lots of whiskey. Increasingly I think my sentiment is bending toward old cowboy wisdom and I am more than fine with that. 


The Lady Gets What the Lady Wants

Let the record show that I am a bit of a night owl. Lately, I need less sleep then I ever have before. I seem to be fine going out almost every night, sleeping for five or six hours, and then working my normalish office job. Sure there are hiccups along the way such as actively trying to nap on the toilet paper dispenser in the bathroom at work, but sometimes you just encounter a gnarly Wednesday. 

The other night I wrote something on Facebook around three or four AM about eating bread nachos (these differ greatly from the cracker nachos I often eat at work which I also recommend). When I talked to my oldest sister she wondered what the fuck was going wrong in my life that I am eating bread nachos. That is a very valid question and my  response was, "Well I'm trying to eliminate my four AM feeding."

I am the type of gal that needs three, good-sized meals per day. Now that I am staying up later I have started to learn what Taco Bell fans seem to have known for years, a fourth meal is very necessary. In the early spring I developed a terrible habit of eating nachos (an homage to the aforementioned T. Bell pioneers) after coming home and before going to bed. Most of the time this takes place between 3:00-6:00AM. Let me note that 98% of the time this is not due to drunkenness, it's a majority grossness. I realized that this habit could become a real problem for health and not wanting to become obese reasons. So, the logical choice was to switch to quesadillas. It took several more months to come to the same epiphany. Most recently I've decided I need to stop buying vehicles for hot sauce and cheese, the two things I will never stop buying, and thus you have the challah nacho because apparently there is nothing I will not turn into a nacho...nothing. Feel free to use this recipe the next time you are invited to a very fancy dinner party and in charge of bringing the hor d'oeuvres. Minds will be blown. 

Bread Nachos
Challah bread, thinly sliced
Melt one slice of Havarti cheese on top of challah
Add sliced avocado sprinkled with sea salt
Drizzle generously with Sriracha
Weep and enjoy


Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

A few weeks ago my wallet was stolen. I was out to dinner with a friend and my bag was on the stool next to me at the bar. I saw a man standing behind the stool, I reached over and touched my bag, wondered if I should move it, and then thought "Don't assume everyone is out to get you. He is clearly just making time with a lady at the bar." But the thing is, my first instinct was right. He reached into my bag and while I was still finishing my burger he was using my credit card to buy $900 worth of Jesus knows what at a CVS (most my recent theory is costly prosthetic limbs). I keep bumping into this problem, as do many of my friends, the difficulty of trusting yourself. You think someone is stealing your wallet? They probably are. You think you should cross the street to avoid a dude while your alone? You absolutely should. You know  you shouldn't continue a dicey interaction with someone? You will feel better if you didn't 
There is an existential phenomenon that seems to occur in ones mid to late 20s and lasts until probably the early 30s, also known as the return of Saturn. Everyone goes a little bonkers. Everything you hold dear is thrown into to question and life probably becomes one big, chaotic, shit show. The best advice that anyone can ever hear is that the the only thing in your way is yourself. I like to think of it as a Chinese finger trap, the more you resist, the more you think it is the things around you, the more panicked and trapped you feel. When you finally calm down you realize that it was you creating the trap entire time and it will seem so obvious. 
My hope for all of us is that we can listen to ourselves but also know when we should get out of our own goddamn way. 


Turn It Out

Even since his collaboration with Heath Ceramics, I have been infatuated with the wood work of Alma Allen. In college my minor was in the ceramics department where I spent the first year figuring out clay and the last three working with porcelain. During my time working on the wheel I talked with my dad about how it compared to wood turnings,which he had been creating for years, for the first time ever we could talk tools together. When I came across the Heath-Allen collaboration I realized that I would love to be able to create new work that combines thrown clay and wood turnings. 
This morning I spent time with my dad in his workshop for my first woodturning lesson. He taught me the difference between a scraper (smooths the wood) and a gouge (for deeper cuts and design). If you think these using a scraper and a gouge sounds dangerous, try using them on a piece of maple that is spinning at 1,200 rpm. Also, when your teacher says, "Don't do that because then shit could really go wrong" and you remember that he is missing fingers (not from woodworking FYI) you fully realize that shit going wrong really means business. After a few hours I was able to turn three shapeless logs into smooth, tapered spindles. My next lesson is next month and will work up to turning from a faceplate to make my first bowl. I hope everyone likes lumpy wooden bowls because that is what you are all getting for Hanukkah. 


Homesteaders Club

My family loves a good board game. A typical good time at my parents' house includes hours of cooking, eating, many bottles of wine, a veritable sit-in around the dining room table to see who can tell the funniest story, and the conclusion is a rousing game (accompanied by beer and salami). My nephews, August and Isaac, are getting to the age where they want in on the action so we have introduced the all-ages game starting today. 
We played a game called "Camp," it was terrible so don't buy it. I will not go into detail about how poorly conceived it was but I will say that it involved nature trivia questions. I am continually impressed with the fact that my parents seem to know nearly everything about the natural world. This might seem like a gross exaggeration but it actually isn't. When we are outside together they can name what seems like every tree, plant, bird, mushroom, and can go into detail about their particular function in the ecosystem. It kills me. They also have this amazing skill set: knitting, stained glass, baking, wood working, blacksmithing, knife making, building, gardening, the list goes on and on and becomes even more frontiersy. I am 28-years-old and I still feel like I have only learned 2% of what they have to teach me. 
I would like to increase that percentage starting this weekend. I've decided that tomorrow will be my first wood turning lesson. Here's hoping I return to Chicago intact. 


How You Know You're From Good People

Today when I came home for Thanksgiving I was greeted by my mother wearing a very bright tie-dyed shirt that I owned in 8th grade, let me note a very brief phase of mine. There was something about my 62-year-old mother wearing this that set up an evening of "anything goes." Somehow I ended up confessing over salami how I recently got very stoned and decided I shouldn't smoke weed anymore. They agreed I should probably give up the ghost on that one. Then we talked about how much we all love Bruce Springsteen, and how "Born to Run" is probably all of our favorite song. Then I told them my idea for a Jewish comic book hero called The Midnight Mohel. They agreed that it would be a runaway success and offered some additional storyline ideas. I suggested that it seemed like we had all just smoked weed, they agreed again. 
My favorite exchange took place over burgers, beer, and Saints vs Cowboys with one of my sisters and her girlfriend. 
Mom: I started to like Joe Montana because he has such a cool name. 
Me: Yeah but only the last name, I mean you put any name in front of Montana and it's going to be awesome...except Hannah.
Then we all laughed, maybe with excessive loudness, and at that moment I thought, "I'm really glad these people are my family because I recognize how hilarious they are and am thankful that they seem to think I am equally as funny."
Happy Thanksgiving, stoners.


That Keeps Me Searching

Eight years ago today I started my first weblog,Cowpokes and Pearly ButtonsI was a twenty-year-old writing student living in Logan Square having moved to Chicago five months earlier. I stopped posting to Cowpokes in 2006 while I was living in Valenciennes, France. When I lived in Pittsburgh I started Good Eaters with my friend and neighbor to chronicle our cooking and eating adventures. 
It's been two years since my last to any blog. It's a strange creature, the blog, it's part diary, part storytelling, a time capsule when you re-read your past self years later, and I think it's this last quality that is so appealing to me. The weblog becomes a forum for all the little things you wouldn't write in your journal, the weird observations you wouldn't think to tell your sister or friend, the  ideas for cover band names (Lesbian Rumours- Fleetwood Mac cover band). But these are all the little bits that make up a certain time and place in your life and the idea that just one other person might check in to read a post makes you pay attention to it all. 
My life has changed in unexpected ways since I was last blogging and I intentionally let my writing become very quiet over the last two years. Lately though, I try to think of something funny, strange, or lovely that happened at the end of each day and I have been coming up with some gems. I am going to predict that most posts will be funny (hopefully) so maybe it's strange to start off on a serious note. But you don't write anything for two years, it probably warrants a re-cap. 

I've been to Hollywood,
I've been to Redwood,
I crossed the ocean
for a heart of gold.
I've been in my mind,
it's such a fine line
that keeps me searching
for a heart of gold,
and I'm getting old.

-Neil Young "Heart of Gold"