Monday, January 31, 2011


To hear the meteorologists tell it, I won't be able to do anything for the next day or two because I, like a third of the country, will be trapped in a pile of snow. So here are some snow-day links, in case your work/school has been called off and you're killing time:

Here are some really cool photographs of insects (and a few lizards).

I just made this pasta recipe, and though it was vegan, it was also delicious. DH enjoyed it, too - we both kind of wanted to lick our plates afterward.

And today I learned that Nicholas Kristof from the New York Times has made it to Cairo, and he's using twitter when he can. It's fascinating to read updates from the protest as they happen - extra impressive since the internet has been shut down.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Guys

This could be construed as a confession, but I don't think I should be ashamed: I think the Three Stooges are funny.

It took me a while to come around to them, and I think that is mostly because my mother thinks they are completely stupid, so I grew up not really knowing much about them and, for the most part, thinking that was the best course of action.

Mom is to be forgiven: she exposed me to things like musicals and Star Wars, which are also important.

About six or eight months ago, though, when DH and I discovered Svengoolie's brand of fantastically bad puns to go with equally bad movies on Saturday evenings, we found that there was a Three Stooges show that was on just before Sven. I would usually be puttering around, but DH loves slapstick, so he started watching the tail end of the show. Then he figured out that the host of the Stooges show was the same guy as Svengoolie, which piqued my interest because, well, I kind of love Svengoolie, the man.

Confidential to Rich Koz: You're quite possibly my favorite person on TV. I want to buy you a beer. But please lose some weight, man... you're worrying us.

Anyway, back to the Stooges. Mom was almost right, thinking they're stupid. But we like to call them "stoopid": they're so dumb they are - sometimes - ingenious. The joke about the tapeworm cracks me up every time. The gag where two guys get caught in the same suit jacket so one guy accidentally starts punching his partner is perfect Vaudeville choreography. Throw in the occasional interesting trivia from Mr. Koz, and stoopid is skipping along, hand in hand with educational.

Rich Koz emphasizes that he reads all the letters he receives, so he features a few letters in the middle of each show. A while ago, some poor guy wrote in saying he loves the show, but his wife can't stand the Stooges, so he gets to watch them only if she's not around. Some comment was made about how women just don't like the Three Stooges. Then he moved on with the show.

This past weekend, Rich read a letter from a middle-aged woman who took offense at this sweeping generalization regarding the fairer sex. She'd been a Stooge fan since she was a kid, she wrote, and she had plenty of female friends who felt the same way. Women who hate the Stooges need to "get in touch with their inner guy."

This letter writer, I thought, just summed up something foundational about who I am.

Time for some back story. Please envision some vision-waving rays here:

Back in my home town, my closest friends growing up were all guys. There were three in particular with whom I spent most of my time, and whom I creatively referred to as The Guys. We were the drama club nerds for the most part, though our school was so small that the cliques weren't that well defined, so "Schmei and The Guys" was not an exclusive club or anything, it was just the way things often shook out.

My parents bought a beat-up Oldsmobile for my use in high school, and I was shocked to learn that it was a manual transmission. I hated my parents for approximately fifteen minutes, until one of The Guys expressed some level of admiration that a chick would drive a stickshift. I honestly hadn't paid attention to the fact that The Guys? Drove stick shifts. This is very manly, in part because it aids in driving recklessly fast on country roads. We will pass over without mention the other reason a stick shift can be construed as manly.

The Guys exposed me to good music and good books, to junky snacks and ginger beer. I was never entirely certain if I was "one of The Guys" or just the annoying girl they allowed to tag along. I do know that there were times they would have rather I had stayed home, because... well, I was still a teenage girl. They're terrible creatures sometimes.

There is also the awkward truth that in junior high and high school, there were attempts to date each of The Guys along the way. The first, in eighth grade, resulted in one of the best breakups of my life. We sort of held hands and stuff for a week, and then he tried to kiss me, and then that was weird and he admitted, "that was like kissing my sister." And I agreed. So it ended.

That was sort of how they all were: non-starters, really. The other two didn't even progress to the point that there was a formal break-up: They were more like a series of gaffes. But when you're fifteen or seventeen, who knows? Everything about our small town told us that we'd marry someone in our high school class, and I think we felt obligated to consider that. It's not like there were many options, anyway. And the concept of marriage was roughly as appealing as kissing your sister, i.e., not at all.

We're all married now. None of us the core group of Schmei and The Guys married anyone from high school, thankfully.

When I left town for college I fell out of contact with the guys, for the most part, and I found myself at a school with an overwhelmingly female population. Most of my college friends were women. Some of them created the kind of drama that only women can create for each other.

Oh, how I missed The Guys.

I would still see Bro (yes, he was one of The Guys) over breaks from school, and when I was studying abroad we wrote letters back and forth, but we were each living our own lives and doing some growing up. We'd go months without communicating.

I don't know if it was missing that testonerone-y sense of things that made me get in to the college newspaper, where I met my best college friends, but it could be.

I do think it was quite possibly the influence of The Guys that made my friendship with DH so natural when we first met at the start of my junior year. I was really happy to meet such a great dude. He was the kind of guy one could wander around with or tell fart jokes or talk philosophy. We became such good friends so fast that I wasn't really willing to consider something romantic. Besides, those are always non-starters, right?

Not always, as it turns out. Which is nice.

So here I find myself, more than ten years after I last hung out with The Guys: A married woman, living in a big city, writing a blog.

Through a series of recent conversations, I learned that three men I know and like, and whose writing I enjoy, read my blog. All three of them have mentioned it to me, with the occasional needling that I should write a little more. It's needling I've appreciated greatly.

I think this might be The Guys 2.0, which is fantastic. I prefer to remain in touch with my inner guy.


Hi folks,

If you're reading this in a reader of some sort the "The Guys" post has been updated and is now no longer in draft form.
Have a good evening.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Small Neighbors

Recently observed on my walk to work:

Sometimes I get off the train a stop earlier and walk the mile or so to my office, which is a nice way to kick off a day of mostly sedentary work.

There is a line of parks along much of the southern portion of Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago. In one of these parks, a slim middle-aged lady was bundled against the cold in a pricey looking coat - she looked like she probably lived in one of the nearby high rise condominium buildings. She had her left glove off. In the crook of her right arm was the handle of a red plastic bucket. She was reaching in to the bucket with her gloveless hand, pulling out what looked like chestnuts, and placing them at about shoulder-height in the trees lining the paved walkway. A small group of squirrels were pacing in the snow nearby, watching her do this.

As I kept walking, I passed a cluster of sparrows hopping around a pile of birdseed that had just been left on the stone banister.

Tonight's temperature is expected to plunge below zero, so I'm sure our smaller neighbors can use the extra calories.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Essays: Because who has time for a whole novel right now anyway?

I'm part of a pretty informal online book club, and I just posted this for them. This recommendation isn't just limited to that group, however, so I'm posting this here, as well.

Well hello there, fellow book-sharers. Schmei here. (It's pronounced like "pie", which, incidentally, is something I like to eat.) Most of you know who I am in real life, but I have this delusion about trying to remain somewhat anonymous on the interwebs, so humor me.

Because I, in turn, will humor you, with my best book recommendation of late.

Over Christmas, my librarian brother-in-law, Jon, gave me a book I'd never heard of. This is always a Good Sign. Jon is a master of the well-selected book, and I'm always excited when it's a complete unknown to me.

As I hoped, he hit this one out of the park. So I'm sharing it with you, and I hope you'll have a chance to read it soon, so I can talk about it with someone other than my long-suffering husband who hasn't had time to pick it up yet.

I should note that I greatly enjoy journalistic writing, and for a brief time in a past life I considered becoming a features writer, so there's a part of me that essentially wants to beGene Weingarten, without the facial hair. And damn, people, the man can write like I've never seen before. These essays made me laugh out loud and cry... more quietly, only because I didn't want to startle people around me. The essays about his father managed to do both at once, perfectly. The final essay - and the title piece - made me think about life.

I mean Think. About Life.

(Though I have to throw out that DC is a crazier town than Chicago. Things would have been different here, I just know it. I'll leave it at that.)

Oh, and don't skip over the introduction. Weingarten gives some insight into his way of looking at life, and you can see how that informs his writing. It also offers some of the best writing advice I've seen since Stephen King's On Writing. Which is saying plenty.

I feel that I should also note this: the essay entitled Fatal Distraction - Weingarten won a Pulitzer prize for it - is extremely difficult to read. I had heard about this essay from a few folks who read it when it was originally published because the subject matter is troubling. Weingarten gives a warning before the piece, and if you have a small child in your life, or, hell, if you're human, you may have some difficulty getting through it.

But you should try. Because he manages to find some redemption there, in a painfully arbitrary, irredeemable situation.

And then he follows that up with a funny essay, because he knows what he just did to you. He's a man who respects his readers, that's what he is.

So please, go check out this book, and read the whole thing, and when you've finished, and then after you re-read a few of the essays three times (that's not just me, right?) - let me know what you think of it.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


Recently observed in the Chicago Loop:

A broad-shouldered, hefty man in a Carhartt-type jacket and work boots - the kind of guy who looks like he lifts heavy things for a living - is standing in an alcove in front of an office building, trying to get out of the snow. Said snow is blowing sideways and has started to collect on one side of his face. He has the beginnings of a beard, which looks partly frozen. He is staring at the ground, shrugging. He's a man who looks like he's usually in control, usually of large objects. A man who gets his work done and probably carries a union card and surely can handle his beer.

His cell phone looks very small in his hand. He's holding it up to his ear but he's looking at the ground. He sounds nervous.

"So I was thinking... maybe... well I was thinking maybe I could take you out to dinner some time?"

He sounds like he took a while to make that call.

I hope the answer was yes.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I had a really good weekend. Most weekends with DH qualify as "really good", except the ones that rank as "fantastic". This one was somewhere in between the two. I got less work done on my thesis than I had hoped to, but I got some work accomplished, and I was able to sleep in both mornings and still do some wandering around the Chicagoland area with my favorite person.

We started the weekend on Friday night at a very hip art exhibit opening at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, where we were so hip we were on the guest list so we got in for free. I am related to one of the artists in the exhibit and I'm very very proud of him... and this is supposed to be a quasi-anonymous blog, so I'll stop there. But if you're around Chicago, do check out the New Chicago Comics exhibit this month - there's some really cool stuff there.

On Saturday DH found a sheet-music store that he wanted to check out, so check it out we did, and then we continued wandering, like we do, and - as happens when we're both gamboling around together - we talked. We had a conversation that was important enough to span both days of the weekend, important enough to ponder in my heart during the times we weren't talking.

Important Conversations are part of really good weekends, too.

On Sunday, after church and lunch, we went for a long, sunny stroll in our neighborhood. We walked along the frozen lake. We talked and didn't talk. We noted the high number of cute dogs being taken for walks, and the big chunks of ice on the lake.

Before we'd left for our walk, I had started to get something of a headache, but we both thought the walk and the fresh air would help. It did help, temporarily, but when we got home and I sat down, my head started hurting a bit more. I began having trouble keeping my eyes open. I decided that what I needed, despite needing to work on my thesis or on dinner or on dishes or on something, was a nap. (This should have been a warning, I'm a terrible napper.) I went in to our bedroom and laid down in the dark and tried to sleep. But my headache just grew in ferocity, and I couldn't sleep. And then I felt like I wanted to puke.

And then I knew what was happening.


I used to think that migraines were made up, or exaggerated. There was a time in my youth when I just didn't think anyone could have a headache that bad. Seriously, buck up. It's only a headache. But one summer break from college when I was in my home town, working a somewhat-dull office job, I got my first known migraine. I'm fairly sure it was the worst migraine I've had, actually - I was unable to function at all. I remember shuffling in to a small, unoccupied office, turning off the lights, laying my head on the desk, and wishing I could cry if it just wouldn't hurt so much. I couldn't move. Breathing too deeply made my head want to shatter. I wanted to vomit, but I knew that the act of moving toward a wastebasket would make my pressurized forehead explode into a million fiery pieces. Walking to the bathroom was simply not feasible.

I finally just told my boss I was sick. I can't remember how I got myself home, but I managed to get a doctor's appointment for the next day. The pain, by then, was mostly gone, but I described it to my family doctor. He's a general practitioner in a small town where everybody knows everyone. His kids went to school with me. I trusted him, for good reason.

His first question was, "What did you eat yesterday?"

I didn't know that migraines ever have a cause, I thought they were just mysterious punishment from the beyond. So I presumed this was just some kind of unconnected standard procedure.

So I started to list it off: I'd had a ham sandwich for lunch that day, Chinese food for dinner the night before, a similar ham sandwich for lunch two days ago, some bacon with breakfast that day...

"I think I know what caused it."



So it turns out that many meat products in the US, and anything made in a Chinese fast-food restaurant, are treated with nitrites - preservatives used primarily to make meat look more pink. Americans really are that obsessed with appearance, it seems, that we'll put freaky chemicals in our deli meats so they won't adopt a greyish tinge. And then we'll ingest those chemicals without a second thought.

And, as it happens, some weaker individuals develop an intolerance to those chemicals.

This weekend, as I was curled up in a ball in my darkened bedroom, I thought through the last few days. And the answer dawned on me in that migraine-way where an idea actually hurts: "Chinese food!"

Before we went to the schmancy museum opening, we stopped at Panda Express for a quick dinner. I observed to DH that, though the place was two blocks from my office, I'd never gotten food there before. I wasn't sure why not, I said, as I happily munched some spicy beef and fried rice.

Because you can't eat commercially-produced Chinese food, Schmei.

This seems to be my pattern: I'll go as long as a year being very careful not to eat anything that contains nitrites, and then I'll get hubristic and conveniently forget this truth about myself. And THEN I inevitably eat six nitrite-laced meals in 48 hours, which makes me a sniveling, nauseous, cringing mess. I didn't only have Chinese food this weekend. Over the course of three days, I had Chinese food, pepperoni pizza (pepperoni generally has nitrites in it), a few bites of DH's turkey bacon club sandwich (bacon = nitrites. So does turkey, often), and two hot dogs (is there anything that occurs in nature in a hot dog?).

I guess to some degree the Important Conversations had left me not really paying attention to what I was doing.

Fortunately, the doctor back home had told me that, as soon as I felt like I was getting a migraine, I should take two ibuprofen and just not move for an hour or so. I'm fairly stubborn about taking painkillers, but I knew I couldn't tough this thing out. I took the pills. DH got me a can of seltzer water to help settle my hash. I wrapped myself in a blanket on the couch and half-watched a football game (side note: commercials these days are REALLY bright and jerky, aren't they? Ow.) and sipped my fizzy water. Roughly every ten minutes, DH would ask "how're you doing?" And I'd say "better." Once he was sure I wasn't going to follow it up with "better get a bucket," I think he became a bit less concerned.

An hour later, though I was still a little woozy, the headache was definitely subsiding.

I'm blessed to have migraines that come with known causes and leave with known solutions. I know there are folks who just get them for no reason, or who get them for days, or who have chronic headaches that never go away. And that is simply terrible. I think people who are dealing with that level of pain and are doing anything but lying in the dark feeling sorry for themselves deserve medals or cash awards or a special place in heaven. Or all three.

It's difficult for people who haven't experienced migraines - people like my younger self - to appreciate how impossible it is to function with one, and in the rosy way that human memory works, I eventually forget how much they hurt until I wash my Spicy Asian Beef down with a ham sandwich and hate myself later. But once again I've learned my lesson. Each time I learn it, the lesson seems to stick for a little longer, so maybe I can make it something like two years before I do the migraine thing again.

So, that was my weekend: 93% fantastic and 7% agonizing.

Overall, it was really good.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Year in Review

I was kind of paralyzed about reviewing 2010, but I think it's a good mental exercise – sincethat's what most of this blog is, anyway - but then I saw this questionnaire and was reminded of the writing prompts we always had to do in high school English class. I loved those things. So this was kind of fun.

1. What did you do in 2010 that you’d never done before?

Swam/Biked/Ran a triathlon, held a newborn baby (23 hours old!), had my thesis proposal accepted, baked a three-tier chocolate mint cake, made cinnamon rolls from scratch.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I didn’t really make resolutions. I think I will make something like a resolution this year, because I enjoy checking out my progress a year later.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My sister, a couple of blog-writers I read (is that close?), one of my coworkers.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Chester Holton, a sweet old guy from my home town who would give me quarters when I was a little kid. He lived a full life, and according to my parents, his daughter was a little overwhelmed at the visitation with all stories of the kind things he did for people.

5. What countries did you visit?

I stayed in the good ol’ U S of A. Keeping life cheap these days.

6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?

No debt. That’s a double-negative but I don’t care.

A real vacation with DH.

7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 26 – my niece's birth

September 18 – my big brother's wedding

October 24 – Bro and the Speaker's wedding

December 3 – DH's big bro's wedding (we found out about it three weeks later!)

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Probably the triathlon.

9. What was your biggest failure?

I didn’t finish my thesis in 2010. Loser.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I had the flu in February for the first time in years, and I ran on a wrapped foot right before my brother's wedding which totally effed up my foot, so I was limping everywhere all weekend. That was stupid.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

The $26 dress I found at Marshall’s that I wore for my graduation ceremony and my brother's wedding.

12. Where did most of your money go?

Food, rent, savings, debt payment. So amazingly boring. This is probably why I get excited about the grocery store.

13. What did you get really excited about?

Bro and the Speaker deciding to get hitched in a small park ceremony 6 months earlier than originally planned. And they made pie in a jar as favors. We were really excited for them and the weekend was really, really, really, ridiculously fun.

14. What song will always remind you of 2010?

The “Inception” sound, which isn’t really a song: BWOOOOOOAAHH…

Also probably “Strange Overtones” by David Byrne, which is one of DH’s favorite songs ever ever ever.

15. Compared to this time last year, are you:

– happier or sadder? About the same.

– thinner or fatter? Almost exactly the same – so much for the triathlon!

– richer or poorer? Slightly less poor, on paper at least.

16. What do you wish you’d done more of?

Taking days off to write the thesis, Vacationing with DH.

17. Wish you’d done less of?

Tried to make people happy who just aren’t, worked overtime.

18. How did you spend Christmas?

The weekend before, we went to my sister’s house and spent a long weekend putting up and decorating their tree, running a 5-mile run, making cookies and exchanging gifts. That Monday I went to work for one day, then stepped out the door of my office at 3:30 and was picked up in a car that contained my oldest brother-in-law (driving), my husband, sister-in-law (oooh – but I didn’t know she was legally my sister-in-law at the time!!), our cat, and a week’s worth of luggage, laundry and snacks. I spent 2.5 hours squished in the back seat, and then a week spread out and relaxed in Michigan, where there was much eating, drinking wine, sleeping, watching movies, finding out about secret weddings that had happened, laughing, cooking, etc.

We went to Christmas Eve Mass at the nice Catholic Church, which included a Christmas pageant and was really cute. Then we had a feast of Short Ribs, and we all exchanged gifts. I got a Wii. We drove back to Chicago on Christmas morning, dropped everything off at our apartment, took a nap (stayed up wayyy too late the last night in Michigan, which included late night couples’ laundry folding with BIL and SIL in the family room) and headed to the B grandparents’ for Christmas dinner and Scrabble/Yahtzee (SIL likes Yahtzee, which means I like SIL). We went home to our own place that night.

Boxing day (Sunday) morning we exchanged gifts with each other, then went to DH’s R grandparents where we spent the evening, ate cannollini and got more presents. I got a Wii Fit (my gifts had a theme). We spent another day (Tuesday) with the fam out there, went to see Tron Legacy and I went for a looong hike by a Slough with BILs and SIL. BIL and SIL left town on Wednesday.

DH and I got colds from our niece, so we were pretty congested most of the time, but we were able to sleep a lot so it wasn’t a big deal.

19. What was your favorite TV program?


(This is what happens when you don't have cable).

20. What were your favorite books of the year?

Middlesex (part of Bro's online book club), and I think the book younger BIL gave me for Christmas might count, too. Though I'm still reading it.

21. What was your favorite music from this year?

Spoon. DH gave me “Transference” for Valentine’s Day because I finally admitted to myself that I’ve always loved Spoon. Whenever a genius mix would come on, as soon as a Spoon song started I would say “this is a good mix!”

22. What were your favorite films of the year?

Inception, True Grit

23. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 28, and we took a trip from Silver Lake to that town with the coffee shop, where I spent an hour on the café wifi and read a lot of birthday notes from friends. Later I had cake and ice cream with all my extended in-laws and played with my 9-month-old cousin. Since the whole week was vacation it was all very relaxed.

24. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

About three more weeks of vacation time, probably. I feel like I’m always rationing my time off, and then misappropriating it.

25. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?

Um, what? "Personal fashion concept?" Well, I got this hot short haircut in November, and started wearing more dangly earrings. And I brought back the contacts. So I guess my attempted concept was “Well-put-together young adult” as opposed to "schleppy grad student".

26. What kept you sane?

DH and Corina, my tag team of humorous understanding and unconditional (as long as there's tuna) love.

27. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.

You're probably not going to finish everything you wrote down to do today, so just do the important stuff, then go home.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Best Recap

So it's a new year, and 2010 was certainly a mixed bag. In my personal life it was pretty great: my family expanded to include a new, ever-cuter niece, two new sisters-in-law and whatever you call the Speaker (Longest-Friend-In-Law? Whatevs). Also, I did a triathlon and baked a couple of fairly impressive cakes.

In world events, things were closer to terrible much of the time. But I'm not going to re-write what's already been said so well, so I'll be a blog slacker and just re-post Dave Barry's year in review.

I should note that I grew up reading Dave Barry's weekly column - when I could wrest it from the clutches of the rest of my family. He made my mom laugh Every. Single. Sunday. for years and years, and I have to thank him for making her almost spit-take her post-church coffee a few times. He made my dad snort a few times, too (Dave Barry is also one of the few people who's made Dad do his patented "running out of breath" laugh, which is very hard to describe, but when my siblings and I try to imitate it we usually just end up running out of breath laughing, ourselves).

I stopped reading his stuff, though, when it started to feel stale. I do think Barry probably ruined a lot of his readers by raising their humor standards to a difficult-to-meet level. This recap just made me love him all over again, though: He's at his best when he's making a reader guffaw about something that is essentially pure tragedy.

I've been reading Gene Weingarten too much lately. I'll write about him later, I'm sure.

Anyway, here is Dave Barry's year in review. I'll have another, way less interesting "Schmei's Year in Review" post in a bit, and then it's so long to 2010, since we're already 6 days in to the new year. I work better when I'm past a deadline, clearly.