December 30, 2007

Away in a Manger

The Christmas decorations are down. I saved Oscar the trouble and took them down now so he wouldn't allow himself to get into any more trouble. (He did knock the tree down again two days ago.) And surprisingly, everything is present and accounted for... with the exception of my baby Jesus in a manger ornament.

I've looked everywhere around the tree, under my couch, under my chair, in corners and even in Oscar's litter box. I can't find him. I tried interrogating Oscar, but it didn't seem to phase him. So I ask you, what would Jesus do?

December 26, 2007

Oh, Unholy Night

I had a thought on my 10-hour train trip from Chicago to Dearborn, Michigan: I probably should have taken down my little Christmas tree before leaving. A trifecta of train problems doubled my trip time home, so I had a lot of time to think. I left Chicago to spend the holidays with my family. I was, however, leaving one family member from Friday to Wednesday - my mischievous cat Oscar.

Oscar had plenty of time to think, as well. With six mostly-unsupervised days in my apartment (I did have friends check on him), Oscar took his time thinking about how he could dismantle my Christmas tree. And then he did.

When I left home Friday, my tree looked like this:

When I came home today, my tree looked like this:

Notice the tree skirt is now on top of the tree. Notice the lack of ornaments. Notice the carnage.
No, notice the carnage:

My porcelain snowman is weeping inside:

And who's the culprit? None other than my little beast.

I'm not even certain I'll be able to find all my ornaments. They were strewn across my apartment. I could see him dragging some under my bed to his little hidden lair, so I'm counting on finding some in Oscar's litter box in a few days. Some could be under my couch. Some could be half way to Michigan. I really don't know. What I do know is that Oscar gets mad when I leave him. And I learned I need to do my best to curb the number of things he can destroy in my absence. Because something tells me he'd do it all again if he had the chance.

December 16, 2007

Hauntingly Beautiful

Every day in my work inbox I receive an email from Daily Candy. The emails vary in their content and length, but generally they contain a summary of goings-on in the Chicagoland area. On Friday morning, I received an email with a link to Carey Primeau's portfolio. The title of the Daily Candy email was Neglected Beauty, and if you view his portfolio you can see that is what he photographs.

He travels to dilapidated structures - landmarks in their day - and photographs them. His work is beautiful even though the places he photographs are not. I found his photos especially interesting because two sections of the portfolio are dedicated to Detroit (near where I grew up) and Chicago (where I live now) structures.

It has always angered me to see buildings that have a history left to their own ruin. I find his work beautiful and sad and compelling and inspiring all at the same time. His work inspired me so much that I felt the need to write him - not something I do often. I wanted him to know that I consider his photos to be both artistic and noble. I described it to him as hauntingly beautiful. And being the compassionate artist he is, he wrote me back:

"Thank you very much for the compliments. I'm glad that so many find these connections to the buildings. Hauntingly Beautiful is a perfect phrase to describe the photos. Here's hope that one day these landmarks will be saved for future generations and that one day they can tell narratives about us and our time here on earth."

I share his hope.

December 11, 2007

Where's The Beef?

Outside my door when I came home from work today was a giant Styrofoam box. However, I already knew what was inside it: meat. I should explain.

My office Christmas party was last week. I did not attend. I did, however, receive a text message from a coworker mid-party informing me I won meat. Yes, meat. My firm raffles off a lot of prizes at the annual Christmas party: $200 gift certificates, overnight stays in five star hotels downtown, airlines tickets.... and meat. And I won the meat. In a twist of irony, I did not attend the Christmas party because my stomach was in knots, so the thought of pounds of meat heading my way did not help my cause.

I opened the giant Styrofoam box and began surveying my winnings (with Oscar watching closely nearby). When all was said and done, I received:
- two top sirloin steaks
- two beef tenderloin steaks
- four ground beef burgers
- four boneless chicken breasts
- six stuffed baked potatoes
- one chocolate cake

It needs to be said that I am not a vegetarian, but I eat like one. I will have the occasional meat dish, but usually only if it's prepared for me, not by me. My dinners consist mainly of rices, beans, vegetables, cheeses or sometimes just a bag of popcorn. I can spend $100 easily at the grocery store on snack foods I turns into "dinners." To have all this meat in my house now is a bit overwhelming. So overwhelming that instead of busting into one of my many meat options tonight for dinner, I made nachos with cheese, onions, spinach and salsa. (No meat.) Maybe I'll make something tomorrow, but until then, my meat will continue to take up about two-thirds of my freezer's space.

December 10, 2007

A Whole Latte Money

My office distributes paychecks on the first and 15th of every month. Needless to say checking my bank account balance online around that time is as exciting as it gets. This Friday, though, I have reason to be extra excited. December 15th is not just any payday, it’s the payday when I will receive my annual bonus.

When I was hired at the firm in the summer of 2006, my recruiter informed me that the firm’s salaries are not top of the pay scale, but it tends to make up the difference come bonus time. Last year, I had only worked for the firm about six months when bonus day rolled around. I did not expect much. What I received was a little less than five grand (before taxes). Needless to say, I was floored. I have not heard anything about the firm being stingy this year, so I’m planning to receive a sizable chunk of change in about four days.

Money has concerned me for as long as I can remember. I moved to Chicago on a journalist’s salary and less than three months in found myself with mounting debt and a job that would never allow me to make ends meet. Last year, when I finally began making what I consider to be a livable wage, I vowed that I would not allow my influx of cash to be spent on venti lattes and bags of shoes. This is not to say I didn’t buy the occasional latte or pricy shoe, because I did. But I also did get very serious about getting my finances under control. I paid off my credit card, put a decent chunk of money in savings and started contributing 10 percent of my paycheck to a 401K. I am in better financial shape right now than I have ever been, and to me that’s worth more than all the venti lattes in Chicago.

As I said, I was surprised by first bonus. I could have justified splurging on a few needless, pricy items for myself since most of my bonus was money I had not banked on. Instead, I started my fiscal year right. Half of my bonus went to my credit card balance and the other half I used to open a high-interest savings account.

Since I have an idea of what I can expect to receive this year, I’m planning. And as a pat on the back to myself, I’m happy to say about half of my 2007 bonus will be spent on a spring trip to Morocco. A smaller portion will be used to pay off the few odds and ends on my credit card and an even smaller portion will be going toward my savings to round it up to nice even number. After Christmas presents and repairing my violin, I’m planning to still have a couple hundred extra for whatever. I already have a feeling a portion of that whatever is left (ok, most of it) may be spent on shoes… and at least one venti latte.