November 29, 2008

Doing What I Didn't Know I Can Do

It's a nice feeling to learn that you know how to do something you didn't know you knew how to do. For example, Internet, I can ski.

The last time I went skiing was probably about a decade ago. And at that time, I remember graduating to an easy green trail after spending a good portion of the day on the bunny hill. And as I said that was about a decade ago. I have probably skied less than 10 times in my entire life and the majority of that time was on bunny hills all across Michigan.

Mike and I spent Thanksgiving at his sister's home. His sister's home is located about 45 minutes from a Wisconsin ski resort. We decided a good way to spend the day after Thanksgiving would be on said ski hill. Mike's a better skier than I am, so, you know, easy for him to say. I was game to try skiing again but really did not have high expectations for myself.

There was definitely an adjustment period. I forgot how weird ski boots were to walk in. Mike had to help me get on my skis and demonstrate how to get them off. But as we made our way to the bunny hill from the lodge, skiing came back to me with each small step.

I started slow by working my way up the bunny hill. I side-stepped upward higher and higher and skied farther and farther. Eventually feeling confident enough in my stopping ability, I headed down the entire length of a bunny hill. I surprised myself because after abut 30 minutes on the bunny hill, I was ready for something bigger.

My first pass down the green run was slow. I went down the entire way in a plow position. But after a few more passes I started gaining speed and even tried weaving in an easy zig-zag pattern downhill. By the end of the day, having only fallen twice, I felt comfortable. I could steer. I could stop. I could control my speed. I didn't need to fall to stop. That used to be my only mode of stopping.

Mike and I were both pretty happy with how well the day went. He was pretty excited to have a ski buddy, and I was pretty darn excited that I could fulfill that role.

November 26, 2008

My Favorite Holiday

I worked until 4:30 today and then took the 5:03 train home. Usually that statement would be preceded by me bragging about how I early I left work. But today was a day when the firm said everyone was free to go at 2 p.m. The catch to that offer was that we were only dismissed if we had no work. I had work. I didn't have attorneys breathing down my neck for said work, but I knew if I didn't put in a little extra time today then I would have that problem come Monday. So I stayed a little later and grumbled about it all the way home. Now, five hours later, sitting comfortably at home in my PJs watching the Daily Show, it no longer seems like a big deal.

I'm glad it no longer seems like a big deal because tomorrow I get to celebrate my favorite holiday. I've always felt like Thanksgiving is an overlooked holiday given that Christmas officially permeates the entire month of November nowadays - parts of October for that matter too. But I love Thanksgiving, always have. It's fantastic. I admit it doesn't involve elaborate light displays, FREAKING INFLATABLE LAWN ORNAMENTS(!), songs, presents and a month of justified gluttony in any way imaginable. But you know what? That is precisely why I love Thanksgiving so much. There's no pretension. There are not sky high expectations. There isn't excessive planning and priming and preparing months in advance. There's no pressure. At least for me. Those of you making a turkey tomorrow probably would beg to differ. Thanksgiving is just so easy. And what other holiday encourages not only forgiving pants but napping after a good, hearty meal. It's a beautiful thing, Thanksgiving. A holiday that is one single day and the only requirement is enjoying company, food and reflecting on a few of the things that give you thanks.

And in the spirit of my favorite holiday let me say I have many things to be thankful for - most of all my friends and my family, their good health and the ways that they continue to inspire, amaze and love me. I honestly do feel blessed many times over.

November 23, 2008

Wedding Update

This past weekend was fun, really fun. My best friend Jenny and her mom came into town to do some wedding dress shopping. This was Jenny's first round of wedding dress shopping. It went very well, so well that Jenny fell in love with a $4,000 dress that she has no intention to buy. I am pretty sure she is online right now researching fabrics and searching for gowns to see if there's any way she can find a similar dress or a way to have her seamstress make it cheaper.

As for me, I am now preparing to be Jenny's maid of honor. It turns out her intentions for visiting this weekend were two-fold. Sure she wanted to try on some dresses but she also wanted to ask me to be her maid of honor. I of course accepted, after she made me and her mom cry by the very sweet way she asked.

This offer makes it official that I will be in two weddings this coming year. I also said yes to Dorrie's offer to play the violin at her wedding. We've selected four songs and I've been practicing them for about a month already. (Yes, poor Mike is loving my four-song repertoire these days.) In a few months I'll send her recordings and let her determine if I'm good enough to provide music for her walk down the aisle. If not, then Dorrie has promised I can be the person to tell the guests it's time to start by yelling, "Hey! Sit your punk a$$es down, b!tches!" Either way, I'm in the wedding.

November 20, 2008

I Even Had Time For Coffee

You know what I did this morning? I worked out! (I am so proud of this that, yes, I am blogging on my lunch hour.)

And I did not puke and/or pass out. Not at any point did I feel puke-y or pass-y out-y. It was fantastic. I even surprised myself because I was able to do more than I expected. I didn't make it to the yoga class on time, so instead I did 30 minutes of cardio and 20 minutes of strength training.

The crazy thing is I got home at a time that's earlier than the time I usually get up. I even had time to make coffee before I caught the train.

So all in all, it went fantastic. Better than expected. Dare I say this may become routine? Yes, yes I dare. This may be the start of a routine for me.

November 19, 2008

A Monumental Try

I am going to attempt to do something tomorrow that I have only attempted a few times before. The very thought of it scares me, makes me a little nervous. It's hard, I hate it and one time while attempting it I almost puked and/or passed out. What is this you ask? What is this huge scary, thing I plan to attempt?

I, Internet, am going to work out tomorrow morning. (Gasp!)

Amy does not do morning gym exercise. I've always maintained that I would rather work out at 10 p.m. than 8 a.m. I think that still is true. The problem is I never want to leave my home come 10 p.m. to work out. It got me to thinking that I might be able to muster up the energy earlier, rather than later in the day.

My rationale for the morning work out is three-fold:
1. If I work out in the morning, I will not have time to talk myself out of working out. It will be get up and go without giving myself the time to formulate reasons for not going (other than more sleep that is).

2. The sun sets at about 4:30 p.m. these days in Chicago. Given the pitch black night I just can't say I feel comfortable riding my bike to and from the gym. And that's on days without snow. If I go early in the morning, I can take Mike's car because in the morning there is ample parking by the gym and home.

3. By getting this out of the way early in the day, things like staying late at work and making after work plans will have no effect on my gym schedule. My nights will be free to do whatever I please with them (like blogging!).

My concerns, however, are one-fold:

1. I may puke/and or pass out.

My plan right now is to wake up at 6 a.m., eat a little something, throw on my gym clothes and get to there by 6:30 for a yoga class. (I figure I can ease in the first day with yoga.) The class is an hour so I can get home in enough time to shower, get ready for work and catch the 8:30 train downtown - 8:50 if I'm running a little late. I really did not think this is something I'd ever consider. But the more I think about it the more it makes sense for my schedule.

I was talking to a coworker of mine one day and she mentioned how she can't work out at night. I said the opposite was true for me. Her response surprised me: "Oh, I used to never be able to work out in the morning. And then I told myself I'd try it for 30 days. I haven't gone back." It just made sense. How could I write off something I have never tried?

I can't commit to 30 days of this right now. But I'm committing to tomorrow morning which seems like a pretty honest start.

OK. That is all, dear Internet. I am off to get my gym clothes ready and pack my lunch. If this is to be a success, planning will be involved.

And if there are any of you out there who are morning gym attendees, I'm welcome to any suggestions (please).

November 18, 2008

Not A Yes Or No Answer

I listen to NPR all day pretty much every day at work. Even though the programs change on the hour, there are weeks where certain news topics will dominate in some way almost every program on the station.

When the mortgage bubble burst, the topic was the housing crisis. Before we elected a president, it was who were we going to elect as president. After we elected a president, the topic shifted to how do you feel about having a black president. When stocks went tumbling, news coverage of this topic soared. And now the latest question posed to the national conscience that has overtaken the airwaves - should we or shouldn't we bail out the auto industry?

My sister and dad both work in the Detroit auto industry - my dad as a tool and dye man for 30-plus years and my sister as a mechanical engineer for the past eight. I do not take discussion regarding this question lightly. Having gotten to where I am today by way partially of a GM paycheck, I can't answer yes or no without envisioning the immediate impact of either response. Yes and my family keeps their jobs, their pensions and food on the table. No and I wonder how my parent's retirement will be hit. With a no, I feel for my sister's family who was just getting accustomed to becoming a two salary household. But I can't say yes to a bailout without thinking the obvious - aren't these companies responsible for the terrible business decisions they made? As a government (and taxpayer) should we really get into the business of bailing out businesses?

In talking to my sister about the sorry state of the Detroit auto industry, she is quick to point out that competitive foreign markets are subsidized. Japanese automakers have been on the cutting edge because the government has supported them in doing so. That is a distinct advantage and one that in some ways has created a very uneven playing field.

The playing field though has warped at our own doing. As much as American auto companies produced in mass giant, unnecessary gas-guzzling SUV's, we bought them without regard to their abysmal fuel efficiency. Yes, they were pretty, they were fancy, they hogged roads and parking spaces across the country, and we bought into it all. And now we pay the price (literally) at the pump.

This failing of the auto industry has been in the works for some time though. As a kid, I can't tell you the number of times my dad was transferred from one plant to another, put in the jobs bank, taken out of the jobs bank only to be put on midnights, then on strike, then put back in the jobs bank and taken out again only to switch to another plant. As a kid it was too much to keep track of, so I didn't. Most kids can probably tell you where their father works. I, on the other hand, growing up was surprised every few years to drive by "dad's plant" only to find out that it wasn't dad's plant anymore. I couldn't tell you the location of where he works right now. As much as I may not have understood the location, I knew enough to realize that his irregular job patterns where a symptom of the larger company problems.

That brings me back to my original question - should we bail out the auto industry or not? I say no, but only because I don't think bailout is the right word. I think the big three deserve an infusion of cash, but not so they can keep doing more of the same. Detroit and its imaginative, engineering minds need to do different, do better, do efficient and reemerge to once again be pioneers in the field they created. I know it's impossible to say 'Hey you, car makers, here's $25 million, now you go make something we can be proud of.' It's not that easy. But as one of the last industries in this country that actually makes something, I think they deserve the opportunity to try.

A favorite blogger of mine summed this up more eloquently than I ever could. As someone who's made it their mission to document Detroit, his words mean something to me. He said (and I encourage you to read this entire entry as well as the comments):
One thing I like about GM, Ford, and Chrysler is that they are companies that still make something. What do the vast majority of the Fortune 500 companies even do? What does Goldman Sachs do? What do all those companies in Silicon Valley make? They shuffle paper, sure, transmit blips of binary code, attend important meetings, and make "deals." Maybe brown people somewhere across an ocean will make whatever it is they're selling or shuffling on paper or e-mailing each other about. But in Detroit, and in plenty of other industrial cities across this country there are still people making things without exploited labor, and believe it or not that still means something.

November 17, 2008

A Web Cam of Cute

I was sitting in my office this afternoon when two of the secretaries near me started cooing and oohing over one of their computer screens. I of course had to see what the fuss was about. And of boy was it ever worth the look.

One of the secretaries was sent a link to a live puppy cam. I am not sure why these guys are up, where they are or how much they are but holy good lordy lord are they adorable. And I can guarantee I'll be turning to them whenever my mornings or afternoons are feeling a bit bleak. Thousands of people must fee the same because right now about 18,000 other people are watching these puppies.

Go join the thousands:

Look puppies!

November 16, 2008

Third In a Series

Here it is. The third photo hanging on my and Mike's living room wall. I chose it for the blues. That was the theme I was going for with these three photos - blues and a vertical composition.

I took this photo this past father's day. Mike and I went to visit his dad who lives 30 minutes outside of the city. We took him to dinner but before that went fishing at a small forest preserve not too far away.

I should mention that Mike, his dad and I have a terrible fishing record. Whenever the three of us have gone, we've gotten skunked - not a single fish caught. That father's day was no exception. We had been fishing for about 45 minutes and I was getting restless. I hadn't even gotten a nibble, but I had reeled in about 10 pounds of weeds.
I brought my camera and so I took it out to see if I could get some cool macro shots. I did, but in the end I liked this photo best. It was taken as a storm was rolling in and cut our outing short. But that storm provided the good blues in this photo and ultimately was what got it on our wall.

Gym Goals

This whole working out consistently thing hasn't quite stuck yet. Since I joined the gym about a month ago, I have yet to go a full week without making it to the gym, so I have made progress in that sense. However, my goal when joining was to consistently go four times a week. I've made it consistently two or three times, falling short of my goal. I think the problem may be my goal though. I know I want to go four times a week but to do what? And why?

My reason for rejoining a gym was to get in better shape, but I'm not training for anything. The only time I've ever gone to the gym consistently was when I was training for a five mile race. Given that it's November now and Chicago running season is more than five months away, I can't see that being a motivator. Plus, I know I'm not a huge fan of running any more, so five months of running will not make me want to go to the gym more. It would probably be a deterrent.

Really, my motivation to stop feeling so soft. My muscles are practically non-existent. The time when I felt the most healthy and slimmest was only a couple of years ago, and I want that feeling back in the present. I'd like to lose some overall weight but particularly around my midsection. It would be nice to have more muscle tone in my legs and arms. And if I'm being really honest, I'd like to build my strength so when Mike decides he needs to roughhouse with me I can do more than pull his hair to make him stop.

'm not terribly narrow in my means of achieving any sort of desired fitness results. I have been mixing cardio with some strength training. I think I've tried every strength machine, I've used free weights as well as every type of cardio equipment - sometimes all in one outing. I've found a class I really like and hope that I'll get up the nerve to take spinning class and then hopefully get hooked on it too. I'm just trying to find right now a way to once again make my gym appearance a regular thing. To me regular means going more times in a week than not. I am trying to reach this goal, and in trying I'm getting to the gym more than I had in months. That's enough to make me hopeful that my goal isn't too far away from being reached.

November 9, 2008


This photo is the second in a series of three that hang on my living room wall. The first is this one.

I took this photo in Morocco, specifically in the town of Essouria. It was an extremely photogenic little Atlantic town. For more evidence, see here.

I took a bunch of shots of these boats. I loved their blues and greens. The composition of this one turned out the best though. These boats were so simple and really pretty even though I'm sure they all reeked of fish. Guess it's a good thing my photos are not scratch and sniff.

My next photo up, the third one hanging on my living room wall. I'll post it later this week. Stay tuned.

A Little Distance

It was the last night of my and Mike's trip out west - night eight of not sleeping in our bed. At this point we had stayed in a full size bed for three nights, a king size for two nights and two very sleepless nights in a couple of reclining chairs. Our last night was spent at a Comfort Inn not too far from the Denver International Airport. I made reservations literally as we drove into town, so my criteria was simple. I chose it because it was the cheapest.

We checked in and as I opened the door I noticed it was a very nice room. And then I noticed there wasn't a king size bed, only two queens. My internal reaction was something along the lines of "awesome." I like sleeping next to Mike, but I was pretty stoked to have my own space.
Mike and I share a queen bed at home. The problem is before I moved in we each had domination over our own queen. Sharing Mike's bed night in, night out has taken some adjusting. He on occasion sleeps diagonally as if I'm not there. I, in turn, require approximately five times the amount of pillows Mike does to sleep. So yeah, there has been adjusting. Sure that last night in Denver we could have shared one queen, but we each took our own. Later while laying in Mike's bed watching TV, I looked up and asked if the room was OK, if he minded that we didn't have a king. "No way. This is awesome," he said, clearly agreeing that not sharing a bed was far cooler than sharing one. And it was. Mike could have slept lengthwise that night for all I know. Me, I was surrounded by a fortress of pillows.

Jump forward to this week and Mike and I once again will be sleeping in separate beds. He's in Atlanta on business. I'm left to tend to the home and care for our three needy, attention-seeking cats all by my lonesome. It will be a little strange. He left only seven hours ago and already it seems too quiet. I've been living with Mike for more than three months so my living alone days aren't so terribly far behind me. But it's different now. I've grown accustomed to living in Mike's place and having him here. Of course there will be perks due to his absence: the place will be cleaner, I can leave as many lights on as I want, turn the heat up as high as I want and sing pop songs at the top of my lungs while dancing in my PJs. That all will be kind of awesome. But it's at the expense of not having Mike to share my day with or accompany me during the morning train ride to work. I don't think the benefits out weight the drawbacks, even if I do get the queen bed all to myself. Well myself and three needy, attention-seeking, heat-stealing cats.

November 5, 2008

The Junior Senator From Illinois

He is our president-elect. And I and the city of Chicago could not be more proud. (See photo at right - taken on my lunch hour this afternoon.)

For those of you wondering, no I did not make it to Grant Park last night. Mike and I decided instead on a dive-y punk bar that was far enough away from madness in downtown Chicago. (Our co worker's band was playing at said bar.) I don't find myself in too many punk bars, but last night as the results came rolling in and we cheered in unison around two small TV sets, it felt right. I saw grown men cry and same-sex couples embrace at the news that Obama had surpassed the 270 electoral votes he needed. It was a beautiful moment - one that left me with a lump in my throat.

I realize not everyone shares my or my city's almost singular enthusiasm for the president-elect. About 56 million people, in fact, do not share this enthusiasm. However if you are in that 56 million, I offer you this slice of hope.

My sister sent me an email this morning. Her boys, 6- and 8-years-old, voted in a mock election at their school yesterday. She coaxed them awake this morning by asking if they wanted to see who one the election. As they watched the news, Jordan, the 6-year-old, says "Yup, Obama won." My sister tried to impress upon her young son the significance of this news. "Jordan, this is a huge moment that he won," she said. Jordan's bored response was "Yeah, yeah, I know ..... the first brown president." As my sister said his dismissal (while funny) is a reminder that her boys are growing up in a generation where the color of some one's skin is not newsworthy.

That right there is hope and a change we can believe in. And I think everyone can agree, regardless of party lines, that hope is a beautiful thing.

November 3, 2008

Those Other Folks

With so much attention being paid to the presidential ticket, it's easy to forget there is a whole other slew of candidates running for state and local offices. If you're like me, you've paid little to no attention to whom may or may not become your new state senator. I am not one of the millions of people who have taken advantage of early voting, so I'll be voting tomorrow and paying the consequence by waiting however long I am destined to wait.

Given that I haven't voted yet though, I have time to cram and make some educated decisions about all those other folks running for elected offices. What's that you say, you need to cram too? May I suggest a Web site: Project Vote Smart. May I also suggest typing in your zip code on the left hand side. It's the easiest way to locate your local races.

Happy cramming!

And lastly....


November 2, 2008

Caching Up With Old Friends

We're back. Mike and I survived our out west adventure and even learned a few things along the way. One of them... geocaching.

My amazingly, wonderful friend, Kelsa, and her equally awesome husband Michael were kind enough to host Mike and I two of our four nights in Phoenix. Not only did they make us some of the best fondu I've ever had, but they also introduced us to geocaching. I had heard of geocaching before but had never tried it. For those of you not familiar, I will let Wikipedia explain (see here). For those of you not wanting to read through Wikipedia's entry, let me say geocaching is kind of like hunting for buried treasure with modern day tools.
Micheal, explained the process to my Mike and on Monday morning we set off on our first geocaching adventure. Kelsa led us to this city park not far from her home and once we were there Mike let the GPS guide his steps. This city park though, given the arid Arizona climate is unlike ones in Chicago. It was sandy, hilly with the only occasional plant life. We got to the first spot and searched in and amongst some trees. Even with three sets of eyes, we saw nothing about of the ordinary. After ten minutes of searching, we considered our first cache a bust. Luckily there were two others located not too far away. That's the crazy thing about geocaches - they're everywhere. Mike and I were surprised to learn they are all over Chicago. There are even a few in parks not too far from our home.

Mike lead the way, GPS in hand, to the second cache. The GPS never made any audible alerts that we had reached our destination. Rather the reading would hoover between one and 10 feet letting us know we were close to the location. We got to that point, stopped and then began searching for our cache. I noticed on a rock to my left an orange jewel that clearly was not placed there by the elements. It was glued in place by a person and it was our geocache.

Kelsa recognized it as part of a geocache she and her husband had tried before. She said it was the Hansel and Gretel cache -a cache made up of many steps and clues. We had found only this one part and didn't bring directions to find the rest. We pressed on (after the photo op to the right) determined to find a true cache - one where we could leave our mark.
Mike informed us there was another cache 0.5 miles away and we decided to go for it. A half-mile didn't seem so far and I was feeling pretty proud for having spotted the last cache. My pride lessened the more the terrain heightened. This half-mile trek wasn't far, but it was some rough terrain. We walked over two hills on the way to our cache, and I had to stop and rest after each. I was dizzy and a little shaky (I think partially from the altitude change). Mike pressed ahead and reached our third cache's location. There was a small out cropping of rocks embedded in the second hill we climbed.
We knew the cache had to be somewhere in the rocks, but we had to hunt. The thing with caches is they aren't supposed to be apparent. Kelsa told Mike and I of one that she and her Michael had found. They got to the spot and noticed a suspicious looking cactus. Among the plant life, one geocacher had smartly placed a fake cactus.

Kelsa, Mike and I continued searching in and among the rocks looking in every nook and cranny. I reached the base of the rocks and looked up. Underneath I noticed several rocks blocking what looked like something with a hard metal edge. I pushed the rocks out of the way and felt the metal container. I pulled it out and announced to the group that we found our cache.

This particular cache held a bunch of trinkets that previous cachers had left - pencils, business cards and a fake $1 million bill. Mike logged our names, hometown and the date. With that we had found our first cache. And with our first cache, we found a love for geocaching. Don't be surprised if in a few weeks I write that Mike and I have purchased a GPS and have already found every cache within a two mile radius of our home.

As a side note, for those of you wondering I managed to pack quite effectively for our trip. I fit a week's worth of clothes, four pairs of shoes, toiletries and accessories all in one small rolling suitcase. The trick: I rolled my clothes - a method I found extremely effective in my Morocco packing. I should mention that my small suitcase also held both a swimsuit and snow pants. The kicker though is that I didn't use either.