Thursday, April 28, 2011

I'm Not a Morning Person... But This'll Be Worth It

Whenever I decide upon a blog-post topic, I usually begin "writing" it in my head anywhere from hours to days before I ever start typing. I'll decide how to start things out, how to tackle some of the first paragraphs -- kind of get a rough sketch, if you will. But as I was thinking about how I could best describe my reasons for wanting to set my alarm for the crack of dawn tomorrow in order to watch the royal wedding (despite the fact that I HATE GETTING UP EARLY), I began to sense that at some point in the past I'd already covered much of what I wanted to say. Everything I was coming up with sounded really familiar.

So just now I searched through my old posts and sure enough, I'd written about Prince Harry and Prince William here back in June 2007 when they were preparing the Concert for Diana. I'd commented on how I felt an odd sense of protectiveness over them despite the fact that I'm not British and have obviously never met them, and how my first thoughts after hearing about Princess Diana's untimely death were something along the lines of, "Oh my God, what is going to happen to those boys?"

Those feelings have not wavered ever since -- in fact, they've probably only intensified, as I've come to realize that the princes remind me a lot of two of my cousins. These cousins are also brothers, and the older one is a bit more serious (like William) while the younger one tends to be more carefree (like Harry). They are both in their early 20s and are just such great kids -- they give me hope for the future, and I use their existence to help me stay sane whenever I read about, say, any of the "teen moms" making headlines or various other young idiots who for some reason get press attention in this country.

Anyway, I feel like Prince William in particular has carried the weight of his mother's death -- in addition to having so many other responsibilities thrust upon him -- and so I guess I just am desperate for him to experience some sort of true, lasting happiness in life. My interest in the royal wedding has absolutely nothing to do with the wedding itself -- I couldn't care less about the dress, the cake, the guest list, the ceremony, or anything else along those lines. I don't know much about the royal family besides what I've learned from the movies or read during the weeks following Diana's death. I never dreamed of being a "princess" -- hell, I never even thought I'd get married -- so I'm not into the whole "fairy tale" aspect of Kate's (er, Catherine's) story. And because I never watch live TV, am only on Facebook and Twitter for seconds per day, and have avoided all other online and print coverage of the event, I am in no way sick of hearing about it like most people are. In fact, I really haven't heard ANYTHING about it. This is but just one benefit of livin' the hermit lifestyle, my friends!

I am watching tomorrow for one reason and one reason only -- I want to see that balcony kiss -- and I want to see it live. And I hope that somewhere along the way we get a glimpse of a genuine smile on the future king's face. He deserves it.

I bet the other 2 billion people around the world who'll be tuning in feel the same way.

- e

Monday, April 25, 2011

I WILL Survive a Zombie Attack, Dammit!

In January 2009 I let you all know that I was deathly afraid of zombies. (Who isn't, though? Really.)

That's when A-to-e reader Craig recommended I check out both The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, in order to be prepared for the possible (inevitable?) zombie apocalypse. Alas, I didn't get to read much of anything besides business books after that point, but over the past few weeks I've been making up for lost time and have gone on an absolute reading bender, as it were. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had tons of novels patiently waiting to be hauled down from my massive bookshelf, and so when I discovered that my good friend and fellow blogger JOpinionated went to college with ZSG and WWZ author Max Brooks (who I just learned is the son of Mel Brooks and Anne Bancroft), I promoted World War Z to the top of my queue. I'd bought it in paperback... and then once Jo found out I was planning to read it, she got Brooks to sign the hardcover version for me when she saw him recently at WonderCon.

How cool is this?

I also have to include a picture Jo tweeted of the other copy she got Max to sign for a LOST fan/former tour guide she and I met in Oahu, Matt. Matt had told Jo that WWZ was one of his top 3 favorite books of all time. I LOVE what Max wrote to him!


So... what did I think about World War Z? You guys know I have to keep it real, so I can't claim to have loved it as much as Matt (or the vast majority of other readers). It was written as a series of interviews with various people who survived a global zombie attack -- the discussions take place about 10 years after the situation has been contained (though zombies have not yet been totally eradicated). Each chapter reveals the perspective of a different person -- it could be a soldier, it could be a leader of a foreign country, it could be a filmmaker -- none of the subjects were necessarily tied together in any way. Through these oral accounts of what came to be called "World War Z," the reader can piece together what happened and how everything got so out of control, so quickly. It is not tongue-in-cheek, it is not funny. It is dead serious. There WAS a zombie war, and you're reading the accounts of a few dozen who lived to tell the tale.

What I appreciated about the book is that I 100% believe almost everything Brooks covers would actually happen if zombies popped up somewhere. How politicians would respond, what tactics certain countries would take, how the military would approach the situation, what normal people would do -- it all rang true. In that sense I was reminded of Stephen King's Under the Dome (which I will eventually dedicate a post to) -- another book which I thought nailed human behavior in desperate times.

What's more, I have a ton of respect for the insane amount of research Brooks must have done to ensure his characters who were specialists in a certain area really came off as specialists. I believed every character could be a real person -- they didn't feel like fictional characters in the slightest. For me, however, that's where the book fell apart a little bit -- I'm just not into different kinds of weapons and military tactics and whatnot, and there were A LOT of details about such things in the book. While it was initially fascinating to hear soldiers' accounts, it got old after a while. The book lost steam for me about 3/4 of the way through, because by that point most of the interviews seemed to be with people connected to military operations throughout the world. Whereas the chapters I liked best were the more personal tales about what happened to specific communities and/or individuals. There were also a few references to a widely used "vaccine" that claimed to protect people from getting infected, and I found those parts fascinating (once again, because I believe we would in fact see false hope peddled extensively were our race ever facing extinction).

I found myself wishing that there were fewer interviewees and more time spent on certain characters so that I could feel a deeper sense of connection to them. The end of the book includes "last words" from many of the interviewees, and I swear I couldn't keep any of them straight or recall any of their stories from before. They'd all run together in my mind.

World War Z is being adapted for the big screen, with Brad Pitt attached to star. From what I've read they're making up a character for him -- or perhaps he's going to be the narrator (the interviewer). Brooks has been quoted as saying that the screenwriter found a way to tie all of the disparate accounts together (because remember, there are no true "recurring characters," per se). The film has a HUGE budget of $125 million, so fans are expecting really big things, and I'm personally excited to see how it turns out.

Hmm, I'm not quite THIS prepared...For those of you wondering if the book is gory, I can assure you that it's not at all. I don't like horror novels and get queasy VERY easily, and there was nothing in World War Z that freaked me out in that way. The aforementioned Under the Dome disturbed me much more, because there was sickening human-on-human violence. With zombie-against-human violence it hits a little less close to home (for now), because it's not anything I could actually picture happening, like, tomorrow. Plus, Brooks doesn't ever get down and dirty with nauseating details. Weapon and military tactic details? Yes. Gross-out blood and guts details? No.

I would recommend World War Z to any guy who likes to read. It's definitely more of a "dude book," for lack of a better term. If you're of the female persuasion and, like me, are kind of obsessed with apocalyptic scenarios and how the world might respond in the face of a global threat, I would also recommend it. The parts that wowed me definitely outweighed the sections that dragged. And let's face it, who doesn't need to know more about what it might take to survive the coming zombie apocalypse?!?

If you've read it, let me know what YOU thought!

- e

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sit On It

I didn't write a post yesterday because I couldn't stand to sit behind my laptop one second longer than I absolutely had to. Nope, it's not my old-lady back problems that are acting up again. (In fact, I've been meaning to write a post about how that situation was resolved... so stay tuned.) Now it's my old-lady hip. Seriously, is there any way to feel more ancient than by complaining about YOUR HIP? Good lord, what's become of me?

But here's the deal -- my left hip had been hurting something fierce for the past week, and it got to the point where I was doing anything and everything to avoid sitting at my desk. You might recall from the post I linked to above that I have the most ergonomically correct set-up known to mankind, so my problems weren't related to that. There was nothing wrong with my chair or my desk or my laptop height. At first I tried to blame the situation on inheriting my dad's "bad hip genes" -- he has been having this exact same trouble for a year or so now. But he's also nearly three decades older than I am, so I knew it wasn't a good sign that I was already experiencing this pain in my thirties. The bad genes probably have something to do with my problem, but I have to accept part of the blame as well.

As silly as this might sound, I recently developed an admittedly quite unusual and NOT wise habit. I've been sitting cross-legged in my chair for at least a month. Yes, cross-legged. Like this dude (Marc Bolan, who was the lead singer of the British '70s band T Rex, may he rest in peace). But only without the groovy threads and shoes. (I'm always in sweatpants and a robe, comfy-like.)

I know sitting like a meditating Buddha can't be good for me, but for whatever reason, I started doing it and it stuck. So add up over 12 hours a day of sitting cross-legged for 4 weeks and tell me if you think your hip would revolt. If you don't think it would, then you're probably 18, and I hate you.

So now I'm worried that I've incurred permanent damage and am going to have to drag myself back to physical therapy. Therefore, I'm trying to avoid sitting in my normal chair as much as I can to see if that helps -- if my hip will forgive me for acting like I'm a five-year-old at story circle. And yes, of course, I've forced myself to give up the whole cross-legged thing when I do have to be in my chair (which is still several hours a day no matter what).

I told my friend JC about my predicament, and he forwarded me this totally depressing article from last weekend's New York Times magazine. I highly encourage you to read it. The gist is that sitting on our asses all the time is killing us. Literally taking years off of our lives. And no amount of exercise really helps to counteract all the sitting. Sweet.

After reading the article I tried to gauge how much time I spend sitting now versus when I worked for The Man. Bad news: I think I've been plopped down in front of my laptop significantly more in the past four years than I had been in Corporate America. My job now requires either sitting in a movie theater, sitting to watch a DVD, or sitting in front of my laptop to write. While I walk my dog every day for 10 minutes and putter around doing laundry or getting snacks from the fridge every few hours, there's no more walking 20 minutes to and from the El stop each morning and evening. There's no going to conference rooms, stopping by someone's desk, going out to lunch, going over to another building for a meeting -- none of that. It's all about sitting -- sitting to watch or sitting to write.

Chances are I will not be able to convince my husband to get rid of our kitchen table and let me get the treadmill-desk set-up pictured above. (I honest-to-god would buy that if we had the room.) So I think I'm going to have to make a conscious effort to 1) resist the urge to sit cross-legged, 2) get up and move around at least once an hour, even if only for a minute or two, and 3) make use of this crazy gizmo I bought four years ago that's been mostly idle ever since:

Yes, it's a mini stair-stepper. It's been collecting dust in between my desk and the wall, even though it would be very simple for me to jump on it and start pumping those legs any time I receive a call or just need a break.

I'm also hopeful that with the eventual arrival of spring (hurry up, spring!) I'll just naturally start moving around more because I'm always inclined to go take a long walk whenever it's nice out.

And with that, I'm off to start my weekend of Not Sitting. Happy Easter to you and yours!

- e

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wimpy Plants Need Not Apply

Before we get to today's subject, a quick update for you: Right after I published yesterday's post, I attempted to watch Glee. My DVR had recorded it... but the mother of all hail storms interfered with our satellite and the last 15 minutes of the show were blacked out. I chose to laugh instead of cry.

And I did end up taking a Lunesta in order to ensure some shut-eye, so thankfully I'm in a much better mood today (despite the fact that it's still ridiculously depressing outside).

OK, moving on...

The idea for today's post came from an email I received this morning from CM, who I used to work with at Chase (aka The Man). She sent me this present-day picture of a bamboo plant I'd given her nearly five years ago when I left to start my job at the Chicago Board of Trade.

When I saw how the little bugger had thrived (thriven? throve? too lazy to figure it out -- give me points for realizing I could be wrong) over the years, I almost died laughing. Why? Because when I gave CM the plant above, I kept a second bamboo plant for myself -- its brother, if you will. I still have it, too:

No, your eyes are not playing tricks on you. That's just a picture of a beautiful little pot with a bunch of stones in it. Alas, my bamboo plant went to the great forest in the sky shortly after I switched offices in 2006.

I've learned over the years that I am sorely lacking a green thumb. That's why I felt really bad not too long ago when my upstairs neighbor gave me one of his lush arrangements once he realized it was dangerous to have around his cat. This thing was gorgeous and thick and green and flowering. Now thanks to my lack of skillz most of it has died off... but dammit if a few sprouts aren't sticking with me:

It gets worse. Below is one of two rose plants I bought accidentally (long story) from Peapod (grocery delivery service) a mere month ago. It withered within a week, despite my best efforts. Don't ask me why I still have it, because I'm not sure. Keeping hope alive, perhaps?

My grandma and Aunt Sue are really good with plants -- as in, they can bring dead ones back to life and stuff. It's true! But I didn't inherit that gene. Not all hope is lost, though. It appears that really really really tough plants can survive under my care. You longtime readers might remember a post from nearly three years ago (here it is, if you need a refresher) where I wrote about all the greenery my husband and I bought to decorate our deck. The big surprise is that the four big potted plants we purchased in May 2008 are still with us. It's a true miracle. Here's what one of them looks like today:

But the craziest thing is that of the four plants we dragged back from Home Depot that day, one of them has gone absolutely wild. It's about to touch our ceiling, no lie.

I mean, would you look at this bad boy? He cannot be stopped! (And yes, those are the two dead rose plants from Peapod in front of The Green Monster.)

I know that he (it's a he, I'm sure of it) probably needs a bigger planter, but I'm totally afraid I'll kill him in the move. Now that he's survived this long on my watch I'll be extra sad if I lose him! What should I do?

- e

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Still Sleepless in Chicago

I wish I could tell you that after my no-good-rotten day yesterday, I'm now making like Patti LaBelle with a New Attitude. But I'm not. I'm still grumpy. And once again it's because of crappy weather (a dreary, cold, rainy day that's flooding my street, to be precise) and technological tomfoolery that led to another bad night's sleep.

The same "wintry mix" that resulted in my alarm system's malfunction on Sunday is continuing to mess with me. Our satellite signal was all jacked up last night, causing parts of the 20/20 special on the Royal Wedding to black out while I was watching it -- THE HORROR! For those of you thinking, "Good God, woman! Haven't you gotten enough of all that hype yet?" I respond, "No, actually, I have not indulged in ANY Royal Wedding-related hoopla except for reading two articles about Kate Middleton in Us Weekly earlier this month, thank you very much." I've completely avoided all other coverage so far -- not on purpose, but simply because I never catch the news and have a strange lifestyle that revolves around watching and/or reading about movies -- or tying to keep up with the latest and greatest shenanigans in the financial services industry -- almost 24/7.

But I'll write more about the Royal Wedding some other time. Today I have to share that the bad weather has not only caused satellite and alarm system mayhem, but it's also resulting in a spotty Internet connection. I don't know why exactly -- all I know is that everything had been fine, and now for the past 48 hours my wireless signal keeps going out at exactly the wrong time.

See, when your job revolves around writing on the web, it is kind of critical that you have a steady Internet connection. Otherwise you might, say, LOSE A TON OF WORK when you hit "save" and the connection drops. You're probably thinking, "Haven't you learned to save frequently?" To which I say, "Yes, my dear friend, but I am the fastest typer in the world (seriously, I am -- will eventually dedicate a post to this amazing fact) and what I can churn out in 15 minutes between saves is substantial. So there."

What's this have to do with another bad night of sleep? Let me tell you: 1) My dog paces constantly when there's a storm, so I was hearing him prowl around all night -- clicking his nails on the wood floors, sighing, groaning, banging around as he went in and out of his crate... etc., etc., and then, when I finally drifted off... 2) I had one of those "this seems so real -- is it actually happening?" nightmares ... about losing my Internet connection! An honest-to-god NIGHTMARE about it!

It was like something out of Transformers 2 -- which is probably my most-hated film of all time. I was in a house that vaguely looked familiar, but I think it was from a movie. Now that I'm remembering it, I think it was a house featured in the sci-fi thriller Children of Men starring my man Clive Owen (whoa! I actually found a picture of it!). Anyway, Clive wasn't in the dream, so that was problem #1. Problem #2 was that I was in this house and was sleeping (yes, sleeping within my own dream) and was jolted into consciousness (in the dream) by this huge evil machine that started crashing through the walls with gigantic metal claws, searching for my modem. I was almost killed by the claws, which eventually found what they were looking for... and as the huge mechanical creature lumbered away with my Internet connection, I saw the AT&T logo stamped on its massive frame. I kid you not. AT&T has infiltrated my dreams. This is how sad my life is right now. I am having nightmares about losing my Internet connection -- literally losing it to an evil AT&T Decepticon. And to make matters worse, I probably just gave Michael Bay the plot line for Transformers 4. So now I'll have no one to blame but myself when I inevitably have to suffer through a migraine during its screening in 2013.

- e

PS - As I am about to send, it just started LIGHTNING AND HAILING OUTSIDE, and my dog is going nuts and my connection icon is flickering like crazy. I don't want to resort to drugs, but I think I have no choice but to make a date with Lunesta this evening.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sound the Alarm

I've been in a grumpy mood all day, and therefore I'm going to advise you to just skip this post so that I don't infect you with my negativity. Skip! Skip! Skip!

OK, I tried.

The reasons I can't turn my frown upside-down have to do with 1) yet another snowfall, 2) a post for redbox that took me about EIGHT HOURS to finish (not an exaggeration), and 3) having my sleep rudely interrupted in the wee hours last night. The first point is self-explanatory -- everyone in Chicago is bitter today because we enjoyed a taste of summer not too long ago (remember that 80-degree afternoon I wrote about?)... only to be harshly reminded that Mother Nature hates the Midwest. So there's not much else to say about that. The second point I'll get over -- just part of the job sometimes. I will expand, however, on why I didn't sleep well.

My husband had been on an all-day tour of breweries across Indiana and Michigan, and got home around 1 AM. That was fine -- I knew he was going to come back late, and I thoroughly enjoyed the several uninterrupted hours of reading time I was able to fit in while he was gone, during which I not only started, but also finished, Tina Fey's Bossypants (review coming soon! spoiler: it rocked).

Though I was still awake when my husband returned, we both fell asleep shortly thereafter. Yay. (Seriously, that really does deserve a big "yay" since it usually takes me 2-3 hours to doze off after going to bed.) But my REM cycle was not meant to be, because the next thing I know our security alarm is going crazy. It wasn't the full-blast siren that kicks in when a door or window has been opened or glass has been smashed, but rather a really high-pitched and constant beeping coming from the console in another room.

My husband and dog actually slept through it (??? nice to know I've got a crack team of defenders looking out for me), but I nudged my husband awake and made him go investigate. It turns out that because of all the RAIN AND SNOW whipping around outside (bitter bitter bitter), the back-up communication link for our alarm system had gone down and it wanted to inform us of the situation. No big deal, except that this all happened in the middle of the night, freaked us both out, and I wasn't able to get back to sleep again afterward. GRRR.

When the alarm went off it made me think of other technology-related mishaps that have interrupted my precious slumber. Like when a friend or family member who either lives in or is traveling in another time zone accidentally calls and wakes us up. Or when someone who's staying with one of our upstairs neighbors buzzes our door instead of theirs at some godforsaken hour. Or when my husband or I forget to turn off our cell phones and -- even if they're in another room -- I can hear one or both of them vibrating or beeping once a message is left. Or when some gadget somewhere in our place starts chirping a low-battery warning (fire alarm, I'm lookin' at you). These are the times when technology is not my friend.

The worst I can remember was one evening years ago when my husband was away for work, and our Tivo somehow activated only the sound on our downstairs TV. The TV started BLASTING -- in the middle of the night -- and I called a guy in our building to come investigate because I was scared criminals had broken in and accidentally hit our remote control or something. (It actually took quite a while to figure out what happened in that odd situation.) I gave my neighbor a huge long knife and was like, "Can you go downstairs and make sure no murderer is down there? OK, good luck and thanks!" before running to lock myself in the bathroom with the dog.

Here's hoping for no interruptions from any "helpful technology" tonight!

- e

PS - While looking for images to use with this post I came across this really cute blog entry which made me feel better -- take a look!

Friday, April 15, 2011

You Talkin' to Me?

Today I was making my way out of a drugstore when a disembodied voice started speaking to me. My first thought was, "The day has finally come -- I've lost my mind. I'm hearing voices!"

But then I realized that it wasn't a spooky voice, or an argumentative voice, or a scary voice ordering me around -- it was a really peppy, upbeat voice belonging to someone who was clearly trying to get my attention. Yet no one was there.

I stopped and looked around. It was this freakin' thing:

Are you serious? Do we really need products shouting at us as we walk by? Yes -- this thing had a motion sensor built into it and piped up right as I passed its display. Not only did it cause me to question my sanity, but it also took about two years off of my life because it was so startling. It was like, "HEEEEYYYY!!!! Want great hair?!?! Who doesn't, right? Check out the new Nice 'n Easy...." whatever, whatever.

BOO TO THESE THINGS! They're right up there with the new "moving billboards" I've seen appearing more and more frequently on the sides of Chicago's buses. Gee, those certainly won't cause any traffic accidents.

Where will it end?

- e

Thursday, April 14, 2011

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad

I'm pleased to report that some of the things I'd been working on (and stressing about, big time) for the past two weeks came to fruition a few days ago. There's this article (written by me), and this article (for which I was interviewed extensively). There are also other cool but still-in-the-works opportunities related to April 1's big news that have been keeping me busy, but I think most of the whirlwind is over. (I lied! As I was writing this post I was called by a Chicago Tribune reporter and spent a good half-hour being interviewed...)

OK... so maybe the whirlwind isn't totally over, but I've at least had a chance to turn my attention toward some long-standing problems in my condo. Like a broken security-alarm motion-detector gizmo that we'd avoided getting replaced for over a year. (I hate scheduling repairmen visits, OK?) Or our kitchen sink that was backing up. And a toilet that would keep running 1 out of every 10 flushes. Etc., etc.

But there are still several not-so-fun home projects looming on the horizon, and while dealing with one of them I got the idea for today's post. It's very simple. When someone asks you, "What do you want first: the good news... or the bad news?", how do you respond?

I always want the bad news first. There's no question. You take a hit and then know that something better is about to follow, right? (Unless it's faux "good news," like: "You have pneumonia... but the good news is, you'll lose some weight!" Hardy har har.)

Is there anyone who would rather hear good news first -- knowing that it's about to be ruined?

And yes, I realize only a matter of seconds pass between hearing the negative and positive information and that your brain probably isn't going to process anything too differently either way so the order doesn't really matter that much -- but I still find it an interesting question nonetheless. I wonder if certain personality types would always choose hearing bad news first. This sounds like the sort of thing someone's probably conducted a psychological experiment on in the past. The bad news: I should've done more research for this post. The good news: But at least I wrote today!

- e

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

How Dare You Do Your Job

This evening I planned to go on a walk after stopping by Walgreens to pick up some gift cards for a birthday-celebrating relative. So I only had my keys, my credit card, and my iPhone with me.

I went to pay for the gift cards and the cashier guy, who I will refer to as "De La Soul" because he reminded me of one of the rappers in that group (Trugoy/Plug Two, if that means anything to you -- except this guy had a big ol' Afro), asked for my ID. I told him I only had my credit card. He said that the policy for gift cards was that a second form of ID was needed because apparently there's been quite a rash of people stealing credit cards in order to buy gift cards... or something like that.

"But I bought a gift card here last week with this credit card and no one checked my ID," I protested. (That was the truth, too.)

De La Soul was very nice, but he wasn't budging.

"I have my iPhone and can show you how all of my emails are to the same name that's on my credit card... how about that?" I offered.

De La Soul got on the phone to ask his manager, who was hiding somewhere else in the massive store. The manager denied my request -- I had to have an ID.

For about two seconds I was really annoyed. But then I thought, No. I am not going to throw a hissy fit at this kid because 1) he has really cool hair, 2) he is a sweetheart, and 3) HE IS JUST DOING HIS JOB. I bet there are a great number of people out there in this world who have had their credit cards stolen and really wish that a cashier would've compared signatures or asked the thief for a second form of ID or something.

So I ran home, got my license, went back to Walgreens, paid for the gift cards, and told De La Soul that he did the right thing. Then I decided that going forward, I'm going to always let deserving people know that I've noticed and appreciate their efforts to fight the good fight. Most of us only get feedback when we've done something wrong, so if we want the De La Souls of the world to continue to take their jobs seriously and follow the rules, we need to give them some encouragement. Who's with me?

- e

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Little Restraint, Please

Yesterday, Chicago -- like many other cities across the country -- enjoyed a fantastically hot and sunny day. Seeing as how there have been late-April blizzards here in years past, I'd say an 82-degree afternoon on 4/10 was major cause for celebration.

I made it a point to get outside, and ended up taking a two-hour-long walk along Lake Michigan (apologies to those I blinded with my neon-white legs and arms). On my way home I was pretty close to Lake Shore Drive, and in particular the exit that leads to Lincoln Park Zoo. This free zoo is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike, and a lot of the cars that I walked next to (literally just feet from) were packed with kids.

That was when I noticed how few people wore their seat belts. The traffic was almost at a standstill, and so I probably passed 50 cars. I'd say about 70% of the people I counted weren't buckled up.

I was astonished. I would NEVER NOT wear my seat belt. You know how some people don't buckle up in cabs? (Which is exactly when you really need to the most, by the way.) Yeah... I'm not one of those people. It is just an instinct. I always reach for my seat belt the second I get into a car. Any car.

From what I saw at the Fullerton exit, however, I may be in the minority.

This bothered me the rest of the way home. First I was upset by how many people seemed to think they were invincible. But mostly I was disturbed by how few children were wearing belts. I mean, if you want to take chances with your own life, fine. (Not really... I think you're stupid... but fine.) But to not ensure that your kids are safe? I find that reprehensible. That's beyond lazy parenting -- it's almost like intentionally putting your offspring in harm's way. HOW HARD IS IT TO PUT ON A SEAT BELT? HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE? Answers: Not hard, and a millisecond.

It's over 24 hours after my depressing discovery, and it's still bothering me. I never feel my seat belt, so it can't be a comfort thing. (And for the record, some of the people who WERE wearing belts were, um... let's just say a bit overweight. Yet they still buckled up and didn't use "It's cutting into my skin!!!" as an excuse.) The "But there's never any traffic where I drive" or "I only go on really slow roads" or "I've never been in an accident" excuses also make no sense. That's like telling me you can predict the future or control everyone else's actions. Last I checked, Oprah didn't have you on her show, so you must not be all-knowing and all-powerful. NEXT EXCUSE!

Now, I know I've been a bit harsh in this post, but I promise I will not personally degrade you if you're brave enough to write in and tell me why you're among those who don't buckle up. I just want to know why. Do you really think there's some sort of "seat belt conspiracy" and that it WON'T save your life? This inquiring mind needs to know why you're ignoring the facts.

(But please DO NOT TELL ME if you don't make your kids buckle up. I will never forgive you!)

- e

Friday, April 08, 2011

Too Blessed To Be Stressed*

"I'm grateful I live really close to a place where I can get awesome sweet potato fries for $3."

The above is but one of the genius entries in my new Gratitude Journal.

Last week I mentioned Happier, the book I was reading (and have since finished) about the study of "positive psychology." Considering how I dog-eared literally half of its pages, I think it's fair to say that I liked and would recommend the book. I wouldn't really consider it a self-help tome -- it's more a mix of research findings, interesting anecdotes, and simple "exercises" you can partake in if you want to put some of author Tal Ben-Shahar's theories to the test. One such exercise I gravitated to right away was "Keeping a Gratitude Journal."

The concept behind a Gratitude Journal is pretty simple -- research has proven that those who are acutely aware of the good things in their life tend to experience higher levels of emotional and physical well-being. So by consciously reviewing what you've got going for you, or what you have to be thankful for, on a daily basis, you're bound to keep things in perspective and not let setbacks rattle you as much as you might have otherwise. In short, you'll be happier.

Ben-Shahar recommends jotting down at least five things you're grateful for each night before you go to bed. I'd bought this cool "e" notebook last year (for $1! I'm grateful for $1 bins!) and decided it would be perfect for the cause. I've been keeping up with it every evening since March 28, and now truly look forward to composing my nightly entry just moments before I hit the hay. You don't need to come up with monumentally huge things you have to be thankful for (see sweet-potato-fry line above) -- and you don't have to worry about repeating yourself over the course of time. The key is to make a habit out of the practice -- to keep what's good in your life at the forefront of your mind.

Knowing that I'll be writing at least five "gratitudes" in my journal every day has helped me to be more conscious of things I usually take for granted -- things that actually make me REALLY happy. The sound of my dog snoring. Working in my pajamas. Lighting a new candle for the first time. The neighbor who's always fixing up our building. A coupon for a place where I would've gladly paid full price. A message from an old friend. Losing myself in a great book. My morning cup of Earl Grey.

None of this is life-changing stuff. But that's kind of the point. I've traveled to third-world countries and have seen awful, awful things -- conditions no human being should ever have to live in. And every time I returned from one of those trips I swore to myself that I would never complain about anything again. Ever. That I would never get jealous of anyone, that I would never get upset about something stupid, and that I would always remember how incredibly lucky and privileged I am compared to the vast majority of the rest of the planet's population. (Anyone reading this can most likely say the same thing, right?)

But within a week... definitely within a month... I would somehow push those sad memories and experiences from my mind and be back to fretting over lame, inconsequential stuff.

Humans are simply hardwired to forget what they've learned from life's most painful or uncomfortable lessons. Typically it takes a horrifying event or natural disaster to make each of us stop in our tracks, put things in perspective, count our blessings, and treat one another more kindly... until our memories fade and we're back to worrying about the silliest of things again. I'm the worst offender of them all.

That's why I think the idea of a Gratitude Journal is so genius. Every 24 hours it forces you to reflect on how much you have to be thankful for. If we're not taking note of the things that have the power to bring us joy, keep us safe, and inspire us, then it's going to be really tough to achieve any sort of lasting peace in this lifetime, isn't it?

- e

* I saw this saying on a t-shirt some guy was wearing at The Taste of Chicago years ago. It popped back into my memory when I was struggling to think of a creative title for this post. So consider me grateful for the Random Dude Wearing the "Too Blessed To Be Stressed" tee!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

I Spy

Something that happened yesterday made me realize I might have enough material for a whole new blog-post category: Confessions.

I was at a movie screening, and a critic next to me had his/her laptop open (keepin' it vague on purpose!). The seats in this particular theater are REALLY close together, and I found it pretty much impossible not to glance over at the glowing screen just inches away. An email program was front and center. I quickly scanned the "From" column (and saw a lot of names I recognized, too...) and the "Subject" column. I even peeked at a message my colleague was writing.

This is not the first time I've done such a thing. In fact, I don't remember having been in a situation where someone's laptop is right in my face and I HAVEN'T checked out what that person's working on. In airport lounges, on airplanes, on trains, in cafes and coffee shops -- there are tons of opportunities to take a look-see at others' work. Sometimes I've come to regret doing so -- like when a fellow traveler's watching an ultra-violent movie while seated next to me on a flight. Ooh, I didn't really want to see that guy get stabbed in the neck. Now I can't UNsee it. Crap.

It's not just laptops I steal glances at, either. Back in the summer of 2002 I was living in Boston and interning downtown at Fidelity. I would ride the very, very crowded "T" (subway) every day, and inevitably get smushed against other passengers. On one particularly hot and sweaty morning, I started reading an article another rider was holding up in front of him. The subject was some sort of medical study... and it was really, really graphic. I started feeling woozy. Then I announced to the countless other passengers that somebody better give up their seat because I was about to pass out. I did get to sit down... and then somehow found myself outside the train (but still underground) on the next stop's platform. A woman and her young son were with me and I was sprawled on the station's dirty floor.

"Here, have my son's juice box!" the lady offered. I took it. The kid stared at me, wide-eyed.

"Are you going to be OK?" the mom asked. I nodded, but before she headed on her way, she called a policeman over to ensure I would be able to stand.

Let me just say that I've done a lot of dumb things in my life and have made a fool of myself many times, but there are few instances I can recall where I felt AS stupid as I did that day. I eventually stood up, got on the next train, went into Fidelity's offices -- where the building's security guard noted that I looked "REALLY PALE" -- and then eventually shook the whole incident off a few hours later.

Obviously I didn't learn my lesson, though.

So does anyone else out there do this sort of thing -- read over others' shoulders... peek at nearby laptops... glance at documents someone else is reviewing? Please tell me I'm not the only one. Isn't this sort of curiosity just ingrained in our nature?

- e

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Flat Out of Luck

So I hope it goes without saying that only the most extenuating of circumstances would justify my lack of posts over the past few days -- especially considering how I made such a big deal about trying to stick to my new schedule, getting back into a writing routine, etc., etc. Rest assured that since I last posted, life has not been fun. I'm just going to leave it at that so as to not come off as a whiner, because I know in the whole scheme of things, what's gone down on my end since Friday isn't THAT awful.

But I did want to write about one thing that happened Monday afternoon. My husband and I were about 45 minutes away from home for an appointment we had in a northern Chicago suburb. We returned to our car after the appointment was over, got in, my husband drove a few feet... and that's when we heard a sound that was not right. Yep, one of our front tires was completely flat.

We were within a pay-to-park lot, so my husband slowly steered us outside to an open, flat area, and then turned off the engine. When it became apparent that he was going to attempt to change the tire himself, I totally freaked out and told him he'd never be able to do it.

"I've done it before," he replied.

"Oh yeah? When?" I asked. We've only had our current vehicle for two of the twelve years my husband and I have been together -- and before that we didn't even have a car. So I was quite positive he'd never changed a tire since at least 1999.

"I did it once in high school," he said confidently.

"THAT WAS OVER TWENTY YEARS AGO!!!" I yelled, freaking out even more. I mean, if we'd been in the city, or ten minutes away, I would've been OK with the situation. But I knew we had to go along Lake Shore Drive (pic to the left) in order to get home, and that at a slower pace it would probably take a full hour.

So I made my husband humor me and call a service place. They said they'd make it to us in 40 minutes. He told them we'd be waiting, and for the next 10 minutes it appeared that he'd abandoned his quest to change the tire himself. He was checking emails on his Blackberry, while I was Googling "How to change a flat tire" and becoming more and more convinced that we should definitely leave the job to professionals. I read things like, "You must use BRUTE FORCE to loosen the lug nuts -- pretend you're Mr. T" and "If you don't put bricks behind the other tires, the car might start rolling backwards." D'oh!

Now, I don't want to imply in any of this that I think my husband is a weakling or something. I don't at all. But he was wearing a nice suit, going into the office after dropping me at home, and I hated to see him get all sweaty and dirty... IF he could even succeed in getting the flat tire off and the spare on in the first place. Alas, my husband is not a patient man. After going through his emails, he just couldn't help himself. (Or perhaps he simply wanted to prove me wrong -- it had kind of turned into a matter of pride.) He got out of the car and proceeded to take the spare, a jack, and a bunch of other stuff I didn't even know we had from our trunk. And dammit if he didn't replace the tire.

"Don't you think we should wait until the service guys show up to make sure everything's right?" I asked sheepishly after he got back in and started the engine without so much as a word. We'd been there exactly forty minutes, so the repair team should've been arriving at any moment.

"No, we're good," he replied, before calling the service place to cancel... and learning that they HAD NOT EVEN DISPATCHED ANYONE OUT TO OUR LOCATION YET.

So in the end, I'm glad my husband gave it the old college (or I guess in this case, high school) try. We would've been sitting in the suburbs forever, just assuming the service team was on its way. We would've called them again... and they would've eventually shown up. But then my husband wouldn't have gotten a chance to prove me wrong. And such an opportunity almost never happens, you know.

- e

Friday, April 01, 2011

Oh, Here Go Hell Come.

Have you ever worried and worried and worried about what you might do if a certain situation you were kinda dreading -- but also kinda excited for -- actually happened?

I've been stressing about something since early February, and it finally happened today. How do I feel now? Relieved. But not at first.

As Inigo Montoya said best in The Princess Bride, "Let me explain... no, there is too much. Let me sum up."

Here's the deal: My book is about the 2007 multibillion-dollar bidding war for the Chicago Board of Trade, where I worked at the time. The bidding war was started by a company in Atlanta called ICE.

Fast-forward four years. Zero-Sum Game came out in November, and now I'm finally wrapping up marketing and promotional duties for it in order to start working on my next big endeavor (which I publicly committed to on this very site just days ago). Meanwhile, for the past several weeks there have been rumors that ICE was going to kick off yet another bidding war -- this time for the New York Stock Exchange, which in February had entered into a merger agreement with a huge exchange in Germany called Deutsche Börse ("The Germans" in my book, for those of you who've read it).

So why would any of this make me worried? Because I knew ICE would in fact end up making a bid for the NYSE. And I knew that would really give me no choice but to take a deep breath and reignite my media efforts. (Yes, all of that stuff is MY responsibility, publishers typically only help out their most famous authors -- ironic, no?)

Sure enough, this morning ICE and NASDAQ jointly announced a hostile offer for the New York Stock Exchange (technically NYSE Euronext, but I don't expect you guys to be that nerdy and follow all that). Just when I was finally being able to relax and, in LOST terms, "let go."

What did I do? My first reaction was straight outta that awesome clip from The Fashion Show (which I never watched, but heard about from The Soup): "Oh, here go hell come." It was ON. Why? Because mine is the ONLY book in existence about ICE, its CEO, and a bidding war between exchanges. Before today, the vast majority of people don't even know or care about what ICE is or who's running it... but when that same company comes out of nowhere and announces an $11.3 billion offer to buy one of the most iconic American businesses in existence? Um, people start getting interested real quick.

Therefore, even though I'm so, so, SO tired and desperately need a break, I know I owe it to myself to take advantage of the opportunities this headline-making news presents. After all, I spent four years working on Zero-Sum Game! What's a few more weeks? I'm extremely proud of my book, and I want more people to know it exists and to read it. So I cannot rest -- not just yet.

I canceled all of my plans for the day (sorry Julie... sorry Glen... sorry gym...) and sprang into action. I somehow still managed to attend to my redbox duties, but also made contact with a few people I'd met in the media through my first round of book promotion. I was quoted in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article that just posted, and have a few other cool things in the works for early next week. I was dreading this situation and all of the hard work it would entail, but now that I'm in the thick of it, I'm going to try and enjoy it, be thankful for it, and have fun with it.

My weekend is not going to be very restful now, but maybe that means my eventual FINAL break from book marketing will be that much more sweet. At least that's what I'm telling myself to get through this. Do something relaxing in my honor Saturday or Sunday, won't you?

- e