Saturday, January 31, 2015

Movie Review: Mommy

It's NOT OK, Mommy.
Canada's Best Foreign Language entry (it's in French with English subtitles) for the 2014 Academy Awards is a heartbreaking, dizzying and unforgettable masterpiece from 25-year-old wunderkind Xavier Dolan.
- - - - - - - - - -
All parents have hopes and dreams for their kids. But there comes a point in time when the writing would appear to be on the wall for any particular child—when past behavior is a pretty good indicator of what's to come in the future.

However, Diane "Die" Després (Anne Dorval) refuses to give up on her troubled teenage son Steve (Antoine Olivier Pilon). Steve suffers from a host of behavioral and attachment issues and has just been kicked out of another juvenile home after setting a fire that gravely injured someone. He's exuberant one minute, sulking the next. He can appear to not have a care in the world seconds before flying into a violent rage. He comes close to nearly strangling Die; she must fight back with equal brutality in order to escape. But she loves him unconditionally and will not consider taking advantage of alternate-present-Canada's new law that encourages parents to let the state institutionalize uncontrollable children. Die is her own special brand of fiery badass, and she's going to find a way to make it work.

But she's also a woman who realizes her limitations. She's broke, her husband passed away three years ago, and she can't put Steve in a normal school. She still needs to pay the bills while ensuring that her son stays out of trouble during the day. This is why she turns to Kyla (Suzanne Clément), her quiet, slightly mysterious neighbor across the street. Kyla's a teacher who's currently not working because of a recent breakdown that left her with a fierce stutter and inability to speak at times. There are hints as to what tragedy might have brought on Kyla's condition; I loved how writer/director Xavier Dolan didn't feel the need to spell it out for his audience.
The best of times...
And so, for a while, this unusual threesome gets by and even establishes some semblance of normalcy. Die finds odd jobs around town, Kyla home-schools Steve, Steve stabilizes, they're all the best of friends. Pilon, Dorval and Clément are so incredible in their roles, I have to admit that there were several times I actually forgot they were acting or that I wasn't watching some sort of reality-filmmaking project. Especially Pilon. To be that young and be able to convey such a wide range of tortuous emotions is just beyond anything I've ever witnessed before. I developed a strong love/hate/but-mostly-hate relationship with his character, which is probably exactly what Dolan was hoping to achieve. So when the claustrophobic box-frame that Dolan filmed the majority of the movie in suddenly opens up, seemingly at Steve's command, my heart sang at the triumph. It was one of the coolest moments I've experienced in a theater in over a year.

Those happy times were short-lived, though, because Steve's problems aren't ones that will simply go away because of a caring tutor or an ever-patient mother or a bike or a job or anything else. He's soon wreaking havoc again on everything and everyone. But is there still hope for him? There is, in Die's mind. While the ratio-widening scene sent me soaring, a later dream sequence where Die envisions a happy future for Steve just about destroyed me. I have nothing in common with Die except that I'm also somebody's "mommy," and I want the world for my son. To watch Die come to terms with the fact that her love is simply not enough to be able to protect her only child is just shattering in its truth.

I have never seen anything like Mommy. It's an emotional rollercoaster. It's hard to watch, asks tough questions and provides no easy answers. Please don't miss it.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Movie Review: Black Sea

Hey, Jude. You're in big trouble.

Everything that can go wrong, does go wrong in Kevin Macdonald's taut submarine thriller.
- - - - - - - - - - -
I have a Scottish friend who works on submarines in the North Sea. He recently told me about a horrifying ordeal his crew faced when a diver's umbilical line to the vessel snapped and the diver began to float into nothingness, like a deep-water version of Gravity. The crew had approximately 60 seconds to follow rehearsed protocols in order to rescue this man before he'd drift out their reach indefinitely. Even then they weren't sure he'd survive the lack of oxygen and pressure build-up he experienced while stranded. Thankfully, my friend's teammate lived. Those aboard Captain Robinson's (Jude Law) submarine in Black Sea aren't all that lucky.

As it turns out, Robinson is also a Scotsman, and he's devoted his entire career to the sea. His marriage crumbled and he's lost touch with his young son because of his dedication to this lonely line of work. Then he suddenly finds himself laid off—with no pension, no ship, and no family to go back to. You could say he's pretty pissed off about it.

This poster is awful.One day Robinson's drowning his sorrows in the pub with a few other lifelong seaman who are also out of options. He learns about a World War II U-boat that his previous employer discovered at the bottom of the ocean. It's believed that this ship sank with millions in gold still aboard, but thanks to red tape and territory controls, no one's reached it yet. However, there's a private backer who's willing to fund a secret expedition (for 40% of the loot, of course) if Robinson is able to pull a submarine crew together and sneak in and out with the gold, undetected.

Steal from under his ex-employer's nose, get rich, be able to provide for his estranged family and justify his life's obsession in the process? Robinson is in.

Law is fantastic as the captain with nothing to lose and something to prove. I remember the first time I ever saw him on the big screen in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I couldn't take my eyes off of him then, and I've felt that same way in all of his films since. In Black Sea he always commands attention, even when he's losing control of his crew. (Turns out that when you throw a bunch of known psychopaths together and promise them an equal share of gold, they don't behave.) He can play an asshole but still give you enough glimpses of humanity that you feel vested in his fate. And did I mention his rockin' Scottish brogue?

Aside from Scoot McNairy (as the financial backer's right-hand man, Daniels) and Ben Mendelsohn (freak-show crew member #1, Fraser), the rest of the team is made up of unrecognizable actors, half of whom speak Russian in the film. Now listen to me, men! If you plug the toilet in here, we are screwed!It helps give a sense of realism, despite the fact that crazy, over-the-top mayhem dominates Black Sea's second half.

Though screenwriter Dennis Kelly tips several characters' hands through their not-so-subtle dialogue early in the mission ("What happens when one of them figures out their share gets bigger when there's less people to share it with?"), Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald (State of Play, Last King of Scotland) is able to sustain an unrelenting, tense atmosphere once the ship descends. I also credit the grimy look of the film and the few breathtaking wide shots of the submarine (both above and below water) by cinematographer Christoper Ross for keeping the audience riveted and in the game.

As Robinson's men grow increasingly barbaric and begin to turn on each other—and Robinson himself lets the lure of gold mess with his head—there aren't many characters left to root for in Black Sea. But by that point you'll be just as committed as the crew is in the hunt for Nazi gold.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The 5 W's, According to Google

A few weeks ago I decided to finally start streaming Sons of Anarchy. Early on in the pilot episode, my husband and I were like, "What/who in the hell is Sam Crow?" So I whipped out my phone and started Googling. Some weird things came up as "suggested searches" as soon as I started typing:

How is What Is the Meaning Of Life? not in there? p.s. The answer is 42.

I got all smug and thought, "Well, I know what all that stuff is." (And in case you're wondering about my original question: "Sam Crow (actually, SAMCRO) stands for 'Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original.' This is in reference to their being an original, or charter member of the Sons of Anarchy motorcycle club."  Thanks, "Greg Y. on Yahoo! Answers.)

So I'd solved my SOA mystery. But then the next day I decided to Google the other 4 W's (and How) for the heck of it to see what came up.

How do I stop obsessively Googling things?

Hmm, OK, another Ebola question... but overall the "how" entries seem reasonable. On to "when."

When will I learn that Googling random stuff is not productive?

The "when" questions seemed normal as well. Time for "who."

Who can't stop Googling? This girl. I'm in too deep now!

Also pretty normal. And then I came to "where."

Where did all the time go? Oh yeah I wasted it Googling stupid stuff. 
The first thing I noticed was that this was the third time Ebola came up in a suggested search. Are people really still freaked out by that? Then I wondered if these were suggested searches based on intel the Google Overlords collected from users in the U.S. or the whole world.  My assumption was the former, but maybe I'm wrong? Believe it or not I didn't Google this very question. Yet. (And in case you're wondering, my browser's settings are on Private and I definitely have not Googled any of the phrases that popped up before.)

The second thing I noticed to my horror is that I DID NOT KNOW the answer to "Where is xur?" In fact, I didn't even know what/who "xur" was. This was a problem. So I had to find out. Oddly enough I felt a little reassured about life after realizing how many gamer nerds must be out there asking this question. Because the reality is that a lot of scarier things could've come up in the "where" search, right? 

And to all those who made "Where am I?" a top search, I feel you. 

On to "why."

 Why can't I stop Googling?

I don't get it. Are people really thinking Google will tell them why they're tired? And wait—what?!? Are that many people having green poop for this search to come up? Now I'm scared. Now I'm going to look at everyone I see on the street really funny. Do they suffer from green poop? Is it somehow related to eating green eggs and ham? Only Dr. Suess knows.

I think I have actually Googled the eye-twitching one, though. I believe it has something to do with dehydration. But don't take my word for it. You know what to do. (p.s. I was wrong.)

Then I mixed it up and tried the two-word combo "what are."

What are the stupidest things anyone's ever asked Google? I need to Google that.

Check, check, check... huh? What ARE "dabs"? This is the moment where all the stoners reading this laugh at me. I'm not about that life, sorry!

Later when I was on my phone again I did a final two-word combo search: "why are."

I blame Ryan Seacrest.

That final one is a question I've been asking myself for several years now. It has given me hope for mankind that so many others must be wondering the same thing. I'll end on that uplifting note. Keep safe and don't catch Ebola, kids. And I hope you find Xur.

- e

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

My Three New Years

Dare to dream, e! Dare to dream.
Last week, I realized how much I appreciate having been born in late January—my birthday has always served as a sort of second New Year's Day for me. Obviously the first is January 1, and with that day come unrealistically high expectations of what the next 365 days will hold. January 1 also comes with unrealistically high expectations of what I personally will accomplish before the year is through. But that's OK, because it's New Year's Day and that's what you're supposed to do. AIM HIGH, people, aim high.

The thing with New Year's Day, though, is that it falls within the period I refer to as the "Holiday Haze," which starts around Thanksgiving. During that month and a half, it's like everyone goes a little crazy just trying to make it to January 1. Most of us must survive holiday parties, bad weather, travel during bad weather, being "on" at social and family gatherings way more than we're used to, inevitably getting a cold or worse, and all of that is on top of trying to find non-sucky gifts for various people.

It's also the busiest time of the work year for me, as it's movie-awards season, which means I need to amp up my film-watching to 11 in order to cast informed votes by the CFCA's deadline. (I know: waaah, waaaah. But seriously it is stressful.) My husband also puts tremendous pressure on himself in the final weeks of the year to create not only a gorgeous 100-page coffee table book of family pictures as a present to ourselves and close relatives, but also an hour-long movie-quality video to go along with it.
Yeah those dreams didn't work out.
So yeah, by January 1 we're like, "Where are we, who are we, and when are we again?"

But three weeks later that fog has cleared. Reality has set in. It's freakin' cold out and there's no end in sight. But it is my birthday. (And then three days later it's Desmond's birthday, a much happier occasion.) So on January 21 I hit "reset" again. I take stock of what I want to achieve before the year's up and what I actually can achieve. I still make stretch goals—hell, writing here every weekday is a huge stretch goal, but I'm sticking to it. I just finally have time to think more clearly about the rest of the year and what's likely to get done and what isn't, as well as what's truly important, and what isn't. I hope to write about some of those trade-offs soon.

Then I give myself eight months to get serious and have a great year, and I lay off the soul-searching a bit. The third New Year comes when the fall TV season hits. Yes, this is ridiculous. And I'm sure probably next year (or at least by the time Des is in kindergarten) the third New Year date will shift to whenever the school year starts. But for now I'm keeping things as they've been for the past few decades. I always feel some sort of inexplicable rebirth when my favorite shows return. TWD starts in October, but you get my point.Sure, those debut dates have been shifting mightily over the past few years, with series like Better Call Saul coming in February, Game of Thrones starting in April, new seasons of Netflix shows like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black being available to binge in February and June, and my attempt to catch up on other series like The Fall, Black Mirror, Transparent and Sons of Anarchy being a round-the-year effort. But for now, there are still a good chunk of shows that kick off in September, and so I use that time to take stock of where things stand and plan out how in the hell I will survive the final months of the year.

And then on January 1 the whole process starts over again.

Anyone else have a different "New Year's Day" I should try out?

- e

Monday, January 26, 2015

Getting Things Done

I survived the weekend!

In preparation for Saturday's party, I was on my feet Friday from the second I woke up until close to midnight. I got a FitBit the week prior and it's kind of sad to know that I've already likely hit my lifetime high: nearly 17,000 steps on Friday thanks to running between floors and cleaning like a maniac.

But it was all worth it, and I'll post some party pics on Baba G and Me later this week.

As I mentioned, one of the biggest pre-party/pre-vistor stressors was the painting project I decided to have done in the two days before my relatives arrived, like a genius. But that, too, worked out beautifully.

Here's what my office cubby looked like before:

Not exactly an ideal work environment.

And here it is now:

Ah, much better.

I am beyond ecstatic about the upgrade. I mean, I spend the majority of my day, every weekday, sitting here. And while I've always been a big believer in the power of your surroundings to affect your mood and productivity, I let myself wallow in that complete mess for three years.

Which led me to wonder this weekend, "Why? WHY DID I WAIT SO LONG TO DO THIS?!?!"

I think it's like anything else I put off (which is a lot). There will always be a better, more convenient time. We're planning to rehab our entire house in the future, so I always figured it was stupid to spend money on anything that would eventually be totally redone. And even though we have a lot of visitors, no one really is ever staring at this little corner of the floor—except me.

The story of my life.
But the reality is that we're not going to do any construction on our place for at least five years, possibly more. And between now and then I would have still been here every day, sulking about how crappy everything around me looks. Now I'm excited about it and proud of it and look forward to coming up here each morning.

Granted, by the time it hit somewhere around 10 p.m. on Friday night and there were still stacks and stacks of papers everywhere I kicked into "Just Hide It!" mode and now I have no idea where bills, tax documents and other important files are... but hey, it LOOKS nice and clean right now. My new project is to go through each drawer and cabinet and closet and find all of the stuff I hid and then actually take care of it right then and there and create a new filing-cabinet system in the process.

Because if there's anything this experience taught me—or reminded me, rather—it's that it just makes everything worse when you put things off. If I had simply kept this place clean on a daily basis by taking five minutes to straighten up at the end of each day or by doing things like washing guest towels and sheets immediately after people left, I wouldn't have been miserable on Friday by trying to cram and get everything ready before the latest round of visitors showed up.

So I'm taking my own advice for once and have loads of laundry in right now and will get our guest rooms ready TODAY for the five people we have coming to stay in less than a month.

Now wish me luck in finding all of my bills before they're due...

- e

Friday, January 23, 2015

My Preferred Way to Shop: Not At All


Our second level has been painted and looks great. Desmond is happy and (pretty much) healthy and excited for his party. My parents are on their way. My other relatives will be arriving when the shindig starts in the early afternoon tomorrow. Food has been ordered. The cake and cupcakes have been ordered. I'll pick up some other treats tonight. My husband has the day off and has already cleaned our top floor where my parents will be staying. And after I write this post, we're dedicating the next few hours to getting the second floor ready for my four other guests who'll be staying overnight. Here's all the stuff we need to move out of the guest bedrooms and back into the main living area and my office:

Our spoiled dog has ANOTHER bed we've already moved back! 4 beds!


Later we'll start turning two floors of our house into Radiator Springs. We may be up until 3 in the morning, but everything is on track.

And guess what else? I ALSO finished and put away one load of laundry, have another one in, called People's Gas and scheduled a guy to come out and fix our squeaky meter (this thing has been sounding like a wailing cat for the past few months), got word that Desmond has been accepted into the local (and in demand because it's actually good) pre-K program even though my unorganized ass was a week late in applying, AND I also already picked up the associated required forms from his pediatrician this morning. Plus I managed to get dressed, feed the dog, let out the dog, and feed Desmond. It's only noon and I am in The Zone and feel like this is one of those days where I can take on the world. Those days are few and far between. I'm going to relish it.

Yes, even online shopping.
But I knew I needed to pick a quick and easy topic to post about today so I can get back to the other stuff. As I've been cleaning this morning I moved a stack of shoe boxes and the perfect idea popped into my head: I need to talk about how much I hate shopping.

While I didn't always abhor shopping as much as I do now, I've never been like a lot of other women in that I just do NOT enjoy buying new shoes/clothes/bags/what have you. I view it as a chore that I dread. Once I find a brand I like, I very rarely stray from it because I know what size fits. I wear as much black as possible so everything can mix and match. And while I used to love going out to the malls when I was younger (and would drag poor Nerdy P around on the most crowded day of the year until we couldn't walk anymore), now that's like my worst nightmare.

But this year right before Thanksgiving I realized that I really needed some new clothes. We were at my parents' house in Michigan and there's this huge outlet mall there. So they stayed with Desmond while I went by myself to the shops. Here's something I found out: the day before Thanksgiving has all of the same deals as Black Friday, and 1/10th of the people are out shopping.

So I was like, "Oh, yeah, I'm getting EVERYTHING bought today." And so I did. I was carrying so much by the time I left that I was soaking with sweat when I got back to my car in the parking lot. But it was worth it.

 My Thanksgiving excursion loot!

Then one day in early December I was shoveling some sloppy wet snow out of our alley and felt the grossest feeling of all time. My boots had leaked and my feet were sopping wet. I went inside to see if I had any other boots, and I didn't. DAMMIT.

I knew I had no choice but to go shoe-shopping, 'cause there was going to be a lot more snow and rain and "wintry mix" in my future. But I decided I was going to minimize my pain by buying all of the shoes and types of boots I foresaw myself needing. So I sacrificed an hour at DSW and got gym shoes, brown tall winter boots, black tall winter boots, rain boots and short black snow boots. I also threw in some gym socks and called it a day.

Walking home in the snow with all this was not my funnest moment

I should be good for at least a year, I hope. So I WON'T be seeing you at the mall!

 - e

Thursday, January 22, 2015

All the Guilt: Contractor Edition

Final box sacrified for my sanity.I feel like I should start off with two notes before I get into the main post today:

1) An update: My posts this past week most likely conveyed a sense of chaos over here in my corner of Chicago. Things were, and continue to be, a tad out of control. But the good news is that Desmond miraculously recovered the second we stepped foot in the pediatrician's office yesterday. Negative for strep, no ear infection, no fever, running around like a goof, etc. So he's all set to be the prince of his birthday party on Saturday.

Another miracle happened, in that I was able to stick to my schedule until 9 p.m. last night. I used the "Ah hell, it's my birthday" excuse once it hit 9 and continued to respond to about 450 birthday messages until midnight instead of doing client work. I knew my day was mostly free today and I'd get the serious stuff done. Then I thought, "Hey, since it worked so well, why don't I make a schedule like that for myself EVERY day?" And then I remembered a post I did way back in 2008 that reminded me why it's usually impossible for me to plan anything out hour by hour. Random crap would throw my plans off on a daily basis back then and has continued to do so every single day for the past 6.5 years. So I'll continue with my "two million sticky notes all over the place reminding me what I need to do when I get a chance" organizational strategy. I've survived this long.

2) A thank-you: Sincere appreciation goes out to everyone who sent me a birthday greeting in some way, shape or form yesterday. I enjoy those notes every year, but after the week I've been having they were especially welcome. Those messages actually inspired the idea for a great post that I've been working on for the past hour. But then I glanced at the clock, glanced back at the screen and realized I'd have to table that entry until I have more time because I was nowhere near finished and I have work to get back to. These are the consequences of my slacking late last night!

Why, yes. Yes I do.
So instead I'll write about one of my favorite (but that's the wrong word) topics: guilt. Obviously I don't LIKE guilt, but I sure do have a lot of it, and for a whole bunch of weird reasons. I actually think it warrants its own ongoing column, which I'll call "All the Guilt."

Today's edition of All the Guilt deals with the awkwardness I feel when giving feedback to contractors. Let me start by saying that I honestly believe contractors love working at our place, and we've found a handyman company we've used for over a decade, so it's often the same guys who come back time and time again. But my guilt exists whether it's someone we've used before or someone who's brand new. I get significantly uncomfortable pointing out anything they've done that might not be up to snuff.

Case in point: my conversation today with a painter that is here right now. But first, some background. We had this same company paint two bedrooms four years ago. When the guy (who was a new guy) was finished, I wasn't happy. I could see stroke marks all over the place and the old color still seeping through in several areas. But I couldn't say that to his face because of my non-confrontational nature, so I called the owner the next day and explained what was wrong. They had another guy (let's call him Dale) come fix everything up, and then I was both content and relieved.

This is actually similar to what my new home office color will be!Because of what happened last time, I was nervous about this latest project and requested Dale do everything from the get-go. Dale has helped us with a ton of other stuff around the building, and his work is always top-notch. But Dale wasn't available any time soon. Noooooooo! The owner could sense I was internally freaking out (like I said, they've gotten A LOT of business from us because something is always wrong in this place) and assured me the guys he put on the job would meet my expectations.

So they came yesterday and I left them alone all day. After Desmond was asleep, I poked around the second floor. Things looked good—but there were a few spots that looked like they could still use some touching up. I made a mental note.

The guys came back this morning and let themselves in with our spare key. About an hour ago, one of them came to get me to ask how I wanted a certain area handled. He explained that he was going to give the baseboards one more coat, and then I asked him a few questions about when everything would be dry, when it would be OK to hang pictures, and so on. I told him I was going to be on a work call later and wouldn't be available for an hour. He said he thought he'd be done by that point and would just let himself out.

"So you won't come get me again?"

"Nope, I think I'm all set."

"And you'll just leave out the front?"

"Yes, I think I'll be done in the next few hours and then the office will just send you the invoice."

I wish there were a STOP Feeling Guilty button, though.I had been looking all around during this chat and only noticed an obvious mark on one of the baseboards, which he already said he wasn't done with. I thought it was odd that I wouldn't do a final walk-through with him, but figured I could just call the main office later if I was unhappy. It appeared as though he'd done a great job, however, so I pulled the already-prepared tip out of my pocket (friendly advice: always tip well, but tip especially well to contractors you'll likely use again) and said thanks. He seemed genuinely pleased.

BUT THEN I got halfway down the stairs and remembered the spot I noticed last night. So I crept back up and knocked on the door and tried to find a way to casually walk over and inspect that area. But since there was absolutely no reason for me to be back up there I had to admit, "Oh, I just remembered I'd seen this one spot..." and then I found it and of course it was now perfect.

"Yes, I did another coat there this morning."

"Ah, OK. Awesome. Thanks. Bye!" and I scurried out.

Why do I feel SO AWFUL about checking on these things? This project is not cheap. I never, ever am a jerk to anyone, much less someone doing very hard and exhausting work in my home. So why do I feel so guilty about simply making sure I'm happy with the finished project?

Does anyone else ever feel like this? And if you think this story is silly, just wait until the NEXT installment of All the Guilt!

- e

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hour-by-hour Birthday Rundown

Just being honest.
Last night I came up with a ton of great ideas for posts to write today—my birthday. Some were reflective, some covered some extremely personal topics, some were funny, some were random. I've saved the list and will get to all of those posts at some point, I promise. But not today, because somehow it's already 11:30 and I've got pretty much nothing to show for it.

Which is why I settled on posting a play-by-play of my day. My secret hope is that by committing what I'm going to accomplish over the next 12 hours to "paper," I will actually achieve it.

So here it goes. Everything between 6:45 and noon has already happened!

6:45 - 7:30 a.m.: We are normally a "sleep in" household, but today painters were scheduled to arrive at 7 a.m. to begin painting our second floor, where my office is. So I actually set an alarm for 6:45 to give me some time to get dressed, crank the heat up for the guys (we leave our second and third floors at 55 degrees overnight or else we'd be penniless after paying our heating bills), and do a few other last-minute things. They rang right at 7, I walked through the job with them, and then I went back downstairs.

7:30 - 8 a.m: Desmond's fever didn't go away yesterday, so I put a call into the pediatrician in the hopes of getting an appointment. I washed last night's dishes, fed Wrigley, let Wrigley out, and skimmed through a few texts and FB messages wishing me a happy birthday.

8 - 9 a.m.: Desmond woke up. I basically got nothing done in this hour except changing him out of his pajamas and starting to make him oatmeal and watermelon bites.

For MOI?
9 - 10 a.m.: Normally I go up to my home office around 9:15 after our nanny arrives. But today I stayed downstairs for an hour as Desmond ate, then I made my must-have cup of Earl Grey and an English muffin with jam for my elaborate birthday breakfast. Ha. I also cut and arranged a bouquet of flowers my nanny brought, as well as some I'd bought two days prior that I'd just stuck in water up until that point. I gathered everything I needed to be able to work on the third floor into my backpack and let Wrigley out again before taking him upstairs with me.

10 - 10:30 a.m.: Late last night I had swept up and vacuumed all of the shattered glass from yesterday's drama, but I checked it again before letting Wrigley walk around on the floor. Then I got all of my stuff (laptop, cords, glasses, etc) settled, and then the pediatrician called with an opening at 1:20. Then I had to call someone I was supposed to meet downtown at 2 and ask if we could just talk on the phone instead as soon as I was home from Desmond's appointment.

10:30 - 11 a.m.: I did a "Positive Thoughts" meditation. It gave me another idea for a future post, hooray!

11 - 11:30 a.m.: I went back downstairs to let our nanny and Desmond know that we'd have to leave a little before 1 to get to the appointment. Then I climbed up three flights of stairs again, which is when I thought to check if my new FitBit One was working. It was. (A post on that is to come, too!) I put on my wrist splint and settled in to write this post. But first I replied to an email from a guy who writes me simply "HB" each year on my birthday. He's a kinda famous guy. I'm going to write a post about that soon, too. I also responded to a birthday message from my grandma. Because she's my grandma!

Time is never on my side.
11:30 a.m. - noon: I'm writing this post! It's currently 11:44 a.m. and now I'm stressed I won't get it finished by noon.

Noon - 1 p.m.: I'm hoping to get one relatively quick piece of client work done and maybe respond to the 9 birthday texts I've gotten since I started writing this post.

1 - 2 p.m.: We'll be at the pediatrician for at least this long.

2 - 3 p.m.: I'll be on my aforementioned call.

3 - 5 p.m.: If I need to pick up any prescriptions for Desmond, I'll need to do it during this timeframe while our nanny is still here. If not, these two hours will absolutely be taken up by client work that I normally would've done last night or during the day today.

5 - 8 p.m.: DESMOND TIME. Yay! I'll make pasta for myself, a bedtime snack for him, and maybe we'll try to FaceTime with my grandma if he's not too grouchy. We might also FaceTime with my husband, who will be at LAX getting ready to fly home.

Best concoction ever.8 - 9 p.m.: I'm going to make myself a mug of hot chocolate spiked with Frangelico and Chambord. Then I'm going to settle into my recliner and finally go through all of the texts, emails and Facebook messages I was not able to look at since the morning.

9 p.m. - midnight: The reality is that if I haven't finished my client work, I'll likely be doing that during this time. But if I'm done with professional stuff, then I will start reading The Circle by Dave Eggers, which my best friend Nerdy P sent me yesterday. It was already on my Amazon Wishlist and I have a feeling I will really dig it.

Normally I wouldn't stay up until midnight, but I don't sleep well while my husband's gone anyway, and he should be back around midnight, so it'll be a little birthday-inspired craziness for this old lady.

It's 11:55 a.m. and I still have to add a few images to this post.

So with that, I'm off to Google. Thanks for spending a few minutes with me today!

- e

(p.s. I'm hitting Publish at 12:05—not too shabby!)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Hits Keep on Coming

That means you. And me.I am not one to feel sorry for myself. When friends are having problems, I always try to point out the bright side of things, and don't have much patience for complainers. Compared to the vast majority of the rest of the world, we all have it really, really good.

But hey, everyone has a particularly bad day now and then, and I think it's healthy to just acknowledge when things temporarily suck so that you can then focus on doing what you need to do to remedy the situation.

So today's post is my own acknowledgement of a craptastic weekend and how I'm going to manage to rise above and get over it before 40 people show up and 6 relatives stay overnight here on Saturday for Desmond's 3rd birthday party.

As I mentioned in my post over on my long-neglected Baba G & Me blog yesterday, Desmond is not feeling well. So that was the biggest issue over the weekend: what started as him sniffling and running a slight fever on Friday night is now a gross gurgly cough and him blowing his nose into his hand and then wiping the snot all over his face about twice every five minutes. (?!?) As expected, the pediatrician said there's nothing we can do except push liquids and let it run its course unless his fever continues throughout today, in which case we'll then go in to see if it's strep throat or an ear infection. So there's that.

But like most little kids, there are long periods of time when you wouldn't be able to tell he's not feeling well because he's still running around and playing like a maniac. And since it was kind of nice out this weekend, I decided we'd take advantage of the mild(er) weather and go for a long, LONG walk along Lake Michigan. So we did, and on the way back—still a good thirty minutes from home—I felt his stroller pulling sharply to the left. Since I have been wearing a splint on my left wrist for the past few months (that's another story), WHY GOD WHYit was slightly painful to keep trying to fight with this huge-ass stroller that wanted to zig-zag across the walking path. So I inspected the wheels to see if I'd gotten something wrapped around them, and that's when I saw that the back-left tire was completely flat. Sweet. Needless to say I had broken out in a full-body sweat by the time we got home from trying to steer that thing against its will.

Then I had no choice but to haul Des to the grocery store because we were out of everything. This was the day he decided to reach for things on shelves, including a glass bottle of really pungent vinaigrette which he then dropped. Of course it smashed into a million pieces and I had to sheepishly go get someone to clean it up amidst other shoppers wondering aloud, "What's that smell???"

Fast-forward a few hours and Des is finally in bed and I needed to do some work. I went upstairs to my husband's computer to get a file. When I was done, I backed away from the desk, stood up, and crashed my head into our less-than-three-months-old-and-not-cheap lighting fixture, causing it to shatter into both large and microscopic shards of glass all around the floor. Obscenities were yelled.

It was the entire fixture, not just one measly bulb, mind you.I then marched straight out of that room because I had reached my limit. I called my husband (oh, did I not mention that he's been in sunny Arizona this whole time and is now flying to even sunnier L.A.?) to tell him about the accident, which led to an, ahem, "strongly worded verbal disagreement" about whether it was my fault for running into the lighting fixture or his fault for not raising it above standing-adult height like I had told him to do when we first got it and I PREDICTED someone was going to nearly kill themselves on it. Let's just say we both lost that argument.

Now it's a Tuesday that feels like a Monday because of the holiday weekend. And guess what was the first thing on my schedule today? A trip to the dentist. At the rate things were going I was 100% prepared for him to say I had ten new cavities and that at least two of my teeth were going to fall out. But everything was OK.

And I know everything else is going to be OK, too. On my walk home from the dentist I realized that my mind had been preoccupied with figuring out how in the hell I'm going to get everything done that I need to do before my parents arrive Friday, four other relatives arrive Saturday and oh, FORTY PEOPLE come over for Desmond's birthday party that same afternoon. On top of my writing work and possibly taking Des into the pediatrician, I must also move everything on our second floor in advance of painters arriving at 7 a.m. tomorrow and painting that level for two days AND I need to wash sheets and tidy up all of our guest rooms. I had been strategizing what I was going to do during every single hour between now and Saturday morning. And I was not despairing over it—in fact I was all revved up about it.

My thoughts exactly.See, the weird thing is that I work much better and more productively when I am completely stressed out. I will get significantly MORE done in those times. So all of these little life challenges are making me mad, yes, but they're also subconsciously motivating me to pack even more in to each day than I would've otherwise. I have always been this way and will always be this way and it's actually a great thing. As I have said before to my husband, "I am the person you want around in an emergency." We're certainly not in any crisis right now, but the more things seem to go awry, the better I function. If there are any psychologists out there, please tell me what this means!

The other thing I go back to in order to stay sane is the same reminder I always give my friends, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post. These "problems" are not real problems. In fact, one of the things I'm working on right now requires me to go through years of pictures. As I look back over the decades, there is no denying that I've lived a wonderful life. So yes, shards of glass might be raining down on my head and my son may be violently spewing virus particles in my face and so on and so forth, but the reality is that I'm probably going to look back on this hot mess of a weekend and laugh my ass off. So I will choose to save myself the wait and laugh about it now.

- e

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Promise of the Weekend

I love how he has his seat belt on. Happy, but still sensible, pig!
Ah, Friday.

Friday has always been one of my two favorite days of the week (the other being Sunday, and that's really only because all of the best TV shows seem to fall on Sundays). When I worked for The Man, Friday was the day things were winding down, no one wanted to stay past 5, and everyone got a break from each other for two full days.

But since I started freelancing in 2007, Friday no longer equates to "winding down." I do some sort of client work every day of the week, and since I'm always at home there's not really a "break" in the physical sense of being away from your office.

But there's still more family time to look forward to, as well as the potential to get some bigger "life projects" checked off. Every Friday I make a mental list of everything I'm going to accomplish. And every week I have ridiculously high hopes of superhuman productivity. I'm going to go to the gym on both Saturday and Sunday while my husband takes Desmond to swimming and soccer. I'm going to catch up on film reviews I meant to write. I'm going to catch up on films I meant to watch. I'm going to update my nerdy spreadsheet. I'm going to finally clean out the bathroom cabinets. I'm going to organize my bedroom closet. I'm going to watch some shows that are hogging up space on our DVR. I'm going to start that new book. I'm going to...

Guess what? Aside from getting to the gym, I almost never accomplish anything significant on the weekends. I don't know where the time goes, but it goes. And then it's 8 p.m. on Sunday night and I have the choice to either feel depressed about it... or promise myself that I'll just get everything done next weekend. For sure.

May your weekend be more productive than mine,
- e

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Behold My Cashflow Spreadsheet

Somebody buy me this.
There are nerds, and then there are NERDS. I'm the all-caps kind.

Exhibit A: One of the things I'm proudest of in life is my budget/cashflow spreadsheet. No, I'm not exaggerating. It is honestly one of the crowning achievements of my 40 years on this planet so far.

Normal people may fly by the seat of their pants, do math in their heads, write things out in their checkbooks or use a program like Quicken to keep their finances in order. Not me. At the end of 1998, I began putting all of my income and expenses into Excel. Back then, and for several years afterward, I just kept a simple two-column tab for each year, tracking everything I made and spent on a monthly basis. I think I tried Quicken once during that time, but quickly abandoned it because my spreadsheet was better.

As time went on, I started getting fancy. I began to project how much I'd have at the end of the year based on past spending. I'd have a starting template for each month that included my estimated income (based on my usual paychecks) and recurring expenses (rent checks, utility bills, student loan payments, typical ATM withdrawals per month), and then I added in a few rows for general categories like "Misc," "Condo projects," "Vacations," "Charity donations," etc. It was a budget, yes, but it also allowed me to tinker with "what if?" scenarios and see how, say, splurging on a big trip in March and not spending as much on clothes in the fall would affect how much I'd have left for Christmas gifts.

It was really exciting (only to me) once I had to factor in my husband's accounts after we got married. For whatever reason, I split the spreadsheet into two sets of income and expense columns. I think it was because at that point in time we had separate accounts and it was the easiest and quickest way to pull all of his data in. But then I kept the format like that long after we'd merged everything.

Here's a snapshot of April 2010:

Shock and awe.

I've x'd out certain amounts, but the color-coding remains. I use other colors throughout the year for different things, but in this screen-capture the orange is for my freelancing income and expenses (I have another spreadsheet that's solely dedicated to my LLC, of course) and green is for tax-related stuff.

Somebody get me this shirt, too.One reason I've been trying (and so far, succeeding) to post here every weekday since I kicked my 2015 goals into gear is that doing so makes me a better writer overall. But sometimes unexpected benefits come out of it, like the fact that I JUST NOW realized—a full 11.5 years after my husband and I got married—that my split-screen format makes no sense and is adding unnecessary work onto my plate.

So now I have something else to look forward to besides Jo and Paul's visit: I get to completely restructure my beloved spreadsheet for the first time in over a decade. I better make sure I'm stocked on goodies and wine, 'cause it's gonna be a big, multi-night project. Woo-hoo!

But in all of this so far I haven't actually disclosed why I love this spreadsheet so much and why I'm so proud of it. Here are the two main reasons:

1) Looking forward. I am a planner. I am also a worrier. This spreadsheet helps me both plan more and worry less. If I lose a source of freelancing income, I can adjust the spreadsheet quickly and see how the rest of the calendar year's finances are affected. If our roof suddenly starts leaking and we need to shell out $10,000 we hadn't planned on to fix it, I can figure out where we can cut back to make up for the loss. I'll know at any given point in time how much is in each of our liquid accounts and when I might need to transfer funds around. It is awesome.

It's no puzzle at all, actually.2) Looking back. We are what we spend money on. It's true. In general, my memory sucks, but if I flip through my spreadsheet I will almost immediately recall what was going on during any given month. It's captured the story of my life since 1999. For example, in August of 1999 there's an entry for "IPO." Ah, yes... I was at a start-up and stupidly never cashed out of any of my stock options, becoming the only person who made zero money during the bubble. In April 2000 there are charges in Tokyo, Sydney, Paris... that was my around-the-world research trip for that same start-up, during which the bubble finally burst. Forward to Summer 2002, there are gifts for some of my best friends' weddings. August 2003, buying the house we still live in. Even the smallest things are memorialized, like the fact I went to a play entitled 'Frodo-a-Go-Go" twelve years ago. You get the picture. EVERYTHING in my life is captured in this spreadsheet.

And so my husband will continue to shake his head at me and my crazy Excel file. And others will try to convince me that personal finance software has come a long way since the late '90s and I really need to check it out. And sometimes even I will doubt the sanity of my little project. But I know I will keep the spreadsheet going as long as I can still type. You can have your NASCAR, your professional wrestling, your reality TV, your B-movies, your sports obsessions, your fast food. My spreadsheet is my guilty pleasure.

- e

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

e's Favorite Things: Earplugs

Turn it down, people
"Got your earplugs?"

One of my husband's friends asks me this every single time he sees me—it's become something of a running joke. Without fail, I DO have my earplugs.

Several years ago, I started experiencing a kind of painful sensation in my right ear. I'd be somewhere loud for a little while, and then it would be like my ear just couldn't take it anymore and would start crackling... and then everything would break up into static. I equated it to speaker blowing out. I consulted a few different doctors and went through some cool tests at an auditory lab and whatnot, and though they had some term for it that I've long since forgotten, the bottom line was that while my hearing was very good, it was also extremely sensitive. What's weird is that after a bout of blinding migraines in junior high I had my vision checked and was told essentially the same thing about my eyes: great vision, but hypersensitive to light.

This leaves me as someone who will almost always choose to wear sunglasses (cue Corey Hart) and earplugs, on top of trying to avoid brightly lit and excessively loud places. If I think of myself as a vampire whose excellent sight and hearing abilities are finally starting to fail her after the centuries, then I feel better about all of this.

The auditory equivalent of GET OFF MY LAWN
Since my job requires me to be at a movie theaters several times a week, I must always make sure I have earplugs on hand. A few times I've switched purses and then realized to my horror that I'd left my earplugs behind. I've had to make like MacGyver and take concession napkins, fold and roll them up into noise barriers and stuff them into my ears. Once I left some in accidentally and had an entire conversation with a fellow critic after a movie. It wasn't until I went into the restroom that I saw the bright white pointy napkins sticking out of both sides of my head like antennae. That made me feel pretty awesome about myself.

One question I always get is, "Well can you still hear the movie?" And that's the secret I wanted to share with all of you today: you can hear the movie BETTER. What the earplugs do is drown out all of the annoying noises in the theater. People whispering, candy wrappers crackling, popcorn chomping—all gone. The loudest parts of a film, like any scenes with explosions or where the score cranks up to 11, are more muted. But other than that I can hear everything just fine and my ears are never ringing afterward. I'd highly recommend trying it out the next time you go to a movie. If the sound is muted too much for your liking, pull out the earplugs slightly until you find a happy medium.

I pop in earplugs at every concert, every time I use a hair dryer, and at any restaurant that's extra loud. If my son is in a particularly screamy mood, in go the earplugs. Once again, I can still hear everything, it's simply more comfortable and stops my ears from revolting.

At this point I'm pretty sure I'll still have crystal-clear hearing at age 90 because I've been taking these preventative measures to protect my ears for nearly 20 years now.
I prefer beige for their stealthiness.
If you want to be cool like me, I'd recommend finding some beige ones rather than all of the crazy neon ones that seem to be stocked everywhere. I'm assuming neon is all the rage because maybe most people who buy earplugs need them for job-safety requirements. Like maybe they're working around loud machinery and bright dots sticking out of their ears will somehow help them be more noticeable to a co-worker. But I prefer for people to NOT notice I'm wearing them, so beige is the best for me. Sometimes I cut them in half so that they're not even sticking out. They still work just fine. Last year at Lollapalooza I found myself without any earplugs and had a total meltdown. I was positive that since I'm ancient compared to most people who go, there was no way I would find earplugs anywhere. But thankfully they had some (neon, of course) at the makeshift convenience shop and I was able to enjoy the rest of my day.

So the next time you're at a crowded movie and don't want to be annoyed by your fellow attendees, grab some earplugs beforehand and let me know what you think. Unfortunately the earplugs will do nothing to help you if someone starts lighting up the theater with their texting, though. For that I recommend a gentle kick to the head. (I'm kidding. Kind of.)

- e

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

If It Weren't for Visitors, My Condo Would be in Ruins

My own personal Kryptonite.
I love having people come and stay with us. It is one of my main motivators for keeping our place halfway livable. If we never had any visitors, we'd have probably been featured on some sort of "Have you no shame?!?" reality show by now. Thankfully, we host a steady stream of family members and friends who come through Chicago on a very regular basis.

After Desmond was born and at my husband's insistence (let's just say neither of us would be what you call "domestic"), we hired a cleaning lady who comes every other week to keep our main two levels in check. The place we moved into after we were married in 2003 is what city folk call a "duplex down," meaning that one of the two levels is half-underground. I fought this cleaning-lady arrangement for years before we had Des. I thought it was ridiculous to pay someone to do things that seemed so simple (yet we never seemed to have time for). I was also worried that my great-grandmother's piano would get ruined—that the wrong cleaning solution would be used on it or something. Then I talked to a friend who is equally as neurotic as me (but has been using a cleaning lady for me) and he was like, "Oh, just tell her to leave the piano alone." DUH.

So once I got pregnant in 2011, I caved and we hired the same cleaning lady my friend uses. This is one of the best decisions I've ever made.

However, at the end of that same year we bought the condo unit above us, and in 2013 we bought the final condo unit on the top floor, with the intention of eventually converting everything into a single family home, aka "a real house." But we don't foresee having either the money or the mental fortitude to go embark upon that level of construction and life disruption for at least five years. So in the meantime, it means we have two separate two-bedroom/two-bathroom condo units above us to play around with however we'd like. The cleaning lady doesn't come to those floors at all.

I do NOT miss these days.
A cubby area on the second floor has served as my home office since Desmond was born. (Before that, my KITCHEN TABLE doubled as my home office from mid-2007 to December 2011. See picture on the right.) And the third floor has morphed into my husband's music studio/our "movie room." We bought beds and nightstands for all four of the guest rooms, but other than there there's not much furniture.

And while the third floor movie room looks pretty cool with all of the framed film posters and stills we transferred from our lower level (which has now turned into kiddieland, thanks to Desmond's three trillion toys), the second floor hasn't gotten much love in the ol' decor department.

I'm going to try and change that very soon. After learning that Jo would be coming for Walker Stalker Con in late February (and—since that post—also confirming that our Scottish friend and fellow LOST/Star Wars mega-fan Paul will also be staying here with us), I realized that I really needed to finally decorate my home office with all of the nerdy pop culture stuff I've been collecting over the years. I mean, if Jo and Paul don't appreciate it, no one ever will. This was just the excuse I needed to kick my butt into gear.

As I type this, I'm waiting for our trusty handyman to come over and spec out the costs of painting the main living areas on the second floor. Also as I type this, the signed Walking Dead poster I won in the latest Cancer Gets LOST charity auction, as well as the picture of Richard Alpert (Nestor Carbonell) I got signed at last year's Walker Stalker Con, are both at the framing shop. Before Jo and Paul arrive, I should have a good-as-new home office that displays all of my beloved "stuff."

AND I will probably have to ask our cleaning lady if I can pay her to give the guest levels some love before the big weekend arrives. Because we all know I'm not going to end up doing it myself.

Here is the "before" picture of my office cubby. Yes, I'm embarrassed.

Sad, bare walls. Chaos reigns elsewhere.

I'll post the "after" when it's done!

- e

Monday, January 12, 2015

Mourning My Morning Emails

There's spam mail, and then there are those emails that you might have actually signed up for at one point (intentionally or unintentionally) that are from legit senders but still come to feel like spam because of their frequency and overall unwantedness. You know the ones: "Flash Sale at GAP!" "20% off your next bouquet!" "Social Media's hottest trends!" "See who's looked at your LinkedIn profile!" and so on and so forth.

They're the online equivalent of this:

O.G. spam mail

Over the years I've managed to get myself onto hundreds of these lists. And every single morning, at least 40 messages roll in when I first check my Inbox. Usually only 1 of the 40 is from an actual person I know. The rest of the messages I delete without even opening.

So in line with my goal of trying to simplify life in 2015, I didn't delete any of these messages over the past few mornings so that I could actually click into each one and hit the "Unsubscribe" link. I've done about a dozen per day, and man, does it feel good to be "weeding the garden," so to speak.

Most "Unsubscribe" pages had a note stating that it may take a few weeks for my email address to be removed from the sender's database. And a few such pages didn't work at all, which I know from my days of working for The Man is in violation of the CAN SPAM act (I'm lookin' at you, Fannie May Candies!).

But I'm already starting to see a difference. This morning there were only a measly three messages when I logged on.

And then I caught myself.

"A measly three?" Isn't this what I wanted—to NOT have to blindly delete dozens of emails every morning? But here I was feeling a little deflated about it. How could this be?

I think it's because we've kind of become trained to equate our Inbox with our importance. Look at me! At right this very second I have 11,350 messages in my Inbox, and over 2,000 of those haven't even been touched! I am like sooooooo busy and important and in demand, aren't I?

Woe (and whoa) is me.

What's that, little devil sitting on my shoulder? You're noticing that about half of those unread messages are FROM MYSELF and consist of one-line reminders along the lines of "get dog food," "buy lightbulbs next time you go to Walgreens," "turn water heater setting down," "make dentist appointment," and the like?

And you're now informing me that the other half are messages I actually did read the entirety of on my phone but then never deleted out on my laptop? Or they're from CVS telling me about ANOTHER $5 off coupon if I refill my prescriptions soon... or they're old order confirmations from Amazon that I've let pile up since 2013? Um, yeah. Not so important after all.

I know I'm going to have to get used to this "new normal." I admit that it's thoroughly sad and loser-ish to actually have to go through any sort of adjustment period that's related to no longer getting a bunch of junk emails. I also admit that I'm the human version of Pavlov's dogs: I get excited when I see that an email has come through. Because there is always the chance that it's from a real-live friend and then I can use that message as an excuse to stop whatever halfway-productive thing I was working on.

So on top of pruning my email subscription list, I've also started totally shutting down my email system when I'm working on a writing project. Otherwise that "new mail" icon at the bottom of my screen will just haunt me and taunt me, and I don't trust myself to have the willpower to not flip over to check out who/what wrote me.

I'm not proud of any of this. But admitting you have a problem is the first step, right?

- e