Thankful: play. (And a giveaway!)

Chicago Toy & Game Fair

(Heyyyy, if you're just in this for the free stuff, scroll down past my heartfelt story for the giveaway!)  

I'm thankful for a playful spirit, even as I creep toward 30 years old.

At my first-ever soup party last year, 40 people, many of whom were strangers, crammed into my one-bedroom apartment to sample the five soups I'd prepared in a crock-pot smorgasbord, sip wine and mingle. "Elf" played on loop, and the only casualty of the evening was a bowl of Chex Mix knocked over by a kid who was just too excited to play with Emaline.

As the crowd started to filter out, two smaller groups formed, one in the living room, one in the dining room. The living room group sat in a circle, beers in hand, and started passing out cards for Apples to Apples. The rest of us fumbled over the directions for a new game, LOGO, that we'd just torn the cellophane off of. (LOGO, for the record, is a terrible game.)

Back in Kansas City at Christmastime, my sister and I sat cross-legged on the family room floor with the Sorry! board, teaching our mother the rules of each card and ruthlessly knocking each other's little plastic men back to Start until one of us finally claimed victory.

Fast-forward to this summer, when I walked into the beer garden at Village Tap and sat down with my first of many Virtue Red Streak ciders — and five girls I'd never met before — to play a new game called Telestrations, a dry-erase-board cross between Pictionary and that obnoxious elementary-school telephone game you played where the kid at the end got embarrassed because the message they blurted out was nothing like what was said at the beginning.

I can't even draw a stick figure well. I am terrible at this game. But I lost my mind laughing with those complete strangers, which means I loved it. (We'll be swapping LOGO out for Telestrations at this year's soup party; I see no one objecting.)

 

…And a giveaway

That's also the night I met Mary Kay Russell, a wonderful lady who's encouraging me yet again to get in touch with my inner child. The 10th-annual Chicago Toy & Game Fair is this weekend, Nov. 17 and 18, and I'll be there bright and early Saturday morning for an early blogger preview (sponsored by Bananagrams — how often does anyone get to say that?!) of all the newest and awesome…est…games for the holiday season. Even as my arrested development continues, I know more and more people having kids, so I can't wait to be the cool single friend with the best presents this year.

Heck.

Great news: I've also got one family pass to give away for the weekend, which means you and your kiddos can get in gratis for Saturday and Sunday! Watch Saturday's yo-yo competition for free…meet board game inventors for free…hell, go to the Pony Royale Princess Party, if that's your thing.

Just leave a comment here with your favorite board-game memory, then post the following tweet to let people know you've entered:

I want to take my family to @ChiTAGFair, and @paigeworthy's making it happens! What's your favorite game? http://paigeworthy.com/?p=1899

 

Get your entry in by 5 p.m. CST on Thursday, Nov. 15 — I'll announce the winner on Twitter and notify you by e-mail that night. Good luck!

Thankful: Mario and the Brown Line.

I'm thankful for my train station. I can see the Brown Line from my living room, where I'm sitting right now. I watch trains roll in from both directions, their fluorescent interior lights orange-blue through the newly bare branches out my window, the warm glow of the heat lamps , the dwindling number of people waiting to go somewhere as it grows later.

I can even hear it from my bedroom, especially after a fresh snow, when it's the only sound that can cut through the silent white blanket.

There's a tiny Dunkin' Donuts in the lobby, by the farecard machines. The employees bustling around shoulder to shoulder there recognize me, not to the point where they know my drink, but enough that they give me a warm, knowing smile and understand how badly I must need that jolt when I amble in.

 

And then there's Mario: the real reason I'm thankful for my train station.

Mario is the guy in the orange and yellow safety vest with the broom and the dustpan, who sweeps the platforms and keeps the station neat. He's he guy who empties the trash. And he's the guy who makes my day every time I see him.

I've wanted to write about Mario for months.

He's Hispanic and easily a head shorter than me; he has a rough past, a firm handshake, eyes that sparkle when he talks and one of the loveliest spirits I've ever come into contact with.

 

I talk to strangers. It's a thing. If you make eye contact with me, there's a good chance I will start a conversation.

Mario made eye contact one day, and I actually let a downtown-bound train pass me by to hear more of his story. He was open and honest and looked me square in the eye as he told me about hitting rock bottom with a drug addiction and eventually cleaning up his act — all so he could help raise his nephews and be a man they could be proud of.

I can't imagine how much they must love him.

 

Mario always remembers my name. He can tell when I'm sick or sad; he knew immediately I'd met someone special when I came to the station grinning from ear to ear shortly after I started seeing Mark. He's met my sister; he's met Mark. I've taken the kittens through the station twice hoping to introduce him to them, too.

He's become this happy fixture in my Lincoln Square life, and I'm so thankful to have caught his eye that random day in my train station.

I'm a diva. (Tomorrow, I will be, anyway.)

When all else fails…Lead with a photo and hope the words come.

 

Tomorrow night, I will emerge from my anti-Halloween cocoon a downtown Diva, a Woman of Words, celebrated with hotel-bar cocktails and a photo slideshow.

Ordinarily, I shun words like maven, guru, diva and ninja. Because, well, they're lame.

But when someone is throwing a cocktail party and wants to call you a diva for the night, you don't turn down the opportunity, and you don't sneer at the name. (See also: Klout's more than a little silly, too, but when they want to offer you presents just for having a big number by your name [ahem, 69 last I checked, thankyouverymuch], you don't turn them down, either. And you're proud to say you have Klout-with-a-capital-K.)

That someone throwing the party: Sarah Vargo, owner of maven, a Chicago-based promotions, publicity and PR firm. And Ms. Vargo doesn't throw the word maven around lightly. I never knew the word maven came from the Yiddish mebhen, which means "one who understands" — but she did. Sarah's got some serious chops in the promotions world, and I'm expecting this to be one hell of a party.

"Diva" isn't some random designation, either. Maven has been celebrating these influential women for more than four years, and every Diva is nominated by another woman who thinks she's deserving of the honor — I woke up last week to a personal invitation from Sarah after Lisa, one of my best friends and a former (forever, actually) diva herself, nominated me to be part of the Women of Words group.

My fellow Divas:

 

Semi-related secret that's not a secret: For a long time, I kind of really disliked other women. Sorority life didn't do much to help that; neither did being more than a little confrontational, potty-mouthed, taller than most and just un-pretty enough to feel like I was competing with absolutely every other girl in the world just to get a glance from a male that was anything but sideways. (How I've since come to see most of those things as a positive is a mystery to me — one I'm happy to let remain unsolved.)

In a former life, I might have taken the opportunity to pre-stalk these ladies, searching for an Achilles heel or bad Facebook photo, to make myself feel better. Or thought about it, anyway.

But Chicago has shown me how smart, supportive and otherwise absolutely fantastic its ladies can be, from female friends who never expect me to be anyone but myself to insanely talented businesswomen who have taught me how to be a better professional and even personally vouched for me to people who are now my clients.

I can't wait to share the spotlight tomorrow night with these hard-working Women of Words who I'm sure are more than deserving of the Diva title — even if it's just for one night. (I know it will be for me.)

 

By the way, if you're in Chicago and want to attend this little soirée, it's from 6 to 9 p.m. at Jbar in the James Hotel. All you need to do is RSVP.

Nike+ FuelBand: I'm not an athlete, but I play one on Twitter.

This post is about a free thing I got. I think I'm supposed to disclose that so that FTC doesn't come after me. Neither Klout nor Nike held me at gunpoint to make me write about it, nor did they even expect me to. They gave me free things out of the goodness of their hearts. Aren't they nice?
 
 

Even after training for months and riding my bike 200 miles over two days, I don't really consider myself an athlete. Go figure. It's probably because, in my fat-kid heart of hearts, I know I'd still rather count a brisk walk to Little Caesar's to pick up a Hot 'n' Ready sausage pizza and bag o' Crazy Bread as my physical activity for the day (not that that happened yesterday or anything) instead of dripping and stumbling my way through a CARDIO BLAST EXXXXXTREME (!!!!) workout.

Pay no attention to the poindexter behind the FuelBand.

Still, Klout, in its infinite wisdom, recently decided I was not only an athlete but an influencer in the world of athletics. To the point of inviting me to participate in a Perk program that entitled me to a free Nike+ FuelBand. I didn't even know what it was, and I was lusting. This was easily the sweetest Perk I'd been invited to, though the "Life of a Freelancer" poster was inspirational, and I'm quite enjoying my bottle of sparkly blue Essie nail polish.

But this Perk wasn't just about the free FuelBand. It was an entire evening of fittings and fitness at the NikeFuel House in Lincoln Park. The team messengered over a set of new workout clothes — including the Legend tight capri, which I want to wear every day for the rest of my life — and told me to deck out before joining them at the Fuel House one sweltering August evening. I looked like a sausage in the top, especially after seeing the other girls, pretty and perfectly plastic for the most part, who were selected to attend. A real trip for the self esteem!

We got the expected spiel about the company's improved Nike+ technology, which is admittedly pretty cool — I like it because it tracks all your upper-body motion, not just intense workouts, so I actually did get a bit of cred for my brisk walk to Little Caesar's Grease Emporium — got fitted for our FuelBands and SHOES OF THE FUTURE then headed outside to try out the new kicks with the Allyson Felix "Fast Lane" Nike+ Training workout.

It's a series of 18 tiny workouts, about 30 seconds each, and it was the hardest 10 minutes of my entire life. I'll keep you posted after childbirth about whether it still holds the record.

But what do you know…I actually felt like an athlete. For those 10 minutes, I could put the encased-meat feeling of self-hatred on the shelf and just enjoy my workout.

I take my FuelBand off now just to shower and sleep, despite the fact that it looks completely ridiculous.  There are days when it's a struggle for me to reach my daily goal of 3,000 Fuel points — but there have been others where I blast right through and more than double it. (That was Saturday, when I went to hip-hop dance class at my gym, walked to the grocery store then spent the afternoon making corn chowder.)

When I hit a goal, there's a little dancing guy that does flips and generally goes nuts on my phone. And I can bombard my networks with my achievements, which definitely fuels the attention whore that lies deep, deep (deeeeep) within me. Gamified fitness totally works on me.

 

The bottom line: If you have $150 just lying around, the Nike+ FuelBand is a great, fun way to get motivated. And if you just want to see what the Nike summer fitness craze is all about, head down to the NikeFuel House for free workouts every week!

Now, if only that little dancing guy could reach up from my phone and slap me when my GPS puts me anywhere near that Crazy Bread…

 

Lost and Found [in Town].

Last Sunday, I dropped my phone outside a restaurant in Andersonville. For the record, I’d had one drink. ONE. (We’ll blame the Angostura bitters here, but really, I need my head examined.)I noted that I had dropped it. I chastised myself for being clumsy. Then I walked off without it.

Who does that?

I didn't realize until half an hour later that I hadn’t picked it up, and when I returned to the scene of the crime to retrieve it, my phone was gone. My Android phone worth hundreds of dollars, swiped off the sidewalk by some stranger, never to be seen again. There’s a joke in here somewhere about fiscal responsibility and generally being a damn adult. But I was in no mood for jokes.

I locked my bike up when I got home and trudged upstairs, already calculating which would be less expensive and more worth my efforts: cashing in my insurance policy yet again (the first time, I drowned my phone in a toilet… because I’m awesome) or canceling my contract, paying the early-termination fee and running back to my mother’s family plan. Tail. Between. My legs.

MEANWHILE, IN CYBERSPACE…

A lovely, law-abiding man — not some hoodlum with black-market motives — and his wife had found my phone, and they were looking for ways to get it back to me. Enter Found in Town.

Zach Haller, a friend of mine from Chicago’s amazing tech startup community, had me on board with his universal lost-and-found program almost immediately. Here’s how it works: Users prone to losing things sign up for a set of FiT tags, which come with a unique code and can be affixed to anything and everything that is able to be lost.

When your tags arrive in the mail — branded with the logo of one of FiT’s community partners, who help fund the program — you activate them, attach them to your stuff and wait patiently for the day you can put them to work. (You know, or not, if you're not like me.) For me, that day was Sunday.

When I got into my apartment, I had every intention of sending a series of frantic, futile text messages to my phone with the vain hope that I would get a response from whoever had fled the scene with my link to the world.

Instead, I had two e-mails waiting for me. The first: an e-mail from the resourceful man who found my phone, which I love him for, even if it did mean he had to go through my phone to find my contact information. The second: a notification from Found in Town that someone had found my phone. A little redundant at that point, but…holy crap, it worked. I had my phone back less than two hours after I went braindead and left it on the sidewalk.

Found in Town doesn’t guarantee that your stuff will be returned — if I’d left my now-vaguely-infamous iPad lying on the ground, I don’t expect some good Samaritan would have returned it — but it does make it easier for the stellar human beings among us to do their thing.

I may not be so lucky next time I go full-on bonehead, but I definitely have a little more faith this week in humanity…and technology.

So THANK you, Zach, for having this idea, and thank you to a stranger named Noel for wondering what to do with a silly sticker on the back of a stranger’s phone.

Also: I am including a handy CALL TO ACTION here. Sign up for Found in Town. Spread the word about it. Help an entrepreneur with a fantastic concept take his idea to the next level. Today, Chicago…tomorrow, the world!

Fall is for Starbucks. And savings. (?)

It's the first day of fall. And I am overjoyed.I'm sitting on the patio of a Starbucks in Roscoe Village, staring up at a cloudless blue sky knowing that in a few hours, I'll be enjoying one of the many perks of being a full-time freelancer: heading to Wrigley Field for a day game, watching the Cubs lose their last home game of 2011. There's a man across the street with a can of spray paint the same color as his city-issued safety vest, blocking traffic and drawing arrows every which way from corner to corner. Sometimes it's best not to ask questions.

I'm shivering in my long-sleeved T-shirt and light scarf but totally unwilling to go inside, breathing in cool air spiked with possibility (and some paint fumes, if I'm lucky, I guess). Wrapped up in this crazy idea that absolutely anything can happen right now. Which is true for every day, every moment, but for now, there's nothing scary about it, nowhere to go but up. And I don't say that because I'm at rock bottom — I'm far from it, actually — but because I choose it. As I sit here sipping my $4 soy chai, it occurs to me that this is goddamn ridiculous. Not the "everything's comin' up Paige" attitude I've adopted, but the fact that I have very little money coming in but still insist on buying this drink nearly every day. At least $100 every month, down the drain with the swipe of a pretty little gold card. My drink orders are not passive transactions like my other — so. many. other. — credit-card purchases: I have to reload the stupid gold card to get my soy upgrade gratis. I know exactly how much I'm spending.

SO, TOMORROW. (Man, I'm terrible at segues from Real Writing to…whatever this is.) Tomorrow night, I will very responsibly take public transportation to the Gold Coast and learn how to slow my roll.

My good friend Nicole, who found herself in a similar self-employed pickle just months after an ill-fated career choice, is the creator of Ms. Career Girl, a fantastic website for young women looking for career and life advice. Nicole is much better than being a grown-up than I am. In addition to the gorgeous website that gives me blog envy every time I visit, she's also started doing live networking events in Chicago. There's another one after work on Thursday evening, Sept. 22 — it starts at 6 p.m. — at Proof. Yes, the nightclub. Yes, I know. Gross.

Here's a look at what to expect at this event, a panel discussion with women who are experts in their fields:

  • Home Ownership: How much mortgage can you afford? How much money should you plan on putting down? What if you have a poor credit score?
  • Tackling student loans and improving your spending habits
  • How to use life insurance as a retirement, college or wedding savings tool (Ed.: I have no idea what this is, this "wedding" you speak of.)
  • Owning a home in Chicago: what you need to know about property taxes, special programs and condo associations.
  • Why insurance is crucial to long term financial success and building wealth.
  • Should you focus on cutting costs or earning more money?
  • Why should someone in their twenties have life insurance? What kinds of life insurance are there?

Also, there will be champagne.

 

Back at Starbucks…I gave up and came inside. I'll tell myself it was because I needed a power outlet. Truthfully, though, hypothermia will not be a good look for me tomorrow night at Proof (though it would seem hyperbole always is). A woman walked in with three little boys, each wearing bicycle helmets and capes. They didn't ride bikes here. Two of them — brothers, I assume — have red and blue vinyl capes and matching bright-green helmets with scales and decals to make them look like dinosaurs; the third has a plain blue helmet, but his cape is made from a silk scarf. He's a paisley superhero. I love them, and I don't even know them. As they stand with their faces pressed to the window, screaming at the top of their little lungs for no good reason, I realize this is a huge part of why I throw money at an automatic espresso machine every morning. Little moments like this. But maybe tonight, I can start to figure out how to balance the moments of people watching and baby dreaming with affording to make those dreams a reality at some point. Reaching? Maybe. But it's true. You should come tomorrow night. We can meet in person. And drink champagne. And learn how to grow up and start saving money. And, you know, buy houses and get married and be successful in the long term. Dear god, the future terrifies me. Even if it is all uphill from here.

Champagne.

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: Nicole offered me free entry to the event if I wrote about it. So I'm asking you to pay for a ticket, but I'm already going for free. Nyah, nyah, nyah.