Relationship kryptonite?

Hello, it's Valentine's Day.I adore this holiday from the chalky conversation hearts — FAX ME — to all the contrived expressions of affection. Because even though he may have been guilted into going to Jared by jewelry-store ads and chocolate companies and the Hallmark Corporation, I'll bet his heart's in the right place. Usually. Some men really do just suck. Okay, women, too. But mostly men.

Bitterness and cynicism are a real turn-offs. All the anti-Cupid sentiment? I'm anti-that. Yes, we should tell our loved ones how we feel, show them how much they mean to us, every day. But what's wrong with one day out of the year where we go out of our way, go big, to spoil them?

I don't have a big hetero Valentine this year. There's a heart-shaped iron the fire, to be sure, but I'm not jumping to brand anybody for now.

But when I love, I love with my whole heart. Then I write about it. And apparently, the fact that I reveal so very much about myself, my relationships, my feelings, bothers some people. A few weeks ago, after I wrote "Second-Fiddle Girl, a male friend sent me an e-mail. He doesn't read my blog regularly, but some turn of phrase in my many pleas to read it drew him in. And what he found there that day was enough to prompt this: Question: Do you think your blog could be relationship kryptonite? In this day and age, you can Google or FB someone in .3 seconds and find out a good deal before you meet for date number two. Do you think this guy did some background work on you, found your blog and said, "No way; I don't want to be a part of this"? Reason I say that is…I'm a pretty normal guy, and if I saw your blog, I'd be like thanks, but no thanks.

Well. I never.

I never even considered it, actually. Good thing he's not my type. Maybe I have much too high an opinion of myself, but I'm not sure how anything I write here would be seen as a dealbreaker. Yes, I have a cat — we probably shouldn't shack up if you're allergic. Yes, a guy pulled a shady move and hurt my feelings, and I wrote about it — you probably shouldn't screw me over. Yes, I have issues about my weight — you probably shouldn't call me fat. I have the occasional problem with men. With my family. With…posting to Craigslist. I have webbed toes. Okay? Who doesn't? Okay, don't answer that.

Honestly. Men know women are complicated. It's part of our infuriating allure, n'est-ce pas? I'm really no more complicated, no more of a mess than the average woman; I'm just better at articulating my complications. Which — if you think about it — actually demystifies me a little. Because at least you know what you're getting into. Anyone I would want to be with would read my posts and think, "I can deal with that." Better yet, he'd read my posts and think, "I should get to know her better in person." And ideally? He wouldn't be completely batshit. But that's a risk I'm willing to take at the outset. (Something about coordinating baggage?) If some cookie-cutter Ken Doll in Wrigleyville reads my blog and decides not to pursue a relationship with me, more's the better for both of us. I can only listen to so much Dave Matthews Band. I've had people call my tendency to share details about my life problematic. I've been told I have no filter. Boundary issues. So, with varying degrees of success, I've tried to force myself to hold back when I'm first getting to know a guy. (And in saying that out loud, it seems horribly backward?) But I'm not embarrassed about my choices or their consequences — or, if I am, talking about it helps ease my pain. I'm young, okay? I've made some stupid decisions. And I've learned from them. But I've actually made some smart decisions, some brave decisions, and I'm not the type to stay tight-lipped about my successes. I'm not some stupid girl running my mouth because I have a skewed sense of propriety. I like to share things about myself. I'm kind of an oversharer, actually, and that's probably not going to change. I'd love to think I could restrain my flood of personal information to a trickle — I suppose a lesser man could drown in that deluge, and maybe it's cheated me out of a few nice dates — but what comes out comes out, and I'd rather have it out from the get-go and save us all the pain in the end. If I'm going to be too much, I'd rather offer the so-called kiss of death before either one of us gets attached. So pucker up. Go ahead: Read my blog and pass your judgments before you get to know me. Or get the story behind the words. Love's all about choices.

Pick me. Choose me. Love me.

Happy Valentine's Day. Bring on the haters.

Reverb 10: Gift.

On the last day of November, I signed up to participate in #reverb10, a month-long challenge to blog every day of December based on prompts provided here. Today’s prompt: December 25 Photo: a present to yourself. Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you. (Author: Tracey Clark)

The Knight took this photo. It was February 28, a day warm enough to start melting the asphalt-tainted snow on the ground. Warm enough for me to wear just a warm hat and my puffy vest. And for him, a black jacket and the Thor tee he loves. He's a superhero kind of guy.

The sun came out that day, after what was apparently a miserable, grey month. We'd been living together for less than two weeks. I'm not sure whether I'd hyperventilated yet.

Either way, it didn't matter. We found ourselves in Boystown that afternoon. I think we'd eaten brunch at Uncommon Ground, and I happened to have my camera with me: Maybe I didn't have the energy then to capture magic with just my heart and mind; maybe I needed a shutter and a lens.

We handed the camera back and forth. Some of my favorite pictures of him, I took that day.

What strikes me about this photo: that look on my face. It was the look of complete and utter adoration. The we'll make it work, if only we try just a little harder look. We have all we need here in our hearts, in our beautiful new apartment. Two against the world. It's a look he knew well, though he saw it less and less as time passed, as winter turned to spring and the strains of life pulled us farther apart.

I remember being happy that day. And hopeful. And calm. Those actually are feelings I know well, though I experienced them less and less as time passed, as winter turned to spring. Storms wash these feelings away.

Despite the maelstrom that I used to define my existence in 2010, it's those rare moments of quietude and peace, the feelings of happiness and hope and love, that I'll hold on to as I pass into a new year of new challenges, as new fronts drift onto my life's radar.


Christmas: The McPhersons.

I got a Christmas e-letter on Wednesday from the McPhersons.It was a two-page, full-color PDF, laid out like a church bulletin or corporate annual report, studded with family photos and well wishes for the coming year. It was such a sweet letter. Just one thing wrong: I don't know the McPhersons. The trouble with electronic greetings — especially those sent en masse — is that it's pretty easy for them not to reach the intended recipients. The letter I got was meant for Pam Worthy, whose e-mail address supposedly differs from mine by a single character. But for some reason, it didn't make it to her and came to me instead.

Before I checked the distribution list, I read the entire letter, thinking the McPhersons were long-forgotten friends of my family, business colleagues from deep within the horticulture industry or among the thousands of people I follow on Twitter.

The wife and mother, editor and publisher of the McPherson annual update, is so proud of her family. Her husband just started working for a local nonprofit. They have two daughters, the oldest of whom suffers from a pretty severe disability. Mom's days are spent shuttling the daughter to and from doctor's appointments and therapy sessions. In one of the photos, their oldest daughter had just won a blue ribbon in an event at the Special Olympics and displayed it proudly as she leaned in for a celebratory kiss from her father. The younger daughter, with curly hair and glasses, smiled wide in another picture as she held a tiny baby bunny in the cupped palms of her hands. Another photo shows her dressed for Halloween as a cheerleader.

This family has its hands full; that much is clear from the letter. The sentences are short and each paragraph jumps to completely different aspect of life. Wife and mother seemed to have trouble picking which news to share from 2010, a year full of "blessings and challenges."

In my circle of friends, we half-jokingly complain about our semi-tragic first-world problems: Not being able to get a primo reservation at Girl & the Goat. The battery dying in our $400 smart phones. Agonizing over which color to pick for that spa manicure and pedicure. Gosh, life is hard!

The McPherson family's life is hard. I imagine that caring for their handicapped child affects absolutely every aspect of their lives. Money's probably tighter than they'd like. Husband and father's job as an addiction counselor must worry wife and mother every day as she hurries from place to place with daughters one and two. And yet? There's not even an inkling of negativity to be found in that letter. The McPhersons are deeply religious and thank God regularly — in every paragraph of that letter, actually, sometimes more — for all the blessings in their life. Husband and father is doing God's work in his new job. The Lord blessed them with a new van with a ramp to help get them around with a new wheelchair in tow. God has provided wonderful doctors, therapists and teachers.

The McPhersons' life seems to be all about those little blessings, those tiny miracles: Wife and mother would miss the weekly appointments if she suddenly didn't have to go to them anymore. Disabled daughter has learned to eat real food this year, and her little sister is delighted to be learning the names of the months. The girls fed a giraffe at the zoo.

Christmas at the McPhersons' is all about the miracle of Christ's birth, that much I can say for sure. For me, this holiday has never been about Jesus. It has always been about Santa. All about Santa. (And the occasional reindeer, and maybe Frosty.) And I've always been perfectly happy with that. I get pretty cynical about religion. And I flinched when I saw the Bible verse at the top of the McPhersons' annual update. But their profound faith seeped into every word of that letter. It made me warm.

Tomorrow, they'll go to church. They will have a quiet, peaceful day basking in the simple happiness of another year together. Husband and wife will settle in together, exhausted, in front of the fire, after another joyous Christmas with their two beautiful, special daughters.

Wife and mother will never make a video of her kids throwing a tantrum that they got books for Christmas. It will never go viral with more than 1.5 million views on YouTube. I sat by myself and laughed hysterically watching that video early this morning, shared it with my sister and snickered expectantly as she watched it for the first time. There's a particular holiday pleasure that goes with laughing at some spoiled, snot-nosed 3-year-old boy yelling "POOH!" at the top of his lungs.

But it's another thing entirely getting a glimpse into the cozy, complicated and wonderful life of a family that still seems to understand the meaning of Christmas. Because it can be pretty easy to lose sight of that in my life, over here with my first-world problems. With my laptop and smart phone and the piles of presents waiting to be torn into under the tree.

I love my life, and my family, and the way we celebrate the holidays. I do. My extended family will arrive in two hours for cocktails, a beautiful tenderloin that's been marinating since before I went to bed last night, and caroling by the fire with toy instruments bought for the occasion. We'll wake up in the morning and sit with our piles of presents, with our mimosas and breakfast casserole and festive holiday napkins, with Christmas music playing softly in the background, and enjoy one another in our own way. But when the inevitable Christmas Guilt kicks in, after the hypercaloric gorging and orgy of gifting, I may take a few quiet moments and say my own version of a prayer for the McPhersons. The I'll go back to enjoying my family and appreciating those tiny miracles I find here at home.

Pam Worthy is a lucky woman to count the McPhersons as friends. And I was lucky to happen upon them by accident this Christmas.

God bless us, everyone.


I could smell the Spice House from half a block down Wells Street; even the wood of the huge, old doors is infused with scents of curry and cinnamon and black pepper. I was the collateral damage as a wave of warm, heady fragrance rushed toward the cold outdoor air as I walked inside.In my shin-length North Face, I was channeling the Michelin man and barely had room to shimmy around the rickety old displays, spice mixing tables and stumbling spice-drunk patrons as I looked for the gift boxes I'd come for. I found the boxes, one for my mom and one for my dad, and a couple of other things, including a jar of peppercorns and a bag of cocoa mix for myself. The man at the register told me he favored a 4:1 gift-giving ratio — one treat for yourself for every gift purchased — to cut down on buyer's remorse.

The little boy behind me in line told his mom they should just steal their spices so they wouldn't have to wait in line. I turned around to waggle an eyebrow at him, and complimented his plaid hat with fur-lined earflaps. You'll shoot your eye out, kid.

Four-to-One likened himself to a Christmas elf, stuck in Santa's workshop while everyone else bustled around buying their gifts. But he didn't seem to mind. Huddled behind the counter with the other employees — they had three registers going, and the line was still halfway to the door — he had a little red sound-effect machine that he used like Jim Cramer on Mad Money. He pressed the little "cha-ching" button when I handed over my credit card, and he followed a co-worker to the stock room, pressing the fart button repeatedly.

I didn't want to leave, go out alone into the cold again. Inside that cozy oven of a shop, we were all baking together like little Christmas snickerdoodles. My iPhone's battery was dying, and I knew I'd lose my Christmas soundtrack before too long. As expected, the phone kicked the bucket — just as I stepped into the Southern, a comfort-food restaurant back near my apartment. I hadn't eaten all morning, nor had I eaten a real meal all weekend. So I ordered chicken and a biscuit — a buttermilk-fried breast with a homemade biscuit, swimming in a thick, rich brown gravy with tasso ham and rosemary — and sipped coffee and orange juice as I finished writing my holiday cards.

Everyone else at the restaurant was brunching with friends, celebrating the holidays with mimosas and shrimp and grits, exchanging Christmas gifts. No one seemed serious, or stressed out, or even hung over. Just bright eyes, hearty laughter and full bellies as they got up to leave.

I wasn't envious; I wasn't lonely. I'd spent my weekend outside my comfort zone, with cocktails and conversation and unexpected new friends I hope to see again.

And as I paid my check, I watched a little girl discover her reflection.

She'd been nestled in a booster seat in the corner booth, and her family bundled her up in a pink hat and boots, and a houndstooth coat with a ruffled bottom. While her mother fussed with her own coat and the mess of bags she'd brought in with her, the little girl wandered over to a tall mirror leaned up against the wall. She furtively glanced around, looked closely at the other little girl in the mirror then put her hand up to the mirror. She admired the pretty little girl in the black and white coat and pink winter hat, pondering her good taste. Then she spotted me. She watched me in the mirror, and I waved at her reflection. She smiled her gap-toothed, jack-o'-lantern smile and patted the mirror to say hello back.

All packed and ready to go, her mother joined her, showed her how to dance along to the bluegrass music gently keeping time with the muted football game. They were still exploring the mirror world as I gathered my own things and made my way to the door and home to my little apartment.

As she discovered her reflection, I discovered that my Christmas spirit hasn't gone away; it's just been in hiding. My busted tree and the same old holiday tunes couldn't bring it out this year. It needed a little coaxing: warm, rich scents, the kindness of strangers, fried chicken, and a toddler getting a new perspective of her own.

Where are you, Christmas?

My Christmas tree fell over yesterday.It's perched a bit precariously, by three plastic legs loosely pegged to a spindly base, on top of a little table that's just wide enough.

I'd stayed up far past my bedtime, just after 2 a.m., the night before trying to fix my scanner — and that is not code for "drinking spiked egg nog and crooning, 'Baby, It's Cold Outside' in perfect harmony with a tall, handsome man in an ivory cable-knit turtleneck sweater," as much as I wish it were — which left me groggy and a little out of sorts.

For a four-foot tabletop tree, it packs a sparkly, festive punch. Every light twinkles; every ornament has a story. Perched precariously, yes, but pretty. Maybe the danger makes it all the more beautiful. The scanner, finally fixed after hours of finagling, and my tiny tabletop tree were intertwined by fate. Fate and power cords.

I wanted to move my printer into the other room so I could watch daytime TV while I scanned receipts. My life: so, so glamorous. I thought it would be a fun trick to unplug it without moving any furniture or checking any of the other plugs. I tugged at the scanner's cord once and heard a faint jingle. I thought I felt the plug start to give, so I gave it one last sharp jerk, and the faint jingle crescendoed into a cacophony of bells and breaking glass. I winced and surveyed the damage behind me. My most precious ornaments were still in tact, except for a glass rabbit with a hole through its heart and a clay ballerina with two broken legs.

I did my Christmas crying before Thanksgiving when I put the tree up; I was cold and lonely, and the ornaments' stories seemed bittersweet as I did my trimming solo, fanning each artificial branch into something more lifelike, choosing the best hanging spots for my prettiest treasures and reserving the back for the glass pineapple of unknown origin and the fat blue crab from Boston.

Nothing about this apartment deserves a pretty little tree. The white walls and high ceilings swallow its light.

The glass pineapple had broken. I scooped up its shattered spines and the other big shards and threw them in the trash, then I vacuumed up the smaller pieces of glass and glitter, and gave my kitchen a once-over with the Dyson while I was at it.

I put lunch in the oven and scanned my receipts. I showed my light-swallowing, white-walled apartment to the man I hope will free me from my lease and gingerly unplugged the tree again when I left for the afternoon.

The Christmas spirit hasn't really found me this year. Mostly — and I've never felt this way before, ever — I want to fast-forward to February, when I'd like to think I'll have the time to start making sense of my life. For the past few years, Christmas has been about the stress of travel, finding the money to afford all the presents and getting them home in time for the big day. I used to love Christmas so much. Last year, I needed a change. I spent the holiday in Chicago with the Knight, in my cozy Lincoln Square apartment that embraced the light of my tree. Every molecule of the living room glowed. We opened presents in our pajamas, ate leftovers from our Christmas Eve feast and watched movies on the sofa. We never even went outside that day. It was so blissful on the surface, but it was punctuated with guilt, disappointment and resentment.

I must really be an adult now.

Christmas is next Saturday. I'm not really sure how that happened, and I can't seem to get myself excited. So the toppled tree didn't strike me much either. It was more like knocking over a lamp. A broken bulb, a busted shade.

That's how it felt this year, anyway.

I've re-fanned the branches, and the lights still work. The man who looked at my apartment noted how pretty it was; everyone else who sees the tree oohs and ahhs over it. It brings out the Christmas spirit in others.

The ballerina's legs can be glued back to her body. She will dance again.

The hole in the rabbit's heart can't be patched, but he'll go on. I'll think of how I felt when he broke every year I take him out of the box — that's his story now — and I'd like to think I'll be in better spirits then.

Bear with me?

As my checks start rolling in — sloooooowly — I'm loosening my purse strings a bit. Which means I've finally let myself splurge on the Wordpress theme I've had my eye on. (Hey, big spender!)

But as I crank through a busy post-holiday week at work, there's not going to be a lot of time to tinker and tweak. So if you read my blog on proper, it's going to look like a grabby-hands 6-year-old or really cute kitten (she will be mine) got all over my keyboard and reset a bunch of stuff.

Bear with me? Thanks. You're great. Oh, me? No, you.

Sidebar: Remember that time I didn't blog about Thanksgiving and skipped straight to some crazy story about a minor car crash? Don't think me ungrateful. God, I have so much to be thankful for. To the point where I'm so overwhelmed that I end sentences with prepositions. To the point where it seemed stupid to try to write about it.

However. I got back to my Chicago apartment on Saturday night around 9 p.m. Before I left, I turned the furnace off completely, and after five days the temperature inside had dropped…considerably. It was 40 degrees. So I put on a pair of socks, yoga pants and a hoodie, and jumped between my plaid flannel sheets, comforted tugged up to my chin. The Christmas lights were on, tree plugged in — I'd decorated before I left so I wouldn't be faced with the task in an extended tryptophan coma — and before I let my solitude depress me, I thought about how nice it is even to have people to miss. If loneliness were really my life, it would just be there all the time. It probably wouldn't get to me much. I do not like my apartment. And Wicker Park makes me die inside. But I was so happy to be back in my little Chicago life, missing my family (who I'll see again in less than a month) and eager to see friends again, that it… Well, it warmed the little cockles of my heart.

Cold hands, warm heart.

Bear with my ugly, rarely updated blog, please.