Screen Shot 2017-09-17 at 12.30.22 PMOnline, I am a username and password. That information can unlock my bank account, apply for a loan and file my taxes. In the old days getting money meant passing the scrutiny of a bank teller who would compare my signature to the one on file. Now, identification can be verified by a chip and PIN, a text to my phone, a thumbprint, or iris scan. While biometrics seems to be the new wave of establishing identity, I shudder as I remember thrillers where the eyeballs or digits of people with access are horribly removed so the bad guys can use them to penetrate a highly secure area.

I imagine the hackers who steal our information from digital storehouses as shadowy figures, persistently harvesting numbers and selling them to the highest bidders. Unfortunately, when these numbers are recombined on a credit application, the approver at the other end can’t look the applicant in the eye and make a human judgement like that friendly neighborhood teller. It’s harder to tell if a 75 year old social security number from Iowa could belong to someone who wants a loan for a sports car.

Once when we planned to lease a condo, a credit review indicated negative information from one of the reporting agencies. We were shocked by this, being model citizens. We learned that a long-ago mix-up by the Social Security Administration resulted in giving two people the same social security number. By the time the mistake was discovered and corrected, some work history and payment behaviors had been mixed. Even today we are occasionally asked about a repossessed pick-up truck we “owned” while living in Ohio.

There are many advantages in a digital world. The speed and convenience of online shopping, never having to fill out a 1040 form by hand, and booking flights. But the dark side of these modern activities is to be forever looking over your shoulder. What information am I giving to what organizations? Is it safe? Does one business know enough about me to do me harm, even if inadvertently? It’s not enough to pick an email address, I need to know whether the company who issued that address to me stays up-to-date on their security patches. Does the finance manager at the car dealership have a strong password on his computer? Does the gas station regularly examine their pumps for skimming devices? It’s enough to make me pay cash.

When I go to the gym in the morning, the attendant at the front desk recognizes me before he scans my ID card. The smiling checker at the grocery store asks about my kids each time I see her. My insurance agent knows my voice when I call. I doubt whether anyone trying to open a credit card account in my name could pass those tests, but they don’t have to. So I’m reviewing my credit history this weekend, relieved to see everything in order, for now.


Weather Watch

IMG_2447It’s an ideal day in Chicago – bright, sunny, temperate, and a weekend. We may seem blissfully unaware of the torment visiting our countrymen in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. But our days are numbered and preparations for our own weather event are underway, even if in super slo-mo. It doesn’t warrant any attention on the Weather Channel, but it is headed our way: winter.

Our preparations are subtle. No one is hauling sandbags, plywood or bottled water. Instead, planters and gardens fill with yellow mums and decorative cabbages. Snow shovels lean in the shadow of porches. Grocery stores have bags of salt around the corner from the pumpkin displays. Our down jackets have stayed in easy reach, and we can pull out a fleece or sweater at a moment’s notice.

Most important are the last rites of summer. Take walks in the sun, wear shorts, go to a Cubs game. Relish every day above 50 degrees, fill the outdoor seating at restaurants, run and bike on the lakefront without layers, resist wearing a coat as long as possible.

When it comes, the transition is short. We’d like to think that we’ll enjoy autumn with colorful leaves, Halloween decorations, harvest gourds and hayrides. Then, blammo! one morning we wake up to frost on the windows or a dusting of snow and we know there’s no escape. Sure, some people go south for the winter, but most of us tough it out, burnishing our Chicago grit. Heads down till sometime in April.

Somehow, when winter comes it’s never seems as bad as I’ve feared. We have good snow removal, public transit trundles on, and a brisk walk outdoors really does warm you up. Meanwhile, I’ll try to wear my sundress a few more times, and won’t worry if I get tan or not.


IMG_2445As I travel around Chicago, I often see graffiti on the sides of buildings. Extremely stylized lettering of an alien language left as artists roam the city at night, scale fire escapes, bridges, and train platform roofs to reach their lofty canvases. There’s a recurring image of a goose peeking from the corners of buildings – this must be their leader.

One neighborhood merchant group proudly states how much graffiti they’ve removed, while funding the installation of public art. Another neighborhood encourages local artists to create large colorful murals to celebrate local heroes and heritage. Some examples are small and seemingly random: letters on the opening of a mail box, an apartment door frame, and the bench in a bus shelter.

During one of the local public school funding crises, the mayor proposed consolidating some schools to make better use of limited resources. Families on our street quickly acknowledged that they couldn’t possibly allow their children to walk three blocks to a different school because it would require that they cross gangs lines. I had no idea there was a gang, or multiple gang territories. But I might have known if I could have interpreted that subtle graffiti.

In the summer, or “construction season,” a new kind of graffiti crops up. Spray-paint on the sidewalks, planters, and streets that indicate underlying water or gas lines, or crumbling drainage pipes. The marks are generally harbingers of backhoes and cement trucks, fresh sticky asphalt and dirt. But some marks must be a false notice, because nothing happens and they finally they fade away. My favorite lately is the blue W. It probably stands for “water” but on the north side of Chicago, its alternate, and not too mysterious, meaning is “win”, specifically a Cubs win. Flying the W flag at Wrigley Field is an old post-game tradition to let commuters know the outcome, and it is a cherished and widespread show of fandom, especially as we stretch out the World Series Champs title.

Maybe the sidewalk W’s are solidarity expressed by the city workers at the water department, or just the gang of crazed fans who want baseball to last through October.


IMG_2439The store employee hands me a glass of ice water to calm me down. I’m weeping and shaking and frantic. This store has an Escher-like set of staircases and none of them go to the right place. “I’m looking for the second floor,” I manage to squeak out, and the lady with the water is sympathetic. Up there somewhere is a pile of things I left behind, but I can’t remember what they are. I guess there’s not enough room in my day for rampant anxiety, so it has to creep up on me when I sleep.

But there’s more. In the disconnected way of dreams, I’m taking my daughter on an errand in the middle of the school day to pick up Girl Scout cookies, but after she goes to the door, the people don’t answer. It’s frustrating because I know we’ll have to come back, we’re stuck in a traffic jam, and I’m worried that I’ll be late getting back to work. Then I see a group of boys coming our way, yanking open unlocked doors of the stopped cars and grabbing purses and other valuables. Our doors are locked; they leer at us and finally move on.

As we approach the school, the road narrows and we are slithering back and forth to avoid clueless pedestrians who want to walk in front of the car. Next my daughter and I are walking the last block while eyeing on an odd man who keeps pace with us until he turns to enter his home.

Hoo boy! My guess is that a morning perusing the contents of a few storage boxes followed by a Tim Burton movie have blended to become a bizarre landscape. I’m always amazed at how real dreams can seem, even when unexplained things are going on. It’s all plausible and concrete, and triggers the appropriate physiological response. I wake up with my heart pounding and wet eyes.

Dreams are considered a rehash of your day, a way for your brain to process everything that’s happened. But I wonder if it’s also practice, what-if scenarios of things that I’ll need to get right one day. I keep studying that store layout. I’m sure the staircase I need is right around the corner. After I sip this water, I’ll try again.

Duck and Cover

IMG_2437It’s a warm, sunny day in Chicagoland, the kind that beckons you outdoors for a walk, reading in the shade, or a picnic on the grass. Picture-perfect. The normal city sounds of traffic, emergency vehicles, and train announcements fade into the background as the breeze ruffles the trees. And then a formation of jets scream overhead, white smoke and a sonic boom in their wake. Ah, it’s the annual Air and Water Show.

The first year we lived in Chicago, we had an opportunity to observe the impressive collection of planes from the roof deck of a nearby 20+ story building. Situated close to the lakefront, our view was pretty spectacular. Bi-planes with billows of decorative colored smoke doing loops, parachuting Army and Navy teams, a wide array of military planes – both current and vintage – and finally, the Navy’s Blue Angels. Starting from an airfield in Gary, Indiana, the planes fly in great loops over the city and the lake, but the fastest planes go far west and turn for their supersonic approach due east to the lake. The planes are right on top of you before you can hear them coming, and as the terrifying sounds catches up – ZOOM – they’re gone.

Of course we see planes all the time. If you’ve ever flown into Chicago, it’s likely that your pilot flew out over the lake and the impressive Loop. Understand, this is nowhere near the airport, but a way to spread out the heavy air traffic. After a tourist bureau-worthy glamour view of the Windy City, the jets line up for the next 20 miles or so until they can touch down at O’Hare. Living relatively near the lake, when we see the planes, they’re still very high in the sky, unlike the experience of homeowners in the suburbs near O’Hare.

And that’s the big difference. When the jets come for the Air Show, they are not only loud, they are a lot closer to the ground. I can read the numbers on their wings. As the planes do their practice runs right over our heads, or buzz past my office building, I’m ready to dive under the furniture. Even when you know it’s for show, I can’t help but wonder how it must feel for people who live with air strikes, or border-dispute posturing.

So this weekend I’ve been squinting up at our skylight, bracing myself for the planes. With the sun spilling over the kitchen island, I’m reminded of a less frequent and quieter event, the solar eclipse. I have an empty cereal box – it’s time to make a pin-hole viewer!


IMG_2417A cool, clean place where there are no chores and everything is provided. A daydream? Fairytale? No, a hotel! Whether it’s a weekend getaway, or a business trip, a hotel is a refuge. Of course they range in levels of pampering. At the high end you have a selection of dining rooms, room service, a spa and valets who will whisk your dirty clothes or shoes away and bring them back gleaming. There’s surely a fluffy robe in the closet and fully stocked mini-bar. At the low end are places that advertise TV and air conditioning as if they were recent inventions. Not a place you seek out, but one you might settle for when you need a driving break.

Most of the time we’ve chosen something in the “medium” range. Not too expensive, but clean and bright with a few amenities. Free breakfast included, a place to exercise, coffee in the room, a fancy shower head, pretty toiletry bottles, a neat folded stack of towels, and a big bed with lots of pillows. Paradise. Certainly more relaxing if enjoyed without kids, but even then, it can be fun to enjoy it from their point of view.

The first time we stayed with our kids in a big city hotel, their favorite feature was the elevator. It was a novelty, and it had all those cool buttons that would light up. Every trip was a race to see who could jump in first and push the button, and, perhaps whether all of the buttons could be pushed. No one wanted to get into the elevator with us. When we finally got them out of the elevator, the pool was a big hit, especially if it was indoors and available at night. Getting to swim between dinner and bedtime was a treat, alternating between the regular pool and the hot tub, and not having to put on sun screen.

There are lots of things to enjoy in our hotel. The popcorn cart in the lobby, wafting that movie-house smell, the small fitness center where the TV gets the Food Network, and the breakfast buffet. Yes, I’m aware of this food theme, but I’m on vacation. As I tucked into fluffy scrambled eggs and biscuits this morning, I heard a series of beeps in the corner of the dining room. Other guests were lined up to make their own waffles and the beeps were the timers announcing the waffles were done. These weren’t regular waffles – they were shaped like the great state of Texas. I immediately got in line to make my own.

We had a waffle iron once and while it worked well, it was a difficult to clean, so eventually we gave it up. But the chance to use a waffle iron that someone else has to keep clean? Oh, I’m in. Texas forever!

Cleaning House

IMG_2409On the weekend when I’m home for more than an hour before and after work, I get to see the task that’s been waiting for me all week. Dust bunnies lurk, clutter stands out, dust is visible as the afternoon sun flows into our rooms. I make the bed and clean the dishes everyday, but turn a blind eye to other more daunting tasks, until I can’t ignore them anymore.

The dilemma of a small space is that once you start cleaning, you have to clean all of it. While that shouldn’t be hard, it can seem overwhelming. Part of the problem is that I’ve abandoned routine. When I was growing up, I cleaned the house every Friday afternoon. It helped earn my allowance, but I’m sure my mom wanted me to contribute in a meaningful way and gain an appreciation for what it took to make the house the way we liked it. I dusted and vacuumed, mopped the kitchen floor, and cleaned bathrooms. I wonder how accurate that memory is. Maybe it wasn’t every Friday, maybe it wasn’t every room, maybe I wasn’t that good at it. But I remember being proud of the work, and excited to sit down when it was done and enjoy a Coke and the newly arrived Life magazine.

Dorm rooms and apartments never had the same cleaning routine, other than my trying not to be the messy roommate. Fast forward to life with small children and cleaning became a bigger challenge. I finally caved and hired a cleaning lady to come once a week. During this magical period, Donna would come while we were all at work and school. We’d return to an orderly gleaming home: toys put away, surfaces cleared, vacuum tracks in the carpet. Meanwhile, my children did not acquire a cleaning routine other than my pre-cleaning day rant that they at least pick things up off the floor because “it will make Donna cry.”

We did not hire a cleaning service when we moved to Chicago, so began my delayed and ultimately failed attempt to bring the whole family into a cleaning routine. Sure, many hands make light work, but it’s hard to find that moment when everyone is able to do it, fitting cleaning around school and sports. And in the process, I’ll admit that my standards dropped as well. Time at home is precious, and I don’t want to spend it all cleaning. Still, I like that feeling of satisfaction when it’s done. Sitting on the couch, surveying a clean carpet, shiny surfaces, and a fresh smell. Sigh – it’s time to close the computer and pick up a sponge.


IMG_2375Faced with an opportunity to see your idol, you should a) scream, b) cry, c) faint. The fans at the Ed Sullivan Theatre did those things when the Beatles appeared, and so it was hard not to get caught up even if I was only watching them on TV. This week I got to see Paul McCartney in concert and felt that same excitement. A chance to see my favorite Beatle and hear the songs I love.

For about an hour before the show, two big video screens in the venue displayed a pictorial timeline of Paul’s life. The images appeared to be two cylinders, rotating to the left, unspooling a scroll of still and moving pictures. The Fab Four; the Queen; US presidents going back to Eisenhower; bits of footage of press conferences, movie shoots, family photos; all easily covering 60 years. As if he had to remind the crowd who he was and where he came from. My brother once overheard kids in a record store who came across Revolver or Let It Be and exclaimed, “Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?!”  – so, yeah, perhaps some people needed reminding.

When the Beatles broke up, I grieved, then studiously followed their solo careers and came to love those songs almost as much as the Beatles canon. Then it happened. He was touring with Wings and was coming to Cincinnati. I wasn’t surprised that he wasn’t coming to Louisville, but it was still too amazing to be true that he’s come as close as a mere 100 miles away. I had to go.

The venue was huge. When the lights went down and the band rushed out, everyone jumped to their feet cheering. I remember wanting to hear every syllable, every note, and memorize every movement. I held my breath. I was astonished that some people talked through the concert (what?!) and I tried to take pictures with my Instamatic. The pictures ended up being mostly the backs of heads and small colored dots representing the stage in the background. But it did’t matter. I had been in the same building as Paul, I had seen him with my own eyes. It was amazing.

So this week we headed off to the southwest suburbs of Chicagoland – an appropriate distance for a pilgrimage. Paul was still only an inch tall as viewed from my seat – thank heavens for the jumbo screens. When he played and sang, instead of holding my breath in a stunned reverence, I sang along – as did most of the crowd – knowing every word of the lyrics. Floating up around all of those songs were strong memories. The stack of albums and 45s next to the turntable in my room. Playing and replaying songs until I learned every word. The thrill of catching a favorite song on the radio. Running across a picture of Paul, with Linda and the kids dashing through an airport. Going to see Live and Let Die just so I could hear the soundtrack.

That visual timeline at the concert was not only a subtle reminder of the span of Paul’s life and career, it caused me to reflect about everything that has happened to me over most of that same time. And through it all, Beatles’ music, in its group and solo-artist forms, was a part of it. A soundtrack for many events, imbedded into experiences. Hearing Yesterday takes me right back to our living room when I was seven. I hear Maybe I’m Amazed and I’m standing in the kitchen at night adjusting the radio. So, thank you Sir Paul, for taking me back across the universe, if you will, to all those places I love.

Shopping Everywhere

102363696-skymall.1910x1000The train platforms and cars are filled with advertising – vacation spots, medical trials, fancy alcohol, and food delivery services. Even the LED displays with news about track repairs and reroutes alternate with ads for TV shows, and festivals. But there is something missing. Something that would complete the commercial experience: a phone app to buy whatever you see.

I’ve heard of devices you can point at your TV to buy the clothes your favorite stars are wearing. Sure, these are curated wardrobes, assembled by teams of savvy folk. But what about the clothes people are wearing during their commute to work? A lady is wearing a blue and white sleeveless seersucker dress that looks so cool and comfortable. I want to ask her where in the world she found the perfect summer dress, but she gets off at the next stop and disappears into the crowd. Someone else has a tote that is so much more professional looking than the bag I sling my lunch box and shoes into. Squinting, I can see a designer label and wonder if it’s real or a knock off.

Those polka dotted flats with a rounded toe look comfy, practical and cute. Plus they might be in my size. Searches on Zappos come up empty, yet here they next to me on the train. I’ve also seen an assortment of colorful insulated lunch bags that would be so much more fun than my black one. I assess the storage size of different backpacks, and the combinations of fabrics and hues available from Timbuktu.

I see young professional men wearing wild colored socks with their conservative suits, sports jackets of gorgeously subtle patterns, phone cases, cool earrings, and hats. Things I can never find when I’m shopping for family birthday gifts.

The CTA sells merchandise showing the rail system map, your favorite stop, and old fare tokens. I say they’re missing a big opportunity to use the Sky Mall model to turn idle travelers into cash cows. They could help us find the best commuting shoes, bags with comfortable handles, and lightweight clothing for steamy rush hour packed cars. We just need that app to tell us where the other riders found those things.

In my imagination, the app reveals that the people in this train car shop at Macy’s,Target, and Barney’s. Other items I can see around me came from the Salvation Army, a boyfriend’s closet, or were made by hand. Alas. One-of-a-kind and unique. But that’s makes the ride interesting too.

Crowning Glory

fourEach morning I point a hairdryer at my head to dry and style my hair. That’s a generous description since I doubt it ever looks as good as when my hairdresser does it. After a few minutes of brushing and lifting I have to stop because I’m now so overheated it’s canceling out the shower I just took. When everything looks in place – though I can’t really see the back of my head – I add a spritz of hairspray and I’m ready to face the outdoors.

I leave the building, braced for the gauntlet I have to run to get to my office. It can be humid summer air, wrapping around me like a steamy blanket, or cold wet wind undoing my careful coiffure. My hair is relatively straight, but a wonky wave emerges with humidity. After a few blocks walking to the train, I probably look just like I did rolling out of bed, or possibly even wilder.

As a toddler, I sported a cute pixie haircut. I suspect my mom favored this because I’d be easier to groom. After wrestling with my own daughter’s long thick hair, I completely understand that motivation. Somewhere around 4th grade, I grew my hair out. Long straight hair gave me options: braids, pony tails, buns, or loose and flowing. Occasionally I experimented with curling my hair, but no method could overcome the length – curls would just fall out in no time.

I got a dramatic Dorothy Hamill cut in college, but eventually grew that out as well and succumbed to a popular 80’s perm. Yes, I was finally going to have curly hair! I kept up the smelly, harsh treatments for years, and finally went back to a shorter cut. Shorter is supposed to mean easier, but it never seems that way. I’m still adding “product” to try to give my limp hair some body, and propping it up to withstand a breeze.

Maybe it’s just not short enough. Some women who have a really short cut say they only have to run their fingers through their hair after a shower, and they’re done. A spiky ‘do that tells the world that you’re cool and won’t be caught dead in a salon. Right now, I think that childhood pixie is looking mighty good.