IMG_2458When life gives you lemons, get out the vacuum cleaner. I get some bad news, something I can’t change, and there is nothing I can do right now except absorb the information. I can’t go there, I can’t comfort, all I can do is worry. So I do what I always do, start to clean. I take the kitchen apart and scrub till it gleams. Then what? I pull everything out of the refrigerator and start to cook. All the ingredients are shaped into a coherent meal and the family is making those quiet approving noises as they tuck in. Yes, all feels right with the world. This part that I can control for a little while.

I don’t often acknowledge it, but life as I know it is a delicate balance. Life works when all those elements are operational, but take out one support, have one thing fail, and it’s shocking to see how quickly things fall apart. When the kids were small, that balance between two working parents, living nowhere near family, and daycare was more precarious than I originally recognized. Until the morning daycare called me to come pick up my son because he was sick. I was at work and thought, “no, he stays there until 5:30, what do you mean?” That project deadline was looming, but I had to leave. While I imagined my co-workers’ angry glares as I theoretically left them high and dry, it turns out the world didn’t end. This little bump in the order of things was absorbed and all was well.

For some reason, when life is chugging along, I tend to think that it will always be “this way” – whatever way has become the recent pattern. I know what to expect and there are certain things to look forward to. When something unexpected happens, I’d like to think that I can be flexible. I want to see myself as easy-going, able to roll with the punches, but I’m not always good at it. I get flustered or angry – reactions that feel like an important release, but I tire of rehashing what I should have done, and how the world conspired against me.

Hence, cleaning to sublimate whatever else is going on. Rather than rail against the world, or feel unfairly put-upon, I try to channel it into something that may at least have a useful outcome. With a cooler head, I realize the sky isn’t falling, the sun will come up tomorrow, etc. And – bonus!- I have a clean house.



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.