Thursday, December 15, 2016

Forget Writing, Now I'm a Cartoonist

One of the reasons I've been excited to move to downtown Chicago is to expand my creative influences and bring new energy and focus to my writing. As a first step I took an  Adult Continuing Education class through the School of the Art Institute of Chicago called Creative Encounter. I convinced my friend Laura to take it with me and we planned to meet for a quick dinner before class each week, so I knew it would be fun no matter what.

The class was cool - an exploration of the creative process for non artists, centered on the idea that all of us have the capacity to take our perceptions and ideas and turn them into creative expressions that have substance and value.  While we spent a lot of time exploring the "process" side, the goal was that we'd all end up with some  final "product" or piece of work. Last Thursday, we each presented our projects to the class and I was blown away by what my fellow students had accomplished. We had evocative video, origami story telling, multi-media collages and paintings, a sensory feminine altar (complete with chocolate cupcakes) and my project, a comic strip.

I wanted to do a comic strip for a few reasons:
1. I love to doodle.
2. I enjoy writing dialogue but I wanted to try something more "arty" than just writing.
3. I saw the Chicago version of the Tony award winning musical "Fun Home" based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alison Bechtel and was intrigued by cartooning.
4. After the crappy election, I craved humor and light.

After a little research and a lot of practice I began to draw two female characters somewhat consistently. Here are my first three strips based on what these 50-something chicks wanted to say to each other about getting older.

1. Multi-tasking

Monday, November 21, 2016

Post Election/Winter Blues Pick-Me-Ups

Are you feeling blue about the election? I'm certainly not over the results but I can't go around feeling angry and dismayed ALL the time. Here are some things that have been lifting my mood during these unsettling weeks. (And Trump fans read on - these tips can be helpful to get through a long, bleak winter too.)

1. Get Outside
A good brisk walk (or run) makes everything better. Find a spot that inspires you - a park, the lakefront, an interesting neighborhood - and march around until you feel your blood pumping and the knot in your chest begin to loosen. Feel the wind on your skin and the sun on your face. You're alive! The world looks just the same as it did a couple weeks ago. Breathe deep and enjoy. In this moment all is well and, not to get all Eckhart Tolle on you, this moment is all we have.

2. The Crown on Netflix
I just finished the first season of this show about the early years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign and I'm obsessed. Watching this young woman struggle with her duties as monarch and her desires as a woman/wife/mother/sister/daughter is fascinating and inspiring.  It's even more compelling when you realize that Elizabeth II has been ruling Great Britain and beyond for almost 65 years. Beautifully shot, wonderfully acted - it's an escape and a timely history lesson combined.

3. Make Up a Little
It may seem frivolous but a mini-makeover always gives me a lift. Play around with a new shade of lipstick or eyeshadow then take some silly selfies to celebrate the new you. A nice make-up artist at Nordstrom helped me select this color-drenched Giorgio Armani Rouge Sheer Lipstick. It wasn't cheap but I think $37 is a small price to pay for looking and feeling brighter.

3. Clean Up Your Act
Organize a drawer, wash a window, or just throw out a pile of old magazines. The simple act of completing a small job makes you feel positive and productive and improves your surroundings at the same time. Here's an interesting story about the therapeutic effects of cleaning.

4. Unfriend/Unfollow as Needed
That person whose political comments are making your social media life a misery? Take control. After spending countless hours worrying how to respond respectfully to one dude's right wing rants on my page,  I realized we'd never really been friends to begin with and I'd miss nothing if we were no longer connected on Facebook.  I blocked him. Another option is to simply remove a person's annoying posts from your feed by using the "unfollow" setting. Hey, if I'm bumming you out, feel free to do the same to me!

5. Donate Some Cash
If you're unhappy about a particular aspect of our new leader's agenda, put your money where your mouth is and donate to a cause or organization that you believe in. I donated to the Human Rights Campaign but if you're looking for a list of pro-women, pro-immigrant, pro-earth, anti-bigotry organizations, this story at Jezebel is a good place to start.

6. Bottoms Up
And if you're still feeling upset, there's always this. Cheers!

It's an act of courage to stay positive my friends. I'm going to do what I can to stay in a productive, optimistic frame of mind, otherwise I'll be no use to anyone.  If you've got some suggestions, please share.

Sending you warm wishes for a Happy, Healthy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Breaking News: Old Bitch Learns New Tricks

Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States and I am training for my first five mile race. Three months ago I wouldn't have believed either of these things could be possible.

But there's Trump, touring the White House with President Obama and assembling his cabinet, and here's me, slowly but surely logging miles along the Chicago lakefront in preparation for the 8K Turkey Trot in Lincoln Park next week. Life is full of surprises.

I've never been a runner but I was inspired to take on this challenge in August when my daughter Emma and I watched her boyfriend Kevin do a half triathlon with his friends in Chicago. There were so many different people competing - all ages and body types. We stood cheering the athletes a half mile before the finish line. Some people were exhausted and some were exhilarated, but they all were determined to reach their goal. It was awesome! I wanted a piece of that sense of accomplishment.

"Emma," I said, "We could do this, or at least we could do the running part. Let's sign up for a race at Thanksgiving at do it together."

Emma, who played competitive soccer for 13 years and has run several races including the BIG 10 ten-mile run, looked at me skeptically.

"You always say you're going to do things," she said, "and you never do them."

Oh, snap. That hurt.

"Well. I guess I'm going to have to do this one then."

I found a training plan for beginning runners online and began to follow it. The plan assumed you could already run a mile - something I hadn't done in like forever, but I gave it a go. Encouraged by that first mile I invested in some running shoes and supportive inserts. I've been running ever since.
Emma and me on a training run on Navy Pier.

It doesn't come easily. First of all, I'm slow. Second, every time I head out I have to overcome my fear. I'm not sure what I'm so frightened of - that it will hurt, that I can't do it, that I'll fail. But once I get chugging along I do a check-in with myself - look, you're fine, you're breathing, it's a little uncomfortable but nothing actually is in pain. And when it does get hard I ask myself, "Am I really more tired than all those triathletes were on their last half mile?" The answer is always no. I also think of what Emma said, damn her.

Friday I ran four miles along the Lakefront trail - a beautiful route from my condo down to the Shedd Aquarium and back - so I'm almost ready for next week's big race. Each time I reach a new milestone I feel so great about myself. Look at me, I'm 53 years old and I'm doing something I've never done before!

If I can do this new thing, what else can I do?

Donald Trump was not my candidate.  I was dismayed when Hillary Clinton lost the election - I still am. But one thing that stunning defeat made me realize is that I have to get involved. It's not enough to send a donation or post an anti-Trump ad on my Facebook page or laugh at a snarky SNL skit. I can't expect other people to do the important work for me. I'm not sure what form it will take yet, but I'm resolved to take action, especially for women's rights, human rights, and equality for all. America has come far but the fight still continues, one slow milestone at a time.

Hillary lost, but as a result there's a newly activated me. I'm no old dog. I'm an empowered bitch ready to tackle new tricks. Hear me woof!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Tale of Two Cities (and three houses)

Over the last year or so we've transitioned to live in two places - Sioux City, where Liam works for a very cool company, and downtown Chicago, where we have a very cool condo.  During the week, Liam is mostly in Iowa and I'm mostly in Chicago, but on the weekends we travel between the two or hit someplace different for fun. It's an unconventional arrangement that even has our kids a bit confused, but we like the freedom and excitement of being able to hang in both places.

Downtime in Sioux City is relaxing and serene. We live on a beautiful pond on a pretty golf course that's home to all sorts of critters like fox and pheasant and muskrat and turtle and weasel (when's the last time you saw a weasel?) We love to hike local nature trails and play terrible golf and take naps and cook pots of soup and hit the 80s band concerts that roll through town. We have cocktails on our balcony and listen to the geese honking as the sun slides down the open sky.  We have a GMC pickup truck and a sauna and a three-car heated garage.

View from our terrace in Sioux City.

Our condo is still new to us, but living in downtown Chicago is already a thrill. Restaurants and culture and shopping and sports (Go Cubs!) and parks and the river and lake are literally on our doorstep. The vibe is energized and exciting and busy, busy, busy. Our building has wonderful doormen and a huge gym and indoor pool. We can see the fireworks at Navy Pier from our balcony and hear motorcycles racing through Lower Wacker at night.

Living at the corner of Chicago River and Lake Michigan

Living in two such different places provides a contrast and balance that makes me feel alive and excited about the future. Change is scary but change is growth and growth is good (that's my mantra.)

That said, we haven't made a clean break from Wilmette, because we haven't sold our house there yet. So I'm still hanging out on the North Shore, which is fine, because I love Wilmette, but honestly, the three house thing is getting old. It's like a big ball of energy holding us down and we're moving on! I know this house is perfect for the right family and I hope they find each other soon.

 I'm happy inside and out. Buy me!

I know plenty of couples with similar arrangements in Chicago, but our Sioux City neighbors don't know what to think of us. This back and forth wouldn't work if we still had kids at home, but we're at a point where we can create a life that works for the two of us. This situation and these places are still new and I'm still figuring stuff out myself. I lose my keys on the daily.

Hopefully this should make for lots of good writing material and luckily I can write from anywhere. So check back soon and for an update on my pursuit of a ripe peach life in Chicago, Sioux City and beyond!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Why I Gave our Dog Away

Kelly on Sanibel
It's true. I gave away our dog Kelly.

I did it knowing it's one of the worst things a parent can do to their young adult kids. College students often miss their pets more than parents or siblings. And who can blame them? Nothing means home more than a sweet warm pooch snuggling up with you on the sofa or dancing in spasms of delight when you walk in the door. And Kelly is the best dog!

But here's the thing:  Liam and I are terrible dog owners now that we're empty nesters. We travel all the time and are rarely home. Well, we are often home, but we have two homes now - one in Sioux City, IA where Liam works and our new condo in Chicago. We love our two different abodes (more on that in another post) but they are 500 miles apart and it's not easy to get a dog back and forth between them.

We made it work as best we could at first, but Kelly wasn't happy about it. She threw a few destructive temper tantrums to let us know she wasn't a fan of the new living arrangements. In January we rented a house on Sanibel Island near where my mother and her husband live - taking Kelly with us - and before we headed up north, we came up with a temporary solution.

We decided to have Kelly stay with Mom and Dan in Ft. Myers for the rest of the winter. They have an adorable Westie of their own (inspired by Kelly) and had plenty of time and affection for a second doggie. It all worked beautifully. Liam and I could travel for business and to see our kids in Ann Arbor and do our back and forth thing, while Kelly enjoyed warm weather and the best care of her life - a predictable schedule, frequent walks, regular grooming, and constant canine and human companionship. We thought it would just give us a break over the cold winter, but gradually, it made sense to make the pet-sitting situation permanent.

My kids were pretty devastated. I definitely felt like the worst mom ever. I hated letting them down and I felt like a failure for not being able to take good care of our beloved family dog. Also, I missed Kelly's cheerful presence in my life more than anyone. But I kept thinking about how she needs routine and affection and how she freaks out when she's left alone, especially in a new place. I thought of our expensive new rug.

So Kelly is staying in Florida, thanks to Jane and Dan, who have happily absorbed her into their little family. I tell them she's 100% returnable and we're definitely paying all the vet bills. But given the fact that they all sleep in the same bed together at night, I don't think it's likely she's coming back. Look at how cute Kelly and Shelby are together.

Shelby (left) with Kelly at Mom and Dan's house.

In a year of many changes this was a rough one, but now that it's decided I'm relieved. Kelly is happy. She makes my parents happy. My kids don't hate me. My rugs are undamaged. And, I gotta confess, after 24 years of pet ownership and parenting, it's pretty liberating to come and go as I please.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Happy New Year, Ripe Peach is Back

I've been gone for a while. All through the winter, spring and summer I haven't posted a damn thing. Now fall is here and I'm feeling drawn back to my Ripe Peach blog. I'm not Jewish, but Rosh Hashanah does seem the right time to celebrate the new year. Autumn has always called for new beginnings. The cooler temperatures and shorter days combined with my pent-up frustration and anticipation have got me itching to get some epic shit done.

It's not that the last ten months haven't been eventful. I've been experiencing some BIG changes as I figure out this empty nest/getting older thing. Changes like moving from our family home and beloved suburban town, settling into two very different new places, sending my son off to NYC and adulthood, dealing with hormones, rethinking my work, reconnecting with my husband, doing a ton of traveling, getting rid of all our belongings, even giving away our dog - all while trying to reassure my daughter that the world as she knows it isn't ending.

A lot of this hasn't felt fabulous or sexy or ripe peachy. It's confusing! It's weird! It's painful! It makes me wonder who I am!

But it's also exciting. And it's my life now, and writing and conversing with you, my friends, has always helped me make sense of it and enjoy it.

So, I'm back. I'm back to hash through all the Changes (yes, I really did give away my dog.) I want to compare notes with you so we can learn, laugh and grow through this new stage of life, which I remain convinced, will be just as full and delicious as any other.

So let's get this party started. Happy New Year!