Monday, July 25, 2005

Peoria Is a Real Place

One of my readers from Sweden asked me if Peoria was a real place. She had thought it was a made-up place, with a made-up name, that was just a sort of "Anytown, USA" I was using to illustrate my points. She had come to this conclusion because the word "Peoria" was, to her ears, so ridiculous.

I thought this was very funny, particularly since she's not the first person to say something along these lines to me. Several of my friends who hail from foreign lands were a bit puzzled either by the name "Peoria" or by the pronunciation. To them, it sounds as made up as Timbucktu, Kalamazoo, or Xanadu (which are all, of course, real places).

To me, it sounds as natural as breathing. But then, I grew up in the Midwest, so I'm quite used to Anglicized spellings of Francophone transliterations of Native American words, as pronounced by semi-literate Irish and German immigrants, for place names. Oconomowoc presents me no difficulty, nor does Mishawaka. I see no illogic in Des Moines (Deh Moyn) and Des Plaines (Dez Planez). It doesn't bother me that Sault Sainte Marie is pronounced the French way but that if you tried to say Detroit without Anglicizing it brutally, people would look at you funny. I also see nothing strange about the absolute parade of foreign places that ended up as small-town place names in the Midwest - Kokomo, Peru, Cairo, Pekin (from Peking/Beijing) - which makes many others either disoriented or amused. ("Why is my town in Switzerland the name of a rural Indiana town?")

In fact, these odd place names were so natural to me that I really didn't begin to realize their oddity until I married a Floridian who completely failed to plumb the exquisite logic of the pronunciation difference between Des Plaines and Des Moines ("that's just the way it is") and spent his first several months here trying to figure out why the heck nothing was pronounced in a fashion familiar to any normal speaker of English. (Not that he is necessarily one to talk; my first year in the South I consistently mispronounced things because the accent fell on bizarre syllables or occasionally entire letters were completely ignored.)

All of which is simply to say that Peoria is a real place, there really is a city in Illinois named Cairo and pronounced KAY-ro, and every child knows that Des Moines and Des Plaines follow entirely different rules.

And for God's sake, don't stick an S on the end of Illinois. The S is silent, people. Silent!

Friday, July 22, 2005

Kind of a Murphy's Law Day

Nothing went exactly wrong, just everything kinda veered off in a different direction than originally intended.

I went to get a pedicure - it goes so nice with my 70 pairs of shoes - and told the girl I just wanted red toenails. (I'd had pink most recently, and red seems nice for the heat of summer.) She was rather pouty about this - she wanted to do a colorful french manicure. Or designs. Or something. I felt bad, so finally I gave in and let her paint flowers on my big toes. They're cute, but ... I have flowers on my big toes. This kind of thing actually happens to me a lot - I hate saying no to people performing personal services! This is why I cut my own hair- I'd never be able to refuse when the stylist wanted to do things I didn't want.

Then I hit Target to buy an 8-quart pot, as my kitchen has a gap between the 3-qt. saucepan and the 30-qt. lobster pot. Nothing in between. And as I don't cook lobsters, I'm not really sure what the lobster pot is good for when there's just me and my husband, not a family of 12 to make chili for, but whatever. Everyone should own at least one giganto pot, I guess. So I went to Target in search of an 8-quart pot. I ended up buying a whole lot of things that most manifestly were NOT 8-quart pots but rather resembled table linens. A pot was practically the only thing I didn't buy at Target, and probably only because they were sold out.

I can't really blame Murphy for my next snafu; I was thinking about a wedding I have to attend in a few weeks and decided to try on one of the dresses I was considering, as I haven't worn it in a couple years. Pulled it on, zipped it up, was satisfied with it -- and then recalled it was not the kind of dress I can get back off without help. And of course, nobody else was home but the cats. (And even if they could help, their claws are not getting near my silk!) Much wriggling and hopping about later, with the dress over my head so I couldn't see, I managed to extricate myself. I sincerely hope I didn't hop past any open windows.

Oh well. At least I have pretty toes.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005


I committed the super cardinal sin of all time yesterday: I called home, and I identified my older-younger brother as my YOUNGER-younger brother on the telephone.

They sound DEAD ALIKE. Older-younger (he's 25) is hanging at home while preparing for the bar exam (I know, I know: Far too many lawyers in my family); younger-younger is turning 16 next week and so still actually lives there. Older-younger rarely answers the phone; younger-younger frequently does and uses monosyllabic words. So when Older-younger answered all monosyllabically, I launched into polite small talk intended for younger-younger.

I was so. embarrassed.

Children from multi-sibling families, like myself, know the deep annoyance that comes from being confused with a sibling. (And boys, when they're young and their voices haven't changed, often get confused with sisters.) Siblings tend to answer the phone the same way, the way their parents do, and they all have a similar intonation when they do so. But oh my God, I really should be able to tell my brothers apart on the telephone, don't you think?

What's worse is that they've traded haircuts: Older-younger used to be buzzed and has grown it out; younger-younger used to have long hair with a cowlick and now he's all buzzed. So when I see them from the back, now that younger-younger is nearly older-younger's height, they look backwards to me. Of course, older-younger hasn't buzzed his hair since he was 13 (some 12 years ago), but as the oldest I feel it is my privilege to live entirely in the past with respect to my siblings' hairstyles, bizarre food preferences, and so forth. The major benefit to being the oldest is that I recall far more stories about them than they recall about me, because I was already two years old before my mom started adding to the brood. (Two years spot on, actually - Older-younger brother arrived on my actual birthday.) So I remember all kinds of embarrassing things about them which they missed about me.

But I confused my two brothers yesterday. I suppose this isn't so bad; I had a roommate when I was in law school who was from Kansas, and our voices were so dead similar that our mothers and our fiances couldn't tell us apart when we answered the phone. (And props to her - I know she's reading - for being all pregnant!) But still. It's so horrible when you answer the phone and someone thinks you're your mother, or whatever. As a member of a four-child family, I know the pain of being confused with one's siblings. So I'm not sure I'll ever get over confusing my brothers, who internally are very little alike, if externally their voices are dead ringers for one another.

At least they're both at the same phone number. I'd be far more embarrassed if I thought I called one, really called the other, and ended up all confused. Because that's totally the kind of thing I'd do. And then I'd call whoever answered by the dog's name, because frankly I'm just not good with names. Even with blood relatives I've known since birth. I have problems.

Incidentally, and while we're on the subject of brothers, it turns out that seeing one's 15-year-old brother for the first time in five months and crowing, "Oh my God, you have such a cute little pimpstache!" is not really what 15-year-old boys want to hear. So sorry again, younger-younger. It's just that I'm pre-emptively old. If you had chubby cheeks, I'd have to pinch them and remark on how you've grown. Count your blessings.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Another Sign It's 2005

Today I went to the post office, and I got wolf-whistled at.

By a woman.

My husband thinks this is the best thing that's ever happened. I'm just glad someone (other than Mr. McGee, of course) enjoys looking at my legs.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


My husband believes condiments are actual foods. Entire food groups, even. I live in a household where, "Hey, want some bread with that butter?" is an actually legitimate question. My husband butters toast the way other people do drywall. First, all holes, nooks, and crannies in the toast must be spackled solid with butter, so the toast has a uniform top surface. Then he must spread a thick layer of butter over top ("mudding" the wall) so it has a uniform appearance. The butter must stretch to all corners and leave no portion of bread visible.

I buttered my toast like this once. Just once, when I was seven, mom was out of town, and dad foolishly allowed me to butter my own toast. Crazy times!

Anyway, typically he's worst about butter, ketchup ("I put ketchup on my ketchup!"), and syrup. (God forbid a single fry miss out on a full-ketchuped existence, or any square of that waffle not be filled with syrup. The world could quite conceivably end.)

I've gotten used to the fact that my butter purchasing, which I expected would double or so when I got married, has, in fact, quadrupled. I can cope with the fact that the gag-inducing sickly-sweet smell of syrup invades my house every weekend morning. I can even accept the ketchup-on-everything theory of life, although it really frosts my cookies when I go to all the trouble of cooking something good and well-seasoned, like a frittata, and he dumps ketchup all over it before even tasting it.

But suddenly he is branching out. He has discovered microwaveable toppings for ice cream, which frankly smell six times as vile as syrup and make me want to vacate the house until the awful, awful smell of warm sugar and carcinogens dissipates. (This is the other thing I don't get - why must he microwave everything? Bread, cookies, syrup, topping ... why??) Jam and jelly, in all their myriad flavors, spread in layers so thick they actually look like architectural creations on his toast. And, by far the grossest of all, marshmallows. I'm not a marshmallow fan, but I don't mind if other people want them in s'mores or hot chocolate. That's fine.

But Mr. McGee came home from the supermarket the other day (I asked him to pick up a couple things for me - always a mistake) with the jumbo bag of mini-marshmallows. Then I saw him eating corn pops with a thick layer of marshmallows on top. (Better and better, he insisted this was both healthier AND cheaper than buying marshmallow cereal on its own. Riiiiiiiight.) And then, later on, he was eating toast - with butter - with jelly - with marshmallows on top of the jelly.

I don't care what else you put them on, marshmallows do not belong on toast!

It's gotten so bad he actually bought a condiment he had no idea the purpose of, or what it tasted like. It's still sitting, forlorn, in our fridge, this "Pick-a-peppa" sauce.

I live in dread that one day I'll come home and find him in the final stages of fatal sugar shock, with a piece of toast piled 8 inches high with butter, jelly, marshmallows, syrup, caramel topping, and ketchup lying on the floor beside him.

And I bet it'd stain my carpet, too.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Man vs. Nature, Part Deux

I planted a garden bed in my backyard that is meant to draw birds and butterflies and other wildlife, so that I can watch them out my office window from my desk. Not that I can't anyway, since my backyard is apparently the urban version of "Wild Kingdom," but whatever. I want to feed the birds (tuppence a bag and all that) and watch them from my window. And give my cats something to watch from the window.

The problem with this otherwise perfect plan is that the rabbits are not understanding the part about "If you eat the entire delphinium now, there will be no delphinium for you to eat later." You can't reason with a bunny. You can't explain to him that he needs to wait until the delphinium is taller than he is so it has leaves he can't reach and can keep growing even if he keeps nibbling on it.

After watching the bunnies gnaw on my tender baby plants, I finally realized I had to take action, and I bought a roll of little 18" high wire fencing to stick in the ground around my baby plants until they're taller than the bunnies and can survive the rabbity depredations. I stuck it in the ground (okay, I mostly made my husband do it) and I watched from my window as the bunnies approached and were entirely puzzled by my new fence.

"Ha ha, Nature! Who's your daddy now?? Huh? Huh?"

Thank God I got a quarter million dollar education that just about makes me intelligent enough to outsmart lagomorphs with brains the size of walnuts (and gloat about it), because not 20 minutes later, I saw one of those little rabbits figure out he could squeeze through the fence if he really, really, really wanted to eat my delphiniums.

Back to the drawing board. These opposable thumbs are not turning out to be quite the advantage I had imagined.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

It Was Shoe Love at First Sight

I. Love. Shoes.

In fact, in searching back through my blog to find an appropriate post to link about my deep adoration of shoes, I discovered the absolutely appalling fact that I have not devoted an entire post solely to my shoes! Everyone who knows me will find this amazing. I actually have an entire spreadsheet devoted to my shoes so I can sort them by color or style or maker. I had to install industrial shelving for my shoe collection because it fell on my head when I tried to get to one of the boxes near the bottom of the stack.

And yet, somehow, in my blog, I have only mentioned my shoes in passing, in relation to other stories. The horror! So just to put it out there:

I. Love. Shoes.

I have closing in on 80 pairs. My shoe acquisitions have actually slowed down in recent years because, really, there is a point at which buying more shoes simply becomes silly. I have not yet reached that point, but I'm hovering pretty close, I think, so I want to only buy really really great shoes. (I also, in doing my spreadsheet, discovered I owned no less than 11 pairs of black strappy sandals, and I thought maybe it was just possible I had gone a little overboard.) And I did recently donate two pairs of shoes to charity. Because clearly charity wants my snazzy gold-toned multi-colored-neon-print-soled pumps that I wore for an 80s costume party. Clearly.

Anyway, I have a relationship with my shoes. With all shoes, really - the ones I don't own I love from afar - but with my shoes in particular. Some pairs of shoes are meant to wear out, and that's all right, though I'm sometimes tempted to bury them decently rather than simply disposing of them. But some pairs of shoes are just too fabulous to be allowed to wear out, like these awesome black strappy heeled sandals with subtle eggshell counterstitching and an adorable anklestrap that feel like a dream and look like a million bucks - two crucial qualities in shoes (comfort and style) that are sadly too often incompatible.

So you will understand that I was devastated when my awesome black strappy heeled sandals with subtle eggshell counterstitching and an adorable anklestrap that feel like a dream and look like a million bucks wore out. The inner sole came unglued from the outer sole. (And with just a couple typos, that would look like a way more profound statement than a discussion of shoe anatomy.) Too many years of wearing them everywhere in the heat and damp of the summer had left my little shoes coming apart at the seams.

I sought out my friendly neighborhood cobbler. That's right - cobbler. There aren't very many of them left, because sneakers aren't all that repairable and far too few people know you can get shoes fixed. I mean, if you buy a crappy pair of $10 shoes at a discount store, of course you don't care enough to fix them when they break. (Your feet also hurt and your shoes are ugly, but that's really your personal decision.) But if you buy a $100 pair of Evan Piccones, even if you got them at a fabulous sale for less than half their regular retail cost, and the leather is like butter and you religiously treat the leather twice a year - you're going to get that shoe fixed.

Well. I went to a little shop called Fred's Shoe Repair that happened to be not too far out of the way of my errands for the day. (There are only five shoe repair listings in the local Yellow Pages.) Fred would be cooler if he was called "Fred the Cobbler," but people have such a hard time conceiving of the fact that shoes can be repaired that I can't quite imagine what kind of weirdos would wander into a shop called "Fred the Cobbler."

I showed Fred my sad little shoe, and he whisked it right off into the back and glued it back together, wham-bang, while I waited. Such a job usually costs a buck or two, as long as it's just glue and there's no structural damage to the shoe. He returned my now better-than-new shoe to me and, as I reached in my purse to pay, said, "No charge."


"Oh, it was right quick. Can't charge you for something that easy."

Fred. Fred, my newly-beloved cobbler. The name is like music to my ears: Fred.

He not only fixed my favorite black strappy sandals, but he did it for free!

I don't know, though. Fred may have seen a good thing going here. Some of us shoe gals have a look about us, a sort of gleam in our eyes when in shoe stores and cobbler shops - the look religious fanatics get when they're at shrines where amazing visitations occurred. Fred may have seen the glint of shoe-zeal in my eye, and realized that here across the counter stood his ticket to a retirement in Aruba. He might have been a shoe-glue pusher, getting me hooked on his product so he could soak me.

Or really, he could have been (and was, I think) one of the old breed of businessmen, who does a good job and takes pride in it. Which is why you should go get your shoes fixed at Fred's. Not those ugly $10 ones. The $100 ones you have now been inspired by my blog to go buy. On sale, of course.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Feline Love

Last night I was in a bit of a grump, feeling sorry for myself and hating the world while lying on the couch.

My grey cat, Jack, came up and gave me a solid, loving headbutt to the forehead. "Oh, Jack," I said to him, "you're the only one who loves and understands me." He just knew I was in a funk and he just knew to come comfort me with a headbutt.

Well-pleased with his accolades from the food-bringer (that's me) and purring madly, he turned around on my chest and plunked himself down on me - cat butt right into my face.

Taken aback - this was my love and appreciation? - I shifted his position ... which resulted in a back leg, supporting 20 pounds of cat, on my windpipe. He didn't like the shift, so resettled himself with his rear leg in my mouth.

Nothing breaks me out of a blue spell like a little unconditionally selfish love. Particularly when it smells like cat butt.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Summertime Poetry

I was down in Champaign-Urbana last weekend, playing a jazz gig - oh yes, Eyebrows is jazzy - which meant I was driving home in the black of night on I-74. Well, right up until the part where you can't get over the river on it, anyway.

The thing that has always confused and upset me about driving in the parts of Illinois that are not-Chicago is that in and around Chicago, where I grew up, most of the highways have street lights along them, or sufficient ambient light from traffic and buildings and bridges for local roads (with street lights) that the highways are always well-lit, even in the darkest of the dark nights. Whereas in not-Chicago, highways are black at night. Black black black. You can't see a gosh-darned thing, and there aren't nearly enough cars on them to provide continuous illumination. You can't see the gentle curves coming at you, and sometimes this can be a little disorienting when there's only one other car in your field of vision, and it's two miles in front of you and off at a 25 degree angle. It provides an optical illusion wherein it seems that the highway is just about to curve when indeed the highway has no intention of doing so. For all I know, that car is on a local access road, not the highway at all. I live in constant terror that I will lose sight of the road or get trapped by an optical illusion in the dark and end up in a cow pasture watching my car commune with cows.

Which is patently ridiculous: There aren't that many dairy farms in Illinois. Clearly I have a far greater chance of ending up in a cornfield, where all I have to worry about is nematodes, not cow patties ruining my shoes and irate bovines trying to make friends with me and/or my car.

So as I drove back from Chambana the other night, my attention was entirely on the tiny spot of road illuminated by my headlights. And I noticed the strangest thing as I drove: Little flecks of light, flying past my car at high speed, there for an instant and then gone again. Some above me, some to the side, some right in front of me, like miniature shooting stars come down to earth.

It was fireflies. Thousands of fireflies in the late June summer night. Fireflies who happened to be flying along the highway when I was driving it, lighting up for an instant as I drove past, surrounding my car with tiny fairy lights that flickered in the coal-black night, an ethereal escort for my late-night drive, leaving me all bemused and enchanted.

These are the little magics of summer in the midwest, these beetles with glowing butts who look for all the world like starlight come to earth: The simple and small magics of nature.

It doesn't matter how you travel, the fireflies say. On foot, on horseback, encased in steel on the Eisenhower Expressway System, in futuristic Jetson flying cars. We will-o'-the-wisps have enchanted travellers since before time began, and we'll be here lighting their way long after you're gone, tiny specks of joy in the gentle summer night.