Friday, January 14, 2011

Just dropping in



Friday, September 10, 2010

Cressbeckler v. Jones

It's been months since I've blogged, but I'm back just briefly to ask whoever is listening if anyone else immediately thought Terry Jones was actually The Onion's grizzled, third-party character, Joad Cressbeckler.

I'm just sayin'...


Friday, December 18, 2009


I wrote this little thing three years ago, but it's been on my mind lately. I edited it up a bit and thought I would repost it. Happy Holidays to all who happened to check my blog six-plus months after my last post and discover this new post!

For over a year when I was barely not a toddler and not quite a kid, I asked my mom to read me “'Twas the Night Before Christmas” before bed every single night. I loved that book.

The copy I had seemed very old, which made it extra special. It was large with a hard binding covered in fabric. Its cover was bigger than both my hands spread wide across its surface, and I had to carefully balance it in my lap if I looked at it alone. Like most kids, the idea of this man who lived forever with the sole purpose of making presents year-round consumed me. It made sense that he existed. Who wouldn't love giving gifts for a living while supplied with an army of elves and cavalry of reindeer at your disposal?

But how was Santa the one who got the gig? Had nobody given gifts before him? Did Santa start Christmas? No, the Baby Jesus did. I had that book, too.

'That's tacky,' my mom said when our neighbors put up a neon sign that beamed out a green and red-lighted message: Happy X-Mas. I asked why, and she explained that the 'X' took all the nice things out of Christmas--that it made Christmas all about buying stuff and not about being with family and friends. 'Why bother putting up the sign if it doesn't even spell the whole word out? It's missing the real message.'

So I would return to my studies, poring over the famous Christmas Eve text, looking for clues on what the real message was. After my mom would say goodnight and shut my bedroom door, I'd pick the book back up from its spot on my bookshelf and, unable to read the majority of the words, I would stare at the pictures. There had to be something I was missing, and once I found it, the whole Santa-Jesus-Christmas thing would become clear to me. Instead, the pictures--out of the context of the story itself--became more confusing.

Most confusing was the last picture in the book. Santa had finished his big night--the gifts delivered, the cookies eaten, the milk drank. But here on the last page, without any words to explain, was Santa--lying out in the sun, stretched onto a beach chair with sunscreen slathered thick and white on his nose. He was holding a drink with a little umbrella in it like the ones that I could get at TGIFriday's with my soda if I asked the waiter nicely. Santa was on vacation.

A slew of questions arose: Did Santa stop at home before hitting the beach or did he leave the reindeer on their own to get back to the Pole? Where's his red suit and does he always wear yellow swim trunks when not decked in fur and red velvet? Where's Mrs. Claus? Does she get a vacation, or do she and the elves slave over the next year's toys beginning on December 26th without any help from Santa? When does his vacation end, does it last a week or until December 23rd of the next year?

After a year I got tired of trying to figure it out. I had learned to read almost all of the words in the book, I had stared at the pictures for hours on end, and nothing was becoming clearer. Santa, I guessed, would remain a mystery.

Perhaps driving this Christmas quest was my personal relationship with Jesus. I don't, however, mean 'personal relationship' in the way that a Catholic grandmother might mean it. I really mean 'relationship,' to the point where at age four, I had a crush on the Biblical figure and wanted him to be my boyfriend. Of all my imaginary playmates ("Charlaines" my five-dollar pink bear bought at KB Toys, Barbie, Grover from Sesame Street, and Elmo too--until I found out Elmo was a 'he' and not a 'she' and I felt terribly cheated), Jesus was my favorite. He was the most real and the nicest.

Where my relationships with other imaginary friends were sometimes strained—Charlaines and I were known to bicker over who got the window seat on the airplane fashioned out of meticulously be-rowed dining room chairs; Grover was antisocial and required lots of prodding to pull himself out of a morose mood; Barbie demanded my representation as her lawyer in multiple divorce court proceedings when her misguided romances with various Kens fell through; Elmo turned out to be a boy—my relationship with Jesus was pure, blissful. Our friendship was open, supportive and active. Jesus often wanted to play outside, dance to opera music, and he liked my drawings.

But my friendship with Jesus came crashing down around me during my last year in preschool. On a sticky August afternoon, Jesus and I were playing outside under my favorite tree in my backyard. My dad had made the swing--a truly rough tree swing fashioned with a flat, hard, butt-numbing wood board for a seat and two ropes that would give even the toughest sailors calluses. I loved it. So on this afternoon, I--willing to be a good friend and share--was pushing Jesus on the swing since it was His turn. Then, something happened. It might have been because I hadn't been spending much time lately looking at the illustrations in my Mom's childhood Bible, or maybe because I had waited so long before I did share the swing with Him, or maybe I was just pushing too hard... But suddenly, unexpectedly, Jesus flew back much farther than anticipated and I was hit in the face.

I fell onto my back, knocking my head on the ground. Worst of all was my chin--scraped by either His foot or the butt-numbing swing itself. I ran inside, crying and confused. While I sat in her lap, my mom put Neosporin, gauze and medical tape on my chin and I explained to her what had happened. Through my tears, I made a vow. I was done playing with Jesus.

It wasn't that I didn't believe in Jesus, I concluded, I just wasn't friends with Him anymore. I went back to studying my 'Twas the Night text. Sadly, Santa still wasn't providing explanations or answers as he smiled over his tropical drink. Even more devastating was when, clued in by context not too long after my break-up with Jesus, I found out that Santa was not real.

The details of this horrible revelation I do not remember. According to my mom, I asked for the truth in the car while running errands with her. I asked timidly and in a way that my Mom took to mean that I had figured it all out, and even if she couldn't pull over on Ohio Route 42 to talk about it, she should be honest with me then and there. She said that I was right, Santa didn't exist but that the spirit of Santa Claus was a very real thing. My mom tells me I cried quite a bit, but I've done a pretty great job repressing this moment. I do remember, however, that afterward I put the 'Twas the Night book on the shelf indefinitely, deciding I was too old for Santa, and feeling more confused than ever about what Christmas really meant.

Things have changed over the last twenty-plus years. I no longer resent Santa for not being real and I'm not begrudging Jesus for that scrape he gave me on the swing. I don't keep a copy of 'Twas the Night Before Christmas nor of The Holy Bible bedside. I don't believe in Santa, and I'm pretty sure Jesus was an okay guy, but not the son of God or anything.

Children in France are taught that Santa is Saint Nicholas, patron saint of children, sailors and pawnbrokers (Go figure). The story goes that on a cold, dark and snowy night, three lost children are taken into a warm cottage by a butcher who feeds them heavily and then tucks them into bed. Once the three little kids fall asleep, the butcher sneaks back into the room and chops them into bits and pieces, tossing their sliced and now salted remains into a barrel for later. Seven years pass, and St. Nicholas happens along the cottage after hearing the sliced and salted remains of the children cry for help from their barel. St. Nicholas pieces the kids back together and informs the butcher he can repent for his sins and, if he does so, God will set him free. In other versions of the story, St. Nicholas grabs the butcher by the heels and shoves him in the barrel for all eternity (forever and ever, amen), putting a new spin on French children's images of Hell.

I'm not sure at which point Nicholas went from being Saint to Santa and moved from France to the North Pole, but I'm okay with this story. Granted, it's bloody and dated (from the 1500s actually), but in it, Santa and God coexist and fight together in an epic battle of good versus evil. So I may not be sure how commercially and spiritually I want to spend my Christmas this year--the ratio of my time spent shopping at the mall and knelt in prayer now escapes me--but either way, they both beat the third alternative--spending seven years salty and in pieces at the bottom of a barrel. And I suppose that's a good reason to celebrate the holiday season.

Happy Holidays!


Wednesday, June 3, 2009


'What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? - it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.' --Jack Kerouac


Thursday, May 7, 2009


How cool is this? In just the last week or two, Google updated its satellite images of Chicago, including Grant Park. In doing so, they happened to capture Lollapalooza 2007! I have to say that the festival looks a lot tamer from the sky.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Another Day, Another Dream

Every once in a while, I have one of those strange dreams that seems to really outdo all strange dreams that came before it. This dream, which I had just before I woke up this morning, definitely falls into that category.

I find myself in a hotel room, reminiscent of a dingy south Florida motel. Pink walls, exterior hallways, sliding patio doors--the whole bit. It's afternoon, and I'm getting ready for something.

My room, even with the lights off, is stuffy, so I decide to slide open the patio door and get some fresh air flowing inside the musty motel. As I step out onto my patio (I'm on the ground floor, facing the parking lot), I see a large group of nuns boarding shuttle buses.

I remember suddenly (or realize, or however it works in dreams) that I'm staying in a convent. A convent that happens to look a lot like a south Florida motel. I'm not a nun, but this sisterhood has taken me in for a short time while I work something out. They're loading the buses on a Friday afternoon to take some trip somewhere. I watch them board as the sun lowers behind the shuttles.

Just beyond my patio, a large cat sits with its back to me. As I watch its matted fur bristle in the breeze, it stretches and turns to face me.

"Mind if I come in?" the Cat asks.

Cat's voice is neither surprising to me nor gender-specific. Not really male, not really female. Just talking Cat.

"Sure," I answer, stepping backward into the room, making space for Cat to enter.

Cat saunters by, haunches swishing as it grazes past me to sit on the floor near the bed. For a few moments, Cat is quiet and the room fills with an uncomfortable silence. I turn back to the mirror where I had been before, brushing my hair and layering on mascara. Then Cat breaks the silence.

"You know they gave you the bad room, right?" Cat says, its eyes sweeping the room observingly.

"Oh, no," I respond quietly. "I didn't know that."

I blush, simultaneously embarrassed to impose upon the nuns and pissed that they gave me the Bad Room. It seems Cat knows its way around here, so if Cat says this is the Bad Room, then it's definitely the Bad Room. I wonder why I got stuck with these quarters. Maybe it was all that was left.

I look back over at Cat, who had turned to face the parking lot, watching the last of the sisters board the shuttle.

"Aren't you going with them?" Cat asks.

"Oh, no," I say, feeling guilty. I feel as if I should honor the sisters' charity by boarding the shuttles with them and attending their event as a sign of my respect and solidarity. "I have to go to my friend's show tonight."

"Oh," says Cat nonchalantly, neither approving nor disapproving of my decision. "That should be fun for you."

"Yes," I answer. "Yes, it should be."

Photo by serhenity


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Recapturing his story

I've been obsessively reading Errol Morris' 5-part piece in the New York Times investigating the life of Amos Humiston, a soldier who fell at Gettysburg. Humiston's story is well-known for Civil War and Gettysburg buffs. His body was found in Gettysburg, unidentifiable, clutching the ambrotype of three children. Through a twisted story, those children were identified by this ambrotype, giving a name to this soldier, their father, as well.

What Morris has done is attempt to untangle the story of Humiston's life, the life of his descendants and the tricky business of claiming the stories of lives through family, genealogy and media. The stories of this family have been exploited, revered and even ignored as some family members let letters and other documents disappear.

The five-part series is in Morris' blog, and it's pretty lengthy but an amazing story. Among the things highlighted is Amos Humiston's letters to his wife during the war. This passage in particular is touching, beautifully written and haunting since we know that Amos will never see his wife again.

"January 2, 1863: “If I ever live to get home you will not complain of being lonesome again or of sleeping cold for I will lay as close to you as the bark to a tree.”


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

An Explanation

Recently I've gone missing in many ways--socially, sometimes mentally and emotionally, and certainly bloggily. My absence from UrbanSquirrelGirl can be justified, and I'm ready to explain.

A while back, I had this crazy idea for a documentary following the lives of Abraham Lincoln impersonators--those guys who don the stovepipe hats and march in parades or appear in classrooms. I kept the thought to myself, turning it around in my head, until I went on vacation to Colorado.

And now, a warning about mountains.

Mountains will make you say crazy things. Staring at their impossible peaks, you may begin to feel inspired. Perhaps you will scrawl poetry on a napkin or strum a guitar as you prepare to compose the next great American song. Careful what you say and do in these moments under the influence of mountains. I was not careful, and one little utterance has spawned months of hard work and mental/emotional/physical exhaustion. Here's how it played out.

John and I were driving in the early morning on the last Sunday in August. We were making our way through the dew in the Wet Mountain Valley with the Sangre de Cristos mountains rising up above us, cutting the morning sky open from a haze to a bright blue. It was beautiful. As John drove, I thought about the greatness of these mountains, of our country (the Democratic National Convention had been going on in Denver too, so that probably didn't help), and our country's history. The Lincoln idea sprung forth in my mind, and then, looking back up at the mountains, I lost all inhibition.

"I have this idea for a movie, and I want to make it!" I cried out to John, who was probably somewhat surprised. I then explained the details of my idea at great length and concluded with, "No matter what I say, you can't let me forget this idea or leave it behind. I think I'll regret it if I don't pursue this."

A week or so later, John met with the director of a non-profit film company in Chicago for a film of his own that he'd been working on. I was probably lazily eating ice cream on the couch or something when John mentioned that he had brought my film thoughts up to this guy and that he liked the idea and now wanted to meet me and discuss the possibility of making the film.

"What?!" I sputtered.

"You said not to let you forget this idea, remember?" John gently reminded me.

I cursed him a bit but decided it was time to put down the pint of Ben and Jerry's and get moving with this idea. And the moving has not really stopped since.

I've continued to dedicate myself to my day job and have worked on the film on nights, weekends and vacation days. The non-profit funding the film has given a great deal of support to it, and it's truly a fantastic group effort with a great team working on it. I feel extremely blessed and excited that this film is happening, but I kept it to myself for a long time for fear of totally jinxing it or embarrassing myself should it be some awesome failure.

But I've given up on that secrecy and fear of failure crap and am now basically sharing this film production with everyone who reads my blog (hey all three of you!) and anyone else who hadn't yet heard. I also wanted to apologize to any of those three blog readers and to my blog itself for ignoring UrbanSquirrelGirl for so long. I'm still in the thick of production, so I still won't be very good about updating for a while. I'll try to post links and updates about the film as I have them, starting soon.

Lots of Lincoln love,


Friday, March 6, 2009

Oh, and please pass the rolls.

Yesterday afternoon I stumbled upon this little note I jotted down once upon a time. I thought it definitely worth sharing. :)

2003 G. Family Christmas Dinner Conversation

(On the topic of sexual promiscuity in college)

Mom: "So your body is like a hall."
Dad: "More like an auditorium!"

(A few minutes later, when discussing the propensity for gay guys to make out with straight girls for fun)

Dad: "'Please enter the auditorium from the side door!'"


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reflections on The Bachelor

Thank God that's over. As much as I do enjoy a good The Women Tell All show, ABC has done a fantastic job upping the ante for their final episode and the ever so terribly dramatic After the Final Rose show. So it's no surprise that I had little interest last night in rehashing Megan and Erica's cat fights, hearing Orange McOrangePants from Suburban Chicago defensively talk about how fantastic she is, or checking in (yet again) with Trista and Ryan.

I do have to say that one fantastic bit of Bachelor/ette knowledge gleaned was the existence of Caesar, the seemingly sweet and unassuming limo driver who's stuck with ABC lo these long seventeen seasons, despite his better judgment. Between Chris Harrison giving the bro-hug to Caesar and pounding it with Jason ("Hey, man!"), I kinda wish Chris Harrison were every guy's BFF. I think the world might be a better place.

So as the interweb world fell apart in the chaos of conspiracy theories speculating about the uber-dramatic Finale and ATFR episodes ("I heard Jason dumps Melissa, proposes to Molly, dumps Molly, proposes to Jillian, then instead absconds with Orange McOrangepants to Chicago where they run into Noelle and Fred and where, after a night of revelry and "amazing" self-discovery, Jason sets up a storefront kissing booth to satisfy his lady cravings..."), it was nice to finally return to something pure and true to reality TV, like the WTA episode. It reminded us all of simpler times. (See below.)

The recent complaints of some Bachelor fans may have been slightly put to rest last night with the on-screen revelations of Holly and Jesse's relationship, as well as Noelle and Fred. (Noelle and Fred, btw, are totally adorbs.) That something "real" might be squeezed out of this reality show, even if it happens long after their seasons are over and only when the cameras aren't rolling, might reassure some fans who have sworn off Chris Harrison and the rest of the gang. Scripting of a TV show?! Well, I never!

I suppose I don't watch The Bachelor/ette to experience love through the eyes of a demi-celebrity on a reality TV show. If their relationship falls apart after the fact, so what? I had my cake watching the entertaining, and often ridiculous, drama that Chris Harrison and Company cooked up during the season--I don't need to eat it too.

What would The Bachelor be without fame-seekers like Matt Grant and Shayne Lamas? Or habitual inmates like Mary Delgado? Or the gratuitous ab shots of Jason Mesnick and his rehearsed hugs with his dragged-through-the-muck-of-reality-TV son, Ty? Can these camera-loving people like this really find love on national television as they drag innocent bystanders (see: Ty, Melissa's parents) through the process with them? I personally don't think so.

That doesn't mean the show doesn't work. Maybe more "normal" people can find love, like Trista and Ryan (who to their credit, seem almost boringly normal) or the recently be-sobered and be-normaled Charlie and Sarah (Probably not. Their stint last night reeked of seeking-new-TV-show-and-cash-money-contracts.). Maybe Jillian, should she come back to the show as The Bachelorette, could find someone normal too. But those normal people like Jillian are a breath of fresh air to a show clouded with the stormy drama queens (and kings) like Shayne, Orange McOrangepants, or Ryan from DeAnna's season. (Remember Ryan's bleep? Ah, the good old days.)

But let's be genuine here--those precious drama queens and kings are really what make the show enjoyable. Without them to temper the sweetness, The Bachelor would be a saccharine slope so slippery with sugar and rose petals that we'd probably all go careening down its side and wind up changing the channel to watch something like Gossip Girl or Bridezillas just to get a decent dose of vile.

So I can't blame ABC if this finale is scripted or tweaked or whatever else. It's what I'm watching and what I want to watch, so I'm asking for it. Give me what I want, Chris Harrison!

So until next week's uber-dramatic finale and ATFR episode, I am imagining the couples who--like Holly and Jesse or Noelle and Fred--might belong together. The Bachelor/ette may not have brought them together in front of the cameras, but my friends, these people are destined for one another. Any thoughts on other couples of Bachelor/ettes past who belong together? Here are just a few of the couples and how they will most certainly meet.

Nikki and Jeremy

Perfectionists at the core, Nikki and Jeremy met at a self-improvement seminar hosted by Chris Harrison. Jeremy reminded Nikki that long before Jason stole his ab thunder, he rocked the abs of steel for DeAnna. Meanwhile Nikki absent-mindedly pinned her 'do into place and used L.A. Looks gel of steel to mold her stray hairs into place. Today, they run a Vitamin Shoppe together in southwest Chicago burbs where Jeremy doles out law advice on the cheap and Nikki, selling all-natural teeth whiteners, knocks the confidence of future beauty queens.

Brian and Stephanie

The two sweet former contestants ran into one another at a vegan bakery where Stephanie had brought Sophia for a special cupcake because it was a Saturday, and that is how the wonderful mother and daughter spent their time together on Saturday. The Silver Fox, upon seeing them there, swept Stephanie up into his arms, bought a car seat for Sophia, and the rest is history.

Matt and Raquel

Recognizing their common bond of superior international descent, Matt and Raquel met in Barcelona where Matt had gone to party away his Hollywood sorrows. It took only one salsa dance about the room with Raquel to tame the Brit Bach into domestic bliss. They now run a dance studio together in Mumbai and served as extras on the final dance scene of Slumdog Millionaire.

Kelly and Erika

As two loud drunks from seasons past, the two ladies met at a bar, challenged each other to a drinking contest, took some snakebite shots together and immediately recognized their bond. They now run a therapy center together, where they occasionally host conferences entitled "I'm a Reality TV Reject, Now What? : Recovering From Your Televised Post-Traumatic Stress."

Twilley and Shannon

Twigs and Resident Bachelor Stalker Shannon met at a post-traumatic stress conference hosted by Kelly and Erika. The two skittered into one another, Shannon rubbed some black napkin on her face, they fell in love and lived happily ever after.