blog posts by melissa

  • Writing blog, two points

    First week on Weight Watchers, lost 3.9 pounds and I’m thinking very seriously of applying to be their spokeswoman.

    I mean, if Jared can do it for Subway . . .

    I am not a diet person, I mean, other than being born female which naturally predisposes me toward such things. In my first 40 or so years of living, I was unfamiliar with all the various dieting options and never considered altering my normal dietary regimen, which encouraged regular servings of ice cream and the occasional Twinkie and Double Stuf Oreo.

    But over the last few years, I have visited the other side, relapsed, re-visited and am now, officially, what I believe is referred to as a yo-yo dieter.

    I’m not sure there is a clinical term for it, but I am the opposite of anorexic. That is, when I look in the mirror, I have the ability to stand at precisely the right angle so as to think I look pretty good and thinner than I actually am. But occasionally, I will notice subtle changes like my clothes no longer fit, and I feel forced to do something about it.

    I tried Jenny Craig and lasted a week. No way can I eat freeze-dried and frozen food in a box and pretend it tastes normal . I tried Suzanne Somers’ plan, but in order to make that work, you have to either give up real sugar for life, or spend the day creating Baked Alaskas from one of her cookbooks with her secret non-sugar sugar, and there was no way either of these were happening.

     If I understood the Zone diet, I’m sure I could give you a good reason why I don’t like that either.

    As a child, my mother baked all kinds of wonderful desserts and at all times kept a full stock of Baskin-Robbins Rocky Road and chocolate chip ice cream as well as a stash of Milky Ways in the freezer. My dad liked his desserts monochromatic — Sara Lee pound cake, Nilla wafers, vanilla ice cream – often combined into one big dessert.

    In other words, sweets were not in any way forbidden, I had the metabolism of a housefly and yet I still allowed 18 years to go by without fully appreciating any of this. In fact, I rarely ate dessert at all, which , in addition to the metabolism, probably explains why I had to put rocks in the pockets of my jumper in first grade so that I could avoid embarrassment and hit the 30-point mark when Mrs. Bunce, the school nurse, wheeled the big scale into our classroom and announced our weights in front of everyone.

    If that happened now, a class-action suit would surely be forthcoming.
    Forty-plus years later, I am back to where I began, standing on a scale in a storefront of our local strip mall, only this time wishing it wasn’t illegal to be naked in full view of the Dominick’s parking lot. If one less layer of clothes guaranteed a better weigh-in, I dare say the place would be filled with naked women.

    As it is, I kick off my running shoes, pull off my Nike Dri-Fit – which combined, weigh maybe 10 ounces – and step on the scale. I resist the urge to thrust my fist in the air.

    I must say, I was not so confident going into the weigh-in, coming as it did the day after Yom Kippur. That’s because Jewish people traditionally observe the New Year by giving ourselves massive hunger headaches before gorging on bagels, lox and Aunt Elsie’s chocolate coffee cake.

    I looked up Aunt Elsie’s coffee cake in my new Weight Watchers Complete Food Companion, but the closest thing I could find was worth more points than I am allotted in a day.

    So maybe I would have done even better in my first official week on my new regimen if, you know, I had tried even harder on Yom Kippur, maybe fasted past 2:30 in the afternoon and had a little less generous piece of coffee cake.

    But I’m also thinking, hey, 3.9 pounds including the bagel and coffee cake. This diet isn’t half-bad. Next week, I may have to work it in again. Atoning for my sins is working out nicely

  • Upon further review . . .

    Finished my class. Caught up with Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame speech. Taped the Emmy’s, which I’ll never watch. Joining Weight Watchers tomorrow (are you required to tell them that you plan to stick around only until your pants aren’t so uncomfortable? Is there a special membership plan for this?)

    Of course, now I need to carve out an extra 10 to 12 hours a week for the new season of “Dancing with the Stars,” which could be a problem, but I can fast forward through at least eight of those hours, so I think I’m OK.

    I am back in blog land because without my touchstone, I feel like I have been dreaming this last week. Weeks?

    At some point during this time, I also gave a library talk on my book, “Sweet Lou – Lou Piniella, A Life in Baseball,” which, if you enter my website in the conventional manner, you have been assaulted with for the last five months. This was my plan.  But ever since Piniella’s Chicago Cubs have been out of the pennant race (I believe sometime in mid-June), the talks have, well, lacked a certain punch.

    The book is about Piniella’s life, a biography, and as such it should not be important that he has bombed with his latest team or that most Cubs’ fans would like to see him on the next bus to St. Pete. But because he happens to be wearing Cubbie blue on the cover, I get the distinct feeling that Lou, sweet or otherwise, is not necessarily a person of great interest.
    For my next book project, I am thinking of perhaps something on the cast of “Dancing with the Stars,” as I believe this would be truly timeless.

    In the meantime, I want to call back every radio show, acquaintance and anyone else with whom I have chit-chatted about Michael Jordan over the last few weeks and take back what I said.
    For those of you who may be unaware, Jordan has been roundly and almost unanimously eviscerated for his recent induction speech at the Basketball Hall of Fame. People are not supposed to be criticized for their Hall of Fame induction speeches. This is like being booed while doing a eulogy. This was supposed to be a festive moment in which Jordan joined his other inductees, thanked everyone from his kindergarten teacher to the Bulls equipment manager (Johnny Ligmanowski, a really nice guy) and, if all went according to plan, cried while doing it.

    Jordan did cry. This was the best part, according to most. I only saw the last few minutes live, which included a very nice, sentimental little passage that sounded like he took it from a collection of old athletic proverbs about limits, like fear, often being an illusion.
    I liked that part, don’t get me wrong. But if he wrote those words himself, then I was the ghostwriter for all seven Harry Potter books.  
    The rest he wrote himself. And after reading bits and pieces and then passively agreeing with most that Jordan was inappropriate in his comments, I have now seen a tape of the speech in his entirety and I officially take it back.

    It was neither inappropriate nor mean-spirited nor worthy any of the other silly critiques people have given it.

    I covered Jordan and the Bulls throughout the 1990s and traveled with them as the Tribune’s beat writer during their early championship years. I liked Michael, but I do not pretend to be his friend nor to know him as, say, a psychoanalyst would.
    What I do know is that the speech was quintessential Jordan. It was also as sincere as any of the speeches that night and not even close to him trying to be nasty. I’m not going to repeat everything he said. If you’re interested and haven’t heard it, there are about five million copies on U-Tube to replay.

    I doubt most people really listened to it – the way he said what he said, exactly what he said. It was genuine and from the heart. It probably did require a passing familiarity with the man to appreciate it and for that, it might have been worth getting someone to at least proof it.

    But he is a public figure, open to our probing and to our criticism, even for a Hall of Fame induction speech. It is the price he must pay. He knows this better than anyone. I’m just glad on this night anyway, he didn’t seem to care.

  • It’s Bears season, let the neurosis begin

    It’s the first day of the NFL season, I’m in Green Bay for the Bears’ opener, and I am thinking of my dad.

    It is nearly 80 degrees today, which would have made him very happy. I can’t remember ever going to a Bears game with my father when it was warmer than 34.  And that was in September.

    If you drew up a list of the top three things my father hated, the cold would have ranked somewhere between getting wet with his clothes on and Nazi Germany. That said, he loved the Bears and was a season-ticket holder for over 40 years.

    I would go with him and my brothers often, almost every game with my brothers for many years during my childhood, and watching my dad shiver and curse at the cold was more fun than the game (particularly with the Bears teams we were watching).

    Bundled up in longjohns, as he would call them, he would drink hot chocolate and sometimes a little something extra slipped in, and then lose his body heat sometime in the middle of the first quarter.  

    We would watch the Bears’ angry round coach Abe Gibron stalk the sideline and their quarterback Bobby Douglass throw missiles off the hands of his receivers. And then, in 1975, a young running back from Jackson, Miss., named Walter Payton was recruited by the Bears and watching my father shiver lost all its appeal.

    Eventually my dad would run out of patience and circulation needed to watch Bears’ games in person but football season never lost its appeal.

    My brother Barry’s mood for the entire week was predicated on what the Bears did each Sunday.  My dad would watch on one TV with whoever wanted to join him, and my mom would watch on another, unable to tolerate my father’s pessimism.

    Typically, as soon as the Bears lost the lead, he’d proclaim, “Well, that’s it.”
    He was not basing this on any deep football analysis but more like a succession of losing seasons.  My mother had another interesting way of watching games, which was to run out of the room whenever the game was possibly nearing a dramatic conclusion.
    This is where I came in handy, offering play-by-play updates to my mother in the bathroom or kitchen or wherever it was she took refuge.

    And you wonder why I’m a touch neurotic.

    Today when I left my house to drive to Green Bay, my son Alec asked me who I picked to win the game tonight, and I told him the Packers.

    “Thank you,” he said dramatically. “You’re always wrong. No offense.”

    None taken, of course. Picking against the Bears comes naturally to me. When I was younger and closer to my life as a fan, these media predictions that were required of me really threw me.

    If I picked the Bears to win and they lost, I was fairly convinced that I was the reason. So I sub-consciously and superstitiously took the opposite tact and picked against them whenever I was unsure.

    And to think fans might have taken these predictions seriously.
    No offense taken.

  • Photographically-challenged

    For homework in my Visual Storytelling class this weekend, I had to shoot and edit a 30-second video sequence. Took me, oh, about 15 hours.

    I know my husband Rick is reading this right now and going, “Uh, excuse me, it took you 15 hours?”

    OK, so he helped. But I should point out that it still took 15 hours.

    It is my belief that every family has at least one person (him) who knows how to handle all the photo- and video-taking duties (but is frankly a little overconfident). And there is one person (me) who is not allowed to go near the camera or video recorder.

    As a result, whenever I am occasionally forced to photograph anything – still or otherwise – a Dramamine is required before viewing. I must admit I even make myself sick with the blurring and jiggling and then, as an added bonus, the video will apparently be over and viewers will be treated to a shot of my shoes as I walk around, talk to people, and maybe put the camera down someplace where the battery can die a peaceful death only to be discovered 15 minutes before some child’s graduation is scheduled to begin.
    It’s not that I can’t appreciate the many benefits of having quality photos and videos in my life. We just don’t happen to have any.

    I am always a little in awe of those people whose houses you walk into and are treated to 25-by-30-feet black and white stills of their children walking barefoot on the beach. I wish I had one of those houses and yes, I realize those photos are professionally taken, but those are also the people with a full library of their children walking barefoot on the beach that they shot themselves.

    Rick and I typically accuse each other of purposely forgetting the camera at important events because neither one of us have the patience to take pictures or video.

    Oh sure, when the kids were babies, we took the requisite 50 photos of them spitting out their first solid food. But soon, their birthday parties were captured with maybe 10 pictures (of other kids, not ours) and there was no video (because the battery was dead).

    My sister-in-law Jodi is one of those people who videotapes an hour and a half straight of her daughter’s violin recital and takes 20 pictures of the food on the Thanksgiving table.  Holidays and vacations ceased being holidays and vacations with Jodi and instead became “the week I spent taking pictures in Florida.”

    Somewhere between this and us is normal, I am sure.

    Part of the reason I am not motivated to be a good photographer, I think, is because I am a terrible subject. I’m the one who makes everyone around me miserable trying to keep me out of pictures because I have bad hair or am sunburned.

    One day, my great grandchildren are going to think their great grandmother, who was born in 1961, came from the old country because there will be no photographic evidence that I exist.

    One year, Rick decided to make a project out of putting photos in albums (for those of you under the age of 35, these are books with sticky pages covered with clear plastic sheets that cover photographs).  He actually did a good job (though he probably could have tossed the doubles of blurry pictures of kids with food on their faces) and we congratulated ourselves on our nice little photo library.

    But then Amanda entered school and each year had to dig up old family pictures for one project or another, and so much for our nice photo library.

    Now we are a modern family with all of our photos taken digitally and stored in our computer.
    You can come over and see all 12 of them any time.

  • 18 kids? 19? Who’s counting?

    I’d like to go on record as saying I love the Duggar’s.

    I don’t think it will surprise anyone who has ever met me or read me that I have, on more than one occasion, tuned into their documentary TV series, “18 Kids and Counting” and like it. And every time they have a new baby, which occurs more often than I clean out my refrigerator, I eagerly read all about it and try to anticipate the baby’s name.

    It’s not as hard as you might think if all you know about the Duggar’s is that they’re the family with 18 kids, soon 19, because all of the children’s names begin with the letter “J.”
    Not to brag, but by age 11, our daughter Amanda had memorized the names of every member of the Duggar family. Her father and I were quite proud. Even with the demands of junior high, she kept up with each new child.

    Even – and this is really impressive — when they appeared to run out of standard “J” names like Joshua and Jill and James and hit a streak of Josiah, Joy-Anna, Jedidiah and Jeremiah.
    I am totally serious when I say this. If I had 19 children – heck, I’ll go so far as to even say 12 – I absolutely could not remember all of their names. And when I say I could not remember, I don’t mean that I’d mistakenly call one child another child’s name. I do that now and I have two kids. No, I mean that I would forget several of my own children’s names and maybe even what they looked like and that I had them.

    And so I marvel, I’m sure along with thousands, maybe even millions of other mothers around the country, at Michelle and Jim Bob and how they manage to keep it together.
    Still, I have wondered as Jon and Kate have been dragged through the underbelly of journalism’s underbelly, and the Octamom has been relegated to freak status, how the Duggar’s have remained unscathed.

    But even as I wondered, I knew. While Jon is gallivanting all over the world with much younger girlfriends before the divorce from the mother of his eight children is final, Michelle and Jim Bob are possibly the cutest couple I have ever seen.
    I mean, watch the show sometimes. They actually look like they like each other (and no, that is not necessarily a requirement in making 18 children. Once again, re: Jon and Kate Plus Eight).

    As for the Octamom, Nadya Suleman really didn’t need to call Katherine Jackson as she did recently to ask if she could come to Michael’s burial because she considered herself to be his “soulmate,” in order for us to question her judgment. That was just a bonus.

    According to Bill Zwecker’s column in the Chicago Sun-Times, Suleman reportedly told Jackson’s mother that going to the funeral would provide her with closure. No word on whether using in-vitro fertilization to add eight babies to six others while unemployed, receiving public assistance with without a partner to help, has given her closure on parenting.

    As for the Duggar’s, I am not passing judgment on anything they do, or – in the case of birth control — don’t do. From all appearances and camera angles, all the  children seem remarkably happy and exceptionally well-groomed. They all play musical instruments – though I have noticed no drums or tubas are included in the family band (cowards) – and they all help with various chores around the house (I believe the infants, however, are exempt from this rule).

    They make their own clothes and are home-schooled, which, in the eyes of many and, OK, me until I educated myself, characterizes them as something akin to cult status.
    They are, in fact, Southern Baptist. Both parents have their real estate licenses. Jim Bob served two terms in the Arkansas House of Representatives and was a candidate for the U.S.
    Senate in 2002. They say they built their 7,000-square foot home by themselves and live off income made by renting commercial property they own debt-free.

    When they were married, Michelle at 17 and Jim Bob at 19, Michelle took birth control pills. Four years later, they decided to start their family and had their first child. Michelle then went back on the Pill, became pregnant and miscarried.

    On their website, they say that after reading of the side effects caused when conceiving while on birth control, they believed “their selfish actions had taken the life of their child” and they prayed for God to teach them to love children as He did. Right after that, Michelle became pregnant with twins and they have not questioned anything that has happened since.

    So why should we?