Category Archives: Musings

What I found in the shrubbery

A year ago this day, I was in my front room — where I am now as I type this — thinking to myself how much I enjoyed the quiet. The day before, the neighborhood had been filled with the din of the Downer Classic bike race, which essentially turned my condo building’s front yard into a street festival. (Side note, this is super convenient when you get thirsty for a beer.) Turns out the quiet was a good thing, because the noise I heard next would not have been audible without it.

It was a plaintive mewing sound, coming from somewhere in the shrubbery under my balcony. The instant I heard it — I’ll never forget this — I thought two things.

1. It is a stray kitten (picture in my head of incredibly cute fluffy ball with sad eyes).

2. It is Jools reincarnated and coming to visit me (picture in my head of cat who died two years earlier).

Now, Thought #1 is reasonable enough. However, I cannot explain Thought #2 reasonably. My personal theory is that I was missing Jools a lot more than I realized. As some of you may know, Jools was my petulant roommate for 20 years and the only cat I had ever hung out with. She had been with me through two states, four towns, five employers, five homes, one temporary home (thanks, Suzanne) and one fiance. She had been the most consistent living being with me over that stretch of time.

This is Jools

This is Jools.

Anyway, after hearing another mew, I went outside to check the shrubbery.

Several of my neighbors were already there, and I immediately recognized this tableau: respectable adults on hands and knees pleading with a creature in the bushes. I had done it quite a few times with the aforementioned Jools. Of course, I joined my neighbors, crouched into the landscaping, and spotted the source of the mewing. I was startled to see that the little forlorn fuzz ball was a white-brown-gray tabby just like Jools. Same eyelinered eyes. Same masked face.

Readers,  I sense you know where this is going. Long and short of it, the fuzz ball is now permanently part of my household.


The fuzz ball, in my bathroom.

At first there was a joint-custody arrangement with Morgan and Ellen, two of my wonderful neighbors who actually know some things about cats. We shared care-taking duties while we tried to assess the fuzz ball’s health (just fine) and find her owner (no luck). We decided to name her Georgia, after the name of our condo building, The Georgetown. But Morgan and Ellen were not in a position to take her in, long-term. So I caved.

GeorgieonscreenIn the time that she has been with me Georgia, a.k.a. Georgie, has taught me that she is not Jools. For one thing, Miss Jools, as I keep reminding her, never ever walked on my countertops, scratched the upholstery, put her head into every mug and glass left behind in the house, climbed up the screen windows, walked across my keyboard as I type, or scattered her litter all over the room. Georgie has wasted no time putting distance between herself and her predecessor, despite some similarities in their appearance. OK. I get it Georgie.

On the other hand, she does crawl into my lap at times.  I like that. And she plays a game with me, where she runs down the hallway, crouches, and looks back, which means “Throw that toy mouse NOW,” which I usually do. And you should see her jump! She is quite the athlete.

So anyway, it’s been a year, and I think we’re making it work. If you are curious, look for #tuesdaykitten every week on my Facebook page, I post a weekly update about her.

Thanks, Morgan and Ellen, for helping Georgie get back to health those first few weeks, and for the team effort in finding a home for the fuzz ball in the bushes.

And thanks, Georgie, for teaching me, once again, that cats do not conform to my personal expectations. Ever. But don’t blame me if I keep wishing.

Georgie on the bookshelf, looking for trouble.

Georgie on the bookshelf, looking for trouble.





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Binge-viewing bonanza, part 2

My binge-viewing habit started with movies. It was a snowy weekend while I was living in a little town just north of Niagara Falls. I didn’t have many friends at the time, so naturally I went to the video rental store. I still recall that blissful, wintry weekend of binging on the Godfather movies.

So I was surprised to see so few movies recommended for my binge-viewing list. Maybe it’s because you have to go back a ways for the really good stuff, and that stuff isn’t top-of-mind. (Facebook favors the top-of-mind.) And it’s true there is an embarrassment of riches on television these days. But I did receive a handful, including one fabulous trove of suggestions from my old friend and colleague Joe Vince. Anyway, here goes.

First, the paltry list from my non-Joe friends:

  • Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors trilogy: “Bleu”, “Bialy”, “Blanc”
  • The Harry Potter series
  • The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, ending with The Hobbit and then a trip to theater to see “The Desolation of Smaug”

All worthwhile films for sure, but a tiny selection. Joe’s list makes up for it. Here goes (I am repeating it verbatim):

Neo-Noir by Decade: Start with Lee Marvin in “Point Blank” (1967), then “The Long Goodbye” (1973), throw in Michael Mann’s “Thief” (1980) and Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight” (1997) and end with “Brick” (2005) and “Killing Them Softly” (2012)

Orson Welles (Minus “Citizen Kane” and “The Magnificent Ambersons”): “The Third Man,” “Lady From Shanghai,” “Mr. Arkadin,” “Touch of Evil” and “F For Fake.” If you’re feeling particularly game, end it with the animated “Transformers: The Movie” from the 1980s.

My Top 12 Movie Christmases: All of these are set during the season or have excellent Christmas scenes. “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang,” The Thin Man,” “GoodFellas,” “The Godfather,” “Die Hard,” “Boogie Nights,” “The Apartment,” “Brazil,” “Go,” “Lethal Weapon,” “Trading Places,” and “LA Confidential.”

“The Story of Film: An Odyssey”: OK, this is one thing, a 15-part British documentary series (each episode is an hour) that’s on Netflix and is phenomenal. I binge-watched this earlier this year, and it was a revelation. Biggest downside: The narrator’s voice is haunting, and I don’t mean that as a good thing. He’s Irish, but his accent and inflections are quite possibly the most discordant in the history voice-over narration. Not enough to make me not recommend the series, but enough to fill my sleeping hours with dread. A the kids say, tho, your mileage may vary.

Happy Holidays, everyone! See you next year.

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Binge-viewing bonanza! Or, what I am doing over my holiday vacation

I am about to experience two blissful weeks of Living Lightly. No holiday travel, four days off work (plus two weekends), barely any holiday parties, and a lovely low-stress boyfriend who does a lot of the cooking. When it dawned on me that this would be the case, I naturally thought: BINGE VIEWING.

I’ve got the time, I’ve got the couch, I’ve got the excuse (super cold and snowy outside). Just one catch. I have run out of ideas. I set up a binge-viewieng wish list a while back, and I’ve gone through most of it. What’s left is either outdated or, well, at the bottom of the list.

So I decided to crowd-source:


I was not quite prepared for the response. I received roughly 70 comments and 98 recommendations in all. And boy are they an eclectic mix.

I was so overwhelmed by the choices — and my friends’ enthusiasm — that I felt I should share. I think it’s a list that will help humankind. Consider it my holiday gift to you, my way of preventing you from wasting your time on untested BBC series, or questionable Showtime productions, or B-list HBO programming.

But first — a few observations.

The number-one most frequently recommended binge-viewing series: House of Cards (12 recommendations). Almost no one specified original BBC version versus Netflix, but given how recently it was promoted on Netflix I’m gonna guess the Kevin Spacey version was the impetus.

This was followed by:

  • Orange is the New Black (7 recommendations)
  • Downtown Abbey (6)
  • Homeland (6)
  • Game of Thrones (5)
  • Scandal (4)

And then it drops off.

My personal favorites were the surprises — lesser-known British series (thanks, Jeff, for tipping me off about Mapp & Lucia), or old gems (Twin Peaks!) or newer options I had overlooked (Portlandia and American Horror Story look pretty great). On the other hand, I am kind of shocked at some oversights (Rome! True Blood! Battlestar Galactica! People, come on!). And of course, there is a natural filter in that these come from my Facebook friends, and therefore from people inclined to have tastes, cultural references, and quirks similar to mine, for better or worse.

So here’s the list. I am breaking it into two parts: TV shows and movies. I am starting with TV shows, and am bold-facing ones that I have seen and can recommend. They are in alphabetical order with the number of recommendations listed in parentheses (if more than  one). Check back in the next day or two for the movies. Now, the only thing I need to do is pick what I’ll binge on tomorrow. Yikes.

Arrested Development (2)
Better Off Ted (2)
The Blacklist
Boardwalk Empire
Breaking Bad (3)
Burn Notice
Doctor Who (2)
Call the Midwife
Deadwood (2)
Downton Abbey (6)
The Following
Fresh Meat
Friday Night Lights (2)
Game of Thrones (5)
The Hollow Crown
Homeland (6)
House of Cards (12) (I saw the BBC version)
The IT Crowd
The Killing (2)
Life on Mars (the original British version) and its spinoff Ashes to Ashes
Mad Men
Mapp & Lucia
Monarch of the Glen
Nurse Jackie (2)
Once Upon a Time
Orange is the New Black (7)
Orphan Black (2)
Realtree’s Monster Bucks XVII
Scandal (4)
Sex in the City
Six Feet Under (2)
Slings and Arrows
Sons of Anarchy
The Top of the Lake
Treme (2)
Tudors (3)
Twin Peaks
The Wallender series
The White Queen
West Wing
The Wire


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A publisher’s reflections: Life in a post-panic world

I’m in my fourth decade in the publishing business. From the first week I set foot in the door of this occupation, I’ve been hearing alarms about the death of fill-in-the-blank. With all due respect, I’m over it.

Newspapers, magazines, books, the written word – they are not dying. They’re sharing the audience with more options. The way I see it, hanging on to the discussion about what’s going away is a distraction from the hard work of moving forward. I’d rather be in conversations about the fun stuff going on and how to be part of it.

I went to Oxford, Miss., last week to attend a conference hosted by The University of Mississippi’s Meek School of Journalism and New Media. Billed as a gathering of industry folks “looking for solutions to today’s publishing problems,” it’s called the ACT Experience — Amplify, Clarify, Testify. It’s a little like a publishing PechaKucha except each presenter gets 30 minutes instead of 6 minutes, 40 seconds.

I hadn’t been to an organized gathering of publishing people in a while. Following trends via news feeds and e-newsletters is hardly a substitute, and I was looking forward to an actual 3-D discussion. I couldn’t wait to hear from a former publisher of The New Yorker, the multimedia director at Vanity Fair, the co-founder of Blindfold magazine, and the creative minds behind one of the biggest women’s magazine in the Netherlands, among other folks doing very cool things in the magazine world. I was, however, wary of the theme: “Never Underestimate the Power of Print in a Digital Age.” Would we be recycling the death-of-print conversation again?

Thankfully, no. What happened instead was invigorating and encouraging. While some of the issues and admonitions were familiar, there was a different undercurrent. As I listened to one speaker after another, the ideas shifted fluidly from print to digital to QR codes to mobile to watermarking to . . . whatever. There was a lot of talk about storytelling, content, passion, quality. It wasn’t platform-agnostic so much as platform-pluralistic.

BoSacks holds forth.

By the end I was thinking that, after all these years, maybe we are ready to get on with things. And as I’ve thought about it since, I think maybe a corner has been turned, one where we folks in the business of producing paid content can quit obsessing over what we are losing grip of and invest our energy in getting a grip.

I scribbled pages of notes while I sat in the auditorium. Here’s a small sample:

“Loss of dominance is not equivalent to death, it just feels that way.” — Bob Sacks a.k.a. BoSacks, the inimitable media blogger.

“The human story by terrific writers wins any battle in any market.” – Michael Capuzzo, who with his wife Teresa publishes Mountain Home magazine.

“Mediocre content is fading fast in print.” — Bob Sacks again, warning us that there’s no room for so-so print content anymore. His advice: “Stop whining about the death of print, which isn’t happening, and get back to the business of producing content people want.” The future is all about fewer, better, more expensive print products.

And here’s my favorite quote of all from the Act 3 Experience:

“Make something worth printing.”

This comes from a third-generation printer. His name is David Fry, chief technology officer at Fry Communications, and he was one of several printing-industry representatives who were talking about ways their business is adapting in today’s marketplace.

If it’s good enough, if it’s something your customer wants, it’s worth the tactile, permanent experience of print. It’s worth paying for and holding on to. “Make something worth printing.” It kind of all boils down to that, doesn’t it?

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Dear readers, Let’s talk. Thank you, Me

Dear Readers,

In recent weeks and months I’ve become aware of something troubling. It’s an issue I’ve noticed while communicating with acquaintances regarding items of mutual interest. Say, meeting up to discuss a volunteer project, or sharing a job opportunity with our buddies, or organizing a group activity. Things like that. In most cases e-mail, that modern-day curse and necessity, is the means of communication.

Now, I do not check or write e-mails on a mobile device. Given my life and work circumstances, using a good old tethered keyboard has worked out fine for me, plus it keeps my obsessive-compulsive tendencies under control.

Now, I understand that most people I know are not like me. They might be surreptitiously checking their e-mails during a meeting, or while they’re walking to their car, or when they have a spare minute between shuttling the kids from school to soccer practice. I get that.

But is it so hard to insert a few little human touches before hitting “send”?

Call me touchy, but when I write this:

“Hello! What do you think about inviting Jane? She seemed interested in joining the discussion. Let me know and have a great day, D.” (108 characters, 18 seconds)

And I get this:

“Whatever you decide.”

Or even:


I let out a sad sigh. I feel a little less like a friend, a little more like a task.

I can skip the niceties in plenty of circumstances (“Fire!”), and especially when texting (“Running late be there in 10 minutes”). I’m not an unreasonable person. But my communication DNA always defaults to something I learned in 2nd grade.

Salutation / Body / Closing / Signature.

The elements of a letter. I’ve always liked them. They are a formula for making life clear, human and civil. They embody a micro-life-philosophy.

Hello You, / Here’s my message. / Thanks, / Me.

Is this asking so much?

Warm regards,



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What I am doing this weekend

The only vinyl I never sent to the secondhand store.

I am listening (again) to Bruce Springsteen’s speech at SXSW and then downloading every song he references, familiar and obscure. And tracing, like he did, where I was in life when I first heard Dylan, Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, the Beatles, Curtis Mayfield, James Brown, Roy Orbison, Elvis, Woody Guthrie, Public Enemy … and Bruce Springsteen.

It is a poignant thing to be doing — reflecting on the songs of the times I grew up in, and on which ones grabbed me by the throat. Poignant but also joyful. Which is kind of a good way to sum up Bruce. Don’t you think?

Here’s a great NPR link that’ll help me out with my project: Listen: At SXSW, Bruce Springsteen On The Meaning Of Music : The Record : NPR.

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The Deep-Seated Meaning of the American Sofa : NPR

Damn you, NPR! You’ve reminded me of yet another idea I’ve had for a long time  and never did anything about:  The Deep-Seated Meaning Of The American Sofa.  (Good headline by the way.)

Read Linton Weeks’ story, it’s an intriguing look at an under-explored aspect of our lives. I’ve always felt that the sofa (or couch) has important psychic meaning for individuals, and if you get someone talking about their personal sofa stories you’ll learn an awful lot about them. Sofas are significant witnesses to — and often participants in — every phase of our lives, at various times shaping and reflecting our ideas about nurturing, status, family, relationships, sex, money and culture. In my time on earth I have experienced and learned many things through  …

  • Sofa beds
  • Sofas covered in plastic
  • The It’s-a-Futon-But-It’ll-Do Trend
  • The ridiculous Gargantuan Sofa Trend
  • The uncomfortable Post-Modern Sofa Trend
  • The annual summer-break Student-Sofa-Disgorgement Trend
  • Sofa phobias
  • Basement sofas
  • Eating on sofas
  • Boyfriends on sofas
  • Houseguests sleeping on sofas
  • Pets shedding on sofas
  • Tears shed on sofas (my own, others’)
  • The sofa-in-coffee-shop trend
  • First hand-me-down sofa (received, given)
  • First sofa bought with my own earnings
  • First Bona Fide Adult Sofa
  • People who, when given the chance, will / will not take the third spot on a sofa
  • Sofa napping
  • Sofa depressions (literal, mental, figurative)
  • Sofa mistakes (OMG it won’t fit through the door!)
  • Sofa remorse (why why why did I go with a pattern?)
  • Unwelcome roommate sofas
  • Losing things in sofas
  • Finding things in sofas

So,  I am thinking … Sofa Story Corps. I gotta get on that.


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Thoughts on a walk

A collection from the last two weeks.

1. I don’t get how a dog can pass up a scratch behind the ears for a game of catch the ball.

2. Bad sign: I see something in the distance that can be one of two things: (a) A drift of snow that’s resisting the warm temperatures. (b) A drift of white plastic grocery bags that have come loose from the trash.

3. If I were the artist who designed that post-moderny, aluminum-ribbon lawn sculpture, I think I’d be upset that someone had strung Christmas lights on it.

4. My walk on Saturday:

Sonoma Coast State Beach, Calif. Temperatures in the low 60s.

5. My walk today:

Lake Park, Milwaukee, Wisc. Temperatures in the low 30s.

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Last day at the Loyalty

125 years: a place where people went to work. Soon to be: a place for people to go on vacation.

Today is my last day working at The Loyalty Building, a.k.a. the 611 Building, a hulking, huggable mass of granite on the corner of Broadway and Michigan in downtown Milwaukee. It is 125 years old, and it was built at the behest of some hulking, I’m guessing not-so-huggable scions who founded the Northwestern Mutual Insurance Co. It is destined to become a boutique(ish) hotel.

I don’t know. It just depresses me that a place where men wearing bowlers, bow ties and well-shined shoes once smoked pipes and stored big piles of cash in private safes will soon become a place for Harley-riding, Summerfest-going tourists wearing unseemly shorts. But I tend to overdramatize things.

Let me tell you what it is like to work in a building conceived before there was e-mail, drywall, halogen lighting and air conditioning. Let me tell you before we all forget the sensation of eight hours a day in a functional building constructed when craftsmanship was a living breathing necessary solution to everyday life.

First of all: light. When you first walk into this heavy, brooding structure it’s easy to expect a dark place. But no! Behold the atrium:

In the atrium, looking up.

Look at that thing! Back in the day, it was a sensible solution because it captured a natural resource — sunlight — which was very helpful before electricity was a common option. I love that wherever you wander, even if you turn a secretive little corner tucked under the eaves, there are windows built into the interior to capture and extend the reach of the light.

A view from my office space, looking out into the atrium.

The offices I have worked in, on the fourth floor, wrap around two sides of the atrium. If you aren’t lucky enough to sit in a cubicle with an exterior window, you can easily find a cubicle with an interior window. Sometimes, I think the interior windows are better — less glare, and no dramatic shifts of light as the sun moves. You can tell that every piece of glass was originally designed to swing on hinges, and I can only imagine what kind of cross ventilation this place could get on a hot summer day, especially so close to the river and the lake.

The windows, by the way, are massive. I first started working here in the grayness of January, and my colleagues had to suffer through my exclamations about the light that poured like glitter through those tall stretches of glass. I kept pulling up the Venetian blinds to within an inch of their lives, probably blinding everyone in the process. Sorry, guys. But what a luxury after all the shoeboxes I’ve worked in.

You can peek out one of the office windows and see who might be on their way to visit.

And the staircase! I don’t know how I’ll ever get used to a stairwell again. The Loyalty’s grand marble steps got me ready for my day. Some were worn down in spots — a quiet message from working stiffs who had gone before me. I could take in the scope of the day as I looked up, around and into the other offices. I could feel part of a community of office-dom. I always liked that stair walk.

Sitting in my cubicle, I had a kick-ass view of the Grain Exchange (Mackie Building) across the street. Sometimes when one of us wanted to know where David or Cris or Tim was, we’d just stand up, look through the atrium, and see them in a meeting room across the way. Very handy — and a nice metaphor about transparency in the workplace.

I liked the way the Loyalty’s designers used curves to offset the squareness, and set the patterned floors askew. Speaking of floors — I never tired of those incredible tiles. The window sills were deep and perfect for plants. Wacky copper newel posts that looked like harlequin hats marked my way as I climbed the staircase. A mail chute ran like a ribbon down all five floors and was still in service. The doors were heavy and substantial when you entered a room, and left.

In a building like this, moment, purpose, and thought are implicit in every space. Nothing about it is a toss-off. It makes a person think: I am not a toss-off, either.

You can read some things about the building’s history here and here. But you may be disappointed. I spent much too much time looking around the internet for information, and ultimately didn’t find the kind of history I wanted — who used to work here? What was it like to be a woman here when the place was new? Who got fired, who screwed up, who got famous, who laid the foundation for things we now take for granted? What’s the story behind that amazing tile? Whose hands made the stair railings so smooth and the brass doorknobs so shiny?

I never, ever wondered any of those things working inside a cinder-block office building.

How can you think boring thoughts when you walk on floors like this every day? Goodbye, Loyalty Building. I hope your new owners take good care of you!



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Am I now a Midwesterner?

Evidence to suggest yes: Shameless lack of judgment while attending Wisconsin State Fair.

I was at a social/business event last night with people who had gathered from all around the country. I am always intrigued about first impressions of a place, so I got to talking about first impressions of Milwaukee (short answer: the conference rooms are about the same so far). All this where-ya-from talk led to a moment of shock for me.

“So how long have you lived in Wisconsin?”

“Um …” (doing the math in my head) “… OH MY GOD.”

“What, what? Did you forget something?”

“Twenty years!”


“I have. Lived in Wisconsin. For 20 years.”

It just kinda crept up on me, I guess.

I tossed and turned last night thinking about this. I always considered myself someone raised in New Jersey who moved around a bit and then decided to live in the midwest. But when you live in a place for 20 years, maybe it’s time to grow out of that.

How long does it take? Am I now a Midwesterner?


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