Saturday, July 22, 2006

Guest Blogger: Nancy Cross

Nancy Hyde, 1975...only thirty years or so before she became Nancy Cross.

Nancy is now married and lives in Evanston with her husband Randall, her cat Millie, and her six-month old puppie Archie (who humped my leg the last time I saw him). After working in the advertising and media businesses for several years, she is now studying shiatsu and working on a screenplay. And oh yeah, she's also my sister-in-law.

Golf on TV? Brilliant!
By Nancy Cross

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I really love watching golf on television. I never used to; in fact I disliked the entire sport. I thought it was an elitist game that only rich, white men could afford to play. That seemed silly to me so I never gave golf a second thought…until I married my husband.

My husband, Randall, is a bit of a golf fanatic. He was a caddy when he was younger and has fond memories of playing golf with his friends growing up. He enjoys his free time by playing golf at least once a weekend if not more. He’s been known to get up at 5:00 on a Saturday morning just for a chance to hit a little, white ball. To me, this seemed highly unusual if not a bit cuckoo, but you know what they say, for better, for worse, blah, blah, blah.

Randall loves golf so much he watches it on TV. Now this seemed absolutely nuts. I was used to a guy who watched “regular sports” on TV like football or basketball, but golf? I once even had a boyfriend who loved to watch baseball on TV, which was painful enough because the game never ends, but golf seemed like a step down in the sports viewing food chain.

I remember early on in our dating relationship when it came up. Some lazy Sunday in July after eating a leisurely breakfast we were trying to figure out what to do. The heat was unbearable. It was the kind of summer day where you didn’t want to go outside for fear of melting in the blazing sun. We decided to go to his loft to watch a movie. It was an easy choice for me because my Chicago apartment didn’t have any air conditioning. When we got there though, instead of putting on a movie, he turned on golf. I dreaded the thought of going home to my horribly hot apartment so I feigned interest to stay as long as possible in his climate controlled house.

I watched a couple of holes, bored out of my skull. I knew the point was getting the ball into the hole but I never knew how much that entailed. I heard words like bogey, par and birdie. They also mentioned things like “that’s a slice to the right” or “there’s a fried egg” and “that’s on line.” After a couple more holes, I couldn’t help but start asking questions. What’s a double bogey? What does par 5 mean? What’s a wood? Randall started to patiently explain the game to me.

That day I learned all about irons and drivers and woods (oh my) but I also learned something even more valuable than all that golf speak. I learned after watching about 30 minutes of golf on TV that you can’t help but fall asleep. Golf was the perfect game to have on TV while taking a nap.

I was lulled by the announcer’s soft, soothing voice. Even when a player shot a hole in one, the announcers never shouted. They didn’t even raise their voices. They spoke in hushed tones usually reserved for the library. You could also hear birds chirping in the background and sometimes a splash of water if the player missed his shot and the ball went into drink as they say. The fans light, polite clapping would rhythmically rock me to the REM phase of sleeping. In fact, I never slept so well in my life.

Now when Randall puts on golf I never once nag him or scold him. In fact, I welcome it because I now know I have about a 5-hour window in which to nap. So I grab my pillow, and sit right down next to him. In about half an hour, I know I’ll be drifting off into Never Never Land without a care in the world.

If you want to read any of my other guest bloggers, click here:

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Half Empty: 10 Questions You Should Never Ask Your Husband

They say that when you hit your 40s, your life is half over. We prefer to think of it as HALF EMPTY. Our age has finally caught up with our outlook on life. Remember, it is possible to turn that frown upside down...but you might pull a muscle.

10 Questions You Should Never Ask Your Husband

By Rick Kaempfer & Dave Stern

A few weeks ago we shared some of our vast knowledge of women to help the younger generation avoid the many mistakes that we’ve made over the years. Many women wrote to us to say that we were on the money with our assessments, and really appreciated our gentle jabbing of our fellow man.

Think about this: as well as we understand women, we understand men even better. Especially married men.

That’s why we present this common sense advice for the wives of America to help them better understand and appreciate their husbands. Follow our advice and you’ll find that many, if not all, of the arguments in your marriage will disappear immediately. No need to thank us. It’s a public service.

There really is only one simple rule that all wives should adhere to: Don’t Ask Too Many Questions. Most problems start here. Simply eliminate the following ten questions from your daily life and enjoy your newfound serenity.

1) What you are thinking about?

When you see us looking pensive, seemingly pondering the mysteries of life, you can’t help yourself, can you? You simply have to know what we’re thinking about. When we say “nothing,” you think we must be harboring some deep dark secret. Actually, no. We’re thinking about nothing. We can really do that. In fact, we do it all the time.

2) Are you really going to wear that shirt?

What was your first tip off? The fact that we PUT IT ON OUR TORSO?

3) How do you like my new haircut?

We hate it. It’s true. We always hate your haircuts at first because we don’t like change. Within a few weeks we won’t want you to change it again. Ask us then.

4) Are you using my bath gel and conditioner?

First off, do you really want to know? Second, since when is indulging in an energizing body cleanser with natural fruit extracts a crime? If we can’t be free to gently wash away impurities without the drying effects of soap, the terrorists have won. Also, bald(ing) guys like to revitalize every chance they get, cut us some slack.

5) When will this game be over?

We don’t have control over that. If we did, we would be on the phone to the dugout whenever we could. “Um, listen, Ozzie, if you don’t mind, tell your guys to swing at a few more pitches. The wife is getting restless.”

6) What do you mean by, “It’s Fine”?

When we say, “It’s Fine” it means that it’s fine. Some things are better left unsaid. If you make tofu egg salad and ask us what we think; if we answer “It’s Fine,” please just drop it. If you think we can determine that there was too much Anise or not enough Arrowroot Powder, you don’t even know who we are.

7) Does the baby have a full diaper?

Look, we love you, and we love this child, but the only way we’ll ever answer this question honestly is if we suddenly leave the room for no apparent reason. Then you have your answer.

8) Do you want me to drive?

The answer to this question is always “NO.” Period. It’s not that we don’t like the way you drive...although, wow, you really can’t drive, can you? Don’t worry, you have other good qualities.

9) What did I just say?

This kind of “gotcha” game isn’t becoming to an intellectual like you. Are you implying that we weren’t listening? Well, that’s just insulting. Now go on with your monologue. We were captivated.

10) Which paint do you like better for the family room, egg shell 212 or egg shell 311?

WE DON”T CARE. You know why? Because there is no difference! If you show us two swatches and we point to one and say, “that one,” it’s because we’re hoping beyond all hope that that’s the one you like. If it’s not, just pick the one you like. We’re not going to know the difference.

I’m sure some of you might have some other questions that should never be asked. Feel free to contribute them by clicking on the word “comments” below, or by clicking on the e-mail link at the top right hand side of this blog.

If you want to read previous “Half Empty” columns, click here:

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Suburban Man: The Terrible Threes

By Rick Kaempfer

Every new parent fears “the terrible twos.” As soon as parents bring that precious pooping machine home from the hospital, they are warned...”Just wait until he’s two. They don’t call them the terrible two’s for nothing.”

Yes they do.

Don’t get me wrong. Two can be a tough age. Your baby has just gone from an irresistibly cute toddler learning to walk and say a few words, to a demanding brat. That can be a tough transition. But now that I’m going through this the third time, I’m more convinced than ever that the twos are nowhere near as terrible as the threes.

Two year olds are merely demanding and whiny. Three year olds are sociopaths.

I know that sounds a little strong, but think of it this way. Three year olds are mature enough to know what is wrong, but they do it anyway because they simply don’t care. That’s almost the textbook definition of sociopath.

My own darling three year old son Sean is a perfect example. He’s cute (“put him in commercials” cute), and he knows it. At my grandmother’s nursing home, the old women literally fight each other to get close to him. When they get near him, he flaps his long eyelashes a few times, looks at them with his piercing baby blue eyes, flashes them his dazzling white smile, and says something he knows he shouldn’t say...

“Do you have any candy?”

If these women could still walk, they would sprint to their rooms. As it is, they do a pretty fair walker-shuffle.

“Sean,” I scold. “It’s not nice to ask people for candy.”

“Oh don’t be so hard on him,” they all say.

Cute three-year-olds quickly discover they have allies against Mom and Dad in almost every public situation. They also discover that there are no limits to what they can get away with when Mom and Dad are not around. Within a few minutes, a three year old can sniff out any person’s hot buttons—and start pressing.

Grandmothers are especially susceptible to this; even my German mother. Sean has discovered that all rules can be dispensed with at the drop of a hat if he says the magic words to her: “I’m hungry.”

The food request never goes unanswered. By the time I pick him up after a visit, he has eaten 10-15 meals. He’s also jumped on the furniture, broken a few dishes, escaped down the street, and left a trail of crumbs behind him—all without consequences.

That’s why being the bad cop of a three year old is a particularly thankless job. Policing this behavior in public is almost impossible. Society is not on your side. They are on the side of the cute, blinking, “aw shucks I’m adorable” child. I’ve seen the look from strangers. You know what look I’m talking about—the “let the boy have a gigantic bag of M&Ms, it won’t kill him” look.

So I pick and choose my battles in public. Instead, I focus on policing him at home. Only at home can I reject his ridiculous demands like “Mom has to put on my shoes” without getting the look. Only at home will an outrageous comment like “You’re not the boss of me” get the reaction it deserves. This is the place where negotiations end, rules and boundaries are established, and manners are drummed home. Unfortunately, this is also the place where his true self comes out all day long—and that fake charm is a distant memory.

In a way, that’s a shame. I fell in love with it too. He’s a cutie.

But while I really do miss those batting eyelashes, my tough love approach has helped me discover that I was absolutely right about his manipulative machinations. One day when he was crying about having to follow one of my draconian rules—like no playing with the steak knives—I calmly told him about the newest house rule.

”There’s no crying in the kitchen,” I said. Sean looked up at me mid-cry. When he saw I wasn’t mad, and I wasn’t cracking a smile, he took it seriously. And wouldn’t you know it? The little bugger stopped crying. Just like that.

I couldn’t believe that actually worked. I’m in my eleventh year of parenting, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that fake crying, yet it had never even occurred to me to officially ban it. I’ve since told him it’s also against the rules to cry in the car, on the couch, in the bathroom, and in the backyard. Each time I told him the rule, he stopped crying immediately. Even the times I thought it was real crying. Even in public.

Who knew?

Maybe it takes three tries to get this three-year-old thing right.

On the other hand, maybe I just got lucky.

If you want to read any of the other Suburban Man columns, click here:

Sunday, July 16, 2006

SHORE MAGAZINE ARTICLE: Best Festival in Illinois

In the latest issue of Shore Magazine, I wrote short little pieces about the best festivals in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan (as chosen by the readers of SHORE MAGAZINE). You can see the online version at This week we'll focus on Illinois. Next week, Michigan.

(From the July 2006 issue)

Best Festival in Illinois—Taste of Chicago

It draws millions of people from all over the Midwest every year, so it should be no surprise that “Taste of Chicago” is the readers’ pick for “Best Festival in Illinois.” “Taste of Chicago” showcases the best of Chicago in a beautiful location (Grant Park by Buckingham Fountain) at the perfect time of year (late June-early July). In a city with many big tourist draws, “Taste of Chicago” is still Chicago’s premiere event.

“We have over three hundred different menu items, everything from Chicago specialties to exotic foods like alligator to some really outstanding ethnic cuisine,” city Special Events spokesperson Cindy Gatziolis told us. “But don’t forget we also have six entertainment areas with top named talent, and the entertainment is free.” Among the entertainers for the 26th annual “Taste of Chicago” this summer were the O’Jays, Glen Campbell, Jo Dee Messina, Ray Davies, Train, Macy Gray, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Dennis DeYoung.

And while the entertainers bring millions of attendees each year, the biggest draw is a different kind of show altogether: the spectacular July 3rd fireworks display.

“We never miss the fireworks,” reader Bill Nicholson told us. “They get better every year.”