New Tires

Like most other Midwesterners, I have greeted the new year by indulging in typical January fantasies.

I have given dream space to whisking away to a warm-weather destination (within three-hours by plane) or a high-end spa (thirty minutes by Uber) where I could feel peaceful and pampered, where my biggest worry would be how much to tip.

But before I let my mind travel too far down this road, I considered how much of my Christmas bonus would be left after bills and budgeting for my February property tax installment. (Like I said, I’m a Midwesterner.)

I also thought about my car, a 2013 Toyota, approaching 40,000 miles. It needed care and attention, too.

This past week, while the roads were dry, and my workload was small, I made an appointment for my car. Whatever it needed, I told myself.

It was no surprise when the mechanic/manager, after dropping off the car at 8:00 AM, called me back at 10:00 with an estimate. Donatella Corolla (I have a tradition of naming my cars) did need an oil change, a few different types of filters, and a set of tires.

There was no question about having the work done, no issue about making the purchase, but I found myself contemplating the meaning of the expenditure. I didn’t want to frame it in terms of what fun thing I couldn’t allocate my cash to because I HAD to pay for car maintenance.

I remember an old theory of sales and marketing that basically says that people don’t spend money on things, on innovative electronics, or fancy threads. The bill for an incredible twelve-course meal cannot be broken into dollars per course.

People don’t buy things, or even experiences. People spend money on how they think the thing will make them feel, on some quality they want that they associate with owning the thing or having the experience.

Status, being the first on their block (or in their office), youth, a romantic notion of uniqueness or being a sort of rebel – these are examples of what people actually want to BUY.

So, I asked myself what I was hoping to get from the well rated, but modest, set of all-weathers.

I liked the fact that no one could accuse me of negligence or of being irresponsible.

I used to have a mechanic friend who would joke with me about the ploys a manufacturer would use to create income for their dealers’ service centers.

Do you know what to do when this light on you dashboard goes on? he would ask rhetorically... Cover the light with electrical tape.

But the car’s original tires were rated for 40,000 miles, and 40,000 is 40,000. This was not a case of a manufacturer setting up their aftermarket. Wear and tear is real.

I considered greater control and safety — confidence — as the qualities I hoped to acquire. And, in the most direct sense, this was true. I don’t like winter driving to begin with, and new tires makes the prospect of getting somewhere on slick roads much easier to live with.

But in conducting this little what’s in it for me exercise, I reminded myself that all the decisions I make are made in support of my best interests. It behooves me to take time and contemplate what actions are really in my best interest in different situations.

I’ve made greater self-care my theme and goal for the year. I have exercise goals and social goals, and goals related to creative projects I want to re-visit, if not finish. But, ultimately, I want to consider every decision, every action, from the lens of self-care.

Yes, my tires were rated to need replacement at this time, but I actually made the purchase because I WANTED TO TAKE GOOD CARE OF MYSELF.

Being aware that popping for new treads for my travels is in line with my larger goal –- taking good care of myself — is no small thing.


Shelter From the Storm

I have been making progress on rehabbing my arm and hand although recovery has been going slower than I hoped. I dislocated my right shoulder over six weeks ago.

I can now open flip top cans and turn handles on most water faucets. I can use my right hand well enough to log into my work computer (simultaneously pressing CONTROL-ALT-DELETE with one hand is pretty much impossible).

I still can’t change my bed linens myself, drive, or use cutlery.

Most improvements have happened after I started doing occupational and physical therapy. I decided to go twice a week for a while.

I walk about 1 mile to a nearby Athletico where Nancy B. sees me. Sometimes, the exercises I do make me feel like I’m in kindergarten (I will pound Silly Putty or attempt to hold a fistful of rice or marbles to retrain my grip). 

One day last week, shortly after I began to walk home after an appointment, it started raining. I was several blocks from the Athletico already but not even halfway home. At first, I thought it was just a summer rain and I could splash through it. Then I realized it would be a significant downpour.

I gazed down the street where I was walking and tried to identify trees or roofs overhanging porches, spots where I could stand for a few minutes and not feel the bullets of rain which were now increasing in size and intensity.

I saw a brown brick three-story building where the main doorway was nestled between two columns of apartments stacked on each side. It had only a small overhang, but it was out of the wind.

As the rain began to come down harder, I ran there, stepping up one short step and plastered my body as close to the door as possible.

I don’t know what compelled me to try, but I put my left hand around the knob and turned it. To my surprise, it wasn’t locked.

Conscious that I was intruding, but amazed at my good fortune, I stepped into the small square of hallway and got out of the rain.

I noticed discarded flyers for local pizza joints on the black and white tiled floor and looked at  the broken brass colored mailboxes on one wall. I think I smelled reefer coming from somewhere in the building. Definitely not an upscale residence.

I stared out the glass windows of the wooden door and watched the street and sidewalk quickly fill up with water. OMG, was I lucky!

I thought about Hurricane Harvey and the rain that had been falling on Houston without stop for days, with the expectation that more rainfall and flooding was still to come.

While trying to be extra quiet so as not to call attention to my presence, I almost cried. I thought about Texas flood victims and, since I was walking home from physical therapy, I thought about my injury.

I considered my good fortune, to find this dry spot for waiting the storm out, and I marveled at my own mind; how I was able to move between focused-thinking to a more wide-screen view of things, between reacting and planning.

When I fell in my kitchen six weeks ago, the first thing I did when I stood up was turn off the stove (which I was running to when I tripped). Then I reached for my cell phone and thought about who I could call. Which friends could drive me to the ER? Days and weeks later, I had to deal with my situation as long-term. This required a different way of thinking.

The day after my accident, I made arrangements for a neighbor to take care of my dog for a week. I created a small pool of friends who could drive me for treatments or to the store. I asked for help from people who could take out my garbage or help me shower. A few weeks later, I did research and made arrangements for physical therapy.

I know that my personal rehabbing will take a long time and understand that there’s no comparison to the loss and suffering experienced by flood refugees. Still, as I hear news reports on Harvey victims and as Floridians brace for Irma, I hope residents can take some comfort from the thoughts that filled my mind as I stared out the window of the mystery apartment building hallway I found myself in. I was reminded to:

  • Trust God; my subconscious and my intuition. I don’t know why I identified this building and turned the doorknob, but following these impulses kept me dry.
  • Feel connected and think of others. It’s easy to feel challenges and suffering are things that must be faced alone, but reaching out to others, with my needs or with my ability to help, made a difficult event a valuable part of my human experience.
  • Be patient. Be grateful for my good mind and its ability to react to what’s needed in the moment and to engage in long-term planning.

Being able to both navigate a long road to recovery and find immediate shelter from a storm is no small thing.

Ahhhhh! Thanks

I’m not one to fuss about my appearance. I don’t spend a lot of money on clothes or haircuts.

I don’t read fashion magazines that feature List-icles, short articles with How-To instructions like 10 Ways to Arch Your Brow.

But the other week, I was taken over by some sort of summer fever. I knew I would be mostly wearing sandals for months and decided to indulge in a pedicure.

OMG. Where should I start? I asked myself. I hit YELP and other online resources for places in my neighborhood that didn’t require much advanced notice and didn’t cost too much. I looked at a couple reviews, too.

I decided on a place in Lincoln Square. I made an appointment in one hour (Like I said, it was a spur of the moment impulse). I found the place to be clean and BUSY, surprisingly busy for 11:00 on a weekday morning.

There was a drying station in the front of the salon, near the register (small blowers for hands and feet), and stacks of those magazines I referred to as being full of beauty list-icles. I also observed one of the nail techs, filling up Day-Glo, jelly-like baskets with flip-flops.

Like an over-enthusiastic hostess in a Tiki lounge, a petite woman of some flavor of Asian extraction greeted me; the manager, no doubt. She laughed when I confessed I had a pedicure only one other time in my life.

She introduced me to my tech who then led me to a wail of polish colors. Considering my lack of experience, I surprised myself that I seemed to know what I wanted.

“I want red. Not orangey red, or wine colored. Dark red…”

I was led over to an oversized massage chair with a small, floor-istalled basin at the front. She instructed me to make myself comfortable and showed me how to work the controls on the massage chair while I put my feet in the basin.

I ended up turning the power on the chair off. I just wanted to focus on my feet.

She opened a plastic bag sealed kit as she began to run water into my foot tub.


One foot at a time…

I dipped one foot in the swirling water while she worked on my other foot. She removed the hard skin with a sort of pumice stone. She clipped my nails, laughing at how long they were. She put exfoliant and lotion on my lower legs and massaged my calves.

I tried not to stare at the man who was picking out polish colors and was led to the chair next to mine for his pedicure. Why shouldn’t a man enjoy this, too?

After my feet were clean and smooth, my chosen RED was applied and an odd rubber contraption was placed on my feet to create space between my toes.

A pair of flip-flops was slipped on to my feet, and I was led to the drying station.

I felt terrific!

The whole process took less than an hour, and I saw what a big difference it made in my mood and outlook.

Okay, I liked the thought of dressing my feet in summer sandals, but I found the whole experience to be consciousness-raising.

It’s so easy to take something – like your feet — for granted. We tend to give a part of our body attention when it hurts, but not when it feels good. Not often enough.

Pampering yourself seems to be a good way to train your consciousness to do those things that are good for you. It’s good to remember that a task is not completed until it is celebrated.

Whether it’s making time to do stretches in the morning or, periodically, to have a pedicure, I want to nurture good routines, including treating myself well. I’m glad I gave myself this brief retreat.

Jumping into a new habit — feet first — is no small thing.


Goose Island

On Sunday, I was running an errand in the Goose Island neighborhood. It’s a section of the city that was named after a small (maybe one square mile) patch of land that formed where two branches of the Chicago River met.

It probably got its name because it was a resting spot for migrating geese managing their seasonal trek. Now, the term refers to the original plot, accessible by bridge, and surrounding area, which is now a very hip, industrial area. It’s home to the Wrigley Gum’s research facility and a variety of businesses operating from restored lofts.

After I emerged from my shopping mission and headed toward my car, I caught sight of a band of geese at the corner of the parking lot.

On a small rectangle of grass, only feet away from the heavy traffic of Division Street, I saw two or three grown-up, long necked geese with iconic hunter green heads and maybe eight brownish goslings, adorable in their awkwardness.

It seemed that they didn’t belong in this scene; so close to delivery trucks and train tracks and discount store parking lots, only a couple miles from a great city’s business district.

Then I thought, Oh yes. They were here first (or, at least, their great, great, great grandparents were). After all, this is GOOSE ISLAND.

I watched them for a few minutes. I marveled at how at home they seemed to feel in this spot between stop signs and dandelions. They weren’t bothered by traffic. I looked on as they scoured the grass for discarded pieces of bread or potato chips, hoping to feast on what people threw away.

The simple beauty of this affected me on different levels.

It’s always great to see a slice of nature up close. Successfully hunting up things to eat, the geese were just being geese.

It was even more delightful to me that this bit of nature could be seen in an unnatural surrounding. It’s heartening to think that birds can find what they need on a small lawn near a busy street.

But I had to laugh at my own joke, my pronouncement. I considered that the sight shouldn’t surprise me being that I was in Goose Island.

It fit.

There’s a certain type of beauty when things FIT.

Mathematicians call proofs elegant when the logic seems to work. Crime detectives seem to think of perfect crimes only when they have figured out perfect solutions. Engineers may get effusive over gears that mesh or seals that are truly impenetrable.

I suppose, as a writer, I shouldn’t being surprised when a word or phrase really sums up the essence of something. It’s something to strive for. When a phrase is both truthful and ironic — it makes me happy.

So the family of geese was hanging out in what could be thought of as an ISLAND of grass, surrounding on all sides by concrete sidewalks and a blacktopped boulevard and parking lot. In GOOSE ISLAND.

To see beauty in things, even in words, simply because they FIT, is no small thing.