Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Drunken Ephemera

1. Philosophers answer an age old question.

2. Some great rejection letter stories.

3. I haven't seen tonight's Project Runway yet so don't tell me who was Aufed, but there is a spacy puppeteer on the show who reminds me a little of Milla Jovovich and she said the most fabulous thing about her work being judged harshly. When asked what it was like to be there, standing with just one other person on the runway, she answered: "I found standing on the runway to intriguing and fun. I abhorred being the one chosen to stay and (knowing) that my staying meant someone else leaving. I surrendered constantly to fate with delight and mischievous curiosity." What a great attitude toward slings and arrows.

4. HOW TO KNOW WHEN YOU ARE READY FOR PARENTHOOD (I wish I knew who to credit for this)

Here are some helpful suggestion to prepare you for the joys of being a parent!

MESS TEST: Smear peanut butter on the sofa and curtains. Now rub your hands in the wet flowerbed and rub on the walls. Cover the stains with crayons. Place a fish stick behind the couch and leave it there all summer.

TOY TEST: Obtain a 55-gallon box of Legos. (If Legos are not available, you may substitute roofing tacks or little plastic farm animals) Have a friend spread them all over the house. Put on a blindfold. Try to walk to the bathroom or kitchen. Do not scream (this could wake a child at night).

GROCERY STORE TEST: Borrow one or two small animals (goats are best) and take them with you as you shop at the grocery store. Always keep them in sight and pay for anything they eat or damage.

DRESSING TEST: Obtain one large, unhappy, live cat. Now proceed with dressing the unhappy cat.

FEEDING TEST: Now hand feed the cat. Try to insert spoonfuls of soggy cereal into the mouth of the cat while pretending to be an airplane. Now clean the soggy cereal off you, the floor, and walls.

NIGHT TEST AND PHYSICAL TEST: Prepare by obtaining a small cloth bag and fill it with 8 to 12 pounds of sand. Soak it thoroughly in water. At 8 PM begin to waltz and hum with the bag until 9 PM. Lay down your bag and set your alarm for 10:00 PM. Get up, pick up your bag, and sing every song you have ever heard. Make up about a dozen more and sing them until 4:00 AM. Set alarm for 5:00 AM. Get up and make breakfast. Keep this up for 5 years. Look cheerful.

CRAFT TEST: Get an egg carton. Using a pair of scissors and a can of paint, turn it into an alligator. Now get a toilet paper tube. Using only scotch tape and a piece of foil, turn it into a Christmas tree. Last, take a milk container, a ping pong ball, and an empty packet of CoCo Puffs and make an exact replica of the Eiffel Tower. Congratulations, you have just qualified for a place on the play group committee.

TELEVISION TEST: Learn the names of every character from 'Barney and Friends', 'Sesame Street'. When you find yourself singing, "I love you, you love me" at work, you finally qualify as a parent.

FINAL ASSIGNMENT: Find a couple who already has a small child. Lecture them on how they can improve their child's discipline, patience, tolerance, toilet training, and table manners. Suggest many things they can improve as well.
Enjoy this experience. It will be the last time you'll have all the answers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Happy Birthday, Aunt Ruth!

Eighty-four years young today! We love you!


I've been calling Eleanor "my moptop," as she peers out from the overgrown thicket of her blond bangs, but her behavior is rather more Ramones than Fab Four these days. We are in the thick of Terrrrrrible Twos, with "NO!" her favorite word, "I WON'T!" her favorite quip and "AAAAAAAHHHHH" her favorite song. Today I had a sweet sweet cup of the delicious irritant that cuts my patience off at the root. There was lots of yelling: "Stop ringing the doorbell and come inside!" "Pick up that chalk! "Stop Crying!" "What Do You WANT!?"

Maybe you are reading this and clucking, "Oh that's hard. Try counting to ten before you yell. Or you could just go in another room to blow off some steam and come back when are calm." If that's what you're thinking, I hate you.

Or maybe you are thinking, "Oh that's hard. Can I come over and take your little imp away for the afternoon?" In that case, I love you. Not that I could actually let you do this, but I still love you.

Friday, November 23, 2007


Yesterday's snow showers give way to today's brilliant skies. The ginko drops her leaves in the blink of an eye. In this season of contrast and change, the simplest combinations create dramatic transformations.

Sunshine and sleep turn Mistress Hyde into happy Mommy Jeckle. A little grape (Polka Dot Riesling, as sweet as the name) at the Thanksgiving table can turn a foul and harried mood into something like ebullience.

(Yet even in the middle of the festivities, no one forgets the bare dark sticks of trees just outside. The joke we roar loudest at is the debate whether the holiday commemorates a sickly band of doomed pilgrims, most of whom wouldn't survive til spring or whether the national party was established to keep us all distracted from our own seasonal depression and anxiety.) (No, come to think of it, the biggest, blackest laugh of the night was the rock star's story of reenacting his friend's stroke. On stage. During her benefit concert.)

Lately I've been having some kitchen adventures with carbohydrates, and marveling at the magical results.

Homemade tortillas require a single ingredient, a little water and ladles of technique. Ground corn is massaged into a paste with a few tablespoons of warm water, then rolled into small balls, flattened, pressed into pliable thin circles and laid on a hot dry skillet. Playdough transforms into the so-satisfying warm tortilla. A perfect base for sautéed black beans, a little cheese, halves of cherry tomato. Or chicken with green salsa, if you are my husband. The warm smell will make you start planning tomorrow's fish tacos.

For a Thanksgiving chocolate-pecan tart, I make the crazy science project that is caramel. Again, one ingredient, a little water and heat amaze. Mix a cup of sugar with a quarter cup or less of water (hard core chefs use none) and swirl over a medium high flame.

At first your tired swirling arm despairs of ever achieving candy status. The golden-hued boiling sugar looks like slow motion champagne. Then very quickly the thick liquid turns a rich gold color. That's it. You've made caramel. You can dip roasted pecans in the slightly cooled brew, if you work quickly and dexterously. Or you can add some butter and cream and end up with a phenomenal sauce. If you also throw in some chocolate, the results, Joy of Cooking says, will make a shoe taste good.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

My Husband's Mistress

The mock 1970's era rock video "Did You See (What I Just Said)?" is the kind of project that keeps my husband and his coworkers slaving away red-eyed at their terminals until all hours. How can they go home when there's just one more star filter to adjust just so, one more flying unicorn to tweak?

With voice over by Ken Nordine, preening by Bob Blonski from accounting and Doug Manley from client services.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Crown Family Playlab at the Field Museum

Here is my sister Nancy and me at the Field Museum in the late sixties.

I don’t remember this day, but I’m pretty sure we didn’t touch those huge stuffed elephants or the other neato things we saw. The mummies, the sparkling geodes, the shiny beetles stuck on pins, all remained safe behind cool planes of glass.

The Field Museum’s new Crown Family Playlab, a permanent exhibit just for kids, offers a place for children to experience close up the endeavor and thrill of natural history. Touching the installations in this part of the museum is encouraged and welcomed.

The Playlab is the first exhibit you'll see if you enter the Field Museum via the east entrance. You and the kids will find a well-stocked art room complete with kiln, an invitingly raucous music space and a woodland scene where a child can dress up as a bat or crawl through a hollow log. For the tiny ones, there are cozy enclosed infant corners with soft walls and toys.

On the day of our visit, enthusiastic museum workers hovered nearby to engage the kids in a book and encourage the young artists.

Mia and Eleanor had the most fun picking and repicking their own ears of corn near the pueblo.

We found that a visit here was a great way to enhance the museum experience, but you might have a hard time tearing your little ones away to see the upstairs exhibits. Not that there isn't plenty for the grownups to consider in the roomy space. On the walls and inside easy-open drawers are fascinating artifacts: Musical instruments, tiny dolls, dog skeletons, an ornate cradle from India adorned with red paint and tiny bells. While the girls dug for dinosaur bones, I was engrossed in fossils of Jurassic era plants.

Once we did get upstairs, I got a new thrill out of revisiting those musty glass boxes of stuffed and posed animals in the nature exhibits. It was creepy, yes, trying to delicately explain to the girls that they were looking at corpses of once warm and breathing mammals. But how else will we be able to get face to face with the extinct dodo or the passenger pigeon? I looked at the display of birds with its typewritten descriptive cards of their last days and felt a chill. There's a necessary lesson about the delicacy of life within these stone walls, somewhere past the case with the man-eating lions of Tsavo and just beyond the huddled mummy we pass with a brief glance.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Fall Pleasures

1. Opening the shades and curtains for the morning light and warmth.

2. Planting bulbs. Actually bending over to break through the cold hardpack with my bulb planter is a bit of a pain in the ass, but the girls do help a little. Nora can drop in a handful of fertilizer; Mia tries to guess which end of the anemone bulb should face the sky. Like so much in this season of descending darkness, the pleasure lies in the hopeful anticipation. We're composing a love letter to spring, who is far away, visiting another hemisphere.

3. New Project Runway!

4. The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown. Good reviews sent me to this book by the controversial former editor of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. Brown's research is impressive. She writes as a former friend of the princess, yet one who is neither star struck by her celebrity nor made bitter by the famous woman's all-too human qualities. Brown analyzes with great perception the Princess's cultivated and yet real vulnerability and the complicated relationship she had with the press that helped millions to identify with and love her, but also led to her tragic death.

"Diana's desire to rescue a marmoreal (Me: That's "marble-like." I had to look it up. What a great word.) royal trudge through some comatose British institution with a more spontaneous act of human flair is the thing that made her visitations such a triumph. Plus, her understanding of the emotional dimension of Charles's commitments often made more of a difference to how the Prince was received than any amount of briefing and planning. Diana instinctively seemed to know that the only power royalty has left is the power to disappoint, and she never did, either with her physical presence or in her responsiveness to human detail."

5. Making apple head dolls. We read Elisa Kleven's book about a girl who makes a new friend from an old apple. So we peeled and carved Granny Smiths and soaked them in lemon juice. Now, they sit in a warm oven, growing older and more wrinkly and smiley by the day.

6. Watching the changes in our neighbor's ginko tree. I've heard these trees drop their leaves all at once. Does "all at once" mean in one day? On the count of three? Hopefully, we'll be there for the party.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Stephen Sondheim's Passion

"Was there a moment of silence for Robert Goulet?" asked Randy.

I laughed, but I didn't tell him that morning after non-chalantly reading Goulet's obit, I had surprised myself by shedding a few tears in the middle of my half-remembered rendition of "If Ever I Could Leave You."

I don't think it was this particular man's death that got me so much as the loss of part of a legendary moment - 1960, Julie Andrews playing Guinevere, Richard Burton as Arthur calling his cast-mate's voice that of an angel.

And of course, the musical theater recipe that always puts a lump in my throat: the pathos of the lyrics, the soar of the melody and the tragic context. "We're neither wise nor pure nor good. . . " "But now and then he'll do SOMEthing WONderful . . . " "Oh no, Maria, no! I have a love and it's all that I have. . . " Never fails to start the waterworks.

Yes, you've heard it before. I am a sucker for musicals. My dream of a weekend getaway? Spa? Ski? No - a quick flight to NY, then Clay Aiken in Spamalot and Fantasia in The Color Purple.

Randy's question was funny because he was asking about a show that couldn't be farther from the Vegas glitz of Goulet - Stephen Soundheim's Passion. This dark drama won the 1994 Tony for Best Musical (and Best Book and Best Actress and Best just about everything else possible.)

On Saturday the girls went with Daddy on their first trip to (gulp) Chuck E. Cheese while Passion held me engrossed at the intimate upstairs space of Chicago's Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier.

The story is set in 19th century northern Italy. Ana Gasteyer stars as the sickly, fretful and unlovely Fosca, who falls obsessively in love with an army officer, who in turn, has given his heart to his beautiful mistress, Clara.

Gasteyer was fearless as the nearly unloveable Fosca and lovely in voice. Fosca is an amazing character - as Gasteyer played her, she is at turns funny, scary, strong and smart, capable of great misjudgment in the name of love and also of recognizing her own folly.

Fosca's rival, Clara, is played beautifully by Kathy Voytko who has a fearless moment of her own at the shockingly erotic opening of the play. I suppose the memory of her perfect naked body is meant to contrast with Fosca's "thin arms" that initially repel Giorgio the officer (Adam Barzier.) But it left me expecting and failing to find more heat between Giorgio and the women who love him. Brazier may have had a fine voice and a nice head of hair, but the love I was feeling by the end of the play was not Giorgio's, but that of the audience for Gasteyer and Voytko.

The beautiful score is more operatic than show-tune. Tunes weave in and out of dialogue seamlessly. The rich and complex book by James Lapine offered similar pleasures to reading a densely good novel by, say, Turgenev. There are lots of chewy ideas - about the place of altruism and selfishness in a relationship, about the difference between love and obsession, about the appeal of escape versus engaging with the world.

Here on stage before me were a few of my favorite things: sentiment, beauty, ideas, narrative. I applauded, passionately.

Post #100 - Mesmerizing

Courtesy dear funny husband.

Without special effects.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

God's World - Edna St. Vincent Millay

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart, -- Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me, -- let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Fly, Sparrow, Fly

Randy and I saw The Sparrow fly on Saturday night. Magic is happening on the Apollo Theater stage and I'm not just talking about the cool tricks of Emily Book, the play's supernaturally empowered protagonist. The House Theater's wonderful play casts a powerful spell.

"Mysterious stranger comes to town" is one of the archetypical scenarios of drama. So Emily Book's return to Spring Farm, Illinois, just this side of Smallville, by way of dear old Shiz, feels satisfyingly familiar. The graceful Carolyn Defrin, plays this tortured outsider turned small town hero turned misunderstood villain, with confidence and vulnerability.

The play’s pleasures, and there are so many, are most often about cool stagecraft, innovative movement, good writing and flights of the imagination. A mother literally carries around her grief for a lost daughter in her arms. A basketball game is fully, thrillingly realized on a stage not much bigger than the key. There’s a nail-biting rescue from the rafters, enacted safely on the floor, that you totally believe. A momentary glimpse inside a bus accident is horrifying and tints everything that comes after it. The thrilling dances are all about character, rather than skill and you really want to join right in. And just wait until you see the flying. It takes your breath away without smoke and mirrors.

Randy and I did pick apart the story a little on the way home – we thought there was one twist too few and the last surprise didn’t do justice to the main character we had come to love.

But it was great to see Lauren Vitz again. Vitz, who reminds me of a young Jodi Foster or Martha Plimpton, was memorable as a tomboy Tinkerbell in the 2002 House production of Peter Pan -- I can still see the red ribbon unrolling from her mouth after she drinks Captain Hook's poison. Here she doubles easily, as does most of the cast, as both a small town adult trying to do right by one of their own and as one of the town's teens who inherited a tragedy they can't understand.

Cliff Chamberlain received a Jeff citation for his role as biology instructor Mr. Christopher, who “puts a lot of thought into being the cool teacher” and he really gives the role his comedic and dramatic all.

I loved seeing one of the writers, Chris Mathews, hoofing it up on stage as the coach of the Sparrows, Spring Farm's perennially losing basketball team. You will crack up at his gentle and conciliatory half time "pep talk."

Thursday, November 1, 2007

We All Fall Down - On the Air!

So yesterday I got a invitation (cough, mass mailing) to add some of my posts to Vocalo, a new radio-internet hybrid launched by Chicago Public Radio.

I went to the site and found out you can record content via your phone that immediately gets uploaded to their web site. How cool and fun is that? Check out my audio versions of Scary and Mythology for Four Year Olds.

And some of the site content is also aired, but only to northwest Indiana at this point, so Hey Hey Hammond! The plan is to build a big new tower in Chesterton this year so Chicago will get the signal too.