Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Night

(To properly write this post I need to include all the links to great old video on Youtube but this strange Disney hotel room PC I'm working on (strange but also free, so I really can't complain) doesn't allow access to that treasure trove site, nor Facebook nor Flickr nor Sorry I Missed Your Party nor lots of other fun and important parts of the web that must not contain the required Wonder and Whimsy quotient. No pay-per-view movies either. It's a bizarre world here in Orlando - summertime breezes and sun in December, crayons and muscle undershirts at the fancy restaurants. So you'll need to just hear the songs in your head, as you easily will if of a certain age.)

After the presents, after the turkey feast, after the tipsy jokes and the traditional recalling of my minister father-in-law giggling uncontrollably while trying to tell a PG joke*, then the inevitable retelling of the joke itself, after the Wii bowling games where even the little girls could make spares, I sat down at my brother and sister-in-law's sticky-keyed old piano and started picking out some tunes.

Ever thoughtful Rebecca, who had been up since 4:30 with her kids and running around all day offering fresh drinks, hors d'oeuvres, dessert and cheer, rushes into her office and comes out with an armful of music books. I grab a Paul Simon songbook. "American Tune" (found my links!) plays like a beautiful and solemn hymn and the sentiment is perfect for this day at the end of an often hopeful but often difficult year.

Many's the time I've been mistaken
And many times confused
Yes, and I've often felt forsaken
And certainly misused
Oh, but I'm all right, I'm all right
I'm just weary to my bones
Still, you don't expect to be
Bright and bon vivant
So far away from home, so far away from home

Rebecca and Dave had bought their kids for Christmas a beautiful trumpet with engraved bell and an instrument I'd never seen before, a slide trumpet, that looks like a child's-size trombone. Earlier in the day, with a couple of mimosas in me, I took up the trumpet out on the front porch and figured the fingering for the C scale. I did some arpeggios and was ready for Joy to the World when some kiddy crisis or another sent my attention another way. But the buzz of the embrochure on my lips and the snapping of my fingers on the mother of pearl was giving me an itch familiar from high school band days. Making music for this bad amateur is a combo of fun math puzzle, the satisfaction of quick improvement, tiny glints of pretty and a bit of my old camp counselor exhibitionism.

Dave and Bec have always been musical - Dave played lead guitar in his lawyer buddy band, Learned Hand, for a few years, even landing on the cover of Orlando Magazine doing an Abby Road thing. While I was at the piano, Dave got out his guitar and Rebecca and he did a pretty version of The Beatles' "Blackbird."

Then Dave saw the "100 Great Rock Songs of the Decade" I was flipping through. The pages were much too browned and crumbly for the immediacy of the music inside - these tunes were as familiar as dear friends. But then again, the way I'm aging, the far past is more vivid than yesterday - isn't that the way it goes for us all? On the cover of the playbook was a Star Wars style swoosh on a starfield under the vague title - but "the Decade" sounds specific enough for me since when I first heard these songs I was an age where the 70's were all I had ever known and seemed to have no foreseeable end.

We started with "Horse with No Name," laughing at the literal lyrics: "There were rocks and birds and plants and things..." Dave started strumming the chords as I held up the book for him and the living room turned into a 70's singalong. Neighbors Terry and Mike joined in with gusto on Neil Young's "Heart of Gold" and called for more.

Bec and Dave's ex-nanny (she's going to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune next month!) and her cool husband sweetly played and sang "Morning Has Broken," then took us to their 90's for "Every Rose Has Its Thorns" and Eric Clapton's heart-breaker "If I Saw You in Heaven."

"Leaving on a Jet Plane." "Black Water." "Dream On." "Dream Weaver." We tried James Taylor's "Whenever I See Your Smiling Face" but all the chord changes, even in that first line, beat us up. And then, most thrilling of all, though my voice was shot by this point and I was losing all the high notes, Fleetwood Mac's "You Can Go Your Own Way." This song is really hard to sing - the syncopated line starts are a bitch to catch but I bellowed "Loving you isn't the right thing to do...Baby, I'd give you my world!" and it was my Christmas present.

*A man hires a prostitute and takes her to his hotel room.
"What would you like to do, Honey?" she asks.
"Would you mind putting on this raincoat?" he asks.
"Would you mind sitting on that armoire?"
"Would you bang your heels against the armoire really loud?"
"Okay, like this?"
"Yeah," he says. "And now, would you take this glass of water and pour it on my head?"
"Sure," the prostitute says. "But don't you want to make love?"
"What?" says the man. "In this weather?"

Friday, December 26, 2008

Holiday News

We've had a lovely Christmas. We're at Disney. Nora has a fever so I bowed out of the soap flake snow that Celebration sprinkles on its Main Street and Japanese reservations for 10 to take my little warm one home for applesauce and Pink Panther videos.

We left Chicagoland on an arctic morning where we covered the girls with blankets just to get them to the car. The wind had blown twelve inch drifts over the walk we had shoveled the day before but this would not be the worst of it. The day after we left, 400 O'Hare flights were canceled, Randy told me as we sat on our balcony in light humidity, light breeze, light clothes.

There were some rough days before we left - dark mornings when I needed to chant affirmations before rising, picture the tiny but persistent flame inside me. Here, in the sunshine, Randy and I can laugh cause the light in me that sees the light in him is solar powered but his is cooking with gas.

Our first stop, Kansas City, was emotional and complicated, of course, but mostly a big sigh of relief sitting down in that familiar living room with Ruth to hear her election week stories of standing up to the narrow minded Republican biddies at church.

Becky has a new baby, Jamie Ruth, born a few weeks early and right before Becky's finals in her first semester of junior college. But her husband Kevin helped with the three other kids and Becky rallied through, earning two A's and a B. Yeah, Becky! The baby is beautiful.

Niece Maggie has finished her last semester of pre-med and is heading to South Africa! in the spring to work with AIDS patients. So proud.

At the end of the night we pulled out the '80's Sears portrait of the girls with Becky's sister Andrea, preparing for nursing school, and Stephanie, whose wedding in Omaha we attended in October. The picture showcased ungainly teeth and baby fat rolls, but the sweet eyes are the same.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Indices of Inequality

Number of people worldwide living on less than two dollars a day: 3 Billion
Total population of developed regions (North America, Europe, Japan, New Zealand/Australia): 1.2 Billion

Number of doctors per 100,000 in U.S.: 279
Minimum number of doctors per 100,000 recommended by World Health Organization: 20
Number of doctors per 100,000 in Haiti’s central plateau: 2

Estimated cost of eliminating hunger and malnutrition: 19 Billion
Amount Americans spend annually on ice cream: 21.6 Billion

Lifetime risk for a woman in US of dying from complications in pregnancy or childbirth: 1 in 2,500
Lifetime risk for a woman in Malawi of dying from complications in pregnancy or childbirth: 1 in 7

Number of children under 5 who die each year from hunger and treatable diseases: 10 million
Number of children orphaned by AIDS worldwide: 15 million (in several countries in southern Africa, 20 percent or more of all children)

Malaria kills a child every 20 seconds.
Tuberculosis kills a person every 15 seconds.
Contanimated water kills a child every 15 seconds.
AIDS kills a person every 10 seconds.
Hunger and malnutrition kill a child every 4 seconds.

from On the Same Map: Hope is a Human Right

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Post on Chicago Moms Blog

My new post on Chicago Moms Blog is about Partners in Health, a revolutionary healthcare organization. Monday was Charity Day across the entire SV Moms Blog Group. Here’s the recap of posts about amazing organizations doing wonderful work.

You Can Be A Muperherm!

Figured it out?

I’ll give you a hint. Mia was translating a sentence from images of sign language fingerspelling on her restaurant placemat. The M, O and S symbols were a little too similar for her to distinguish.

“What’s this say?” Mia asked, after she had finished crayoning the letters.

“You can be a … muperherm,” I sounded out. I loved the sound of it. “Muperherm.”

Muperherm is about as close to Superhero as I got Sunday. I dragged myself out of bed after two days of sleeping, dozing and what rudimentary childcare I could dish out when Dad and the babysitter weren’t around.

Sunday morning I woke up and I didn’t have to try not to swallow. I no longer had to concentrate on moving and breathing slow so as not to cough and make the ripping pains in my diaphragm. I no longer needed to breath through a washcloth soaked in hot water just to give my membranes some relief.

The bedroom smelled like menthol, eucalyptus and unwashed bedclothes. Which bedroom? The latest – the fourth? -- in our series of moves. I’m not complaining – I can’t complain cause every place has been safe, clean, comfortable and yes, beautiful. But if you read much of me, you know organization is not my strong suit. Non-sequitur, anyone? By this fourth place, our stuff is tossed and tangled and I’ll be lucky if I can find my deodorant in the morning.

On Friday morning before I took to my bed, I had schlepped our suitcases, paper bags, the cooler and garbage bags full of dirty clothes from the condo to the car, driven two blocks to the hotel, then checked in and collapsed. The girls were with Randy at work. All day. Sometimes it takes him a while, but this time he got it. He really got it.

And all it took was my kicking over the recycling bag that morning and rasping to him in a hoarse whisper, “I’m sick. I’m sick. I’M SICK.” I can’t imagine trying to entertain two little girls in an office setting for eight hours, but he said they played and colored and watched a movie and Nora even took a nap on the couch for an hour. Wow. Superdad.

The band of my friend’s husband was playing Friday night, but I couldn’t muster up regret for missing it. I knew that would come later.

The next day we had the babysitter already booked for Randy’s office party but I can’t even think about showering. No Optimus Christmas party for the first time since 1991, when I shared the Rookie of the Year Award with Karen Meyer. No fancy desserts, no stupid dancing to “Single Ladies,” no end of the year video, no Polaroid portraits in front of the wintry backdrop with the painterly lighting.

But Monday I got the girls fed, into a bathtub (I even washed their hair! And scraped out Mia’s ears!), dressed and on our way to the fifth home of the month. I’m a muperherm.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

New Post

My new post on Chicago Moms Blog talks about seeking sanctuary on cold afternoons when the girls are safe in school and I'm wiped out. Mmmmm... remember summer? When you could just lie down on a warm patch of grass somewhere?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"On the Same Map" at Loyola University Museum of Art

Yesterday morning I walked down Michigan Avenue in a cold rain to Loyola University's Museum of Art to see On The Same Map: Hope is A Human Right/A Photographic Journey of Partners in Health. I was feeling the dissonance of a photo collection about the poorest of the poor being displayed between Bottega Veneta and Ghirardelli and steps from the Magnificent Mile, but everything else faded away once I stepped in the second floor galleries and started examining the nearly one hundred large format images.

In vivid color and stark black and white, the photos show us people being served by the twenty-year old health organization Partners in Health in some of the most destitute and hopeless parts of the world: the central plain of Haiti, Peruvian shantytowns, a TB prison in Russia, snowy hilltops of Lesotho, war-torn Rwanda. There is chilling photographic evidence of the ravaging power of disease and starvation here, including images of children that may break your heart. But PIH's work is the creation of hope as well as health.

In the center of the middle gallery, a series of before and after pictures show the "Lazarus effect" of AIDS and tuberculosis treatments on once deathly ill patients. Seeing these powerful images, you cannot help but feel intensely the injustice that deaths from these and other chronic infectious diseases that afflict the poor are preventable.

The show is a tribute to the life-transforming work of Partners in Health, a treasure of found moments of grace and beauty, a call to action and a reminder of how indomitable is the human spirit.

On The Same Map: Hope is a Human Right runs through January 4. Loyola University Museum of Art, 820 N. MIchigan Avenue, Chicago.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Gwen and Beyonce

Gwen Verdon dances to "Mexican Breakfast" on the Ed Sullivan show.

Now go check out Beyonce Knowles' version. "Single Ladies" makes Nora smile and start to bounce when I sing it. I like it when they jump up on the cyc.

Monday, December 8, 2008

December Weekend in Chicago

We're playing tourists, falling in love with the city all over again.

We've been staying in a condo off Michigan Avenue while the house is all dust and raw studs and I'm so happy it's turning out more like a vacation than an exile.

Thanks to Caitlin and the nice folks at Savvy Source, I won a free pass to Day Frog, downtown's newest indoor play area for infants to six year olds. My kids have been back twice now and they are asking to return almost every day. The expansive, brightly colored recreation center has climbing structures, slides, a dress up area, arts and crafts, a sweet play kitchen as well as the convenient and clean real thing, scooters and toys galore. Mia loved the doll house best of all. The play center is on the first floor of the office building at 233 East Erie; for safety and privacy, there is no outside signage.

Saturday morning we got up and wrote a letter to Santa. On Mia's list, a white kitty with pink and purple ribbons and jewels on the collar. Nora wants "a Dora doll, soft, not hard, with clothes."

We found a red envelope at Randy's work and Mia wrote out "SANTAATTHENORTHPOLE" on the front. We cabbed it over to Macy's. Mia whispers, "They don't wait for you to put your seatbelt on," as the cab pulls from the curb. The girls were thrilled to see a mounted policeman on his horse walk right next to us on Wabash.

The old Marshall Field's signs on the new Macy's just make me sad. I don't have anything against Macy's really - I grew up with the store in Kansas City and it is the Miracle on 34th Street store after all. But the decision to change the name and pull the identity of the revered State Street institution seems a boneheaded corporate move. The place is still mobbed. The bank of elevators reside in a hall that's a mix of old time elegant fixtures, half-hearted stylish renovation and exposed pipes. The seventh floor is full of crowds to see the tree, the Walnut Room and Santa, none of which we bother with. We are here just for the red mailbox. Macy's will donate a dollar to the Make a Wish Foundation for every letter to Santa so we drop in ours and write a couple more P.S.'s for good measure.

Down to the luggage department where pink or purple child size suitcases come only in 5 piece packages. We play a little with the cases anyway, then drag the girls past the candy department on the way to lunch. After unhappy Mia is revived with some coloring and pizza, Randy takes the girls to see the animatronic windows while I stand in a slow line to buy Mia some "nostalgia by the pound": Fun Dip.

Outside in the chill I find Dad and the girls entranced by the little robots behind glass - the story behind the windows is usually a classic like Peter Pan or Cinderella; this year they went another route with made up creatures preparing the trimmings for the Walnut Room tree. A little self-reflexive marketing rather than pure enchantment for the kids.

We get the car and take the kids up to Evanston for a gingerbread house making party while Dad and I have a quick meeting with the contractor.

Nora falls asleep during dinner but Mia is still up and raring to go, so around 7 she and I walk down Michigan Avenue to Millennium Park to go skating. It's a beautiful night, cold, but we are bundled and ready. We oo and ah at the green and red lights transforming the pinnacle of the Wrigley Building into a holiday confection. At the rink, I think the crowds are just entranced by the Zamboni and they are, but the mob is also waiting in a 40 minute line. I'm not one to accept that kind of impediment so I find a big guy in a yellow Millennium Park jacket. "Do you work here?"

His half shrug, half flourish of the enormous bright yellow jacket is a thing to behold.

"I thought that was your name," I reply, in what no one his young pretty age would mistake as flirtation. "Mel Park. Is this really a 40 minute line?" I like to try to bend reality to my will. Tonight it works.

"There's another rink on the other side of the park at Daley Plaza. There are no lines and it's probably more the kind of crowd for..." He gestures toward little Mia.

We run away, delighted. Now we get a beautiful walk in the park, too. Past the snow capped Bean, around the white expanse of the Pritzker Pavilion lawn (the view from the far end directly opposite the stage is awesome) and onto the snaky BP Bridge. We roll snowballs off the sloped sides, trace our initials in the snow and sing, "Ho, ho, ho, we love the snow!" Some of the boards are slick steel, so Mia gets a chance to skate a little after all. The Daley Plaza rec center stopped renting about half an hour before we get there. Mia is easily consoled with some Skittles. We've had a beautiful night.

Sunday morning I fiddle with a post and read the paper while Randy works on our Christmas card. Yeah, it's black. And so cute I can't stop laughing. Around noon Dad takes Mia to Winter Wonderfest on Navy Pier while I hang out with nappy Nora. Totally satisfying for all of us.

Meryl Makes Me Laugh, Brad Makes Me Cry

Regarding her critically panned summer blockbuster Mamma Mia!, Streep tells the LA Times, "I knew it would make lots of people happy, and you know the reviews came out, and when the bad reviews came out, the blogosphere just exploded with women empowered to say, 'These people are crazy! What's the matter with you life-hating, life-sucking, desiccated old farts?' "

From Time's holiday movie preview of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: "The CGI magic elegantly serves the poignant fable of a displaced soul whose unique infirmity opens a window onto our common mortality, where the very young and the very old are similarly dependent and the years in between are a precious gift."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

California Baby Calming Botanical Moisturizing Cream

After lotions that made her scream with pain and rub frantically at her legs, begging me to take it off, Nora has discovered skin relief that she likes. I think asking her to help me pick it out at the store helped. Now she finds the jar on her own, opens it and dips in one little finger, then uses this utensil to rub white lotion on her arm, legs and yesterday morning right before school, her face and hair. I came in the room to find her anointed like a cold-creamed hausfrau before bed, a big smile in between the smears. We rubbed as much in as we took; I took some of the extra for my own, then slapped a ski hat on her head and called it a hot oil treatment. Off we went.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Happy Holidays from Sufjan Stevens

"Put the Lights On the Tree"

Mia's Sleepover

Tuesday night Mia had her first sleepover. She is six. This was her first night away from home without the family.

In the light of this morning, I could smile at the question of her younger sister, "Where's Mia?" and the giggles when Dad and I made a snuggly Eleanor sandwich in bed. It felt strange to have a little family of only three but I was calm.

The next morning I could smile at the phone message left last night from the hosting mom. She whispered, "The girls were asleep at 8:45. We read books and they brushed their teeth and Mia said she didn't have to go to the bathroom, but she tried. I'm sorry again that we didn't get your message. I hope you weren't too worried."

I was too worried that night. I couldn't smile, I couldn't find perspective, I couldn't think outside my own worst imagination. I dialed and redialed the two contact numbers I had - the mom's cell and what I thought was their home number. "Please leave a message!" was the pittance the phone could offer me before I threw it on the couch in frustration.

My misgivings started on the drive home. "How well do I know these people?" I asked myself, plagued with doubt. All I could think about was whether the borrowed carseat would fit in the host mom's car the next morning, whether Mia would feel confident to ask to call home if she got scared. Whether the host daddy was trustworthy.

"You're being paranoid," said the calming part of myself.

"No, you're listening to your mother's intuition!" said the wild-eyed other part.

"Your fears aren't real," pressed the calm.

"Sometimes we have real reasons to be afraid!"

I didn't like feeling this way.

My oldest is an independent girl. "Bye, Mommy!" she had said cheerfully, already running off to another room as I left.

When she was a baby, I couldn't leave her at the childcare center at the gym. She would cry for me the entire time, until the workers came to find me on the treadmill.

Tuesday night, while Mia was off stretching her wings, I retreated to a frightened, untrusting part of myself. In the light of morning, the fears slink away and reason returns.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Day 30 - A Month of Momenti Mori

The skies this month have seemed daily to alternate sunshine and clouds except for the last two days of solid gray because the snow is coming. You can nearly see the weight above your head. We may wake up to a transformed view out the windows. I hope.

I've been haunting the puter all day, trying to get at this last post of the month, clicking on to check a little Facebook here, lurk a little Twitter there, making some notes, impatient to get it writ.

Thought, "how can I write the day before I lived it?" So packed our bags (we leave Fox Lake for downtown Chicago tomorrow), played a silly princess board game with Mia that she loved, took my walk, cleaned up, fed the girls, cried a little over the Trib story of tomorrow's 50th anniversary of the Our Lady of the Angels school fire, alternated sunshine and clouds.

Ninety-two children and three teachers died in the smoke and flames at the Catholic grade school on Chicago's West Side the afternoon of December 1, 1958.

One eight-year-old boy who escaped the fire that day grew up and became a pianist, singer and songwriter. I thought about posting the video of one of the beautiful power ballads Jonathan Cain co-wrote, a song I first loved when I was 18, but I couldn't help giggling at the band's goofy choreography, perfect 80's clothes and the growly-bear hands he makes playing an invisible piano. Steve Perry's emotional commitment is undeniable, though. Still a gorgeous song, as is Cain's "Faithfully." Look and listen for yourself on a walk down Memory Lane here and here.

Here instead is another song from Cain's pre-Journey career as keyboardist for another group I loved in high school, The Babys.

In other music news, Bobby and Julie are playing at the MCA in Detroit on Friday! Hey Michigan! Check it out!

More sun, more life:

Thanksgiving Day Mike told us more stories about creating the set for Obama's election night speech. They had a week of long construction days but couldn't start on the lectern, you know, that really important wooden stand sprouting the microphone that the president-elect will speak into? Because the Obama handlers were saying "There's a lectern he used in Berlin that he really likes. We're trying to track it down." So they built the stage, the set up for the stately line of flags, carpet, the whole deal, they were down to the wire, the handlers kept delaying til nearly the day before. Mike and crew finally threw something together, X-rayed bullet-proof steel liner and all and we thank them for it!

Here's a cool recipe idea from Bobby – Take out all those stray jars of condiments next time you're cleaning the fridge, all the half-used chutneys, salsas, hot sauces, (Bobby said he wouldn't use mustard, but I would), ketchups, vinegar (with discretion), honey bears, and so on and throw them in a pot and simmer them down to a BBQ sauce. No recipe, just dump in what you have and add some plain tomato sauce for balance. I wonder if pureed pickles would work too…

But remember…

Thanksgiving night, after the kids were put to bed, we all watched a DVD of a History Channel show, Cities of the Underground, that Mike and Christina had brought us. The episode about Paris went to the catacombs where stacks of countless anonymous bones had become artwork, retaining walls. "Augie would love this," Julie said. We talked of the death of Epic Soundtracks and the preserved bog people that fascinated seven year old Augie.

Mary Schmidt today says, "One of those weird things that happens the longer you're alive: You start to think of everything as breathing, and if you're listening you notice when the breathing stops."

I click onto a blog written by a woman fully aware of her impending death and I read the last post she wrote before she died in October. I am awed being this close to one who looked into the light of the face of death.

I have no summarizing statement today for my writing exercise during the month of November – it's back three days ago.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Day 29 - A November Walk

Yesterday as our long morning was winding up, Julie said she wanted to take the kids to the Volo Bog. You can tell Nora is sleepy when walks up to Daddy's tummy and pulls the end of his t-shirt over her head. She stands there, humming and swaying, sucking her thumb. She's not going to no bog. It turned out to be a good thing. Daddy gave her a bath and a nap. I don't know how we would have fared with her along on our little adventure. Another happy Thanksgiving kismet, like the gluten-free pie crusts that Randy bought accidentally but it turns out happily since Christina has adjusted her diet this season.

We walked the half mile trail that traverses the marsh, a thick brush layer, the fairyland tamarack forest, the open water center of the bog, then circles back again. At the platform overlooking the center, Julie observed, "No ducks or geese in this water," because the lack of drainage and the sphagnum moss here keep both the water and the surrounding soils acidic. That's why the flora here is unique, the tamarack trees and the carnivorous pitcher plants, but I got the creeps wondering what kind of strange acid-loving amphibians were sleeping below the surface. The floating boardwalks sat still on the frozen marsh; no bouncing or swaying today. Julie had heard the walkways kept sinking so this was the seventh version. We had fun imagining the six sunken decks below our feet.

Bobby wanted to walk some more so the six of us, Bobby, Julie, Julie's sister Amy, little Augie and Mia and I, started down a wide trail that began next to the parking lot. The big wooden sign at the trailhead said 2.75 miles; I pictured we would walk a while, then turn back for lunch.

The sky was bright and clear; the wind cool but gentle. Sometime during the hike Mia decided she didn't want to wear a coat and ran around happily in her sweater. We've been to the bog in four seasons now and I'm continually amazed by it beauty. The colors this day were muted browns but for the brilliant blue of the sky, some red berries on a treeless branch, purple thorny vines I suspected were blackberry, the bright Christmas green of moss on fallen logs.

Mia and Augie chased imaginary "hissy geese" and each other, ran, faltered, skittered, collapsed, begged to be carried, then jumped up and ran off all over again. When Mia asked for a lift, I promised I would give her one once we found a log to use as a step. The next few feet we spied one, cut as short as a stepping stool and just the right height. The world provides, except when it doesn't. She leaped on my back from her launching pad and immediately insisted on being put down because there was another gigantic log to climb on. Julie was a little tense because she was still carrying the little "bog boots" that Claudia had kicked off when Bobby had taken off her up on his shoulders. They had gone up ahead out of sight. "She'll be fine," I said. "When they get to the parking lot she can sit in her carseat." The pipe-dream of a brief stroll had disappeared.

We could see the barn-like visitor's center from our pausing spot on a ridge on the far side of the bog. Below us was the marsh we had walked through earlier. Behind us was a steeply sloping hill of tall golden grass that hit the sky at its bluest. I think we were about half way.

Mia was wearing pink glorified ballet slippers that carried thick soles of mud when she stopped to glop through a thick patch. I was in no mood to contradict any fun she was finding. "Doesn't that feel funny on your feet? When it's springtime we'll come back and you can walk barefoot through the mud and wiggle your toes." She hadn't complained in a long time nor asked to be carried. Augie and Julie were behind us when I spied what looked like piles of fluffy milkweed on the ground. Shed dog hair? Lost fur mittens? No, you know what it was. I did too, and if we had to have a circle of life moment, this looked like just about the cleanest way - dead rabbit reduced to soft little pom-poms with the teeniest bit of bloodless skin. We called out excited to Augie and talked about what might have happened. A few steps up the trail, I spot a rounded packet with a dull coppery sheen on the trail and we had more to talk about regarding bunny. Good thing Mia has been studying the human body at Montessori; we could use the word "intestine" and the kids didn't seem frightened at all.

In the distance I could see a stand of white-barked trees. Birches? Probably big sycamores. We had stopped our talking. I caught up with Mia rather than asking her to wait or slow for me. Way back before the dead rabbit, even before halfway, she had whispered, "This is horrible," but I wasn't sure she was still thinking this. It felt so good to walk next to her, wondering out loud why some trees were wrapped at the bottom in chicken wire, noticing that the swishing of the brown oak leaves under our feet sounded like rushing water and their smooth lobes looked like the fingers of children's gloves.

We were tired. When we passed a lookout platform, Mia didn't even want to climb the five steps for a different view. She waited while I took a pee that steamed on the leaves, then around the next bend we heard Bobby's "yeah! You did it!" "Julie and Augie are right behind us," I told him, said hi to Amy waiting with Claudia on a bench and went to the car for a miniature Crunch bar and a few mouthfuls of pink vitamin water. We scavenged the remains of Mia's school lunch from Tuesday, an apple and some carrots, on the drive home to Thanksgiving leftovers.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Day 28 - Still Grateful

Can I just tell you how good it felt this morning to sit long over breakfast with a table of relaxed and hungover grownups while the happy play sounds of my girls and second grader Augie and his little helium voiced toddler sister floated down to us from upstairs? It felt like something I don't often get to do.

We had smoked salmon on bagels, fruit, two quiches Randy made yesterday (perhaps suspecting that he would stay up til 3:00 am with Bobby watching a Planet of the Apes marathon alternating with a commercial laden Godfather II and so be unable to do much of anything this morning), Christina's left over cornbread cranberry muffins and her mashed potatoes now fried up and enjoyed all over again. These mashed potatoes, I got to tell you. Christina said she used shallots and sage and butter and cream and some grapeseed oil, but there must have been something magic too - amazing.

Actually, "amazing" was a word we used a lot last night, from describing the extravagant and earnest musical compositions for hire created by Rodney Eskelin to trying to put our finger on the experience of Julie's sister Amy's persimmon cognac cake. But if last night was amazing, this morning was lovely. The extended breakfast ebbed and flowed, as mimosas were concocted and a pomegranate split (Christina showed us how to whack it with a wooden spoon beforehand to loosen up the seeds), until it felt like a couple of meals, first and second breakfasts perhaps, or post-breakfast brunch.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Day 27 - Knock Knock! Who's There? Anna! Anna Who? Ann Another Gratitude Post!

Sandbox and bench at Evanston's Clark Square Park

I'm grateful for my husband who puts up with my shit and who brings home the beautiful red coat that keeps me warm on a long walk to clear my head.

I'm grateful for forgiveness.

I'm grateful for every day I have with my daughters, who make me happier than anything.

I'm grateful for time alone.

For every moment I have had with those I love.

For funny emails from my cousins and nieces.

For the sweet curve of the walkway that takes me out east toward the lake, away from the shade of the trees and houses around the girls' school and back into the light of the setting sun.

I am grateful for Julie and Bobby, their kids and Julie's sister and Christina and Mike and maybe another couple friends of Julie on the way here today with too much food and all their stories to celebrate the day and drink too much and spend the night and make me laugh in the morning even with the pile of unwashed dishes and not enough sleep or Tupperware.

I'm grateful for the resilience of my marriage and the power of thought and language to hang on to his last squeeze of my hand before sleep and the good medicine of a tight hug and to meld this persistent love into "resilience" rather than squint at it and see evasion, denial, or avoidance of the rough patches.

I'm grateful for two kind counselors giving it the old college try and being only a phone call away.

I'm grateful for wise and calm professionals tenderly teaching my children.

I'm grateful for the stuff of this sweet old world, the pleasures of beautiful yet comfortable bras that seem the product of aesthetic engineers rather than seamstresses, of Smashbox's Photo Finish lipstick in a browny-pink color called "Exquisite," of my brown Merrells with sheepskin lining that Dear Husband also selected for me, of Mapquest when you need it and of the sweet burst of pomegranate seeds.

I am grateful for every single phone call from my dear brother.

I am grateful for everything Aunt Ruth and Uncle Phil were able to give me. Happy Birthday, dear Ruth!

I'm grateful for kind strangers, for the quick communion that springs up with new acquaintances and for persistently loving old friends.

I am grateful for the persistence of love.

I'm grateful for the reviving power of long walks and how each step loosens the tangle of my thoughts and gives me the idea, "Straightening out the spaghetti doesn't make it taste any better."

I'm grateful for a holiday to celebrate this abstraction of gratitude which goes where? but back to ourselves, giving us back as much pleasure and balm as we send out.

And of course I am so very grateful for you, my dear readers. Thank you so very much for reading.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Day 26 - More Gratitude

I'm grateful for my new vision, which shares the image of ropes with the older one, but now the cords are pathways in the brain to the destinations of contentedness and peace and joy and even bliss and ecstasy and then these cords arc high overhead toward the pink horizontal lines of the sunrise and fall to earth on the wooded land up ahead and I use them to pull my craft to shore. And even though a thick sheet of ice hinders my way I have the strength to crack through it and pull on the rainbow cords to the beautiful land ahead.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wait, There's More.

Check out these director's reels from Optimus's new production wing, oNe. (That's not a typo, that's the name. oNe. Seriously.)

Especially Barry Kim's! (Another old Iowa friend.)

Day 25 - Gratitude

I'm working on a post about gratitude - I have a lot of it, but the hour is late once again, these 45 mile commutes are tough, so I'll save it for later and give you instead a wonderful letter from an old friend I recently reconnected with in Iowa.

Dear friends, Family, visionaries, stalkers, wiseguys, seekers & beatniks (and everyone else) ~

I LOVE Thanksgiving because it is the day officially celebrating gratitude. How satisfying is that? For me, hugely so.

Now I could take the political spin on Thanksgiving's origins and deconstruct the revisionist history that still stains our moral and societal culture but I am going in a more macro direction.

Gratitude is a very powerful state of grace. Instead of focusing on what you don't have or what is wrong or missing in your life, try saying or writing a list of everything that is righteous. Understand I am using that word in a more colloquial fashion.

Every night before nodding off, I do the list. Sometimes during the day when I am stuck in traffic or waiting in line at the grocer's, I do the list. Sometimes when my foot in giving me pain and I am fighting impulse to feel like a victim, I do the list. When I am feeling lazy or get my drift.

I promise you this: If this is not a practice you have tried, please give it a whirl because I know you will feel greater peace, lower your anxiety, decrease your depression, feel more compassionate toward others AND yourself, feel healthier, smile more and be able to listen to Kenny G without grimacing (oh, sorry, that's just my issue).

It's all about perspective my friends. We live lives of enormous richness and comfort. In so many ways. If you have any doubts about that, let's take a trip somewhere where life is more marginal. We don't even have to leave the US.

So enjoy your day. And know that one thing I am so very grateful for is your fabulous friendship! You all bring me joy, teach me things, prompt me to expand my consciousness (mostly without the use of pharmaceuticals and/or botanicals), harrague me politically, delight me remembering things we have shared that I have forgotten and being there for me when I need help or just a pal.


your pal, sal

Fear's the way we die. It's not a right. It's not productive. It doesn't really protect us at all. Let it go. Fear diminishes every particle of our being. Let it go.
William Faulkner wrote that the past is not dead; it's not even past. (As recovery on the Gulf Coast continues, Faulkner's words are perfectly apt).

Check out my blog:

Monday, November 24, 2008

Day 24 - Long Day

It's late and I'm tired so for this post do you mind if I just give you our tentative Thanksgiving menu?

Spinach ball hors d'oeuvres
Crudites and dip
Triple cream brie, crackers

Ratatouille (good hot, even better cold)
Zingerman's bread carried from the source by Julie's folks
Whipped sweet potatoes with cardamom
Carmelized shallot and sage mashed potatoes
Green beans with roasted portabello and shallots
Cranberry sauce
Plain old corn from a can (Randy insists)
Brined (in apple juice, herbs and salt) and roasted turkey

Apple cake (in loaf pans)
Some'in cute from Lovin Oven Cakery
Split pomegranates, pretty little pears

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Day 23 - Marriage Equality Protest at Century Cinemark, Evanston

Photo by Michael Lehet

Alan Stock, the CEO of Cinemark Theaters which owns 413 movie theaters across the U.S. and Latin America, donated $9,999 to California's YES on Prop 8 campaign. The passage of Proposition 8 stripped the right to marriage and all its accompanying civil rights from same-sex couples in the state. Why the odd number of Stock's donation? Amounts of $10,000 and above are made public record.

Last night a crowd of more than two hundred gathered in front of the Evanston Century 12/Cinearts 6 movie theater, owned by Cinemark, to protest Stock's contribution to institutionalized discrimination and ignorance.

Randy and I had planned to take the girls to an early show of Bolt, but I couldn't cross the picket line. I won't describe Dear Husband's face as he ascended the escalator with the girls. I stood in the 32 degree cold for a while, reading the signs: "Gay is Good" in a biblical font, "Joseph Smith is Gay" under a foppish picture of the Mormon founder, "Your Movie Date Supports Hate," "H8" on a red octagon.

I joined the line. My voice sounded strange in my ears for a moment or two, but call and response sucked you in, chanting, "Boycott Century," "What do we want? Equal rights! When do we want it? NOW!" "Hey Hey, Ho Ho, the CEO has got to go!" Two plastic bucket drummers kept up the beat. A couple of panda bears marched and posed for pictures. Good-natured police cracked the occasional smile as they steered the circling marchers away from startled passersby rushing to catch their showtimes. Leaflets listed alternate theaters for all the shows playing.

Logic and intellect demand our support of this equal rights battle, but deciding to step into the march had a measure of emotion for me too. Walking behind a couple holding hands caught the chant in my throat. The rainbow flags on high posts waved dramatically under the lights of the Century marquee.

Andy Thayer of the Gay Liberation Network spoke to the crowd, "The corporation who owns this theater said, 'we can't control what our employees do,' well, I had a couple of responses. One, your CEO is not just another employee - he's the head of your firm. Secondly, how would you feel if your CEO went around donning a white sheet or denying the Holocaust? Would that be acceptable to you?" The crowd roared, "NO!"

At Thayer's suggestion, the group turned to the north and marched to the Northwestern Campus, three blocks to the east. Protestors called out to groups of students on their way downtown, "Don't go to Century! Rent a video instead!" Light-flashing police cars stopped traffic at intersections, but once the group reached the university's iron gate at Chicago Avenue and Sheridan Road, an officer with a bullhorn announced the school was private property and the continued march would be trespassing. Thayer rallied the group again with stories of this very intersection being blocked for three days by Vietnam war protesters in the '70s and the plaza of the Rebecca Crown Center, through which we had just walked, ringing with the voices of Nelson Mandela and anti-apartheid protestors in the '80s.

The crowd moved south on Chicago Avenue, our chants being taken up by anonymous voices from apartments and dorm rooms above. We turned west on Church, passing shocked and smiling faces behind the windows of Chipotle and Blue, the new sushi restaurant at the Hotel Orrington.

The group that returned to Century had lessened in numbers but the spirit was still high. We were joined by a Harajuku girl (you can see her blue and white outfit in the photo above) and a brunette Marilyn Monroe in bright orange heels, with a gold handbag and headscarf against the chill. A woman drew cheeers when she yelled, "Hey, we stopped someone! They turned away from the door!" A man on his way in offered sympathy but argument: "Cinearts has a history of showing and supporting gay and lesbian films that the mainstream movie theaters won't play." An older woman, a pretty bubbe-type with her husband and another couple, stopped to ask me what the story was. "What a hypocrite," she said when I mentioned Cinemark profiting from gay and lesbian films. "We just saw the best movie," she went on. "Slumdog." "Oh that's suposed to be great!" I replied. "Best movie of the year."

By 8:00, the protest sign were being placed in a neat pile on the sidewalk and plans were made to regroup and warm up at Seattle's Best. The drumming stopped. A few protestors stood talking in groups, signs still held high. A Streetwise vendor who had stood at the doors all night started calling out, "Enjoy your movie! You can't mess with God! Your arms too short to box with God!" A woman with a "Christians for Love and Equal Rights" sign quietly conferred with him and his call turned again to "Streetwise!"

I didn't have a hat but my coat was warm. The marching had kept my feet warm, now I needed to jump a little to keep the blood moving. When children started leaving the theater, I knew Randy would be out soon with the girls. He pulled up across the street with a shake of his head and the girls described the movie to me on the way home.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Day 22 - To Do List

Clear out five rooms, including the basement.

Pack for six weeks of winter weather, Florida weather, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. Consider, then abandon the wild ideas to pack the turkey brining bucket, the mini Xmas tree, my hard drive, heels for hubby's office party, books I won't read, my poor neglected orchids, the girls' ballet slippers and gymnastics leotards. Don't forget the camera and the address books for the Xmas cards I still believe I will be writing.

Get the plastic sheeting from Ace Hardware to cover the rest of our stuff. Don't forget the zippers that allow me to dive back in for Something Important while the Eastern Europeans are sledgehammering away around me.

Freecycle everything in sight.

Wrangle Nora into a bath. Comb the hair of the thrashing children OR Pull up some last traces of creativity and transform the bathroom into a beauty salon with the hair combing hidden between the hand massage and the crayon pedicure.

Grimace at the camera at 3:30 for the goddamn family portrait.

Turn the preschool newsletter into a November AND December issue, saving yourself some heartache next month.

Plan tomorrow's NaBloPoMo post: "Synecdoche, New York. Thumbs up."

Take "before" pictures of the soccer field the girls constructed in a corner of the bedroom with an empty packing box for the net and of the reading nook in the closet that just happened when a box of books was thrown in next to the little chair.

Thank goodness for the cardboard box that the girls are transforming into a robot with crayons and spare toilet paper antennae-tubes. Even though I could really use that box for the bathroom towels.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Day 20 - Princessy Pouting Cuz House Renovation Starts Monday

Daddy Long Legs

The feeling is something akin to Panic, but without the painful zap of fear. Not quite Manic because I'm moving slow and steady, but barely getting enough done. What my head is sharing with those rabid states is the distortion of what needs to be done NOW - it's like a funhouse mirror where the fact that the cleaning lady threw out a bag of old hangers that I was going to return to the dry cleaners takes up an inordinate amount of space in my brain while the pesky little realization that there is an entire half of a basement to move out of the way of the heating/cooling people is only a tiny toe at the bottom of the bulbous body of worry about the preschool newsletter.

Saturday's photo session will be right in the middle of our last minute shuffling of beds and bureaus and boxes. When I booked the family portrait a few weeks ago, the woman on the phone telling me that she would be charging my credit card with the entire sitting fee THAT VERY DAY disquieted me only a bit less than her "you could wear some jeans or chinos." I do not like Jeansor Chinos on my body; I do not own any and her casual comment sent me reeling into irrational thought tangles of the kind of manicured, high-lighted content mother that the camera will be looking for and failing to find.

I've earned myself a little talking-too.

My car is filled with the nasty-sweet smell of new paint off-gassing - My car is fixed!
We're going to be living out of suitcases for the next six weeks - We have safe and comfortable places to stay!
The children won't be going to school very much til the new year - We will be exploring new places and learning new things!

I'm running out of pouts...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Day 19 - Do Some Good

From Join the Impact.

President-elect Barack Obama has made some important promises to the LGBT community. We have to make sure he follows through. What better way to do it than to send him a friendly little reminder? Here's how...

It would be great if it had the name of your city or state on it, but feel free to get creative.

Dear President-elect Obama,

Please repeal D.O.M.A.! All Americans should have the right to marry. Thank you in advance for advocating for the civil rights of your LGBT citizens.


Your Name
Your City and State

President-elect Barack Obama
Presidential Transition Office
Kluczynski Federal Building
230 S. Dearborn St., 38th Floor
Chicago, IL 60604

1. Help spread the word. Forward this email to your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors
2.Send a postcard to Obama every day until 11/28. Take a photo of you mailing your postcard and post it here.
3. Stay active in the Join the Impact network. Add your opinions and ideas, and help plan upcoming events.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Day 18 - Don't Trust the Man

who waits for you to finish the essay-like blob of writing you've been trying to figure out for weeks and only at the last minute with a few hours before the deadline finally figure out needs to be approached from the very opposite angle to the one you've been knocking your head against.

Because he took your casual comment after getting all fired up over Justin and Beyonce on an SNL writing break to serious heart and you are delighted he did but he neglects to tell you about the 6:00 am alarm for his 7 something meeting and how he likes to hit the snooze repeatedly.

And you find out at noon after you finally finish your long argument about black and white and hoping someday to be able to tell the kids, "that's a way that people used to categorize each other. We don't think that way anymore. People are much more complicated," that Diversity Day will not be Tuesday after all.

But no regrets, no worries. Because everything in a world that makes possible my two cuties all bundled up in their ski hats and new gloves so warm and pink-cheeked that I can't stop looking at them is okay by me.

November 4, 2008

From Patrick Moberg, by way of bb-blog.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Day 17 - Confessions

1. When I bought six cupcakes at A Taste of Heaven, I knew that Randy wouldn't want any and the girls would prefer candy. You can see what's left: Almond Joy and Marbled Malted Milk Ball.

2. The final look Jonah Hill gives his best friend Michael Sera as he descends the mall escalator at the end of Superbad moved me nearly to tears.

3. I stayed up way too late two nights last month watching Mask and Sex, Lies and Videotape, each for the umpteenth time.

4. I never could get into the "brilliant but cancelled" series Sports Night and Arrested Development. This makes me an idiot. I don't care. All they did in Sports Night, as in West Wing, was walk up and down hallways, talking fast. Fast and witty doesn't always equal true and funny, you know.

5. When the ATM ate my card that night, I smashed my front passenger door backing furiously out of the stall. And my language was choice and the kids were in the car. Today we dropped the car off at the body shop and got a rental minivan. Such not the same experience as picking up a rental in a tourist town. Our van wasn't vacuumed and Gabe the Enterprise guy said goodbye with, "There's a quarter tank of gas. Just return it empty. I waived the gas for you." Thanks a lot, Gabe. He was quite the tool. Slicked back hair, quick talking, "No problemo," and when I was looking for a trash can for a wrapper, asked, "Garbosh?"

6. I haven't watched the last episode of John Adams yet. I can't bear to, really. After reading the McCullough book, I dread his daughter's mastectomy, his wife's death, his regrets, his death.

7. I'm considering quitting this NaBloPoMo thing. I have a lot to say, but I'm a slow writer so the posts are taking time I need for packing, research, preschool newsletter writing, child tending. And the only work I've done on the book since October is one interview that I still need to transcribe. And write the thank you note. Ouch.

8. One of my favorite pieces of clothing is a blue sweatshirt I bought at Whole Foods on a unexpectedly cold day last year. It's soft and comfortable and has the WF logo over the heart. The kind of sweatshirt the employees wear. Randy laughs at me when I put it on. The guy who sold it to me at the customer service desk barely blinked, but I thought I felt him wince.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Day 16 - Tim Burton's Sweeney Todd

Jamie Campbell Bower as Antony the young sailor, about to spy Todd's daughter, the captive Johanna.

Randy tivoed Sweeney Todd for me (my husband is no fan of musicals so this gesture of thoughtfulness make me smile and wonder if the opposite of paranoia is the belief that the entire world is working for your good will and happiness and is that called optimism and wouldn’t it be great if one in four Londoners had those kind of delusional thoughts?) but I was a little reluctant. It looked unrelentingly dark (and of course it is but for one funny fantasy scene at the seaside) and I'm no fan of horror films (which it really is, especially the last awful ten minutes) and although I do love Johnny Depp, it's not enough to watch every toss-off he's done. But it's Sondheim.

And now I can't get those songs out of my head. "Johanna" has got to be one of the most gorgeous pieces ever written for musical theater. Beautiful, beautiful melodies that go in unexpected places and soar over the vile subject, a serial killer and his evil (urk) pie-making accomplice.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Day 15 - Our Homemade LOL Cat

Sometimes work has flow and sometimes family has flow. Mia is antsy before a birthday party, Mom gets idea to make an homage, Mia brainstorms the pose and the caption, Dad shoots it and does the Photoshop. Nora cheerleads.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Day 14 - Seasonal Affective Disorder

The therapeutic book says try to separate your thoughts from your emotions. Take your emotion and examine it, describe it, the shape, the color, the image of it. But when I try that, I'm frightened because the image of my emotion is men pulling on a rope. And the rope is attached to me and they are pulling me into the earth. And the men are as implacable as Nazis and as strong as the Hulk. And I am Persephone and November is my time to return to the underground. But the conundrum is that the image haunts me when I am alone but as soon as I say it out loud to Randy, I think it sounds kind of pretty and it makes me laugh and I feel better.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Day 13 - A Student Film

In film school I made a movie called "Cindy Fey's November," the title of which you can read a couple of ways - it's a movie about November, made by Cindy Fey or it's a movie about my November. It's really the latter. In typical overwrought film student fashion, I strung together seemingly random images and sound that more or less tried to create a mood rather than a story. You hear my neighbor telling a story about trying to get her car started on a snowy morning so she could get to work as a waitress at the Iowa City supper club out of on I-80 and how her husband had her pushing the car in her uniform - a black dress and white apron - as he tried to jump start it. A woman reads this passage from Harriet Doerr's Stones for Ibarra in a gentle voice:

Later on, when she lay down shivering in the warm night to sleep, she spoke out loud to Richard. She said, "How could you?" For he had somehow permitted himself to be removed, had left a space between them so vast it was impossible to measure and therefore seemed no space at all.

She slid her hand across the sheet to his cold, smooth side of the bed. And even if he had been resurrected to lie next to her again, holding the length of her against the length of him, even then she might have pulled back long enough to say, "How could you?"

You see footage of a building being demolished. A colander in the grass spilling the end of the season cherry tomatoes. A man with a pipe on a porch swing, looking into the lens. And black. Lots of black. Now that I think about it, I guess I could have overlapped the pictures and the sound instead of letting the audience sit through silence during picture and black during sound. Duh.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Day 12 - Questions

1. Why is it so hard to find a restaurant salad without chicken or cheese or candied nuts?

2. How does the golden rule work for masochists?

3. Why do some moisturizers sting? I know, I know, it's the alpha-hydroxy acids or whatever are supposed to strip off the layer of dead skin under which hides the glowing, younger you, but why still call it moisturizer? It's acid. It takes your skin off.

4. Why is anyone still making bubble bath that gives girls urinary tract infections?

5. What's with Paul Newman and all his wounded women costars? Since Newman's death last month, I've been thinking about some of his best roles and noticed a common theme. Piper Laurie's doomed lame alcoholic in The Hustler shares a few moments of happiness with Newman's Fast Eddie before self-destructing. The Verdict's Lindsay Crouse cries piteously on the stand in her Irish brogue, "I just wanted to be a nurse..." Newman's wife Joanne Woodward is the stifled and frustrated Mrs. to his uptight Mr. Bridge - you can see her heart break wide open here. Hud has housekeeper divorcee Patricia Neal.

Was it that Newman chose roles of such complexity and depth that they required equally interesting women foils and partners? Did his natural sensitivity, that could not be hidden even in roles of apparent clods like Hud, bring out the vulnerability in the opposite sex? Or is it a sign of his generosity that the actor chose projects that offered the opportunity for his costars to create amazing performances?

Sunshine, Lollipops And Rainbows

Dear Husband sent a little Lesley Gore for my whine hangover.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Day 11 - Rough Day

The contractor expects me to have spoken to my husband about decisions that I don't even remember I'm supposed to make. Actually, the contractor expects me to have spoken to my husband. The measuring guys expect me between 1:00 and 2:00 which means 1:30 to me since you split the difference but means 1:00 on the dot to them. The teacher expects me to select a time for a parent teacher conference from a list that has no correspondence with the sitter's availability list. I expect, naively, that the children will actually do what I ask of them when we are due somewhere other than where we are and undressed with wild hair. I expect the sun is shining, somewhere.

What else to do then, but... send in a contest entry. I haven't written fiction in a long time, but I had the cutest idea to make a story entirely out of noun phrases. The deadline is not for three weeks but I could tweak this thing to death and not change the basic idea so here goes. After Valentine's Day, I'll be free to send it somewhere else, too.

There. And with this post, I have accomplished something else today.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Day 10 - If All the World Were Paper

The stick and the cardboard box have been added to the National Toy Hall of Fame. It's time to add the piece of paper. Chicago Children's Theater's takes paper to new heights of delight in their current play for the littlest theater-goers, If All the World Were Paper. Characters Curlicue, Doodle, and Squiggle transform paper into birds, planes, water, clothing, people, musical instruments and more as they sweetly sing and dance the story of a paper girl on the biggest adventure of her life.

In my ebullient mood, I can't help seeing a political allegory as brave protagonist Paper Girl, played by spirited Alexis Rogers, goes out to the world and brings color, music and voice back to her white sisters.

The show is geared towards children two to six years old and the cheers and yelled comments ("Blueberries!" called Nora, long after the request for "things that are blue") and unpredictable laughter of the kids made the show more free-wheeling and fun than your typical production.

Through November 30. Use the code SAVE for discount tickets through next weekend.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Day 9 - The Red Chair

Could I interest you in an airchair? This velvet covered beauty has seen her share of this corner of the world, traveling with Randy from various Wicker Park apartments to our California Avenue bank, to here in Wilmette against my wishes but you know how guys are - not really as ready to surrender as Bruno Kirby was of the wagon wheel coffee table in When Harry Met Sally. Randy didn't so much get attached to the comfort of the chair (it sits a little low and the seat cushion is shot) or its look (although Brent Gearan did paint a magnificent portrait of Randy's father with the chair serving well as his throne) but to its backstory.

Randy picked her up on Maxwell Street, the old Maxwell Street that is, the 120-year-old open-air flea market that has since been shut down by the city, reopened in a prettier incarnation, and shuffled around to its current location in Little Village. Who knows what Chairy had seen by that time. She had a nice shiny spot right where most heads would hit the back and when Randy brought her home, his cat hated the thing. She would hiss and spit at it - a mystery until Randy ducked down to see a little rat face looking back at him from the lining below. Yes.

Just that much is making me kind of sick so I'll skip the awful story about how Randy and his friend disposed of the little passenger.

Now finally, finally, when we are ripping apart our second floor, the chair's time with us has come to an end. I can't say I'm not a little bit sentimental myself - you know how I get. Cause Uncle Phil sat here as he watched Randy and I get married in the bank and Mia toppled over and cried and grabbed for her Santa hat in this chair while I tried to take her first Christmas photo. But we've got the pictures to prove it all so I'm moving on.

Before our last move I called the great organization HOME (Housing Opportunities & Maintenance for the Elderly) for the furniture we didn't want to bring along. Please check HOME out if you are looking to get rid of some household items in good shape - they do great work. I may call them again, but I think I'll have to come clean about the little friend.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Discount tickets for If All The World Were Paper

Here's the glowing Trib review of this new show by the Chicago Children's Theater at the Museum of Science and Industry. We could be going tomorrow, if we can get it together by noon.

But zowie! Those tickets are kind of expensive. Here's help. Use the discount code SAVE to get $8 off the kid price and $13 off the adult ticket. Don't delay. The discount is good through November 16.

We've seen Chicago Children's Theater productions of Go Dog Go in Grant Park and The Selfish Giant at the Field Museum. Both were amazing in totally different ways - Dog was a wild, reeling, funny and fun musical circus while Giant created a tiny, amazingly intricate world with one musician/narrator and one puppeteer.

Day 8 - Honeymoon is Over/Attorney Amy Cook at Off Campus Writers Workshop

I'm feeling much better, actually. All I needed was going to bed when the girls did and getting 11 hours, two Tylenol and a drink of water brought by Randy sometime in the night, a haircut yesterday and a donut run this morning with the girls and a swing by the salon again to give Janet a twenty cause I only had seven bucks cash that day and the salon won't add tips to your charge and I couldn't use the ATM across the street anyway because Thursday night the driveup machine ate my card while I was out of the car getting a deposit envelope from the machine one lane over.

And this time to write. I needed this time to wrote. Thanks Randy, for taking the girls to Madagascar 2. I would have loved to spend the time with you and the girls but I think my head would have exploded from all the darkness (I have actually had to get up and leave the Chicago Children's Film Fest show AND halftime at the Backyardigans matinee - something difficult and claustrophobic for me about sitting still in the dark during daytime) and the sound of David Schwimmer's voice.

So I'm much better. The two-day headache that took various forms - a cone-shaped drill boring in from one ear, a heavy hand over my left eye and temple, a fine searing line across the skull - has retreated, leaving relief and gratitude. I think it was the symptom of a brief cold I picked up Thursday morning at the otherwise excellent Off Campus Writers Workshop meeting with attorney Amy Cook, former literary agent and writer for the Writer's Digest's "Ask the Lawyer" column.

Amy was funny and wry and had a wealth of information and patience for lots of questions about copyright (People, I wanted to say, it's yours! It belongs to you! Just put your name in the header and you're fine. Save your $35 and send it to Doctors Without Borders instead of! But that's why Amy was answering the question, not me. That and her degree and experience and stuff.)

Amy's tips that I found most helpful/new/surprising:

1) When writing non-fiction for periodicals, consider offering a sidebar of 100 words or so. You could be paid extra.

2) Believe it or not, Amy thought there were good reasons to self-publish. I've always thought this was the impatient or easy way out, but she pointed out that for writers with a built-in audience or who want total control over their work, self-publishing may be the way to go.

3) In a book proposal, offering "special editorial features," such as interviews, sidebars, charts, graphs, maps, indices, glossaries, etc. is a plus.

4) The two most important sections of your book proposal (more important than your chapters!?) are your analyses of the audience/market and the existing marketing and sales opportunities for your book. "This is what the agent/publisher will look at first," said Amy.

In your target audience analysis, agents are actually looking for concrete numbers. You can find specific stats at the library - ask the librarian about fans/users/members/groups connected to your topic. Get subscription numbers from related magazines. "My book will appeal to readers of ..."

Even before target audience numbers, the sales opportunity portion of your proposal is of the utmost importance. How will you sell your book? How will you give talks, write columns on your topic, connect with radio stations and bookstores, create a website, blog, get mentions in media outlets, get endorsements...

5) For fiction manuscripts, be sure to mention in your queries that IT"S DONE.

6) If asked for a synopsis, keep it to one page; write in the present tense and the third person even if the novel is not; smoothly integrate character sketches and their motivations, conflict and the conclusion.

Amy brought along some publishers catalogs that publishing houses will send out with their sales staff to bookstores and libraries. They were a fascinating look at the inside workings of the industry and how book are sold to the people who sell them to the public. The punchy, distilled language used to describe the books for sale was a great lesson in creating hooks.

Also: Duotrope's Digest is a great marketing resource for short fiction and poetry writers. It's "a database of over 2275 current markets" that is updated continuously. You can browse or do sophisticated searches for publishers of your work.

Amy also had some really interesting tips on contracts. I'll add those later here or in another post.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Winter on the Way

My new post up on Chicago Moms Blog is about November and man, I've got Autumn all over me today. The overcast skies and hostile chill feel personal. The neighbor's pink tree that you see next to my post on CMB is now blown bare.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Day 6 - Still Flying. But We Have Far To Go And Work To Do.

I woke up yesterday morning singing Nina Simone and feeling so good.

It's a new dawn/It's a new day/It's a new life.

But the joy is tempered by the bewildering passage of California's Proposition 8. My only consolation is that our baby country will need to learn the lessons of civil rights slowly. One giant leap forward, one sad step back.

From Monica Bou-Bou

Monica/Julie sez: Check out my baby unicorn, carved from mammoth ivory, perched on a cloisonne strawberry.

Bobby sez:

Please join me & Julie in welcoming our friend and master jeweler Jonathan Johnson to Chicago for his first exhibition in USA. He is a remarkable artist we've met while touring Germany; he made pendant necklaces for our entire band based on his interpretation of our music, and made the unicorn pendant you see attached for Julie. He has an (obviously) eclectic and far ranging taste in music and is making a series of pieces for musicians he appreciates. He also designs jewelry for his own clients as well as for the German fashion house Herr Von Eden. Even if you are not interested in jewelry, please come check out this show; they are actually small beautiful wearable sculptures, impeccably made and with a sly sense of humor. I hope to see you there!


Bobby Conn
Opening 6:00 PM Reversible Eye Gallery, 1103 North California Ave / dance party to follow with DJ Logan Bay, DJ Jonathan Johnson & DJ Bobby Conn

Of course, knowing Bobby and Julie, this may be an elaborate joke. Mammoth ivory? Or it may not.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Day 5 - Election Elation

Snapshots from Chicago.Our artist friend Mike has the world's coolest job creating one of a kind environments for museums and the like. I'll tell his story about putting helmets on the Art Institute lions TWICE when the Bears were in the Super Bowl another time. And they set once-in-a-lifetime kind of events, events where you are so enthralled and moved by the actors making history on the stage that you don't even realize a big part of your emotion happens thanks to the grandeur and drama of the setting. Thanks, Mike. Obama made poetry last night and you helped make it happen.

Randy took a break from the grueling schedule of his latest stevia sweetener commercial to walk down to the Grant Park party.

Here's his take:

I got within two feet of him. Well, at least the t.v.
I'm back at work now, but I had to go to the park.
It was an amazing scene. A combination New Years Eve, a Bulls win, & the excitement of being a child on Christmas.
I not only drank the Kool-aid, I chugged it, spilled it on my shirt, slipped on it, then licked it off the ground.
When I realized I wouldn't make it into the staging area, I wandered over to the Hilton, where after experiencing the most depressing party ever, the Illinois Young Republicans celebration, i found a local dive to watch the speech at.
The owner was kicking out a reporter with an exchange of "It's a historic night", followed by a "Fuck you, leave us alone," when I slipped in before he locked the bar's door.
I hadn't allowed myself to think that America could make the right choice, until now.
It truly is a "new day in America."

Jordan was there, and so was Alma. Great reading for those of us who cheered and wept from the couch.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Day 4 - An Emotional Morning

Children don't tell time. Let's think about that for a moment. Daylight Savings? Meaningless to kids. Not that I minded the early waking today. It feels like Christmas morning. It feels like the dawn after a long dark night that began with the realization when Mia was six months old that my child would be growing up during wartime.

It's an emotional morning. The colors of the leaves and the sky and the light will break your heart. We turn on the TV just in time to see Senator Obama casting his vote with his wife and little girls. The Trib describes yesterday's funeral of Darnell Hudson Donerson, Jason Hudson and Julian King. Fantasia sang "Your Grace and Mercy."

The girls scream in agony over an unshared toy. While trying to jump into my arms, Mia lands on the hard plastic Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine and wails over her bruised foot. She turns clumsy when she's stressed, so my reprimanding or urging her to hurry turns the occasion into tripping, falling, bumping, crying, yes, she'd like the Boo Boo Bunny, yes, she needs it wrapped in a towel cause it's too cold, no, she doesn't want to sit in Mommy's lap right now. It's a lesson for me every time. I have to forget all about the time and Nora's ice skating lesson in ten minutes and the tights and my wallet I can't find which means I won't have the photo ID they need at the polls and Mr. Fraulein's loud vacuuming downstairs. And just sit with her and be amazed once again at the spherical tears that fall so fast from her eyes.

But Joanna Babysitter is here to help and she miraculously finds my wallet and gets the girls separated and at peace. To lighten my mood I put on flowered kneesocks, a short pleated skirt from a company called Skunkfunk and my favorite blue hoodie. I know I should dress my age, Tim Gunn, but you know those ladies in the purple and red hats? I'm just getting an early start.

Randy had a half hour wait at 6am; we walk in easily at 9. All week I've been having cousin fears to my husband's dread of jumping if he gets near the edge of a roof. I imagine my hand pressing the wrong lever while I watch in horror. But none to worry - the right names are the first on the list - Cynthia McKinney? Look at all these names - who knew? Some other time I'll tell you about my Aunt Susan's run.

Now all we have to do is wait.

Mia looks at her book while waiting for me to finish the ballot.