Friday, August 29, 2008


A lucky few of our parents' generation had their five minutes of fame on WGN's Bozo's Circus. They dialed the phone to get on the ticket list when the baby was born, cheered as their kids played the Grand Prize Game, and told all their friends to tune in.

For Chicago parents in the new millennium, you and your kids can grab your moment in the spotlight while getting your groove on at Chic-a-go-go!

The next taping of local cable's coolest all-ages dance show is Saturday, August 30 at 6pm.  The CAN-TV studio can be found close to Greektown, at 322 S. Green Street. Hosted by sweet Miss Mia and her wise-cracking puppet friend L'il Ratso, Chic-a-go-go is a bizarre and fun show that combines the cool cachet of Soul Train and the silly fun of American Bandstand with endearingly amateur production values.

You and your kids can dance to the lip-syncing of the coolest bands – most too bleeding edge for this rube to have heard of - and watch yourself on reruns on cable channel 19 Tuesdays at 8:30 and Wednesdays at 3:30.

When my Mia was a toddler, I took her down to the studios for the taping of the Halloween show.  Mia wore her beloved monkey costume. I pulled an orange turtleneck over my pregnant belly, slapped a green hat on my head and called myself a pumpkin. We boogied with male impersonators sporting some awfully realistic 'staches, Star Wars storm-troopers in full regalia and a crowd of tiny little princesses.  Ratso told some groan-inducing knock-knock jokes to his wry straight-man Miss Mia. A spontaneous conga line formed to the beat of "Ghostbusters!" And who showed up but Paul Frank, the monkey face artist! Who knew he played the guitar, too? The whole experience was free-wheeling, slightly chaotic and very funny.

The best part? We all lined up in two parallel lines to strut our stuff in the El Train Line Dance. Mia and I shimmied next to a little man in a white tuxedo with giant sideburns - or was he a she? - and giggled again, watching the show later at home.

Check out the scene on Youtube.

Chic-A-Go-Go taping, 6:00 to 8:00 pm, Saturday, August 30. CAN-TV studios, 322 S. Green Street. Van Buren exit off I-94, one block west of Halsted.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Day

Clockwise from lower left: Peach-blueberry, peach-raspberry, cherry, blueberry tart. The last looks a little bare, eh? I would have added some pastry leaves in the middle but I ran out of dough.

Notice the cherry detail in the middle.

And the girls? Napping! Can you believe it? Exhausted from getting up too early (Dad had football pool picks at 7:00 a.m.) and ballet, gymnastics and playtime with our amazing sitter Joanna who will be cutting back her hours now that the girls are starting school next week. Boo hoo!

Oh, why all the pies? We are off to family camp at Wandawenga this weekend. Two of Randy's ad agency clients bought an old scout camp in southern Wisconsin and renovated it for their own and their friends' use. I hope to get the girls in a canoe. And sing a few sweet rounds of "Home on the Range" and "Red River Valley."

Randy has picked up Innocents Abroad and I've been nabbing it off his bedside table for a few paragraphs as I brush my teeth. Here's how Mark Twain describes folks at a picnic: "...freighting an ungainly steam ferry-boat with youth and beauty and pies and doughnuts, and paddling up some obscure creek to disembark upon a grassy lawn and wear themselves out with a long summer day's laborious frolicking under the impression that it was fun..." Even with some advance hype that is upping the Must Have Fun factor, I'm hoping a little alcohol will make our outing somewhat relaxed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

End of the Summer Weekend

The girls screaming on The Whip at Kiddieland, a ride that lives up to its vertiginous name. Dad took the girls on Sunday while I spent the day cleaning out closets in preparation for school. Packed up four big bags of clothes for friends with babies, some never worn! Ouch. Listened to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss's album as I worked - awesome.

Eleanor on stage at the Music Box with the rest of the mermaid parade. "Excuse me, excuse me," she hailed the emcee, demanding an introduction. "I'm Eleanor." That's my girl.

Here is my latest post on Chicago Moms Blog about my decision to give up that sweet sweet magic elixir that works like a flint on my brain and a fuse on my nerves.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Patti Smith sings "You Light Up My Life"

What a Youtube find. That place is a treasure trove.

The Little Mermaid

Randy and I are taking the girls to Sing Along Little Mermaid at the Music Box today! There are two showtimes, but I picked the earlier one because I just can't wait another minute. Even though Nora will probably wail, "Momma stop singing!"

In anticipation, here is the talented Sierra Boggess as Ariel in a gloriously Broadwayified version of "Part of Your World," all emoting and belt/whisper contrast and glory notes. Yum. We first saw this on, the Youtube for kids.

Dad and Mia's favorite Little Mermaid joke: "What's that word again? Oh yeah. Poo."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Some good summer reading...

I'm tearing down the back stretch of Michael Chabon's Gentlemen of the Road, but already sad about the upcoming end of the ride. Such a pleasure. An adventure story of two Jewish travelers at the end of the 10th century, making their fortunes in the wild and dangerous lands between the Black and the Caspian seas.

"I am not overly encumbered by principle," the wraithish and moody Zelikman defines himself. "I am a gentleman of the road, an apostate from the faith of my fathers, a renegade, a brigand, a hired blade, a thief..." He and his companion, the giant Abyssinian Amran, share a love of elephants, their horses and their weapons, and a talent for squeaking out of tough situations. Although the hearts of both have been hardened by this vicious time, Amran has a bit less melancholy than his companion. The two find themselves kidnapping, then rescuing, then following with an army under the command of a young Prince, bent on restoring his lost kingdom.

The adventure is nearly non-stop, slowed only for a few moments here and there of resigned reflection; the suspense is breathless.

Here is an example of Chabon's deliciously chewy prose. Amran, in the middle of a scheme to retrieve his buddy's stolen horse via stampede, contemplating the chance to again save the young prince: "The melancholy he had been carrying seemed to break him open, and the face of his lost daughter was confounded in his heart with the face of the young prince of the Khazars...It was the business of the world, Amran knew, to manufacture and consume orphans, and in that work fatherly love was mere dross to be burned away. After long years of blessed absence, the return of merciful feelings toward what was, after all, only another motherless and fatherless child, struck Amran, bitterly, as a sign of his own waning powers to live life as it must be lived."

Some luscious chapter titles:
Chapter Thirteen: On Swimming to the Library at the Heart of the World

Chapter Fourteen: On the Melancholy Duty of Soldiers to Contend with the Messes Left by Kings

Chapter Fifteen: On Following the Road to One's Destiny, with the Usual Intrusions of Violence and Grace

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Side of the Road

At Fox Lake. Randy drove his sister and her husband and kids to O'Hare last night with Mia. I had a couple of hours alone with Nora and the quiet so I could clean up and finish the New Yorker. Before a simple dinner (hot dog, broccoli and carrot for Nora, a salad with egg and potatoes for me) Nora rides a bike left in the garage while I trot along beside her all the way up the road to the garage sale I noticed on my run that morning.

I love a garage sale. Five cans of soft Playdough, a Scooby Doo Mystery van with two Scoobys and every other character but Velma, a Thomas train yard complete with train and no missing sections of track. And all for five bucks! The lady threw in some kind of caveman Tower of Babel that the girls love to construct over and over again, then knock down with the tail of the caveman's dinosaur. They got up early again this morning (so quiet without Dylan and Jessica!) and went right to their work of play.

And on the way home from the sale Nora and I passed a cardboard box set out the side of road filled with books. They may have been touched in the June flooding, but they smell dry now – what a find! A literature anthology from 1973. As I flip through the pages to reacquaint myself with Frost's poem about a buzz saw accident and to gasp at a cruel Maupassant story I don't remember about two friends shot for spying, an envelope falls out of the pages. I hesitate for a moment but the temptation is too great and the names are all unfamiliar.

It's a letter from a soldier to a girl. He had a dream about her face and for once they weren't fighting, she was just there with him. It made him feel good even though he knows they are no longer together. So so sad. It belongs right here in these yellowed pages, tucked into Amy Lowell's "Patterns."

I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths,
And he would stumble after,
Bewildered by my laughter.

Friday, August 15, 2008


In a similar vein to its geological younger sister, the state of Montana, Iowa City works magic on me. In the middle of gently rolling green country springs up this arty little college town with brick streets and farmhouse neighborhoods of wide porches, shaggy gardens and droopy shade trees. I spent two year of graduate school here, watching lots of movies, making some of my own, helping friends make theirs, writing a bad paper here and there (I didn’t learn until my second stint in grad school that “pulling an all-nighter” is a technique for bad work, not a study skill), spending precious time in bars and at pool tables and in bed.

“Too much boy and not enough books,” said my buddy Kyle when I flunked my comprehensive exams on the first try. Not that there were such a large number of boys (I can’t call them men because as Don Draper via Mathew Weiner put it so well, “the young don’t know anything; they don’t even know they’re young,”), but those few (those unhappy few) took up most of my time, energy and attention - whether they wanted to or not. Ah, but the drama boys are all long gone – on this trip, I am reuniting with friends.

Last weekend’s reunion took place in our nineteenth year since graduation, the first reunion was nine years after we left. Don’t ask why the funky numbers, it just kind of makes sense. Kyle wasn’t able to make this trip because of work, which is easy to forgive. Jim, on the other hand, who is apparently going by “James” now, refused to come, saying, “I’m not thinking about the past; right now I’m all about the future.” Kim, as kind as ever, said she was not sure how to think about that. Sally said she knew exactly how to think of it. So we are making “James” an F-you video, standing in front of Iowa City landmarks and happily crowing, “I’m living in the past!”

The two days in Iowa were a steady stream of food and drinks and big laughs and old stories and walking, gasping over the news of old friends, the transformations of the town and the soft faces of the children walking the streets. I laughed so much that all the stale air in the bottom of my lungs was squeezed out and floated away.

Dianne (who wasn’t in film school with us, but came to Iowa after I left) and I sat and talked for a couple of hours and it was like a tonic. So deeply great to be with a good friend who knows you, who you know well and yet want to know so much more about. Being with her is a gift.

On the drive up with Clark and Kim (now married, not going together in Iowa, Kim was with Kyle then – all the shuffling’s a little Secaucus Seven, isn’t it?), the games began that continued all weekend: What familiar movie, when you come across it cable flipping, sucks you in like a vortex no matter how many times you’ve seen it? Your five desert island films. Five bad films that could have been great but for some bad creative decisions (I said the blink editing ruined the spectacle of Moulin Rouge!, which was on Eric's list of favorites; he said the miscasting of Paul Dano and the music of There Will Be Blood killed it for him.) Greatest TV series ever. Five guilty pleasures (Ice Castles!) Five best made for TV movies (Boy in the Plastic Bubble, Jessica Lange in Normal, The Day After, that other terribly sad end of the world film with Jane Alexander - ah yes, it was Testament, Longford.)

At the first meeting at the Sanctuary, the applause that we gave Sally all the way from Rhode Island and Don and his wife Emily extended throughout the entire bar. Over black and tans and framboise lambic and smoked trout pizza, we reeled off old names and got the news: teaching, married, lost his golden looks, ill, unknown, living in upstate New York. The web extends - Carlos Rojas Cardona was the matchmaker for Clark and Kim! Eric introduced Don and Emily! Sally was along for Eric and Burton's first date! There is the head rush of recognition – a door opens suddenly and you are there again - that face, her smile, his story! You know again the quality the light had, the smell of that room.

The next morning we gathered in our pajamas, well, Sally and Emily and I wore our jammies for breakfast. More screams of laughter. Kookelorus is a kind of a scrim or shade used on a film set that will create a pattern of shadows when placed in front of a light. It's a word that I barely remember and can't believe I once used casually in conversation a long time ago.

We pass the morning walking to our old apartments, posing for pics and telling stories. Bix, of course, wins the prize with this bat shooting incident. We never find Barry's log cabin; he claims it is long gone, yet another in his long line of stories that are too fabulous to be believed – relationships with people none of us met, his own production company, an Imax film about the sun! Sure, Barry, sure.

Sunday. The beautiful Iowa River that flows through the heart of campus flooded two months ago. Hundreds of hard-hatted workers from Catastrophe Operations begin the day on the arts campus. I pass them as I run in the opposite direction, many say good morning. I shiver to think of the mold growing unseen in unreachable corners of buildings where water should never touch. Giant yellow and white tubes slink from diesel generators pumping dry air into the doors and windows of the union, our Communication Studies Building, the library, the theaters, the arts campus buildings, the museum. The artwork has been long ago transported to Chicago in air-conditioned trucks. There are plans to sell the jewel of the collection, an enormous Jackson Pollack, for cleanup funds.

Jeff, who is a landscape architect working for the National Park District, points out because the water table is still so high the beautiful trees we see around us on the riverfront may still be drowning, invisibly. The art students will paint in the abandoned Menards in south Iowa City this semester.

I just passed this bit of construction dross without a thought until Burton, who is an architect in Minneapolis, identified it as the weight needed to keep the manhole covers from exploding into the air. Don is in the picture for scale, insert joke here.

Of course everything reminds us of a movie. The whole event itself is very Big Chill, actually, now that I think about it, we’ve even got the peer who passed too soon – Jonathan, who I last saw at the 1998 reunion, a talented filmmaker and charismatic teacher died suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 2001 at 43. I had been using his last project, a reality series called American High, in a documentary unit I was teaching to my honors juniors when I received word of his death.

Kim mentions that downtown Iowa City on Friday night with the rockin' beer gardens and a hooka bar reminds her of the scene from It’s a Wonderful Life where Jimmy Stewart returns to his sleepy town to find it full of neon and noise. This begins a twenty minute riff on the better film, It’s a Fuckin' Great Life where Jimmy has the chance to cheat on his hooker girlfriend Violet, but when he passes, he is shown the tame and boring life that could have been. Alternate title Pottersville.

Other memorable moments. “We were married to women for 15 years,” says Mark the merry innkeeper at the Brown Street Inn. His partner Bob nods, then mimics a gun to his head. We sit there stunned, then Don yells, “Don’t I know it!” Emily hits him.

Kim announces at breakfast that she had a dream about Sam Waterston, then went to Google upon waking to find out if he was married. Yep, for twenty years. Eric asks, “So what do you have to Google to find out if YOU are married? ‘Married, me, question mark?’” Kim is turning red and shaking and crying and looks like she might need the Heimlich.

The first morning I apologize to the young woman who appears in her nightgown to grab a bowl of cereal. “I’m sorry we woke you.” “Oh I’m not awake,” was her reply.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Today on Chicago Moms Blog

Here's a new post on Chicago Moms Blog about a fun day I had with the girls on Monday when it rained too much to go to daycamp.

And you must read Elizabeth York's post "How To Save Your Marriage." Or if that title is too scary, just pretend you are reading "How to Keep On Keeping On in Your Charmed and Blessed Happy Marriage." The timing for this one was especially good, as I wake up this morning chanting my to-do list before I must catch a train at 1:00 and leave the girls with the sitter for eight hours until Randy gets home. Mia won't let me pull her hair back from her face, I've got sunscreen lotion all over my hands because the broken nozzle squirted out a quarter cup, my period is imminent and I don't think we made enough thank you cards for all the camp counselors. And I need to iron. How do you think I spoke to dear husband when I needed some help?

Off to Iowa City to see these folks

Erik, me (way before I discovered the power and the glory of the push-up bra), Jim and Kyle at Karen Bavaqua and Dave Donavan's Great Gatsby party, spring 1989.

And dear Dianne, who moved to Iowa City after I left. Here she is, probably the day after our college graduation, off to conquer the world!

God, we're all such children!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

On the Beach


Panic is just a deficit in the imagination, right? Like not being able to squeeze any alternatives beside the Single Awful Possibility that is ballooning up in your brain.

"Mia! Mia!"

Last time I looked she was directly in front of me, practicing the flopping and bouncing and splashing that are her way of swimming right now. She puts everything but her face in the water. But now there is no sign of her.

I've jumped up from the blanket, strode into the water.


There's a scratchy bellow in my voice. There's an edge of a scream. The lifeguard is looking the other way. The other moms around me, strangers, are looking at me, then the water.


The mothers point to the beach. She's there. Playing in the sand at the water's edge. Now I feel my heart banging. I start run-wading to shore, my legs slowed by the water, like in a dream.

A woman in a protective long shirt and sun hat says as I pass her, "I know that tone of voice." I grab her hand and give it a quick squeeze on the fly.

What can I say to my daughter? I was not so scared that I'm angry. There's no tight fist in my chest, just this banging. "I didn't know where you were! I was scared!"

"I answered you," Mia says, nonplussed, her eyes still on her sand work. "I heard you and I called, 'Mom, I'm here.'"

I had kept looking at the water. I didn't look at the safety of the beach.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Dress Your Daughter in Baubles, Bangles and Beads

Want to treat your little girl like a princess? Skip the same-o same-o of the Disney store and head to Devon Avenue. Sunday night we stopped by Tiffin for some takeout after an afternoon at the Retro on Roscoe street fair. The girls were tired and hungry so we had little pistachio and cardamom ice cream pushups at Sukhdia's Sweets and Snacks. Sukhdia's also has rows and rows of brightly colored sweets and candies and roasted nuts. You can choose a quilted and ribboned box off the wall, then pick and choose an assortment of candies that are almost too pretty to eat. A great hostess present.

Next door was a sari store and I promised Mia to show her something pretty. But I didn't really know how pretty! Step into Taj Sari Palace and say hello to your Indian fairy godmothers. Tables and shelves loaded with intricate hand beaded silks and sheers and scarves in every color of the rainbow. Inexpensive bangles and elaborate gold and crystal jewelry. Glittering shoes fit for Cinderella.

We bought the girls an armload of pretty bracelets (12 for 8 bucks!), then gasped at the dress prices (justified - the prices, not our surprise, that is) and asked if they had a sale rack. The saleswoman sent us down the street to their clearance store. Randy decided to wait in the car with the wilting Nora and listen to the Cubs. Mia and I set off down the street past more sari stores and electronic shops displaying awesome Bollywood posters, past Patel Brothers, the famous grocer that is a overwhelming sensory experience in itself, past the vendors squeezing out cups of sugarcane juice.

Once we found the little shop, Mia picked out a buttery yellow outfit with a long slim skirt with a matching sleeveless tunic with criss-cross lacing in the back. The skirt and top were both decorated with gorgeous swirls and flowers of colorful beading.

The saleswoman said she could take a credit card but would need to process it next door. No problem, and she disappears, but when I heard banging on the door and saw a family trying to get in, I realized the woman had locked us and the rest of the shoppers in the store! When in Rome. Glad there wasn't a fire.

Mia wanted to wear the outfit home. A father waiting outside the store for his wife and kids told her she was beautiful. As we walked down the street, she held her skirt up above her tennis shoes and her head high.

Tiffin – 2536 W. Devon 

Taj Sari Palace – 2553 W. Devon 

Sukhdia’s Sweets & Snacks – 2559 W. Devon