Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Check Out What's New at Free Rice!

Update! Free Rice, one of the easiest and surely one of the most fun ways to help end world hunger, has added all sorts of new games to their site! Now you can quiz yourself on your mastery of French, art history, chemistry and other subjects while your time and attention makes a contribution to the UN World Food Program.

My friend Sal says:

Check out www.freerice.com.
Harvard & the World Food Program at the UN partnered up and bring you a site where you can learn/refresh your skills in math, art history, language learning, geography, chemistry & vocabulary.
Every right answer donates so many grains of rice to the WFP. It really piles up quickly!
If you miss an answer, the question keeps appearing (RANDOMLY) until you get it right. New neural pathway development programmed in.
And there are progressively difficult levels for each subject.
I am all about the art history currently.
I think you'll enjoy this and the reward is more useful than a stuffed animal made in China that you might win at the county fair.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Matthew Weiner's Mad Men Is The New Sopranos

A charismatic, secretive lead character, highly skilled in leadership and creative problem solving with a complicated family history that continues to give him pain. Has an older daughter and a troubled relationship with his son. A chronic philanderer who works sporadically to maintain the trust of his faithful wife, but fails her continuously.

The wife is admired in their social circles and comfortable with the material wealth and status afforded by her husband's success. However she cycles through loneliness at his neglect, forgiveness, admiration and angry betrayal.
The protagonist has a special relationship to a young woman with whom he is not romantically involved. This young woman retains an endearing innocence despite her role in an amoral business.

Plot attention given to the poor judgment of young Catholic priests and the deference paid them by their adoring congregations.

A supporting cast of riotous bumblers who reveal the occasional heart-breaker of a back story themselves.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Girls' Playdate Went Long So Randy and I Had Margaritas

The website Sexy People may be intended for snarky mocking, but every time I visit, I see another face that is almost someone I loved a long time ago. I ache with nostalgia. Earnest, trusting faces - it just slays me. This girl - I ran on the playground with her; this boy, I had a crush on him. I know these people. (Well, not this guy.) Here is the family who came over one Thanksgiving - the man said strange things that were supposed to be funny and the grownups laughed but I just ran out of the room to play with their kids in the basement.

My latest piece on Chicago Moms Blog, called "Clutter, An Appreciation (See Footnote 1)" has been picked up for syndication by McClatchy-Tribune! I'm thrilled, but a little apprehensive (Speck in the milk!) that if published, my clumsy joke about verbal clutter (Extended footnotes, ha ha ha! A cluttered post about clutter, get it?) will not survive editing.

MGMT will be guests this season on Yo Gabba Gabba!! If you missed them before, please click here and GET YOUR WILD ON MY FUZZY FANTASTIC SPACE CHILD!!!!!!!!!

Click here to be haunted. "Please Read the Letter," from Allison Krauss and Robert Plant's album Raising Sand, produced by T-Bone Burnett.

"Please read the letter, I wrote it in my sleep. With help and consultation from the angels of the deep."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Calling All Lovely Things

Oh I'm so happy this evening worked so beautifully. Self-consciously whimsical events usually made me shudder but Amy Krouse Rosenthal, who conceived the yellow umbrella playdate, and Steve Delahoyde, who documented it, really made something great happen. I'll leave it to you to debate if the video makes the event or the event made the video. Next question, does the video get all the best moments or was there much more wonderfulness?

I'm all inspired to send Amy something good - how about you?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Our Work

Not posting for nearly a week makes me feel a little antsy, although there was writing and revising in other venues. Today Randy had to work which makes for less of a weekend, but we all managed to do our thing.

Daddy's work:
The girls created a swimming pool for their pets with stones at the bottom, floating sticks and colored "lilypad" for resting, flowers to make it pretty and floating cotoneaster berries to eat.
My work:
Nature's work:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Coming Soon - Revolutionary Road on film

It was a bit of a retro summer around here. The string of balmy days made for a perfectly perfect perfection of a season - the kind of summer you are already nostalgic for before it's even over. On Project Runway, a 1940's throwback with matte red lips designed and sassed up a storm and the lifestyles of the early 1960’s burned up cable on Mad Men. On hot days I found myself reaching for comfortable Target dresses, what they used to call "housedresses," to wear instead of shorts.

In pursuit of the green life, I didn’t rehire the lawn guys who cut our grass for the last four summers and did the work myself. With a push mower and a rake.

As Randy would watch from the deck with a beer and his I-phone, I kept thinking of the scene from Richard Yates' 1961 novel, Revolutionary Road, where suburbanite April Wheeler mows the lawn much to the pain of her hung-over husband Frank.

"A shrill metallic whine cut through the silence of his sleep....It was his own rusty lawnmower, which needed oiling. Somebody was cutting the grass in the back yard, a thing he had promised to do last weekend....It was April herself, stolidly pushing and hauling the old machine, wearing a man's shirt and a pair of loose, flapping slacks, while both children romped behind her with handfuls of cut grass....April slowly and heavily brought up the rear, pulling the lawnmower behind her, blowing damp strands of hair away from her eyes with a stuck-out lower lip. Everything about her seemed determined to prove, with a new flat-footed emphasis, that a sensible middle-class housewife was all she ever wanted to be and that all she had ever wanted of love was a husband who would get out and cut the grass once in a while, instead of sleeping all day."

It was my second reading of the novel before I added up the equation - the story is set in 1955; April is pushing a rotary mower, not a gas-powered one.

Revolutionary Road is being made into a Christmas release film with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, all growed up and reunited from the Titanic. I'm so curious to see what they and director Sam Mendes will do with characters whose internal lives are so at odds with the way they behave. Frank Wheeler, the main character, is searching for the one thing he is incapable of – authenticity. He knows it when he sees it, but actually being real always seems just out of his grasp.

"The rest of (April's) story was that her father had shot himself in a Boston hotel room in 1938, and that her mother had died some years later after long incarceration in a West Coast alcoholic retreat. 'Jesus,' Frank said on first hearing these facts, one irritably hot summer night in the Bethune Street place (though he wasn't quite sure at the time, as he hung and shook his head, whether what he felt was sorrow for the unhappiness of the story or envy because it was so much more dramatic a story than his own.)"

Here's some just released footage from the film. Looks intense. I hope they capture some of Yates' black humor as well as his ability to chronicle the dying of dreams.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

A Shock

David Foster Wallace is dead by his own hand at 46.

From the LA Times obit:

"He was one of the most influential and innovative writers of the last 20 years," David Ulin, Times Book Editor, said. "He is one of the main writers who brought ambition, a sense of play, a joy in storytelling and an exuberant experimentalism of form back to the novel in the late '80s and early 1990s. And he really restored the notion of the novel as a kind of canvas on which a writer can do anything."

Wallace won a cult following for his dark humor and ironic wit, which was on display in "The Broom of the System," his 1987 debut novel; "Girl with Curious Hair," a 1989 collection of short stories, and "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments" (1997). In 1997, he also received a grant from the MacArthur Foundation.

A year earlier he shot to the top of the literary world with "Infinite Jest," a sprawling, ambitious novel with a nonlinear plot that ran 1,079 pages and had nearly as many footnotes. Critics marveled at the prodigious talent evident in his imaginative take on a future world, comparing him to Thomas Pynchon and John Irving.

In a 1996 profile in New York Times Magazine, Frank Bruni wrote, "Wallace is to literature what Robin Williams or perhaps Jim Carrey is to live comedy: a creator so maniacally energetic and amused with himself that he often follows his riffs out into the stratosphere, where he orbits all alone."

Friday, September 12, 2008

Our Week

Is that all I am to you, Disney? A pair of bulbous thighs?

A rough and tumble week for us with the start of school, packing lunches, a late night at Disney on Ice that we are still recovering from, my Wednesday night through Thursday early morning insomnia, the girls making the babysitter cry the next day, then refusing to go to school and sleeping all afternoon, Mia feverish, beginning swim lessons at the YWCA today triumphantly, with lots of spontaneous submerging and smiles.

The Disney night was a treat for the girls because we swung by Daddy's work and made a family outing of it - rare for a weeknight. The girls were open-mouthed with awe much of the time - my favorite moments were the reworking of a Clay Aiken song while Violet showed off her skating superpowers ("If she was invisible...(dramatic whisper) Wait, she already is..." Tee hee hee!) And Syndrome's gun shooting fireballs onto the ice.

Don’t ask me about what the Incredibles have to do with Mickey and Minnie in prison - the writers were jumping through as many hoops as the skaters. (Violet: I thought Syndrome's cape was caught in the jet engine!? Mr. Incredible: This is a robot replica!) But this entertainment is not about plot; the entertainment here is pure spectacle, novel yet familiar enough to be comforting to the kids. Who don't give a damn about logic anyway. For them, simply the sight of Frozone racing around, or Cinderella appearing in her coach was enough to earn big cheers. Nora was bouncing in her seat to the Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki-Tiki Room song, making little happy grunting sounds.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gooooood Stuff

The girls love school. In the 1985 film Sweet Dreams, Jessica Lange, playing Patsy Cline, arrives at her mother's house, tired and elated after an all night trist. "Momma, I feel so good!" squeals Lange, doing a happy stomp in her cowboy boots. That's me, with all this new free time. Time to pass these cool links your way. You're welcome!

Here is a brief and good review of Man on Wire, a documentary account of the French tightrope artist who achieved the impossible before the enemies of all art achieved the unthinkable.

Gourmet magazine gets political.

Made me laugh so hard. I haven't worn denim in about six years. Why put a fabric designed for coalmines next to southern skin?

Utterly bad cakes. A hoot.

Republicans delegate-contortionists try to avoid saying the words "choice" and "Bristol Palin" in the same sentence.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

They Got Christianated, Then We Took a Swim and Watched a Movie

My latest post on Chicago Moms Blog, about water and its miracles.

Today, before the back porch baptism, when Pastor Bob was placidly answering our little guests' questions, ("Why do we get sick?" "Why are dinosaurs extinct?") Mia was growing more and more agitated. She wanted to sit on Daddy's lap with Eleanor, she wanted a blanket against the wind, she wanted to swim right this very minute. I think she was growing frightened or confused. Randy tried reasoning to her in a quiet voice, explaining the ceremony in its simplest terms. When she covered her ears and cried, Randy took her and Eleanor inside to the security of our bed. I held the bowl of water while Bob anointed and blessed the Christian family. The little boy and girl beamed.

Their father, one of the nicest guys in the world, has been working on a feature length documentary for a couple of years. Mike asked Randy to cut it and today I got my first look at Ballhawks. The film profiles the guys who hang outside Wrigley Field, trying to catch stray balls that fly outside the park. What a great bunch of characters. The rough cut of the film was funny and exciting and moving and like all the best sports films, it's about so much more than a game. It's about patience, which apparently is catching, because now that I see the actual project that has lately taken up so much of husband's free time (little compared to Mike's work, which included shooting 300 hours of footage), I am delighted and restored. With a little bit of faith, coming soon to a theater near you.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Here's to Pluck Enough Although I Suspect He's Just Funnin' at People Like Me

"At certain periods it becomes the dearest ambition of a man to keep a faithful record of his performances in a book; and he dashes at this work with an enthusiasm that imposes on him the notion that keeping a journal is the veriest pastime in the world, and the pleasantest. But if he only lives twenty-one days, he will find out that only those rare natures that are made up of pluck, endurance, devotion to duty for duty's sake, and invincible determination, may hope to venture upon so tremendous an enterprise as the keeping of a journal and not sustain a shameful defeat."

Mark Twain, The Innoncents Abroad Or, The New Pilgram's Progress

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Labor Day Weekend

Of Camp Wandawega, Mia confessed to Randy, "I thought it would be creepy, but it was fun." Her creepy feeling may have come from Randy initially describing the place as "a campground;" "magical forest playplace" is more apt.

When Mia called it "fun," she may have been remembering the art and crafts tables under the trees on a sun-dappled hilltop. Sparkly sand and finger paint picture frames.

Or the rope swing hung from a giant cottonwood at the edge of the lake. Mia flew high and long up and over the water, screaming with glee.

Or the stuffed raccoon and squirrel whose fur Nora ruffled with the fireplace bellows as she said of antlered deer heads over the mantle, "That's the baby and that's the momma!"

Or the babies, the dogs, the couple of ferrets who showed up. The girls don't know the names of the games that lay around for our pleasure, the horseshoes, the archery bow and arrows, the shuffleboard, croquet, and volleyball, but they explored them with curiosity and interest, like scientists, like pioneers, discovering new ways to play.

Most likely she was remembering the beach where she and her sister paddled and spilled sand into the water as food for the bluegills. Surprisingly, the sprinkled offerings didn't chase off the fish, who swarmed without fear around our legs.

Surely Mia was not appreciating the perfect Adirondack vintage shabby chic of the camp - The sign for the "Showers" spelled out in twigs, the antique enamel washbasins filled with old-fashioned soaps.

On the third floor of the dorm, built out over the steep slope of the lakeshore, a beautiful room with dominoes and giant playing cards on the Heywood Wakefield furniture and a breathtaking view through the fire escape's screen door down to the swim beach. We see two teenage girls on the diving float surrounded by sparkling water.

Who designs this experience? How do you grow a talent for visual artfulness? To balance three jars of buttons on the shelf for maximum joy, to anticipate the comfort of the lunch menu written in chalk on a small board over the vintage ice coolers filled with beer, pop and juice boxes?

Ask our incredibly talented and utterly gracious hostess, Tereasa Surratt!