Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Monday, January 28, 2008

More of 2007

Our July week in Saugatuck with Sally and Erik was wonderful.

Granpa Bob and Grammy Lulu. Bob turns 80 in March. We'll celebrate with him in Orlando.

Fox Lake, defrosted.

December carbs.

We saw this car in a restaurant parking lot a couple of days after the big micro-burst in August. Across the back of the car, covered in broken glass was the banner: "COURTESY OF SCHNAZ CHEVROLET."

A family of bunnies played in our backyard most evenings this summer. We saw some tracks in the snow, too, so I am hoping they'll return in the spring.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Looking Back, Looking Forward.

Happy Birthday to me, I am forty-three, which is a number that begs to be yodeled, with my lower jaw pulled back, "FOOOOOOOOOOORRTY-THREE!"

It was an amazing year for our family. Mia started Montessori, Eleanor grew from a toddling two year old to a thrilling three, I wrote every day and Randy worked his butt off. We went to Mexico, spent a wonderful stress-free visit with the in-laws at Fox Lake, (a feat in itself), and well, here's some snapshots.

Walking on frozen Fox Lake. Everything is blue and white. The drifts resemble craters on the moon.

A chipmunk (or two) came to live in our house, scratching in the vents, leisurely jogging from the fireplace to under the stove. We caught him three times (or was it three different ones?) ALVIN!

Cicadas invaded Wilmette. We shreiked when we realized the backyard grass was full of them, like the opening scene in Blue Velvet. They looked horrifying when they hatched, soft and white with red eyes. But we grew fond of the harmless things offering up their husks for hands-on science lessons. We missed them and their swishing calls when they all died off after a few weeks.

My Mother's Day gift was a fastigated beech for the back corner of the garden. Her smooth silver trunk and turning branches are beautiful, even in winter.

Mia dances on Playa Los Cerritos, south of Todos Santos on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. Brent and Serena look on.

Mia started ballet. Here she is fitted for her first pair of slippers. I tear up every single time I watch her class practice their tiny hops and skips. It's so pretty and they try so hard. Her first dance recital is in the spring. I hope I can keep it together.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Play is the Work of Children

After our playdate, we walked little Ellie the four doors down to her house, then Mia and I turned to home. Half an inch of fresh snow had merely dusted the grass, but all the paved surfaces were turned into inviting slates, begging for prints in the clean powder. Mia picked up a stick and drew pictures, letters, faces.

She didn't want to come inside, but I was cold, gloveless just to run Ellie home so I told her, "You can play outside as long as you stay where I can see you from the front window." So she stayed outside for a while, chattering to herself, no, not chattering, but narrating herself, busy with her hieroglyphics, bursting into a trot for a few steps, looking up once or twice to see me waving and wave back. She seemed to dance with invisible partners, play a private game with elaborate and inscrutable rules.

"Don't take toys away from Eleanor," I had told her today. "Her play is how she learns. It's like when you do your work at school. No one takes away your materials when you are working at school, do they?" She shakes her head. Perhaps this comparison makes sense to her. We will see.

The fading light had drained all color outside but Mia's pink coat. I think of my favorite love song, "Your looks are laughable, they're unphotographable. But still you're my favorite work of art." Because the moment seems beyond capture.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Old Joy

Randy and I drove to LaSalle last Saturday, for Kate's dad's memorial service. Our friend Kate and her husband Ehran have had a tough month; Ehran's best friend Jim died in an electrocution accident before Christmas, leaving a wife and young daughter. Two deaths of fathers, one prepared for and foreseen, one incomprehensible and blindsiding.

The countryside was beautiful between here and LaSalle. January light renders all colors pastel, all shapes shadowed. We saw a round barn, a llama huddled against the wind in the mud of a cow pasture. Enormous wind-farm turbines appeared out of the mist like something out of H.G. Wells.

I looked up from All the Pretty Horses, noticed the handsome curve of Randy's freshly shaven jaw and said, "It's nice to get some time together alone. It's like date night!"

"Yeah, only without the date and the night," he said and smiled.

I had been waiting, waiting for the chance to talk to my husband about Old Joy, a film I heard about months ago and finally caught on the Sundance channel. The spare plot from a story by Jonathan Raymond: two old friends go for an overnight hike in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon. They hike through lushly beautiful forest, find a hot spring, take a soak and go home. But in the space of their two days together, we see the chasms that have emerged between them.

One clings to a slacker lifestyle, always ready with a beer and a good story, even though the charm is wearing thin; the other is expecting a baby and looking at his friend's chronic irresponsibility in a new light.

I related to Randy the film's climax, if you could call such a quiet moment that, when the slacker friend tells an alternately hilarious and sad story, ending with something like,

"I said, 'I think I'm going crazy, man!' And the Indian lady, she was in her fifties, with a dot on her forehead, hugs me and she says, 'It's okay, it's okay. Sorrow is joy that's been all used up.'"

Randy was taking the off-ramp from 90 west to 294 south by the airport and we were curving and climbing and I wept, telling the story, because that is the sadness of Kate's father's funeral, isn't it? He had sixty-two years of marriage and five children and good and respected work as a dentist in a small town and grandchildren and lots of golf and in his retirement invented ingenious ways of retrieving golf balls and we are just sad because of all that joy, right? Kate tells us her father and mother would make necklaces from the gold he used for dental fillings. She likes to picture them together, melting the bits of gold, then dropping them into cold water to make free-form shapes. Her father made their wedding rings.

On the way to the service I complained about Randy's map computer that sends us on a route to the northwest when LaSalle is clearly south. I'm jealous of that map bitch, cause my husband pays attention to her. "Complaints are worn out compliments," points out Randy and I laugh and laugh because he is just the kind of guy I like.

Here's an interview with Jonathan Raymond.

Monday, January 14, 2008

What Book are You?

You're Watership Down!

by Richard Adams

Though many think of you as a bit young, even childish, you're
actually incredibly deep and complex. You show people the need to rethink their
assumptions, and confront them on everything from how they think to where they
build their houses. You might be one of the greatest people of all time. You'd
be recognized as such if you weren't always talking about talking rabbits.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The Land of Anymore

"I won't to Anymore," says Eleanor.

Busy with sandwiches, half-listening, thinking she is talking about travel to some Never-never land, I murmur back, "That's right, honey, you won't go there anymore."

"I won't TO anymore!" she repeats, insistently and the ambiguous words turn in the light, another facet illuminated.

"Oh! You won't be TWO anymore!! Yes, that's right!"

Her third birthday was Monday. The weekend party was sweet and crisis-free, which is all I ask for at this point.

"That's the most organized party I've ever played!" said Miss Lisa, the sweet voiced musician, after leading the two year olds through dances and shaker jangling and turns at strumming her guitar. "Don't say CHAOS," I whisper back, "You'll jinx us."
Mommy has enough of that in her brain, with the last minute caterers-bakery-grocery-new dress-tablecloths-goodie bags-coffee run-ice run craziness. Mix that with monthly hormones and you've got quite the party cocktail. But even though I never did get the paper lanterns hung, as soon as the first friends show up, all smiles, nothing matters but their adorable kids, who break all our hearts as they sit in tiny chairs working at their little cake slices, a roomful of bouncing balls suddenly quiet and concentrated.

Her third birthday was Monday. In nine months, Eleanor will begin school. I will have hours of time every day with no children in the house. The thought is exciting and full of possibility and tinged with melancholy. Right now, I don't mind not having much time to write. I like this land of Anymore we're living in. It reminds me of heaven, if heaven's angels had wit and humor and a great deal of Imp in their blood and warm sweet-sour breath that I would (and do) surreptitiously sniff every chance I get.

Monday, January 7, 2008

No Country for Old Men

All the reports of disturbing violence in this film are keeping me away, but I couldn't resist when Randy brought home the book. I plunged in and emerged a couple of days later, not uplifted, but glad my head was full of words rather than visions of cruelty. By the fifth page McCarthy creates horror and by the twentieth, almost unbearable tension. The two qualities are not unrelated, of course. Every scene, even the peaceful one here and there, is haunted by the menace of hitman-serial killer Chigurh, an unstoppable force and a strangely compelling monster.

I have a Coen brothers story. When I was a film school, I met a guy with thick black-framed glasses and spiky hair named Don Skahill, who made and worked on some interesting student films. A couple of years later, I heard through a friend that Skahill got a job as a script flunky on the Coen brothers film Fargo. The brothers had started production, but they hadn't yet cast a tiny speaking role. So Don asked if he could try out, but one of the Coen's told him, "I don't want to do a conventional audition for this. Surprise me."

So Skahill watched and waited and one day saw his opportunity. He burst into a room where the bros were working and called out in earnest and energetic Minnesotan: "May I have your ticket, please!?" It was the character's single line and his reading won him the role. It's actually an important moment of the film - the sight of his corpse is what William Macy, as Jerry Lundegaard, is reacting to in this often-shown still.

The McCarthy book did remind me of the earlier film. They both show us the tender relationship between a law officer (Fargo's Officer Marge Gunderson, the novel's Sheriff Bell) and spouse and contrast that rockbed safety and comfort with grotesquely meaningless violence.

And Fargo and No Country for Old Men both collide worlds. Innocence meets guile for the first time and approaches with a small confused smile, sniffing the sulfur. A gas station clerk asks Chigurh, "You all getting any rain up your way?" The antelope hunter Moss returns to the desert crime scene - where he recovered a million dollars in blood money! With a jug of water! Too good or too stupid to live? Discuss. Look at Lundegaard's face. He's tasting the bile of panic and the juice of the serpent's apple.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

New Year's Day

I woke at 5am after a few hours sleep. My mouth was dry and I had an insistent itch between two fingers. Clear thoughts started to rise up through the fog of sleep and I was awake. I've had insomnia at Fox Lake before, but this morning, with all the possibilities of the year ahead of me, I imagined each breath as a perfect moment, round and complete. Air in, then out, in a soothing pattern. The girls were lying on either side of me, their night thrashings stilled for once. Heaven is here on earth. That's my resolution. To dare to experience heaven in every sweet day I have.

Jenny Runkel at ScreamFree Living suggests this New Year's resolution: I will take care of myself so that others don’t have to.

Sue Spengler writes about deciding to be chosen, rather than waiting for it.