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.