Sunday, December 20, 2009

William and the Christmas Moon by Laura Robinson

The sweet folks at Sawbridge Studios sent me a copy of local writer/artist Laura Robinson's book William and the Christmas Moon: A Shadow-Casting Bedtime Story a few weeks ago. I've been meaning to tell you about it; it is so so beautiful - but the time has flown. Now you'll just have enough time to run out before Christmas Eve, because believe me, you'll really love starting a new holiday tradition, sharing this special book with your children.

Robinson's poem-story of William's magical night journey is accompanied by exquisite cut out illustrations designed to be lit on the wall by a cunning little flashlight that comes with each copy of the book. You'll need two AAA batteries. The attached flashlight, which ingeniously hooks to the book with velcro, is best for the images. Our old Maglight distorted the projected shadows.

My girls were squealing with delight at the pictures projected on the bedroom wall; I was entranced by the delicate beauty of the images. Two deer drink water by a moonlit lake. Pinprick stars twinkle over a snowy village. As I read on, my girls fell silent under the spell of the picture show in the darkness. The line, "Darkness frees our eyes/To see what daylight can disguise," made me think that this was a perfect story for the eve of the solstice. And made me think with new gratitude about the very darkness that we work so hard to banish this season.

Robinson has used this lovely shadow technique previously in her book William and the Magic Ring. I'm getting a copy to put under the tree for the girls.

William and the Christmas Moon by Laura Robinson. Sawbridge Studios, 153 West Ohio Street, Chicago and Green Bay Road at Tower Court, Winnetka.


Mia called from the other room to tell me how good her hot chocolate tasted. I could have been next to her enjoying some tea and her cute mustached face, but I was somewhere between Rushed and Frantic, compiling a year-end montage for the holiday card or tracking down gifts that can still be shipped by Christmas. (Goodbye, dreams of healthy and delicious Florida citrus baskets.)

So it wasn't until she was finished with her drink and moved on to play that I walked by and say the delicious dregs of her cup. Miss H., Mia's first grade teacher, had given the kids packets of "Snowman Soup" as a holiday gift on Friday: hot chocolate mix, a peppermint candy cane for stirring, Hershey's kisses and a cute poem about freezing weather and warming the spirit. Mia had dropped the kisses into the hot drink and now all that was left was some chocolate goo and a peppermint fragment. I grabbed Mia's straw and sucked up the rest, forgetting, perhaps deliberately, her coughs before breakfast this morning.

"I just ate your germs, Mia! But the Snowman Soup was so good!"

I went on like that, licking the straw for the last bits and alternating happy groans at the minty melty goodness with loud complaints that I could feel the congestion in my chest already. Remember when Redd Foxx on Sanford and Son would grab his chest and call out to his dead wife, "I'm coming, Elizabeth!" A hair less dramatic than that, but with added holiday cheer.

Oh, hi. Yeah, I'm back. Had to share that story with you, apropos of nothing but holiday fun and a general Fall Downiness. No promises for much more writing before the new year - it's that crazy time. But I do have a few more Copenhagen stories to share so stay tuned. Love ya lots! Enjoy your holidays. Be safe and happy and well.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Emerald City Theater's A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas

On Sunday we hit Emerald City Theater for A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas. The everlasting story of ETA Hoffman's perennial Nutcracker ballet has been reimagined from the point of view of Fritz, the naughty brother who breaks Clara's beloved nutcracker. In this version, Fritz joins forces with the Nutcracker-come-to-life to battle the Mouse King and save Christmas.

Emerald City Theater has produced a charming and rollicking show and playwright G. Riley Mills shows a great understanding of children's logic and fun. The show is sure to please just about the whole family, from kids three or so on up. My girls, who moments before were fighting the whole experience tooth and nail, sat on the edges of their seats, transfixed by the sight of Fritz refusing to go to his sister's "boring ballet." Halfway through the show, seven year old Mia was whispering explanations of the actors to me: "He's wearing a monkey head because he's a toy." "Those are elves." And by the end, my completely won-over girls cheered, "That was good!" They beamed in the lobby as cast members signed their special kids version of the playbill.

The show features some adorable puppetry, but the real stars are Ralph Covert's songs and Shea Coffman as the hilarious Mouse King. Coffman, who reminded me Will Ferrell in a kid-friendly mode, brings great timing, mimicry and fearlessness to his comic villainy. "I'm a CRAZY mouse!" he sings out before doing a little Beyonce-flava jig. I was cracking up and so were the kids. Like all great villain performances (I'm thinking Larry Yando as Jafar in Aladdin on Navy Pier last summer; I'm thinking Frankenstein's monster in Mary Shelley's novel I'm reading), there's a risk of upstaging the hero or at least exposing his/her namby-pamby underbelly. A small price to pay for this many laughs.

Multi-talented Ralph Covert of the Bad Examples (for the grownups) and Ralph's World (for the kids) wrote a Christmas stocking full of fun songs for the show. Covert creates infectious hooks and fun grooves that had me and my four year old bouncing in our seats.

The show runs through January 2 at the Apollo Theater on Lincoln Avenue.

Friday, November 20, 2009

You Only Turn Seven in Sweden Once

Thursday morning, October 1. Malmo, Sweden

Mia is cooing and puttering over her new Swedish toys. She's wearing her PJ's (it's 8 a.m.) and a gold crown and a ribbon proclaiming "Birthday Girl" taped to her chest.

Nora plays along. She hasn't had a trace of ego during all the planning and discussion in the days leading up to Mia's overseas birthday ("I'm just worried there won't be cards or toys," Mia confessed, as if we were traveling to a desert island rather than a fertile and highly civilized one.) Nora's wide-eyed wonder without thought for herself broke my heart a tiny bit so I told her last night, "We'll make just as much fuss over you for your birthday!" and you could see the idea dawning on her.

We're in a hotel room in Malmo (they pronounce it with a gargled "r" sound in there, somehow), Sweden. Our room overlooks an anonymous mid-century low-rise wing of the same hotel, but below, there is a pretty courtyard with conifers and lavender and trees going bare. Winter is closer here. Our clothes are too light for the wind off the ocean. We all have coughs except for the birthday girl.

I only have one glove. In the interest of time, in deference to your patience and with all due respect to sanity, I will refrain from describing my fit yesterday morning over the lost purple glove as we packed to leave lovely, beloved Copenhagen and the sweet comforts of the Guldsmeden Bertrams hotel for the unknowns of Sweden. Our Bertram room had a huge bath with organic soaps and lotions, an organic honor bar and a balcony with sights of high pitched red tile roofs and the sweet green backyards of our neighbors. Below was the Bertrams courtyard and its thick willow bushes, teak chairs and de rigeur heat lamps (every cafe has them as people cling to sitting outdoors - red blankets printed with the cafe name are often folded over each seat as well.)

My favorite place to read and write in the Bertrams after the kids were asleep.

I wept when we were checking out in the lobby after Mia signed the guestbook with a huge full page flourish and two dragonflies, the translation of Guldsmeden. Pimella, Meta and Christina were the helpful beauties at the front desk, holding our heavy gold keys while were were out and offering patient advice on bike routes and bus fares.

Now we cab it the few blocks to the Central Station with all our luggage (minus one pink monkey suitcase that we left at the airport on the day we arrived. We don't tell the girls it has probably been blown up in Obamafeber security.) Our cab fare costs more than the quick train ride over the strait to Malmo. Strangely, no customs, although security guards walk the aisles, asking all passengers if the suitcases overhead are theirs and checking abandoned plastic bags.

The train is swift, the water views are pretty and we're in Sweden in 20 minutes or so. Amazing graffiti on the last kilometers into the station. Giant cartoon faces, spectacular tags. The girls have gotten used to pay toilets by now. I'm still amazed at how clean and cute they are and how sweet and professional the staff. We hike a few blocks to the SAS Raddisson, part glassy modern, part 1600 era half-timbered ye olde.

In the main tourist square we have pasta (by this time I'm ready to throw in the towel and just search for Italian restaurants all over ScandInavia - luckily they are everywhere.) The waiter is in no rush to hurry us along and Nora spills her second glass of milk all over her jeans. She cries loudly and I hug her and shush in her ear. I hadn't had my run.

But Dad puts the girls down for a 4 p.m. nap while I walk down to the fortuitous party shop we passed earlier. Banners, balloons, a cellophane fountain to hang from the ceiling and way too many little paper tchotchkes on toothpicks to stick in her cake. I get directions to a toy store, refreshingly Barbie-Dora-Disney free. Sweet Findus the Cat, Prinzessa Lillefree, Barbamama and Barbapapa are the rage here.

I stand transfixed in front of a Christmas crafts display at a hobby store. I think Sally mentioned the all-out decorations Danes put up for the season. I can suddenly understand. When you have hours of darkness to kill in modest apartments, making cunning little snow people seems the perfect way to spend a winter afternoon in Sweden.

They call this the Princess Cake. It would have been perfect for Mia but I miscalculated that she would prefer chocolate. Oh, well.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Olympic Cakes and the Round Tower

Was it presentient they gave Chicago the zero?

Wednesday, September 30. Copenhagen, Denmark

Monday night was bad. Randy went out for drinks with the clients and I couldn't sleep, then when I could, he knocked on the door at two a.m., wasted, and I couldn't sleep again, worried about both of us being grumpy and irritable with our girls who deserve better in the morning.

I had just decided to ignore his pre-bender promise to "take the girls in the morning so you can get a run" and detach with love and take them out for a ride on the Ferris Wheel when I drifted off.

A nice plan but his snores in the a.m. wouldn't let me leave well enough alone and I yelled, "You promised!" And took my run around the lakes. Big swans, bright sun, strange black and white ducks and glimpses into woodsy backyards with roofed fire pits. Cool in the shadows.

I grabbed a vegetarian Vietnamese sandwich on French bread for lunch with what I assume is a birch beer soda. The bottle has a cute gnome on the label that I want to show Mia. After a shower, when I meet Randy and the girls at the Ferris Wheel just north of Central Station, he looks wiped out and pissed off and Nora is exhausted and underdressed for the cold wind. I send them home and perky Mia and I go exploring.

We stop at a tacky tourist store so she can get little gifties for her classmates and I can check out the Royal Family on postcards.

"How about this place for ice cream?" I ask her and my wise one says, "There's no scoops taken out of it. That means people aren't buying it because it isn't good." I look at the untouched mound of gelato and give Mia a big laugh and a kiss. We stroll on until I find La Glace, the famous 130 year old cake and sweets shop. Cakes fashioned into the numbers 2,0,1 and 6 dress up the front windows, each number representing one of the four bid cities. Little marzipan athletes compete in summer events on another set of cakes. Adorable.

A nice woman sees us eyeing the cakes and advises us to go in. We tell her we are on the hunt for good ice cream and she kindly directs us to Paradise across the way, which turns out to have fabulous organic gelato with plenty of telling scoops taken out.

We amble from square to square, stopping at windows we like, ("How many brides can you count, Mia? Now how many when you include the headless ones?") laughing at a drunkard's song to a piece of dog poop in the street. A Spanish jam session serenades us from their cafe seats. We pass a stand of Mediterranean treats; a vat of boiling sugar waits to bathe almonds.

Mia has plenty of energy to climb the Round Tower. We have a few magic moments here - the narrow bricks curving under our feet in a constant ramp that seems to transport us. We're three flights up before I know it. Tiny child-sized alcoves with rounded tops carved out of the stucco walls must have been used for lamps. Now the walls are white-washed, all ancient smoke long gone. The outer curves have larger spaces with seats. Light streams in from the large windows - it's a wonder of simplicity and atmosphere.

We only peek through a door at the church attached to the tower (the entrance is one curve up) but the former library space above the church (another two curves up) has been transformed into an airy gallery with minimalist shop and cafe. Gorgeous and so Danish, but the modern art that resembles children's work without the joy scares Mia.

More curves up, past a funny old loo and the bell room to finally reach steps and the roof. Tycho Brahe had a gold nose and studied the stars here. The heavy apparatus required horses to haul it to the top. I also tell Mia the story of a lazy king who wants to ride rather than walk to the top. A beautiful view but windy. Mia is cold. Students hang out here; the tower is open until ten in case you want to stargaze a little yourself.

It was the climb itself, the circling the center, through the blocks of light streaming in that enchanted me more than this payoff view of the city. "Thank you," I tell the ticket man when we reach the bottom. "That was fun and beautiful."

As we descended, we could hear echos of a band playing in the square below. Now we see they are Hare Krishna sitting on a blanket on the ground. I am transported and ready to convert. Tinkly bells, strumming guitars and a harmonium toy piano with hand-worked bellows accompany the six singers in a lilting chant that I completely understand as the basis for a transcendent spirituality. Mia has to drag me away.

Our last stop is Candy Planet, not a planned visit, but Mia is so pleased to be able to scoop up her choices from the dozens of bins into a little bag that the experience is the first she tells Dad about when we return.

Our last dinner with Ken, who the girls call "Mr. Ken" and Randy calls "Tex," before he flies home in the morning, is at a French bistro on Vaemedamsvej called Cafe Viggo. After a lovely afternoon of exploring with my dear companion of seven years, the day is balanced out with an overlong dinner, overtired parents and kids up way past their bedtimes. Tex is a trooper but I don't know how Job could have stood the never-ending Movie Game as we wait and wait for our entrees (delicious as my butterfish in cream sauce with carrot souffle eventually is.)

Mia drew this face on the butcher paper that covered our tablecloth while we waited for dinner. She copied the image from a cartoon painted on the wall and imitated the emotion when her food arrived.

"When you think of a movie, no one can take a turn until you say the movie clue," instructs Mia which means the grownups sit in suspension, too tired to fight the rules, while the children look upward for inspiration, fingers to chin. The restaurant was described as cartoon-themed French, which sounds kid-friendly, right? And it really was, to a fault, perhaps. The super-kind waiter goes in the back to check if they have pasta when the menu (three choices of starters and five of entrees scrawled on a chalkboard) fails to ring any bells with our children. (See note above about hanging up my dreams of exposing foreign culture through cuisine to my kids)

The chef comes out of the kitchen twice to confirm: "Any meat?" "No, thank you." "Cheese?" "No, just butter."

What appears is a gorgeous dish of fettuccine with a vegetable studded ratatouille sauce, topped with a melty pat of the famous butter. Absolutely delectable and absolutely intolerable to my little demons.

"Yucky!" Mia says before being hushed, then cries at being hushed. The girls eat bread and butter and we sneak delicious bites of their abandoned pasta, spreading some noodles on a plate as if sampled, in hopes the chef won't feel rejected.

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Family Reunited, Plus One

Gefion Fountain

Monday, September 28. Copenhagen, Denmark.

The day dawned rainy but the skies cleared into pretty tattered clouds in time for us to return to Plan A. Randy would do the final clean up at his work, then meet us after I biked the girls to the Little Mermaid statue and the changing of the guard and returned the bike that was due by one.

All worked like clockwork although I could feel Nora's cold in my lungs and had to breath through my nose to keep cooler air out of my throat. I smile as I pedal, despite this. What a city. What a country.

As I take our last bike ride through the city, I worry the puddles will splash up at the girls from my rear tire but they are happy to be out of the hotel room and sing "Potato Butt, Potato Butt!" until the song is interrupted at a stop light by their roller-coaster screams. I look behind me and the plastic rain cover that they refused at the beginning of the ride has flopped down over them. They punch at it and scream happily while the Danish man on the bike behind us smiles.

I do slip in the wet at the Radhaus though, second guessing a yellow light and nearly take a tumble off the bike. I manage to stay upright, straddling my fallen Wonder while the trailer scarcely shivers.

"Are you alright??" asks the Danish woman who rushes to help. "What happened?"

"I stopped too quickly," I reply and explaining to her and knowing she understands as so many of these intelligent Danes (more Nobel Prizes per capita than any other nation, same with candy consumption) is as comforting as her question.

We pass the closed Tivoli Gardens on Hans Christian Anderson Boulevard and catch glimpses of the pleasures waiting inside for our next trip. Ny Carlsberg Glyptoteck has a mask exhibit from the late nineteenth centure to Picasso. Sally said the garden cafe inside is one of her favorite places in Copenhagen. Will we get here later?

Near the Parliment building, Daddy passes us in a taxi and waves. Later, at lunch he'll tell us he thought, "Why that Danish woman looks a lot like my wife." We'll boat together later after lunch in this canal we're passing now. The captain will navigate the low riding tour vessel under a bridge that clears mere inches overhead and to the sides, then negotiate a pivoting turn in a corner only slightly wider than the boat.

"It's a Willy Wonka city," I tell Randy and Ken, his coworker who joins us in the afternoon. "We've got the boat ride through the scary tunnel and a candy factory and even a glass elevator." The last was a tiny three-person round capsule of windows that the girls and I rode at Duckling, Randy's work. It rose through the middle of the spiral staircase all the way to the top of the building, then dropped us with a bouncy thrill on the second floor.

But we aren't there yet. We're still on the bike, heading for our mermaid. The rain spits a little but the girls are tucked in and I have my warm gray beret. I'm wearing a dark dress and textured tights and my purple coat and my lovely Naot Mary Janes so I'm feeling comfy and Euro.

We pass the Royal Theater that displays a banner for the West Side Story Suite ballet - oh for more days and a trusty babysitter.

It's 11:30, half an hour to see Den Lille Havfrue before the changing of the guard at the queen's residence. I plow up to the surprisingly beautiful Kastellet park - a star-shaped set of ancient ramparts are now grassy hills surrounded by a picturesque moat. The magnificent statue of the goddess Gefion plowing the channel between Sweden and Denmark with the four sons she transformed into oxen has Mia begging to get out.

"Look at the snake!" I tell her. Its fanged head is bigger than mine. When we pass the fountain on the way back, water will be gushing from the oxen's heels as Gefion whips them on. Spectacular.

Further, further, the girls are cold and asking when we'll get there and we put on coats and hats and gloves and when finally beyond the huge National Geographic Explorer ship and a curve, I spy her, tiny figure on a rock near the shore, I burst into tears. I'm so happy and relieved and she looks so small and defenseless and the movie got it all wrong cause she failed to win her prince's love.

As we get closer we can see her face is forever turned toward the sea and away from the hordes of tourists taking her picture. Mia climbs down onto the smooth and wet rocks with my helping hand because she wants to get close to the girl.

We go back to Amalienborg Palace and watch a few minutes of the black hatted soldiers presenting arms and clicking their heels. The guard who waits in the rain to be replaced stands in front of a a tiny guard house that resembles a giant upright red crayon - round with a pointed roof and most enchanting and Danish of all, tiny heart-shaped cutouts on the side.

Goodbye bike! Goodbye Wonder, the Amazing Rental Bike, with your single powerful gear and your ratty little trailer! Thank you for your faithful service and speed and ease. Riding you showed me so much of this magical city, up close and personal, and made our last three days an adventure. Thank you for the warming and steady exercise, that stirred my jetlagged blood and cheered my foreigner's heart. Thanks for the intimate views of the city at our own pace. Thanks for floating us past anonymous blocks whose beauty would be too subtle and length too arduous for my little ones.

We take the bus from the Central Station to Kongens Nytorv (costs 21 Kroner, about $4, free transfers within two hours) then I carry Nora to Randy's work. We meet up for lunch with Randy and Ken, who's been my husband's great help through the four day sleepless marathon of cutting and recutting. Ken's easy-going, relaxed about my sometimes demanding girls and funny.

"We must have seemed like machine-animals to the Danish," he said over lunch at an Italian cafe on Nyhaven, the canal-side street lined with bars and restaurants that must be Copenhagen's most visited spot. "We trashed their rooms and broke their espresso machine and never stopped working."

"Did you have sleep deprivation effects?" I ask.

Ken says, "I had to avoid soft surfaces. I would pass out."

When I tell him my wallet story, I include the bit about asking the help of the woman at the front desk to translate the recorded message on the art museum's phone. She had listened for herself, then told me the museum would be open on Sunday, but no one would be answering the phone. Ken says, "that would never happen in America. We'd answer the phone but you'd never get your wallet."

Everyone's elated after lunch. The girls get ice cream. Nora's cone is topped with unsweetened whipped cream that I lick off when she says she doesn't like it. The richness catches me off guard. "I'm licking whipped fat," I tell Randy and Ken. Their adult and familiar companionship feels good.

Randy says, "I finally feel like I'm on vacation" and asks if I want to stay a few more days. Sweeeeeet! I'm jumping up and down and hugging him. Who knows where we'll sleep. The original plan was to leave town before the Olympic delegates arrived since they had booked the town solid. Perhaps they'll leave by Sunday so we'll find a room when we return from Sweden.

Randy and Ken and the girls and I take a boat tour. Fun and interesting, but a bit long for the girls who only want to go back to the toy store I had promised after a visit without any purchase. I'm amused at how the tour guide describes the Nyhaven channel as being dug "by Swedish prisoners of war" with a tone that is so unapologetic it approaches pride. We see the mermaid from another angle, an eye-popping immense yacht that looks like it was designed by Donald Trump for Captain Nemo, the opera house, the new "Black Diamond" library and a crazy twisty church steeple in Christianshavns that Ken wants to climb. He has the opposite of Randy's fear of heights. He does it, too, in a couple of days, climbs the tiny metal staircase that spirals around the outside of the steeple with barely room for one person, let alone the other brave tourists coming down the opposite direction.

After the tour and a visit to a spotless underground pay toilet, it takes us two cabs and one wrong destination before we're all reunited at Gammeltorv Square.

We have dinner at a generic buffet on the Stroget (once again, the wait staff treats us as gently as loved family) and cab home. The girls walk with us through the rain to get dessert of candy at the quickie mart across the street from the hotel.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Words Fail Me

As I've been blogging our trip, I feel like there's an essential quality of Copenhagen I've failed to convey here. I kept getting flashbacks to other cities - the island skies are England; the classic architecture reminds me a bit of Paris, but without its formality and fustiness. The charming squares are Roman or Florentine. Randy confirms my suggestion of Amsterdam, although I never been there. I got flashes of Austin, Texas and San Francisco in the pocket pleasures of luxurious parks and cute shops. The appreciation for both clean modern design and child-like whimsy evokes Japan. But there's an unapologetic pleasure in comfort and company that seems at odds with what I think of as typical Scandinavian austerity and is perhaps uniquely Danish.

At Valbyparken, I saw an unfamiliar structure with open walls and a steeply high roof of dark shingles. Once inside, I saw the benches ringed around a fire pit and the hole in the roof. I saw other smaller versions of this in the backyards of houses next to the canals and I could imagine the heat and light on snowy nights. Bonfire culture is big in Denmark. So is that of the cafes, where coffee drinkers hang out in the late September chill, wrapped in blankets printed with the restaurant's name and warmed by overhead heat lamps. I can find nothing of Lars Von Trier's anguish here, but the life-affirming portions of Swede Ingmar Bergman's films come to mind - the happy celebrations of Wild Strawberries and Fanny and Alexander.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Sunday afternoon, September 27. Copenhagen, Denmark

I left an exhausted Nora with Randy to sleep together in the hotel and put Mia in the bike trailer to find Valby Parken. I'd found an article on the web (your first clue this will not go well) that raved about the park's natural playground and the fun sound of the name was making the place bigger in my mind than it probably needed to be.

Mia in the trailer and I huffed and puffed up that beautiful Frederiksberg Alle to the lovely park Frederiksberg Have, once the palace grounds. Mia ran down the steep grassy hills behind Frederiksberg Slot, a yellow stucco palace that she refused to believe was a king's castle - no moat, I suppose fueled her doubt, nor turrets. I ooed and ahed at the ancient alle of perfectly groomed lindens. Once we were at the zoo next door, my map ended and the man I asked said it was a distance.

"A kilometer?" I asked, all Euro.

"More like three or four," he replied.

But the days are long here - dusk doesn't come until eight and Wonder the rental bike still feels great so we head out.

Mia was a trooper with few complaints. Whenever the neighborhood looked a little sad, (we were far from the ye olde tourist district) we would pass a beautiful furniture design store or a cozy pizza sandwich shot or a home with a sweet garden. Industrial suburbs and enormous soccer fields, a few wrong turns, but I was determined to make it. After the second time I asked for directions and had to turn around, I started to think of the Youtube video of the man who runs Ironman triathalons with his son - who has cerebral palsy and must be carried and towed the entire way. That tear-inducing image was hardly helpful; I replaced it quickly with a more cheering memory of carrying Mia on my back in the Tetons when she was nine months old.

We approached the park from the opposite side of the playground, I was steering sort of by instinct, but once we sighted the overgrown hills and child-sized towers, we cheered. The nature playground here was designed by Helle Nebelong, a Danish landscape architect and artist.

Mia ran across a soccer field to reach it while I rode parallel to her down a gravel path lined with narrow trees. Although she was 50 yards away, I could see her laughing, like I was, at our race.

The playground had teepees of reeds and willow, canoes roughly carved out of logs in sand lakes, climbing poles and ladders and rope steps to help you up the steep hills. A tower of light with slots of colored plastic that let in cathedral light and feel inside, an aluminum two-story tower with a slide from the second floor. One tower with a tree growing inside.

I wish I had my bird book that Kristen gave me. Strange black and white birds and the largest dove I've ever seen - it that what a rock dove is?

Squirrels with pointy upturned ears and shaggy brown fur.

We played until nearly dark and the ride home, of course, was much shorter when you know the way to go.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Happy Birthday, John Adams!

Born today in 1735.

"I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States--Yet through all the Gloom I can see Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph...." John Adams, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, July 3, 1776

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Day the Wallet Was Lost

Sunday afternoon, September 27. Copenhagen, Denmark.

Yesterday morning, Saturday, Nora kept sleeping as Mia and I puttered around the hotel room, taking baths, eating breakfast and playing with her new paper fairy treehouse. My little blondie radiated heat and slept on as I changed her out of her diaper and jammies, gave her a sponge bath and put her in warm clothes.

Our room has a four poster bed with beautiful Balinese details, pillow-like white feather duvets that housekeeping fluffs and makes into long rectangles, one on each side of the bed. At the foot of the bed there is room for a tiny desk, which sits against a room divider, hung with a beautiful silver-framed mirror. Beyond the divider is a futon on which the kids sleep. We have a sweet balcony with table and chairs, an enormous armoire for clothes and a small fridge packed with organic sodas.

I checked my handy map, already well-used, put hats and gloves in my backpack and hoisted Nora to lug down to our rental bike.

The trailer was left overnight in the courtyard. We were lucky with clear skies last night. Next time I'll fasten the plastic cover in case of rain or heavy dew.

Nora slept on on the lobby couch as I struggled with the trailer lynchpin on the sidewalk. Mia stood by, then volunteered to go back to watch Nora. I let the girls out of my sight. What else to do, honestly? The women at the front desk have all been very warm and helpful. I am steps away.

We finally took off down Frederiksberg Alle, a lovely street tree-lined that was once a private drive to the king's palace, then east down Gammel Kongevej, a street of beautiful shops and restaurants, then turned at the dramatically brickworked Planetarium towards the lakes. (Or are they canals? I've heard these lovely lakes were dug as water reservoirs, but another more romantic story says they were a means of hiding ships during take your pick of the Danish-Swedish wars.) Swans and ducks.

Left turns are still difficult. Friday I nearly got caught in a stream to traffic while trying to negotiate a crossing.

A man passes me on the left in our narrow bike lane and says something in Danish, his hand weaving like an unsure snake. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," I call and try to keep evenly to the right.

I count no helmets yet but for one woman and an adolescent in a German soldier style one.

We pass the Botanic Gardens and there's Staten Museum for Kunst, the National Gallery. Nora's still groggy, I carry her as much as I can up the entrance stairs. We get tickets and wash up and deposit my backpack in a locker in the whitewashed catacombs below.

I put my wallet and map in my pocket.

Lunch is in the beautiful Republic Cafe. The "kid's menu" offers fish cakes with remoulade or dark bread with pate. The room is part of a modern glass walled addition built on the back of the old brick building. They retained the old facade, so you walk out the old doors to an atrium of light, huge glass walls facing a lake and tall trees.

Nora put her head down on the table and Mia picks out chocolate milk with me. When the beeper chimes, we approach a counter where the man smiles and begins to explain our brunch, served on triangular plates and in tiny glass dishes.

"Cheese?" is all I can say.

"Oh, sorry," he smiles and explains again in English. What a country. They apologize for not recognizing your Americanness.

The girls' plate is a little man made of brown bread and butter with cucumber spear arms and legs, carrot stick hair and a cucumber bit face. When I cut off his head to eat, Mia says, "Give him a sad face." I turn over his cucumber curve of a mouth and we laugh.

Nora eats nothing and lays in my arms while Mia jumps on a blue and white striped platform in a kids' playroom on the same level. No cushioned walls.

On a chalkboard platform, Mia draws and smiles while a little nearly one-year-old in cords, vest and shirt climbs on her to touch her face. "I have to teach him woman like some conversation first," says his friendly father and we laugh.

Upstairs is an art workshop with hot glue guns set out. Mia glues beads and matchsticks to a square of cardboard and uses pastels to make a garden. Nora sleeps on.

When we go down to get my backpack from the catacombs, I throw my wallet in the pack instead of carefully zipping it in my purse as usual. It's the last time I'm aware of where it is.

We bike south to the Nyhaven district where Randy is working. I wonder at how compact this efficient city is. We pass through tiny St. Anne's Passage, a twisty bricked bike and pedestrian street laid between beautiful doorways. Dad's workplace, Duckling, is a warren of locked doors, alleyways and passages into a dim room of computers where he sleeps on a couch. Before this nap, Randy had been up for 56 hours. The film has been cut down to 5 minutes from 15, then back up to 6. Audio has it now. Dad can't give us much - he's a zombie. We only wanted to say hi, so we leave after a few minutes.

We reach two deadends as I try to leave with the girls - I need to reach through a locked gate and ring inside again to ask to be let out. It's fresh air outside where a playground in the middle of the graceful Saint Anne's Place waits for us. Nora sleeps on. Mia is sad I am too tired to be lively but more children appear and cheer her. The kids here stare at our strange talk but have the universal language of play. "I think this will work, don't you?" I asked the boy who stopped to watch Mia attaching a mini car to her tow truck. "Ja," he replies.

I return to the playground at Skt. Anne Plad in my memory, trying to realize some important detail that might give me more information about the wallet. But the pack in the park was on the bench next to the sleeping Nora. Did it bounce out of my pocket as we rode home down charming narrow streets parallel to the Stroet? (I have no Danish keys on my keyboard so you will need to picture struck Os and As with haloes littered here and there in the Danish names.) Did someone reach in and take it from the bag that I left on another bench in the late afternoon gloom as Nora slept on in the trailer and Mia played again at the Castle playground - her favorite, the one I had promised her? It was dusk now and this neighborhood, Vesterbro, is a tiny bit rougher than Duckling's by the Royal Family's residence. Again, I picture Wicker Park - there's graffiti on the back of the churches and boys running with jeers away from their friend walking his pit bull.

It's the only opportunity, the only time I turned my back and if I wove the story in this way you would stop wondering before I did. But I had no funny feeling. There were only families at the park. I never felt jostled or bumped. And this is Denmark. Incredibly helpful, kind, good-humored Denmark.

The bus driver essentially said, "your money's no good here" and waved us to sit down. And when security at Staten Museum for Kunst carries the wallet to me today around noon, two hundred dollars and five hundred Kroner, the three credit cards and my driver's license are undisturbed. I'm glad the man at the travel store at Old Orchard taught me "magna tak" (many thanks) before we left.

"We take care of each other," said the woman on the bus who offered help when she saw my map. Perhaps she has been reading about the 43 million uninsured Americans and the reluctance to reform. Perhaps Obama will get a breath of relief when he comes this week and meets some of the sensible Danish with their matter of fact shrugs, "Of course we take care of each other."

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Disasters in Baking

Have to interrupt our thrilling tale to show you the punishment for my baking hubris. I can make pies like nobody's business, and had plenty of confidence when I planned making cakes from scratch for Mia's school carnival. Oh, Joy of Cooking, you let me down.
Swamp monster boy and girl. Their recipe was the Blitztorte, or "Lightning Cake" which tasted delish but failed to retain the face detail from the boy and girl molds. Then I made the dubious decision, based on limited ingredients, to cover them in a brown sugar icing.

Not only did the icing resemble so much drippy mud, its recipe called for adding raw egg yolks to a simmering sugar mixture. I removed the pan from the heat and whipped like crazy, but the bits of scrambled egg in the icing cooked to a hard consistency that felt like flecks of plastic. Or baby fingernails.

So I let Mia eat the boy and tried again. This monstrosity is the 1-2-3-4 cake which I'd love to say referred to some cutesy ingredient mnemonic, like "add one cup of sugar, two teaspoons vanilla, three cups of flour and four eggs." Nothing so simple. There was egg separation involved, and whipping of the whites to soft peaks and adding of the cream of tarter that I did not have on my shelf. The cakes looked pretty good, but the clock was ticking, I had to pick up Mia in half an hour and Joy didn't mention that their "quick" powered sugar and butter icing would have major lumps.

I can't blame the cookbook entirely. I splashed in some extra milk when the icing looked too thick, rendering it just drippy enough to ooze off the still warm cake. Here you see my attempt to doll it up with organic sprinkles. When I tied the plastic wrap above the cake with a little red ribbon, you could hardly tell there was a hot mess underneath. And in the hot gym that hosted our aptly named Fall Frenzy, no jazzed up grade-schooler cared.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Setback and A Rescue

Sunday morning, September 27. Copenhagen, Denmark.

This morning's breakfast in the room is carrots scrubbed in the sink, cold miso soup, the end of a chocolate bar and a few bites of the tart apple we started yesterday.

I'm sure we could go downstairs and ask for breakfast to be billed to our room (there's no room service but there's supposed to be a buffet breakfast in the lovely lounge and courtyard - we have yet to get out in time to see this.)

People have been kind and generous - the woman at the sushi restaurant where I discovered my wallet was gone last night asked if I wanted to take the food and bring the money back later. I should not have refused her kindness but I was struck low and dull with shock. Aware that panic and tears may be on the way.

I avoided the panic but explaining our situation to the girls was hard. I probably shouldn't have referred to the Little Match Girl again.

Dad just walked in like Christmas with 7-11 donuts and apple juice for the girls and purple tulips and a passion-fruit (our wedding cake flavor!)/orange yogurt for me. He brings his red laptop with the time (2:39 a.m. Chicago time) and email and the news.

And happy relief just to see him, alive, handsome even with red eyes and four days' beard, my helpmate and husband. (Remember that my cell phone was dead?) He had worked straight through for four days and nights, catnapped on a couch at work and now just walked the 2.5 kilometers home, my romantic husband, his first real look at this beautiful city at dawn. He stopped for coffee at Hotel d'Angleterre in the beautiful Kongens Nytorv square and followed the Stroet to Radhuspladsen, past the shuttered-til-Halloween Tivoli and down Vesterbrogade to our hotel. Reminds me of a walk from the Gold Coast to Wicker Park - from tony shops to working class artsy 'hood.

Left, right, left, right, my soldier back from the wars.

Dad stepping on the ubiquitous cobblestones on his way home to us.

Dad stopped for coffee at the Hotel d'Angleterre on the way home after his last night (of four!) at work.

They give you cookies with your coffee. What a city. What a country.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Our Story Thus Far

On our way! There was not so much smiling on the trip home. That sad story later.

Did you know these days you can watch a view from a camera mounted on the front of the plane? Either terrifying or reassuring, I suppose.

What was most disconcerting was how the view of the runway swayed back and forth in the a way undetectable from the side windows. I always pictured commercial landings to be straight in, like on a train track. Apparently there's a deal of aiming involved.

On the ground. We're in Denmark!

I loves me my maps.

As soon as we arrived at the hotel, Randy went right to work.

While Randy slaved away, this was the kind of thing the girls and I were eyeing. Town Hall and statue of men blowing an Ur horn.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

What Made This Poster So Funny

was that she was so far from the typical serene Danish mom I'd see. Which makes Bitter Fissen's stand-up routine a riot to the Danes, I'm guessing. For my observations of a different sort of Danish parenting, see my latest post on Chicago Moms Blog, "An American Momma in Copenhagen."

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Getting our Sea Legs

Copenhagen, Denmark. Friday, September 25.

The sunset clouds were pink over the pitched roofs of our courtyard view. Nora slept on. She'd conked out this afternoon while Mia played at the utterly charming playground in the utterly charming Orsteds Parken (curvy lakes nestled in curvy hills bordered by mature willows.) I pulled a Danish momma and let her sleep while Mia climbed and played with the park-supplied tow truck with tiny working winch. There was a whole assortment of funny pedaled vehicles for the children - some hand cranked, some with tiny seats for a passenger. Mia climbed a science tower worthy of Tycho Brahe and jumped off a springboard that catapulted the kids onto a padded section of the blacktop.

Who knows when Nora will wake, chipper and hungry and eager to chat or craving a rub on my belly and a restless foot on my back? "Looking outside can tell the time for kids," reassures Mia. Perhaps she'll sleep all through the night.

Jetlag plays funny tricks. Early this morning I woke in the dark and thought, "I don't feel too bad - we're going to have a great day," but when I got a drink and checked my phone, it was one a.m. Oy.

Luckily, I went back to sleep. And sleep. My phone died overnight.

Here are the important tools I left behind and had to live without:
- my deodorant
- my cell phone charger
- my camera battery
- one of my purple gloves (more, too much more, about this later)

Here are the important tools I brought along:
- a new pair of Naot walking shoes from Israel with cork inserts "that mold to your feet" said the salesman at the Walking Company store. New true blue friends.
- a warm enough purple coat with deep pockets
- four guide books. The map that lovely Christina at the front desk handed me the first day was well-worked and well-loved by the end of our trip.

No phone, no 'puter (Randy took the laptop to work), no watch (I always use my phone), no camera (I'd have to wait for Randy's iphone.) We are traveling light! I feel like a pioneer woman! (Says the woman staying at the four star hotel.) But it's really my favorite thing to make my own way - figure out the bus fare, ask strangers questions, find the bike rental.

"I have no helmets left," says the rental guy in his subterranean bike cellar next to the train station. "Anyway, they will be safe with the seat belts."

He gives us a US style trailer. It's functional and fairly clean, although the ripped screen sheds threads the whole time. I had been hoping for one of those rounded child capsules carried in front with a tinted plastic sunshade. Or an old school wooden box, also pushed in front of the bike.

The rental guy's casual attitude is everywhere in the helmetless bike crowds but I believe him - the cars share respectfully on the narrow streets and strangers go out of their way to offer help and advice. A man turned back after translating "bike parking only on racks" to add "no one enforces this!" with a big smile. The woman on the bus asks if I need help when she sees my map.

Once I get the bike and trailer up the ramp from the basement rental store, get the girls buckled in, pick the bike up after it falls (the trailer doesn't flinch but Mia starts saying, "hold onto the bike!" every time she climbs in the back), we set out. I'm squealing "Whee!" and "Away we go!" at the ease and power of my single geared bike - it seems to float uphill.

We ride first to the City Hall Square, the Radhuspladsen. Plenty of action - street performers, tents for some kind of festival, statues of long snouted dragons plus an amazing sculpture of a bull wrestling a giant fish creature.

We visit The Wonderful World of Hans Christian Anderson where Nora shivers in the shadowy halls. Apparently Anderson's grim details (the little mermaid's new feet burn when she walks; the soldier hero of The Tinder Box cuts off a witch's head with little reason, steals her dogs and uses them to attack his wife-to-be's parents, the King and Queen) weren't deemed thrilling enough for visitors - they had to add a giant rat that leaps out at you from a sewer pipe during the Steadfast Tin Soldier section.

Last night in a jetlagged delirium I had sobbed while I recalled the entire unabridged story of the Little Match Girl to the girls before bed. In the morning Mia said it had given her nightmares and made her cry in the night. I'd felt the tears on her cheeks without understanding them and kissed and hugged her in the dark. Goddamn Hans Christian Anderson, Goddamn Mommy for scaring the kids.

Here in the museum, they do the story of the shoeless hungry girl who freezes to death in an alley on Christmas Eve in full horror movie style. We see her huddled figure bent over the match, but her face is invisible in her dark cloak.

More Danish matter-of-factness toward violence - the children play with community provided rubber swords and shields in the park; the toy stores display knives and cutlasses.

Back on the bike and up tiny Vestergade to KREA toystore (we just browse - beautiful but expensive $100 dress up princess gowns and a $50 princess coach), then on to the charming Nytorv Square. Just past the square on Verterbogade is Hey! Bagel where the sweet clerk proudly touts his delicious salads. "All vegetarian, all from Cyprus!" The girls won't eat the fresh cream cheese bagel because of its raw oats - I'm happy to scarf some couscous, sweet steamed broccoli and ratatouille. Nora puts her head down on the high counter and falls asleep. I carry her to the trailer where she snoozes on.

The street ends at Kobmagergade and here we find Boger til Born, a children's bookstore with lovely postcards of illustrations from children's books for 6 kroner (about a dollar) and beautiful books by HCA and Elsa Beskow translated into English. Nora sleeps on as Mia and I shop.

Steps away to the northwest is the Round Tower, an observational wonder with a steep bricked ramp instead of stairs for horses to haul up Tycho Brahe's viewing apparatus. Nora is too tired. We'll come back.

We pedal by the man made canals on the way home.

Dinner is Hing sushi by the hotel.

Monday, October 12, 2009

This Is Where I Take You To The Movies

We'll get back to our Scandinavian trip in a moment, but first we interrupt our travelogue for a few words about Jonathan Tropper's novel, This Is Where I Leave You. The Silicon Valley Moms Blog Group is featuring Tropper's new work for their book club today. Discovering that the book's topic is grief and family dysfunction nearly opened a big can of dread for me. You see, the particular SVM style of discussion is for the bloggers to write about how a book speaks to our own personal experience rather than to review it.

Not being able to hide behind the critical distance afforded by the position of a reviewer NOR being able to enthusiastically gush about a book I really loved is tough enough; now I had to go to the hard and thorny place, too?

Tropper's comic novel takes place during the seven days when the four adult children and mother of the Foxman family sit shiva (think a week-long Jewish wake where the family is expected to live together for the duration) for the father. The narrator son, Judd, has recently discovered his wife's affair with his boss and gets the news that she is pregnant on the heels of hearing of his father's death. Mayhem ensues as the family members fight among themselves and with their spouses and lovers, as ancient resentments are brought back into the light and a family "brand of irony and evasion" gets in the way of healthy grief.

Let's do a little checklist now, shall we? Let's see how the themes of this book can be related to my own familial "personal experience." Um, unresolved grief issues? Check. Adult siblings with communication "issues"? Oh, big check. Cute kids running around for sweet comic relief? Thank goodness, check. Clever and chatty characters who work their way through rivalries with fisticuffs, humor and big dramatic gestures? Uh, no, not really.

So as I read and laughed my way through Tropper's novel, I actually found myself relieved not to be reminded as much as I expected of my own dear troubled family. Rather I found myself thinking of some other families - people you may know as well. The Fockers, for instance.

Perhaps it was the cinematographic spectacle of scenes like the dinner when a grandchild proudly displays and then tosses the results of his potty training. Perhaps it was the complicated and smart quartet of siblings who bait and riff off each other in hilarious dialogue, throwing off lines like "That was great. Can you tell me another story about your period?" and "Let's face it, you're a little scary. You're actually scaring me right now. Your face looks very red. Are you even breathing? Is he breathing?" Perhaps it was Judd's recounting of the plot of a chick-flick he sees on a date - a perfect skewering of the current trite trend in Hollywood romantic comedies. Or probably it was the combination of all these, but something in Tropper's book kept bringing me back to memories of movies I've seen about dysfunctional families.

I was reminded (but not in a reductive way) of the messy families in movies I have loved, like Meet the Parents and the friggin' brilliant and underrated Flirting With Disaster (if you have not seen this movie, please, please, go out and rent/Netflick/Tivo it RIGHT NOW, whatever you need to do - you will laugh all the way through and marvel at the comic brilliance of Lily Tomlin, Alan Alda and Richard Jenkins who goes on an LSD trip that has to be seen to be believed. Sorry, let's get back...)

And thinking about great movies about dysfunctional families then started me reflecting on family movies I wanted to like but hated: Dan in Real Life nearly nauseated me with its airless and unreal family reunion, the whole pretty family enjoying games together and putting on a (gulp) talent show. Away We Go took the usually adorable John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph and made them smug and judgmental as a couple facing first-time parenthood.

But I'm not evaluating TIWILY's suitability as a screenplay here. Instead, I'm thinking about how art helps us get through imperfect life and get beyond overwhelming emotional pain. There's some awful stuff that the characters in this book are facing: ruined hopes, infidelity, betrayal, infertility, loneliness. But our reading experience is a happy one - we are buffered by the pleasures of the plot, the cleverness of the dialogue, the amen truths of a wise narrator.

"People need someone to blame. I had failed her in some fundamental way, and she simply couldn't bring herself to forgive me....So now we've each done something unforgivable and the universe is once again in perfect balance."

It makes perfect, crazy sense.

For most of my life, books and movies have been the way I've been able to face pain that was too extraordinary to touch in real life. Movies were my emotional education: People cried on the screen, families embraced, couples had arguments that cleared the air. The experience of watching Ordinary People was like watching a documentary about real lives, not an abstract and fictional entertainment. At home, silence, closed doors and small talk were the way to push away the mess of emotion.

When I was thinking about this post, I asked my husband to brainstorm dysfunctional family movies with me.

"Ordinary People," he said.

"Oh, that's a good one. Of course. But I'm trying to think of comedies."

"They're all comedies."

Oh my wise husband. It's so true. You have to laugh at the horrors families inflict on themselves; it's the only way we can go on.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


Copenhagen, Denmark, Thursday, September 24

Remember that scene from Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander on Christmas Eve (and by the way, Bergman's name was everywhere we turned around in Sweden, in bookstores, on posters - I had to remind myself that he was gone) when the grandmother sits on a sofa in her formal dress, accompanied by a samovar of coffee and an old friend? And she says it's so late I'll need to get up to go to church in a couple of hours; we might as well stay up and talk?

It's kind of like that. When I first saw the film, I couldn't imagine the feeling of giving up beautiful sleep. Today, I only catnapped on the overnight flight but joy held the fear of a bad day at bay.

It wasn't the roughest day I've had by a long shot -- the fatigue sat on me, but the skies were glistening. The skies (when not a solid overcast which truthfully does often have texture and a burnished sheen of its own) have that English sea quality -- limpid light, great clarity in the unclouded sky and beautiful colors. It's the ocean air, the absence of smog, the deeply angled sunlight that looks like morning all day.

"We get between ten and thirteen percent of our power from wind," the taxi driver proudly informs us. We could see wind farms in the Sweden-Denmark strait as our plane approached the airport and there are enormous modern white windmills near town.

"I hope Daley sees this," I told Randy, marveling at the clean smell in the air.

Our hotel Bertrams room was as tiny as I expected, but a little more shabby. Its appeal will grow while we are here. We lucked out with a big deep tub in the bathroom. No shower, just a handheld nozzle in the tub.

Randy went right to work. I plotted a walking route with the girls that took us next door to Emery's, a pastry shop next door for some phenomenal hummus and pumpkin seed rolls. Nora tripped on the doorstep - I was sitting on the doorstop, holding my crying girl in my lap as the cab arrived to take Randy away. "Don't worry, we'll be fine!" I urged him and I meant it. I do fear her getting mowed down by one of the speedy bikes that whisk by in their own designated lane between the street and the sidewalk. The cobblestone streets confound the girls' feet too -- we haven't yet found our sea legs.

Everyone speaks excellent English and legible signage is everywhere. "I may be a BITCH but at least I'm good at it" says a sticker in a car window.

We hiked through the "formerly working class now up and coming" neighborhood of Vesterbro and found the tiny toy store past the addict park. The kind clerk explained kroner coinage to me.

On past succulent greenmarkets - I had to stop for some incredibly fresh carrots and apples for the girls. The smell of the strawberries and raspberries was as intense as their color.

We walked west, into a kind and shiny sun until Mia cried, "my violin bow!" She'd dropped the world's smallest bow for the world's smallest violin that we had bought along with some tiny worry dolls and a red tin Danish mailbox. We searched around the sidewalk bricks and scaffolding until I spied it! It was that kind of a day.

The playground was behind an amazing 40 foot brick fortress wall topped with turrets and revealed through a tiny door cut in the larger wooden one painted with stars. A beautiful spot with swings, a pirate ship and a rope swing. Later I'll learn this is Shooting Gallery Park. The Royal Shooting Society practiced here and the wall protected the neighborhood behind.

Pizza dinner. We'll eat much pizza on this trip and it is always freshly made, the dough hand tossed before our eyes.

Mia plays with her worry dolls while Nora and I fall asleep.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Why We're in Scandinavia

Simple answer: I'm in a hotel room in Malmo, Sweden because Copenhagen is just about fully booked and Randy and I wanted the girls to see their great-great-grandparents' homeland while we were in this corner of the world.

More complicated answer: We're in Scandinavia for Randy's work. His company, Optimus, has been working a grueling schedule for weeks with an ad agency and the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid committee to create video pieces for the final Copenhagen presentations that occurred before the IOC today.

Weeks of work, 100,000 feet of film, false starts, dead ends, progress, overhauls, plans changed again and again and again, all down to the final product this morning.

The two videos that were created and cut by hard-working teams in Chicago, then recut over and again during a marathon of four sleepless days and nights in Copenhagen played around 8 a.m. local time, one after Mayor Daley's speech and the other immediately before Michelle Obama's introduction.

I'm so proud of my husband's work. I'm so proud of Tex, who worked with humor and diligence alongside Randy in Copenhagen. I'm so proud of the whole crew behind them.

And despite the vote, the work stands alone. "Together We Can," parts one and two, are beautiful, moving films. Children read letters to the international committee. A teacher tells the story of a student transformed by joining the wrestling team. The films are about the strength and beauty of our city and about the best parts of sport, the parts beyond personal honor, where community and understanding are created.

We may not have an Olympics to call our own, but we do have our hometown, the beautiful city by the lake.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Summer I Loved Like None Other

We're flying to Copenhagen at ten tonight and I still have so much to do, but you know me, Distracto, so I have to finish this bit of unfinished business and record the tiniest slice of some of the wonderful days we spent in the season that ended two days ago.

We spent the Fourth of July at Fox Lake with three other families - "It's going to be crazy!" was how I extended the invitation, which made Randy laugh. We did have a great time, though, swimming, kayaking, the more adventurous ones, like my speed-loving husband, wave-running. One morning I saw beautiful blue and brown birds on the second floor window sill and got such satisfaction identifying them as barn swallows from the bird book Kristen gave me. The night of the Fourth, we lit baby fireworks from the local Ace Hardware, made smores, and watched fireworks from every direction around the lake.

The last morning I took a solo kayak trip to a quiet cove to the east. Tree branches overhung shallow inlets. A fish flopped next to the boat and I jumped, then laughed, at the massive sound interrupting the silence. Turtles, white herons and most lovely of all, floating white lotus flowers in bloom.

Nora on the rope swing over Lake Wandawega

Mia, like something out of a dream

Camp Wandawega in August. The last morning I took out the rowboat and circumnavigated the perimeter of the lake through fields of floating lily pads. The water was so clear beneath me, the sensation was one of flying rather than floating.

Pie Process

Pie Product. Clockwise from upper left: Peach for Susan Bearman, Triple Berry, Raspberry Chiffon (a sugar-fat bomb) waiting its whipped cream top for Christina and Mike's backyard party, Peach waiting for its sliced almonds, Blueberry.

And now, we have red maple leaves and finally reddening tomatoes. The backyard neighbors lost two mature ash trees yesterday; our only consolation in this pic is the autumn clematis.