Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

My holiday gift to you. St. Vincent's "Jesus Saves, I Spend." Enjoy on this beautiful morning!

Friday, December 17, 2010

"Hooray for Daddy!" by Mia

"Help!" yells the figure falling from the tower.

"What's that? Look!" says the pink bear.

It's a rescuer! "I'll save you!" he says.

(click on the image to see all the delicious details)

"I'll save you."

"It's Daddy!!"


Love, Mia

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

House Theater's Nutcracker

"There are nine Nutcrackers playing in Chicago this year," the guy in the hotel lobby told us as we headed out Sunday afternoon into blizzard conditions to catch House Theater's version of E.T.A. Hoffman's timeless story. After seeing their generous and intimate, laugh-out-loud funny and very moving production, I can't imagine a plummier one in the bunch.

This is the third production I've seen from House, after a terrific Terrible Tragedy of Peter Pan and the magical Sparrow and I've always loved the inventive style and heart I see on stage. You can always count on great music, too.

In this Nutcracker, Clara's beloved older brother Fritz joins forces with her to defeat the Mouse King, work through a terrible loss and restore a grieving family back to Christmas joy. Clara and Fritz have the help of a very funny trio of toys come to life - a flirty French Sock Monkey, Hugo the nerdy Robot and Phoebe the Doll whose placid smile almost hides the wisdom in her inane pronouncements. "I'm afraid of the dark!" says Dolly and the line takes on special resonance when the red-eyed Mouse King puppets appear (just scary enough for our five and eight year olds.)

Randy and the girls and I have been to enough theater billing itself as family fare to know it often translates to kiddy dross. In this beautiful production, the laughs don't pander and the truths aren't sugarcoated. Only half the matinee audience around us had children with them - this is a show rich with ideas and pleasures for adults, too.

The script by Phillip Klapperich and Jack Minton, who also takes the stage as Clara's father, plays with the many meanings of light and darkness, with the pains of truth and protective artifice. The nutcracker no longer seems a random choice of a toy for Clara's gift from Uncle Drosselmeyer, since Minton and Klapperich explore its metaphorical possibilities. Like our plucky heroine, Clara, we're reminded that wounds never heal properly without pain and finding the mysteries within the hardest shells takes great strength.

One of those tantalizing mysteries is personified by the loving Uncle Drosselmeyer played by the mesmerizing Blake Montgomery. Did he play a part in Fritz's death? Why did he allow Clara to cut down the Christmas tree? Does he perpetuate her childhood fantasies to her detriment?

"Tell her about the magic," urges Clara's mother (an utterly watchable Carolyn Defrin.) Drosselmeyer replies, "Alright. Clara, the magic is real." It's funny how our culture has turned Christmas into a holiday constructed around secrets and deceit about magic; The Nutcracker at House creates a Christmas on stage where the hardships of inevitable reality become bearable with the comfort of others to help you through.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Eight Days To the Solstice

Dull-witted and slow. The sun breaks through the clouds, but its thin streams are not enough. Appreciated, helpful, but not enough. I need blasts of cheer, blinding light, a baking.

Saturday night I woke every hour thirsty, then floated awake among the bobbing obstructions of my pointlessly jumping brain. I had to work hard to sink back into sleep. In one of the last hours, I dreamed I was riding a rhino. His giant prehistoric head slammed against the sides of the curving hallway that barely contained us.

I keep my head low, gripping his rough skin between my thighs. The earth shakes, the walls shake, all shakes, but I am no captive. I grapple with his plunging bull neck and urge him on to destruction.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Lion's Nephew

Last night, because Mommy just cannot leave well enough alone to imagine that the crayons and paper placemats at California Pizza Kitchen will suffice tomorrow to amuse our eighteen little lunch guests, I took the girls to Tom Thumb Hobby and Crafts in Evanston. Mia and Eleanor were entranced, of course, by the doll houses, the miniature furniture, and the poster warning patrons not to climb on the train table.

When my arm capacity and pre-dinner blood sugar tolerance were filled, I got in line with five boxes of foam Christmas trees and plastic buckets of tiny foam ornaments and candy canes. Mia was over by the button racks and Nora sat on the floor looking at a Dover sticker book.

"Mommy?" Nora asked from the floor, "When the monkeys were flying, was it scary?"

I looked down at her and her sticker book. The Wizard of Oz. I'm instantly there again, in front of the giant open window, as the woman in black screams to her minions taking to the skies.

"Do you mean when the flying monkeys took Dorothy to the Wicked Witch?"


"Oh, yeah. That was the scariest part of the whole movie."

A boy, half a head shorter than me, maybe middle school, was waiting in line next to me with a handful of floppy wooden slats.

"My uncle was actually the Cowardly Lion in that movie," he says.

I turn around to look closer at him and knock the slats out of his hands with an excess of enthusiasm.

"Your uncle is...(found it!) Bert Lehr?" I ask the top of his head as he bends down to pick up his fallen craft supplies.

"Lahr," he corrects me as he stands and I get a good look at his face. The gorgeously generous nose - I see the resemblance, or imagine I do. And such glowing skin! An open, unabashed smile. Oh beautiful youth! It's like a split second of a time machine, flinging me back to glimpse the child that a beloved character actor once was.

"Wonderful!" I say, and, without thinking, just to keep him talking, "Do you remember your uncle?"

"No, he died before I was born." Of course.

The clerk hands me the receipt. I scribble my signature as I say, "You should be very proud. It's such a great movie."

"Thank you, I am," he says.

"Girls, did you hear what the boy said?"

"Yes," says Mia, not happy that I'm herding her out the door. Nora has already gone out the first set of doors and she returns with a furious, "I was outside in the cold!"

Matt Damon is shooting Contagion in our neighborhood and Randy and I giggled last week at the inevitable lesson the starstruck villagers who signed up to be extras will be learning about the deadly boredom of most of the filming process. I must be more understanding. A little bit of Hollywood on Dempster Street and I'm absolutely thrilled.