Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Stage Grandmother

So it's back to New York next week, but not for fun, although it will be (Rockettes!), but the whole family is going for WORK, people! Because Prince has another gig!

Seems our guinea pig's BFF Lil Bub had such a fine time when Prince guest-starred on her Big Show, that he's been invited back!

For a holiday special! (No, not Christmas. It's show biz, remember, they shoot stuff months in advance.)

Featuring a star whose initials are A.S. and who has a writer brother and who Buddy the Elf once told, "You have such a pretty face, you should be on a Christmas card!"



(AND just as a crazy coincy-dinks, one time our friend Brent was walking in Manhattan with his brother and they saw her and Brent's brother ran back home to get a painting of meat that he had done and they caught up with her and gave it to on the street as a present. And she was very gracious.)

But you know and we know how these show biz things work, so we are trying to be realistic and understand that anything could happen and our cute baby could end up on the cutting room floor.

And even though our family knows Little Prince is the cutest little sweetiehead evah and a constant delight, we also understand that he's been called back not for his incredible cuteness but for his amazing stillness. I mean, this guy can SIT there like nobody's business. It might be some hard-core inner serenity, it may be mortal fear, it may be his bum leg, but our animal is one good sitter.

(And shitter. Sorry, had to go there.)

And sitting still is a very good quality for a TV animal to have.

Once you get the TV animal to the TV set. Not so easy, it turns out.

Since there's always got to be some drama, yesterday was plagued with ridiculous First World Problems while planning our trip. Like, did you know that most airlines don't allow pets in the cabin anymore? Surprise! Did you know that United has a special Petsafe program for transporting animals? I didn't, but when I heard that Prince might need to ride separate from us, I surprised myself by bursting into tears. I mean the little guy only weighs two pounds. And he's too pathetically dumb to find his way out of a paper bag (or maybe smart as a fox since that bag gives the semblance of the cave security he so craves?)

Anyway, after hours on the phone, Randy finds out American Airlines has, get this!, an Entertainment Division with a sub-department for Celebrity Pets. For real. So there's paperwork and multiple levels of approval and a vet certificate of health and even the pilot will be notified, but our Little Price will, Yes!, ride in style with his family in the cabin of the plane!

Wish us luck.

Here's Prince's debut that got him the new job. Amazing editing by Mike Berg, who made delicious Princely lemonade out of what looked to us onlookers in the studio like a lump of a rodent doing nothing:

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Don't Say I Didn't Get You Anything for Christmas

Naissance de "Sympathy for the devil " (one+one... by cinocheproduction

Jean-Luc Godard films the Stones giving birth to "Sympathy for the Devil." From the 1968 film One on One. You're welcome. Does it give you chills like it does me?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Of All the Ridiculous Songs I Love

And the ridiculous songs I love are legion -- from the old campfire favorites I'll launch into at the drop of a hat ("He always SINGS ragtime music to his cattle as he SWINGS back and forth in his saddle...") to novelty nostalgia ("Oh yes they call him the Streak, Lookity, lookity! Fastest thing on two feet!") and just the other day "Signs" was the only song on the radio that could tempt me to stop the dial surfing, turn it up and bellow, "THE SIGN SAID YOU GOT TO HAVE A MEMBERSHIP CARD TO GET INSIDE! HUNH!"

But of all the ridiculous songs I love, Donna Fargo's "The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." has got to be the height of silly profundity.

Fargo combines minor-keyed prosaic simplicity and nearly bat-shit crazy lyrical inventions like bojangle clocks and skippity-doo-dahs into a funny concoction, but my very favorite moment of the 1972 song is when she shifts into a higher register and goes into the frenzied ecstasy of "Now you be careful, gotta go, I love you, have a beautiful day!" It's sheer joy but also denial and memory and sad hope in the era of the Vietnam War when so many men were not safe at home but half a world away, killing and dying. A great companion piece to Tammy Wynette's "Talking to Myself Again," another country classic about a woman playing house with the ghost of her long gone lover.

You can read "Happiest Girl" straight or you can read it crooked. Straight, it's a little manic, but sweet, while crooked, it's a howling cry of irony. That's the way Big Love played it and Lana Del Rey, who is surely the most lethargic girl in the whole etcetera.

A perfect November song for me, the month when PMS + DST + GFA = SAD. Throw some JFK anniversary in there and you've nearly got FML.

But that sounds ungrateful and this is the month of gratitude which I do have, I have it in spades. So grateful for my dear dear girls and their hard-working daddy and our wonderful community, my Girl Scouts and the girls' patient teachers and sunlight and hot tea and my cousin Becky's 50th surprise party and fun Bears and Bulls games and my brother's new job in California and a calendar crowded with good things like this weekend's plans to take Aunt Ruth and her sister Aunt Susan to Miami for Ruth's 90th birthday.

It's all good, people, and when someone asks, "How are you?" I'm not lying when I say, "Really great!" even though I was sobbing yesterday as I drove through the end of the Sunday storm to the store. It's November and I accept it. This is cyclical and I'm supposed to be down and low in this darkening month. The sun is going to come back and so is the spring so why not cry in sympathy with the heaving wind and the splattering rain? It's all good. Christmas cheer is on its way and even more fun and ridiculous songs to sing.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Another Reason to be Grateful to Lou Reed

Here is a gorgeous song from Okkervil River, a band I found out about this week from reading "A Reason to Keep Singing," a tribute to Lou Reed by its lead singer Will Sheff.  

Sheff writes: "(Reed's) music changed something in us and changed what we wanted to be. We didn’t want to make people happy. We wanted to make people hurt. We wanted to make music for adults, music that didn’t lie to you and feed you a line of shit. And then if we did make happy music, that happiness would have a genuine impact on people because it would be real happiness, happiness that coexisted with the real knowledge of pain. That happiness—like the happiness in 'Sweet Jane'—wasn’t false. It was something you could really hold on to."

The entire remembrance is here and it's so good.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Beautiful Thing To See On A Rainy Day

In case you're feeling gloomy on this rainy day, maybe you've got candy hangover, maybe the aftermath of last night's fun has let you down, perhaps Thanksgiving vacation feels too far away (I could go on and on, but I'll stop there), if you need a lift, I have something to share with you.

Watch this beautiful act of compassion and heroism.

A Buffalo, New York bus driver was crossing a bridge when he noticed a woman standing outside the overpass railing. Darnell Barton, a father of two, stopped the loaded bus, called his dispatcher for help, then went to help the woman who was staring at the traffic below her. Barton put his arm around the woman and asked her if she wanted to come back over the rail. She said, "yeah."

Watch as Barton helps her across the rail and sits down with her to talk. Help came soon after.

Read the entire story here.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween Update

1. Pumpkin guts stink.

 2. At the gym this morning, the little park district pre-schoolers in their costumes paraded in and the whole place, all the treadmillers and weighlifters and slow-biking-People-readers (that's me) burst into applause. Too sweet for words, but I really teared up when I saw the boy wearing our elf costume. I bought that little red and green outfit with real jingle bells on the felt shoes and hat for Christmas 2006 but it failed to make the holiday card that year (see above for one of the sad outtakes - has there ever been a poutier pic?) The girls had both long outgrown it and Nora put it on one last time in December last year for fun but I couldn't part with it until this September at our school Halloween costume exchange.

The piles of cute donated costumes on tables on the playground after school were a huge hit with parents and kids, somebody even donated a gray shark outfit, but in the whirlwind of grabbing and trying on, I didn't get a chance to see who took the elf. Now I know Elfie has a new home and a new life and it does my heart good.

3. FYI to my friends and colleagues: I will not be "participating" in "Daylight Savings" this year. Just expect me an hour late or an hour early or whatever the heck it is because I can't I can't I can't handle both the cold AND the dark this time around. The cruel farce that ANYONE benefits from taking away our afternoons feels sadistic today. I'll see you in the spring. If you want me after this weekend, I'll be huddled under a blanket, staring at my full spectrum therapy lamp.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Once and A Year

A double dose of musical theater this weekend and what riches we enjoyed!

The shows A Year With Frog and Toad and Once collected fourteen Tony nominations between them; both tell poignant stories of deep love between close friends. That the two best friends in Chicago Children's Theater's production happen to be amphibians who speak in the most simple prose does not lesson the depth of their devotion nor the breadth of their charm. Arnold Lobel's wise stories have been adapted and set to music by the brothers Robert and Willie Reale, who mine the source material for humor as well as moments of sweetness. Toad, the more impetuous of the pair, gets huge laughs responding "Bleh!" to the hibernation wake-up calls of his friend and yelling "Grow!" at his newly planted seeds.

I was happy to see my favorite of Lobel's stories on the stage and entranced by the soft shoe dance moves that were perfection in their simplicity and grace. Good friends need little more than each other and less is more in this production. Pared down prose becomes poetry ("When you are sad, I am sad. That is how we are...") and all is well.

The beloved indie film Once has a minimalist charm of its own, with its handheld camera shots of first time actors on the streets of Dublin. The story is a slip of a thing, five days in the life of a busker and a house cleaner, young and unnamed, who decide to make a demo tape together and almost become involved. Any fan of the film would enter the Broadwayified show with trepidation, but have no fear; all of the music remains and a new kind of magic is forged.

What makes the production stand on its own merits separate from the film is the creative staging -- a single set of an Irish pub that transforms into a music store, a cramped bedroom, a beach at dawn, through movement, suggestion and our imagination. The naturalism begins even before the show starts, when the audience is invited on stage to buy beer and wine from the bar. A piano is rolled out by stagehands and a crowd of unmiked musicians begin what appears to be an impromptu concert of Irish and Czech folk songs, culminating in a heartbreaking acappella rendition of "On Raglan Road."

The Broadway-style emoting from the pretty leads of Once at the Oriental Theater did leave me missing Glen Hansard's quiet charisma and Marketa Irglova's honesty and lack of guile. But you can't deny the gorgeousness of the songs nor the copious talent that makes them come alive onstage. The entire ensemble sings and plays and acts with such skill that their instruments become extensions of their characters - the passionate violinist, the banker-with-a-dream cellist, the animalistic drummer -- well, come to think of it, those are pretty stock characters, but they are vivid and new when they play these well-known songs with invention and love. While "Falling Softly" is treated with kid gloves, the song "Gold" has been reimagined from a few measures in the film into the beating, glowing heart of the show. A beautiful show.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Frenzy Baking, Year 4

You know me, you know I'm a pie girl. Cakes just ain't my thing. But fall carnival season rolls around again and you know, it's for the kids. So. Pull out Joy of Cooking, wash yo hands! and make another Blitz Torte (that's "Lightning Cake" for how quick you can throw it together) with Chocolate Satin icing. What do you think? I think it's too tiny to entice a cake walk winner but whoever walks away with my little darling will love that first bite.

 Adorably homemade or a craptastic hot mess? Needs more candy.

This was my first try. I used the high rounded pan that we got from Miette in the Ferry Building in San Fran last summer, thinking a four by four inch pan would bake as fast as in a 8" by 2" pan. Nope. Molten disaster. I rebaked this, threw on the extra icing from Round Two above and Mia ate it for breakfast.

Previous Frenzy Baking Fun:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Autumn Soundtrack

Pure joy. "I'm alive!" (Thanks, Julie.)

And if we're going to go there, we must go HERE:

And surprise! (Thanks, Jessica.)

(Thanks, Brent):

And there's the line and Win Butler's wailing of it: "We remember our bedrooms and our parent's bedrooms and the bedrooms of our friends!" that calls to me something about childhood and remembering and distance and longing and oh I can't explain it, you have to listen, the song does the taking for me.

And finally, there is always the letter.

This Is Water

David Foster Wallace giving the commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005. The full text can be found here.

For me, the most essential part is this:

"...If you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down. Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that's capital-T True is that you get to decide how you're gonna try to see it. This, I submit, is the freedom of a real education, of learning how to be well-adjusted. You get to consciously decide what has meaning and what doesn't."

Wallace's sacred option is the one I choose. To stop, take a breath and see again this world and everyone in it glowing with the fire of love and the miracle that we are here, together.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Almost Lost

You may have heard Randy or me tell this story before. It's one of those family chestnuts that we recite by heart, filling in each other's usual gaps. Why bring it back today? Well, the website that published this account has gone away to www.heaven and when I was looking through old pictures yesterday to find something cute for Randy's birthday, I came across some shots that got snapped that awful, amazing day.


Baja California Sur, Mexico. 

I last talked at God fifteen years ago on the beach at Los Palmas. Randy was drowning in front of me, unreachable, the riptide pulling him beyond a promontory, out of my sight. Brent and Serena had run to climb the southern cliff to see if they could keep him in view. I stayed in the shallows, watching. I paced and wept, angry, fruitless tears, my shins struggling against the surf. 

"I'm not asking for anything!  I'm just talking here!" I shouted in my head. "I'm just talking!" Furious at my own weakness and panic.

One cubic foot of water moving at four miles an hour packs a sixty-six pound punch.

A few minutes earlier, a man from Todos Santos had approached the three of us as we stood in a tense cluster, watching Randy in the rolling waves and trying to decide if his splashes and movement could still be called swimming. Serena translated the man's words: he had a strange feeling that morning that pulled him to the beach. He stood with us and watched Randy being pulled out to sea. 

"Cinco muerte," the man said and pointed to the top of the cliff to the south. A small white cross stood against the sky. I had not noticed it before, or, like so many symbols in this foreign landscape we had been drifting through, I had given it little thought as significant to the lives of actual people.

The man told Serena he was going for help. He would need to hike though the palm oasis to reach his truck, then bump laboriously over two kilometers of twisted ruts, boulders scraping the low metal innards of his truck, before reaching the main road. Town would take five more kilometers after that. The man was a stranger to us and yet he would do this.

We could still see Randy in the water. I could pretend, I was tempted to pretend, there was no emergency. We could still see him in the water.

Then Randy raised his arm. And his other. Help. Brent and Serena ran to climb the cliff.

In recent months my flirtation with the idea that prayers are no more than thoughts had begun to calcify into my truth. But at this moment, I felt more sure of God's capriciousness than His absence. I bristled at the layers of His joke. Randy was a strong man, a strong swimmer, son of a preacher man, splashing around on the first day of vacation. The cruel parts of my past that had lain dormant this easy week suddenly loomed before me -- bad things have happened to my family on vacations.

A strong swimmer. Moment after we arrived at the beach, he had barreled straight out into the waves, alarming me as he passed me in the shallows. Yes, the water was seductive, with sparkles of suspended sand you could reach for but never capture. But the movement of the water felt strange and strong here in the bay. The surf rose from my knees to my shoulders in quick thrilling surges. When it lifted me off my feet, I gasped with a laugh. Randy had passed me like one of the 4x4 Jeeps that blare past the cautious drivers on the straight-aways of the shoulderless Highway 19 from Cabo.

I could no longer see Randy. The waves had carried him beyond the southern point of the rocks.

The agony was acute, yet ended suddenly. Serena scrambled back. "He's okay! He's on the rocks at the bottom of the cliff."

I scrambled, often on all fours, after her. The beach side of the cliff was a climbable slope if you didn't look down. We climbed over scratchy brambles, ankle-breaking piles of smooth and round rock, gull guano, the dried remains of tiny vermin bones and fish.

At the top of the cliff, the view and the buffeting wind took my breath. The sun poured on us, spilling down in a sparkling trail over the sea. We looked over the edge and I saw him. I saw him! Perched on a boulder no larger than a closet, surrounded by exploding surf. How did he get there? How would he get out? There would be no climbing here. The wall fell away below us. The surf was too loud and he was too far away to hear our screams of counsel or comfort. 

The white cross looked so much larger up here. Below it sat a coffee can painted blue and white, filled with desiccated flowers.

The angel from the village returned. Todos Santos has no police force, no ambulance, so he brought the only other help available: a truck full of soldiers, all dressed in faded green shirts and pants. Each man carried a rifle slung over his back.

The men hiked to the top of the cliff, took a look down, conferred. Serena talked to them. A couple of the soldiers climbed back down to the truck to retrieve a rope. Serena and Brent and I exchanged glances. Now that Randy had found safety, we were just along for the insane ride.  Our gringo mood turned giddy. Brent peeked over the cliff, mimicked aiming a gun at Randy, then recoiling from a shot. Randy mooned him back.

I dared to look down at my boyfriend little bit later.  Randy was sitting on the rock, bent over, his face down on his folded arms. I stepped away from the edge.  I felt like I had seen something I was not supposed to.

Later, Randy would tell us that he realized he had to get on the rocks but he knew riding on the brutal surf could crush him.  He said getting pissed was what saved him.  "I'm not going to be that guy!"  he said to himself. He dove down under the waves, reaching out for the rocks, found them.

The soldiers got right to work, lined up on the rope. There was no strategizing, no attempts to communicate with Randy. This is just what you do - throw the guy a rope. Randy told us later that when the rope came down, he didn't know what to do with it, just wrapped it around and around his waist and his legs and held on.

They hauled him up. I could barely see them working against the sun - all was silhouette. No one saw Randy's ascent. Brent, Serena and I were trying to stay back out of the way and the soldiers were all on the rope. The hardest part came when Randy dangled right at the edge; there was a painful pause getting him off the rope and into the men's arms.

Then he stood up at the top of the cliff, safe. When he saw me, he cried a little. I couldn't. I was too amazed, stunned in the brightness at the top of the cliff. I hugged him.

His hands were battered and bloody where they hit the rocks on the lip of the cliff. One of the soldiers poured alcohol on the cuts. Randy cursed, "Fuck!" at the pain.

I did not say thank you to the sky. The sky does not touch our lives. It remains miles above, blue and implacable. What I did do: with both of my hands, I shook the hands of some of the Mexican soldiers and the hand of the angel of Todos Santos, all of a sudden feeling improperly dressed and self-conscious in my swimsuit.

Randy, Brent, Serena and I went back to Los Palmas the next day. Randy did not swim. We renamed the beach "Lost Palmer" and celebrated. We were elated, a horror turned into adventure, a beloved almost lost, then found.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

A Sage Among Pigs

Our sweet Little Prince is a guest on the Lil Bub Show! Bub teases out some deep Prince thoughts in a riveting interview. Then the two new friends bond on the couch.

"Species-specific lice, amirite?"

"Tell me about it."

Saturday, September 7, 2013

End of the Summer

Mia, Nora and our neighbor girl performing Oogie Boogie Guinea Hog. Part hula dance, part ecstatic ceremony, all their own invention. Aunt Joan says it comes from an unconscious search for spirituality. I say yeah, bring it on.

Here's the Ashland El stop after Joanna Newsom performed at Pitchfork. That brewing storm cut short the Bjork set that followed. I felt like I'd walked onto the set of Girls at Pitchfork: braids, tattoos, flowers in everyone's hair. I saw a boy with an enormous scab cratered like the surface of Mars on his knee, a girl with a Bjork swan costume, a woman sucking on a binkie - is that a meth thing or an X thing? I forget. The frat boys clustering around the stage during Newsom's set cracked me up - the crowd was hushed and reverential during her eighteen minute arrangements for harp and voice. And vegan options at every food tent! Heavenly.

Another songbird, our little Nora, performed the part of Wolf Number One in a production at Smash Up at the Music Institute in Evanston that the kids wrote in five days. I made the ears and tail out of fake fur from Vogue fabrics on Dempster.

And then Nora killed in Frozen Banana Stand's debut at the Rock House. Green Day's "Wake Me Up When September Ends," the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," "Day Tripper" and "Hard Day's Night." 

Waiting my turn and taking my turn on the rope swing. Whee! Family Weekend at Camp Wandawega was downright awesome too - a highlight of the summer and a sweet rural contrast to our bright lights, big city vaca in NYC.

Mia and me in Central Park. We're on our way to the Guggenheim - my friend Emily told me a great story about visiting the museum in the '80's when the area was dicey. Her dad said, "Take your car" because he didn't want his broken into. And hers was, just like he said, for the radio. The hood looks much tonier now. Our only problem was trying to catch a cab on 5th Ave. during Friday rush hour.

Friday, August 30, 2013


When you've climbed from the sweet smells of the Shakespeare garden up the steep but short hill to the second highest point in Central Park and you top the stairs to find a fashion model in a green and leopard patterned backless dress making snarly faces and monster hands at her photographer, you may think you've had a New York moment.

And when the glory continues with the stone one-way staircase inside Belvedere Castle, shouting "Coming up!" as you go and you grin at the view from the top of Turtle Pond and the Great Lawn beyond and the Delacorte Theater where they do all that glorious free Shakespeare and the gorgeous art deco Eldorado on Central Park West, you may think you're really queen of the hill, but wait.

Because when your daughter points out there's a wedding going on in the pavilion below and you watch with delight the happy faces of the guests, one holding a baby in a purple confection of a dress and the violin sings sweetly and you say to the girls, "It's two women getting married," you really have to pump your fist because sweetheart, you have hit the New York jackpot.

P.S. A few steps minute's walk and we saw this. Can anyone tell me why this sight of the Eldorado fills me with inchoate longing? Is it the serenity of the skyline across the water? Is it the illusion that the towers are more mammoth than their 30 floors? Is it the unconscious glimpse I've caught of them in countless movies and shows without knowing what they were? Was it just the pretty angle of the sun in the late afternoon and the shining clouds behind? I don't know, but I had the sensation of being thrown back in time and it made my heart ache.

P.P.S. To dear Christina: Hummingbird and Passionflowers by Martin Johnson Meade at the Met. Thinking of you!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Children's Literature Trip to New York, Updated!

A million choices for things to do when visiting The Greatest City On Earth, so why not give yourself a theme to narrow down the endless possibilities and enhance your fun? Here are some of the books that helped us plan our August family trip to the Big Apple.

Seen Art? by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith is a charming little picture book that sends a boy on a punning treasure hunt through some of the iconic works in the Museum of Modern Art. We will be looking for the fur-lined teacup!

Stuart Little is an odd little book about a rat son born into a human family by the author of Charlotte's Web and co-author of The Elements of Style. My girls weren't entirely satisfied with the story nor its strange kind of non-ending, but you can bet we'll be checking out the Conservatory Water in Central Park looking for a little rat sailing his own boat. 

UPDATE! We LOVED this corner of Central Park - absolutely gorgeous and look! Right next door are the Hans Christian Anderson and Alice in Wonderland statues!

 Mia doing her best Mad Hatter.

Nora having a toadstool moment.

Kay Thompson wrote the Eloise books "for precocious adults," but my girls adore the little resident of the Plaza Hotel, abondoned by her jet-setting mother, roller skating down the hall, making a wreck of the place and eventually charming everyone. We'll toast Eloise with afternoon tea at the Plaza, which doesn't really celebrate the anarchic spirit of our heroine, but I can't wait for the scones and tiny sandwiches.

I LURVED The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler when I was a kid and reloved it all over again a couple months back, loved the story of a brother and sister running away from home to have an adventure living in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Nothing seemed dangerous or scary, only ingenious and fun....  the kids bathing in the museum fountain and sleeping in sixteenth century beds on display, and the wild coincidence with Mrs. Frankweiler's lawyer just seems natural in this world both magical and realistic where the love of art saves the day ...

UPDATE! Check out this! A PDF file of a Met brochure responding to questions that kids had about the book. It includes an essay by E.L. Konigsburg about researching and writing The Mixed Up Files!

I haven't shared Harriet the Spy with the girls yet, so I'll be the one remembering Harriet's epic ride in Manhattan traffic inside her nanny's boyfriend's delivery box while we pedal our rental bikes placidly through Central Park. I just finished rereading the novel yesterday and I can't believe how great it is. YOU MUST READ THIS BOOK. A similar tough and mouthy quality to the quip-ready Manhattan kids in Basil Frankweiler, but plenty of big generous heart, too.

Roald Dahl, Matilda. We've got tickets!

UPDATE: We had read Mordicai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked Between The Towers long before our trip. Well, the 9-11 Memorial site was sobering, of course, after an uplifting morning spent on Liberty Island. It's a space of absences and emptiness, names of people who are no longer here, water falling, then falling again into an abyss whose bottom you cannot see. Mammoth buildings that can only now be imagined. Or not.

Here I am trying to tell stories of the day to Mia without being too scary.

Nora said, "I'm trying to cry, but my face won't let me." The experience was abstract for them and the numbers too large to comprehend. The survivor tree helped make the story real, but in a manageable way - it is a callery pear sapling that lived through the blast, was nursed back to health and re-transplanted on the site among a new forest of resilient swamp white oaks. Now it stands green and beautiful beneath the gaze of the almost completed Freedom Tower.

I was too busy with explaining and walking and reading to let my feelings take over at the memorial. My moment of grieving came earlier in the day, when our cab paused at a stoplight on West Street on the way to the Statue of Liberty ferry. I caught a glimpse of the iconic blue-green tops of the World Financial Center buildings and realized where we were. "This is Ground Zero," I whispered to Randy, who couldn't hear me over the sound of traffic. I turned back to the window to see a sliver of garden and everything was so bright and fresh in the August sunshine that it was a miracle.

Tar Beach is the nickname for the apartment roof where a city girl spends hot summer nights with her family; we're visiting the Tenement Museum today.

The current Disneyfied Times Square has as little in common with the quaint charm I remember of The Cricket in Times Square as today's Fifth Avenue evokes Cheever's stories but you can bet we'll be there, cameras ready.

UPDATE: Two more books that came back to us on our trip: The Curious Garden by Peter Brown, a picture book inspired by the Highline, a fabulous new park in the Meatpacking District constructed from an old abandoned freight line. It offers great second story views of the neighborhood, artwork and artful landscaping with gorgeous native plants.

M. Sasek's This Is New York is a beautiful work of illustration from 1960. A companion piece to his San Francisco book. Perfect to read to the girls before sleep on our last night in the greatest city on earth.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Kristiana Kahakauwila's This Is Paradise

Today the From Left to Write book club is discussing Kristiana Kahakauwila's first book, This is Paradise, a collection of short stories about life on the Hawaiian islands. Kahakauwila is a native islander and she writes of a world that may be unfamiliar to readers who only know the resorts, beaches and national parks of Hawaii. The six honest and melancholy stories tell of cock fighters and office workers, cleaning ladies and ranchers, characters who are deeply invested in their families and their identities as Hawaiians.

In one fascinating story, "The Road to Hana," a man with Minnesotan parents who was born and raised on the islands takes a road trip with his girlfriend, a woman with a huge and close Hawaiian family, whose "cousin can chant back twenty-five generations," but who happened to be born in Las Vegas. Tensions rise between the two lovers over who is "local" and who is not, over what it means to be "of the islands" and how that is different than being from them.

The specific culture we see in these stories makes the title "This is Paradise" both full of truth and full of irony. Yes, the islands are incredibly beautiful, but the lives shown here don't simply contemplate the lyricism. Yes, there is ease and pleasure here, but also brutality, sadness, desire, grief and struggle.

I considered my own version of paradise as I read these stories. When we first moved to our small and quiet town, we were leaving behind the noise and grit of living without green space on a busy street in Chicago. Now we had a front and a back and a side yard! I spent the first few weeks in our new home singing the praises of the easy life of the suburbs.

"Five blocks to the kids' museum! Four blocks to the pancake house, three blocks to the grocery store, two blocks to the library and no drunks peeing on our front door!"

It wasn't exactly the Twelve Days of Christmas, but it felt like it.

Now that we've lived here for ten (lordy, lordy, how time flies!) years, (and now that the Children's Museum moved to Glenview) the beauty and convenience of our little village has shifted to the background of our busy days. I still take a deep grateful breath when I step into the backyard on a dewy morning. And every time we visit our beach, I am blown away by the gorgeous sight of Lake Michigan and her varied moods. But even paradise right in front of your eyes can disappear when you are busy or distracted or stressed. It takes a moment of conscious stillness to become again the tourist in your own backyard, to look anew at the same patch of flowers you tend every day and feel again gladness.

You can read more responses to Kristiana Kahakauwila's book here. I received a copy of the book with no obligation.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

A Brief History of Grief Delayed

Thirty-one years before, a few minutes after eight o’clock in the morning, a four-ton bomb exploded over the city of Hiroshima, the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture, on the island of Honshu, Japan. Thousands of lives incinerated in the space of a few moments. The blast obliterated office buildings, homes, cooking bowls, contracts, goldfish, trees, bicycles, fences, temples, schools, eyeglasses, photo albums, a small pot of marigolds sitting on a brick step.

August 6, 1976. That day, early in August, Aunt Ruth is taking a bunch of us to the trailer at the lake. Me, my little sister Nancy, my brother Chris, my cousin Jeanne, and our neighbors, the Sharp boys. Aunt Ruth asks me to clean out a Styrofoam cooler so she can pack it with ice and food.  I rinse the cooler out with the hose in the back yard and I get the idea that I can empty the water out faster by spinning around in a circle. In the middle of my spin, the cooler flies out of my hands, hits the ground and splits with a crunch, a big jagged cut in the white foam.  Aunt Ruth is going to be so mad. I go inside and tell her and I am surprised and relieved when she isn’t even angry. I am eleven.

August 11, 1976. Five days after my brother Christopher and sister Nancy died, I am in the hospital with a dislocated hip so I don’t go to the funeral.

August 6, 1977. One year after Nancy and Chris died, Aunt Ruth and Uncle Phil take Jeanne and me to Disneyland. My hip is all better - I don’t even limp. We do not mention the day.

August, 1978. Two years after, I go away to Girl Scout overnight camp for the first time. 

August, 1979. Three years after, I go with my cousin Sally and her parents on vacation to Michigan. I kiss a boy in the windy dark, on the damp sand of a beach on Crystal Lake. The radio music at the beach campfire makes my heart pound with sexy daring: “My Sharona.” The Cars, “Let’s Go.”
Driving home from Michigan we listen to another song. “I can see Daniel waving goodbye.” A few days later, I get my period for the first time. I fly home with two secrets: I made out with a boy and I got my period. One secret thrills me; the other does not. I don’t tell Aunt Ruth about my period for days. I am afraid. And sure enough, when I do tell her, she is angry. I don't why. 
“What have you been using?”
“I folded some toilet paper.” 
“Oh Cindy,” she huffs with disappointment. She gives me a pad with long paper straps on the ends and a belt. It is confusing to figure out and uncomfortable to use. I throw it away. 

August, 1981. Five years after, I backpack in Colorado with Girl Scouts from other states. Two girls have come all the way from Mexico.

August, 1983. The seventh summer after, I travel to Branson, Missouri, to ride waterslides, see The Shepard of the Hills play and go horseback riding with two girlfriends. I work as a counselor at an Ozark Girl Scout camp. I go to Royals baseball games with my friends, swim at Lake Jacomo. We watch fireworks and eat Kentucky Fried chicken in a parking lot on the Fourth of July and ice cream at Winstead’s after Rocky Horror and drink rum and cokes and grape-flavored Malt Duck and I make out with Greg in his brother’s attic. We kiss while I sit on the softly vibrating dryer in his brother’s laundry room. We sneak into the cemetery and we T.P. houses and write shaving cream messages on driveways, throw deodorant in the front yard of the girl we know, laugh and laugh our asses off. Tonya, Kyla, Chuck and I get dressed up in clothes we found at a vintage store, hats and gloves and heels and we go to the Kona Kai because they don't card. We nervously order Mai Tais and laugh hysterically over our sweet and sour shrimp. 
“I will have a sweet vermouth, please,” I tell a waiter, enunciating carefully.  I’m eighteen.

August 6, 1985. Nine years after, I’m in college but I don’t write about them, not in diaries, not in essays. THIS IS A LIE – THEY SNUCK INTO STORIES I WROTE. I keep saying, “It hasn’t really seemed to affect me.” The girl across the hall from me, a psychology grad student, looks at me when I say this. She is silent, then points out how vulnerable the ages of loss were -- at four and on the cusp of adolescence. I listen but I'm not sure what else her words mean.

August 6, 1986. Ten years after, I’m in New Orleans doing service work.  I hand out cans from the small food pantry in the closet of a Catholic grade school classroom. I chat with sweet and obese African-American ladies with white-streaked hair as they work on their double-knit quilts for the parish sale and we watch The Price Is Right in the air conditioning. 
I think constantly of the boy I met in the spring, in London. He’s working in Washington D.C. all summer as a congressional aide. We write long letters back and forth. 
“This city is moody and atmospheric,” I write. “Now I know why they call it the Deep South.  Everything here is so green and slow moving, it feels like you’re underwater.” 
I’m going to see him again at school at the end of the summer. Thinking of the end of August, even a thought in the vicinity of that idea, makes my stomach buzz, a low electric thrill.

August, 1987. Eleven years after, I’ve graduated college and I don’t know how to look for a job so I’m going to film school at the end of the month.
I’m back at home again, spending nights in the blue bedroom on the rack. I think constantly of the London boy. I cry every day. I fight insomnia every night. I stay up until four in the morning, sleep until three in the afternoon. I cry, listening to “He Stopped Loving Her Today,” and “Oh the Pain of Loving You,” but I can't even laugh at the utter seriousness of the twangy voices belying their cornpone tragedy. NO - I DID LAUGH.  MY SENSE OF HUMOR HAD NOT ABANDONED ME. A few notes of Dolly Parton’s sweet high soprano and I am sobbing. 
In the springtime, I had asked the boy what he was feeling and he said “Nothing.” I knew what that meant.
Hell has three circles, the first is remembering every stupid thing I had said and done; the second is knowing that he had witnessed them; the deepest circle is imagining that he was now forgetting those stupid words and the girl who said them.

August, 1988. Twelve years after, Iowa is hot in the summer. I get a job on a movie called Zadar, Cow from Hell. I think less of the London boy. I don’t cry every day like I used to. And the thought that I think less of him, the thought that I am crying less, makes me cry anew. I wonder why I got over Nancy and Christopher but I can’t seem to shake this. I don’t want to shake this. Because even the agony is feeling something and I don’t want to stop feeling something that is caused by him, is close to him even in that way. 

August, 1989. Thirteen years after, I have a dog and an angry writer boyfriend. The boyfriend has a genetic disease, a children’s disease. The medication he takes to manage the symptoms includes steroids that later I will understand cook up his mood swings, rampant jealousies, his furies. The steroids, yes, and perhaps his own internal battles with mortality.
I love our dog passionately. Little Lady is a purebred chocolate lab, the runt of the litter, poorly behaved despite repeated obedience classes. We are all going to move to Boston at the end of the summer as soon as I retake my comprehensive exams and finish a paper on the German film Deutschland im Herbst. The movie is dark and grim. I will pass my comps this time, but I never do finish that damn paper and I fail the class. I don’t care. NO, I DID. I’m going to Boston. 
I still think of that London boy. I do.

August, 1996. Twenty years after, I live in Chicago. The man I live with has bought a company with some friends, a company that makes TV commercials. One of Randy’s partners slips the alderman and the cops a hundred bucks each and they let us close off half the street for a block party. A DJ plays on the loading dock and we dance crazy in the heat, arms over our heads.

August 6, 2000. Twenty-four years after, I am in Kyoto with Randy, my groom, my husband. After dinner Randy and I walk to our ryokan in the rain. I dodge puddles to save my green silk mules with the embroidered flowers on the toes. We laugh and laugh, talking over this adventure, high on excitement, Kirin beer and the beauty of Kyoto.

August 6, 2001. Twenty-five years after, the twin towers still stand.

August, 2005. Twenty-nine years after, I have given birth to two daughters. I am starting to understand all sister can mean. The girls giggle and hug in the tub. Their bond forms before my eyes.
I try to tell a therapist about the day Nancy and Chris died. I sob, saying, “In the emergency room, I heard someone crying, screaming in pain. I don’t know if it was Christopher.” 
It is agony to say this. The fifty minutes are up and I leave feeling horrible. I go home and ask Randy, “What was the point of that? It really hurt and nothing came of it. It’s not as if I’ve never said these things before. It’s not a breakthrough. I say the words and poof, there’s nothing there. Nothing’s changed, I haven’t done anything. It just hurts.” 
I start to write about my family. I have much work to do.

August, 2006. Thirty years after, I have put flowers on their stones. I have written everything I can remember about them, the games we played, the trip to the apple orchard, the fights we had, the quality of their voices. I will plant a tree, order a plaque. 
Jeanne and I have talked about the worst day of our lives and she tells me it was not Christopher in the emergency room. He died next to the car. We cried and talked. 
I have visited one of the the neighbor boys who was in the car with us, now married with two boys, happy in his faith, a scuba diver.
I have sent pictures of Nancy and Chris to the Kansas City paper for a memorial. In her photo, nine-year-old Nancy wears her shiny chocolate hair in braids. She leans back on her hands so her shoulders are tipped up fetchingly close to her ears. Christopher grins straight into the camera, the hood of his old worn sweatshirt covering his curls. He is fourteen in the photo and looks close enough to touch. The photos are printed on the thirtieth anniversary of their deaths with the words below, “You are always in our hearts.”  Learning how to grieve is learning to put on the traditional clothes of mourning, sinking into their richness and comfort, bearing their weight with a not unpleasurable sense of duty.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve.  THIS IS NOT TRUE.  It never stops.  THIS IS TRUE.

Shrek Flies His Freak Flag in Chicago

Looking for some late-summer family fun? Check out Shrek the Musical at Navy Pier's Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

There's big talent on display here and plenty of big laughs. Michael Aaron Lindner has the singing chops for the title role but James Earl Jones II shines as Donkey with charisma to burn.

The show is a scaled down version of the Broadway tour show that came through town a couple of years ago, but you won't miss any of the pagentry - the songs and dance numbers fill the stage and as always at Chicago Shakespeare, you can expect plenty of inventive stagecraft. Dragon is smaller but more nimble this time around. Your jaw will drop as Alexis J. Rogers wails her "And I Am Telling You"-style love song to Donkey WHILE bringing the 10 foot dragon puppet to life IN PLATFORM HEELS.

The four kids with me (who were guests of the kind folks at Chicago Shakespeare) loved Fiona and Shrek's fart and burb contest but I was laughing hardest at Travis Taylor's manic dancing on his knees as diminutive Lord Farquaad in a gloriously bad pageboy haircut.

The show runs through September 1; you won't want to miss it!

Friday, July 26, 2013


This began as a garden post about the new dahlias and the tiny Hens and Chicks that dear Christina brought for the fairy garden and the cascading purple perennial geranium and the volunteer tomato plants that are just popping up like weeds and...

...the ripe cherries! But then I just had to tell you about the resulting cobbler and tiny hand pies that Martha Stewart's Living had the audacity to call "simple and rewarding to put together, even if you consider yourself all thumbs in the baking department." Rewarding yes, but simple, no way.

Anyway, the post starting taking on a life of its own because then I have to show you the new cute decals in Nora's room...

 ...that matched her new pink ceiling and new curtains and new little pink detailing in the woodwork...And while we're talking decorating...

...don't you love these local pride pillows I found at the new Paramour Bungalow shop (next to Hewn) on Dempster in Evanston? 60091, Represent!

This pic says so much about our summer - hours lounging on the couch watching classic kids' flicks while the guinea pig nibbles strawberry tops. This month Randy has introduced the girls to the originals of Herbie the Love Bug (rave reviews), Godzilla (surprisingly melancholy!) and King Kong ("awesome!" said Nora) and a fest of circa 1925 Buster Keaton films (jaw-dropping stunts and even more jaw-dropping racist "jokes.")

The girls' Grandpa Bob, Aunt Rebecca, Uncle Dave and their kids came for the Fourth of July.

Rebeccca and I kayaking at sunset on Fox Lake.

Cousins at the Celebrate Fox Lake parade.

S'mores next to the lake before fireworks.

This photo is about the importance of punctuation. Delicious, but least enthusiastic cake ever.

One of our favorite summer traditions - picnicking at Dog 'N Suds drive in.