Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Tree

When I was a kid, the neighbors across the road had a Christmas tree farm. Every year, my dad would go up to their farm in November and help them harvest the trees. He would return, tired, on a Sunday, with our own glorious tree--part of his payment
for the work--which he started taking one year after he had been out of work for a while in the recession of the 70's.

The Tree was Dad's Thing.

He would meticulously wrap it in lights, including bubbler lights that he had gotten from his granddad. He would teach us how you have to lay under the tree and look up through the branches in a darkened house at night, breathing in the piney scent, and watching the lights twinkle.

Mom would holler comments from the kitchen and change the records that would accompany tree decorating sessions: Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, the New Christy Minstrels, the Smothers Brothers. My dad had worked at Columbia records so we were deep in vinyl.

One spring day, seven days after my thirteenth birthday, my father dropped dead at work.

It was an impossibly difficult year and as we surmounted the hurdle of
each holiday without Dad for the first time, and we all dreaded Christmas the most. We could not even bring up the subject of the tree.

Yet there on our front stoop one December morning was a tree, bagged and waiting. Somehow my brothers, aged 11 and 10, and I got that tree into the
stand and decorated. For YEARS afterwards, a tree continued to arrive on the doorstep every year. Dad's memorial tree.

And so I always have a tree--it must be live or there is no point to it (although I find the blue or silver or white trees impossibly retro since those were the kinds my grandparents had) When I was a starving artist in a tiny New York apartment, the tree was moth eaten and small and dragged down from Harlem.

I cannot conceive of December without a tree in my house. This made life quite complicated when I married a nice Jewish boy from New York. He found
my December ritual of hunting down and killing a tree quite amusing when we were dating. But it was quite another thing to drag him to tree farms once we had
pledged our troth and were keeping a mostly Jewish home.

It's my tree, he doesn't ever have to touch it, and yes, we hang dreidles on it. He didn't have to lift a finger the year I was a week and a half away from giving birth
to our first child and had my girlfriend come to the tree farm---I could not get close enough to the ground with my huge belly so she had to do the honors, but
I got that sucker into the stand, belly or no.

It's a little wierd I know to do a havdalah baby naming for your third child with an everygreen behind the rabbi. I make fabulous latkes,and the best matzo balls in the family, but I gotta have a tree.

Nowadays my trips to the woods have become mad after work dashes to the Home Depot. I switched to lightweight balsam trees because I found you could carry a baby
in one hand and the tree in the other.

My children now help and can tell the story of each ornament."This nutcracker came from my boyfriend the year I stage managed the Nutcracker at the Morris Civic Auditorium in South Bend." and "This was the cake topper for my fourth birthday". "This we got the year we got the cat."

I let the kids camp out in sleeping bags under the tree.

The evergreen tree is not a Christian symbol, btw. It is a very old, deep and pagan symbol of the regeneration of life. Before the Romans came crashing through the northern lands co-opting every tradition they could find (because they knew that hearts and minds must be won as well as lands) the Northern Tribes brought evergreens into the house with the hope that the sun would return from wherever it was going, earlier and earlier each day. In the frightening, freezing dark days of solstice, the smell of pine was the symbol that life would continue, spring would come again, and the light would return. Ashkenazis come from the land of cold winters, so maybe pine sniffing in the dead of winter is part of the cellular memory of any tribe that made it through a cold winter. I have come to love and crave the smell of latkes frying and the quiet glow of the menorah.

But I gotta have my tree.

For me the tree and the stories we tell of it are the symbols of hope that my father will live on in my memories of his children and the grandchildren he did not live to see.

The tree is my fathers yarzheit.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hanukkah Gift Ideas

Yesterday, I did an interview with Channel Two about regifting. The reporter was shocked that I regift, shop my own belongings, and dumpster dive and thrift shop for gifts for ALL occasions. But passing on gifts is a green and generous tradition. We also believe in No Presents at our house. If you have never read the book Three Cheers for Catherine the Great by Cari Best, lay a hold of it, and find out what a No Present is---a gift of self.

For those of us who are checkbook/credit card challenged for this eight days of light, I offer you some ideas for "conceptual" gifts(some from my house, some from the other speedskating moms last night at the rink) Gift certificates for highly valuable priviledges: there is the Get out of Jail card---for a grounding, for chores when you don't want to do them or don't have time. There is the You Pick the TV Channel today card. There is the I do your Chore for you card--which is transferable. There is the You can Borrow Anything from my Closet card. Even my son wants one of those so he can wear his dads weapons to the ren faire.

One of the moms wraps up a 10 or 20 spot and has the kids walk over to the computer and choose a charity to give it to. Since I don't even have one of those "spots" this year, one night will be mitvah night and each child will choose a charity that we as a family will volunteer for.

We have been talking a lot about needs versus wants at our house, and I will be buying some Needs with Want Flair and wrapping them in lovely paper. For example, we have foregone breakfast cereals for healthier and cheaper hot cereals. But each child will get a box of their FAVORITE sugar laden breakfast cereal for the holidays.
We have blown through a lot of sox since sandal season, so I have been trolling the dollar stores (and thrift stores) for really fun ones--toe sox, pirate sox, and dreidel sox!!!! There have been some fights over the Neutrogena, so everyone gets their Very Own bottle. Hope my kids don't read my blog for a week.

And can I just say thank you for whoever decided that fried potatoes would be the traditional dish---gluten free, vegetarian and CHEAP.

I just love the Eight Nights of Hopeful Lights.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Thanks! I needed that



As many of you know, I am in a state of despair about our broken education system. I do the Debbie Downer pretty much timed with every school board meeting and the fact that they are slipping a meeting in to raise our taxes AGAIN--sneaking it into the holiday season when my family is mulling the Christmas Hanukkah dilemma and no one has time to pay attention to board meetings has me seeing RED.

But then,in a little brown wrapper, it arrives in my mail. Close Encounters of the Third Grade Kind by Philip Done and this funny, poignant memoir of teacher and school gives me just a thimbleful of hope. I have children now that no longer love school, despite good grades and a well regarded system. I would read chapters aloud to them at bedtime and we all spent a little minute wishing they could have days like Mr. Done seems to have.

See, I said to my kids, teachers love and care for their students. And Done is not a starry eyes Teach for America recruit. He is a seasoned old fart who knows what he is up against and comes back every year, because this is what he was born to do.

I come from a family of teachers. I was an artist in the school, tough schools, for a decade. I did everything for a certification as a teacher except the final exam, because even then I was depressed about the soul deadening factories that schools had mostly become. I just couldn't spend my life there. Of course the irony is that I became a bureacrat and I send my kids there---but life has a lot of black humor in it!

I have heard from those that have read both that Done's first book is better constructed, but I found this to be a perfect holiday ho ho, for those of us who need a little good news, a belly laugh and a tear or two. It is not great literature, but it is an easy quick read that reminds one of the small jewels that lie in the everyday and ordinary. And it gave me that thimble full of hope that schools can be magical and transformational.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Holiday Arts Roundup

Ok, so every year everyone calls and emails me about this time and asks: What should I take my kid to see? So to save you time, I present the Holiday Performance Round Up for the Chicago Area.

The first thing you have to figure out is WHY are you going to see something. As a mom who favors EXPERIENCES over OBJECTS, I think going to see shows and movies during the holidays is more calorie conscious than my usual eating myself silly at some party, and its more ecological than driving around and then waiting in horrible crowds and lines to buy stuff I really don’t need and will neverget put away. So I go to a show as a way of being festive and green, and having fun with my kids. But don’t go see the Nutcracker because you feel like you HAVE to. Going to a show should be a transformational event, a memory, a gift, so you have to pick the right ones and pace yourself carefully.

Here in Chicago we are blessed with the cream of the crop of tip top professional productions: the Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker which is as good as NYCB (sorry George) and is in the Auditorium Theater, a space that is more magical than any venue in the United States. But if your child cannot sit through 2 plus hours of formal ballet, don’t spend the money yet. Ditto on the Goodman Theater version of A Christmas Carol. If you have older kids who can appreciate great acting talent and Broadway quality production values,crack open the piggy bank and forego something else and go. If you have kids that bounce on seats (and kick the one in front of them) and don’t know the difference between a movie and a live show, wait another year at least.

There are plenty of community theater versions of Nutcracker and Christmas Carol to go to at a theater near you. Look for abridged versions. And it’s best to go to the one that is most convenient---great if you know someone in the cast, or that’s not too expensive so if your kid spikes a fever two hours before the curtain you don’t want to murder them, and you can gift the tickets to some last minute mom in need of a break without resenting the recipient too much…. There are even interactive play along versions of holiday classics now---my daughter created Evanston’s Dance It Yourself Nutcracker and there is a fun one at the Cultural Center on Washington and Michigan Avenue. And of course, this year, we have a new MOVIE version of A Christmas Carol!!! And speaking of movies—our family has always had a holiday tradition of cuddling up with a nice warm bucket of popcorn and enjoying all types of cinema. Can’t recommend It’s a Wonderful Life enough--- after 20 years I still cry. And you really can watch A Christmas Story every year. There is something reassuring and comforting about watching the same stories over and over. I still read Patricia Polacco’s The Tree of the Dancing Goats, and The Hanukkah Guest from Eric Kimmel (whose Hanukkah Goblins are also staples at our house), and now Lemony Snicket’s Latke That Couldn’t Stop Screaming every darn year to my kids who are way too old for bedtime stories….So drag Elf and A Charlie Brown Christmas out (or get it in Blu Ray, or OMG dig out the VCR you kept for history) and gather round. My kids still call it the Abdominal Snowman who scares the misfit Toys on that retro 70’s animation of Rudolph. We know all the lines, all the songs, and we LOVE that. This year's holiday releases do not suck. We are looking forward to Wes Anderson adapting Roald Dahl!

But back to the live performances—and non denominational ones. Head off the beaten path and over to Victory Gardens for The Snow Queen. For some reason Blair Thomas’ puppets and the score have captured my kids’ imagination and it’s a new holiday tradition, complete with playing the CD to fall asleep. And then there is the Redmoon Winter Pageant, my personal holiday tradition. They always surprise me with some visual feast—I leave sated, and completely unable to explain what I just saw with words.

If you are going to bundle up and schlep somewhere, make it a true holiday highlight. Create some tradition that goes with the show—cocoa afterwards, or driving by the windows on State Street on the way home, or maybe you have a cookie hidden in your purse. Some folks like dressing up—I have kids who HATE anything itchy so we let you wear pajamas to a show (under your coat) if you want. Nice pajamas of course. Ladies, if you want to wear a tutu or tiara--do it.

Do whatever it takes to make being together special, warm and memorable.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Mama's Movie Night takes on the Grandma of em all

When times are hard, the arts tend to get all retrospective, and nostalgia is this season’s trend. Film companies appear to be heading for the vault and reissuing anniversary editions of iconic classics. Weekend before last, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of Dorothy and Toto.

Then the folks at Disney sent an army of us bloggers the Diamond Edition of Snow White to examine, just in time for the October 6th rollout. I’m pretty careful about my freebies, preferring to pick my way through popular culture on my own, but as a media educator, the chance to write about the very first full length animated feature ever made was too great for my film buff household to pass up.

The eagerly awaited DVD/Blu Ray boxed set arrived, and we ceremoniously gathered round for what in our house is known as Mama’s Movie Night. Last week I had my long suffering students, I mean children, sit through Alexander the Great with Richard Burton. Next week we will be looking at Garbo. But this week we harkened back to their grandparents’ day, and it’s Snow White on a cold Saturday night. We watched the DVD version, since our friends who have a Blu Ray had a previous engagement. We have not invested in the newest technology---we still watch old VHS versions of many films, and times are hard in our house---which in a way makes us pretty similar to some of the folks watching Snow White when it first came out.

I don’t mean to be picky, but when I told my kids we were getting the Diamond Edition, my daughter expected a really nice box. And I agree---if you are peddling an artwork as groundbreaking as Snow White, it should probably get something with a little more preciousness than the usual plastic portfolio tucked into the stand by the grocery checkout. I wish the presentation of the discs had carried a sense of the jewel sitting on the shelf. But I can see from the Disney website we got the low end addition. LOL. Maybe I will make a pretty jewel encrusted case for my daughter, who is now inspired to do a vintage Disney birthday party....

It is so hard to convey to a media saturated child of the 21st century what a ground breaker this movie was. Back then, stories were heard, not seen. Masses huddled in the dark and folks must have been awed and moved by this lusciously colored version of a childhood tale. I could not give my children the eyes of children from the 1930’s—I had their highly sophisticated eyes accustomed to hundreds of visual images a day. But I wanted to know how this work would measure up to its filmic offspring: Pixar and Studio Ghibli.

The old girl held her own.

My youngest liked the old fashioned simplicity of the images and got really into the backgrounds. My tween boy was most taken with the dwarves—the rest he maintained was a “Girl Story”. We are all still wondering how they did the water in front of the dwarves house. Both kids noted that the DVD was “clearer” than our old VHS version. I can’t wait to impose on our friends and see the Blu Ray now.

And then my kids drifted off to dreamland and I stayed up to the wee hours picking through the bonus features. The most fun was the audio commentary they pieced together with ol’ Walt himself, and you get to hear the arduous struggle of trying to invent the technology as they went along.

When you look at the previews (which I usually hate), its an eye opening to get such a graphic, side by side look at how far Disney animation has come. And we absolutely adored the sneak peak of the upcoming feature The Princess and the Frog. Disney, who ordinarily never shows its back side or inner workings, shows six minutes including sketches and chunks that are not yet colored. One can see the process of creating the finished product. We LOVE that, and now can’t wait to see it. So if the main purpose of the release was to drive traffic to other Disney properties, it has accomplished its mission.

But in the end, here’s the takeaway for families that are not studying film: Snow can still provide you with a nice night of family entertainment. We got to talk about what entertainment was like back when my children’s grandparents were young, and we got to see where all those songs came from and we sang along. I caught my self hi ho-ing off to work this morning! My children have heard many of the Grimms tales, so the scary and unPC bits of the actual tale did not pull them up short---and they are clear that this was a story From the Olden Days. So if you are looking for an updated snazzy trip down nostalgia lane, you could do worse than the animated feature that started it all (and the reason why studios thought the Wizard of Oz was a bankable project).

And if you are not into nostalgia, the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival opens in about a week and a half, and you could see where film will be going next! We are all lined up for the new Wallace and Grommit…..

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Opera and the DSM

I have been spending WAY too much time with therapists of late. I know because I sat through the tragedy of Faust and kept seeing mental illness instead of characters! The soldiers all clearly had PTSD and Marguerite had one nasty case of post partem depression. Execution seems a bad way to treat a new mom who has clearly lost her marbles, so we have progressed a bit as a civilization since this tale was inked.

I started to think of all my favorite operas and I realized that if we had better psychiatric care in the last few centuries, we wouldn't have any decent plots! If SSRI's had been invented before booze, where would the human race and classic tales be then, I ask you? Prozac nations don't do awful things to their families and lovers, and where's the drama in that?

But maybe that's an important point--we all struggle through our human condition as generations have in ages past. The passions, the pain, ultimately death--which is often untimely, are common to all--although most of us can't sing our way out in an unwavering aria.

Sometimes, especially when its been a hard week, I find a trip to the opera is so cathartic. It's an escape, yes, where I can lose myself in the sumptuous staging or the unlikely fantasy of throwing oneself off a rampart after a little music that rocks me to the core (can't wait for Tosca, can I?), but it also is cleansing in a way that deep true emotion is. Truth become the underlying vibration, an aura in the air. Someone always loves something too much at the opera--whether its Faust who loves youth, or Mephistopheles (my daughter and I disagree---I totally would have signed a deal with that guy, she thought he was creepy) who loves to capture another soul in his stable. And Siebel who loves Marguerite. Haven't we all loved something too much and badly. Regrets and wasted lives are much more palatable and nuanced at the opera than on the front page. Fenger High School needs a Gounod to steep us in that tragic tale.

And I await the operas that tell stories where women are not the pawns of men. But that will have to be a new generation of tale tellers. Get to work folks, I NEED you. I just can't wait for the rest of the Lyric Season, where I can escape the parking debacle and the state budget woes and immerse myself in times that were REALLY hard.

I know I have heard grumblings about all the old chestnuts pulled out for the season from some other opera fans, but times are hard and we need to revisit the old beloved tales, and we need opera to be here in 5 and 10 years so I appreciate that the scions of culture have belt tightened a wee bit to keep on keeping on.

See you at the Civic.

Transcience, transitions

In ancient times, this was a scary time of year, as the sun died. Today in the parking lot, a woman died. You stop still, and take stock.

This morning,on the radio, Jude Law was talking about playing Hamlet and how the character could have been a great king, but life beat him down. I could relate--I have been taking that beating of late. It can twist you and snuff out the flame of dreams and inspiration. Course, I have not resorted to murder just yet.KIDDING.

But then I got a call to talk about dancing the repertoire of Isadora Duncan as part of a talkback after When She Danced at the TimeLine Theater--a play about Duncan towards the end of her life. My inner artist awakens.

And so I share what I wrote after a lecture at the Goethe Institute by a fascinating artist named Raimond Hogue--he served as Dramaturg to Pina Bausch. And for those of you who want to know, YES I missed the Merce show last weekend AND the the Links Hall 30th---the laundry needed doing, there was no food in the house, and someone in our collective lives has to make sure the home is made or we will all be Home Less......

Tribute to Pina and Merce.

Is that all there is?
If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is…..Peggy Lee


I am supposed to be at this very minute writing up bill payment forms and a grid for next summer’s space useage at my very bureaucratic arts admin day job.

I am supposed to be at this very minute running three children around to various activities so that I can be a good mother and they can grow up to be exceptionally wonderful.

I am supposed to be at this very minute productive and cheerful and at the height of my powers.

And I am at this very minute, here and now,

Standing Still.

Because Life is passing me by.

I was so promising and talented and then the kids and the mortgage and the ever changing and often crappy health benefits and the leaky roofs and the furloughs and the downsizing and the disappearing pension act and cancer and auto immune thingys and you know it never quite comes out the way you planned

But I still have dreams.

See I saw Pina and Merce and Alwin and Martha and Hanya, and I breathed the same air as they did. We lived at the same Time.

I learned the dances of Isadora from someone who learned from someone who learned from her,

And I know

You do not stop dancing because you grow old. You grow old because you stop dancing.

And as that hoofer Patrick Swayze said in Ghost: You take all the love with you when you go.

You take all the dances.
And if you are lucky,
Others keep dancing them.

Because all there is IS the kids and the aging parents and digging out the car in February and the school permission slip that the cat threw up the hairballs on.

And this only moment

and I AM dancing.

Still

Is that all there is?
If that's all there is, my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is…..


My daddy dropped dead of a heart attack on his lunch hour at the age of 36. It's made me more cognizant than most that we are here such a short time. We never know when it will be our time. Be. Here. Now. Love. Live.
Dance.

There is nothing more you can do.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Back to School blues

We are SO back to school. I’ve gone from leisurely coffee by myself in the morning to being shot out of a cannon into a civil war each day. At our house, Back to School is one of those Through the Wormhole experiences where summer sun kissed children must get beamed up Scotty and reconstituted as school children who must be assessed and tested and must fit precisely into the labeled and classified system. We are not doing so good with it this year. Some of my children may have become Aliens.

Far away in another galaxy, my children went to a progressive private school. They LOVED school and couldn’t wait to get there every morning. They bemoaned weekends and holidays. They may have been slow to get out of bed, but they were Fired Up and Ready to Go. But we live on Earth now, and my youngest is drawing hearts and flowers on the calendar where there are days off. She is counting down to the first day she does NOT have to go to school. We’ve already had the first “Mom, I’m too sick to go to school” day---its so early for the psychosomatic tummy aches and head aches that are a household specialty. And my almost teenaged son was blasting Pink Floyd’s The Wall one night:
We don't need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it's just another brick in the wall.
All in all you're just another brick in the wall.


Now I would hate to deprive my children of the universal youth experience of Hating School. And I am completely certain that whatever job they end up getting will require them to take standardized tests monthly to determine what species they are and what their benefits and compensation package should be---in fact, I plan on putting their ISAT scores on their resumes---oh wait, the school does not just give those to you, I forgot. You have to hunt them down and capture those little meaningful numbers.

In its infinite wisdom, our school district has already started the standardized testing, a mere three weeks into the year. My kids have not even figured out the names of all their classmates and teachers yet, and this is a district that lost our preregistration forms turned in last July TWICE. Not sure I trust them with the data.

We sat over a fire last weekend looking up at the stars. I looked at my children in the glow and wondered what each of them will become. I realized that probability is high that one or more will have a career that does not exist yet. Five years ago, who could be a professional blogger? Or a social media consultant?

I am not sure that testing them like lab frogs will help anyone’s kids fill the positions we are going to invent. Most of the innovators whose biographies I have studied did not do so well in the normal schools of their time. Frank Lloyd Wright and Margaret Mead were homeschooled.

Maybe a small piece of me hopes, in this back to school season, that my kids don’t fit easily into the cookie cutters created so neatly for them. You know the Below Standards, Meets Standards, Exceeds Standards slots. Because I don’t think the MAP tests can assess the wonder of looking at the moon or the innovation of talking about the resort you would build there. They aren’t looking at my standards which measure the fascination with a song and the tenacity to keep working until you find the melody and then the harmony on the keyboard. I do know that right now, the things that light my kids up and capture their hearts, minds and souls are not the things they are finding in school. Their love of opera, fascination with films, empathy for living things, understanding cooking and sewing and their places in human culture—they have found those things on my time. I know that a parent is supposed to be a teacher, but I am sad that they don’t like the time they are spending with formal education.

I reconcile myself to the fact that this is the gig though, and start plotting our adventures for another weekend. I just hope the school system does not do too much damage to their love of learning.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

welcome to the island of America



One of the few news stories that got through to us on our recent backwoods vacation was the detention of a Bollywood superstar at a Newark airport most likely because some typist can’t spell.

Shah Ruhk Khan’s recent experience with our official US welcome committee sent shock waves through our house. We are film freaks and Bollywood is on our passion list---last year we watched Om Shanti Om instead of the Oscars. If you are not a big follower of the genre, let me put it this way: How would you react if the Beatles were on a suspected terrorist list because of a typo? Can you imagine Brad and Angelina and their multinational brood questioned for 66 minutes at an airport? For a huge chunk of the world outside our myopic borders, Mr. Khan is bigger than Elvis. And I think he’s a better dancer, but we could argue on that.

It’s a little bit wonky, but if you managed to read through Richard Florida’s work, you will get his point that economic prosperity flows where diversity and creativity thrives, and as Mr. Khan’s experience showcases, this country has been in a creative lockdown for years. We don’t track the flight of artists, but I know film production is fleeing our borders with frightening speed, and with it go the really good jobs that kept me and my colleagues afloat. When you are making movies, you go wherever the box office gold WANTS to go. And there’s the struggling music industry: more than one music festival has had to substitute a headliner last minute because a major, well-known artist has trouble getting a visa. I think it’s really sad and bad for long term economic recovery that it’s nearly impossible for interesting creative folks to get here without jumping through innumerable hoops. I mean I know Art is a Hammer with which to change reality, but famous folk are easy to keep an eye on.

My kids are growing up in a global economy and culture—they have Facebook friends and email pen pals on multiple continents. I am frustrated that the education system only requires them to master a single language--even developing nations require at least 2. The planet is shrinking---but the only way to really be global is to go there whereever there is and have them whomever we designate as them come here. We need to meet, converse and exchange ideas and art with the world. And we need to understand where everyone is coming from, so the worst thing about the fact that the biggest Bollywood movie star in the known universe was treated as he was, was the fact that the folks detaining him had no real idea of who he was. His face is instantly recognizable to at least twice as many folks as the US population. We cannot build our security if we isolate our selves and teach our children a single language: our own. Talking to ourselves about ourselves is not relevant or helpful. We cannot be safe in a world if we don’t know who our neighbors are.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Horse Camp 09


Just got back from the land of a thousand mosquito bites. Year 11 of our equine tradition, and what a year of change! The original members of our band have mostly moved on to college, high school, jobs and opera gigs (though my eldest made it back for 2 lessons and a stunning fall from a horse after a jump!!!!!) We completely changed the format which FREAKED out my habit bound kids. We kicked off the week with a visit to Pierogi fest in Whiting Indiana (surrealistic Kitch in a land that time is leaving alone in the shadow of steel mills refineries and casinos) then on to Michigan where we took LESSONS instead of the same old camp hang out for hours around horses and get dirty format, and we were at new stable where everything happens outside. Good thing we had the new 80 sunscreen. We tried WESTERN saddle. We tried JUMPING oh my god. And I got to spend a week with TWEENS. Next year, I need to get some little ones back in the mix because the social jockeying and nascent hormone thing got to be a bit much.

The menu was just plain weird---with vegetarians and foodies and celiacs as the predominant eaters, we did Indian food and falafel and pesto. Not a chicken nugget to be found. We watched classic films, not movies. We went to a French Market. My kids may never recover. After a decade of doing the exact same thing, all this new stuff was truly shocking.

My favorite new thing was Christmas in July at the South Bend Silverhawks baseball game. Note the adorable Jewish girls flanking Santa in his surfing shorts---this picture was taken right before the skies opened and lightening flashed and we got to enjoy our very first RAINED OUT game!!!

I also got to enjoy a new thing: NO DOGS for three days. Ah, peace! I could have used some adult company and a happy hour, but I had enough caffeine to get me moving and I did get to read 1.5 novels. I made it to the top of Warren Dune without panting. We still picked and ate blueberries, although at a new berry patch, and we still went bumper boating and go carting and bought too much tooth rotting candy at the 5 and dime, which is miraculously still there (many businesses are not)

In the end, it was perfection, though I am waiting for the welts from the poison ivy to show up!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Angela's list


Every spring, before I am swamped by impending summer insanity with my job’s Frantically Busy Season, I make my infamous list. I also make this list every year before the Holiday Season Tsunami swamps the family. On this list, I write
That Which Is Essential.
The necessity for The List dear friends, is Yoga Mama’s lesson for this month:

Before you get lost in the overwhelming schedule of trying to have it all and do it all and losing your mind, before you crash and burn with your inner gears in overdrive, before you are sunk in the sea of overblown expectations and bound at the ankles by limited time and resources, you must, on a clean sheet of pristine paper, stake your claim to your touchpoints which will moor you in a state of zen equilibrium, while all those around you spin their wheels in the muck of mediocrity.

The summer list is simply what I MUST do to have the Best Summer Ever and it can’t have more than 15 things on it. Much of the list now falls into the category of tradition, so its not hard to put it together. This year’s list
1. go to the Renaissance Faire
2. eat a picnic at an outdoor concert
3. go to Super Dog
4. watch sunset at the beach
5. eat fresh picked fruit
6. go to a big screen movie on a really hot day and eat popcorn for dinner
7. see an outdoor movie
8. mostly give up driving
9. drink coffee in a garden
10. grow tomatoes
11. read 5 novels
12. socialize with a neglected friend

I have to say, I am one week into July and I have checked off most of this list. There are things on previous lists that were so delicious that they become habits, kind of the background noise of contented existence: grilling out, watching classic films, making pesto whenever there is a fresh crop of basil. You will notice what is NOT on the list: I do not write “clean out the garage” or ”reorganize the filing cabinet” or “fix the busted ceiling”---those items require internal and cash resources I lack at this time and they would bring me no sensual pleasure. And with summer here the briefest of sweet seasons, I need my list to be In the Moment, to refresh my spirit and renew my soul, not beat me up for being the dysfunctional broken Human that I am.


My family
Is more Druid
Than Hi Tech,
Tracing the seasons
With our traditions and
Gatherings
At Certain times
With Specific people
And rituals
To which we must adhere
Lest the universe comes undone.
We go to Bernies
To declare independence
And I must bring the corn.
We gather beneath
The Blinking Hot Dogs
To welcome
The Spirit of Summer.
We ride the horses
At Dawn
To initiate the novices
We don our Elizabethan Garb
To Wallow in the dust
To endcap
A solstice Season.
Twitter and facebook may link us
But our traditions
Make our world revolve.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

How an WNBA game is a little like a CSO concert...

If you know me well, you know that I’m not exactly the target demographic for sales pitches for sports team season tickets. I’m the type to subscribe to opera and theater and not the Women’s NBA ---but I understand and appreciate the innate drama of sport, and I think it’s important for my kids to take in everything—even if they spend a big part of the pre-game/pre-show hollering how boring its going to be. In the past week I extracted my kids from the idiot box watch, shoved them into the mini van and headed to a Chicago Sky game. And I have to say: after actually attending a game, the overall experience is a LOT like, in terms of family entertainment, going to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s kids series. First of all, when you head on out to either the CSO or the WNBA, what you will witness, fundamentally, is a spectacle of mastery. You will see humans who have spent a very big chunk of their lives perfecting their craft, and these folks are the very best of the best. They have survived grueling auditions and draft picks, and they have to stay really good to keep working. Their skill brings them a small celebrity and a living wage—the two operations are not the star studded overblown mass consumed celebrity of say the boys NBA, but true devotees know who they follow and love, whether its Jia Perkins or, in my families case, soprano Joyce DiDonato.

For the Chicago Sky team, like the CSO family series, a choice has been made to gear the show/the game to be the Ultimate Family Experience. At CSO you’ll find a musical instrument petting zoo. At Chicago Sky you will get two mascots, a magician and free airbrush tattoos. At the CSO they push musical literacy, at Chicago Sky, with the help of a corporate sponsor, they push reading and regular literacy. Both venues have percussion—the Chicago Sky drumline is definitely more danceable than the kettle drums at CSO. Both venues have interactive art booths, and both have Take Aways---though the CSO could learn a lot from the WNBA about those lovely lovely sponsors who laden the audience with ever desirable Cool Stuff. Not sure how I would feel about the musicians tossing tee shirts into the house, but maybe coupons for music lessons?

And the venues: the UIC pavilion and Orchestra Hall feel up close and personal, perfectly sized and close to the action, even if you are in the balcony. Both have enough potties for itty bitty bladders. And both feature nearby parking—so important when you are squiring extra kiddies to the Event, or have to carry a sleeping child back to the car at the end. The WNBA though, has way better food---cocoa and cookies can’t compete with dippin dots and Chicago Dogs.

But at the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with a family or group outing to either the WNBA or the CSO. Happy Experiences!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

poem for a hot day

Summer, after solstice
shows up
As if on contract,
Warmer than a womb.

Clothing, routines
Drop to the floor

We sip Pinot in the garden
smelling leaves,
watching moonflowers bloom
in slutty slow motion.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Movin On




Tis the season of transition. In our house its been chock full of culminating events, final parties, award thingies, final gatherings and two weekends of recitals. I am keeping the paper goods out just in case I have forgotten a celebration—we are ready for a party at a moments notice. And of course this is a month of new people, new situations, growing up. My youngest played Bach from memory. My oldest got on a plane to go to Europe without a single family member. And I survived my first day of running 8 day camps at once. Every one who works for me can quote my science fiction speech on transitions—you know how in all science fiction when you move from one space time continuum to another, you can come apart molecularly, and how we have to be the heroes and make sure that all time travelers make it to the other side? But this is the season when you close the chapter on one thing and turn the page to another. And that brings me to another one of Yogamamas Rules of the Universe.

The Rule of Transition
All transitions are important. They must be marked with ritual and some kind of food—the food needs to repeat so that every time you do the transition you want that food. The beginning of summer at our house is Super Dogs and a milk shake. I also like to mark them with smells---hairspray for ballet recitals, the spirea flowers on the piano for that recital, the stinky sox of the baseball playoffs…you get the idea. All transitions should be attended by Significant Persons—who can be friends, folks you pull off the street, or ship in from distant lands. All transitions should be marked—on the calendar, in the journal, the blog or the email. And all transitions must for better or worse, interrupt the flow of daily life. You need to be disrupted before you come through the wormhole on the other side.

Every last day of school, my poor husband has to eat three different and separate meals out so that each kid gets a date with him. He gains 5 pounds before the end of the day.
Every first Friday of the first week of camp after we have to drink a margarita on my front porch. After the piano recital we have to invade a local restaurant and destroy it with rice all over the floor due to the young age of several siblings. So wherever you are I hope you are enjoying your transitions in the vortex of the year.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Movie Musings

When my oldest child was 2, we took her to her first Big Screen Movie: Toy Story, by then unknown Pixar, an animation upstart. It was Thanksgiving weekend, and it took 25 minutes down country roads to get to the vaudeville house that the little town of Niles had converted into a cinema—the Ready 4. I remember that ten dollars got all three of us in and the works in terms of sodas, popcorn and South Bend chocolates. That theater has long since closed, but I can still take my family of 5 to the movies for under $20 out there in the country. Going to a movie in the city requires cashing in a savings bond and forget the eats unless you are in a top tax bracket. So we almost never go any more, weighing carefully which are the must see Big Screen, and which will work on the Big TV. But going back to that very first movie experience……. She turned around as the credits rolled and, eyes wide, said That Was A GREEEEEAAAT movie. And it was. At two, with no more experience (Sesame Street, Bananas in Pajamas, Disney Songs videos) than any two year old media savvy kid, she instinctively knew that this was a classic. And it has stood the test of time—it was the first movie she downloaded on her iPod.

Pixar is now owned by Disney, and is still turning out classics. We very uncharacteristically went to see their tenth, the new UP on its first day of release here, the whole entire family. WHOA. I still thing that Wall E may be a more important film due to its political message, but my kids are all making our dogs do DUG voices, and you can’t really quote WALL E since it goes so long without any dialogue. It was a wonderful family experience, and I am sure we will buy the DVD so we can keep sharing. As the music guys say on their show—it’s a buy it not a burn it.

And that one time two year old with great taste in film recently had her first short screened at a film festival and is eyeballing film school, and she is trying to participate in her third international film festival—this one in India. Ok, ok, it probably helps that your mom is a sometimes media teacher, and I am not sure how much weight one should give to those early experiences because I am a firm believer that kids pop out pretty much formed and its our job as parents to put what they need in front of them, but it has been interesting to watch her taste in media develop. We made the mistake a couple of years ago of buying tickets to the wrong theater when Disney released the Miyazaki film Spirited Away a few years ago---we wanted to take the whole family to the dubbed version, and ended up having to read subtitles to our 2 pre readers for 3 HOURS—we were NOT popular with the people sitting behind us. But my then 11 year old was suddenly WILD for Miyazaki and to this day prefers to see the film in the original language with subtitles. I learned something important with that error. You should just expose kids to the good stuff, to the real stuff, to the unusual stuff. They don’t HAVE preconceived notions. They are sponges ready to soak it all up.

In the end film is a way to tell stories. And storytelling is part of the deepest aspect of our humanity, from when we began as a species to paint on walls and to grunt out tales around the fire. We are hardwired to get it, if its done well, even with subtitles. In the end though, the story told must be a good one. It must resonate within our lives and help us bring meaning to our lives, because we all walk around, desperately trying to find meaning.

As I coped over the weekend with the ongoing and slow personal but universal tragedies of mortality and the economy, heightened intensely by taking in a theatrical adaptation of Gogol’s Overcoat (the Russians are way better at the human tragedy and existentialism than the French), I thought that the existential reality of human life is tragic—we die and we are aware that we die. That completely sucks. And all the beauty and love and goodness are more intense because we die. Some days, it just hurts so much to live with that. But that’s the mirror side of the tragedy. Live we must. And tell the tale.

As I told my sister in law, after dropping off her kids which I had whisked away to Michigan and the carnival and mosquito bites and poison ivy and sibling battles—

It is not what really happened, but the Tale We Tell After, and how we tell it. So live, and tell good stories.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Relative Poverty

We are driving to school
My daughter, from way in the back of the minivan, pipes up:

Mom, are we poor??

It’s been a week of meals made solely out of potatoes and condiments, of saying no, we can’t do that because we don’t have the money, no, you can’t go see the movie your friends are going to, no we can’t sign you up for gymnastics this session, no, no, no. In the face of us not being able to afford what ALL her friends have,how do I explain to an eight year old that compared to ninety per cent of the planet, the fact that she as a girl, will receive an education, the fact that we have a flush toilet and clean drinking water, the fact that she has shoes on her feet and a lunch in her bag makes us wealthy, blessed.
Do I tell her that her life expectancy is double what it would be were she born into a family in Northern Afghanistan and that is a fantastic bit of karmic luck? Sure, she has to share a bedroom, but its (mostly) heated in the winter. Her toys come mostly from rummage sales, but she has barrels full of them. No we are not poor. We still eat three meals a day and we have a roof over our heads, and increasing numbers of Americans can’t say that.

But compared to where we used to be, when she was in private school and we went on family vacations and went out to eat, and got gifts for the holidays, and she could have any breakfast cereal made, well, yes, we have had to cut back. Wayyyyyy back. Compared to when she could take dance AND gymnastics AND soccer, we have had to eliminate all non-essentials. The hardest for me to give up back then was the cleaning lady, but that was almost 2 years ago—our recession got the jump on the National zeitgeist. I don’t mind the generic rot gut coffee and dinners of starchy foods as much as I mind the condition my house has fallen into without a weekly miracle worker. This month we are about to give up the health club, having a land line telephone and my own beloved ballet classes. I feel good about being vegetarian by necessity and how much less I am driving. I love my new outdoor clothesline that is so green and makes the clothes smell like spring air. Not feeling so good about turning the heat off on April 15th because we can’t afford the gas bill, and I prefer to turn it off before they shut me off. (It’s been cold in Chicago this spring) If my husband does not find work soon, we will have to give up even more: summer camp and possibly the therapists and then step down on everyone’s meds, because the copays and deductibles are decimating the bare bones budget we have.

This world I am living in is almost beyond my comprehension. I have a master’s degree from the Ivy League, have worked hard every day since I was eleven and I HAVE A GOOD JOB with a decent salary, and we can’t afford to live in this community on what I make. My husband’s entire industry seems to have evaporated over night and despite obvious talent that is universally admired, he cannot get paid to do what he does best. All the rules we were taught, that we lived by, have changed. I have just given up trying to figure it out, and I just now try to get through each day. Without spending any money.

The one thing I can never get used to is the shame. I cannot bear the embarrassment of not being able to cut it. In a land where the prevailing attitude is you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and that the economy rewards those who are smart and do a good job, the implication is that if you can’t afford it a) you are lazy, stupid and morally suspect or b) you don’t deserve it. So we quietly just do without, because asking for help is just too hard emotionally. It is to admit you are an abject failure.

It is especially difficult when you live in an economically diverse community like I do. There are mansions a few blocks from my house, and I know that my condo neighbors look with green envy on my big yard. Teachers at school keep asking for $6 here and $12 there for field trips and gifts for a volunteer, not knowing that we literally have no money in our house til next Thursday payday, and all that is probably spent at this point with the bills that are past due.

We just don’t have it. My kids can’t go on the field trip or the overnight or sign up for after school programs because we don’t have the money in a world that assumes that we have the money. We can’t go out and we hardly dare invite folks over because the cupboard is bare. We are not poor enough to qualify for scholarships and I am too embarrassed to ask for help. I also refuse to think of myself as poor. It is mortifying in this culture to Not Have it. I grew up as the least well off child in a wealthy neighborhood—and that’s why I started working when I was eleven. Instead of being subject to the horror of social ineptitude because I could not afford to go to the movies with my friends or shopping at the mall, I just could always say, I’m working. I swore, like Scarlet O’Hara, I would never be in that situation again, and nor would I subject my children to the shame and embarrassment, and well, here we are—and I just can’t get over it. We do not dare discuss the realities of class in this country, in this culture, but I feel so intently that I have been consigned to a completely different universe form the one I was living in just 3 years ago. I have falled several rungs down in the American ladder of classes, and there is almost no vocabulary even to discuss this.

And I never do answer my daughter’s question from the back of the van. Because I just have no words to talk about relative poverty to a second grader. I have no pithy platitudes that will make this better. I don’t have good answers for this. And so I stay silent.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Poem

I find I am growing hard
Not calcified like age
But protective crust like pearl
To protect the soft
Value inside.

I am craggy as a cliff
Unyielding and coiled protectively
About these unhatched eggs
I must defend with back and snarl
With cold hearted, clear eyed, Real.

It is so difficult to get on with it.
To get up and keep slugging.
I want to pull the covers up
And stay in soft numb sleep
To dream,

And not to face the mounting
Bills, Reality, its rapacious teeth
Tearing at the dreams and hopes.
I am letting go, saying goodbye
To soft silly wants.

Get food on the table;
Make the mortgage by a hair;
No, No, No keep practicing denial
Look away from pretty things
To keep the longing away

Unplug the feelings of loss and pain
So they cannot overcome,
Putting one step after the other
Taking things off the list
Getting through the day

Slipping down the slope
Of class and privilege—the having
Trying not to look back at what
Past Tense, I had. Trying not to uphold
The former standard

Trying to be grateful that at least
It is not
All gone.
Being hard, being lean.
It has to count for something.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Day of Remembrance. And contemplation

I am having a tough time this month with dinner conversation. The news is so complicated. Trying to explain the economy, or why Blago does what he does and is indicted (try explaining Grand Jury to an 8 year old) but Mayor Daley can lease off the parking meters and nothing happens to him. See we have spent years and lots of temple dues involving my kids in moral and ethical education so my kids really want to believe that the person making the most money or the person in charge DESERVES to be in the position they are in. They totally get the idea of justice. They want the world to be fair. Just. Righteous.

But then about when they grow a prefrontal cortex capable of abstract thinking, you have to explain to them how the world really works. The world ISN’T fair. Things rarely work out the way they are supposed to. Evil exists and goes on for a while before it is stopped. Good should but does not always win. Good people are not always the ones in power—I learned this at an early age in the world of work. I have worked since I was 11. I can count on one hand the number of good bosses I have had. Some were well meaning but incompetent, some were certifiably insane, some were just mean spirited. Mostly what I learned is do a good job anyway, no matter where you find yourself. We want to believe that the folks in power are better than we are, smarter, better, something, and that makes the fact that they can control us ok. But then you find out that mostly, they were just luckier. They may have been born higher up the food chain, they may have gotten more lucky breaks, they might be a man or a better color, or born prettier, so they get a better deal than you.

Grimm’s fairy tales are very good at the truth of this. Children in those tales survive truly horrible ordeals by being clever, or getting lucky by meeting a (usually magical) help mate. It always helps if they are nice people—being kind to the ugly old crone pays off. But those magical help mates are pretty sparse these days. Unfortunately, in real life, spoiled brats often lead privileged lives. Some bad people lead very nice lives.

And then there is the Holocaust. Today is Yom Hashoah, the day of remembrance for the millions of Jews, gays, people with disabilities, gypsies and people who just tried to help. My family attended the opening of the new museum in Skokie, dedicated not only to telling the story of what happened but to challenge us not to let it happen again. And we watched the Hallmark Hall of Fame about Irena Sendler. Even Elie Wiesel told us you cannot really answer the question why. Why is the world the way it is? I don’t have answers, and my children are full of questions.

Best to discuss the weather at the dinner table.

Monday, April 13, 2009

My face

I did not think about it much.
Twas a fine one.
Attractive enough
To get modeling gigs
When my mind was not adequate
To pay the bills
In my artistic youth.

I never spend time
Looking in mirrors and am
Known to go to work
With Racoon eyes
Not noting that the mascara
Left circles in the bags
Under my exhausted eyes.
Not a big one for makeup
Or treatments,
My face was just a way
Of looking out at the world.

Even as gravity
And the slow march of time
Took their toll,
I did the sunscreen and alpha hydroxy
And ignored my face,
Until a cellular improvisation
Furrowed the doctors brow
And a piece needed to come off
Of my Vermillion Border.

The potential of cancer
Is never welcome news
But the alteration of a face
I have gone so used to that
I can take it for granted
Toppled my gyrometer
And made me self conscious and cringing.

All may be well—
A skilled surgeon’s hand
Focused its work on my flesh.
And if the cells are malignant
I would certainly rather them gone,
But
But
I now no longer
take
my face
for granted.

Update: Scar is hardly visible, but I cannot whistle.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Snippets On Post its

Found while cleaning out my winter purse
stuck on the bottom near the pennies.....

The Parent as Sisyphus.
Halfway up the hill you discover
It is an Egg
Not a rock
That you are rolling
And it hatches
With claws and teeth
And just when you think
It will roll back onto you,
The Beast
Flies Away
*******************************


Good Read

Suddenly, the book appeared.
It was more than 50 years old,
and the tale it told was absolutely necessary
At that moment.
We could not remember
Ever owning
The Book before.
We argued: it was purchased at a house sale
Handed down,
Borrowed.
It bore a library pocket from
Trinity Texas.
Yet, tellingly, it also bore
An address sticker from my childhood home
Indicating ownership of decades.
But I had never seen it before,
never read it.
How did it arrive in the pile by my bed,
and
What compelled me out of the blue
To fish it out
and finally read it?
Sometimes the universe
is trying so hard to get through to us.
In all things, timing is essential.
For it was only at the moment
When I finally opened The Book
And began reading,
That I was ready
For its story.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Real Estate advice



Almost two decades ago, my new husband and I took our entire nest egg, gifted us at our wedding, and bought 14 acres with two buildings: an overgrown garage with rotting walls and a stained mattress inside, and a hideous 1950’s concrete block “cabin” done up in harvest gold and avocado shag that was slowly mildewing, out in a drained tamarack swamp two hours from the city where we worked as freelance artists. We were one of those high risk mortgages—no visible means of support. We had no first home in the city where we worked, and this was a real fixer upper but we were young and we had a vision. Strike that we were young and we were stupid. We didn’t know wells and propane tanks. But there was a stand of white pines where the wind whistled through the trees and a big meadow perfect for bonfires. There was a field of periwinkle. There was a view from the back that went on for miles. There were cows next door.

We have never ended up fixing up that shack in the woods. Underemployment, big medical bills, kids and a steady stream of muddy dogs kept putting it off, and in the course of almost two decades, our second home has become our real home. With real estate values in a tailspin, this is either the best time ever or worst time in history to buy a little dacha, a Ferienhaus, or as my grandma would say, a coliba of your own. For us, buying our little place in the woods was one of the best decisions we ever made, but NOT because it was a good investment. We may never know if it was or not because we are not likely to unload it in my lifetime. I would hock my left kidney before I would ever give up the land where all my kids learned to walk and catch snakes, where we’ve eaten Thanksgiving dinner with a revolving crew of artists, friends and family for 18 years, and where every one of our long string of pets is buried.

Those marshy acres are our true home. We have seen shooting stars and a moon so bright it casts your shadow, we’ve lost a necklace of baby teeth, read books, shot off explosives for 4th of July and New Years, and gone to sleep by the light from a jarful of fireflies. It’s become the place I go when I meditate. It’s the place we always go back to. We have grown up, grown close and are growing older on those acres, and if I’d tucked the money into a mutual fund, I surely would have tapped it by now to pay bills. And if I’d put it in a 401k—hah! It would be gone.

Forced to jam our loud family and all the animals into a tiny house with one iffy bathroom and no tv reception, we must get along in a way we aren’t required to in a house with a phone and internet hookups and reliable hot water.

Nature and weather has a more profound effect here, regularly knocking out power. We are constantly reclaiming the place from mice and infestations of biting ladybugs and stink bugs. But we spend major holidays there and as the memories telescope out, the place summarizes our lives.

So buy a second home, but not as a financial investment. Buy it as a spiritual down payment on the memories that make up your memoir.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Birthday thoughts

It’s my birthday this week. There was a lovely fruit tart at work but otherwise, I forgot the occasion entirely, or lost it or something amid all the theatrical productions, weather gyrations and general overcommittedness of the last few months. And to be honest I am so much more excited about it officially being spring, than about me being reminded of being older. I accept the aging process as normal and natural and I am on speaking terms with it—I am just not entirely ecstatic about being reminded of my mortality. It’s been a week of facing the cold hard fact of the long slow slide into the end of a life as my mother in law goes in and out of ICU. I do not think her story is ending, but we are coming to the last chapters and what shall they be? And I look at my hopes and dreams and plans and I mean OF COURSE I am not living my perfect life and following my bliss—I can barely get the laundry done and we need milk and cereal AGAIN. I can’t figure out Twitter or Facebook in its reconfigured state and that’s enough to make me feel like an old dinosaur. I am running out of time to live the life I dreamed of living while I am still physically capable of doing so, but it’s on hold right now because I need to figure out where our living expenses are coming from next month. That’s another reason to overlook a celebration. I can’t afford carry out sushi even! I feel like I have been on hold for years, just solving the crises that keep popping up like dandelions in the green expanse of my wonderful plans. You dig one out and six more pop up. So you pull all your resources together and avert disaster and try to breathe a sigh of relief and the friggin economy falls off a bloody cliff. I haven’t read a novel in months—I seem incapable of writing poetry and the only sketches I ‘ve done are of the garden I can’t afford to plant. Grumble Grumble.

Life is hard. Looking at the human condition, I don’t know where I got the chutzpah or stupidity to think it was going to be some fairy tale for me. Jobs are lost, economies tank, hot water heaters die and need immediate replacement. Look at the damn salmon I try to eat once a week for Omega 3’s. If they aren’t eaten as eggs, or splayed out on a ball of rice for sushi, or salted as lox,(and we aren’t the only species wolfing them down) they get to rip their skins off swimming upstream to keep the species going and they don’t even get to see their babies. And I got lucky enough to be born in the developed world. I don’t suppose raising kids in Darfur is a bundle of laughs this year. Jesus I am glad I am not a mom in Gaza. Or anywhere where there are landmines-- I hate loud noises.

So my gift for myself is gratefulness. Every day for the next month I will write out 3 things I am grateful for. Because when you think about it, the good stuff outweighs the bad. Last night there was a cold Guiness waiting for me at the end of a long St. Patrick’s work day.
So today’s list: I am grateful that I can smell the world again as the earth warms. I am grateful that my kids are healthy TODAY (no fevers yippee and seasonal allergies haven’t hit yet). I am grateful to be alive. Happy Birthday to me.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Life at the Opera


Last night the Uber Understudy Super (me) finally got to put on a wig and costume and get onstage. As we arrived at the theater we saw a memo announcing that our favorite yearly event at the Lyric, the end of season company party, has become the latest casualty of the deepening recession. It feels like our family reunion just got cancelled—every year we gather with choristers and stagehands, dressers and makeup artists, security guards and supers—folks we have worked with, and folks my children are growing up with, and in the glittering lobby of our favorite place, we lift a glass, and make a Sundae at the make your own bar. And while the Lyric is faring better than some opera companies like Baltimore , it is not immune to shrinking endowments and curtailed corporate contributions. But even more than in the good times, we NEED opera in the bad times. One because it is cathartic to weep over the tragedy of Manon and Lulu and be grateful you are not them. Two, because a Mozart song spiel is the ultimate diversion when your kids college fund has just melted into thin air, and three, because sometimes music really is better than food. But the real reason why Opera is so important right now is because it is important to be part of something timeless, to experience something that has been around giving people pleasure for hundreds of years. Opera has survived wars, epidemics, panics, bank runs, the great depression, revolutions. It will be with us in some form or another when these storm clouds blow over, and it tells our human story the way nothing else can. It feels right to be a part of a river of common experience that flows back into time the way sitting in an opera house and listening to these amazing sounds does. I have done my part to continue the tradition, charging my cheap seats of a yearly All the Operas subscription in the back of the upper balcony even though I have no idea what we are going to do if my husband doesn’t scare up some work soon. We may be hungry, but we’ll be at the opera.(Of course, I have always bought tickets instead of food--in grad school I ate ramen and stolen bread for a week after spending my entire grocery budget on great seats to opening of The Photographer at BAM) And this year the end of year party will be potlucks in the canteen at closing shows for the dedicated volunteers that supers are, and I will hand make my good bye tokens instead of purchasing them. And we will all cross our fingers that the scions of industry and powerful people that run the world figure a way out of this pickle before we all look like the rabble that opened the season with Manon. But come fall, I will be back: back stage if there are super roles, back balcony if there are not, ready to experience Heaven and Hell the way only the Lyric can dish it up.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Our Guild


My daughter, theater star.

Centuries ago, a family would pass on their business or trade the way folks inherit property today. Though the fashion appears to have fallen out of favor, more than a trace of it remains in our house. Our family biz is not retail or politics but the thespian craft and we are more akin to a service trade. We are like the vaudevillians, starting them young. In utero in fact---I have pictures of all three on stage slowing me down prior to birth—in our house you very nearly are born onstage. And you sure as heck spend most of your first year being lugged about rehearsals. As soon as you can walk you are clear about upstage and downstage and having lived life stage left or stage right, my kids can be confused by mere mortal directions.

I have never pressured the kids to be in theater— in fact its sort of opposite--they resent that I have not buckled down and gotten them agents (they have full page resumes and get paid to work, which when you are 8 should make you pretty happy) I am known to skimp on headshots and they don’t get to audition if I don’t like the script. But I think they really like working hard at something and seeing the results—and getting applause. For them its much easier and more logical than what happens at school. And the social life filled with people with all kinds of backgrounds, of all different ages and types, makes for a lively circle of friends.

While a school and performance schedule are easily arranged, organized sports leagues are not compatible with theatrical careers FYI. And I am not much disturbed by this. I got to do a side by side comparison of being a sports parent and a stage parent in the last week. On Saturday, I spend the day in a freezing cold ice rink, using what was left of my voice to cheer on my speed skating husband and children. The event went on for over six hours and required the participants to get in skates, and out of skates, and eat all manner of prepackaged foods. Two days later, I am back stage chaperoning the same charges (minus the husband) at the opera. You only have to get them into costume once. You still have the prepackaged foods in the form of heat and eat dinners in the canteen. But I was warm. And surrounded by opera singers, SINGING. And it was only about a 3 hour commitment. And did I mention I was warm? I could sit on a nice chair, and not a freezing cold metal bench. I will take stage mom over sports mom in a heartbeat. And so we survive the biblical rainy season, the pending mud season and the longest coldest snowiest winter in the last several decades by burying ourselves in the making of theater and grand opera. Not bad. Not bad….

Friday, March 6, 2009

Posse

I have served on committees with a wonderful woman who died recently after a six month battle with cancer. Our kids went to elementary and middle school together, at a nurturing private school. At the visitation and funeral, every single family from that class that graduated from eight grade a full six months ago was there. They showed up. That’s what my people do, even if you aren’t close friends. You just show up when what is needed is bodies in pews. Not everyone in our fast paced cyberworld still does this, but lo--these kids and their busy families came from the city and far flung suburbs, left their 2 dozen different high schools and got there. We had not seen each other since graduation night last June, but there on that cold winter day, they gathered around their classmate whose mom died the week of finals. We brought baked goods. We cried. We were There. It was a moving visual on the concept of community that is so in the news right now. One of the benefits we got from paying all that tuition money was a posse, and now that I am too broke to buy that little perk for my family and especially for my kids, I am going to have to build one at home. It’s that team thing, or as my writing mentor Susan calls it Tapping in to the Network, a recent post on Chicago Mom’s Blog.
(Shameless promotion here, I also will be blogging there)

How do you build a posse? You actually map out time in your planner for socializing, just like I finally had to mark in 3 hours a week for Being Creative. OMG, is that pathetic or WHAT? So in that Build a Posse time what kinds of activities will I plan? Potlucks and ice cream socials, field trips to the batting cages and beach, rocket building and launching days. Sleepovers. I know most of my day job consists of creating little communities for the kids I am paid to entertain and I guess I had hoped this would just “happen” for my own children, but I see now that fostering a sense of people belonging to one another and being there for one another takes time and effort. Duh. I am a little slow to the pickup on some of this. We are beings hard wired to be part of a pack, and with all our technology and staring at screens, we have lost touch with this reality. So now I see that one of my essential tasks is to get In Touch. Sharpen that pencil and take out that planner and start blocking out time for the Posse.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Living the music


As many of you know, about 8 years ago, my eldest child got our family into opera. She was a super in a production of Susannah at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and she fell in love, and got us all involved TOO. We are an opera family the way Sarah Palin is a hockey mom—it defines us and determines our schedule. Up until this season, my main contribution has been to subscribe to the season and serve as a chaperone to my Super Kids, (Supers are Extras, or live props, in an opera—non speaking, non singing roles). But this year, my daughter INSISTED that I audition with her to be a harem girl in Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio. I got the part—as understudy to all the shapely babes half my age. Ordinarily understudies get to hang out in rehearsals on a chair, but due to the large size of the super cast, and everyone’s schedules, some nights I am doing two and three parts, covering various positions for missing harem girls and Turkish women. The other night, I got the opportunity of a lifetime. In the end of the act one we have a scene, lovingly known as Harem Girls Gone Wild. After being dragged about on a rope through the scene, we are hauled onto the stage in the middle of a melee, and our guards drop our rope. Chaos ensues. One harem girl flings herself onto the back of our captor—Osmin, and holds on tight as he finishes singing and brings the curtain down.

Since I sub in often at the last minute, there were no introductions of us lowly supers. I knew the part, ran across the stage and flung myself onto the back of one of the best bass singers in the world: Andrea Silvestrelli. Trying not to interfere with his voice as a tried to figure out how to act this part and not fall off, I hung myself over his shoulders and wrapped my legs around his waist and then got the shock and thrill of my life. I have never hugged the speakers at a rock concert, but I imagine that would be close to the physical sensation of hanging off the back of a world class singer. His voice rattled my very bones. It filled up my entire molecular structure. It was like I plugged directly into the music. It was utterly unlike anything I have ever felt in my life. Silvestrelli is a giant of a man—we first met him when he was Fasolt in Das Rheingold, when we did like 6 operas in 5 months and lived at the Lyric. He is also a darling—nicest guy EVER. It lasted probably sixty seconds, the act ended, I jumped off and he turned around to see who I was (I am sure I weighed more than the regular girl) and I just smiled and said Hi! I am the New Girl. I mean after that—I could barely speak. I could still feel the vibration standing by myself.

It would be an amazing way for deaf people to come to know opera if the just could hug a singer while an aria came forth. A trained voice feels so different than a garden variety human voice. And that bass—it was like being hooked into the power source of the earth.

It has been an amazing week—I highly recommend immersing oneself in art to get through the winter doldrums—between watching a wonderful dress rehearsal of Cav/Pag at the Lyric to seeing last night’s recreation of Le Sacre de Printemps at the Joffrey to hearing music from the broad back of an opera star, I have hardly noticed the new snow fall and the biting wind chill. I am on a cloud, in a world of my own making……


Picture credit: Production design photo from Lyric Opera of Chicago

Friday, February 13, 2009

Oxen

Spring poked her little head out last week and gave us a tease. Kind of strange to get a 60 degree day at the beginning of February. All kinds of surreal goings on—for example, they are giving us these personality tests at work. Someone went to some conference and got religion and now we are all having to do these questionnaires like the ones in the magazines in the grocery store check out line. By answering these questions we will unlock the fundamental secret of our budget challenged universe. This management tool will allow us to look beyond spending freezes, job eliminations, the fact that every single upper level manager took early retirement, and we will reach A Happy Workplace which will allow us to Create the Most Liveable City in America.

Now I am not exactly sure how some scoring system thought up by a bored housewife and her mother back in the middle of the last century is going to do all that, but at this point, I will try anything. Not much else from federal bailouts to pundit prognostication seems to be working. For myself, I am looking at Tarot cards and my Chinese Zodiac. I am a Metal Ox. In a way, I kind of knew that. I am the workhorse, sherpa personality, plugging away until its finally done. It is well and fitting that this is an Ox year. We need all hands on deck, putting their shoulders to the plow. We are going to need all the oxen we can muster. We are in one big pile of pickles and wishing, dreaming and knowing your personality type is not going to dig us out of this one. In addition to an Everest of elbow grease to get our economy out of the crapper, we are going to need no small measure of luck: We need to pull some good cards in this poker game. But I suppose we also need a pocketful of wishes and dreams to give us something to shoot for. And some sort of vision to yank us out of our snowdrifts into a future.

I pulled the Page of Cups while thinking about the economy, and that’s not exactly a hard edged How To practical card. Message from the Universe! Hang on to intuition and childlike wonder! So channel your inner Ox and let’s get cracking!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Unspeakable Tragedy

A child from my community died today. An unspeakable, unimaginable tragedy has occurred. A mother sent her child to school and he ended up dead.

The facts that are known are that he was found "unresponsive" yesterday in a bathroom. A bathroom in a school that my daughter went to last year. The police say that there is no evidence of foul play. School administrators say no other child is in danger.

How do they know?

My child’s therapist tells me that 10 year old boys almost NEVER hang themselves—jump in front of trains, throw themselves off buildings yes, but hanging takes a lot of planning. So we will wait and find out what happened.

We may never find out why.

In almost every sci fi book, movie or tv show, when it is time for the characters to go from one planet to another, or one time zone to another, there is a transition: Beam Me Up Scotty, Enter the Stargate and fall through the wormhole in space, Dr. Who and his Tardis (Time and Relative Dimension in Space). Whenever you transition, it is always a bit dangerous—there is always the episode or incident where something happens as you transition and you fail to materialize or show up on the other side. In this episode, everyone goes to heroic lengths to get you back and whole on the other side.

Children’s lives are full of Transitions. From home to school, class to playground, from home class to gym class, out of school to home again, or extended care program.

We need to pay attention to the transition almost more than the destinations, because its in the transitions that most space travelers get lost. The school systems here are not so good at this. My children, sensitive as rare tender aliens, have found this to be so. We have had a few occasions where they failed to attend or notice. I have screamed like a bloody banshee. And like Cassandra, I warned them.

My children find the school lunch rooms to be their worst a nightmare—a district wide answer to the vast chaos of deep space. You could lose an entire race of beings in that madhouse.

Some children have a tough time navigating the G force of so many transmigrations in a day—their home ship may not be the big safe order of an Enterprise, or they may be aliens unaccustomed to our atmosphere. Maybe they do not speak our language. We may never know why this child did not make it through the wormhole to the other side.

When we are having trouble getting around in the galaxy, we need a Yoda and the Force to help. It is time to figure out what that looks like for our community. Maybe parent guides at transition points? I am good at questions, a little spotty on answers, but at this point I will try anything.

As I keep saying we are so worried about the numbers of what is going on in the class on the paper that we are losing sight of the actual spiritual, emotional, social, precious irreplaceable child. Even though I do not consider myself to be wise, and I certainly do not have the ears of Yoda for it—I volunteer here and now to be a Jedi Master for all the children in my town. I will pay attention to the transitions. I will keep my eyes and ears open

Monday, February 2, 2009

Blago for dummies

My relatives and friends who have not seen the blood sport that Chicago politics has always been are mystified by the theater that was our former Governor who may be joining the traditional retirement home for our former governors: behind bars. They have heard the tapes and wonder how he can go on national television with a straight face and claim he has done no wrong.

The thing you need to understand is that Blago truly believes in his soul that he has done no wrong. If ever the FBI were to tape our Cook County Board President, Todd Stroger, or the phone calls of the current Da Mayor, they would hear conversations remarkably similar than the ones transcribed in the New York Times. Mr. Blagojevich knows, just as George Ryan did, that EVERYONE does it (remember your teenager feeding you the same line about staying up after curfew?)

Illinois has a very unusual political training ground. You see, here in Chicago, politics is a coliseum worthy affair. Bring on the Lions, and the biggest meanest guy wins. Most everything gets decided in a back room, constantly revised ethics policies aside. There is blood and gore and drama. All is fair in hiring and government contracts. Blago forgot that you get by with a little help from your friends, and by the end he had nary a one, but a man who married into the machine that is Chicago politics learned early on that it is true if you say it is. Especially if you keep saying it on national tv in interviews timed for the news cycle.

We like to believe this cannot exist in a democracy—that My Way or the Highway Despotism only exists in banana republics and failed African democracies (There is No Cholera in Zimbabwe Mugabe) so it’s a little weird that Rod the Hairdo got legally (???) elected twice. But money talks in politics and he who has the most usually wins, even if you are electing the first Black president. So here we have, in real life, a rise and fall of epic proportion, another act in the ongoing circus that is our unique brand of politics, and something to take our mind off the fact that the state has a multi-billion dollar shortfall. Makes me feel all warm inside.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Butterfly and the Bush Era

Last night I attended my first performance of the Puccini Opera classic Madam Butterfly. I had long wanted to see this chestnut—and see where those so familiar tunes fit into a story line. The tale ripped my heart out, but I left the opera house to go out into the blizzard struck at how a story that was first told 108 years ago remains as fresh today as ever. And it’s more politically relevant than it ever was, because when it first opened in 1904, it may not have seemed as politically incorrect as it is today.

How Puccini captured the American arrogance and the way we blithely ignore and exploit a native culture then move on thinking its ok to say I am sorry and this will torture me all my life is nothing short of genius. As I listened to the soundbites of George Bush and his final press conference on the drive home, I can hear BF Pinkerton and his final song. A montage of Madoff, and Cheney, and Condi Rice runs in my mind as the marriage takes place. Meanwhile, one hopes that Iraq will not commit Hari Kari as we move on to our next “wife,” Afghanistan.

I was physically ill with disgust and déjà vu as Sharpless stood by and merely wagged his head as Pinkerton committed statutory rape with full public pomp and circumstance. It was all right at the end of the 19th century to screw children. We are still doing it if the body count is even half way right. And so, in the way that great art does, the work resonates and sends ripples out into my mind and life. I said to my startled children that Madam Butterfly needs to be required viewing as part of military training. My kids think I’ll have a tough sell on that one, but maybe we could get the modern remake, Miss Saigon, on the curriculum.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Parallel Universes

You never have to go that far
From Home
To find a foreign country.

Some of us are born into them.
Our families
Never sure of the language
Or currencies
The means of exchange.

And some of us migrate
Into them.
Fleeing our familiarity.

But most of us
Ignore them.

Parallel universes going on
As our lives unfold in droll dullness

Same and safe in regularity.

The bodega or Asian market
In the mini-mall,
The other language publication
Sold side by side with the Tribune
Worlds unto themselves
Foreign lands
Under our noses
In our neighborhoods, next door.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Learning to Dance

As promised. more on Dance education:

I think it is a great tragedy of our modern times that an enormous percentage of people walk around every day thinking they cannot dance. That concept is absolutely implausible and untrue. Everyone knows how to dance before they are born. On a molecular level everything is dancing, protons and electrons bumping about in the disco of space. Even rocks, not known for their tangos, are, on a very basic level, dancing. It is our nature to dance by whatever means necessary, with whatever parts we have, and so, everyone can do it. Everyone knows, in their bones, how to dance. Of course, many folks don’t really speak to or listen to their bones anymore, unless they are complaining too loud to hear anything else.

Not everyone or everything does it, Dance, well. To be a good dancer you have to hook into the universal rhythm, relax and find a groove. There are an infinite variety of grooves—we have given names to some of them: waltzes, disco, tangos, salsas and such. But there are grooves in the sound of waves on the shore, or monkeys chanting.

And to be an EXCELLENT dancer you need to find the groove and move with Style, that ineffable something that makes others want to watch you and do what you are doing. Rocks do not have style unless you get to their molecular level. But we humans have evolved and trained in some pretty spectacular styles: ballet for one, Russian Folk dance and West African dance for some others. And don’t forget Irish Step Dancing.

But not everyone loves dancing (though this is very difficult for me to understand because it is such a primal joy, our first communication). I think some of us are socialized to avoid dancing because we are self conscious. Others have misinterpreted our lack of, or struggle for, Style and made us feel bad about the search. Some of us are physically awkward. Some of us hear different rhythms than the ones the rest of us are hearing and when we move to that groove we appear out of synch and we are made to feel foolish when we move out of synch with the crowd.

But none of that means that you don’t know how to dance.

Our society has reached an interesting spot, vis a vis our conceptual relationship with our bodies. Rather than focusing on function, on the getting from here to there or the accomplishment, physically, of the task, we get hung up, obsessed even, with the appearance of our physical shells. We spend billions modifying and enhancing a shell that will essentially be outmoded and turning to dust in a century. All this focus on the appearance of the body and its unattainable conceptual ideal, and lack of focus on the utility or joy of being in a particular shell means that some of us, instead of spending money trying to fight nature, need to relearn the joy of dancing.

We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance. ~Japanese Proverb

To dance in space is to learn the measure of a distance. To not step on a partner and measure a pattern through a room helps our mind conceive of geometry and dimensionality. As we move through space, our kinetic intelligence is activated, causing neurons in parts new parts of the brain to get busy and wake up. When teaching dance to children in early childhood programs I can see almost immediately who is a visual processor, who is an auditory processor and who is a kinetic processor. But even if we have a dominant way of processing stimuli, we can learn other ways—and that is why dance education is so important.

Dance is a language we all begin with. As Martha Graham said: Dance is the hidden language of the soul. She also said: Dancing is just discovery, discovery, discovery.

In a classical education from the Renaissance forward (and possibly before) dance was considered an essential subject. Royals, nobles and when they could afford it, even the middle class, contracted with dancing masters to assure their offspring were well schooled in the steps of the day. One could not advance in society without mastering the form. And master it they did. You don’t hear of Kings moping about muttering, I can’t dance, back then, no way. Dancing was the grease on the skids of politics. Dancing was the link up for getting good alliances. Ah, but dancing has fallen from favor. (Though I hear there are a heck of a lot of inaugural balls being planned in two weeks) What we are left with is some desperate shrugging meant to attract a mate, no steps removed from the mating dances at the local zoo. It is time to bring back all the forms, all the Style that we humans have invented over the years. And it is time for those of us afraid of ridicule to realize that everyone else is so busy about how they look that they are paying no attention to how YOU look. Breathe and move. To whatever music is in your head. We all need to learn to dance in as many ways as possible. Just put on your music and boogie. Martha Graham again: • Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance. Great dancers are not great because of their technique, they are great because of their passion.

So finally, I give you the thoughts of Friedrich Nietzche who said:
"We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Getting an Education

This is a long one so hold on to your horses (or in my case dig out the reading glasses!)


I have been raging about my school board again.

I don’t know where to put my rage…… The ninnies on the school board did a holiday run around and gave our inept superintendent a contract extension and a raise on top of a raise while we were all out caroling and making sugar cookies (in my case slurping down latkes and spinning dreidels) and watching our retirement funds self destruct-- meanwhile the teachers union issues a report that teacher morale is the lowest on record. Based on the constant turnover over of teachers and principals I could have written that report. Now they want to raise our taxes and take out a 20 million dollar bond issue. It is an absolute financial policy of the school administration to drive anyone with money into the private schools because it saves them gobs of money and if you say any of this in public they will lob the charge of racist (and several other nasty things) at you. And have our test scores gone up –well it depends on which test you are looking at. The elementary school district puts out press releases saying how great the improvements are, and the high school issued statistics that one in 7 kids show up completely unprepared for the work there…..and the scores on the one test calibrated for the college tests shows that less than half have any chance of getting a high enough score to get an ACT score that will get them into a state school. It reminds me of that shell game they do on the subway.

Oh for the days when we could afford private school and I could blithely ignore all this and send in my tax check and feel like I was doing my part for public education in America. Now my kids are in the system and it’s really really scary. My kids went from being really into learning and loving school to feeling like they are in prison.

But are they getting an education? And in what?

They are learning what it is like to be a part of a mindless bureaucracy. And I hope they are doing a pretty good job at navigating it. I mean that’s a life skill. They have gotten really into outside indicators of success, even though I really don’t know what the grades mean.

What I think of as a good education is being exposed to the great ideas of being human. The fact that two of my elementary school children have been beaten up bad enough to be able to come home says there is a little problem there—one of the great ideas is Do Unto Others What You Would Have them Do Unto You—but maybe my kids are more on the heros journey and learning Survival Through Adversity.

Some basic math would be nice so you can figure out that Bernard Madoff is too good to be true—yes, one definitely needs to understand economics. I also think you should know how to get from here to there, preferably navigating a crappy transit system like our own so geography (and problem solving—heroes journey again) is important. You need enough science to cook a decent meal and know why something is inherently unhealthy before you put it into your mouth. And enough science to theoretically grow food.
You need to know how to make things, basic things like sew a pair of pants and how to nail boards together. You never know when the economy will crash and you will have to do these things, and working with one’s hands gives a person great pride and happiness. You should have a basic appreciation for music and know some musical structures and forms because music is about one of the most fantastic things that humans have ever invented and you appreciate what you know and understand even more. It is a crime that kids today know rap and not Mozart, Beyonce and not Puccini. The Chinese listen to Puccini, and to stand and hear an opera singer makes you believe that humans really can accomplish anything. Given how much film has influenced culture, you better get a pretty good media education, including history and forms, and all the European Educational Ministries are with me on that one. We haven’t caught up. And in this world economy you are hopefully not only looking at American films—education should include learning to love subtitles.

I think everyone should learn to dance, but I will save that one for another post.

If you can’t draw, at least learn to appreciate art because it will help you when times are tough. And of course, in our house, you better know good theater from bad and how to make it, but maybe everyone doesn’t need quite so much of an education in that.

It is a great tragedy of the current era that the amount of time dedicated to history has shrunk so drastically in order to prepare for the dang tests that seem to be the way we take the measure of our child. There is no other discipline that is so important as history because we cannot know where we are going until we know where we have been. We are lost without history. You cannot understand the world you live in until you look at how it became that way.

I do not give a whistle about Language Arts and Literacy. I care about Poetry. And I want to know what good books you have read lately and Why You Thought They were Good. I want to know what characters have made you laugh and which have you wanted to murder. I want to know what plots you thought were believable.

I am completely clueless about the math my kids bring home—the new math, the new new math. Two of my kids get it and feel good about it. My other child does not get it (neither do his parents) and we all feel awful.

I had this epiphany the other day. Math is a language but if you do not want to speak it and it does nothing for you—why do we force it? Maybe everyone who CAN do calculus doesn’t have to. I mean I hate administration, but I am good at it and I’ve been pigeon holed there and it has eaten my real life. My brilliant gifted child is talking about going to trade school. And that may be ok. The most important thing is to be lit up about the life you lead, about the world around you. We can’t let school get in the way of education.

A good education becomes part of who you are, just as a bad one does. I just can’t say right now what kind my kids are getting. And here is a totally radical statement from a bleeding heart liberal: it is a crying shame that education ISNT a free market. If everyone in my town who has grown disgusted and left the system (we have the largest Homeschool chapter per capita in the state) things would change pretty quick, yes they would.

Quick show of hands out there—is there anyone who LOVES the school their kids are in? If you are in private school put your hands down.

I thought so.