Monday, April 30, 2007

Blog Metaphor

As we await the publication of the seventh and last Harry Potter book this July, our family is re-reading the series. Here’s an interesting passage that carries more meaning for me the second time around:

“It is called a Pensieve,” said Dumbledore. “I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind . . . . At these times, . . . I use the Pensieve. One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form.”
—From Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

That’s kind of how I've come to view this blog.

But I'm no Dumbledore! So, please bear with me. . . .

Friday, April 27, 2007

More CSA

To follow up on last month’s post, our family has officially joined the CSA movement (at least for the 2007 growing season). Today we purchased a partial share in Sweet Earth Organic Farm. We will be picking up our box of fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables once a week from June to November.

This is a challenge we look forward to.

Executive Session

I also posted once before about public meetings, and because I attend so many, I often find myself in (or drawn to) conversations about how meetings are supposed to be run. Here’s a link to an interesting page about closed meetings on the website of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The website contains much more on this topic, of course—such as the text of the Illinois Open Meetings Act—but this page alone was enough to make me wonder who is or is not actually following these recommendations.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Mother Talk

I called a friend of mine at her office on Friday at 4pm, asking her if she would like to join me for an event I was planning on attending in just a few hours. I didn’t have a problem going by myself, but since it was kind of different, I wanted to share the experience with someone. With her usual cool flexibility, my friend answered, “I’m in.”

And so we found ourselves participating in a MotherTalk literary salon in Morton Grove, a suburb just north of Chicago. Our hostess—Kim Moldofsky—is a food blogger over at Chicago Parent, and she had gathered about 20 moms to meet and talk with Rachel Johnson, the charming, young British author of Notting Hell.

For a few hours this group of disparate moms (from the city, from the suburbs, from England) made themselves comfortable while discussing the writing life, working, staying home, raising kids, food, and recycling.

I met some lovely, interesting and competent women that night, and I listened to their views. But it struck me that with so much in common (as mothers), we tend to focus on our differences—how Americans and Europeans view the Green movement, how suburbanites and city dwellers view recycling, and how we view each other’s parent/work philosophy.

But it’s all about the dialog, so I applaud Kim and her extraordinary effort at building community.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Springfield, IL

I used to think the best part of going to Springfield, our state capital, was visiting the historic Lincoln Home. Our family has toured it twice, and it has a strong appeal to young and old. On Wednesday, though, my girls and I found ourselves in the Old State Capitol building, and lovin’ it.

A politically savvy mom I know, here in Chicago, organized and secured funding for this one-day road trip from the Illinois State Representative who serves our daughters’ school. About 10 families rearranged their schedules to join us for the day—meeting our representative, handing him our letters, viewing the assembled legislators at work from the balcony, and waving to them when our group was introduced. However, rushing from gathering place to gathering place, going through security, listening to the rattling off of House bills to be voted on, and registering all the details seemed to slightly confuse the students in our group. But you know, the way big government works these days is confusing. I doubt any of the kids came away thinking they would like to be a legislator when they grow up.

Afterward, we had a little free time, and decided by group consensus to walk over to the Old State Capitol, the seat of Illinois political life from 1839-1876. Government makes a lot more sense over there. Our children could see where Lincoln worked on his House Divided speech, where he stood to deliver it. They could see the quill pens and pots of ink at each desk in the Senate and the House, the little drawers where tax records where filed, the cozy quarters in which legislators worked together. It’s probably safe to say that our little crew enjoyed this part of the day the most. Why?

I’m convinced we were all feeling the huge sense of relief at having escaped the complexity of modern government.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

On a Clear Night

A number of years ago, my husband completed a telescope-building class at the Adler Planetarium. On those rare clear nights in Chicago when something interesting is happening in the heavens, he will set up the powerful scope in our backyard so that we may marvel at a part of the sky we’re not accustomed to seeing much anymore.

Tonight wasn’t one of those nights, however. Like most nights during the work and school week, there wasn’t time to set up the telescope. But there was time to for hubby to call us from the train station and alert us to a great view of Jupiter and a crescent Moon.

“Go out on the porch and look to the west,” he said.

Each of us dropped what we were doing and ran out to greet a perfect astrological pairing in a perfect sky. Clearly visible to the naked eye.

Seeing those two bright objects in the night sky is almost jarring, though. Chicago’s light pollution masks the thousands of stars we would be seeing in a less urban area. More often than not, airplanes are more visible than stars.

Curiously, the view tonight reminded me of a child’s drawing (or a Crockett Johnson drawing)—an overly large, twinkling star sitting just above the smile of a crescent moon, placed in the middle of a solid blue background.

Slightly unnatural and exposed.

Monday, April 16, 2007


Our daughters went to Girl Scout Camp this weekend, and because there wasn’t any school on Friday, they were gone from Friday at 10am to Sunday at 3pm. At age 11, that’s the longest camping trip for them yet (without us, that is).

In their previous scouting years (as Brownies) I always went along as a chaperone and driver. But now my daughters are Juniors, and they are in a troop that allows them much more independence and responsibility. None of the troop leaders asked me to go. Neither did my daughters.

“Bring hats,” I said to them as we loaded up the gear.

“We’re fine, Mom,” they said.

“Bring mittens,” I responded.

“We’re fine, Mom,” they said.

When we arrived at the drop-off site, I asked them if they needed any money for the gift shop.

“We’re fine, Mom.”

The troop leader said they would call me Sunday afternoon, when they got back into town.

So my husband and I had some lovely, quiet time together—Ann Sather’s for a leisurely breakfast, a couple ‘o cosmopolitans, a beautiful dinner party in Bridgeport, cleaning up the garden for a good long time, reading (uninterrupted) for a good long time, and pretty much avoiding meal prep like we often did in our life before children. But I suspect, at the same time, we were both secretly thinking the same thought:

We are becoming superfluous.

Well, they came back to us safe and sound—with dirty faces, carrying filthy laundry, smelling like a campfire, and happy.

I don’t think we can ask for more than that.

And in the end, it’s not that we are becoming superfluous. It’s that they are becoming young ladies.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Goodnight, Mr. Vonnegut

I’m off to read a little Vonnegut, now that I’ve added the 1972 film version of Slaughterhouse 5 to our Netflix queue. Christopher Buckley talked about Vonnegut's death on the news tonight, referring to the author's gift of commenting on a “wounded humanity” with a “wink”. I like that description, so I added Thank You for Smoking (based on Buckley’s book) to the queue, as well.

The Imus Antidote

In the children’s section of the library this afternoon with my daughters, I couldn’t help but notice a prominently displayed pair of picture books entitled Hoop Kings and Hoop Queens, by Charles R. Smith Jr. Because I posted earlier today about Imus, I decided to read Smith’s poetry books, especially the latter, which celebrates female basketball players. In it, I discovered the author’s tremendous respect for athleticism, photography, women and language.

I’d love to hear what he thinks about Imus.

Imus v. Coach Stringer

Oprah had the classy Rutger’s Women’s Basketball Team on her show (via satellite) this morning. Mary Mitchell talks about Don Imus’s comments in her column today, likening the use of “nappy-headed” to using the “n-word”. This reminds me, on April 25th the Chicago Public Library will host a free lecture by Jabari Asim, author of The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn’t, and Why.

"It doesn’t matter how you start, but how you finish." —C. Vivian Stringer, Head Coach, Rutgers Women’s Basketball Team

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

News from Northwestern

In February, Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago began offering a twice-monthly live webcast called Patient Power. Hosted by Andrew Schorr, a ten-year leukemia survivor, the program features in-depth conversations with Northwestern physicians and takes listener questions via phone or email. Tonight's show (from 7-8pm) spotlights breast cancer screenings. I know too many friends with breast cancer.

In other Northwestern news, the renovation of Northwestern’s Prentice Women’s Hospital includes a huge rooftop garden visible from windows on the 12th floor and up. There is evidence to suggest that patients recover faster when they can view nature (although a view of the skyline is nice, too, IMHO). But this “greening” of the hospital continues the positive trend Chicago began years ago.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Depressed Children

Our children were sad going to bed last night and sad getting up this morning. I know this because they told me so, using the blunt English that fifth graders wield like a sword. I can hardly blame them, though, because today is the first day back to school after Spring Break. I asked them if sad was really the right word. Wasn’t disappointed a better choice? Or frustrated?

Sad is the right word, Mom,” my daughter reiterated.

To try to cheer them up, my husband and I used all our reliable tools—hot breakfast, upbeat music, Dad’s morning humor, and the reminder of Grandpa’s impending arrival today and tonight’s spaghetti dinner with their cousins. But we couldn’t get a smile out of the girls.

When I dropped them at school, it was snowing.

Snow has lost its luster. Hot cocoa has lost its luster.

School has definitely lost its luster.

Friday, April 6, 2007


I’ve been interested in TIFs for a while, so I’m linking to the TIF wikipedia entry. It’s a good place to start for anyone wanting to know more. . . .

The City of TIFs

I was searching the city of Chicago’s website for something specific (local farmer's markets), and I came across this map, which struck me as very funny. The link to this map states, “Tax Increment Financing is a special funding tool used by the City of Chicago to promote private investment in blighted sections of the city. Please click on the link above to display a map showing the TIF Districts in the City of Chicago.”

I don’t think it’s possible to be more officially vague. If I had a superficial question about TIFs, this map certainly wouldn’t answer it. In fact, it just forces me to ask other, serious questions (i.e., Is one-third to one-half of Chicago really "blighted?")

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Spring Break at Home

It's Spring Break at last, and our family isn’t traveling this time around. Instead, we’re hanging out in Chicago, hosting Easter dinner on Sunday, and then heading back to work and school on Monday.

It’s kind of nice sleeping in, eating out, reading, playing a long game of Monopoly. (And I still have all week to buy new gym shoes for my daughters!) Nevertheless, I do have to parcel out my requests for help from the girls, because they are in full vacation mode. So I just now asked them to clean out their backpacks and bring me their lunchboxes to fumigate. One child came to me with her lunchbox, and nothing else.

“No important papers?” I asked.

“Nope!” she said, hurrying back to what she was doing.

Hmm. . . .

My other daughter handed me the lunchbox and a two-inch-high pile of graded papers going back to early January. Homework assignments, tests, essays. It took me 15 minutes to unfold, de-wrinkle, and stack them right side up before I could even look at them closely. Also buried in the pile— four “Notices of Strep Throat”.

Is it any wonder parents rarely know what’s going on at school?