Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ancient Greece

I recently listened to an online course by Yale University Professor Donald Kagan on Ancient Greek History. A major theme of the course was how Greek culture could not understand the individual outside of society. Banishment from a Greek community was considered the highest form of punishment. I could feel where the Greeks were coming from, if not from my own personal experience leaving Madison, then certainly from the horrified faces of many a Madisonian when I mentioned my upcoming move. Banished from paradise? Madison is nothing if not a model of the Greek polis, no? I kept hearing the refrain, "you'll be back" which so many shared with me. Will I? At this point I can't say, but the strong reaction I got from so many people begs the question, "what's up?"

Kagan's contention is that our shared Greek intellectual heritage conflicts with modern ideas of romantic individualism (think Thoreau or Huck Finn), the notion that deep truths can be found in the personal journey. Kagan goes on to say that our modern dilemma is reconciling these two conflicting positions: do we find comfort and safety in the group or by setting out on our own romantic quest? So much of what we do, especially as we decide how to raise our own children, depends on which model makes more sense. Kagan posits that this is a great litmus test when trying to understand someone and that it is very unlikely that you fall directly in the middle on these utopian visions. So MB, what do you think? Ancient Greek or Romantic Individualism?

This question brought up almost as many strong reactions in me as the Myers Briggs, but that's another story. What do I think about those Ancient Greeks and why the hell did I choose to banish myself from Madison? Why was my vow to get out of there before I had to deal with high school all over again?

I would say that I am 2 parts Ancient Greek and 8 parts Romantic Individualist.

Doing the tally, I had some serious gut reactions. I had to turn off the Iliad audio tape the kids and I were listening to half way through due to boredom and horror at all the macho talk. I find Greek art and architecture super dull and overly obsessed with ideal ratios, bla, bla, bla (especially compared to Minoan art, have you seen their funky frescoes?). I love the Olympics, but when I actually learned about Ancient Greek competitive spirit it made me want to hurl.

I have certainly inherited some of my beliefs. My own family is passionately individualized. Oh yeah, I wanted to tell you about the Ron Paul fervor going on in my family but that's for another chapter. The idea of living off the grid and cheating on your taxes seems like romantic individualism, no? My parents were unschooling me and my sibs before it even had a name (they just knew that driving to Mexico in a van every winter and romping on the pyramids was "way more important than any of that boring school crap"). And Carleton was a bastion of weirdness and romantic individualism. Truly, I was thinking about this the other day -- I'm not even sure if Carleton had a school mascot. I only remember one sports team name and that was a frisbee team called Black Lung. I think they called themselves that because they smoked up before throwing their own form of discus.

I think most people in Madison would skew heavily on the side of Ancient Greek ideals. Needless to say, I often felt like a fish out of water. It took me a long time to admit that I was floundering. I seriously wanted to scream when I discovered Madisonians could go ape shit in their support of public schools and unions. Holy crap. I felt like the bad guy. But it happened way before that. I remember the election I voted for Nader. Damn. And the crazy reaction I felt when I took Henry off of one little kid soccer team (he was like 5) and switched him to another one where the coach favored quiet encouragement over raving. I felt like I had been banished. Henry and I didn't even give a shit about soccer, so why would anyone care on what team he practiced eye foot coordination? I digress. I am so glad that I didn't have to deal with Purgolderin.

Encinitas is a romantic individualized paradise. There is no East/West side thing (actually I think it's just who can afford to live closest to the beach, but whatever). And when I was looking at high schools I got this really interesting story about how the sporty kids go to this one school where they spend money on sports and the academic kids tend to go here and this other school has more arts programs....

I have yet to hear anyone recommend a school or neighborhood based on tribal enthusiasm.

In a yoga class tonight my teacher talked about going beyond boundaries and binary thinking, and about intuition. Of course, I started this whole post with a binary comparison. sigh. Writing is hard because I still haven't figured out how to write about any of the new things I'm thinking about without sounding wacked. Basically, I'm just happy to hear people talk about intuition like it's important. I feel like I have spent a lot of time around very hard thinkers and been found wanting.

I hope that my kids appreciate what I believe in. I want them to be able to pick up and switch sides and vote independent and avoid team thinking. I want them to embrace getting lost. I hope this journey with them is good practice.

I miss Madison friends terribly. I miss you. Thank you for starting the blog thing with me. It's fun to keep up like this.

I love your stories about those two field trip kids. Wow. Keep it coming, friend.

About your energy level. A long time ago I read that you should try to check in every once and a while and see how you feel after hanging out with an individual or group, even if they are old familiar friends or a friend group you have been with forever. Check in. See if you feel energized or depleted after being with them. Watch it for awhile. If you are depleted again and again, just take a break. You may be giving out way more than you receive in your social interactions.
Remember to hang out more with the people who help you feel great.

To answer your question about California trash style: you can't put trash out in front of your house. Everyone pays for their own trash pick-up monthly. It costs $30 for a single large item removal and $15 for each additional item. They are serious about landfill. I had a rummage sale and hardly anyone came. I tried giving away my furniture to charity and it was difficult to find anyone interested. Don't bring extra furniture to California. Throw it off the wagon!

The best thing in my life right now is Charlie is a budding artist. He only wants to draws pictures of me and rainbows.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Two-Way Street (MB)

Ah, yes.  It begins.  Now we banter.  Thanks for playin.  It's great to hear your voice, even if it's not us cackling around the kitchen table over dinner, so engrossed that we forget to feed half the kids dinner.

Condolences on the moving-again thing.  That is rough.  I am impressed that you have done away with more stuff.  I wonder if you can just stack up your curb there like you can here, and let the treasure-hunters have their way?  I haven't seen the pioneer period movie you mention but I guess I'll have to check that out.  I especially appreiate the pioneer analogy in the context of the faux-dobe subdivision.  That rocks.

I can totally picture and understand what you've got going on out there, though, Ab.  OK, truly honest -- the fact that you would touch yoga sing-along with a ten-foot pole has me just a wee bit freaked out.  But, truth is -- you've never been anything if you haven't been totally capable of the unexpected, the 180 degree turn, the passionate throwing of oneself at a new interest, the seeing the fun in something that others may categorically ignore, misunderstand, cast off.  So, I'll trust that if you think that the yoga sing-along is cool, it's obviously because there is some serious fun in it. 

I have to also admit that it's slightly difficult to imagine you and Frank pulling into Tennis Court Way every evening.  What's NOT hard to imagine is that you are all relishing that carved-out family-time extended-vacation space you have right now.  It's also not hard  imagine that Jimmy cut his bangs.  This IS the child that my family still holds in highest spitfire regard (something of legend) for flipping off the bus driver on the first day of kindgergarten.

Housing market out there sounds rough, from a renter's or buyer's perspective, frankly.  Sounds like waiting it out a bit makes sense.  The interest rates are surely enticing on the one hand but if you still think the prices are inflated wait it out.  You'll know if you're ready for the 30-year ball and chain again or if you see some killer value that you just can't pass up -- you know?  You'll figure it out.  And maybe once those boys' braces come off you'll suddenly find yoursef attending an open house at Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore's place in Hollywood, which they will have had to sell in the divorce process, and you'll be thinking "I know we can afford it, but I wonder if I can wire the entire house to play voice-command podcasts in every room?"

Of course -- no surprise to you -- we are right in the thick of all the things you left behind here.  East High School spirit, homcoming, sports teams, field trips, biology exams, trying to pick up mom-clues on the elusive lives of a 9th and 6th grader, carpools and all the other logistics, the insular nature of the near east side of this village we call Madison, etc.  There is no escape from all the silly stress/pressure/worry/drama that comes with this sort of quintessential middle-American family life, but Madison is a good place to be trapped if one must be.  The fall has been glorious with deep, wild colors and good crisp (but not cold) air.  The kids -- not only mine but all the kids we know from this little tight-knit neighborhood -- are all figuring out so much and really growing into their own entire almost-adult layer of the community.  It was pretty amazing sitting outside of East High after the homecoming dance and just watching this vastly broad spectrum of young people pouring out, looking fine, pretty grown up and in charge and confident. 

In general right now I am looking around and realizing I have a decade's worth of relationships with some of these people in our neighborhood here, and -- like family -- even the folks that annoy me the most are also the ones that I've learned the most about and therefore, have a certain inescapable intimacy with, at least for as long as we are in each other's orbit.

Man, I have so many things I could tell you about, but now I'm getting tired and I can't possibly do them justice.  The Brewers lost their chance at the World Series, tragically, and I cried pretty legitimately.  It was super fun while it lasted.  I went on a 50-mile relay run this past weekend in Door County with a bunch of moms (9 others to be exact) from the neighborhood (what was I saying about being in the thick of it?).  It is beautiful up there on the lake and on the backroads where we were running and it's a good bunch of ladies (although I always feel a bit weird because I'm the only unmarried/divorced one, and I'm almost 10 years younger than the rest so I end up having to remind myself a lot when I'm with them all that they've had a lot more time to get certain things established and in order and. . . . what a recipe for a developing a complex) 

Lately I've kind of been struggling with the realization of how much of my time is spent irritated, stressed, and feeling like I am just climbing a damn hill for heaven's sake, and there is not much of that youthful unadulterated pleasure or excitement that fills the tank, so to speak.  Work is demanding in all sorts of ways, and I can't let up and it's not going to ease up anytime soon.  The kids keep me on my toes because the thing is even when all is well there's just so much that you can worry about, and that you maybe should worry about, because wouldn't you feel like an asshole if you didn't worry about it and then something went horribly wrong?  What were you saying about yoga?  Sing-along chanting?  Reiki?

OK -- one final storytelling indulgence to spare us all from any more of my Eyore-like moping and then I'm off to get some work done and hopefully get to bed before it gets too late.

So today I go out to this environmental center where Madeline is having her 6th grade field trip.  I am helping out with these rotating small groups, at a pond where the kids are supposed to use nets to catch and look at insects, tadpoles, algae, etc. 

The greatest thing about this pond activity is that -- even if all these kids might have attitudes or complications in some other context, I'm telling you -- give them a net and a slimy pond, and suddenly almost every single one of them is off and lunging after anything they find interesting, and running and scrambling and hopping fences as soon as somebody has a frog to look at.  There's still a purity in them that emerges quite clearly when you get them out in a simple environment like that.

But the next greatest thing about this volunteer role I played on this field trip today is that I got to meet a bunch of new kids I had never met before, because -- since Madeline just started middle school, where several elementary schools merged, there are just tons of kids at her school from other elementary schools that I haven't met yet.  So when the small groups of kids rotate through our pond activity, I'm kind of chatting up the kids who might be hanging back a little from the rest of the group, or those who just have such vivid personalities that you can't help but talk to them.  I've got all kinds of hilarious anecdotes and quotes from today, but two popped out to me (names have been changed to protect identity):

1.  Darius: Wearing Sean John rugby shirt and souped up jeans with orange detail on the pockets, Nike high tops -- also orange.  We are walking with a small group of kids from the pond to the main lodge.
     I said to him "You've got a lot of orange on". 
     He says, "Yeah, I love orange.  I like the red and orange and that's all I want to wear.  I'm just an orange and red kind of person.  Today, I got orange shirt, orange jeans, orange shoes, and for tomorrow I brought all red." 
     I said "Wow.  You've got a pretty serious style goin' on if you are that coordinated both days like that.  Even the shoes?"
     He says, "Yeah, even the shoes -- I match my shoes every day.  I gotta have everything match."
     The kids around confirmed. 
     He said "You know, sometimes I feel bad, though, my parents having to pay for all that."
     I said "Yeah, my daughter would love for me to buy her clothes all the time but I say no a lot."
     He says, "Yeah."
     I say "But it must be pretty important to you to match and stuff.  Why is it?"
     He starts to say "Well, I mean, if I didn't, I just. . . . I mean, it wouldn't. . . " and I gather he might be looking around and realizing if he says what he wants to say it might slightly insult or hurt the feelings of the less stylish kids around him. 
     So I help him out "you just wouldn't feel as good?"
     And he says "Yeah.  I mean, if I didn't. . . " and he trails off again.
     So I say, "Well, if you didn't match one day, you'd probably be okay."
     And he says "Yeah, I'd just have to get up the next day and go back at it all over again."

2.  Shalia - Tiny little whisp of a sassy thing, flitting around the periphery of the pond activty, swooping in when there's something exciting going on like a caught frog, but otherwise off singing and doing aloof running commenetary on what's going on around her and with the activity to no person in particular.
     On our walk back from the pond, I say "How do you like the new middle school?  Did you have an older brother or sister who went there before you did?'
      And she says "No.  I only got one little brother and he off with my dad and we got no idea where they at but I don't care cause I get everything I want."
      And I say "Oh.  So you only have a younger brother but he doesn't live with you?'
      And she says "Yeah because he live with my dad and we don't have no idea where they at but it don't matter because I get everything I want."
      So I try to move off the subject a little and we banter more mildly with some of the other kids around about school, the teacher we're with that day, the field trip, etc.  There's a little pause in the conversation and everybody walks along for a bit and all of a sudden out of nowhere she blurts out, full of sass, "I tell you what I want; I want to go get me that otter!"
       And it's so completely out of the blue and unxpected I almost laugh but instead I say "You want to go get an otter?  Oh -- did you see an otter out here earlier today?"
       She says, "Uh-huh."
       "Was it cute?"
        "Oh yes it was," she says. 
        "So you want to go get it and take it home?" I ask.
        "Uh-huh" (with extra sass).
         "But don't you think that'd be kind of a disaster if you brought that otter home?" I ask.
         And she says "Oh no I do not think so -- not if I put it in a tub first, or a sink or somethin, before I can get a big tank for my bedroom to put it in."
         I would like to say for the record that I think, based on my conversations with her today, there is a chance this young lady could in fact get just about everything she wants. 

OK, that's all for now.  Miss you a lot but reading your letter is great. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I just moved again. Whoa. Two moves in six months, one across country. I'm getting good at this. I think I gave away more this time than when we moved from Madison. Something about the company paying for all our shipping costs made me hold on to more shit. Anyway, when I had to pay for this last move myself, I cut to the bone. I imagine myself somewhat of a pioneer girl, although certainly my crap could still fill a wagon train. Have you seen Meek's Cutoff by the way? The pioneer outfits in that movie are to die for. Seriously. You gotta see it if only for the fashion.

My new house is modern condo style. Can you believe it? I have never lived in a home built before 1912. Southern California. Lots of horrible houses. Think Weeds. It's not that there aren't some old houses around. The first place I rented was a cute little cottage by the sea. But it had mold issues. Alas. And it cost $4 grand a month. Thus the move after only six months!

Most of the homes here are what I call faux dobe. Adobe wannabees. They're awful. Again. Think Weeds (little houses made of ticky tacky). I rented this condo because the whole place is super neutral and clean with bamboo floors and high ceilings. Low maintenance. Did I mention the place doesn't smell like mold or dog? You can't believe how many places smell crappy the minute you walk in them. Anyway, our new rental will serve as a blank (clean) canvas for us while we try to figure out these new surroundings. The gated community shares a pool and hot tub, which the kids love, and two tennis court areas. My street is called Tennis Match Way. Can you believe that? Where's the creativity, people? Swimming Pool Approximate Way? Right Next to Trader Joe's Way? A Hop Skip and a Jump to TJ Maxx Way? I better learn to play tennis in any case.

Everyone says this is a great time to buy in California, but I'm not seeing it. There are way too many for sale signs around and the prices are crazy when you look at what people really earn. I feel like the current low interest rates are a last gasp attempt to fix a really broken system. The 30 year mortgage is a huge noose around your neck. You're stuck for 30 years. Blah. Boring. I feel like our generation and the ones coming up after us might prefer to let the baby boomers choke on their ridiculous equity and all of it. I don't want to bail them out. And that goes for wall street too. I got my money in my mattress. Oh yeah. Buy gold and toilet paper.

That's it for politics because my current passion is navel gazing. That's right. I am in yoga bliss. Encinitas. Yoga capital of the USA. Someone in Madison once made a snarky comment to me about how Southern California was obsessed with yoga and fashion, as if I don't LOVE those two things. I am finding both very satisfying. Things I could talk about now with a straight face after only being in California for six months: reiki, the soul, crystal bowl healing, the Mayan calendar, the word mysticism, the many limbs of yoga, kirtan (aka yoga sing-alongs), crystals, hot tubbin', and the healing power of laughter. All fun stuff. I've stopped eating meat.

Of course, Southern California is also the place where everyone should have at least one screenplay in the works. I am no different. Just took an adult learning class and jump started my first act. Now I need to write the second and third acts on my own. Naturally, I am writing about Hinckley, Minnesota -- the scariest town ever to grow up in. They say you should write about what you know, so I am digging deep into small town horror. Bottom line -- an empty social calendar begs for adult learning classes. Next class? Bonsai gardening? Deep sea diving? Stay tuned.......

The boys and I are still involved in the LA project. I am learning that the whole business is really more of a marathon than a sprint. And the kids both have braces right now, so there's a certain disadvantage to that. We go up for commercial auditions every other week or so and Henry is enrolled in a class every Saturday. The competition is intense and they have yet to land a gig, but we are in for the long haul, especially Henry. LA is super entertaining to me, so the trips are actually a welcome adventure. Last week I spent two hours shopping for fabric in the garment district while Henry was at class. It was like I was on Project Runway or something. I am still obsessed with a number of podcasts, so the driving is no problem. The other day I got home and Jimmy had decided to give his bangs a little trim (wtf, right?) and my first thought was his agent is going to kill me. This part of our lives is a little whack I will admit.

The boys are both doing K12 online school. The curriculum is pretty awesome and I am impressed by the efficiency of the whole system. Jimmy, for example, has completed a year of Spanish in just two months because he likes the subject. Henry is able to rock out math and science at his own pace. They can do independent fitness. I don't think it's the answer for everyone, and maybe not for my kids all the way through, but damn I am thankful that it exists as an alternative choice to the box schools. My whole thing now is to think about education as a blend of choices and to expose my kids to as many styles as I can and just see what sticks. I hope they learn from this to be flexible and not attach themselves to any one identity based solely on what type of school they attend or whatever. There's nothing I have less patience for than school pride hoopla. K12 is much like my new condo now that I think about it. Clean. Efficient. Doesn't smell. Low maintenance. Much less than $4k per month!

The boys' totally open social calendar means we all have a lot more family time. I know at some point they will want to make friends and have a life outside the family unit, but for right now I feel like we were given this extra time to all hang out, like on an extended family vacation or something, and it totally rocks. I felt like in Madison it was starting to get tricky. I always had an extra kid or kid's social engagement to wrangle, and I found it really exhausting. Right now we all just have each other and that makes things really simple.

All for now. Thanks for getting this started. Quite fun writing to you this way.

We miss you!


Sunday, October 9, 2011

Off the Road (MB)

Hey, Ab:

Well, we didn't exactly get off to a vigorous start with our blog concept.  But, I am determined to keep trying.  You have now been off the road and settled in the San Diego area for months!  I know you are homeschooling the boys, the elder two have an agent in LA (!), and you have a pretty snazzy apartment that may not be a long-term option but is a good place to be while getting oriented out there.  I also know you were digging the climate and the bad-ass feeling of driving through LA to take the boys to appointments with their pretty serious agent out there.  I love it.

We definitely miss you guys.  I have seen glimpses of the people who have moved into your house and I know you are so far beyond even thinking about this now, but it is really weird to see a different family calling that place home, and slowly evolving it to be their own.

With the falling leaves, I can't help but think of Halloween, and how that will be a true landmark in your first year away -- we won't have our usual motley crew of neighbors and family members gathering in last-minute costumes to eat chili, gorge on candy, hit the bourbon, and take turns with our cute kids out in the trick-or-treating paradise that is the Jenifer Street neighborhood.

I don't mean to get all sappy.  I guess I'm just pointing out that -- despite limited contact these last few months -- you and your fam are always a present force for me, and I do miss having your refreshing perspective in person here.  I need to get in a routine drawing on it by phone, or -- hopefully -- through this blog.

Here's the quick-and-dirty on me for the moment.  I feel a little "off-the-road" myself, to be honest with you.  I'm doin' it, keepin' it all going, scrapin' by, raisin' kids, payin' bills.  But.  Not sure where exactly I'm going or if I'm moving forward.  I won't elaborate too much more on that other than to fill you in on the basics of what's been going on lately.  We'll get back to the bigger philosophical aspects of it all in future posts if we ever finally get this blog rolling.

First, I am relatively blissed out and getting way in touch with my roots these last several weeks as my life-long and tormented love affair with Milwaukee Brewers Baseball has taken a dramatic turn for the better.  They are currently playing for the National League Championship and have a damn viable chance at playing in the World Series.  It's been divine.  This remarkable circumstance (last time they got this far I was 5 years old; I vaguely remember it and strongly romaticize that team; we've barely broken .500 a season since) has been accompanied by across-the-board success on the part of Wisconsin sports teams all fall.  It's been delicious fun -- in the way that those summers and winters when we obsessed about the Olympics on TV we found a certain wonderful escape and diversion from the ordinary -- except even better, because in this case it's all about Wisconsin loyalty, tradition, my personal and family history with these teams, and how happy this shit makes a vast majority of people I am related to.

Second, and more importantly, Peter started high school and Madeline started middle school -- I could write a lengthy essay of observations about this but for now let's just say they were both more than ready and are doing great, and I am loving the transition to higher expectations of them, and more responsibility on their part in general, etc.

Third, I have a new neice and a new nephew!  My sister Anna had her second baby in Paris -- Livia -- on April 26th; my sister Julie had her first just last Sunday on October 2nd -- Benjamin David!  Madeline and I happened to be in Chicago on the night that Julie went into labor so we were sort of along for the ride on the dramatic turns of the situation (she went into labor almost a month early but baby has done great and went home from the NICU today).

Fourth -- I remain in relative single mom stress and uncertainty about money, work, and relationships.  I know -- what the hell?  I don't know, Ab -- I could use some help on this one.  Running a single-income family/household with kids who are only getting older and more expensive remains a significant challenge.  On the other hand, I've become so damn independent and intolerant of any inconvenience when it comes to relationships, I'm not exactly on a steady progression toward life-long partnership.  This notwithstanding the fact that, as you know, there's a guy who's interested in pursuing that with me.  It's all quite confusing.  I am truly enjoying many aspects of my work life -- I have been learning a ton and developing a lot in my role as an agency executive.  My law practice also plugs along fairly loosely, and I have a few great clients that I get to do pretty fun work for.  I'm not charging enough which leads me to a certain squeeze fairly frequently.  Argh.  I could use a lucky lottery ticket, a sugar daddy, something.  How did I get through all those years of law school on student loans, grants, and a small part-time teaching salary?  It seems things have just gotten a lot more complicated since then.  I know I can make it all work, but I'll tell you -- securing a partner in this most basic anthropological proposition of modern middle class living (keeping the lights on and providing your kids with some basic opportunities) definitely makes a difference, and sometimes I feel like that ship has just sailed for me.  Dating a guy who is nice, but also has his own kids and his own single-income household to worry about, has not helped simplify the issue.  We continue to spend time together and at times it looks a hell of a lot like a committed long term relationship, but I just don't see where it's going, or how.  More and more I feel like I just need to buck up and realize that I will be doing this single mom thing indefinitely, and I just need to keep getting better and better to be sure that enough income's coming in and I can simultaneously continue to be at least as attentive to these kids in that classic way that I inherited from my own mom as I have been these last couple of years.

Man.  You and Frank have seen me through a lot of stages in this adventure, and you've always been so good to me.  How many crappy meals have I prepared for you due to my general state of exhaustion and distraction in the midst of all that's going on; how many pots of your beans have my kids and I eaten, how many times did Frank un-clog my disgusting rental property sink for me, how long did you put up with my kids and I staying with you guys before we went to Argentina -- you guys are freakin' saints!  I swear.

It's a gorgeous fall here.  Bright colors, and is if in response to a request I made quietly many times this summer, it seems we're getting a gentle Indian summer into the month of October.  June was cold for almost the full month, so my quiet request came from a sense of justice -- if we're not going to get a warm June, we sure as hell better get a long warm late summer/early fall before stuff hits the fan.

Kids and I went camping with the Elizabeth Street neighborhood crew at Wyalusing State Park this past weekend and it was delightful.  I nursed a few PBR tall boys around the fire and talked big ideas with a bunch of the smart folks from that neighborhood group, we took a great hike this morning and saw a cool cave and the kids all put pennies on the railroad track and waited to see what they got after the train came by.  Peter and all the teenagers had one cabin and were super cute and seem so innocent compared to the shenanigans we were getting into at that age (famous last words, I know).  Mads and a posse of middle schoolers essentially did the same thing -- strewed their personal items all over the inside of their own bunk house, played into the night and then crashed and were up again by 7 eating pancakes on lunch trays in the mess hall at the group camp we were at. 

The next couple of weeks we'll be running around trying to keep up with the Brewers, East High Homecoming, and seeing my sisters and their little ones (Anna and her girls are visiting).  Work will not ease up, nor will school, for these extra-curriculars, so it'll be another busy time.  What's new though?  You should've seen me this past spring/summer while you've been gone.  I over-committed myself like never before -- 5th and 8th grade graduations, All-City Dive Meet (Mads did great by the way!), tons of work stuff, baseball team mom, visitors staying with us from out of town, blah blah blah.  All fun and good but I burned myself out big time.  Late summer and early fall I've been pretty anti-social as a result. 

Oh, fun tidbit -- I did take the kids to NYC for the first time in August.  I'll fill you in more on that soon.  We had a blast.  We just tooled around without major plans.  They were ready to ditch me and ride the subway on their own within about 24 hours.  Made me proud.

I'm thinkin of you guys.  Be in touch.  Write!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Oh, Shotwells -- where are you? (MB)

Hi, Ab:

I only have time for a very quick note.  I am in the hometown with my little (now big) girl.  We are doing some family visiting and hanging out.  The young man stayed back in Madison to sleep over with a friend and play in his baseball game, golf, fish, etc (we were shocked he did not prefer to join us).

Just wanted to touch base since I think I missed a call on my cell phone from you a few days ago but did not get a message.  Wondering where you all are and how things are going.

As you know, I was in SF with my main squeeze last week.  We had a lot of fun.  First time I've "gotten away from it all" (kinda sorta --worked a bit every day, but not bad) in forever!

Funny tidbit -- there is an SUV with Indiana plates in your driveway, and an Indiana Colts flag outside of your house.  I knew it was real when I saw that driving the kids to school the other day.

I hope you guys are traveling well and having fun.  We miss you already, but know that you'll have good tales to tell soon.  I'll fill you in more when I have more time.  I have some good nuggets from our time in the Bay Area, and also some fun updates from Madison.

But -- more later.  For now, be well and love to all those boys.



Sunday, April 17, 2011

To Abigale -- for when you need a boost. (MB)


It's Sunday.  I should be at church because I've been swearing I would get there more regularly, but alas, coffee in my pajamas at home appears more holy to me at this moment.  I decided to get the blog established for us instead.  Tonight, I hope we will get to raise a final toast your family's new beginning in California at one of our downtown Madison drinking establishments.  Then, you'll be off tomorrow morning, jamming the podcasts and making that little Toyota van with the braided rug your home base for a little while.  I will stay here in our Near East Side Madison environment and keep working and holding down my homestead.

This past Thursday, we went for Mexican food with both of our families -- a twist on our "beans and rice night" tradition.  Instead of you cooking one of those amazing pots of Mexican beans, which never disappoint, and which have been almost a weekly staple for our little family weeknight dinners together, we loaded up and drove across town to a restaurant.  I promptly ran out of gas with the two teenage young men in my car and we got to have a little adventure of going to fill a gas can with the little kids in your van while the two teenage young men stayed in my broken-down car devotedly continuing with their gaming on their respective Droid phones.  My own lovely daughter Madeline informed me that as I filled the gas can at the gas station, you and the three little kids got a good laugh out of me bending over and inadvertently exposing part of my ass and undergarments to the entire busy street.  Awesome.

Anyway, dinner was sweet, and distinctly NOT sad, but joyful and celebratory, with all five cool kids, and you and your great man.  The excitement of your new family adventure was palpable for us all.

If you recall, this past Thursday was originally "penciled in" for a kegger at your empty, cleared-out, ready to sell house, which I had offered to throw as a little send-off for all of you.  At the last minute, you astutely realized that this type of formal gathering to monument your years in Madison and to mark the end of one era and beginning of another was bound to be just dreadful in its demands on all of our respective emotional constitutions.  I am so glad you came to this conclusion.  As you said, better to just "slip out the back door."

If you recall, I had already drafted an e-mail invite to all the usual suspects to run by you, and I wanted you to have that for a rainy day (well, OK, maybe there are no such things in San Diego), or rough day when you are out there trying to build your homestead up and have your place out there.  I think it will serve as a reminder of all you were able to do so fluidly and on  your own terms here in Madison.  I think why people are really going to miss you is because you did something different here, and while you were here, gave people a totally different and fresh idea of what could be done in this otherwise often utterly predictable town.  Anyway -- here's the invite.  It never went out to the masses as an invite, but let it serve as a reminder to you of your personal and family accomplishments, abilities, and admirers in Madison.  And, for those masses that might read this, they too will have the chance to be reminded, if only through a very small re-cap, of the Shotwell impact on Madison.  And oh yeah -- you totally have a raincheck for the party as an "Abby and Frank are visiting Madison!" party, for when you pay us a visit.

OK, girl -- ball's in your court.  I look forward to your post.


Please join me and other friends and admirers of Frank and Abby Shotwell and their fine young men, Henry, Jimmy, and Charlie, in a warm send-off before the Shotwells take residence in Southern California.

The Shotwells have consistently provided us all a porch to perch on, a long inviting kitchen table to spin a yarn around, an enduring and unique aesthetic in both of their near east Madison homes, and a few throw-down parties that I know I for one will never forget.  The collective artistic contribution of the Shotwell family to Madison has been of great value, and will be sorely missed  -- taffy pull installation/parties, thespian performances of all sorts, improv comedy, Halloween costumes worthy enough to be called "art", kids' art clubs and all of their, claymation videos, enchanting piano music, DJ performances that pulled us up and shakin', felt toys of the most whimsical variety, performance art involving freshly baked cookies and cotton candy, a short feature film with Henry Shotwell as leading actor -- the list goes on.

Let's celebrate the time we've had to share Madison with the Shotwells, and commit to keep some of that funk they gave us in our hearts and lives even as they depart for sunnier climes.

Please come to the Shotwell residence, on Thursday, April 14th, at 6 p.m. Bring a dish and best wishes to pass, and consider bringing a folding camp chair since the house will be mostly cleared out by then.  We'll provide a keg each of beer and root beer and send them off with that good Wisco style to help them remember our fine culinary and drinking tradition, even as they delight in the superior health benefits of the macrobiotics and kombucha of California. 

You all thought the L.A. Times was referring to Wisconsin's forfeiture to California of federal high-speed rail funds when it declared in a December 2010 article -- "thanks a billion, Cheeseheads".  Maybe somebody out there had a lead that they were going to get the Shotwells, on second thought.

Mary Beth