Friday, November 28, 2008

Holiday on Ice

This was the letter I sent in my Christmas cards last year.

I was talking with a couple of my sisters-in-law this week about what geeks we are at Christmastime! I used to like to sleep on the floor by the Christmas tree, or on the floor upstairs where the lights would shine up through the grate. The tree held such magic of goodness and generosity! Nothing bad could ever happen with a Christmas tree shining in the room!
It wasn't just a youthful thing, either! I must confess, I still like to sleep in the living room near the tree, with heavy eyes blurring the lights and lulling me into sweet dreams. I can stare for hours like a crazy person at the tree and decorations, a stream of drool glistening in the twinkling lights. Yes, I am still a card carrying member of the NFC (Nerds For Christmas)! In fact, one of my favorite Christmas gifts of all time wasn't one I received as a child. It was given to me my last Christmas at home when I was 17. From Santa, I think, because I still believed in him that year. It was a beautiful pair of ice skates. The good kind! With low ankles so I was free to do awesome tricks on the ice!
We opened our gifts on Christmas morning and then went to a cousin's house for Christmas dinner and after that the kids would go to the ice skating rink at the local free zoo! I LOVED this tradition! Some of my friends would also be there and we would laugh about our families and traditions and compare our loot! We would do our little routines on the ice, including crossovers, spins, spirals, double toe loops and triple sow cows.....
Okay, so none of us could actually do a triple Salchow, or any other class of Salchow, but on a crisp Christmas night (even after a heavy meal), I swear I could get a good two ... three ... quarters of an inch off the ice! If I had a lovely skating costume instead of cords and long johns, I could probably get even higher!!!
We did like to do this bit three people could do together. I would squat down, ever so gracefully, with my hands on the tops of the skates of the person behind me. That person would lean over me with her hands on my knees, and the third person would push us along like a human dog sled!!
We were booking along one night, absolutely flying, I tell you! Corners were challenging, I kid you not, but we were doing it! Past the warming house, past the parking lot, past the llamas and weird birds that don't migrate ... I mean, we were like the luge, man!
It was incredible! Whoooooooooo hooooooooooo!
What the ... ? What is THAT??
Are you kidding me? Who eats Hot Tamales on the ice? Everyone knows a Hot Tamale is the kiss of death to an ice skater, even a skater of my caliber! They melt a bit into the ice and stick there like a big ol' clown shoe jutting out to trip you as you run down the hall! And the only warning sign you get is that little bit of Red Dye #3 that spreads out like blood from the head wound I was about to receive!!

From time to time, I still like to strap on the old ice skates and head down to the Sculpture Garden for a spin. We also used to skate on the lake and that god-awful, haunting noise we'd hear as the ice shifted would scare the ever-lovin' bejesus out of us, for sure, but the Sculpture Garden is nice, smooth ... relatively quiet, at least the ice itself. I'll lace up my skates, take a couple of pulls off the flask of brandy, er, I mean cheer, the Christmas cheer, and make a few laps. Maybe do a Hamill Camel and a lutz or two ... nothing fancy. The next day, I'll haul my sorry self into work the way I used to walk after riding 8 hours on horseback through the Colorado Rockies. I must still be good if I can achieve that same gate after only mere minutes on the ice! I'll get the ol' wink-wink-nudge-nudge from the fellas at work and I'll just give them the same conspiratorial nod I give the other NFCs at the Christmas Asylum!
‘Tis the season, after all!!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving! I love the food, the good cheer, the fact that we’ve almost always had a stray or two at the table, and the fact that it’s the official kick-off party for the holiday season!
When I was in junior high school, my Gramps went downtown for one of his many errands. While out and about, he met a woman named Betty. Gramps and Betty began chatting and decided they were long-lost cousins. Cousin Betty was probably close to a hundred years old, so that Thanksgiving was the first of only a few holidays we were able to share with her.
And my oh my, Cousin Betty was a character, as was Gramps! Picture Aunt Bethany from Christmas Vacation, and you will know exactly what we had to deal with!
Cousin Betty’s eyesight was not exactly 20/20 at this point, so when she tried to put on her makeup for her Thanksgiving debut, it was nothing short of whimsical! She was only “off” about an inch when filling in her eye brows, so the effect was absolutely brilliant on such an animated face! Cousin Betty was very expressive in her speech and to see all four eye brows bobbing up and down with each colorful story was truly entertaining and delightful! Her rouge was panoramic, to say the least, and the extended lips were sheer genius! Betty certainly knew how to keep her audience’s attention!
Not to be outdone, however, Gramps took a bit of his beets on the end of his fork and smeared on his own bright crimson rouge! Grandma Harvey was, of course, horrified, but the rest of us gave a great deal of thanks that first Turkey Day with Cousin Betty!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Sandman

I was with you as you fell asleep.
I watched as you stirred a bit
and when your breath became deep
and your eyes began to twitch,
I took you to the old cliff house by
the gentle, rolling sea.
There were wildflowers dancing in a soft
breeze and the sun was shining.
I did that for you
because I love you.
But the sky grew dark and the wind
picked up...
the sea was angry.
Shadows formed in the sky and a darkness
came to envelop you...
into the house
you must hide
it’s coming
what is it?
the house is dark and older than you
the thick darkness follows you
closer closer
too many doors
too many hallways
hidden staircases and strange closets
hurry hide
it’s coming
what is it?
man? beast?
too many hallways
too many doors
the wind breaks through the windows
is it raining inside?!
the sea is angry below
it’s coming
what is it
you must hide
too many hallways
what is it
the velvet darkness folds around you
it’s coming


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Loving Frank by Nancy Horan

Many years ago, I worked as a manager of a movie theatre. There was a movie critic in our town named Bruce Miller who was a fun, funny guy and I enjoyed visiting with him whenever he came in to review a new film. Once, he came in to watch a comedy that was opening and I decided to join him. We sat together and laughed and laughed! To the point where we were slapping each other on the arms and spitting popcorn into the air! It was great fun and I was so excited for the newspaper to come out so I could read his review!
But he slaughtered it! He wrote the most scathing review I had ever read and it left me baffled.
It was a comedy.
A mindless, ridiculous comedy.
It did not ever tout itself as the next Academy Award Winner! It did not advertise to draw the viewer who would be interested in seeing the next Academy Award Winner. It was just supposed to be fun. And it was! I had the sore stomach from belly laughs and bruised arms from our smacking each other to prove it.
I vowed then and there to take things for what they are. His review should have said, “If you just feel like laughing your a-double-s off for an hour and a half, this is your flick!”

So, I am here to tell you, I absolutely loved Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. It is what it is: a love story. It did not try to be anything else. Just Loving Frank. This novel is historical fiction, based on research on Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick, the wife of a client.
It is not about sex or even about some sleazy romance. It is about loving someone and how that love changes your life.
The book is extremely well-written, and while it is a fictional piece, it is based on truth and reads like a biography. I have always admired Frank Lloyd Wright’s work and have been to a couple of his homes. Additionally, the story follows Mamah (May-muh) and Frank as they left their spouses and journeyed throughout Europe, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, Illinois ... all places I have either traveled or lived. It was so incredibly easy for me to visualize each and every backdrop.
I felt sorry for Mamah and the scandal that loving Frank brought into her life. She was an activist for women and for the rights of women not only to vote and earn equal wages, but to follow their dreams, their own personalities ... their loves.
Sadly the press absolutely hounded them for Frank Lloyd Wright was already somewhat of a celebrity at the time of their more than ten year affair. Mamah was truly the love of his life and she noticeably influenced his work during that time and probably long after.
The story is not so much scandalous as tragic. However, I was able to see the happiness and adoration these two souls had for each other.
The author beautifully weaves real newspaper clippings and letters with facts and historical truths and imagined dialogs and events.
I will say, as much as I thought I knew about Frank Lloyd Wright, there was a lot I absolutely did not know, including the relationship with Mamah Borthwick and it’s extremely tragic ending. It left me wanting to do more research and more traveling. I truly appreciate anything that makes me hungry for more knowledge.
But first and foremost, it is what it is.
It is a love story ... and I loved it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Happy Birthday to Me!

I don’t really crave sweets. I can usually say no to dessert and pass by a bowl of candy without a second glance.
..... ...... Until I decide I need to drop a pound or two! Then I can think of nothing else! Suddenly I am shoving cheesecake into my mouth without even cutting it into slices. I am buying cookies and chocolate bars like they contain a golden ticket. What’s the deal?
You always want what you can’t have.
It’s rather like that when you lose a loved one. I miss my sister-in-law and friend, Linda, more than I ever imagined I would. I find myself actually craving our silly conversations and the bits of “news” she would send me via e-mail. Because I can’t have her, I long for her even more.

Now, I have always loved Peanut M&M’s. They’re delicious! But they are a decadent treat I can normally turn down when offered or pass by at the checkout stand. I mean, it’s not like they are french fries, for crying out loud!
But Linda loved Peanut M&M’s. After her funeral, all of her loved ones gathered together at her house (where we have always gathered) and at some point deeper into the night we shared an “M&M” toast to Linda!
It’s one of my favorite memories.

I returned home after the funeral and attempted to get my life back together. I find myself thinking about Linda all the time, and eating more chocolate than I would ever think a human could safely consume. Halloween came and went (adding another pound or two to my collection), and then my birthday (another, and another). I have been feeling depressed and disgusting.
Last night (just four days after my birthday), I went to see a tear-jerker movie all by myself. I cried through a stack of napkins and sobbed to the point of receiving “that” look from the patron in front of me. I was a slobbering, snotty mess!
When I got home, there was a box on my doorstep. It was actually addressed to me! A birthday gift?! I was curious and thrilled! I tore open the box and looked for a nonexistent card. I pulled the newspaper stuffing away from three huge, colorful, glorious, five pound bags ...
of Peanut M&M’s!
No card, no return label, no name ....

.... Linda?

I honestly do not know who sent me that very special birthday gift, but I do know exactly who put them up to it!!

.... and it was greatly appreciated!!!!

The Secret Life of Bees (the motion picture)

I reviewed this book on May 20th, 2008. Please read that review, you’ll find under “Dog-Eared”. It’s one of my favorite reviews, because it’s one of my favorite books.

This film was a brilliant translation of a very special book! Amazing books have to be altered considerably to fit into the time constraints of a motion picture. Sometimes, things that I find important and necessary to the story, get lost along the way. While I still love this book more than most books I’ve ever read, they did an amazing job of making this into a film. Some things were changed somewhat, and the ending was made slightly more palatable. I was actually glad for that because I was running out of napkins and the nice folks around me were getting irritated with my blubbering.
The actors portrayed their characters magnificently and the story flowed smoothly and emotionally.
I would, of course, recommend the book to everyone, but I would also recommend seeing the film! But, go when you don’t mind your companion seeing you bawl like a baby and when you are going directly home afterward. Unless, of course, you’re hard inside......

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mick & Bec

My old pal, Carol (aka Mick), gave me the most wonderful birthday gift this year! Long, long ago, she and I wrote an article or two for the school newspaper, and Carol sent me a folder full of clippings! We even wrote a little comedy piece together we called “Mick & Bec”, and since we were on the newspaper staff, we made it a regular feature. I loved writing for the paper and really loved going to the city paper to lay it out and watch it print. We had a lot of laughs on those late night journalism sessions and trips! But my favorite part of it all was writing Mick & Bec. We were goofy kids and fancied ourselves SNL players or commercial actors. I haven’t changed much in that respect ... always willing to do just about anything for a laugh!
I will resist the urge to do some editing 25 years after the fact and share some of our stuff with you now:

Purple and Gold
Watertown High School
Watertown SD 57201
November 4, 1983

Mic and Bec discuss:
Do ads really affect our lives?
By Becca Harvey and Carol McKee
Do you ever wonder why the Mick & Bec column is so great? It’s because we eat right, exercise, and take Geritol every day.
One of these girls is Mick, and the other is Bec, can you tell by looking at their hands? Speaking of dish soap, as if everyone is going to flock over to your house just to look at themselves in your dishes.
Have you ever noticed how every romantic situation has to do with coffee lately? Imagine you’re watching the sun set on beautiful Lake Kampeska with Mr. Right (or Mr. Close-Enough), obviously caffeine-free coffee is the last thing on your mind right now!
Can you believe these toothpaste commercials? Whoooooo cares if your toothpaste is topless or not? Personally, we wouldn’t want the Crest team waging war against the Cavity Creeps inside our mouths. We’d gargle before bed and hear Taps.
Next time we go to the grocery store, Mr.Whipple will probably bomb us with Charmin. We’ll end up suffering flashcube blindness from Michael Landon being The Happy Photographer. We could be innocently rolling our shopping carts down the aisle and some character will scream, “Midasize it!” while some confident soul will probably go around flaunting his armpits if he’s Sure. The bagboy may not even help us because we accidentally scratched our scalps. But, when it’s all said and done, Cathy Rigby will tell us it’s all perfectly natural, even though we don’t normally go around chatting about it.

Watertown High School has some strange traditions, as do all high schools, I’m sure. One such tradition is the Tuckabatchie (TUCKS) Club. TUCKS is an organization for junior and senior girls. Its purpose is to recognize academic excellence and provide service for our school and community. To be a member of TUCKS, juniors must have a GPA of 3.25 and seniors a 3.0. I don’t honestly remember the specifics, but the club involves some bizarre initiation process with the senior girls hazing the junior girls (babies), forcing them to run all over town, dressed absurdly, not even knowing who their torturers were. All of this leads to a formal dance where each Tucks girl invites a boy of her choosing to be her escort.
Additionally, I will be honest, I had forgotten about James Watt and was horrified at the last sentence of this article. I had to get on Wikipedia to put my mind at ease and realize that Carol and I were actually very timely with our comments and pretty funny, too, if I do say so myself!

Purple and Gold
Watertown high School
Watertown SD 5721
September 30, 1983

Mick and Bec discuss:
Tuck trials - is the guy worth it all?
By Carol McKee and Becca Harvey
Read a Mick and Bec column. They’re not like the columns you read at home, but we think they’re the best columns around. We use real humor in our columns. Some writers use imitation humor. You see, we’re determined to be the best commercial writers in the business. And when you try a Mick and Bec column, we think you’ll agree ... that perhaps we are ...

(Sidebar: That bit was actually my favorite commercial at the time for Old Home Bakery's fried pies.)
Can we talk here? As you all have noticed, Tucks arrived last week. You could tell by simply glancing down the halls at all the ridiculously dolled-up lockers. Evidently, high school girls like the immature look in lockers this season.
Along with having lipstick written all over their faces at the initiation picnic, baby sisters also had the opportunity to twist their hair into a million little pigtails. And, of course, they had the joy of drinking juice out of baby bottles and choking down slimy baby food.
Apparently, these girls enjoy going through agony, only to have the added trauma of asking Mr. Dream Man to the Tucks dance. That is where the most interesting of Tuck rites occurs.
First of all, the new Tuck member must make her plan-of-attack. Some girls use the direct approach. They go parading over to his locker, knocking down several innocent bystanders along the way. When she finally reaches her destination, she bombards him with questions about the dance.
For the more subtle type of chick, there is the beat-around-the-bush approach. This girl will try anything from spying at her man from behind corners, walls, posts, etc. to following him down the hall at a respectable distance. If she ever does summon the courage to ask Joe Wonderful to the dance, would this character even go with her after all that?
Next there is the phone call method. The advantage to this approach is not having to ask him face to face - which poses a number of problems.
For instance, what if a big wad of spit comes darting out of her mouth while she’s trying to ask him to the dance? Or what if her dry, parched lips somehow stick together? Or worse yet, what if she is experiencing technical difficulties with her nose, and there are no Kleenex available?
If she overcomes all of these hazards, it’s time for his big decision. He could:
A) Be delighted.
B) Say, “I don’t believe I know you.”
C) Godforbid, say “No”.
D) None of the above.
E) All of the above.
If the answer is anything but A), it’s fairly simple, she merely moves on to her alternate choice. If the second choice says says no, then she will ask a third guy and so on ... and so on ... and so on ...
If all else fails, and that woman is a black, a Jew, or a cripple, she could always ask James Watt.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sisters of Mercy

“Whoseywhatsit says it’s so foggy cuz he can’t play no instruments.” One faceless chick in the restroom said to another. “We seen ‘im tin years ago and it was the same way, all that smoke!”


Once upon a time, before there was Pandora to fulfill our every musical whim ... before there was Limewire and iPods ... before we could download whatever we wanted ...
when we wanted to hear some kick ass, driving music: we went to clubs! We went to Discoteca Morasol in Madrid, we went to Gloria and Flash somewhere in Germany (I wasn’t driving, so I don’t know where we were!) We went to hole in the wall clubs in France.
The music we liked wasn’t on the radio. Not even on the college and alternative stations, which were fine for our daytime listening pleasures, but if we wanted to hear the really cool, industrial stuff, we could only hear it in the clubs.
If we liked something especially, we would tramp around on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon to seedy record stores where we had to watch where we stepped and hope the pot smell coming from the back rooms didn’t attach itself to our clothing. We would dig through stacks of vinyl hoping to find that rare recording of Anne Clark or Front 242.
And if we wanted to share our music, we made mix tapes!
The Sisters of Mercy quickly became a favorite that stayed with me over the years from the European clubs to Rock Island in Denver, Washington's on Thursday nights in Fort Collins, some strange place in Boulder ......
I bought their albums. I made tapes for my friends. My friends made tapes for me. And now, I listen to them on Pandora.
But first and last and always ... we went to the clubs to dance!
The Sisters of Mercy sounded gloomy and gothic while simultaneously being driving and sexy. It was always about dancing.
So, I loved seeing them from the balcony at 9:30 Club last night and I loved all the fog! I easily lost myself in the pulsing music being both compelling and nostalgic. The haze and strange lights from the stage creating shadows out of moving people backlit by the glow of the bar ... it was an absolute pleasure to slip back to my glory days for a couple of hours.
With the exception of the chick next to me channeling Molly Ringwald’s White Girl dance in the library and the idiots in the restroom, I felt like the twenty years I waited to see The Sisters of Mercy was well worth it!

Monday, November 3, 2008

My Nephew, Trevor

This is from the Sioux City Journal's online edition with today's date. Many thanks to Tim Gallagher for this touching tribute to my nephew, Trevor. His mother would have loved this!

Jay Soars with Memories of Mom
By Tim Gallagher

LE MARS, Iowa -- Following a touchdown reception two weeks ago, Trevor Bouma looked to the sky.
It wasn't showy. He didn't take a knee in the end zone.
He just glanced high above the stadium lights for a second to acknowledge his mother. Linda Bouma died at home the day before, ending a two-year fight against ALS.
Linda Bouma, 48, left behind husband Don, and four boys, Aaron, Chris, Payton and Trevor, a freshman running back for the Le Mars Gehlen Catholic, a team that continues its memorable season with a Class A state contest Monday night at Lake City.
The Jays of Coach Tony Gunter weren't supposed to be this good this fall. Of 11 starters on offense and defense, only one is a senior.
"Football has helped me," said Trevor Bouma, who reflected on the highs and lows of this autumn. "My mom loved going to our athletic events. She wanted me to play football."
It came as no surprise to Gunter his speedy freshman would suit up Oct. 17, a day after the death of his mother.
"Football is his game," said Gunter, who lost his father at age 19. "I told Trevor to take as much time as he needed. I know there have been times this fall when it's been very difficult for him. But he never lost his focus. He wanted so badly to compete. Football has been a very good diversion for Trevor."
So, too, have been his Jays teammates, who visited the Bouma home three hours before the Oct. 17 game. The boys in their green uniforms visited as their freshman teammate prepared for a district contest. Captain Jordan Sitzmann presented the 14-year-old ball carrier with an autographed ball.
"Jordan told us that night would be special," Bouma recalled.
It was. Bouma caught a touchdown pass in a victory over Woodbury Central.
The Jays washed those green uniforms and donned them the following Monday morning at a funeral Mass for Linda Bouma inside St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Le Mars. Children from Gehlen lined the street, some saluting, as a hearse carried her body to Calvary Cemetery.
"It's not easy to feel the alleluia verse," said the Rev. Kevin Richter, referencing a verse that means to celebrate, to give thanks.
Seeing his teammates and the children standing at attention along the street are scenes cemented in Trevor Bouma's mind. He is thankful for their support.
"Having the team at my mom's funeral like that was pretty special," he said. "And seeing the kids lined up outside the school was cool."
The freshman starter known for his gritty defensive play (his mother once asked him not to hit an opponent so hard) remembers two of his mother's final wishes. She asked her four boys to take care of one another. She also told her sons to stay active in athletics. Watching her boys compete served as this mother's alleluia verse.
And while this 14-year-old hoped his family would have Mom around for 10 years following her diagnosis, he's thankful for the two they did enjoy.
"This has taught me to not take anything for granted," Trevor Bouma said.
On Monday, just before kickoff, the Jay in jersey No. 1 will pull his helmet on. He'll stand quietly for a moment, reflecting on the absence of his biggest fan. Then he'll nod, recalling memories she provided and her wish that he continue to play.
And if he scores, Bouma's glance will be sky-high.

Peer with similar pain
As Trevor Bouma played through the pain of losing his mother Oct. 17, a fellow freshman on the other side of the field was going through something so, so familiar. That night, Bouma's Gehlen team played Woodbury Central, a team featuring freshman middle linebacker Josh Haberl. That night, Haberl's mother, Kris Haberl, was clinging to life in her fight against cancer. Haberl, 45, died the following day. Her funeral was held Oct. 21 at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Moville.
Josh Haberl, a captain for the Wildcats' defense, played three days following his mother's funeral. His older brother, Nick, a musician in the Woodbury Central marching band, was introduced with their father, Scott Haberl, for parents' night before the game. Scott held a photo of Kris as he stood with other parents and their senior children.
A few minutes later, Josh Haberl broke through the line and blocked a punt by River Valley. He recovered it for a touchdown, the first points in a Woodbury Central victory. (Bouma also blocked a punt this season against River Valley.)
Like Bouma, Haberl scored. They may have been the two most emotional touchdowns all year in Siouxland.

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's by John Elder Robison

October was a hectic month for me. And I needed a book. Something light and humorous. I saw a goofy kid scowling at me from the cover of a small paperback and I picked it up.
“Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s”.
I remembered that Augusten Burroughs had mentioned his brother having Asperger’s Disease in his book, "Running with Scissors". I think he called it Ass Burgers. So I bought the book thinking it could be kind of funny!
It wasn’t.
Turns out, John Elder Robison IS Augusten Burrough’s brother! Augusten wrote a charming Foreword and I was, for a moment, pleased with my choice.
Unfortunately, the book read, to me, more like a textbook. If I was to feel sorry for his childhood because he was “different”, I didn’t. Some of us without Asperger’s were treated just as badly and unfairly and were just as misunderstood without any clinical justifications. I think his difficulties had more to do with alcoholic, mentally ill parents than his disease. Or, that’s the way it sounded to me. If it had more to do with Asperger’s, he didn’t portray it very well. So he tried to "pet" a girl who didn't like it? I laughed at some little kid choking on a hot dog and he didn't like that, either. Asperger's? Nope, sometimes kids just don't understand social situations. His choking didn't make me laugh, the streams of milk coming out of his nose, did. I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me for the misunderstanding, I was just a dumb kid!
While Mr. Robison had some interesting careers and adventures in his life, he wasn’t really able to relay them to me with much gusto. It all could have been condensed down to a page or two of really good humor ... if he had asked his brother for a little help in writing it! (I wish I hadn’t known anything about the author’s relationship with Augusten Burroughs. It was impossible not to compare them and the latter is an amazing writer! It also came across as a bit of name-dropping.)
Perhaps I should have done a little research on the disease prior to reading it. Perhaps if I had, I would have enjoyed the book more, been more impressed with his accomplishments.
But I didn’t.
My bad.