My Italian grandmother

When I arrived, one of the first things she said was, “Siddown, I make you eat.” So for posterity, the menu is below:

1) Green bean and artichoke casserole
2) Tossed salad with pepperoncini, fresh mozzerella and olives stuffed with feta
3) Sliced kiwi and pineapple
4) Angel hair pasta with homemade sauce
5) An oven-warmed roll
6) Chocolate pie heaped with whipped cream
7) Butter cookies shaped like turkeys, and coffee

This was all just for me, mind you, so there were plenty of leftovers, which she packed carefully in take-out containers, labeled using scraps of paper and Scotch tape, and piled into a shopping bag from The Limited. The bag was so heavy that I had to carry it from the bottom, which we rehearsed several times before she would let me leave the house.


“We can’t go out. We’re dressed like whor-” — my mom, who then clapped her hand over her mouth


For more than fifty years, my grandmother has saved a dime taped to a circlet of wire. My grandfather made it for her when they first started dating, a “dime on ring”. As they tell the story, my grandmother giggles and my grandfather chuckles, and they both sort of look shy about it.


“Punch is soooo good. You can do whatever you want with it.” — my dad, pouring Hawaiian Punch


“If I were in the mob, I would make a great mobster.” — Janelle, who had coffee with me this morning

Home in Buffalo

A weird panic has settled in. It started when we were outside the movie theater, after seeing Stranger than Fiction together. My mom had driven with me in one car and my sisters and dad had driven in the other. My mom asked if anyone wanted, instead of going straight home, to go to Home Depot and look at dryers. We said no. My dad walked over there as if to go with her, but in actuality he was walking in the direction of the car. I can’t explain what happened, but for an instant I thought he was going to go with her, and it would be my two parents going to Home Depot to look at dryers. How perfectly fabulously normal. When I realized that he wasn’t, I just took a crazy spin and started insisting that he go with her. This escalated into a bit of shouting, then all of us shuffling, disorganized, to our respective vehicles, not sure why people were suddenly angry.

Therapy, take 2

Work was a little wonky today. I am often affected by others’ moods and whims. I sense the prevailing current. So instead of holing up at my desk for lunch, I went to Svea, a Swedish diner down the street, for eggs, potatoes, and pancakes with ligonberries. I read a new book and sipped diner coffee. And on the way back, I stopped into a clothing shop and ended up with a big blue plastic ring. I’m thinking about getting one of those manicures that’s dark dark red, so dark it’s almost black. The ring looks lost on my otherwise-unadorned hand.

Eliina’s gone, Jeff’s gone, I’m going home tomorrow morning for Thanksgiving, so I’m in that weird zone where I need to pack and get ready to switch lives but I would really rather curl up with some wine, throw Henry a tennis ball, and gossip with Eliina or call Jeff and dig for chunks in my pint of Ben n’ Jerry’s. This feels like a lonely in-between state. Tomorrow I will be in Buffalo. That makes no sense to my brain, my Chicago-centric brain.

It’s easy to feel a little melancholy, until I remember that this time last year, I was literally hauling home 150 spiral notebooks full of ungraded work and poring over each one. I also had a giant stack of midterms. We were studying House on Mango Street, and it was not going well. I spent all day for four days straight reading these ninth-graders’ notebook entries in my drafty, mouse-infested one-bedroom. Thankfully that is no longer my life.

Small popcorn, small Cherry Coke and a box of Cookie Dough Bites

Jeff and I went to the movies in Evanston on Sunday. And movies is plural here, because we actually stayed for two shows. Please don’t report us. We went to chill our brains out for a while, and also to see our favorite local improvisors loom large on the big screen for their bit roles, TJ, Susan Messing and Mick Napier, in the background of Let’s Go to Prison and Stranger Than Fiction. We cheered them on like nobody’s business. Stranger Than Fiction had me ruminating on the nature of comedy and how I was absolutely doubled-over dying at Dustin Hoffman, who was actually not saying anything funny. I also wondered about the ending (THE FOLLOWING SENTENCE DOES NOT ACTUALLY TELL YOU WHAT HAPPENS TO THE PEOPLE IN THE MOVIE SO IT WON’T SPOIL IT TOO BADLY), with its proclamation of life in uneaten danishes, raindrops, you know. Is that all there is? Because if so, I have been looking in the wrong spots.

One of those days

Saturday was one of those days that makes you look around and go “what the…” at the end of the day.

-Went to the DIY Trunk Show with Eliina, where hipster-crafters were sellling things like stationary, t-shirts, soap and jewelry. All delightful things, and Eliina found a cool necklace, but sadly I couldn’t rationalize purchasing a damn thing. It was a lot of Cutely Ironic all in one room. We ended up at the KMart across the street, where we gorged on greasy garlickly Crazy Bread and Diet Pepsi, eaten while sitting in the “Internet Cafe,” which is a counter with some computers on it stuck against the wall near the checkout. The kids next to us were eating Crazy Bread with their mittens on. Afterwards we took a grand tour of the KMart, where I lusted after some Joe Boxers pajama pants in the boys section, but sadly they were out of the larger sizes. I thought they’d make great yoga pants. Eliina coveted the Martha Stewart cake stands. We were also appropriately creeped out by all the life-like babies staring listlessly in their plastic prisons. And we spent way too long playing with the Spanish/English toys that are supposed to help you learn the alphabet. We decided to go home, but I realized I hadn’t bought anything all day, and that was the purpose of the long soujourn to the DIY Trunk Show. So I popped a quarter in the vending machine on the way out and ended up with some “bling”: A fake-gold chain with a music note on it. Bling bling.

-Had dinner with Caleb, which resulted in one of those philosophical conversations about the nature of life and art, a good old-fashioned mindfuck to go along with the Thai curry and green tea.

-After dinner, browed a used bookstore and took home some Charles Darwin. Because why not read about survival of the fittest? That’s all everything seems to be these days.

-Went to Jeff’s show at Mullen’s, a really smart and funny show that left me remembering why improv can be magical if done well. (Bad improv makes me want to stab my eyes out. Hence my recent self-loathing.) The after-party turned into a dance-off that will go down in my memory as one of the goofiest spectacles of all time. Craig dying in Henri’s arms, dramatically and Dickensian-like, while the refrain “I just died in your arms tonight” played will probably be burned in my brain forever.

A poster that said something

Eliina visited me in D.C. while I was living there — she was protesting the possibility of going to war with Iraq, and we made a sign. And I don’t remember what it said. It was something like, “War is bad” or “Don’t go to war” or “Stop it.” It was something really obvious and innocuous that we’d spent like an hour coming up with. But I definitely do remember the hyper-energy of trying to meet up with her for part of the protest, coming up out of the Metro and realizing I’d never find her because I was completely swept up in a seemingly endless road of people marching and shouting, total strangers who shared my fervent beliefs.

The same nervous-excited energy in my stomach surfaced when the election results were rolling in. I was reading a book in the dining room but kept checking in with Eliina in the kitchen with her laptop, who was loading and reloading the news. By the end of the night, I felt that same comforting surge of identification with complete strangers who saw things in a way that made sense to me.

A phrase

The phrase, “honor your reasons” keeps popping into my head, some kind of self-help slogan that materialized out of nowhere. I’ve been questioning my decisions, wondering why this is the path in the yellow wood. Starting a new job means constantly trying to adjust to new information, making decisions based on limited experience and hoping people keep the faith long enough to not fire you. I remember starting at Turning the Page, where I packed half as much construction paper as we needed into the boxes of stuff for a literacy night that we were hosting. End result; fifty kids scrambling and grabbing over precious sheets of construction paper, my boss rushing around the school begging the art teacher for supplies, etc. I screwed up lots of other stuff too, on a daily basis, stuff that I can’t even recall now. Getting lost on the way to meetings, creating three times too many bookmarks, buying too few bags of frozen chicken nuggets at Costco, having no idea how to speak with teachers, standing around blinking and lost at events swarming with kids. But that’s a situation where I got better, lots better, and ended up feeling like a normal, valuable person — once I’d made a few mistakes. I’m hoping that will happen at the Neos, while I learn my way through this year.


If you want to mess with fate, ask for a present. If you want to addle your roommate’s brain, speak without thinking. If you want to remember home, walk through crunchy yellow leaves on a clear blue day. If you want to remember peace, spend the day in bed with a book. If you want to think for yourself, stop listening to people. If you want to relax, your conscience is not a whip and chain. If you are looking for dinner, maybe it’s macaroni and cheese with baked beans, an extra slice of cheddar and some tomato sauce. If you are happy like it is then you’re happy like it is so shut up.