White Christmas

Some families make a yearly ritual out of dragging home a Frazier Fir from a parking lot/temporary nursery. Many mother-daughter duos go into a cookie baking frenzy that would put Pepperidge Farm to shame.

My annual Christmas tradition involves going to the Music Box Theatre for their annual Christmas show.

For two weeks leading up to the 25th, they offer a double feature consisting of Frank Capra’s classic It’s a Wonderful Life and the very camp musical, White Christmas starring crooner Big Crosby and childhood favorite funnyman, Danny Kaye.

Anchored by a sing-along with Santa and house organist, even a Grinch couldn’t help but break into a smile. I usually skip It’s a Wonderful Life (content to view one of its many airings on TV) and come out with a group of friends for White Christmas (and the sing-along).

I’ve been observing this tradition for around fifteen years.

I’m always amazed by how tiny Vera Ellen’s waist is, shown off in many of the dance numbers. I think about Rosemary Clooney’s connection to heart throb George Clooney. I never fail to laugh at the line housekeeper Emma says in reference to her job for Major General Tom Waverly; that she alone could do the job previously performed by 15,000 men -– even though I’ve heard the line dozens of times.

Going to the Music Box for White Christmas…It’s so familiar. I know almost every line. But it’s never boring.

I like to introduce new people to this cherished tradition.  It helps keep the tradition fresh.

My friend Holly fist introduced me to White Christmas at the Music Box years ago. We now wear our red Santa hats or reindeer headbands and try to invite another friend who has never been before.

Over the years, I’ve brought along, Susan C. and Nancy R. and Sandy and Rob and others. My pleasure seems to be enhanced by thinking that my friends are having a memorable first time experience.

During some of the musical numbers or audience participation parts (like when an over-served audience member makes a ba-a-a-ah bleating sound during the Crosby-Clooney lyric “When I’m worried and cannot sleep, I count my blessings instead of sheep…”), I’ll catch myself looking down the row to catch the expression of the White Christmas newbie I brought.

I try to remember my own first time.

I want them to love the tradition as much as I do. It’s not just about the movie, which features great songs and dances and the wonderful irony of a nice Jewish boy from New York, Irving Berlin, creating one of most beloved Christmas songs. It’s about being in a large auditorium where EVERYONE is practicing their own family ritual within a bigger one.

I can make out groups of people who BELONG to each other. Groups of individuals will be dressed as elves, or WWII soldiers, or reindeer, or decked out in some costume from the movie.

And doesn’t that reflect a bigger story; that within our tribe, we belong to a larger family?

We all know the lyrics to fuller or lesser degrees. We all forget lines and can’t get others out of our heads.

After having such a good time, many of us will think about who we can invite next year.

Sharing a tradition with your peeps and inviting new people to share something you love in the company of others doing the same is no small thing.


Midnight Circus

midnight-circusLight and fluffy snowflakes are coming down. I hear the sound of my neighbor running a shovel blade across the walk. I have food in the fridge and nowhere I have to be.

Here, at home, life seems very peaceful. Inside the snow globe, the movements of the world seem like MAGIC.

At this time of year, TV commercials show new luxury cars tied up in red bows sitting on suburban driveways, sending sparks of glee to the lucky family who unties the ribbon and enjoys keyless entry and the envy of their neighbors (at low monthly rates).

This image is supposed to convey the MAGIC of the season.

But I have another recent memory of magic, one that is far simpler and feels far truer.

Back in October, I went to see The Midnight Circus, at nearby Welles Park. During the summer months, The Chicago Shakespeare Theatre stages productions of the Bard’s works in neighborhood parks.

During September and October, The Midnight Circus sets up its tent, and parks its popcorn machine in many of the same parks.

I had no recent experience of going to the circus. I remember when I was around four, my father pulled some strings to get front row seats to the Ringling Brothers Circus.

My sister, who was only one year older, and I got upset and scared by the humongous elephants. And when the clowns (face it, clowns are pretty scary) pulled a stunt where they pretended to set their hair on fire — well, we screamed so loudly, that our poor father had to take us home.

The Midnight Circus was a much tamer affair. The largest animals they had were dogs no bigger than a Cocker Doodle. There was a high wire act, but the wire was about as high as a basketball net.

The circus troop consisted all of young people, spanning in age from ten to twenty-five. Mostly acrobats and jugglers, they wore tight fitting and colorful outfits and moved with energy and grace.

There was no balding middle-aged ringmaster in a top hat and red jacket with gold epaulets. And thankfully, there were no scary clowns.

A very eclectic range of music was amplified and, except for one intermission, there was no stoppage. I watched a constant flow of acts.

A young girl dangled from the top of the tent on a large swatch of purple cloth, arranging her Gumby doll-like body into configurations I didn’t think possible.

A teenage couple leapt and danced across a wire, stepping through hoops and tossing each other different objects from opposite ends.

There were comical chase scenes and dancing segments featuring the whole ensemble. Two hours of non-stop entertainment. In my little neighborhood. UNDER THE BIG TOP.

I enjoyed the skill and simple beauty of human bodies in motion, but there was another element that was MAGICAL to me.

As I looked around the crowd, maybe around two hundred in total, all sitting on benches, arranged in tiered circles, everybody’s eyes were on the performers. There were families with young children and twenty-somethings on dates. All ages were represented – and nowhere did I see the glow of a smart phone.

This shouldn’t be so rare, but I’ve been to too many concerts and too many nice restaurants where it seemed that the main attraction was texting cryptic conversations with people who were not around.

Here, people were sharing an actual experience in real time. They were seeing the same thing at the same time and fed off of everyone else’s awe and delight. Everyone together under the big top. To me, this was magic.

Enjoying entertainment with friends and neighbors – in the moment — is no small thing.

New Day

india on edge of bed1I have learned so much since India has come to live with me; now just over three months ago.

She’s an undetermined type of spaniel and poodle mix (a Spoodle?), mostly black with a white chest and belly and white tipped paws and center stripe along her snout. She’s between a year and two years old.

She’s about 23 pounds. Curious and affectionate, very good with people and other dogs. She’ll be single-minded if she sees a squirrel she wants to chase, but has the sweetest temperament.

Of course, there’s the obvious ways she has brought change into my life.

I have a greater appreciation for routine. Not that I don’t enjoy a spontaneous adventure, but there’s something very grounding about having breakfast, or maybe a walk, at about the same time each day.

Actually, having time slots already designated for certain activities is sort of liberating. As any day goes on, I already know what time I can use for new activities.  I plan better.  I don’t feel rushed as often.

I have made a better habit of getting up and stretching. I have a greater respect for play.

It used to be automatic to sit at my desk all day, talking on the phone or eyes locked on my computer monitor. Now, upon seeing India curled up on her blanket in the corner of my office, and I’ll take breaks more often.

We’ll play fetch with a small green rubber ball down the long hallway of my apartment. Watching her slide on my hardwood floors, in hot pursuit of the ball, always makes me smile.

She reminds me that it’s okay, if I have no other commitments, to take a nap in the middle of the day.

Of course, she’s taught me a lot about love.

She greets me enthusiastically when I return home after being out in the world, no matter how long or short I’ve been away. She follows me around at times as if she is interested everything I do.

She shows me how happy she is when I rub her belly. She barks protectively when a strange noise can be detected in my building and is not ashamed of seeking me out or crawling into bed with me during a thunderstorm.

She can show herself as fierce or vulnerable…

And I don’t have to DO anything to win her love. Perhaps, especially when you’re young, it’s easy to confuse love with approval. Love is given freely from a sense of belonging together or the simple pleasure of being near someone’s energy.

One doesn’t deserve (or not deserve) to be loved.

But I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned from India has to do with the virtues of having a short-term memory and optimistic nature.

When I wake up in the morning, I’ll naturally stretch out my legs. Maybe I’ll turn over on my stomach and try to enjoy another few minutes of sleep, or maybe I’ll roll over to a spot on my mattress where I hadn’t made a recent impression.

India, who usually sleeps on the area rug at the foot of my bed, seems to know when I’m awake and not merely following a cue to move from some unspecified dream time source. And when she senses I’m awake, she runs to the side of my bed.

She puts her front paws on the edge of my white sheets and balances on her hind legs. She does a sort of stutter step to keep her head, which she tilts to the side, above the top edge of my bed.

She is soooo excited – eager for me to pat the top of her head, and happy that I’m now going to join her in being awake. Her whole panting-stretching-dancing body seems to be saying, Come on. Get up. Get up.


That’s the greatest gift of all, to remember that any moment is a good time to start over.

Starting each day with enthusiasm, trusting that everything you might need will be provided, is no small thing.


The Food Trucks Are Coming!

food trucksJPGThe food trucks are coming! The food trucks are coming!

I can’t imagine Paul Revere uttering those words, and yet I was filled with such excitement upon my first spotting of a food truck on Clark Street, in the heart of the business district, the other week. A sign of a revolution that has been brewing for a some time.

I have long been a fan of Chopped and other shows on the Food Network and have understood the concept behind these restaurants on wheels, but it seemed other areas, like New York and California, embraced them much earlier.

Of course, there are always parking bans and other legalities, which has presented challenges for restaur-preneurs, but this sighting was encouraging.

Food trucks might be mobile mini versions of popular restaurants, but more likely they’re the dream of some foodie that wants to make a living sharing his specialty. Not that a fully equipped drive-able kitchen is cheap, but comparatively, it is an easier way to start in the business than investing in a storefront.

Like new restaurants relying on word of mouth buzz in the past, food trucks are perfectly geared for our mobile, device-oriented society. There are smart phone apps for finding them and they’re easy to hear about from friends’ tweets.

Real time commentary (texts) or cell phone pics enable people to tell their friends about locations where they’re serving or make recommendations on menu items to try.

I didn’t actually see these two southbound trucks on Clark Street transacting business, but, with their sighting, I expected they had spots not too far away.

Food trucks often have a theme. They might feature a different ethnic cuisine (Jamaican or Mexican) or direct from the farm organic ingredients. Because of their limited space, they often have a limited selection of offerings. This is a new approach, or return to an old approach, to eating.

While it’s nice to have some variety, people today would actually prefer seeing a restaurant offer fewer items of what they prepare really well.

As a consumer, if you want variety, you just pick a different parking spot to visit and different menu board to peruse.

I have never actually eaten a meal prepared on a truck (If the grill is not working, does the chef/operator heat things up on the exhaust manifold?), but I like the idea.

Of course, I like the idea of someone literally taking what they do to the streets.

I also like the idea that the routine task of getting food is evolving.

I remember how McDonald’s and drive-through restaurants came of age as I was growing up.

I appreciated how they offered moms an inexpensive alternative to home cooking and family friendly tables where their entire brood didn’t have to behave as if they were at Sunday school.

I can recall how, during my twenties and thirties, ethnic restaurants were all the rage. They offered economical alternatives to home-cooked meals that were built up from much more exotic ingredients. (That a place was BYOB didn’t hurt either.)

Then came carryout options and delivery service, which seemed to suit the lives of busy working adults (during the years I could have categorized myself as one).

Carryout and delivery service grew up in its own niche. Now, many restaurants allow customers to order online or assemble a meal from multiple restaurants through one point of contact.

And now we have food trucks. Freshly prepared, made to order meals can come to your office or park at the edge of a familiar strip mall.

For the most part, I think people want to eat fresh and healthy foods, dishes made by someone that’s proud to serve them.

Whether about how we eat, or in another aspect of our lives, if there is a demand for something, it seems to find a way to be born. And I’m happy about that!

That Harold’s Chicken or The Tamale Spaceship trucks might be parked on a nearby street is no small thing.