The Family Table

The library-dining room has been initiated by two brothers and a sister-in-law. There is finally a table where one should have been all these years.  For twenty years, there was nothing in the middle of the room. Just a rug. Chairs in the corners – a glider by the window, armchair by the bookcase, rocker in front.  I’ve tiled over the old linoleum that was on the top of the drawers and under the shelves in the built-in bookcase so we can use it as a sideboard. The peel-and-stick metal tile reminds me of a chessboard, in memory of Mike. IMG_20191023_174851963~2.jpgThere’s a new light fixture, replacing the hideous 1970’s wicker circle thing that I hated so much I didn’t care when I smeared ceiling paint all over it.

I stayed up until 2 a.m. Tuesday morning painting the backs of the doors in the front hall, to finish it before the brothers arrived.IMG_20191023_180149358.jpg I love how it turned out, even though I should probably touch up the smeary places and the parts of the professionally painted trim I marred with smears of grey.  But it’s done and that makes me happy.

I had a lot less time to cook than I thought I’d have. The soup turned out more like squash puree.  IMG_20191022_141943840~2.jpgI forgot to add the curry to the onions while they sauteed, and I scorched them a little while I was peeling apples.  I added apple juice to the soup and threw in some brown sugar to deal with a bitter taste probably caused by the scorched onions. My brothers deflected my apologies, but did say the soup was a little sweet. The chicken soup was scummier than usual. Maybe because I used a yellow onion instead of a white one? Or I boiled it too long before skimming it?

I didn’t have time to chill and roll out dough for pie, so I used a recipe where you pat the dough into the pan. I didn’t realize until after I’d patted all of the dough in that there was enough for two pies.  The apples didn’t break down as much as I had hoped.IMG_20191022_141935304~2.jpg It turned out to be more of a scorched-thick-crust apple tart.  My brothers said, “who ever says no to apple pie?” and ate some anyway.

Oh well. The food wasn’t really the point. Having members of my family beyond just the two, formerly the three, of us, around a table in this house was the point.

By the time Angelic Daughter was about 9 years old, Mike had cut off all association with his family. He had already stopped seeing mine. From then on, we led an insular life, just the three of us. We never had family over. We never had anyone over.

I have always loved big family meals. All through my childhood and adolescence we had Sunday dinner almost every week, formally, in the dining room, in the middle of the afternoon.  Someone would go pick up Grandpa, or our uncle would come or for a while some cousins who lived close by would come. Even if none of those relatives could come,  there were still five of us.  Not having that for so many years hurt. I felt like Angelic Daughter had been cheated of something, although I don’t think she felt that way – she doesn’t like crowds or noise much, and seems okay with Sunday dinners with just me, now. But I’m not OK with it.

One of the reasons I worked to finish and furnish this house after Mike died was so I could finally have a meal with members of my family, in this house. The week we moved in, my Dad had a massive stroke. He came over once after that, but stepping up a step to enter the kitchen was difficult for him, and I’m not sure he even knew where he was, but he liked watching the Christmas train go around in circles.

Mom never came for a meal, and I never asked her back after the time I proudly showed her how I had arranged the master bedroom with what furniture we had, and she sniffed and said, “pathetic, ” which was a criticism of Mike. She thought the sparseness of our home was Mike’s fault, for being a stay-at-home-Dad, instead of getting a “breadwinner” job.  She never apologized for her open, constantly displayed contempt toward Mike. She just complained that he wouldn’t come over.  She seemed to think that as my husband, he was required to subject himself to her scorn. If he wouldn’t turn into who she wanted him to be, he was supposed to let her make him suffer for it.

Not anymore.  Brothers and sisters-in-law now welcome.  Here, have some squash goop and “pie.”

Heating up leftovers, I remain,

Your better-luck-cooking-next-time-but-it-was-great-to-have-the-brothers-over-yes-I-cried-a-little,


The Obligatory Polar Vortex Post

Yep, that “snowpile” will be there until June.

“Snowpile” in quotes, because by the spring, this mini-mountain will have morphed into some other substance – an unmelting, filthy, grey conglomeration of salt, gravel, bits of asphalt, cigarette butts, lost mittens and coffee cups that fell off car roofs when the freezing drivers forgot the cups were there and just wanted to get into the damn car and warm up.

I’ll go back and take another picture of this in the spring just to see it’s not gone.

This one too:


And I’ll check on this tree to see when, or if, it gets any buds on it.


As you have heard ad nauseam, predicted low air temperatures here, tomorrow through Thursday morning may go as low as -21 (Farenheit) and Chicago may be colder than both Antarctica and Siberia tomorrow. And the wind chill may dip to -55.

This ain’t my first polar vortex rodeo (but I don’t remember it being referred to as a “polar vortex” back then. We just said, “it’s f….ing COLD.”)

If you look up “coldest temperature in Chicago” you’ll get -27 on January 20, 1985 – but that was actually a tie: it also reached -27 on January 10, 1982.

On that day I was living in a tiny, roach-infested studio apartment in a thin-walled, crappily built 4 + 1 (one of those really, really ugly Chicago apartment buildings where the first floor is raised above a parking area underneath).

And on that day, I put on pretty much every article of clothing I owned, including a long wool coat over a winter parka on top of a turtleneck under a flannel shirt under two sweaters on top of each other, wrapped my head in a couple of wool scarves with a hat on over those, put on a doubled pair of mitts (mittens, inside ski mitts, yes – try gloves on a day like that and you’ll come back minus a few fingers – if you come back) and I went outside.


Stupid kid that I was, I waited for a bus.

Because the CTA buses were running.

The streets had that arctic fog that floats about a foot above the ground. I forget what causes it. I’m sure there’s a weather nerd out there who can explain it to us in the comments. Please do.

Anyway, I got on the bus and I went to an acting class scheduled for that day.

And the instructor and three other students ALSO SHOWED UP.

Welcome to Chicago.

The wind chill that day was, purportedly, -80.

That’s what they said, anyway. Didn’t feel a degree lower than -60, to me.

I survived, and as far as I know, so did the instructor and the other two students. We did have to cut it off early, though, because the class area was just too cold. Or we couldn’t move in all those layers. Or both.

Somewhere in Chicago today (but please God, not tomorrow, c’mon, guys, there’s a limit) you will see a guy (always a guy) outside, wearing shorts.

You will see many, many guys (again, guys) outside without hats. Some without gloves (or mittens, dammit). Imagining their cars will always start, they’ll only be out for a minute, etc.

Some of those guys will end up in the hospital with preventable frostbite.

You will also see fleets of vans and box trucks, creeping along Lower Wacker or beneath underpasses along the Edens Expressway tonight, passing out sleeping bags, blankets, hot soup and coffee, and trying to convince the people they are helping to come inside a shelter or a warming center. God bless those devoted helpers.

For those who refuse to come inside, may God protect and keep you. But please, don’t refuse. Doors will be open around the city for you. Go in. GO INSIDE NOW.

This year, fortunately, more and more businesses have come to their senses and announced they will be closed tomorrow.

I’ll make a big pot of “Dad’s magic chicken soup” – the kind Mike used to make, and taught me how to make, before he died – that will keep us nourished, along with a pot of chili and some canned cream of mushroom, until Friday.

I’m damned if I’m going out there before Friday.

Because I don’t have an acting class to attend.

And I’m not an idiot kid anymore.

Shorts guy? Put some damn pants on.

Hatless guy? How many times do we have to tell you that you lose most of your body heat out the top of your head?

Gloveless guy? Do you work with your hands, at all? Do you find you need your fingers to, I don’t know, type an a computer? Play an instrument? Hold a tool? Put you damn gloves on – no, wait, mitts.

Stay safe and warm out there. No I mean, DON’T GO OUT THERE. AND IF YOU ARE OUT THERE, COME INSIDE RIGHT NOW.

Putting on another sweater, I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, gutting-it-out-in-layers-on-layers and expecting arctic street-fog,