30 Oct 2014 2 Comments
My Aunt Bonnie, who was so very cool, my cousins Vickie and Bruce, and little me next to our grandparents’ house on a summer day, sometime before 1950.
29 Oct 2014 Leave a comment
After comments from Facebook friends like “I’m so jealous,” and “I want to MOVE,” I’m thinking I should add a disclaimer to yesterday’s post:
Lawrence is obviously not heaven on earth. All of life is what we make it, and we came here with a goal of making it amazing, to make of this part of our lives all the good we possibly can, and to overlook the negative. That colors our approach to what we see every day when we wake up, what we do, where we go. Someone else could come here and have an entirely different experience and wonder why they feel let down in view of all the “hype.”
1.) Life is what you make it, and 2.) no matter where you go, there you are — two clichés that are truth just because they are. Kim and I are making up for lost time — we met late in life, we’ve both lived places we weren’t wild about, we’ve both felt stuck in routine and longing for more “soul” food. We don’t have the luxury of waiting and hoping at this point, so we get up every day and make fun things happen, whether we step outside our own walls or not. Some may see my ramblings as bragging, but they’re my way of being thankful. I don’t want to wake up later and wish I’d appreciated life more when I had the chance.
Young people think they’ll always be that way — young. And some people just need to be told it’s okay to be happy — to give themselves permission to live, from the inside out. Just do it — regret is a killer.
28 Oct 2014 6 Comments
On a perfect fall day, temps in the 60s, sun shining through a light haze, leaves turning every shade from gold to purple, Kim noodling on guitar and finding melodies and chord changes that bring tears to my eyes, the house in just enough disarray to feel comfy, and our tiny white terror (nope, not a misspelling) running back and forth from balcony to everywhere else, I’m thankful for my town. Also all of the above, none of which would have happened without this town, except the guitar man.
We’ve been here a little over a year now, and it’s home in a way no other place has ever been. From the University of Kansas on Mt. Oread to the tiniest neighborhood we love it all. Lawrence is marinated in history, and as much of it as possible has been lovingly preserved — there are still rock houses standing since before the Civil War, and several businesses on Mass St. have original interior rock walls. Following Harper’s Ferry and other John Brown exploits in opposition to slavery (don’t get nervous, there won’t be a test), Quantrill and his raiders came through town in 1863, killing 150 men but no women and children, torching every house and business they could, robbing all the banks, and looting what was left. Lawrence immediately started rebuilding and the pro-slavery forces lost, end of story. The town is founded on that legacy and hasn’t wavered. Here people cheekily ask, “WWJBD?” (What Would John Brown Do?) The town’s beginnings were the roots of the open-hearted approach to personal liberty that permeates everything here and resonates so deeply with us.
We love the tree-lined streets full of dignified 3-story homes and whimsical “Painted Ladies.” We’re equally in love with the more haphazard neighborhoods, where every block is home to at least one artist’s studio, gallery, or workshop. A few more things we’re hooked on — Mass Street, with its blocks of stores and restaurants, housed in carefully preserved old buildings, all of it walkable and friendly. Live music all over town, plays, art shows, nice weather, rain, trees, great food, beautiful lakes, and the wide Kaw River, which is endlessly fascinating to us after living with a dry dusty riverbed for the past few decades. And KU Basketball, need I say more?
Here’s a small photographic sampling of what makes us so happy to be living here …
27 Oct 2014 Leave a comment
A timely post from Ned. Ray Villafane, eat your heart out.
Carving a jack-o-lantern used to require little more than a pumpkin, an oversized kitchen knife, and a tourniquet. It was a simple matter of plunging a 10-inch French knife into the gourd of your choice and creating a triangle-eyed, square-toothed masterpiece of horror.
In those days, the trickiest thing about making your jack-o-lantern was deciding on how to light the candle.
Option one: Light candle, then attempt to lower it into the pumpkin without catching your sleeve on fire.
Option two: Put the candle inside the pumpkin first. Then attempt to light it without catching your sleeve on fire.
Option three: Accept the inevitable and just light yourself on fire, then go find a candle.
After a quick trip to the emergency room for stitches and some light skin grafting, you could return home and set your jack-o-lantern on the porch, where it would remain until gravity and molecular breakdown…
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27 Oct 2014 4 Comments
My friend Carrie Rubin nails it.
Do you judge a human book by its cover? Assign people personality traits based on their faces? Better be careful if you do.
New research highlights the risk of judging people’s characters based on their facial expressions:
Those assumptions affect how we’re treated.
For example, if we’re blessed with a welcoming expression, we’re more likely to be seen as competent and trustworthy. Therefore, we win elections, become CEOs, and bring more boys (or girls) to the yard.
Uh oh, spaghettios. This doesn’t bode well for introverts.
The Introverted Face
The article discussing this research features an example of an introverted vs. extroverted face (The Introverted Face). To avoid using their image, I’m posting one of my own. My apologies for its American Horror Story scariness. Lord knows I would never have posted such hideous self-photos in the past, but with age comes blissful indifference. And…
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25 Oct 2014 2 Comments
This dessert from http://www.thepickyapple.com/blog is heavenly. Kim made it for one of the fall shows at Depot Theater Company and had non-stop requests for the recipe.
Kim uses condensed milk instead of evaporated, adds a splash of almond extract, and throws extra butter and pecans in there — more is better!
In the comments section under this recipe, one cook said she inverts the cake after it cools and spreads cream-cheese Cool Whip on top. YUM! (Kim would whip real cream, though … )
There are LOTS of good notes here: http://www.thepickyapple.com/blog/2008/11/22/pumpkin-crunch-cake/
24 Oct 2014 8 Comments
“Mom, can we have a baby brother?”
What second-grader with two younger sisters seventeen months apart hasn’t asked that question? My dad, born a farmer, always a farmer, seeing nothing but estrogen in his future, might have thought about asking, too.
My mother was probably all for it, as long as she didn’t have to make it happen.
It happened. A brother was on the way! But things went cataclysmically wrong during his birth and he was delivered stillborn at full term. His name was Dennis Lee, and his funeral service in my grandparents’ farmhouse living room, his tiny white casket placed on a lamp table, was the first time I ever saw my dad cry. My mom was still in the hospital recovering from emergency C-section, so she couldn’t even be there. The room was a blur of tear-streaked faces, and my little sisters were in that circle somewhere, being held by neighbors. My grandparents’ grief-twisted faces seemed foreign to me. The only familiar face I could really see was my dad’s, and he was shaking with sobs. It was somehow a greater loss of innocence than the realization that the flawless little doll in white satin was my brother and he was dead.
The next year, when I was eight years old, Susan about four, and Rita somewhere south of three, it happened for real. A boy named Danny Lee arrived full term and in a hurry, bypassed a mandatory repeat C-section, came home from the hospital and instantly belonged to three older women — me, Susan, and Mother – but mostly me because Susan was little and Mother needed rest. Rita was not in a helpful mood, end of story. After our dad got our mom and the bundle settled in the living room, Susan and I jostled each other for a first peek into the bassinet. Wow, another perfect little face. Rita was across the room in the kitchen doorway with a comforting finger in her mouth, so Mother asked if she’d like to come see her new baby brother.
Finger pop. “I can see him just fine thrum here.”
Pretty much took that as a no.
So for a while, Danny Lee was my baby, sort of. I got to warm bottles, feed him, rock him to sleep, don’ know nut’n ’bout no diapers, though. Made him laugh, teased him, made him cry. And then the next day he was out of grade school and I was getting married. Meanwhile, my lucky sisters got to grow up with him. Big-sister angst is a thing, people! I knew the baby, the toddler, the sometimes-annoying grade-schooler, and the beginnings of the awkward adolescent Danny Lee. My sisters lived with all that, and then got to spend far more quality time than I did with Danny the adult.
Danny Lee was a quiet boy. Danny the man was that way too, with subtly-increasing layers of gruff for protection. Today’s social scientists might label him a conflicted introvert. Tenderhearted, easily wounded, cursed with three idiot older sisters. Talented, gorgeous, funny. Not us, him. Clever and hysterical almost from the start. Cornball humor was his forte, but puns, riddles, and goofy magic were also part of his medicine bag. AND standing directly around the corner from whichever sister was on the stylish black wall phone with the two-inch cord … farting … and walking away.
Susan had her own unique relationship with Danny, in fact they ended up practically related to each other. Oh wait. No, no worries, this isn’t one of those “farm boy and cousin” stories, I hate that crap. Okay, put down the cheese log and give me your undivided because I’m only going to say this once. My brother married a girl whose brother was married to my sister. Not Rita, the other sister. So you can pretty much deduce which sister was a sister-in-law to her own brother.
Rita wins the Sisterhood of the Traveling Overalls, though, because she worked side by side with Danny on the family farm. They got to sweat, laugh, get muddy, cover for each other’s mistakes, hatch ideas and be farm-kids-who-aren’t-really-kids-anymore hilarious. That’s blue-ribbon stuff right there, I don’t care where your state fair is.
Danny had funny lingo for things — a ball-peen hammer was a ping-bong. He also had a little bug called bipolarism, which runs in our family like … well, what it really does is stroll through at a leisurely pace. Why run, everybody’s gonna be here anyway, unless, of course, maybe they aren’t. In this gene pool if you aren’t clinically depressed, manic, or on the way up or down, you won the lottery.
Danny didn’t draw the winning numbers. In hindsight, a phrase that rarely precedes good news, we can see that he was already living with depression as a little boy. Adolescence extracted its toll, and the illness reached full force in adulthood. Anyone who’s struggled with bipolarism or clinical depression, personally or with loved ones, knows that it’s cyclical — it comes and goes. So a percentage of the time Danny enjoyed life the way we all want to, conceivably feeling what we refer to as normal.
He went into full-time farming with our dad, met the love of his life, married her, and they made three beautiful babies. He became a bodybuilder on his own time, with his own weights, and turned himself into even more of a work of art than he already was. The discipline he applied to that goal was nothing short of astounding. But the illness would not leave him any lasting peace, and he finally had all he could stand of the pain. Depression is a vicious liar that convinces you you’re in the way, you’re hurting other people’s lives by your presence, and everyone would be happier and better off without you. The brother we’d waited and prayed and hoped for ended his life on a chilly October morning with a shotgun shell to the heart, splintering the beautiful body he’d spent so many hours and weeks and months sculpting and toning. He slipped away from us in the basement of the same house where our first brother’s funeral was held.
There was a brother hoped for and lost — an impossibly small casket. A brother hoped for and found — a tiny bassinet. And then lost far too soon — a ponderous casket that made finality real.
His sweet little family was shattered. It almost killed our parents. There wasn’t anyone who knew him who wasn’t laid low, our legs cut out from under us. For me it was like having all my skin ripped off in one piece and still being required to stand on my feet raw and bleeding, because life doesn’t care, it keeps right on happening. Do I know that Susan and Rita felt the same way? Yes. Yes, I do. We’ve each dealt according to our own individual mechanisms, and come to terms with some of it. But there’s nothing like a suicide for providing your
therapist significant other with job security.
I won’t even go into the whole conversation about the whys and hows of depression and suicide. I wrote about it here https://playingfortimeblog.com/2014/08/24/challenges/ and I recommend that piece as a companion to this one if you’re looking for some feisty light on the subject.
This isn’t about explaining. It’s about the truth that three adoring sisters, a broken mom and dad, a loving wife and three little kids lost someone none of us could live without. Not and in any way be the same people we were, ever again.
This is longer than most things I write here, but it’s mostly for my sisters, and for me. And for Danny’s kids, Ryan, Jeff, and Kelsie, who were six, five, and eighteen months old when he died. He was 29 and it’s been 29 years this month. It isn’t possible that he would be 58 years old now, because he’ll always be the young Adonis I saw for the last time at a family picnic and didn’t know it was goodbye.
Danny’s funeral service has been an ongoing source of pain to his three sisters. The minister meant well, but he called Danny by our dad’s name throughout his sermon, making it all feel coldly impersonal and needlessly wounding. And his fundamentalist convictions wouldn’t allow him to say the word suicide or acknowledge that Christians with huge loving hearts are as vulnerable to depression and death as the rest of us, so it was a lot of empty words going nowhere.
On this anniversary of his death it feels imperative to try to put something of who our brother was into words, and now I find that I don’t have enough of them. He was a hero to his children and his sisters, the long-awaited son of his father, the joy of his mother’s life, the husband of his wife’s youth. He should have survived so many of us, and there will always be a vast hole where he’s supposed to be. Someone as goodhearted as he was needed to be here forever — those people are in critically short supply.
We love you, Danny, we always will. You were perfect, just the way you were. If any one of us could have known how much your heart was breaking, we would have rocked you in our arms and done whatever it took to keep you here. We know you know that … but we’ll always cry when fall comes and the leaves turn and everything reminds us of inexpressible loss.
23 Oct 2014 Leave a comment
22 Oct 2014 Leave a comment
One day away from home and the blog schedule is shot to hell, but as luck would have it no one died in the crossfire so here we go again.
Monday night Kim and I were invited to be extras for a film shoot at The Cider Gallery — much fun and very tiring. Let me assure you, movie people work hard for the money.
Yesterday (Tuesday) the truck showed up at 8:30am, same crew that worked late Monday night, and started unloading approximately 4 tons of equipment — not kidding — and schlepping it to the 4th floor to shoot scenes in our loft. Craft service was set up in the holding area, the producer, the writer/director and at least one of the leads arrived, and we left them to their magic at 10:30.
Drove out to The Farm to do a few things, then back to town. While I got my hair cut at the barbershop, Kim walked Madison down the street a couple of blocks and let her wander around Lucky Dog Outfitters where the two of them picked out a T-shirt. She took a walk on the wild side, slaking her thirst from the communal doggie bowl and snorting crumbs like a pro. The little muffin trotted all the way back to the barbershop on her own four feet, holding court along the way with her public, and then BACK to the pet shop where Mom liked the T-shirt but overrode them on color — purple and pink instead of two-tone green. Sorry Kevin, she’s no John Deere girl anymore, but she can walk like she’s brand new. Lunch happened and some other stuff, including an interesting guy on a pretty amazing old farm who hulled about 40 pounds of Colton’s black walnuts. That’s a lot of bending down to the ground, so it’s a good thing Colton — a friend’s son — isn’t yet as tall as he’s going to be.
A lazy drive through the countryside and it was back to The Farm ’til we got the text that said “We’re wrapping out!” The director was determined to get everybody home before the Royals/Giants game and she got close to her goal. Sadly, the Royals didn’t.
But tonight’s another night, boys and girls, all good thoughts to our boys in blue.
The film crew was just finishing the load-out when we got home, so everybody shared hugs and happy talk — they were pumped after a good day of shooting. Really too bad about the baseball deflation later. We’re anxious to see the rough-cut of the movie, and even more the finished result. If every frame bearing our features ends up on the cutting-room floor, technologically speaking, we won’t need counseling — that was hours of pure fun.
So there ya’ go, a day in the life … and now, film at eleven …
The Cider Gallery
Part of the Load-In at the Lofts
Madison and her new T-shirt
20 Oct 2014 4 Comments
And on this one I’m without adult supervision until late in the day because Kim is down the block supervising the set-strike for LAC’s last production. Madison has been asleep all morning and I’ve been right here on my blog and Facebook. This evening Kim and I get to be extras in a movie that’s being filmed locally, and tomorrow we’ll be vacating our loft while they do a 10-hour shoot here.
TOLD you last week I was going to take over Mondays and rule the world!!
20 Oct 2014 Leave a comment
Atypical deep thoughts from my friend Ned Hickson. Imminently readable.
Anyone who reads my weekly newspaper column or blog posts knows I try to keep life in perspective through humor. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the reasons my children are still alive today. While I joke about that, for many years humor was also part of a coping mechanism from a childhood witnessing both verbal and physical abuse by the men in my family — specifically, my father and older brothers.
The good news is that each of them eventually turned themselves, their lives and the lives of the people they loved, around. It wasn’t until I became a father that I realized the impact that a childhood witnessing abuse had on me, and how some of those wounds — as both a witness and recipient — had never truly healed.
I know this because I occasionally saw reflections of my father and brothers in myself as I…
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