Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Blooming Table

An old picnic table has sat in our house's storage shed for longer than we've rented here, a lot longer. It was filthy and wobbly, with odds and ends stacked on it, the detritus of years caked on it.

But it has been given new life in the last week.

Tori dragged it out into the carport, shimming the legs so it's more or less even. Then she cleaned it thoroughly and slapped a coat of white paint on it. That's when the real work started.

She got out the box of art stuff and started painting, enlisting the kids and even me. Typically you don't want me doing "art," especially in a medium that doesn't have an "undo" function. But as a friend often says, "In painting there are no mistakes. There's only texture."

The table isn't finished, not by a long shot, but it now displays a sprawling tree covered with blossoms of every color. Not every color of the rainbow, but every color in our art box.

It's been a week and the flowers continue to spread. We do a little bit every day. I asked Tori, "When will we know it's finished? WILL we know it's finished?" She shrugged and said, "Probably when I get out the glitter. That's probably when I should stop." Then we'll get something to seal it.

The tree is not a realistic tree – what fun would that be? Actually, it's very much in the style of the kinds of trees our daughter Alex painted, and that's not an accident. We're fast approaching the first anniversary of when we lost her, and the date has been looming in the background, rarely mentioned but ominous. Anyone who remembers her paintings will recognize this tree.

We didn't discuss the project before it started. We mostly just grab a brush now and then and paint more flowers. It's a way to pass a few moments in the summer. And something more, but we don't talk much about that because it's still too hard.

But we paint, and we enjoy what we're doing, and we smile a little when we happen to get something just right.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Green Thumb

Tori has been busy since spring, getting some vegetables growing. We now have seven pots with handsome tomato plants, complete with buds that are about to flower, a very healthy looking zucchini patch on the side of the house, also on the verge of bearing, and a pumpkin patch that is taking over the back yard.

We always grew tomatoes in Oregon. There is nothing better than fresh tomatoes. Nothing. The year we lived in Queen Avenue we had amazing plants, five feet high covered with dozens of fruit. When we bought the house on Broadway we continued to have nice harvests, but nothing to compare with that one year on Queen. It turned out the tomatoes that year had been planted directly over the septic tank. Those were some great tomatoes.

But on St. Croix, we never had any luck. We tried growing them every year, and in all that time got one tomato, which the bugs got. We consulted local growers about the best varieties, we followed their instructions scrupulously on light and shade and soil nutrients and watering schedules, and failed every time. Even in the farmers markets, a lot of the tomatoes come from Puerto Rico. We had mango and guava trees and breadfruit and knips (pronounced by the locals, ku-nips) but nary a tomato.

So Tori was bound and determined to get something going this year. And so far her thumb has been bright green.

I don't know why she planted so many pumpkins, and I haven't asked. We've got nine extremely healthy vines going. If my best-case estimate is right, we'll end up with about 50 pumpkins and I don't know what we'll do with them all. Time to start looking for recipes, I guess. I'm a city boy, and the only thing I've ever done with pumpkins is carve them at the end of October, so this will be an adventure.

They were planted in the only place she could find in the yard that she could dig down through. Most of the rest of the yard is three inches of dirt over an inexplicable layer of brick. But in the middle of the yard there was a depression that looked like maybe there had been a stump pulled out. Of course, when it rained – huge thunderstorm a few weeks ago, streets flooded, the drainage canal was filled – the pumpkin plants were under about four inches of water and we figured, "Well, there go the pumpkins." Did they go ever! They took it as a challenge or a starting gun or something. The vines have now spread about twice the area of the original planting and show no signs of slowing down.

But the tomatoes are what we're really counting on. She started them by seed and they're doing well, a little behind some of the other tomato gardens we've seen around the neighborhood, but catching up fast. They're in pots, which was handy when we had that storm. We pulled them in under the carport, then put them back out in the sun immediately after. One got mowed down by some kind of bug that took every leaf and left a little green skeleton. Oddly, that one was in the middle of the line of pots, but whatever it was (probably a very hungry caterpillar) never touched the others.

We probably need to transplant them because the pots aren't really big enough, but they've got a great start. I can almost taste the tomatoes now.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A Few Things We've Been Up To

What have we been up to?

Sunday Tori, Max and I spent the afternoon at the ballgame. Metairie is home of the Triple A New Orleans Zephyrs, and their stadium is less than a mile from the house. When they play at home on Friday night they have fireworks after the game, which we can see over the treetops.

So Sunday afternoon we went to the game. In the '70s I spent a lot of time at Chavez Ravine watching the Dodgers, but have pretty much abandoned watching baseball these days. Long story, don't get me started. Let's just say I don't have any idea who won or even played in the World Series the last few years, and don't care.

It was a wonderful day. Cloudy skies and a breeze kept the temperature out of the 90s, we were seated right behind home plate, two rows up. It's the minor leagues, but at a high level, so the players have skills and they can taste how close they are to the show. Almost every break between innings had some kind of contest for kids – silly things, done in an almost self-consciously silly way. But it was fun.

Sadly, the Zephyrs – who had been on a winning streak – got hammered Sunday by the Albuquerque Isotopes. The Zephyr pitcher started hot, never got behind the three batters he faced in the first inning, took 'em out in order. After that they must have figured him out because they started hitting him hard. By the seventh-inning stretch it was 7-1, and only a rally in the bottom of the ninth made it a respectable 7-4.

But I enjoyed the game, enjoyed being part of the small crowd in the small park rooting on the home team, even though the only result that mattered was to the individual players and how it affected their chances of making the big club. (The Zephyrs are part of the Miami Marlins farm system, the Isotopes belong to the Dodgers.) There was an earnestness about it that I found missing from the major leagues in decades. The most fun I've had watching baseball in 30 years.

Couple of weeks ago we went to the last of the spring concerts in La Freniere Park, but at Tori's suggestion we took it a step farther and packed a picnic dinner. I fried chicken. (No offense, but I've never had fried chicken better than mine. I've had some as good, but never better.) And Tori made potato salad. We both like potato salad, but we realized neither of us had made it since we've been married. So she took a shot at it and it was great. We'll be fiddling with that for a while 'til we get it just right. Potato salad is another of those kitchen things that has less to do with a recipe and more to do with creativity. Which is why she's so good at it. If your potato salad tastes exactly the same every time you make it, you're doing something wrong.

Concert was good. The Bucktown All Stars was mostly middle-aged white guys playing mostly '60s and '70s soul music. They had a great brass section and a fun play list that included some James Brown and Van Morrison and Sly and the Family Stone and "Sweet Soul Music."

But the best thing about the band was the tambourine/maracas player. She was an older woman in a lime-green outfit who was just rocking out nonstop on every song. She was terrific. And then one of the band members happened to mention that she had graduated from high school in 1947! Which by my reckoning makes her 82 or 83! I hope I'm rocking like that when I'm that age. Hell, I hope I MAKE IT to that age!

Saw "Now You See Me" yesterday, the movie about the bank-robbing magicians. Really good, very entertaining. Nice twist at the end that I actually saw coming, which made me feel very smart. Even though I didn't realize it until about 60 seconds before the twist, and in retrospect I should have seen it earlier. In fact, I DID see it earlier, but just like a good magic trick, you don't realize what you've seen and what it means until the magician is pulling the quarter out of your ear. They warn you right up front – the closer you watch, the less you'll see. And with me, they were right.

On the other hand, I have to ask a question. Is ANYONE going to go see the new Superman movie? Anyone? Ye gods! Do we have to have the origin story AGAIN? Who cares! The problem with movies based on DC Comics is that they treat them so reverentially, like it's "The Greatest Story Ever Told" or something. They take themselves so damn seriously you can almost hear their brows furrowing. The Marvel Comics movies just have fun. Stuff blows up. Goofy things happen. Audiences laugh and cheer and have a good time.

Superman again? No thank you.

We also spent some time getting Millie a bunch of stuff for her new apartment. Nothing big. Just a boxful of the kind of stuff you need, but don’t' get until you need it. Pot holders and dish towels and a peeler and Neosporin and a pair of pliers and Band Aids and stuff like that. Maybe she has some of it, maybe she doesn't. But even if she does, she'll eventually use all of it. It was fun. Lots of fun.

And she does like her surprise packages. It goes in the mail today.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Millie Walks the Walk

Millie walks through graduation at AMDA Saturday. 

It's Millie's Day

It's a happy sad day, for a lot of reasons.

Millie graduates today (Saturday, June 1) and begins pursuing her life in the very difficult career she's chosen. At 11 this morning she goes through commencement at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and then she begins chasing her dream. We couldn't be more proud of her and know great things are coming her way.

We're sad mostly because we couldn't be there. It just wasn't in the cards (or in the wallet) for us to make it to New York to share the day with her. She knows we're thinking of her and pulling for her, but it's not the same as being there. Right now we're hoping to make a trip to New York for her birthday in August. I'm not sure why she'd want to spend her 21st birthday with her parents, but it was her idea.

She and three friends already have their apartment, which they'll be moving into in the next few days. It's almost like an early episode of "Friends" or "How I Met Your Mother," young cool kids move to Manhattan and start their lives. As I recall, the parents occassionally show up in episodes as hoplessly clueless comic relief. That's certainly the part I'm planning to play. I, of course, am also worried and will be – well – forever. It's part of the job description.

As a parent you always remember the silly, funny things, and the times they were scared or had problems and they needed you to be there and make things all right. And we're still there for her and all our kids, but of course now they're grown up and don't need or want us as the first line of defense, the buffer against the world. All you can hope when they grow up is that you've raised them with the energy and smarts and resilience to answer life's challenges and remember what's important – remember to always be true to themselves. But you still watch them walk out into the world everyday with the same trepidation you felt when they took their first steps.

And we couldn't be prouder of her. She's always loved theater, always loved performing and she's good – really good. She was on stage before she was born – in a musical no less, one that her mother was in and her father directed. She's always been one of those people on stage that you looked at even when she didn't have a line or a bit of business to do. There's just this energy, this spirit about her that grabs your eyeballs and demands you watch her, because of what might be coming.

It's a hard field she's chosen. And she's not the first. Her older brother, Ben, graduated from AMDA several years ago and is making his way in show business, starting to get some traction. They both know the odds and they haven't let it scare them away. We've known lots of young people drawn to the theater who allowed themselves to be talked into the safe route to a sensible job or career. "You can always do theater as a hobby." Not Ben. Not Millie. Neither one is going to have to look back years later and say, "Gee, if only I had tried ..."

Today is Millie's day. And there will be many more to come.

We are so thankful to all the people along the way who supported her and shaped her – especially her drunken bastard Uncle Mark, and Pat, and Christie, Robyn and the Coopers, Cate Cafarella, and Julie Buchert and all her friends and family at Albany Civic Theater who helped make her the incredible young woman she is.

This is just the start, Millie. We can't wait to see what comes next. We can't be there today, but you know we're with you every step of the way.

Love – Mom and Dad