Category Archives: Celebration

Pandemic Journal – Entry Two

A boy was having his 4th birthday. Because he didn’t want anyone to get sick, his friends and family gave him a special party.

They all decorated their cars.

The fire department came and used the siren on their big engine.

The parade began!

Everyone drove past and waved to the birthday boy.

The police came by and wished him a happy birthday. 

Everyone sang. It was LOUD!!! But it was fun!

Neko and Kiy

I’ve met several talented people through my local writing group, The Writing Journey. We’ve enjoyed putting story anthologies together, doing informal readers’ theater versions of Shakespeare plays, and going to see some of our members perform.

Neko Zujihan is someone I know from the group (mostly online) and he’s created something remarkable that I wanted to share:

His book is now available on severable platforms, and I hope you get a chance to experience the rich world he’s given us. Look for Kiy: Jumoku No Musuko (Son of the Forest) on his publisher’s web site, or on Amazon.

108 Years in the Making

First, a bit of historical context:

November 4, 2016

As I write this, TV coverage of the Cubs victory parade and rally for their 2016 World Series win plays in the background. WGN-TV reports that six million humans are packed around the 6.7 miles of parade route from Wrigley Field all the way down to Grant Park.

If you don’t live in Chicago, you may not understand the fuss. Then again, you might. If you have Cubs fans in the family, or if you follow baseball, you will be at least a bit familiar with how loyal the north side club’s fan base is, despite 108 years that ensued between the last World Series win before 2016. You may have heard about the people who have bought Cubs’ wear to put on the graves of loved ones who lived and died without seeing their beloved baseball team win a World Series.

If you don’t live in Chicago, you also likely have never heard (arguably) the best radio DJ ever: Lin Brehmer at 93.1 WXRT-FM.

His Lin’s Bins segments, wherein he answers questioned emailed by listeners are things of beauty—often classic bits of poetry or philosophy I hold to my heart long after the segments have aired. My main issue with them is that they’re no longer available via podcast. If they were, you know I’d share a link to one of his Cubs related episodes here…maybe more than one.

Well, I can’t. I can only mention that the Thursday morning broadcast on November 3, despite Lin’s fatigue after what had to be the shortest night’s sleep ever before his usual 5:30 a.m. start, brought a tear to my eye. Multiple times. He and news director Mary L. Dixon (who shares that morning slot) are huge Cubs fans. Exhausted but thrilled, there was no way they’d miss their first chance to celebrate with their listeners.

In addition to the Steve Goodman classic above, they also played J.D. McPherson’s North Side Gal  and Eddie Vedder’s “All the Way,” which you can hear on the WGN site.

Loved those songs, and of course many others Lin played, all full of the excitement of this long-delayed victory. But my favorite part of the broadcast was the way he closed it. Lin and Mary have hosted a special Cub’s opening day broadcast for as long as I can remember. As they ended their shift, Lin paid tribute to the many fans he’d met in the stands over the years, naming them, and telling stories of how long and thoroughly they’d supported the team. And as Lin likes to do, there was a tiny thread of music under the narrative. As it swelled, it sounded like this. If you choose to click on this link, as you listen, imagine people you live among and love, and some who you have loved, but who have since passed away, and how it would feel to share a moment of happiness with them and say, six million other people who are feeling the same thing.

That is all.


Tour de Farms – Another Year in the Bag

The mighty Power Pedallers: Dave, Kevin, Cookie, Beth, Danielle, me and David.
MIA: Randy, Natalie, and Sandy. But they biked that day, honest!

Bike MS has come and gone, and it was an adventure! While we didn’t miss dinner (the greatest fear of Bilbo Baggins), we did bike many miles (50 for Beth and me) in 90-degree heat, with 67% humidity, uphill, into a 15 mph wind.

Okay that last two claims were, of course, a slight exaggeration. I’ve yet to do any bike course that was uphill the entire way. And if you have a 15 mph headwind when you’re going south, it stands to reason that when you’re going north, it’s a tailwind. However…at one point, there’s a 17-mile stretch (mostly south, into the wind) with no scheduled rest stops. In the past, we’ve been able to get through it without needing to stop in between, but this year a lot of people sought out shade so they could gather strength to carry on. Several of us were sitting around under a tree in front of a farm house (this was Tour de Farms, after all) and we began to complain of this year’s challenges, each person seeking to top the person who spoke before. When we got to the point that someone said, “in the snow”, the next person said, “barefoot,” and I said, “and we liked it!” we figured we were done.

A blurry picture of me, grasping the medal I got for finishing

Here’s a shout out to BK, Sis, my cousin Steve, and friend Alan, for making the most awesome cheering section ever, and to all the generous people who sponsored me and thus, have contributed to MS research and support to those who are dealing with this disease. This has been my best year yet, in terms of fundraising. As of this writing, I’ve made 95% of my (admittedly ambitious) goal of $2500. I have until July 30 to meet it, so if you wanted to donate but haven’t yet, it’s not too late. Tour de Farms donations are being accepted until July 30. The link to my donation page is here.

Thanks so much to donors Lorie & Steve, Eileen (with Pat & Kat), Randy, Cecelia & Brian, Mickey, Danny & Lori, Rita & Kishin, Praful, the Ratay family, Rocky, Katie, Jay & Elizabeth, Ann, and Beth. I hope I haven’t missed anyone; please let me know if I have.

The Spark that was Pamela

Pam in 1979

Pam Menas was the first person I thought of as a force of nature. Anyone who ever heard her sing knows what I’m talking about, but she had immense gifts in many areas other than music.

We went to high school together, were in each other’s weddings, and got together often during our 20s as we worked towards finding our places in the world. As we reached maturity, we continued to share our journey. Each of us forged new paths when the earlier ones didn’t quite work anymore.

Pam had been a successful opera singer, traveling Europe and the U.S. to sing many roles, including Gilda in Rigoletto and The Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute. After some soul searching, she decided to leave her musical career. It was then that she revealed a fierce intelligence and talent for both mathematics and science. She earned a Doctor of Pharmacy degree and went on to serve as an oncological pharmacist at James Lovell Federal Health Center.

No matter how you met Pam, whether in school, in the music world, as a medical colleague, or patient, you couldn’t help but notice her warmth and her generous spirit…once you got past her staggering abilities!


I’m sure I thought 59 was old when Pam and I first met, but knowing her taught me better. Pam was still a force of nature in 2016. She was taken from us suddenly, bewilderingly, and far too soon. Barton and I will always love and miss the woman he called “Sparky.” We hold her loving (and much-beloved) husband Lee in our hearts.


In addition to his music, David Bowie was also reported to be a true gentleman; incredibly well educated in the arts, culture, and history; and genuinely interested in others.

I was lucky enough to see David Bowie Is when it was in Chicago, and my thoughts from that exhibition appear below.

Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane, 1973
Design: Brian Duffy and Celia Philo; make up: Pierre La Roche
Photo: Brian Duffy
Photo: Duffy © Duffy Archive and the David Bowie Archive

This retrospective of David Bowie’s amazing career ran in Chicago from September 23, 2014–January 4, 2015. I enjoyed his music, but was not the world’s biggest fan of David Bowie before this exhibit. However seeing his archive gave me a new appreciation for the man. The range of his talent astounded me, but what struck me most about him as an artist was the combination of his fearlessness and his hard work.

The show includes 60 costumes, numerous storyboards, handwritten set lists and lyrics, and some of Bowie’s own sketches, musical scores, and diary entries. Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art has so far been the only U.S. venue for the exhibition, which was organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. It is currently in the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands through March of 2016, and should be in Japan—though I don’t know where exactly—in 2017.

Of course, his music has been running through my head since his passing. I’m grateful for the music, acting, and design, of course. But what stays with me is all he did—and he was conscious and intentional about doing it—to promote “oddity.”

Whatever tolerance that’s finally being extended to people who don’t hew to a conventional, static view of gender or sexuality owes something to the courage David Bowie displayed decades ago.

Here’s the link to an entertaining conversation he had with Lin Brehmer of WXRT-FM in Chicago, which I’ve always enjoyed.

Happy Anniversary, BK!

This is late. Our Thirty-mumble anniversary was a week and a half ago. However, here are a couple of pictures from the day…

BK at Clara’s

Doesn’t he look magical? We went to our favorite restaurant for dinner. He brought flowers home, too.


Aren’t they lovely?  He also gave me, like, 3 cards and the Lego Movie. I got him a card. I’m such a bad wife. I’m going to have to seriously have to up my game next year…

Nebula Awards 2015

Nebula Award, sitting on our table!

I have never been to an Oscar ceremony. I can’t even foresee the time stream in which that might happen.

I might have said the same about the Nebula Awards, except for two things:

  1. You don’t have to be a member of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America to attend. Anyone with $60 to spare can do it. (Though if you want to attend the banquet and have actual Nebula Nominees sitting at your table with you, that’ll run you an extra $80.)
  2. The 2015 Awards (honoring fiction published in 2014) were held in Chicago this year.

I’ve always wanted to go. Cookie, being the excellent sport that she is, came along to provide moral support. We actually went for the whole weekend (a bargain at $90—not including hotel and meals), from Thursday through Sunday, though Cookie didn’t hang around for all the panels. She had things to do, places to go, and people to see. She went to a few, though, and we went to the banquet together.

Cookie with banquet/awards program;
Nick Offerman (toastmaster) in the background

We weren’t nominated for any awards, but we got to sit with people who were.

Nebula-nominees at our table!
  • Carmen Maria Machado  for her novelette “The Husband Stitch”
  • Usman T. Malik  for his short story, “The Vaporization Enthalpy of a Peculiar Pakistani Family”
  • Sam J. Miller  for his novelette “We Are the Cloud”
  • Sarah Pinsker  for her short story “A Stretch of Highway Two Lanes Wide”

They were all wonderful people, so I’m sorry to report that none of them carried Nebula awards home. Please support them! Buy their fiction! If/when you join SFWA, vote for their stories!

Which brings me to another point.


You can have people who really know their stuff pouring their heart into a piece, and they can totally nail it. They then end up nominated for a major award like a Nebula. But out of a field of, say six or seven nominees, only one is going to take the Nebula home. You might think the rest of them would sit around and mope. That is not what I saw. I saw a community of friends cheering for each other. My favorite memory of the evening came after the actual awards ceremony. Many of the nominees who hadn’t won gathered in a vestibule to deliver their Alternate Universe speeches. In each Alternate Universe, the speechifying nominee had won the Nebula. These speeches ranged from humorous to extremely affecting, and each was greeted with sincere appreciation by the other nominees. I came away delighted by this community I’d stumbled into.

The Nebulas return to Chicago in 2016, for one more year. I can’t wait.

For a list of the full 2014 slate, click  here.

To see who won in 2014, click  here.

A Valiant Woman

Sister Mary Dominica Brennan, OP

Sister Mary Linda Tonellato preached at the Vigil Service for our Aunt Pat (aka “Sister Dominica”, “S’ter Minnie”, or simply “Sister”), who died on March 18, 2015.

Sister Mary Linda admitted to struggling with the scripture text she wanted to use as her basis—Proverbs 31:10. While the passage itself seemed apt, among the many interpretations of the text, she found it difficult to choose the one that seemed most fitting.

Was Sister Dominica “good”, or was she “worthy”? Those words felt too subjective and overused, making them devoid of meaning. “Strong”? Perhaps, but not physically, like Superman/Superwoman. “Capable” seemed less than the original writer intended. At first, Sister Mary Linda was drawn to “virtuous.” Then she saw a Scripture commentary that said “virtuous” as applied to a woman meant primarily a woman “chaste, celibate, maidenly, pure, and innocent.” When she consulted a thesaurus she found that there, too, the first 20% echoed the commentary. While Sister Dominica was chaste and celibate—she had taken vows to remain so—those were far from her greatest gifts. The adjective Sister Mary Linda finally settled on to describe our aunt was “valiant”.

Sister Mary Linda said she feared she might going into the minutiae of her word choice issues at too great a length. Then she recalled the vigorous debates she and our aunt would have over the exact meanings of words. This brought a knowing laugh from the many assembled mourners, both lay and religious.

Family memories

I like the idea of Sister arguing with someone. It’s easy to think only of how compassionate and loving a person is, once you lose her, and how wonderful her sense of humor. I didn’t think, at first, about how talented, intelligent, and spirited she also was. Among the memorabilia on display in the visitation room was a yellowed telegram. She received it in 1955 upon winning a scholarship to Fontbonne College. Underneath the telegram was a piece of note-paper bearing the short message: “Thank you for the offer but must decline. Sudden change of plans.”

The sudden change of plans referred to her realization she could no longer deny the strong vocation she felt to enter the Dominican order. Her decision worked out well, both for her and for the Springfield Dominicans. She served two terms as Prioress General of the order before going on to receive her degree in canon law and serving as vice-chancellor and then chancellor for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

As we drove to Sister’s visitation and funeral in Springfield, BK fiddled with the radio, trying to find something we could stand to listen to in an area where we knew nothing of the local offerings. He finally found a public radio station, which is usually safe—no risk of Rush Limbaugh.

Grieg’s Piano Concerto came on. It took me back decades, to an afternoon Sister came to visit her parents—our grandparents—while my parents, brother, sister, and I were also there. Since I was the oldest sibling, and had just started taking piano lessons, I was allowed to sit with the adults in the living room and listen to her play that piece. It was the first time I had any notion that someone I knew could make music that sounded “real”—like music you might hear coming from a record album or the radio.

Memories from her community

“Last Friday I was listening to StoryCorp on NPR. I heard a man tell his son that babies are born with their fists closed because they are holding all their gifts they have to give the world in their hands. As we sisters sat with Sr. Mary Dominica in her final hours, I was aware of the fact that her hands were wide open and relaxed. She had given her gifts to all of us lucky enough to be in her life…

She came into this world with so many gifts clutched in her little fists. She had blessed our congregation and her family and friends with her many gifts – a keen mind, a witty sense of humor, a compassionate gaze from those dark brown eyes. She who shared them so generously left the world last Wednesday afternoon with hands wide open, her journey complete, welcomed into God’s loving arms.

Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.”

—from the remarks of Sr. Beth Wrenn, OP

 “Sr. Dominica was an extraordinarily talented and intelligent person in whose presence I never felt inadequate by comparison because she had the remarkable gift of helping the common person to feel confident and competent.”

—Sr. Mary Judine, OP

Sister’s last wish, for those she loved

I wish you enough

I wish you enough sun to keep your attitude bright.

I wish you enough rain to appreciate the sun all the more.

I wish you enough happiness to keep your spirit alive.

I wish you enough pain so that the smallest joys in life appear much bigger.

I wish you enough gain to satisfy your wanting.

I wish you enough loss to appreciate all that you possess.

I wish you enough hellos to get you through the final good-bye.

They say it takes a minute to find special persons, an hour to appreciate them, a day to love them, but an entire life to forget them.

So to you my Sisters, my dear family members and my friends, you will never be forgotten. I will speak to the Lord about you often. May the years ahead be filled with enduring faith, hope and peace.

I love you and I wish you enough!

—Sister Mary Dominica Brennan, OP