Tag Archives: Sis

Breaking Radio Silence

I’ve been hella busy the past month or so; here’s the first of a few blog posts to get me used to blogging again (and you all used to reading)

With a title like CB’s Mojo, you probably figured out that this blog is mostly about the stuff that makes me feel happy or inspired. In terms of world events, it’s been a tough month for that.

Cookie, Sis and I were in Paris for about 6 days at the end of September Here are a few pictures of the trip.

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Palais de Justice
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The band Presteej with tourist at Sacre Coeur
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Musician at Sacre Coeur
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Sis and Hélène (with Cookie as Napoleon) at Les Invalides

I may share more later, but these are the photos that especially spoke to me after November 13.

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The European Adventures of Cookie, Sis, & me, Part 1

Part 1 of a series of indeterminate length

Welcome to England: Claridge’s

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Claridge’s: image by Dave Hunt on Flickr

Cookie took care of our arrangements, aided by her travel agent at Artisans of Leisure. We ended up with absolutely fabulous hotels in both London and Paris. Here are some of the cool things that happened at Claridge’s, aka Buckingham Palace’s spare rooms. Apparently when the royal family doesn’t have room for all their guests, they ship some of them over to Claridge’s.

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Tea, fruit, and macarons

Our welcome

Our flight got in before 8 a.m. Luckily, the hotel was able to arrange a very early check-in for us, and brought us tea first thing. It went well with what the travel agency had already arranged: fruit, macarons, and champagne awaited us in our rooms. Thus began our vacation tradition of drinking champagne at the drop of a hat. (Though we were restrained enough to wait for the champagne until evening.)

It took us two days to get through the macarons, three or four days to get through the champagne (it’s all rather a blur), and we never quite finish all the fruit, though we put up a good fight on that front.

Celebrity Spotting

My favorite celebrity quote about Claridge’s comes from Spencer Tracy, who said: “…not that I intend to die, but when I do, I don’t want to go to heaven, I want to go to Claridge’s.”

Our first morning, our guide Viv saw a British comedian whose name I can’t remember, probably because I wasn’t familiar with him. He was hidden in the celebrity breakfast area (which doubled as a bar in the evenings), just off the public restaurant where we were breakfasted. When the mirrored door leading to this hideaway opened, Viv caught a glimpse of a server bringing something to Mr. Famous Comedian, and got all fan-girly. Then as we were leaving the restaurant the next morning, we saw Harvey Keitel, probably on the way to the same little hideaway. It must have been his first morning there, because they hadn’t yet shown him how to avoid being seen yet. There were also reports of Joan Collins, and we spotted a very well-put-together older woman who was definitely “somebody,” if one judged by the stir she caused when she walked through the lobby. Maybe a British actress?

My favorite, though, was our near-spotting of Matt Damon. The night we were going to the Globe Theatre, our driver Clive said, “You know that fellow, the one who plays Bourne?”

“Matt Damon?”

“That’s probably the name. I don’t watch many films, but I remember Bourne.”

“Yes, what about him?”

“He just walked into the ballroom entrance, up ahead there.”

“Up ahead there” was perhaps ten yards from the car. We stared at Clive, our mouths opening and closing like guppies. Clive is a prize-winning fisherman, so maybe that’s what he was after.

He finally went on. “Yeah, the doorman said there’s a big party tonight for some film. Lots of folks in fancy dress. He looked good, did Bourne. They’ll all be going off to Leicester Square for the premiere after this.”

“The movie—could it be The Martian?”

Clive shrugged. “Dunno. Don’t see a lot of films. I just know Bourne.”

There was some temptation to blow off our theatre tickets and hang out in Leicester Square, but that was momentary. After all, it wasn’t like we were going to be able to chat up Matt, Jessica, Ridley, or any of their pals even if we could get into the premiere. So it was off to the Globe for us, to see Nell Gwynn. But that’s a post for another day.

Tea

You can get a fancy afternoon tea in London. Sis took Cookie and me to tea at Claridge’s, and you don’t get any fancier.

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Sis, Cookie, and me

We had champagne (do you sense a theme?) and of course, many types of tea from which to choose. I was boring and predictable, and chose Claridge’s Blend. Sis, being more adventurous, had White Silver Tip. Cookie tried the Iron Goddess of Mercy. Seemed apt.

The ritual was familiar; we began with tea sandwiches, and there were several tasty vegetarian choices. Then we had the best scones (plain and raisin) I personally have ever eaten, accompanied by Cornish clotted cream and Marco Polo jelly—fruity and mildly spicy. At this point, we were so full we could do little more than sniff the gorgeous pastries that ended tea: a strawberry mousse nestled on a large, macaron-type shell, a fluffy apricot dessert much like a light cheesecake, lemon cake with raspberry filling, and a mocha pastry with half a malted milk ball on top.

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Our waiter asked if we would like our unfinished pastries sent to our room, to which the answer was a resounding yes. We saw him the next morning at breakfast, and he asked if we had finished them later that evening. We had to admit that we hadn’t been able to. After a walk down to the Serpentine in Hyde Park, we were pretty much done for the night. The pastries ended up being our dinner the next night, if memory serves. We had a lot of dessert for dinner during this trip. That’s okay; we were on vacation.

Bon voyage à moi! Et à ma soeur, et Biscuit!

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Research and Funding

We’re going to London! And Paris!

By we, I mean Cookie, Sis, and I. BK was invited, but he’s rather like a cake in that he doesn’t travel well.

That reminds me of a story about my Sis’s friend Carmen:

Many, many years ago, when there was still an Iron Curtain, Carmen traveled behind it, to visit relatives in Poland. One of the relatives entrusted her with a broken samovar to bring back to her parents in the US. Why was this heirloom so important? Not even Carmen was quite sure, but it seemed to mean a great deal to this relative back in the old country, so she agreed to take it. She also bought scads of stuff in Poland, to the point where she was going to have to pay a ton of duty if she came clean about every little thing she bought. So she underestimated her expenditures, and just hoped they wouldn’t ask too many questions.

She was going through Customs and the official was giving her the side eye. She still managed to behave as if butter wouldn’t melt in her little rosebud mouth. The official either smelled a rat or was otherwise immune to Carmen’s charm. He pointed suspiciously at the box that held the family heirloom and said, “What’s in the box?”

Carmen said, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Official: “Try me.”

Carmen: “It’s a broken samovar.”

Official: “You’re right, I don’t believe you.”

So Carmen opened the box and revealed the broken samovar. The official seemed at a loss for a sensible response, though he might eventually have asked why she would bother bringing such an item back.

Carmen replied, “Well, I would have baked a cake, but I hear they don’t travel well.”

The official laughed and waved her through, and she was free to go on her merry way. The little outlaw.

So that’s how I learned that cakes, like BK, don’t travel well. With a broken samovar, who can tell? It was already broken.

Anyway, London! With side trips to Stonehenge and Bath.

Paris! With visits to Versailles and Giverny!

We are leaving really soon. We are stoked.

Any tips, hints, ideas for things we shouldn’t miss at any of the above locations? Comments are not only welcome, but highly desirable.

Pure Michigan—Post One of Three: Relaxation

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If you live in Illinois, you can’t escape the radio and TV commercials that tout the joys of “Pure Michigan.” Michigan is portrayed as a magical land that will restore your lost youth—or at least your joie de vivre.

I forgive you for being skeptical. Thing is, you know, you really want there to be a place like that, especially if you can drive there—which, from the Chicago area, you can.

Background

When possible, Sis takes a trip to celebrate her birthday, choosing the weekend either before or after September 24th. Our 2014 mission, dated September 25-28: investigating to see if magical Michigan lived up to the hype.

Where we stayed

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Snowbird Inn

On the recommendation of our cousins Cecelia and Emily, we stayed at The Snowbird Inn, a bed and breakfast on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula.

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Alice

Our host, Alice, was rather perfect. She happily shared details about the painstakingly restored house, which was built around 1900, and the 20-acre site of the inn. She gave us directions to a beach within walking distance, a great bike trail, a scenic drive through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and her favorite wineries and restaurants. She astonished us with her wide-ranging knowledge of the area. She was quite familiar with small towns that were a two-hour drive away!

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There were two kitties. Awwww! Cookie, Sis and I are all allergic, and responsible enough not to have cats of our own. We were, however unable to resist petting the inn’s cats. Apricot wouldn’t have tolerated being ignored, while Sophie was so happy to receive attention that petting her was its own reward.

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One corner of the porch
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Cookie relaxes in the living room
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Baby grand in the library

The inn itself had common areas with plenty of books and a baby grand piano Alice almost begged us to play. There was even music stored in the piano bench in case we no longer had any pieces memorized. We no longer did. If anyone would have, it would have been Cookie, but she swore up and down that she no longer remembered how to play anything. Hmm.

Bed

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The room Sis stayed in—its name was Jane
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Cookie’s room was named Sophie, like the cat
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My room, Thelma…mmm, comfy!

The rooms were given names instead of numbers, which is always fun. And if you like spotless, crisp white sheets as much as I do, you’d appreciate the linens. The large windows (lovely views!) and restored blond woodwork and floors made the rooms light and cheery. Fresh cut flowers from the outside garden brightened each guest room and other rooms throughout the inn.

Breakfast

Alice cooked delicious breakfasts that kept us fueled far, far into the day. There were two vegetarians at the inn—a lovely young structural engineer who was there with her husband, and me. We both found plenty to eat during breakfast at The Snowbird, and the meat eaters had good choices, too. There were homemade muffins and fresh fruit every morning, as well as French press coffee. I can’t even remember all the food choices on offer, but I do recall savoring the almond crème brulee French toast the first day, the broccoli quiche the second day, and eggs Benedict on Sunday, our last morning. Also, I can’t believe we have no pictures of the sunny dining room or the exquisite place settings. The table looked different every morning, and always lovely.

To be continued…

Anyway, our long Michigan weekend was about relaxation, food and fun. My next post will be all about the food Alice didn’t make for us; she isn’t the only good cook in Michigan. After that, I’ll tell you about the fun.

Million Word Party — Recap

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I wish I had pictures of the singing and ice cream, but I was too busy singing, eating, drinking, mingling, and accepting congratulations to snap pictures.  A couple of days later, I was able to take pictures of the gifts and cards I received, so I’m sharing those.* These mementos were an unexpected perk of giving the party. Featured below are a few closeups of the handmade items.

Tim, knowing of my recent fondness for gnomes (I blame the Writing the Other workshop), made me a congratulatory sculpture, which now lives in my writing area.

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Isn’t it fantastic?

In addition to sharing much-needed freezer space, Beth put Al to work. Using his arcane computer knowledge, he was able to offer advice on how to generate the next million words.

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I knew the responsible party immediately

Whitey used leather working skills I didn’t even know he had to create this gorgeous journal cover, which he filled with Moleskine soft cover note books. I carry a notebook with me most of the time to note observations and ideas; this will replace what I’ve been using. For all you Doctor Who fans, the cover symbol is in Gallifreyan, the script of the Time Lords. It means create.

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Learn to write Gallifreyan here!

I got other lovely gifts and cards as well. There’s Bird by Bird (by Anne Lamott) and a fabulous multicolored set of disposable fountain pens from Jack and Carol. There’s the wall hanging from Dick and Jill that proclaims “The Book was so much Better”.  There were thoughtful congratulatory cards from Sue and Ed and Kim, too.

Sis gave the gift of a venue. With all the traveling this summer, my house was in no shape to receive guests, so she generously offered hers and it was swell, from the living room that was transformed into singalong space through the kitchen which became the ice cream bar to the backyard patio with fire pit.

Cookie and Cookie Junior brought brownies and beverages and gave me the gift of time to actually attend the party by taking over serving and cleanup work in the kitchen. Joanne brought yummy homemade peanut butter cookies.

We all loved the comic Hindi song Kishin and Rita performed for us and the song-leading and instrumental gifts that Jack, Bill, Al and BK provided.

I haven’t yet mentioned several people who gifted me with their presence and good spirits: Camille, Cheryl, Katherine, Barry, Sabrina, Len, Carole, Pam, Cathy, and Kim. I have to admit, though that the attendees who astonished me the most were Bro and his lovely Bride, who came all the way from Houston without letting their intentions slip in any way.

If I forgot to mention anyone or to connect the right person with the right card/gift, I’m sorry. Please blame it on the overwhelm factor.

For those interested in the ice cream, here are the flavors we made for the party: caramel pecan, chocolate, coconut, lemon-orange gelato, peppermint, pineapple sorbet, strawberry yogurt, triple chocolate, vanilla, and vanilla yogurt.

We also created frozen (and other) drinks that required plenty of ice cream, including root beer floats, coffee or chocolate stout floats, piña coladas and grasshoppers.

A lovely time was had by all, or at least by me! Thanks again to all involved.

*Disclaimer: In no way did we expect the party to be a gift-giving occasion. BK and I were just delighted that people were willing to show up and celebrate.

Civil War Days – Medicine & Music

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Part  1 of 2

I recently went to my first Civil War reenactment. Up until May 18, 2014, everything I ever knew about Civil War re-enactors, I learned from Sharyn McCrumb’s Highland Laddie Gone. The people in that book were wacky, so I approached the experience with some trepidation. However, I am now a fan. My attitude changed when Sis and I visited Naper Settlement’s Civil War Days.

I was more comfortable at Civil War Days than I expected to be. You can ask Sis. She was a great companion, but I was a terrible one. I neglected her for long stretches while I picked the brains of faux quartermasters, period musicians, and medicine show charlatans.

To be fair, Sis had some warning that I was attending for research purposes. My current novel (working title: Dr. Miracle’s Medicine Show) is set a few years after the Civil War. Visiting a living history museum seemed a great way to see how people dressed, ate, and otherwise managed their lives back then.

Sis always says that you should try to learn 3 new things every day. Since it was a special research trip, I tried to learn more than that, but here are a few of the new things I either learned, and/or got to see up close and personal:

40Miler
Professor Farquar at his 40-miler, meeting a client

I met “Professor Farquar” (aka Sanford Lee) who told me a lot about medicine shows, and got to check out his 40-miler wagon. While a big medicine show—like the ones for Hamlin’s Wizard Oil or Kickapoo Indian Sagwa—might use Percheron horses to pull their wagons, the little shows were much more compact. These smaller shows didn’t range more than about 40 miles from their home base. They might use donkeys if that’s all they could get, but they often liked to use zebras or llamas. What a great way to generate buzz!

Professor Farquar and I compared research notes and found that we’d done some of the same research on medicine shows, but he had one source that blew me away. Al Lewis (the guy who played Grandpa Munster on the old Munsters TV show) used to work the medicine show circuit! He gave Professor Farquar useful tips back in the days when they used to perform in dinner theatre together.

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Playing jawbone & banjo—gourd banjo (inset)

And then, I learned bunches from the John and Elaine Masciale of Tin Cremona.

First, about banjos: Banjos were like the electric guitars of the 19th century—far and away the most popular instrument of the time. They didn’t always sound like they do now. Their precursors were made by African-Americans from gourds and gut. Even once white Euro-Americans co-opted the instrument, it was still made with wood, using gut strings. The period instruments sounded softer and mellower than the metal string banjos I’m used to hearing. You can hear a sample here, courtesy of Old Fiddle Road Banjo Works.

Next, the old minstrel shows had four major performers, which accounts for honorifics you may have heard in other contexts, like Mr. Tambo (or Tambourine), Mr. Banjo, Mr. Fiddle, and Mr. Bones. Mr. Bones, literally, played the jawbone of an ass. In the days of gourd banjos, ass jawbones were easier to come by than they are nowadays, and if you were a slave on a plantation, no one cared much how musically gifted you were, so you had to make do. The minstrel shows—even the ones where people merely pretended to be black—started out with the traditional instruments. So one of the percussion instruments was usually a jawbone.

Finally, I was pleased to learn that not all of the old minstrel shows consisted of white men in burnt cork makeup. There was one group, the Georgia Minstrels, who were actually African American. How did I not know this? I’m already plotting a way to work it into a story somehow.

Million Dollar Quartet

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Apollo Theater in Chicago

This is my last Bro-related post for a while. Bro and Bride went back to Houston a few weeks ago, but we did take one more fun excursion—not previously shared in this space—while they were in town.

Bride said that at some point during their visit, she’d love to see some theatre. A lot of times when people say that, they mean they want to see one of the big touring shows. This can be an occasion for eye-rolling from a host who lives in the area and knows that Chicago’s local theatre is awesome. However, Bride knows there are plenty of worthy shows all over Chicago, and she was happy to see something homegrown.

Left to my own devices, I might opt for an original play, something on the experimental side, like In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story at Lookingglass Theatre, but we needed to pick something everyone would like. We hoped to get into the Second City revue, but you can’t exactly do that at the last minute.

Luckily, we ended up finding tickets to Million Dollar Quartet at the Apollo Theatre. The Apollo is a fun little theatre. They’ve previously produced other shows along the same lines as Million Dollar Quartet, by which I mean musicals based on actual performers/events, which feature their big hits as kind of a backbone to the proceedings. Sis and I saw Always Patsy Cline there some years back. On that occasion, and before we even got into the performance space, we discovered that they served Schlitz beer, a brand we hadn’t seen in years. The reason they were serving it became clear very shortly into the performance, when we saw the actress playing Patsy knocking them back.

Yep. At the Apollo, they encourage you to bring your drinks into the theatre. Once Bro discovered this, he was totally on board with the entire concept. Other than a pretty relaxed theatrical experience, though, we weren’t sure exactly what we were letting ourselves in for. The good news is, it was a lot of fun: a tight show that clocked in around 90 minutes, with no intermission. So you’d be all right attending in the middle of the week, even if you live in the suburbs, because you still won’t be up too late.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the show, Million Dollar Quartet is based on an actual event—the night of December 4, 1956. Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley were all at Sun Records together, and magic happened. It’s a great excuse to hear some fun music, like Who Do You Love, Sixteen Tons, Hound Dog, Whole Lotta Shaking…I could go on and on. The actor/musicians blew me away, especially Lance Lipinsky as Jerry Lee Lewis and Shaun Whitley as Carl Perkins. But really, the show was about a pivotal night in the life of Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records. He was an artist in his own right, or at least a muse, and people just don’t remember him in the same way that they remember the names of the guys in the quartet. Anyone who’s ever tried to express something new artistically could relate to Sam Phillips’ struggles. That’s what spoke to me most about Million Dollar Quartet. It had something for everyone, or at least something for everyone in our group: fun, drinks, music and a thought-provoking, character-driven story line.