Monthly Archives: June 2015

Friday night lights, camera, comedy!

We enjoyed a rare opportunity to see the oldest and the youngest Kostelnik granddaughters perform Friday in Chicago in separate shows that shared twin themes of sweet laughter and sassy fun.

My eight-year old niece Erin capped off her summer theatre camp experience by playing the Abominable Snowman in the cutest production of Frozen we’ve seen. (And Disney set that bar pretty high, no?)

With a hand-painted backdrop, homemade costumes and a cast of seven girls of varying tooth gap degrees, the show featured choreographed dances and dramatic prose. Mostly, said the Emerald City Theatre Director, they worked on teamwork.

Teamwork also featured prominently in Pure and Weary’s sketch comedy show “Nerd Alert” at the Annoyance Theatre.

The 45-minute set featured a lively contemporary musical debate – Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, a jolly romp through Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, a Shakespearean dissection of text messaging, among many other nerdy riffs.

The whip smart comedy is the perfect kickoff to a summer weekend. Nerd Alert runs on Friday evenings through July. With $6 tickets and available “Atomic Wedgie” drinks, we think it’s the bargain of the summer.

Frozen Nerd Alert 020

I think the abominable snowman spotted me.

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They were missing a few teeth, but they never missed a beat.

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So cute!

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Ladies and Gentleman,meet the latest cast of Frozen.

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The abominable snowman and her mother.

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The oldest and youngest Kostelnik granddaughters

Frozen Nerd Alert 118

Nerd Alert! Charlie and his Grandma Peggy

Frozen Nerd Alert 120

Nerds in the audience

Frozen Nerd Alert 160

Lord of the Rings, or Harry Potter?

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Tickets are available now through the Annoyance Theatre in Chicago.

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Pure and

Frozen Nerd Alert 221


Frozen Nerd Alert 196


10 things I vow to do before the summer ends

Fiber Rain and the art of spinning a yarn

When my friend Jeannie invited me to Fiber Rain, Appleton’s yarn art themed downtown extravaganza, I knew I had to go.

Jeannie and I don’t knit at all, but ever since Mrs. Rossmeissel assigned her to me in second grade, we have shared an avid interest in spinning a yarn.

We also share a love for our home town, and we celebrated both Friday night as we wandered through each lovely store.

Jeannie cracks me up. Someday, I expect her to headline the Improv. So, I definitely chuckled through the evening walk, but I also took care of some important business.

At the Blue Moon Emporium, I watched owner Cathy Stratton hand print a T-shirt I requested for my son, Charlie. I gave it to him later that night when we met up at the Fox River House for a fun little night cap.

In between those two stops, we managed to chat with an excited new painter, admire a young photographer’s work, watch an artist spin a pot, check on the progress of a stained glass window restoration, and nosh on a free ice cream bar.

We’re both looking forward to the next installation of Appleton’s Celebrate Downtown series on July 17. It’s called Chalk on the Town and I, for one, intend to do some hopskotching.

See you there.

Jeannie at the Fire

I’d have bought one of these beautiful pieces, but I currently have nowhere to hang it.

Fiber Rain

We thought this street mural captured the spirit of the event best.

Handmade in Appleton

Made in Appleton, man. Doesn’t get any better than that.

Making the shirt 1

Speaking of which, I had actual business to conduct. Here is Kathy making the T-shirt I picked out for Charlie.

Making the shirt 2

She placed the screen print on the shirt while I helpfully sipped a glass of wine offered and accepted in honor of the event.

Making the shirt 3

A little bit of magic and Voila!

Making the shirt 4

I like it here.


He loved the shirt.


These girls had information about ARTiculture CSA, a cool community supported art program that works like Community Supported Agriculture. You buy a share and end up with six pieces of original art. You can see the website on the picture, but I’ll help —

Art on the Town guest artist

This featured artist at the Vintage Garden adds her own touch to old paintings. She was very excited to be a part of the evening and we loved her work. Sadly, I lost her business card.

Art supplies

I’m not sure who made this little note with the available crafts, but I thought it was sweet.

Glass restoration

We checked on the progress of this stained glass restoration. The window is from the Lawrence Chapel.


This is Christina and that cool picture she took is a self portrait. Look closely, in it she’s hanging off a train.

Jeannie in a mirror

What follows is a series of mirror shots because I could not help myself. Do you see my friend Jeannie?

Jeannie and I


One  more super unflattering mirror pic

And, the super unflattering security mirror shot.


The yarn art displays are still up all over downtown. Grab yourself a vintage friend and head on down.

The Road Home — A Post by Molly

According to the U.S. Census, over 33.3 million Americans claim Irish ancestry. Like most of those 33.3 million, I’ve always taken my Irish ancestry for granted. Other than one poorly attended Irish dance class in kindergarten, I never made much of an effort to connect to the Irish culture. However, when my choir went to Ireland last week, I couldn’t help feeling connected to my roots. With each new tune, church, dance, and meal, I felt more and more linked to the Mackeys of Limerick, the Kennedys of Tipperary, and the Shays of Clare. More so, however, I felt thankful for their sacrifice. If I had a hard time leaving Ireland after only a week-long visit, I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for each of my ancestors and their families. Departure is a strong part of Irish history. Among Dublin’s many monuments of martyrs and patriots are memorials for those forced to leave their beloved country. The Jeanie Johnston sits poised on the River Liffey, a memory of all the passengers it carried across the ocean.

Without the courage of Hugh Kennedy, Bridget Mackey, and Mary Ellen Shay, I wouldn’t exist. However, I also owe much of existence to someone who didn’t make it across the pond, Molly Mackey. If Molly had made it to America, Bridget’s life and the life of her descendants would’ve been very different.

The Mackey clan of Limerick was notorious for their hurling skills. A three-hour Gaelic Games workshop gave me the chance to test me own skills. We started off with Gaelic football. After a few drills, we  held a somewhat successful game. There was even talk of starting a Gaelic Games club at our high school. Then came the hurling drills, and we began questioning our burgeoning skill. After a hopelessly scoreless hurling game, I concluded that the Mackey hurling gene didn’t make it to America.

The Mackey family of Gooig were farmers. On my trip I visited a working sheep farm. The tour included tea and scones, a sheep-shearing demonstration, and a chance to feed the lambs. It all seemed very quaint and enjoyable… for someone much shorter than me. My tour guide said the Vikings introduced height to the Irish population; apparently the Vikings never visited this farmhouse because every door was less than six feet high.

Despite her great impact, according to the Irish census, Molly Mackey led a fairly quiet life. In 1911 (20 years after her sister left for America), she was unmarried and lived on her family farm with her mother and brother. There are no accounts of her after that (the 1926 census won’t be public until 2027), but I still felt her presence throughout my trip. The meals I ate, the songs I sang, the people I met, they were all thanks to Molly, so I brought her along with me in stories, and toasts and candles. It wouldn’t have been the same without her.

Tom the tour-guide singing us the Limerick anthem.

The choir singing The Road Home at St. Patrick’s Cathedral

You must be this short to enter

You must be this short to enter

Low ceilings aside, we all had a wonderful time at the farm.

Low ceilings aside, we all had a wonderful time at the farm.


The Cliffs of Moher

Our friendly guide Tom, from Limerick, told me all about the Mackey clan, and called me Miss Mackey throughout the trip (a name I was proud to answer to).

Our friendly guide Tom, from Limerick, told me all about the Mackey clan, and called me Miss Mackey throughout the trip (a name to which I was proud to answer).

The County Outigamie champion hurling team

The County Outagamie champion hurling team

Kylemore Abbey, totally worth the motion sickness on the peat roads.

Kylemore Abbey, totally worth the motion sickness those rolling peat roads gave us.

Our concert at the Kylemore chapel drew a great crowd. There's a candle for Molly burning there.

Our concert at the Kylemore chapel drew a great crowd. There’s a candle for Molly Mackey burning there.

Our Lady Assumed into Heaven has a candle burning for Molly Mackey too.

Our Lady Assumed into Heaven has a candle burning for Molly Mackey too.

Lessons our fathers taught us

One of our greatest gifts has been our happy membership in a large and diverse family that stretches coast to coast and across the sea. Good father has become a redundant phrase within our ranks. The dads in our family are a clever bunch and today we’re saluting all of them.

My dad taught me to parallel park on the busiest street in town. At the time, I thought I was very brave to do so. In retrospect, I realize he was.

Please enjoy the following lessons our fathers taught us, from our family to yours.

“When I was little my dad and I would go on long walks. We spent most of our time admiring the trees, leaves, dogs, and other creatures along the way. Sometimes if we saw something beautiful in the landscape, we would take sketchpads to that spot and try to draw what we saw. He taught me to look up and admire the world.”

“My dad made sure to take each of his six kids to our first day of grade school and for our driver’s license test. He, my mom, and my grandparents together were there for plenty of other events, but my dad really wanted to have a couple special memories that only he shared with each of us/all of us, so he committed to both those milestones with me and made sure he stuck with it for all the rest of the kids. I’m sure it took some creative scheduling on his part, but it taught me that it’s worth making time to create memories.”

“My dad taught me that you must be going at least 55 m.p.h. when you reach the top of an entrance ramp. If you’re going slower than that, you’re a menace. He also taught me a little sunburn just turns into a base tan so don’t worry about sunblock.”

“My dad taught me the importance of being well rounded. It’s not how long it takes you to do a job, it’s how well you do it. Don’t be sorry, just don’t do it again (after I’d done something wrong) and, there are plenty of fish in the sea (after a break up)”

“My dad taught me to be polite and respectful of others – and to love a good sports car.”

“My dad’s constantly giving me solid advice, even when I don’t think I need it. Most recently, I was getting ready to go to Chicago for the Blackhawks rally and he told me to pack an extra shirt because, ‘You never know when you’re going to need an extra shirt.’ I thought it was ridiculous to pack extra clothes for a day trip, so I didn’t do it. Then, the morning I left, he woke up at 4:30am and said again that I should pack an extra shirt, so I begrudgingly did… and damned, if I’m not wearing that extra shirt right now. Dad: 1, Humidity: 0.”

“My dad taught me how to make a Mickey Mouse pancake and brat scramblers, to brush my teeth, to golf with a balance of precision and leisure, to out prepare the opposition, to put my family first, how to burp in texts, to appreciate chubby babies and to enjoy a good Seinfeld reference.”

“My dad taught me to be kind and respect people and listen. But, just so you know, I don’t always do that.”

“Two things my dad taught me when I was growing up were never ever cheat at golf. You will only be hurting yourself and the integrity of the game. Secondly, he taught me to control my temper/emotions on the course. I was far from having the most talent, but I often won by staying even keel. Never too high or too low.”

“My aversion to butter and mayonnaise alarmed my dad and he told me I’d better learn to like those things because I needed to grease up my lungs. Thankfully,I never learned to like butter or mayonnaise.”

“Always lead trump when you’re the picker in Sheepshead. Open the door for ladies.”

“Work hard. Do your best. Check numbers. Draw good maps. Take care of others. Enjoy life.”

“People skills. Memorize names at a party by associating one fact about a person with the name. Be the person to connect others. Don’t be a link in the chain. Make the chain.”

“You always need an emergency bag of Cheetos.”


“You can’t half-ass anything.”


“It’s okay to bend the rules sometimes.”


“Earn respect. Be loyal and love your family first.”


“A few months ago when my dad bought my mom a car, I was making fun of him a bit because we already have too many. I said that I don’t think buying it was a good decision. He said to me, “Mike, sometimes you have to do something stupid. Your boss, your employees, your friends and your family members will all say, ‘Why the hell did you do that?’ and to that you just say, ‘I don’t know.’”


“Never cheat yourself out of your best effort, whether in the courtroom or the classroom, don’t waste an opportunity to do your best.”

Vince and Vinnie

Vinnie and his dad.

Grandpa Fey

My Grandpa Fey gave great advice, the greasy lung talk not withstanding.

Dad, Charlie, Vince

Three of my favorites.

Molly and grandpa vince

Molly and her Grandpa Vince, whose lessons transcend.

Katherine and Grandpa Ron

I love this picture of Katherine and her Grandpa Ron.

Travein and his dad Keith, now a retired school administrator, make a dapper duo.

Travein and his dad Keith, now a retired school administrator.

Brian and Erin

Here is Erin, dancing with her dad.

Lizzy, Clay and Joan

Lizzy, her dad Clay and mom Joan

Ryan and Dennis

Ryan and his dad Dennis

The tortoise and the hair-y squirrel

I accidentally kicked a squirrel last week. It happened on my morning jog. I thought I had cleared the little guy as he and his friends sprinted out from the bottom of a birch tree.

But my big old foot made contact with his chubby body and I think he flew a bit. I looked back and saw him glaring back at me, shaken up but clearly more embarrassed than hurt.

“Listen, little buddy,” I said. “You have got to kick it in gear! If you can’t beat a jogging Laura, how are you going to dart past a speeding car?”

We both shook heads and scampered away.

I am a city jogger; I lope along through parks, past fire stations and over railroad tracks, in shady neighborhoods and by a paper mill.

On my urban route I have startled a pretty impressive variety of wildlife.

Yesterday, for instance, I raced a giant snapping turtle up a hill. I’m pretty sure she flipped me off.

One foggy, Hitchcock morning, a whole gaggle of geese simultaneously turned their heads and hissed at me. I swung wide and hustled home. The whole scene still freaks me out.

A chattering chipmunk paces me nearly every time I pass one corner house, races along next to me a step or two, and then dives into the bushes. One day, I intend to dive there first. That’ll show him. Ha!

Twice I found myself innocently running between a hidden bird’s nest and a helicopter mother bird. I did the duck and swoop dance for a stride or two and thanked the good Lord I escaped with both eyeballs intact.

Here’s the thing about my little feral frenemies — they keep me hopping.

Tomorrow morning my alarm will sound and I won’t want to get out of bed.

I’ll stumble to the kitchen and I won’t want to leave the house.

I’ll lace up my running shoes and I won’t want to jog.

But I will.

And I can’t wait to see what the morning brings…


I raced this bad boy to the top of a hill. I may or may not have taunted when I reached the top, fists raised, dancing around and the like. She was not impressed. I’m pretty sure she flipped me off.


This is another great perk of the morning jog. I really love a beautiful sunrise.

Fish and a chip off the old block

Until my brother in-law Dennis came to visit, we thought of the Oconto River as a recreational vehicle, transporting us via kayak, canoe, or inner tube from drop in point to cabin on frothy summer waves.

It formed a scenic, babbling backdrop to the view from our front porch swing.

Then Dennis arrived with his green lures and earthworms, license and reels, and we learned our charming river could be an excellent food source as well.

Dennis is a fisherman, the kind of guy who can land a small mouth bass, clean, filet, pan fry and serve it faster than you can say, “Hey, Mr. Grumpy Gills.”

He once fished an entire weekend with a wire hook embedded in his lower lip.

“It was a brand new hook so I knew it was clean,” he said. “It hurt a lot, but I got six beautiful trout that weekend, including the biggest Steelhead I’ve ever caught.”

This weekend, he and his son, our nephew Ryan, taught us a little something about how to eat food so fresh it melts in your mouth, and so delicious you want to chew anyway.

I took notes, but there’s no way we’ll be able to recreate that meal.

Norman McLean wrote in A River Runs Through It, “If our father had had his way, nobody who did not know how to fish would be allowed to disgrace a fish by catching him.”

Ryan and Dennis, two very skilled fishermen, honored their catch.

We’re grateful for every bite our family fishermen provided us, and for every moment they spent with us.


Dennis is the best kind of fisherman. He can spin a good yarn at the same time he untangles a 40-year old snarl of fishing lines in my dad’s old tackle box.

Dennis fishing

Here he is showing us all how it’s done on the river.

Ryan and his fish

Though, I have to be honest, Ryan caught the biggest fish.

Ryan fly fishing

Here is Ryan casting on the river. He picked up a wood tick or two, but he found an excellent spot.

Dennis with his catch

Dennis with a couple of his catch.

Dennis in action

Here is Dennis in action in the kitchen. Pan fried bass.

Donna, Vinnie, Sharon Ryan

My sister in-law Donna, Vinnie, my sister in-law Sharon, the family historian, and Ryan.

My plate

My plate. Be jealous. Be very jealous. That’s fresh, smoked (by Dennis) salmon, which he caught the day before in Lake Michigan, fruit salad, and the flakiest pan friend fish I’ve ever tasted.


There’s a bear in the woods

Tracing the fascinating history of Mary Margaret (called Molly)

Though we named her for her two grandmothers, Mary Jane and Margaret Joan, our Mary Margaret (called Molly) also shares her name with a fascinating figure in family lore whose heroism some 125 years ago continues to intrigue.

Around 1890, Mary Margaret (called Molly) Mackey gave up her passenger ship ticket to her sister, Bridget Mackey, who used it to flee an arranged marriage.

The ticket allowed Bridget to travel from Gouig, Castleconnell in Limerick, Ireland to Chicago without her parents’ permission.

Years later, in Chicago, Bridget met Hugh Kennedy of Tipperary, Ireland and the two wed. Following the birth of their oldest two children, Bridget suffered a period of depression and her doctor told her she should return to Ireland and reconcile with her father. Bridget Mackey Kennedy took her two children with her to Ireland. After renewing ties with her parents she recovered from her depression and returned to Chicago, where she had four more children, including a namesake daughter, Bridget Kennedy.

The second Bridget Kennedy, who did not care for her first name and legally changed it to Cecilia, wed Raymond Bauer and had two children, including the Outlaw Mary Jane, for whom our daughter originally was named.

Maybe, if you’re following along, you’re wondering what happened to the selfless Molly Mackey, who not only gave up her ticket to America, but also stuck around Gouig, Castleconnell to bear the wrath of her angry father.

So are we.

Tomorrow Mary Margaret (called Molly) Biskupic heads to Ireland with the Appleton North choir. They’ll travel from Chicago to Dublin, just like Bridget Mackey Kennedy did a century ago (albeit by plane instead of boat.) Still…

The choir performs a lunchtime concert at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on June 11; sings at the 11:00 mass at the Abbey Presbyterian Church in Dublin on Sunday June 14; performs a concert at the Kylemore Abbey in Connemara at noon on June 15 and sings with the students at Colaiste Connacht  in Galway on June 16.

Should you be in the area and claim any relation to Mary Margaret (called Molly) Mackey of Gouig, Castleconnell in Limerick, Mary Margaret (called Molly) Biskupic would like to say, “Thanks.”

The old Mackey House

Molly and Bridget Mackey’s childhood home.

The Kennedy family

The Kennedy family. That’s little Bridget, who changed her name to Cecilia, on the far right, and Bridget, who fled the arranged marriage seated two from the left.

Bauer family with Cecilia Kennedy Bauer

The Bauer family dinner table — that’s Cecilia at the head, with her son Raymond. To her left is Bridget Mackey Kennedy and to Bridget’s left is Mary Jane Bauer (Molly’s grandma).

Bread Pudding 014

I like this picture of our Mary Margaret (called Molly) and I wonder how many of her interesting relatives are reflected when she looks in a mirror.