Monthly Archives: March 2016

Feeling the Bern and weighing the vote

If the worst parts about living in a battleground state are the phone calls and television commercials (and they ARE!), the best parts are the personal visits from the candidates themselves.

Yesterday, Molly and her dad waited in line for more than three hours to hear what Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders had to say. The day before, they drove to Madison to check out Republican presidential candidate John Kasich. They’re considering other visits to more candidates as their schedules allow.

The best part about all that father/daughter time is the opportunity to learn about each other while they vet candidates.

Vince will be voting in his ninth presidential election this year, Molly, who doesn’t turn 18 until August, will be voting in her first.

Their refreshing discussions about American politics have temporarily replaced more mundane topics like curfews, what constitutes appropriate attire, and bedroom cleanliness. They read the literature, listen to the interviews, and weigh candidate positions.

Though each has different ideas about what constitutes an ideal candidate, both Molly and Vince enjoy a good issue-oriented debate and they celebrate their right to cast a vote.

It’s easy in this social media obsessed world we live in to rely on outside sources for information on candidates. But, Twitter traction doesn’t necessarily equate with actual relevance to voters’ lives.

That’s why it’s been such a great opportunity for Molly and Vince to step out and hear from the candidates themselves.

I have had the privilege to serve as a witness to recounts in contested elections twice in my life. I can tell you, in those situations, that every single vote matters.

Tuesday will be a big day in Wisconsin. While we’re not going to tell you for whom to cast your vote, we do encourage you to take some time to get to know the candidates.

American politics can be confounding, but the ability to cast a vote based on your personal conviction is a sweet privilege that, when you think about it, is eternally cool, whether it’s your first presidential election or your ninth.

Molly in line

Molly, Vince and well over 3,000 of their closest friends stood in line for hours to see Bernie Sanders.

Bernie rally line

Some of Molly’s friends set up camp at 5 a.m. to get seats for the noon rally.

Bernie rally

Molly and Vince ended up in the second to last row of the third tier.

Kasich rally

They sat closer to John Kasich at his event in Madison the day before.

John Kasich bus

Keep your eyes peeled for the Kasich bus as it rolls through Wisconsin.

George Bush, Vince, Molly, Katherine, Charlie, Vinnie and me

This picture from 2000 cracks us up. Check out two-year old Molly’s near stink eye. She’s always been an independent political thinker. George Bush campaigned heavily in Wisconsin back then. Four years later, John Kerry hosted a rally on the football field right next to our house. Being a battleground state offers plenty of opportunities to meet the candidates.


A lovely spring tramp

The summer before he died, my dad spent all of his free time chopping a walking path along the Oconto River.

He’d emerge after spending hours in the woods, dirty, sweaty, all scratched up from tree branches and wild blackberry bushes, and grinning like an eight-year old on the first day of summer vacation.

The project began with a simple sickle and an axe, but became more sophisticated with every chop. Eventually, he enlisted friends and family to ferry wood pieces via a small river boat to designated drop off points. He’d emerge from the woods to the river’s edge, gather the two-by-fours, and disappear again into the depths.

That summer he built nine bridges along the mile-long path and, sweetly, marked the end of the route by carving two wood chairs out of fallen trees for his grandchildren, five-year old Charlie and three-year old Katherine.

On Friday, we took a lovely spring tramp along the route my dad carved more than 23 years ago. We had our doubts, but the bridges held our weight, though they’d languished untended all this time.

We marveled as we crunched through the knee-deep snow — at the freshness of the air, the stillness of the woods, the promise of new life under all that frozen ground, and, mostly, at my dad’s profound legacy.

We intend to resurrect “Peggy’s Bridle Path,” which is what my dad called his summer project, and we’re deeply grateful for the opportunity to do so. We’re not particularly handy, but we know that’s okay.

We’ll make our way slowly, gratefully accept advice from our talented friends, and follow the generous path my dad carved for us so enthusiastically during the hot summer of 1992.

The bench

My dad built this deck too and we’ve made good use of it through the years. We enter the bridle path just to the left of it.

Snow covered bridge

I thought this bridge looked beautiful though, I must confess, I was not the first in our little tramping party to brave crossing it.

Reflectin in the river

The river was uncharacteristically still on Friday, owing to deep waters and very little wind.

The first bridge

This poor bridge looked a little less sturdy, but it held up under all of us. Whew!

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I just like this picture of Molly, her shadow and her reflection in the pond next to another bridge my dad built.


And I liked the pattern of snow on this tall evergreen.


We paused every now and then in our tramping to enjoy the day’s beauty.

2016-03-27 18.09.13

The little chair I’m sitting on and the giant blaze orange snow suit I’m wearing are both legacies from my dad. Molly refused to wear the blaze orange but, I’m telling you, I stayed warm and dry on that two hour tramp. This is one of the chairs my dad carved for his grandchildren.


I also love this picture of Molly dancing through the woods. We never take for granted the unique ability to make our own tracks through these beautiful woods.



Hello from the other side of Appleton

We live in an enviable neighborhood, in the north central heart of the city. We mark our days by the church bell tolls, and summon children home when the street lights turn on.

Yesterday, a community service officer helped my neighbor Donna track down a lost chicken she found wandering our street. No one raises chickens here. We’re just helpful like that.

We live in old, solid houses and, though our garages our detached, our residents are not.

The City of Appleton found that out this year when they announced that they would be closing the Erb Park Pool.

Even I was taken aback by this neighborhood’s passionate response. In a lovely example of how government can work, the city reversed its decision, listened to the specific requests of its citizens, and came up with an incredible design for a new pool.

We have a contested mayoral race this year, featuring 20-year incumbent Tim Hanna and his challenger, Josh Dukelow.

Naturally, we have a few specific questions for the candidates from our position here on the other side of Appleton.

1) What are your specific plans to work the ThedaCare to keep the Appleton Medical Center right where it has been since 1958?

2) How will you develop Wisconsin Avenue?

3) How will you allocate resources to address crime in Appleton, particularly stranger-on-stranger crime?

We’ve heard some vague references and one alarming idea of converting the hospital to a giant housing complex, but we’re very protective of this area and we’re hoping for more.

We’re lucky to live in this city and we know that. So, whatever happens on April 5th, we’d like to thank Mayor Hanna for his 20 years of service to the community. We’d also like to thank Josh for his eagerness to serve.

We like both candidates, but we’re going to vote for the one who offers the best specific plans for our neighborhood and the city it represents.

Wisconsin Avenue

We’re thrilled with all of the riverfront and College Avenue development, but we’d like to see Wisconsin Avenue get some attention too. 

Three times in one weekend I was THAT mom

On Sunday, I noticed my son had not been participating in a lively group text among his siblings and me. Naturally, I assumed he was incapacitated in some way.

It’s not that the family group chats are mandatory, it’s just that they’re fun and who wouldn’t want to chime in? Am I right?

So I skimmed his social media accounts, noting the last time he’d either posted or responded.

It was a little too long for my comfort, so I sent him a short email and, when he failed to respond in the maternally acceptable time frame I thought we’d established long ago, I assumed he had died. Obviously.

And there I was, watching the Badgers play Xavier and mentally reviewing my schedule for the upcoming week, should an emergency trip to New York become necessary, when Bronson Koenig hit the shot that apparently really was heard around the world and my son texted our little group, “This March truly is madness.”

“He’s alive!” I said to no one in particular, because they were jumping around the family room screaming like normal people who’d just seen one of the most miraculous basketball shots in NCAA history.

And that was just one instance this weekend when I became “That Mom.” You know, the crazy one you swore you’d never be?

On Saturday night, I took a picture of the high school theatre director who’d been central to our family for the past 16 years. He stood alongside three of my kids in a room full of posters marking his incredibly rich history with the school. At least one member of my family (and sometimes several) had been involved with most of those productions.

I tried to thank him, but I choked up.  I had to leave the room. Then, every time I tried to laugh about my over-the-top reaction, I welled up again. I’m not going to lie, things are getting a little blurry for me even as I type this line. What is this salty secretion? And when’s it going to stop?

Argh! I am that mom! And there was more! Earlier that Sunday, I hauled out my camera and followed Molly through her last show as student director of her last high school musical, snapping random pictures like a rookie mom on the first day of school.

I’m currently avoiding mirrors because I’m not sure I’d recognize myself.

I’m writing this post as fair warning. You may want to give me wide berth. I’m sensing the sunset of my last days as an active mother, and I think I might be losing my mind.

Charlie sipping tea in New York

He’s a grown man living a sweet life in the Big Apple, but, when my son Charlie doesn’t return my text messages, I assume the worst. This is a recent picture of him sipping Turkish tea, for Pete’s sake, at a sidewalk cafe. I need to get a grip. But, no…

Molly giving notes

To get this picture of Molly giving notes to the cast, I had to sneak into the choir room and crouch down in a corner, just behind that fan. I may need help…

Molly doing hair

She doesn’t even know I’m in the green room with her, snapping this picture…

Cooling room

But, then, I followed her to this room and the gig was up. Apparently, the infamous lemon ceremony, a good luck tradition for the crew, is off limits to the paparazzi.

Mr. Parker, Vinnie, Molly and Katherine

This picture of all that history on those walls and within those people makes me cry. Yikes. It’s only March.



Under the Sea

Under the Sea

The Appleton North Theatre Department’s magnificent run of the Little Mermaid offered an excellent opportunity to showcase what happens under the sea of a live theatre performance.

The deep waters there churned with enthusiasm, creativity, talent and an unbelievably generous commitment of time.  That’s where all of the ideas that sprang from the foam of director Ron Parker’s frenetic imagination came to life.

“I’d like to portray the sea characters as puppets,” he said and, just like that, Mary Abraham and Catherine McKenzie, two alumni parent volunteers set to work designing and then sewing the most amazing collection of theatre puppets this side of Avenue Q.

“And then, the curtains will open and a large wooden ship will appear,” he said as Pete Abraham and Tony Tennessen, also alumni parent volunteers, licked their chops. Shepherding and educating a team of students, they built an enormous and still surprisingly agile sea worthy vessel.

Theatre mom Melissa Ptacek spent long, long days in the green room sewing beautiful, intricate costumes for a cast of more than 70 actors, many of whom played multiple characters. Mr. Parker likes to double cast roles, which maximizes both student opportunity and costume sewing challenges. Melissa coordinated a team of volunteer sewers including mothers, grandmothers and generous community members.

Concession coordinators and volunteers, Shelly Tesch and Wendy Peterson, together with a crew of crafters, handmade many of the items they sold. Midway through their record setting run, they ran out of the wands they had designed. So, they ordered more seashells and hosted another crafting party to make sure their concession stand had plenty to offer for the second weekend of the run. They packaged delicate items in hand-stamped mermaid boxes.

The program listed 61 volunteers and many others just stepped in to help during the run. They helped with box office, concessions, publicity, set building, sewing, strike, rehearsal meals and so much more. The volunteers did it to support their kids, to enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded, generous people, and because it is thrilling to play even a small role in the production of a high quality show.

If you ever have the opportunity to volunteer for a high school theatre production, we encourage you to dive in. You’ll find a diverse group of hard-working, generous people who will be happy to make you part of their world.

The following images are all courtesy of my talented friend Catherine McKenzie. Do youself a favor and check out her website at

Mary and Catherine

Mary and Catherine designed and then sewed all of these adorable puppets. They’re truly amazing (both the puppets and the puppetmasters).

Melissa at work

Melissa Ptacek, who son Jack played Eric, spent many, many hours in the green room sewing all of those beautiful costumes.

Cathy Stratton

Cathy Stratton and her husband Mike, whose son Sam played Grimsby, not only volunteered in the green room, the box office and with the rehearsal meals, but they also hosted the cast party, which, counting pit and crew, involved more than 100 students and their parents.

Tennessen Builders

Tony Tennessen and Pete Abraham built both confidence in the students they supervise, and incredibly cool sets.


Yasmeen is a student seamstress and all around amazing girl. Here she is working  on wigs with costumer Cyndee Wilson.

Ursula Flotsam and Jetsam

I mean, how cool do those Flotsam and Jetsam puppets look? And those amazing costumes? Of course, the student talent was off the charts.

Under the sea

This scene from “Under the Sea” is a perfect example of the creativity at work here. Check out the floating flounder on the left and the hot crustacean band on the right.

Sebastian the Crab

The Sebastian puppet/costume was perfect (as were the two actresses who split that role).


Both Scuttles were also spot on and how about those seagull costumes?

Oh that blowfish blow...

“And oh’ that blowfish blow!”

Flying Scuttle

This scene also embodies the creativity of this production. The blue waves are dancers, the ship looks sea worthy and Scuttle flies. So cool!

Ursula the seawitch

The student talent in this production was as deep as the ocean floor. 

Curtain call

Curtain call. Great costumes, beautiful ship and the tech crew gets to take a bow.


Molly really enjoyed her role as student director of this, her 20th, Appleton North Theatre production.



On yard signs and candidates we deserve

We placed the only yard sign we plan to display during this contentious political season.

It reads “You are beautiful.”

Because you are.

You are busy and impatient sometimes, and maybe you roll through the stop sign in front of our house. You work hard and occasionally snack too much.

You don’t always remember to call your mom but, when you do, you’re grateful for the opportunity to hear her voice.

You rise when the alarm on your silenced cell phone rings, you shovel snow, and haul your garbage cans to the curb even when you all you really want to do is roll over and sleep until noon.

You lose your temper every now and then.

You smile at cute kids in the grocery store, and thank the clerk that checks you out.

You pay your bills as soon as you can.

Oh sure, you’ve tripped a time or two, but you picked yourself up, checked your laces, and kept on moving.

You are beautiful

You really are.

And that’s what you deserve from the people who vow to represent you

You are beautiful, America.

We hope you remember that.

You are beautiful yard sign

March Madness!

What is March Madness, anyway?

Is it the humiliation a college basketball fan feels when she steals herself to cheer for her team’s invitation to play in the lowly NIT and then discovers her team wasn’t asked to attend any party at all?

Is it the desperate craving for midseason entertainment that inspires sophisticated Chicagoans to flock to an otherwise insignificant river to watch it turn green?

Is it the completely understandable Shakespearean warning that poor Julius Caesar took a little too lightly 2060 years ago?

Is it the schizophrenic weather?

Is it the cruel taunt of daylight savings time, which lures pale, squinting Midwesterners out to peer at the early evening sun, “the light! the light!’, and be tricked, once again, into believing that spring has arrived.

Is it beer? The green beer?

Our favorite and very clever comediennes, Pure and Weary, addressed this question in their very funny piece, March Madness.

Give it a look-see. I’ll guarantee you mirth and laughter.

It may even help you forget that your once glorious college basketball team, the one that made it all the way to the Elite Eight just a couple of years ago, did not even merit a single post-season invitation this year.

Get those sadly MU-less brackets in quickly!

And then console yourself with this funny sketch:


March(ung) Madness

March(ing) Madness. “With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.” I mean, we’re working hard to fend off the wrinkles but mirth and laughter? We’re all in.

Here’s to friendship and the rich bread it inspires

It didn’t look like much, zipped into a plastic bag and, well there’s no other word for it, fermenting on my desk.

But my friend Allie asked me if I’d like some friendship starter and, if there’s anything I’ve learned in this long life of mine, it is to open my heart to friendship. So, I said yes to the friendship bread and, in the 10 (ahem, 11) days I spent with it, I learned it was a perfect metaphor for the relationship it represents.

You have to tend to your friendship bread, but it’s also forgiving. I know this because I missed a day and my 10-day recipe became an 11-day one, but the bread turned out just fine. Isn’t friendship like that? Thankfully, mine are.

You have to lean in, though, dust the edges of the pan thoroughly, sprinkle a little cinnamon and sugar on top. My friends don’t ask a lot of me, but they do appreciate my time (and I theirs). It’s important to shove aside the clutter in our lives occasionally, to make room for our friends. Send a little sugar their way, let them spice up your life.

If you commit to a friend, you have to see it through — go camping if you said you would, even though you’re scared; meet for dinner on a day your work ran long; remember the birthdays and anniversaries; listen. I came home late on the day I had to finish my bread and I wasn’t pleased to have to bang around the kitchen well past my bedtime. But, that bread made my whole house smell delightful. I ate a piece of warm, friendship bread before I went to bed and I slept like a pudgy baby.

Of course, friendship is meant to be shared, and so is friendship bread. I hadn’t read the recipe all the way through when the night came to finish it off and I had to improvise a little. My recipe ended up making one large loaf and two smaller ones. I gave the smaller loaves, with a starter and the recipe, to two friends.

In another 10 days, I’ll have more loaves and starter to give.

The bread is rich and that seems right too. I know my own life is infinitely richer for all of the wonderful friends I’ve made a long the way.

Chickens and Kathy's shower 031

I gave my sister Kathy one of my friendship starters. My sisters are two of my best friends.

Don't hate me 'cos ya ain't me

My goofy Gourmet Club friends…

Gourmet Club pirates 018

…have been a source of joy and tasty treats for almost 20 years.

Marquette friends

Ring out Ahoya for our Marquette friends!

Jim, Kathy and Catherine

Some of our fun, crazy smart theatre friends.

work friends

Some of my young work friends, including Allie, the source of my friendship bread.

friendship loaves

Friendship bread.

friendship bread recipe

My copy of the Friendship Bread Recipe. What can I say? I’m a messy cook.



The Magic Strings of Freddie Presto

In our house, we love music. We are shower singers, kitchen dancers, and piano plunkers. Right now, in our living room, there are 13 instruments, ranging from a piano to a didgeridoo, and at one time someone in this house has played them all.
Still, to a person, we understand that we are music’s wingmen, not its soulmate. We play music; we’ve never been inclined to tear apart a piece and work it, measure by measure, until we’ve nailed it down. We appreciate the gift of music in our lives, but we are not its most gifted players.
Still, I found Mitch Albom’s latest book, The Magic Strings of Freddie Presto, fascinating.
Music narrates the book and tells the colorful story of Freddie Presto, “the greatest guitar player to ever walk the earth.”
While it may seem audacious for any mortal to speak for music, Albom, a proud member of the Rock Bottom Remainders, does it with humility and respect.
His passion may be music, but Albom’s gift is in the written word and he infuses his unlikely narrator with authenticity. Music always has been one of life’s greatest story tellers. Albom’s innovative book makes that clear.
I read The Magic Strings of Freddie Presto straight through and it lingers still, in the back of my mind, when I think about how deeply the gift of music can penetrate (and occasionally torture) some of the best people I know.
I highly recommend this book, for musicians, story lovers and people looking for a worthwhile distraction.

Random family photos 2008 (including first day of school) 002

Both my boys played the baritone, based mostly on the their ability to carry the instrument.

Katherine's birthday and HRB 012

I like my living room best when it is filled with people playing instruments.

Katherine's birthday and HRB 016

Here’s a young Molly and her cello.

The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto

I just think it’s a cool book