Cool things my friends are doing

I’ve taken a break from planning a gazillion events this fall, and it’s been pretty glorious. I’m channeling some of that energy into actually seeing my friends, and supporting initiatives other people have invested time and effort into. Celebrating some recent awesomeness out of people I know:

My friend Mike Draper (of RAYGUN fame) wrote a play!

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I love that Mike is a person who’s constantly working on projects that amuse and challenge him. The play, No Coast, will be performed at Grand View. (Speaking of – I was there last night for the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Legislative Reception and am so impressed by their new student center and expanded community engagement.)

I got to hang out and have lunch with our friends the Forgraves in October when we were in Minneapolis and heard that Reid was going to have a major story in this month’s GQ magazine.

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Reid is a Mizzou grad (a few years older than me) and was the storytelling expert when I was at the Register. The Concussion Diaries, a story of a Des Moines-area football player who got CTE after playing through High School, is totally compelling. Another reason (besides Ryan Gosling #feministswag) to pick up the January issue.

Annnd, this time last year I was hiding in a storage room at the State Historical Building with my breast pump, trying to also host a conference. It’s a glam life. I had nothing to do with NON-CON 2017, but I bought my ticket and am totally pumped to participate as a regular old attendee. Joe is going, too, and this is pretty much the closest we’ll get to a Friday night date these days.

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If you work in the nonprofit sector and/or care about diversity, inclusion, equity and making our community stronger, this is the conference for you!

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Becoming a soccer mom

The majority of family videos from my childhood are really just hours of shaky footage of little kid soccer games. The recordings are essentially my dad yelling “GET TO THE SPOT” while he points the camcorder at a random spot on the grass and gestures wildly to my younger brother. We watched the tapes anyway a few years ago, when we were really missing him and just wanted to hear papa’s voice.

Emmett started soccer today, and it was honestly pretty emotional for me. My dad would turn 81 on Monday, but he’s been gone since 2003. In my memories, my dad wore two “uniforms” – either his work suit with a bunch of architect pens in the pocket, or his soccer attire, which consisted of a too-tight T-shirt and too-short Umbros. Last night, we made sure to get an XS pair in honor of Papa Rudy, so we could channel him in practice. My brother got him a ball and shin guards (the tiniest!) for Christmas.

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Soccer was background noise to my childhood. The TV was often turned to Telemundo with my dad cheering along with every GOAAAAALLLL! Papa was frequently yelling in Spanish at my brother’s club coach, while I hid behind a book as a bored sister on the sidelines. I did actually play my freshman year of high school (no-cut team!) just so that my dad and I might have something to talk about. Mostly, I planned the team social events and rode the bench, but it was a season of connection a few years before my dad died.

We signed Emmett up for the Junior Menace indoor league soccer for 3/4-year olds so he’d run out his wiggles in the depths of winter. (I have no designs on trying out for club teams and making my life revolve around my child athlete.)

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It’s weird to think about this morning as dipping my toe into the world of being a “sports parent”- especially since I think Emmett might be more of a theater kid than a jock. I’ve read a little bit about how being mindful of the way you talk to kids about their performance “I love to watch you” versus “You’re so good at,” or “You should have,” keeping the focus on the joy of the activity instead of their success.

The kids practiced ball-handing fundamentals and ran around in the HS gym at Central Campus. Emmett was a good listener and the exercise definitely tired him out.

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My eyes welled up as I watched him play in a newly focused little way, and I actually thought “Papa would be in heaven right now if he could see him.”  And, well, maybe he is.

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Books I read in 2016

Reading is my favorite luxury. That feeling of being transported while under a big blanket on your couch. I have this epic ability to tune everything out when I read (a talent which, if you are in my family, you don’t love). I always feel a little lost when I’m between books.

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I’m so thankful to be part of a ladies book club that meets every 6 weeks or so, a commitment to myself and to my friends to share thoughts and let the wine (and pizza) and conversation flow. I missed our last meeting and it feels like I’m a sailor who passed by a welcoming harbor without stopping.

If you’re looking for a book to pick up, here’s a recap of most of the books I read this year – I’m sure I am forgetting a few!

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I just finished Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi and it was a terrifically “now” (although kind of pre-Trump “now”) take on race in America that also managed to feel like hanging out with a Nigerian-born college best friend and seeing the world from a different lens.

Over Thanksgiving and my grandpa’s funeral, I read “We are Not Ourselves” by Matthew Thomas. It was a story spanning an Irish-American woman’s life from the 1950s through 1990s and it wasn’t uplifting or groundbreaking, but it felt like being witness to a quiet family drama.

In October, I read “Homegoing” by Ya Gyasi, which explores the African slave trade and African American relations in a beautiful voice. I love books that take on multiple perspectives and the connect a whole lineage, and this was a fantastic, personal read that also helps show institutional racism.

Our book club felt the need to rate “The Argonauts” by Maggie Nelson on a different scale, because it felt important and provocative and existed on a more academic plane than most of the other novels we read. If you want to delve into some feminist theory and gender studies type of reading and gain a better understanding of “trans” people and relationships, it’s a book that captures that in personal and current way.

I likened “The Girls” by Emma Cline as eating a sour candy. It’s smoothly composed but has a sour, wicked plot. It’s one of the hot novels of the year and follows a teenager who gets swept into a Manson-like cult.

Devoured “Tuesday Nights in 1980” by Molly Prentiss. It’s bouncing between connected characters and set in New York at the turn of 1980 (at least so far) and big into the art scene at the time.

I loved “How to be a Person in the World,” a collection of Ask Polly advice columns by Heather Havrilesky. I’d press it into the arms of any woman navigating her 20s, who doesn’t mind a lot of eff-bombs.

I picked up Dear Mr. You” by Mary Louise Parker, in Cambridge and remember relishing it and the bliss of a kid-free Boston getaway. The actress presents a memoir in letters, it was one of those books that’s easy to breeze through, but you really want to savor.

I don’t think I got through all of them before my library loan expired, but I was captivated by the short stories in ‘A Manual for Cleaning Women,’ by Lucia Berlin. The NYT calls her stories “careworn, haunted, messily alluring and yet casually droll.” Spot on.

P.S. Lazy girl’s guide to east reading: Download the Overdrive app and you can rent e-books from your library from your bed. I’ll always prefer the real thing, but sometimes you need a quick/free fix. 

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P.P.S. Next up is “Swingtime” by Zadie Smith. Anyone have a copy I can borrow? I should probably buy it because I loved “White Teeth” and Zadie Smith, in general!

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What I’m Into: December, 2017

The past couple of weeks have been pretty relaxed at home, and it’s been great to chill and create. And snuggle a tiny manatee impersonator.

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I can’t believe I’ll be off work for 10 whole days over Christmas – and I’m looking forward to more of the same.

Watching: The Crown

Joe and I haven’t had a show in a while, and we’ve been slowly working through The Crown, the Netflix original series about Queen Elizabeth’s young days as a monarch. It’s an interesting character study of a female leader, but also, I’m not going to lie – those costumes are what get me.

Reading: “We are Not Ourselves” by Mathew Thomas

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A colleague passed this 600-pager about an Irish family spanning the 50s-90s along to me, and although it wasn’t exactly uplifting, it was well-written and absorbing. And the central character’s name is Eileen! I started it one night with a big bowl of dessert cereal and realized the simplest joy.

Trying: Calligraphy

I went to a DSM Girl Gang watercolor and calligraphy workshop last weekend, and although my finished greeting card was a bit of a fail (especially when held up next to my friend Maggie’s, who is basically a professional), I had a blast.

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There is something so relaxing about repeatedly tipping writing tools and paintbrushes into pigment, and practicing a new skill. I stayed up way too late making name tags for gifts. That was a little more my speed, because I could practice a million times and then cut out the best one, versus having a big huge card in front of me that I was afraid to mess up.

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Baking: Caramel-filled Snickerdoodles

Emmett turned his nose up at my homemade chocolate chip cookies the other week (!!!) saying he wanted cinnamon sugar cookies instead. Fine kid. More for me. So when I came across this recipe for a caramel-filled snickerdoodle, I thought it would be a fun one for us to work on. It was a big hit! We made the dough in advance and then he and his cousins got to roll the caramel into them. We ate them fresh from the oven while I read The Polar Express after dinner.

Plotting: A downstairs bathroom refresh 

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I haven’t been on Pinterest in ages, but I’m itching for a winter project and finally painting our downstairs bathroom is on my list. (It’s still the same bright purple it was when we moved in!) We picked up an IKEA buffet to serve as a kind of vanity/more storage, and I’m going to put some deep blue test patches up to see what fits. The claw-foot tub and tile are black-and-white, so hopefully it all comes together.

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Under the tree: Something to read

Lately, I’ve been thinking about how I need to up my godmother game. It’s harder to make special time for my niece now that I have two small people of my own to drag to kid activities and who demand my attention. But as Caroline grows and grows before my eyes (she’s a first grader now!), I’m realizing just how fleeting childhood is. Plus, isn’t the best part of being an aunt free rein to focus on the fun stuff?

What to do together?… As if reading my mind, my friends at Ephemera just announced they are hosting a lovely book signing and pajama party at their shop the morning of Saturday, Dec. 10 for kids aged 2-7.

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Our friend Katie Leporte produced and wrote an incredible children’s book, Pearl and the Whale. The morning features a book reading with Katie, craft and breakfast treats.

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Adults don’t need to purchase a ticket to tag along – but it’s limited to 15 kids. Event info here.

I vividly remember attending book events as a little girl, and treasure those autographed editions. I still want to write a book when I grow up.

I can’t wait to bring Caroline and make a special memory together! I’ll be wearing my flannel cupcake pajamas to the Ephemera book signing, for sure. And I’m so excited to see the whole book in print.

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Katie “illustrated” the book using  a needle-felting technique and photography. My jaw dropped when she teased behind-the-scenes photos (shot by our mutual friend, Bethany Kohoutek).

I’m also going to pick up an extra first-edition copy for Eileen’s “Something to Read” Christmas present this year.

Read more about Katie’s process on her blog. If you’re not local, you can also snag copies of the book through the site!

Other ideas for winter aunt/niece outings in Des Moines: 

  • Fancy breakfast at Strudl Haus
  • Board game in the “tropics” of the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden
  • Ice Skating at Brenton Plaza
  • Visit Salisbury House decorated for the holidays
  • Tea at Gong Fu

I suppose those would all be good date ideas, too!

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The Parting Glass: R.E.K.

It’s no secret that my grandpa was one of the most important people in my life, and laying him to rest today was emotional. I had the honor of writing his biography for the funeral program, and giving the short eulogy during Mass. The ceremony was beautiful and, just as the bagpipes began to play after the recession, it started to rain and thunder. The sun came out again as we all surrounded his grave and the honor guard played Taps. He had 94 and a half great years and died last week knowing the Cubs won the World Series, surrounded by family. We sent him off with a graveside toast of whiskey, naturally. We played “The Parting Glass,” had a good cry and poured one out.
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Robert Emmett Kelley was born May 3, 1922, and raised in a two-flat on Chicago’s West Side by Eileen and Daniel. Bob grew up with his brother, Fran, during a time when if you had enough, you were rich and you fed those who didn’t on your door stoop. The “waste not, want not” ethos of the Great Depression inspired a lifetime of frugality and generosity. He was the kind of guy who gave the shirt off his back and never let a rebate opportunity go unfulfilled.

Bob’s first job, as a youngster earning 10 cents for helping the milkman fulfill his route, provided him with a lifetime of stories about the milk horse Boots and a work ethic that would see him through 40 years in the education field. Bob was revered as a counselor at Kennedy High School and beloved by his staff at the Board of Education, not just for the Irish coffee he was known to serve on St. Patrick’s Day.

Known as “Abbey” among his friends at St. Mel’s high school and by his baseball teammates on the Redwings, Bob had a good-natured charisma and gift of gab that drew people to him – and earned him flight upgrades on occasion. The most notable of his admirers was Kathleen “Kay” Foley, whom he married in March of 1946.

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They met at the Chicago Teacher’s College and like many in their generation, were kept apart by the Second World War. From 1942-46, Bob served as Recognition officer in the United States Navy. He fought in the Pacific theater, notably in the Battle of Okinawa. More than once, his quick wit and good instincts served him well there and throughout his life.

Bob and Kay built a life together in Westchester, Illinois, where they joined Divine Infant Parish. They brought up their five children: Bob, Carol Ann, Kathy, Mary Lee and Dan, in a too-small house where – as the kids tell it – a single steak fed seven. As a young family, they spent summer vacations at the lake in Northern Wisconsin and loved to visit and play Bridge with friends.

The Kelleys moved to LaGrange, where Bob would love to read on the porch, while simultaneously watching the Cubs game and listening to classical music. Soon, that house filled with ten grandchildren and eventually five great-grandchildren who would sit at his lap to hear stories, enjoy a meal and maybe a game of Scrabble or Boggle. All can trace their love of language back to years of hearing Sloppy Joes referred to as “Untidy Josephs” and trying to maximize the triple word score.

But those are just the biographical details of a man who was rare even among “The Greatest Generation.” To feel the warmth of his love – in the form of a newspaper clipping and a $2 bill to let you know he was thinking about you, or a home cooked dinner with cookies for the road – leaves us with so many warm and happy memories.

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I still can’t believe he’s gone. But in a lot of ways, he never will be. Listen to his StoryCorps, watch us make Irish Soda Bread and his family-famous Beef Stew.

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Stow’n’go, baby

We held out as a station wagon family for awhile after we had a second kid… and then the VW Passat bit the dust. Joe had been advocating for a van for awhile, but I resisted because it felt like the ultimate “our children now rule our lives” purchase — and they are super expensive. Then we rented a van to take one of our frequent trips to Chicago and I was sold.

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After a few weeks of searching, we found a reasonably priced used Town & Country with a DVD player and Stow’n’Go seating (the kind that folds all the way down to make a flat bed in the back for hauling things or going to the drive-in).

I road-tripped up to Minneapolis with the kids last weekend and – van-driving mom that I am, totally had enough room to pick this free kids kitchen off the curb:

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We were in Minnesota because Joe and my cousin were at the same conference, and we tacked on a few days to hang out with them and see some other friends and family there. We stayed for Halloween and picked up some pointers from the Minneapolis trick-or-treating scene:

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  1. Street party potluck. The neighborhood blocked off a street to car traffic and people brought things like Maple Bacon Crack to share.
  2. Walking taco bar. This genius Halloween treat means you don’t have to miss dinner while strolling through the neighborhood.
  3. Spiked cider and hot chocolate. Best served at front yard bonfires!

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How cute are my trick-or treaters? Emmett was Super Why from the PBS show, and Eileen was a unicorn from the thrift store. My mom made Emmett’s costume – a cold weather sweatsuit version and a long underwear version he got to wear to the school party.

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P.S. I am freaking out right now about the election results and blogging is the only way I can feel like there is a shred of normalcy in this world. 

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