The Hillhouse

The Journey of a Mother and Son

Guilty Too July 18, 2013

After writing yesterday’s post about the Trayvon Martin case, I prepared myself for some emotional responses. Glad I did, cuz I got a few. And as I worked in the garden today, I got to thinking more closely about it. Then I realized, that I too, had done something that I had been condemning in others. Funny how a person can live with conflicting truths. Double standards. I still stand by my feelings towards extremely conservative attitudes. I don’t think that sort of stance encourages basic human kindnesses, nor do I think it engenders an atmosphere for dialogue. But it’s that other word I used in describing this group that bothered a few people. I had called some of the locals ‘rednecks’. Yeah, I got it, as I sat there pulling weeds and digging holes, that using that word might have been provocative. It might not have been a wise choice of words, yet I think readers might know what I meant to imply by using it. As I’ve said before – it’s dangerous to start lumping folks into broad categories; it’s easy to use descriptors which don’t truly represent what it is you’re trying to convey. And what I had hoped to describe was a population of folks – rural to be sure – who’ve backed into their ideological corners and take a ‘I dare you’ sort of attitude towards anyone who might not share the same values and beliefs. Hell, if having an old toilet sitting outside your front door for two months while you ponder on how to dispose of it, if letting your chickens poop all over your stairs and letting the grass grow thigh-high are any indications of being a ‘redneck’, then I am definitely a redneck. ! I know plenty of people with whom I don’t share a lot politically, but we’re still able not only to be friends, but to talk about things. To have an exchange of ideas and perspectives. But there are lots of folks up here in the hills that would rather escort me on my way – and forbid me future visits – if I were to try and share with them my feelings about some things. Like equal rights. Like race, or sexual orientation. The very basic stuff that we, as a culture (in my opinion) should be well past by now.

Years ago, when I had just met my ex-husband, and we were rapidly growing madly in love, I experienced something incredibly eye-opening about not only myself, but the larger world. First, I myself was surprised that I’d fallen for a man of ‘some’ color – being half Chilean and half Pakistani you can’t exactly say he’s ‘black’ (when you get down to this sort of detail it all really does seem ridiculous) – but at that time in his life, especially with his jet-black hair, he looked a bit darker than your average white person. Yet I, as a dreamy adolescent, had harbored fantasies of falling in love with a Robert Plant type. Blonde, curly hair, strong, masculine…. white. And yet here I was, absolutely smitten with a skinny brown boy! Deep inside I could feel a strange new emotion growing – what was it exactly? I felt a hesitation, a certain hint of something being off, wrong, or at least not at all as I’d envisioned it would one day be. Yeah. I was being a racist. I was. The realization smacked me in the face one day, and I was deeply ashamed and shocked. Me? Having reservations about my new love just because he wasn’t white? Good God! Was this true? I examined my heart over and over, and learned that it was. But I loved him, I wanted to be with him, so I had no choice but to use the situation as an opportunity to learn and grow. Over the next two decades I would come to not only embrace all that his parents’ cultures contributed to him as a person, but these identities also became something of my own. After all, I ate the foods, lived with the languages, wore the clothes, learned the stories. Making my father-in-law’s curry chicken recipe is as much a part of my life’s history as is my own, ‘very white’ mother’s cooking.

One day, as we were filling his car with gas, a car pulled up alongside us and a man yelled out the window “Move your ass, camel jockey!”. Huh? I’d never head that before. “What did he say?” I asked Fareed, as I wasn’t quite sure I’d heard correctly. But Fareed just laughed and explained that he’d said ‘camel jockey’. A moment passed. The question still hung in the air. “I’m your camel jockey!” he said, hardly registering any offense. Apparently, this was not new to him. But to me – it was stunning. If I thought I was being a racist – and I cared about this guy – just imagine the deadly venom of those who truly were racist and couldn’t give one shit about him. How dangerous the world seemed all of a sudden. We’d gone from average people on the street  – to potential targets. I felt truly weak and vulnerable for the first time. Honestly, in that one moment, my life changed.

It’s easier to take things for granted than to stop and examine them. And who doesn’t want easy? Challenges are a pain in the ass. But we as people sometimes need to step beyond our own, familiar worlds. I think of the classic white guy’s response, when asked how he feels about his black friend as opposed the black population at large: ‘oh, but he’s different. He’s a good guy.’ To me that seems pretty outdated thinking, but I’m fairly sure there are some people in my town – right now – who might feel the same. I remember another moment of shock, when a young (white and local) fellow remarked about Obama’s first campaign, saying “I ain’t gonna let no nigger tell me what to do”. Now this is a pretty nice young kid. Helpful, kind, and certainly not what you’d call an abrasive personality. So the very hate embodied in his remark almost shook me physically. I remember wondering if my response had been apparent. I remember wondering if I should just nod politely, or return a volley. I said nothing. Really, I was just too stunned to speak. Once upon a time, before I began to play in R&B bands in Chicago and had begun to count many black people as good friends (in the 80s everyone was emulating Prince and wanted a white girl or two in their band), I too looked on black people at large as a great unknown. And I mean as a larger, overall culture. Because in my white, privileged upbringing on Chicago’s North Shore, I’d known some black kids. Only they were ‘white’ blacks. They had more in common culturally with me than did the guys on the West Side. (Hell, some of the black kids I knew as a kid were stinking rich, my family surely wasn’t.) So if I, as a reasonably tolerant and open-minded white person harbored even the teensiet bit of curiosity – and even perhaps discomfort – with this ‘other’ culture, imagine how far away this local country boy is from seeing dark-skinned people as equals. Scary, really. Just shows how far we still have to go.

Last summer Elihu and I attended the wedding of some dear friends. As we were driving home from our vacation, I prepped him with a little backstory. “This wedding is significant” I started to explain, “because it’s a wedding between two women.” No response. So I continued,”until very recently, gay people weren’t allowed to get married.” There was a pause from the back seat. Good, I thought, he’s getting it. Then he just very matter-of-factly responded “I find that hard to believe.” That sure stopped me for a minute. Amazing. But nonetheless I went on, thinking he was probably missing something important here… “See, this is a very important wedding…” he cut me off. “Yeah, because it’s the first wedding I’ve ever gone to!” To him, the most important thing was that he loved these people, and that he was going to be there for their big day. From the mouths of babes. If only we could all just think like that. My hope is that with each new generation we will begin to put the old, hateful ways of inequality and bigotry behind us. Some might think that’s never going to happen. After all we’ve been fighting and misunderstanding each other since the dawn of time. But something’s changing. I just know it. If for no other reason than the instant, world-wide communication that’s become a routine part of our lives. Now we can begin to finally meet each other, and in so doing, humanize ourselves to each other. And when we can be brave enough, and caring enough, to stop and examine the beliefs we currently take for granted – when we can make even the smallest progress into the territory of new and different thinking – then we will understand that we ourselves as a planet-wide population have been guilty of seeing other people as different – or less deserving – than ourselves. With our eyes finally opened, we can then pardon ourselves those trespasses and thoughtfully begin anew.


Here are two links, the first to a short, documentary-style response to the ‘controversial’ Cheerios commercial. I myself had actually seen the ad on tv and had thought nothing about it. Apparently, neither did these kids…

 Kids React to Controversial Cheerios Commercial

And if there are any aspiring broadcasting students you know in the Chicago area, please check out this scholarship created in the name of the late Les Brownlee, a leading black journalist and pioneer in his field, also my one time neighbor and friend.

Les Brownlee Scholarship 


Post Script: I encourage folks to share their responses here on this blog, rather than through personal emails. While I think people are just trying to be polite and respectful, I’d love to see the discussions that might evolve out of a post.


In Justice July 16, 2013

There’s a strange dichotomy in our country these days between lightening-fast social change and the continuation of archaic and primitive beliefs. Honestly, every last human being on this planet needs the very same things. Not everyone is content to stop at what they simply need, certainly, and much more importantly not everyone will concede that all their neighbors also deserve the very same things; this is part of the troublesome place in which we find ourselves these days. But the flood gates for parity among humans really do seem to be opening; the recent victories for gay marriage gift us hope and seem to indicate a critical mass has been reached. Now, if we could only see the same forward movement when it came to these insidious, deep and invisible biases when it comes to race and color of skin.

While I don’t believe that justice was served in the outcome of the recent Trayvon Martin case, I also don’t believe – deep down in my very core – that throwing his murderer in jail, while perhaps the best by-the-books outcome, would serve to advance the cause which is at the very root of this problem. Also, I find myself rather surprised, when reading all the Facebook comments about the injustice that’s occurred, that the commentors are expressing themselves in a tone of hatred that seems equally as inhumane as the sentiment of the race-based bias they’re objecting to. I understand the frustration these people are expressing – and I share that frustration – but then to blindly swing the other way and demand figurative blood from the other side – that gets us nowhere. A strange feeling comes over me as I take it all in – there’s a creepy, subversive taste to the sentiments folks are expressing. I’m reminded of the book we were required to read as middle schoolers… In The Lottery, a small, all-American town attributes its comfortable way of life to the annual sacrifice of one of the town children. Each year there is a lottery – very much like that in The Hunger Games – in which a child is chosen, and then ultimately stoned to death by his or her own townsfolk. I can’t be the only person feeling like this. Feeling that in our fevered desire for equanimity we’re losing sight of the forest for the trees. Are we not perpetrating the very thing we are espousing to go against? Are we not all feeding into a mass-mindset of eye-for-an-eye? Are we not resorting to primitive resolutions – needless sacrifices – in order to achieve our goals?

I’m convinced that simply incarcerating people guilty of certain crimes does nothing to prevent the said criminals – or others – from continuing to repeat the same or similar crimes. I do now understand, after having become friends with some folks who’ve actually worked inside state prisons, that there are some criminals who are beyond remorse, beyond rehabilitation – criminals whose actions are the result of any combination of nature and nurture – and they truly should be separated out from the population. And while I believe that this George Zimmerman fellow who shot Trayvon (and must deep inside his heart believe that he was justified) would do well to be ‘taught a lesson’, I think the larger issue is not necessarily to punish or incarcerate this man, but rather to begin work on transforming him and those who think as he does. If we can step back for a moment and turn down the heat of our emotions, why is it that we would want to see such a person behind bars? To ‘show’ him? To make a statement? Or to help bring about his remorse? To simply see justice served? Or, maybe, to help re-define for our culture what is acceptable and what’s not? That is my hoped-for objective at the end of the day. I ask those who angrily demand justice: will his incarceration actually do much to advance the cause of equal rights? I understand Trayvon’s grieving family might crave this man’s imprisonment, but what, as a society, do we really gain from it?

I realize too that it’s far too easy for me to make such sweeping assumptions about justice and the futility of our system, but it’s precisely because I’m not emotionally wound up in it that I can dare to give voice to my feelings. I can already feel the grumbling response to this post growing. Yes, some will say I have a naive take on things, that nothing’s as simple as all that. Yeah, I get that. But I also get that our system does little to improve situations. Our comfort with locking people up – and not addressing the reasons or cultural climate that gave birth to the crime in the first place – that is the shit that bothers me greatly. We all love the drama of a good crime story – but one upon another they’re quickly forgotten. We don’t learn anything of substance about why the perpetrator did what he/she did, what socio-economic or mental health issues may have been involved… nothing of substance ever seems to come to light, and if it’s mentioned, it’s certainly not investigated with any rigor. So we lock em up. That’ll show em who’s right. Yeah, ok. But what then? Have we fixed anything? All we’ve done is to take a moral stand. We’ve talked the talk, but beyond that, there’s not a lot of walking goin on.

As I pulled up to the local convenience store today, I saw a small sticker on the wall. On it was the shape of our country, and the text in the middle read “I miss America” (strangely, it was printed in yellow and black.) Given the mostly conservative and somewhat redneck climate of my immediate neighborhood, I got the message. And it occurred to me that those who would put up such a slogan might be feeling as if Mr. Zimmerman was exercising his inalienable right to self-defense in that brutal act. Where I live, there’s just no room for any conversation on such matters. Truths are black and white (or black and yellow) and no one in my neck of the woods is changing their minds any time soon. This breaks my heart. I can only hope that little by little the inevitable changes moving through the cultures of our entire world will soon wash over these people too. And I hope too that somehow, one day – maybe still a century off, but I so hope not – our very legal system will also change to reflect a larger vision of human truth. Because the main issue here is the establishment of balance between every single citizen of this globe. While we bicker amongst ourselves about rules and laws and meting out punishments commensurate with their crimes, we might just be missing the larger point. I realize we have to start somewhere, but I hope we pick up speed as we move towards our common goal. I pray one day everyone sharing this planet might have the peace of mind and heart to know they are truly living in a world of love, respect and justice for all.


Toddlin’ Town July 14, 2013

Man, did we toddle around town. We saw so much in one short week. Still weren’t able to do some things on our list, but we did a lot… Again, might be too many pics for some folks’ interest, but thought I’d share em anyhow. I still can hardly believe I was in Chicago just a week ago. I kinda need these photos to remind me that yes, I was. (Btw – this is my final post on our trip. I promise.)

July 2013 trip B 016First thing we see as we step outside Union Station.

July 2013 trip B 019First thing Elihu does is whip out his drum and join a busker on the station steps.

July 2013 trip B 033Next, our friend Marja invites us up to her office on Michigan Avenue for a look at the city from the 21st story.

July 2013 trip B 042This view has what’s known in my family as a ‘high pucker factor’. I won’t mention which part of the body it is that puckers up at this dreadfully alarming height. I’ll leave the answer up to your fertile imaginations.

July 2013 trip B 091The view South down Michigan Avenue.

July 2013 trip B 101See that pointy building with the ‘bump’ on top? Some locals call it the ‘buglamp’. It’s a giant, blue light that has been part of the skyline since the ’30s. And I’m lucky to have been one of the few to have actually been inside the thing. Another enchanted story of a more innocent time… I had merely expressed my interest in visiting the dome to an employee of the building, and within minutes I was inside the two-story lamp, climbing a ladder to a makeshift plywood floor beside a giant blue light bulb. We swung open a large panel of glass and then sat with our legs dangling out and over the side, while we took in the breathtaking view of Grant Park to the East. In this day and age that sounds unbelievable. But it happened. And it’s a memory I treasure.

July 2013 trip B 109Now we’re looking East. Navy Pier visible just between the buildings on the far left. And speaking of that leftmost building, at 82 stories it’s the tallest building in the world designed by a woman-lead architectural team. “Aqua” has a lovely, continuous curving shape delineated by its balconies, and which gives the building the feeling of a wonderful, twisting sort of movement. I’m a fan of Jeanne Gang!

July 2013 trip B 074It’s the bean! Still think of this as a new part of Chicago, but it’s already been there since 2006. Oh, and it’s actually entitled ‘Cloud Gate’. Just so ya know.

July 2013 trip B 063That’s me and Marja waving. She’s got the bright yellow-green pants.

July 2013 trip B 065One of those classic tourist pics…

July 2013 trip B 753And now, to Evanston. This is my old, beloved home. Miss that living room and its enormous windows. In keeping with the former family’s traditions, each year we put up a giant, 20 foot Christmas tree that could be seen by all who passed. The place has been known to generations as ‘the Christmas tree house’, and in fact that’s how I first knew this place as a young girl.

July 2013 trip B 693Also miss the treasure hunts in those awesome city thrift stores. Dig that telephone!

July 2013 trip B 881We’re at The Guitar Works in Evanston. Owner Terry Straker is a pilot. Planes are more exciting than guitars any day. !

July 2013 trip B 932This is the shit that makes me miss Chicago. Saratoga is nice, but sometimes I really miss all the funk of a city.

summer trip 2013 A 006Inside at the Green Mill. Like coming home.

summer trip 2013 A 002Looking up and seeing Von so unexpectedly made me tear up. Hard to believe he’s been gone almost a year. Bless you, Vonski. Thanks for helping us all to ‘express’ ourselves.

summer trip 2013 A 026Closest thing I have to proof I sang there that night. My kid forgot to snap a pic of Mama. Sure had a good time. A line down the street and around the corner, and shoulder-to-shoulder inside. Fun for a night, but not quite my speed anymore.

summer trip 2013 A 061Back in Rogers Park, the northernmost neighborhood in Chicago, where Fareed and I lived  for 12 years. We had a great little two bedroom co-op right on the beach, with a balcony and view of the city. (Evanston is the next town up the shore from here). The title of Fareed’s album ‘Manresa’ was not inspired by some exotic destination, but rather from the name of this very apartment building. (I have a similarly-posed pic of his dad from the 80s on the same spot.)

summer trip 2013 A 130At Evanston’s beautiful (and expensive!) South Boulevard beach.

summer trip 2013 A 071Ah, wind and water. Nothing comes close to that feeling.

summer trip 2013 A 119Folks who’ve never been to Chicago rarely think of beaches. But some of the very best are here.

summer trip 2013 A 117Just sand, water and horizon. And two pretty seagull feathers.

summer trip 2013 A 133Good-bye for now, dear beach!

summer trip 2013 A 136At our old next-door neighbor’s 4th of July party. That’s Barbara, the new resident of our old home resting on the fence.

summer trip 2013 A 152Chicago’s fireworks on Navy Pier, as seen from the Chicago Yacht Club. Not a great experience when you compare it to Saratoga. In a small-ish town it’s possible to get right up close and under the action. Here, the display was a good quarter of a mile away.

summer trip 2013 A 166But Elihu’s not really here for the fireworks…

summer trip 2013 A 179He was rockin it. Had a big crowd nearly the whole time – and dozens of folks recording him too…

summer trip 2013 A 184Tried busking at the bean but got shut down by the fuzz. We kinda thought it might happen. But they were nice about it.

July 2013 trip B 860Elihu was pooped! Lil man did really well. We packed a lot into a short time. (Note the Ben 10 Omnitrix watch. Elihu is usually so precocious and grown-up that I can sometimes forget he’s still a little boy. He wore that thing day and night for the whole week. So adorable. !)

summer trip 2013 A 214Our final stop in Evanston; the rose garden and crane fountain. Shortly thereafter Elihu and I parted ways, as he went to spend the next month with his father, and I left to catch the train back to New York. This was a phenomenal trip. Elihu will never forget his tenth summer. And it’s still not half over! Chicago’s finished for us this year, but no doubt there’ll be a few more summer adventures to come…


Family of Friends July 13, 2013

Here are some of our dear friends. We really just think of them as our extended family. It’s these folks who motivate us to visit Chicago when we can…

July 2013 trip B 439We met Marja first. Been years since I’ve seen her, but it’s like no time has passed.

July 2013 trip B 446And next, Judy joins us. She’s had a rough year, losing her husband to pancreatic cancer. The following day she and her two daughters are going to Costa Rica for a well-deserved break.

July 2013 trip B 448The three of us together again after many years. Marja toasted to all of us finding our bright, new lives as re-created women. We three are embarking on husband-less lives for the first time. We’re in different places regarding those losses and life changes, but things will definitely continue to get better for all of us.

July 2013 trip B 532The core of Evanston women we almost always see when we’re here. Doree next to me, Della across from her, and our host Priscilla, in back on right (in whose home we always stay. It’s just across the street from our old house.)

July 2013 trip B 494We love Mr. Lee! He’s been feeding us for years…

July 2013 trip B 553And I love these three men too. Great musicians, but more important, men of warm hearts, each with a wonderful sense of humor as well. Gus, on the left, leads the Prohibition Orchestra of Chicago from the banjo chair; I thoroughly enjoyed singing with them for many years. Marshall in the middle is a multi-instrumentalist who, knowing me to be a guitar widow, once rode his bike to my house, guitar on his back, on my birthday, and serenaded me and Eli with an acoustic version of the Kiss ballad “Beth”. Tommy, why he pre-dates my ex husband, as he asked me out just a few hours before Fareed did, some 27 years ago. Don’t let his straight face and cool demeanor fool you. He’s a sweetie – as well as a deft, surfer-style guitarist.

July 2013 trip B 604And here’s Ann… Originally from Montana, she’s a long-time resident of the Chicago area now. She was Elihu’s first babysitter. Once a week she came to take over for a couple of hours. Fareed wasn’t around much to spell me, so this gal stepped in. She’s known Eli since he was just a few months old. I am still grateful to her for the respite she provided me.

July 2013 trip B 593Yay! Three-fourths of the Sniderman family! Dan plays trombone in The Prohibition Orchestra. I’d bring tiny Elihu to our gigs while his wife Lisa was pregnant with their first. Lil Elijah came after. (Joella’s sitting next to Elihu on my side of the booth.)

July 2013 trip B 611Rob, the fellow on the left was, was first known to me decades ago as ‘the guy who worked at Second Hand Tunes’. He’s a highly knowledgeable man of music, as is Bill, on the right, expert on all things R&B as well as a – gasp – published author on the subject!

July 2013 trip B 630And Richard is a greatly talented professional artist, specializing in vehicles of transportation. Trains, cars, planes. Elihu was deeply thrilled to see him draw. It was Richard who gave Elihu his first set of gray-scale markers. (Elihu sees no color.)

July 2013 trip B 796But at the end of the day, THIS is why we came. It was our old friend Carl Wilson’s 100th birthday on June 30th, 2013. He expressed a desire to see me at his birthday party – but was told it was impossible. He had no idea I would not only be there – but that I’d be singing, too! He wanted to hear ‘Stardust’ but got one better; he and I danced while singing it together as the music played. Everyone’s heart was bursting. A moment for the ages.

July 2013 trip B 786Carl, holding his great grand niece, who is just six weeks old. Wow.

July 2013 trip B 768Here he is, dancing with the always lovely Blair…

July 2013 trip B 771And check this out! Would ya ever have thought? He’s a hundred years old!  Hope we’re all getting that! Inspirational indeed.

July 2013 trip B 814Folks danced…

July 2013 trip B 811…and danced

July 2013 trip B 762Folks also sat it out in the sun while a nice breeze kept things from getting too warm.

July 2013 trip B 797Christie, the gal in blue, grew up in our old house across the street. Her father, Eugene Stoyke, was the architect of that gorgeous mid-century gem, built in 1955. Charlie, her husband, now enjoys beekeeping and silently panicking his uptight, new-moneyed neighbors. That’s Priscilla behind me. It’s her house we’re in, and I’m wearing the requisite fighting badger red and white in honor of her late husband and UW alumnus, broadcaster Les Brownlee (who is known to have coined the phrase “eyewitness news”).

July 2013 trip B 779My old friend, Mike. One of the greatest jazz guitarists around. It was an absolute joy to sing with him that afternoon for Carl’s landmark birthday. Mike is also the parent of a ten year old child; daughter Gabriella is a talented singer.

July 2013 trip B 823The party continued long after we stopped playing.

July 2013 trip B 834These two each got to sing a couple of tunes on the mic.

July 2013 trip B 871Here’s Priscilla and Elihu in the living room of her home. Which also feels very much like our home when we’re there.

July 2013 trip B 890Now it’s on to friends Chloe and Brad. They’ve got the good stuff.

July 2013 trip B 896Now this is something lil man will never forget.

July 2013 trip B 912Man, Chloe. You and your house are too cute.

July 2013 trip B 924Wait – we’re kinda cute together too, aren’t we? She was in my wedding. Another lifetime.

3Chloe and Brad lead a favorite Chicago-based band, The Handcuffs. Bye guys, thanks for such a great visit!

July 2013 trip B 978A too-short, but very enjoyable visit with our friends Stacy and Jeff. Once a rock guitarist who currently owns a recording studio, Jeff has just completed his training as a registered nurse. His wife, a performer, comedian, singer and writer, is a woman full of great warmth and spirit. In spite of some personal health challenges thrown at her over the past few years, she continues to demonstrate that it’s possible to live in love and kindness in spite of a profoundly crappy situation. This is their new baby Lulu. She is the gentlest, sweetest and most loving dog you’ll ever meet. She’s convinced me that Pitbulls are a very misunderstood breed.

July 2013 trip B 968And it’s on to the Stacey’s house. I played in a band with Julian and Jordan’s mom and dad – and I ‘knew’ Julian (younger, at left) when his mom was still pregnant with him. She was playing bass with a rather loud band in hopes of bringing on labor. Then, when the two were toddlers, I’d pick them up and ‘put them away’ when I was done playing with em. I’d pretend to squeeze the small boys into a bookshelf or bin, the refrigerator, sometimes even the stove. ! Made for loads of laughter. Now just look at em. Jordan (right) got married this past week. Julian’s the drummer in the family, and in fact he first learned to play on my old set.

July 2013 trip B 975Here we are with the addition of little sister Alaina. She has got the most beautiful voice, and her songwriting talents far exceed her age. Seems she’s moving to Nashville soon. Alaina Stacey. Remember that name.

July 2013 trip B 981And here’s mom Cindy! She’s trying on her dress for Jordan’s wedding. Not her usual attire, I feel I must add. !

July 2013 trip B 990Papa Chris Stacey.

July 2013 trip B 1008The two pretend to fall asleep at the end of our visit. Cuties.

summer trip 2013 A 138We stopped by to visit neighbors Rafael and Dennis on the 4th… Miss living next door to them.

summer trip 2013 A 209And neighbor on the other side, Jan. She once gave me the best piece of advice ever regarding moving into a new home: don’t make any big changes – especially with the lawn and garden – until you’ve lived there for one full year. That advice helped me in my two subsequent homes to make the best choices possible.

summer trip 2013 A 230We have a short visit with Fareed’s parents.

summer trip 2013 A 245The whole gang (at Reza’s).

summer trip 2013 A 274My ex mother-in-law, Nelly, and me.

summer trip 2013 A 284Guess only Elihu can get her to soften up a bit. If he can’t, nobody can!

summer trip 2013 A 282We did have a fun time hanging with Elihu’s dad. But there’s so much behind my ex’s eyes that I’ll never know – and that I probably never did know to begin with. Still, he’s great at just having a party (as a jam band guitarist, much of his time spent playing music is about creating that kind of energy). In spite of all the past hurt, I’m able to enjoy the occasional visit with this rather eccentric family, dad and grandparents too. But it’s probably just as well I don’t live near them anymore. Even after nearly three decades of living as a family, his folks have never seemed entirely thrilled with me. (But as Fareed always said, no one was ever good enough for him in their eyes. So I don’t take it personally). But we’ve been through a lot together, and I do love my former parents-in-law in spite of the craziness we’ve experienced through the years, so I made sure to tell them that when they dropped me off at the train. Never know when – or even if –  there’ll be a next time. Life, after all – friends and family included – is full of surprises, both good and bad.


Culinary Tour July 11, 2013

One of the main objectives of our trip to Chicago was to taste all that food that both of us miss so. When Elihu stays with his dad they’re based out of DeKalb, which is a good hour west of the city. So when Elihu visits the Midwest, he doesn’t get to eat in the city much. This time, we had a local favorite every day of our trip. I was in heaven. Saratoga Springs may have some fancy shmancy restaurants – but there aint nothing like the places ‘back home’. Indulge me, if you will, as I share the highlights…

July 2013 trip B 027I’d prefer it from a small neighborhood joint, but Al’s Italian Beef was the first place we saw when we got off the train…

July 2013 trip B 022This was lil man’s first Italian beef sandwich. He dug it. Me too. (My first real carbs in months!)

July 2013 trip B 469Our first dinner was at the iconic Heartland Café in Rogers Park.

July 2013 trip B 456I had what I’ve been ordering for over a quarter of a century: the Dukes Tostada.

July 2013 trip B 457It always ends just like this.

July 2013 trip B 569Aha! Finally, after two long years, we’re at Dave’s Italian Kitchen in Evanston!!

July 2013 trip B 751Such a great, warm vibe in this place.

July 2013 trip B 727Dave’s wife Ellen (at left) is such a magical and loving hostess. Always has little surprises for the kids. Never ceases to impress.

July 2013 trip B 697The ubiquitous signed wine bottles and cozy booth.

July 2013 trip B 621Elihu pays a visit to Dave himself in the kitchen. Ellen first carried Eli through this kitchen when he was not quite a week old.

July 2013 trip B 732Elihu visits Tuan, who’s worked there for decades now. He’s from Vietnam, and Elihu has wanted to learn Vietnamese for several years now (have no idea why or where that came from). Tuan’s telling him to learn Mandarin instead as it’s more useful.

July 2013 trip B 741There’s Paul (and Jimmy’s backside). Bye guys! Love ya!

July 2013 trip B 858Ok, time for some REAL Mexican food.

July 2013 trip B 847I woulda had the goat if I’d seen it first. Phooey.

July 2013 trip B 845Ah, Jarritos de tamarindo in a bottle. Yes.

July 2013 trip B 559The next day, a little something sweet from Belgian Chocolatier Piron on Main Street in Evanston.

July 2013 trip B 561And away he goes with a cool $10 bag of treats. !

July 2013 trip B 919Our friends Chloe and Brad took us out for sushi at Hot Woks, Cool Sushi in Chicago! So nice of you guys! (Tastiest, most delicate spring rolls I’ve had in years.)

summer trip 2013 A 038Next stop, Ethiopian Diamond in Rogers Park. Man, have I missed injera. This was SO good. Even better leftovers, too.

summer trip 2013 A 042You just use your hands to eat by picking up the food with the flat, spongy injera bread (which has a lemony sort of flavor).

summer trip 2013 A 057You know this place is the real deal cuz all the Ethiopian taxi drivers eat here. They were so kind and shared some of their fish with us. It was off-the-hook good.

summer trip 2013 A 031And with a cold Ethiopian beer – heaven.

July 2013 trip B 937Being in the business ourselves, we just had to stop in and see what this was all about.

July 2013 trip B 942These poor creatures are caged in the same room in which they are dispatched. Ich. But they had room to move and were fed and watered generously. I forgot to ask the guy if he said prayers before butchering or if he used any different techniques. Not convinced there was necessarily a more humane element to the preparation of halal meat.

July 2013 trip B 943He can’t resist.

July 2013 trip B 949These are the cones. The birds go in upside down, the necks are slit and they bleed out. Doesn’t sound like it, but it’s actually a rapid and fairly humane way in which to do it. No matter what you think, it’s way, way less stressful on the bird than the whole factory experience.

July 2013 trip B 500On to my MOST important culinary destination of this whole trip. Can Evanstonians guess where this might be??

July 2013 trip B 489You’re right! The Evanston Grill! Bless this place, unchanged in thirty-some years.

July 2013 trip B 513And this is what we’re here for. Mr. Lee’s Bi Bim Bop. Like none other in the world.

July 2013 trip B 522I just love the Lees. They are the hardest working people I know. No time off ever, except Sundays. And they go to church on that day, so I sure don’t know when they rest. !

July 2013 trip B 495How touching – Elihu’s drawing and our photo, sent at Christmastime, have been put up on the wall. (Those are the Lees’ son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren to the right of our pics.)

July 2013 trip B 1015This might be a new item on the menu. But then again, maybe I just never noticed it before as I was so focused on Bi Bim Bop. !

July 2013 trip B 1027The Lees have known Elihu since before he was born. I fueled up here often during my pregnancy with him. Later, as a mere baby, Elihu himself ate – and very much enjoyed – the Bi Bim Bop too. (That’s Oscar in the back, a tall Mexican fellow who has been the only cook at the Grill – besides Mr. Lee – for a decade. He DJs on the weekends.)

July 2013 trip B 1036One of my favorite views. Mr. Lee always has WFMT playing (the local classical station) and a stack of newspapers by the door. Never a more soothing and peaceful feeling was there in a diner.

July 2013 trip B 686And speaking of diners, this join hasn’t changed in forever either. Yay!

July 2013 trip B 685Love the homey, unpretentious feel. Such a wonderful neighborhood hang. Sometimes there’s hardly anyone there…

July 2013 trip B 664But on weekend mornings the place is packed.

July 2013 trip B 666I just LOVE that you get your cream in a pitcher. No fumbling about with those crazy-wasteful tiny half and half containers. !

July 2013 trip B 681One of the major reasons I come here (aside from the turquoise vinyl booths): their home made hot sauce. You can even buy a bottle. For $2.50. Why, oh why did I buy only one? I shoulda left with a case! My tiny bottle’s almost empty now!

July 2013 trip B 682

I cannot explain how exquisite this sauce is, and how it simply transforms an ordinary breakfast.

summer trip 2013 A 251

Well, diners may be just fine for the commoners, I guess, but the fancy folk go downtown. We’re finally at Reza’s for Middle Eastern food – and of course for Elihu’s number one favorite dish of ALL TIME: roasted quail.

summer trip 2013 A 253This place has high ceilings, a courteous waitstaff and doors that open to the street outside. It might be a classy place, but there really is no classy way in which to eat a quail. It really is a hands-on sort of thing.

summer trip 2013 A 258The enthusiasm just can’t be contained.

summer trip 2013 A 260It’s all over in short order.

And so ends our culinary tour of Chicago. Undid a bit of my previous weight loss success, but there is no question but that it was entirely worth it. I have no regrets, because nothing beats really good food.

A Post Script: Can’t find my pics of Cross Rhodes in Evanston. That was another important stopping point on our tour. I’m still trying to re-create their vinegar-y, oregano-y sauce on my own here. I’ve come close… but no cigar!

Two more post-post items, called to my attention by Facebook friends: first, Cross Rhodes owner and familiar face to all who ever entered the place, Jeffrey Russell, died last September. Thankfully, I knew way ahead of time so my heart wasn’t broken all throughout my meal. Second, there are two Ethiopian Diamond locations, each run by the same family – one’s on N. Broadway, one on N. Clark, both in Chicago, both fantastic.

If you haven’t tried any one of the places mentioned in this post, then DO. Each one has something extraordinary and unique to surprise and impress you.


Big Boat Chicago July 10, 2013

Here are some pics from our recent combined river and lake tour given by Wendella Boats (and made possible by the kindness of friend and fellow Columbia College alum, Besflores Nievera.  We can’t thank you enough!) Forgive me if it’s visual overload, but I can’t remember ever seeing the city look so good. (It’s virtually a new city since I left; the skyline has changed quite a bit.)

July 2013 trip B 146

Starting off in front of the Wrigley building…

July 2013 trip B 152

And on to Marina City… (Blackhawks just won the Stanley Cup)

July 2013 trip B 159

Can you imagine? Pull your boat in, have a bite to eat then go home to your upstairs apartment. !

July 2013 trip B 181

Still can’t quite bring myself to call the ‘Sears’ tower by any other name. Whatyoutalkinbout, Willis?

July 2013 trip B 188

Wish I coulda got this entire green glass beauty at 333 Wacker Drive in one frame.

July 2013 trip B 219

Heading out through the river, South bank here. As a kid I remember this was mostly wide open space, and Lake Shore Drive passed the Outer Drive East’s glass-domed pool. Now it’s all embedded in a forest of buildings.

July 2013 trip B 240Going through the lock…

July 2013 trip B 246What a day, huh??

July 2013 trip B 221I remember when this whole area was undeveloped. There was a tiny shrimp shack nearby…. not any more.

July 2013 trip B 297Finally, on the open water of Lake Michigan! Yes!!

July 2013 trip B 249Coming around Navy Pier – where Elihu’s dad played many a concert in that domed ballroom.

July 2013 trip B 265Perfection.

July 2013 trip B 262Always a stunning sight.

July 2013 trip B 260Now looking a bit more to the South – Hancock at far right, Lake Point Tower at far left.

July 2013 trip B 292A front came in and it was nothing less than dramatic.

July 2013 trip B 308In mere minutes the wind picked up…

view 1Thrilling to watch the front move through.

July 2013 trip B 323A charming group of dentists from out of town whose company we enjoyed.

July 2013 trip B 344Heading back in…

July 2013 trip B 320Had never seen this lockhouse before. Snazzy and George Jetson-y.

July 2013 trip B 346Glowing in the storm’s eery light.

July 2013 trip B 360Trump Tower also stands out in its brilliance.

July 2013 trip B 377Happy, happy boy that afternoon!

July 2013 trip B 393Trumping it all.

July 2013 trip B 408See that building in the center?  It’s the Intercontinental Chicago Hotel on North Michigan Avenue, and there’s a pool inside the gold dome. I know because years ago Fareed and I crashed it and soon found ourselves tip-toeing around the outside balcony to evade being caught. ! A pre-911 world to be sure.

July 2013 trip B 436Here too, in the dome on the left – on the South side of the river – Fareed and I enjoyed another adventure. Uttering some made-up, Eastern European-sounding language, Fareed signed us in after hours in the lobby guestbook, flustering the poor fellow on duty, who simply watched as we swept past with an air of feigned authority. Since we’d both come from gigs, we were wearing our ‘tux and white’ ensembles, so that no doubt helped our passage. We took the elevator to the top floor, and our appearance frightened away a man who’d been cleaning. He mumbled an apology as he departed and left us alone in the giant room. We danced, we took in the view, and we thrilled to our impromptu and daring bluff.

July 2013 trip B 385Saved your life!

July 2013 trip B 429A peek in the wheelhouse to see how it works.

July 2013 trip B 431See those three flights of stairs? Nearly 100 pounds of luggage had to be lugged back up in heat, humidity and finally through a summer downpour – after our refreshing, wind-swept cruise. In spite of that, it was still one of the best afternoons ever. Certainly a day neither one of us will ever forget.


Old Dog July 8, 2013

Spent the day trying to teach myself some new tricks. On the computer, that is. The most basic skills still elude me, and my excuse has been my 24/7 job as mom. I still stand by it; there’s just so much one person can do in a day, and in between writing, teaching, playing piano, keeping house and home and being mom I have about eight hours left in which to sleep – and I aint about to give that up. ! Plus I like to read at bedtime. That habit in addition to my chronic insomnia helps me define my priorities. So finally, with Elihu in Chicago for a bit, now I’ve got some time. Already hooked up my long-paid-for domain name with this blog – that in itself was a minor victory for me. Next on my list is to get some hyperlinks goin. It can’t be that difficult. I hope you’ll indulge me as I do a little experimenting in the following paragraphs…

“My son and I recently took a lovely little vacation together in Chicago. We thoroughly enjoyed a boat cruise (on both the river and the lake), one which I highly recommend, given by the Wendella Boat Line.

After that spectacular tour, we headed north for dinner at the Heartland Café in Rogers Park (which is no longer owned by local legend Michael James. Although it’s clear they’re trying to march forward in the same spirit as before, the unmistakable vibe that’s been present for the past thirty-something years is sadly no longer part of the Heartland experience.)”

Ok. That seems to have worked too. This is all fairly easy stuff. Feel kinda silly about having put it off for so long. But the linked words still show to be underlined and blue in the working copy I see in front of me. Really? Hm. Gonna save and preview again…

So. Ascertained that the links are the same color as the text. Good. And while they appear sort of highlighted, they aren’t underlined. That’s good too. I’d rather  that the text appeared the same as the rest, but then again I suppose you wouldn’t realize that it was a link. I guess. Now my only concern is that until I go ahead and actually publish the post, apparently I can’t check to see if the links actually work or not. Really? Am I missing something? Here I go again…

Although unrelated to my above ‘hyperlink challenge’, I feel I must mention that my edits aren’t always successfully saved, in spite of my quite definitively hitting ‘save draft’. It is beginning to piss me off. Gotten to the point where I save the same version a over and over a handful of times until it seems to take. (When saves don’t take, it becomes insanely tedious to go over the entire bloody text trying to re-create the previous changes. Like it did just now as I re-wrote this past sentence for the third time. Really.) Upstairs, on my tiny and ancient little Mac, I’ve noticed that updates stop saving well after just a few versions… might be due to many pages up in sequence. Don’t really know. My trick is to close em all and restart. But now it’s happening on my ‘new’ (updated) PC. Seriously. What am I missing? Screw it for now. I won’t worry about it tonight, cuz I’ve got a pile of books I can’t wait to get to beside my bed. Been at my desk nearly ten hours now and am done. I think I did pretty well today for an old gal. Schooled my own way over, around and through some unforeseen obstacles, and in the end feel like I actually learned a couple of new tricks. Good dog.

Near-immediate Post Script: WordPress just told me I have a more current version of my post in autosave. Naturally I panicked, then checked it out, and realized that no, it is not the most recent, updated version. ! And I can also now see that my shiny new hyperlinks are bridges to nowhere. Sigh. Maybe it has something to do with the domain change today. Oh how I had hoped to get over these few hurdles by now. Good thing I still got lots of time to figure it all out. Thanks for your patient audience as I fumble about here…

A “refreshed the next morning” Post Script: Have re-pasted the links. Ok. Got in now. !