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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Saturday In The Kitchen With Big Mar

Okay, so once or twice a year, I gather mass quantities of fresh vegetables, olives, pickles and tinned tuna, and head over to Big Mar's house to can our Northern Italian family's version of antipasto. Unlike more traditional fare, there are no lunch meats or cheeses, just the above ingredients in a tomato base that is a magical treat to the taste buds.

my beloved Big Mar: kitchen warrior

and now she's had enough of my
interwebs nonsense

The chopping and par-cooking and canning takes all goddamn day, but seeing the rows of jars stacked neatly on the shelf leaves me with a sense of satisfaction, not only for the yummy snack we'll devour throughout the winter months on the days I don't feel like cooking (read: nearly every damn day because I'm a LAZY SHIT), but also for the satisfaction of keeping this tradition alive another generation.

Besides the obvious consumable end-game, my favorite thing about this long-ass process is I get to spend quality one-on-one time with the woman who brought me aboard this roller coaster we call life. She may be 93, but she is full of élan.


i may not have inherited her elegance,
but i like to think i have her irreverence down pat

In spite of her physical trials, her spirit remains light, buoyant and a wee bit bawdy. She's an absolute joy to be around. Warm and welcoming, she thrives in social settings. Her big, full heart and infinite kindness envelopes everyone in her path. (Except for Uncle Fred who was a right-royal mean mother-scratcher asshole, but that's a story for another time.) There is literally ALWAYS room at her table for another place setting.

And fuck YEAH, can she cook. Unbelievable.

Big Mar is a shining example of how to enjoy the time one has on this spinning orb. She looks that bad boy in the face and says, "bring it, MoFo!"

And Holy CATS is she smart!! A voracious reader, she keeps up with ALL current events local, national or global. She puts me to shame. Had she been born in my generation, she could have been anything she wanted to be. And what she wanted to be was a Chemist. Sadly, her accident of birth placed her in a generation and financial circumstance that kept her goal out of reach. And yet, she is not the least bit bitter.

Nope. Not. One. Bit.

Instead, she chooses to focus on that which brings her happiness, namely her family, her friends and Steve Harvey. I am not even kidding about that last one. She LOOOOOVES Steve Harvey. That little fact cracks me the hell up. My sister, Toni and I aspire to be her when we grow up. We should be so lucky. She kicks ass at this living thang.

                   She bought this for Geo, because, C'MON! Even at 93, fart machines are fucking funny!

But I digress...

So, Saturday I go over to her homestead for Canning-Fest and find her in the kitchen, mixing up fruit cakes, a CD of 40s music cranked to 11, doing her little old lady shuffle dance, and singing like a boss.

Throughout the afternoon while we waited for the veggies to cook, she told me stories of my Dad's antics including the one in which he fleeced four grand from fellow soldiers on the boat home from the war. He later blew it all on a bus trip across the country to see his brother in San Diego. A trip which included a couple days dalliance with a little filly he met in Indiana.

soldier boy

This all happened before they met. He had seen horrible things during his three years abroad. I get that all he wanted was to distance himself from the war with a little comfort from the embrace of the open road, a bottle of whiskey and a random, healthy female. It's so crazy to think of your parents as 20-somethings, adrift and acting like, well … 20-somethings.

Big Mar's musical heartthrob 

lighten the eyes to blue, add a little scruff and a mole…

At one point we put Jack Jones on the player, and I wrapped my arms around her shrunken little frame while we danced to her favorite song. Jack is totally her Rhett Miller. She likes to tease me about my obsession with the blue-eyed lovely one, but guess what?

I said... GUESS WHAT?

(this is where you say, WHAT, muthafucka?)

I FINALLY got her to admit that SHE would have followed Mr. Jones around the country, too if she had the chance.


I know my time with my beloved Big Mar is limited, although not so limited that she can't buy green bananas, if you get my drift. There's still a lot of life left in her, but it's more tangibly finite with each passing year. I know someday her Energizer Bunny battery is just going to wear out, which makes these afternoons all the more precious. I'll take days like this as long as I can.

And who knows, maybe one day when my 5'8" frame has shrunken with age and my hearing is diminished, I'll be in my kitchen, elbow-deep in antipasto, Rhett Miller and Old 97's cranked to 11, singing and dancing with my niece, telling scandalous stories and passing on this tradition to the next generation just like my Mum.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Godspeed, Baba

I knew when I saw Geo's cell number pop up on the Caller ID that something was horribly amiss. He could only manage to say my name... and then the flood of tears came.

His mother had passed away.

Do you know how tough it is to witness your strong spouse crumble? It's heartbreaking to watch his heart break.

The thing is, none of us expected Stancy to ever be able to live in her home again, but no one thought we'd be saying goodbye to her so soon. I touched briefly upon her travails earlier this summer. She had been doing somewhat better over the last few weeks, but her C-Diff flared up again, and I believe she just decided to call it day. She passed peacefully in the presence of her oldest. On her own terms.

Good for her.

Stancy didn't  have an ideal marriage. Out of the turbulence, she raised four wonderful men, the third of whom I will be forever in her debt. For over 30 years I had the privilege to be Stancy's daughter-in-law. I wasn't always the most attentive, caring or thoughtful daughter-in-law, but I like to think we loved each other in our own special way. She was a good person, who did the best she could with the circumstances she was given.

Her smile was bright, her heart was huge and her devotion to the Pirates was infinite. She knew more about baseball than most announcers. In her youth, she played the game in her small hometown north of Pittsburgh. A rarity for a woman of her generation. On a whim, she and a girlfriend would hop in her car and drive the couple hours to Oakland to pony up two bucks to watch her beloved Bucs battle against a rival club. Her unwavering dedication over the past dismal 22 years paid off. Stancy finally got to see not one, but TWO winning seasons. She never gave up on them. EVER.

She also was a wicked good baker, sharp as a tack and enjoyed sarcasm. She loveLoveLOVED Vince Gill (none of those other "fake country acts"), homemade cheesecake and did I mention the Pirates? But mostly she loved her family unconditionally, especially her delightful grandchildren who called her Baba.

Alex was her buddy
these two were two peas in a pod

many years ago with all her treasured offsprings' offspring

the unmitigated joy in her face while holding
her grandson, Matt says it all

I'm not going to lie, Orthodox funerals are rough. If you aren't depressed when you enter, you're desperately clutching for Xanax afterwards. The dirge-like chanting, repetition and incessant incense just magnifies the sorrow.

And oh my goodness, the poor kids. They were devastated by the service. This was their first loss of a significant family member. It's difficult enough as an adult to process the magnitude of what's happening, but as a young adult, it's unfathomable.

We all rallied around each other during the grueling ceremony, holding on while the tears flowed. And as the priest gave Stancy absolution, the eternal flame, which never goes out... extinguished. And her spirit was gone.

Side Note: Sitting beneath the vividly painted icons of Saints and Deity, amidst the rhythmic chanting, my mind began wandering about subjects like the physical act of dying, spirituality and the inevitable departure of my beloved Big Mar. My eyes focused on the icon of the Virgin Mary, and honest to God a joke popped into my head. You know, the one about St. Peter turning an unsavory person away at the Pearly Gates, only to have Jesus encounter the same man in Heaven moments later. Perplexed, Jesus asks how he got inside. The man replies, "your Mom let me in the back door." And I realized, OMG, that's my Mom! She's the non judgmental soul, welcoming everyone in through the back door with open arms, a hearty laugh and big ass table full of food. She IS that joke. I don't mean to sound disrespectful and callous, but what a wonderful gift it is to embody that punch line. It made me smile during a difficult moment.

In contrast to her somber final send off, the viewing could not have been more lovely. It was more like a get-together than a viewing. The space itself was warm and homey. There was a nice steady flow of visitors throughout the five-hour block. People were eating pizza (Stancy's favorite), cookies and pizzelles.

Stancy would have loved it.

There was laughter and storytelling and comic relief when the kneeler broke. I am not making this up. At one point Geo's brother, Mark had the kneeler up on one end tightening the bolt, while his other brother, the priest dressed in full cassock, was wielding a red monkey wrench. All of this happening in front of the casket. It was hysterical and unorthodox and his Mom would have LOVED that, too!

Father Bob wielding the Holy Handwrench

and yes, i am THAT person who snaps a photo at a funeral
but, c'mon! it's funny

Fortunately, Robert ditched the wrench before the Parastas began, because THAT could have been painful…

In the name of the Fath--OUCH, Son and Holy Ghost. In the name of the Fath--OUCH!, Son and Holy Ghost. In the name of the Fath--OUCH! Son and Holy Ghost...

In these difficult times, comfort comes from the strangest places. After all our extended family made their way home from the repast luncheon, I decided to go to Night of the Singing Dead, because after a week of mourning, a good, strong dose of stupid-funny was in order. Two thirds of the way through, one of the characters stopped in the middle of his bit to say no one is really gone if they've touched your  life. They live on forever in your heart.

I like to think Stancy's watching over us up there, talking baseball stats with Bob Prince, playing catch with Roberto and baking pasca with her Mom and sister.

Godspeed, Baba. Thank you for your wisdom, your humor and your spirit. You will forever be in our hearts.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Summer Music Round Up With A Side Of Whine

Oh, hey! Remember me?

Yeah… well, I was supposed to wrap up this braggy BS weeks ago, but I didn't. I just could not muster the energy or enthusiasm to sit down and scribe a fabrication of my goings-on for whatever you call this rambling mess of a blog.

Truth is, even now, this very minute, I'd rather sit here in my criminally comfy yoga pants, with a glass of boxed red wine and binge watch the rest of Orange Is The New Black, Ray Donovan and Sherlock instead of press fruitlessly on with this post in my cavewoman stilted vernacular.

Me go places. Me have fun. Me lose hearing.

I'd yadda yadda yadda this fucker, but even the yadda bits would be uninspired. Jebus Christos, I need a swift kick in the buttocks!!

ANYWHO… (maybe ALL CAPS will stop the whining…hmmmmmmmmmmmm…nah)

ANYWHO, I promised myself I'd toss some nouns, verbs and overused adjectives at the screen and finish this GD MoFo American Classic. Hell, I might even dangle a participle or two on yo ass. Not to mention hang a couple of prepositions out to dry all gansta like. HEY, WON'T THAT BE FUN, KIDS!!!

Wait… How the hell did this turn into a grammar tangent? Oh, yeah.


Not to be confused with STALIN, who was a ginormous Muthafuckin' JAGOFF.

ACK! And to think I was shooting for brevity with concise bullet point observations on this bad boy.


You know what? Fuck it. I'm pressing on. My track record for finishing ANYTHING lately, a book, a project, a fucking bag of obesity-inducing chips (okay, so THAT is the one thing I DO finish) is abysmal. So here goes. Prepare to be underwhelmed.

Wouldn't it be hilarious if I ended this missive right here? Ha Ha! PSYCHE!!

And now I just carbon-dated my ass with that term.


(a little thang me and Jimmy McParkway would sing to each other from Matthew Perry's ill-fated sitcom wherein he and I apparently were the only viewers. yaaaaaaaaaay…)

But I digress. Again.

BEHOLD! The rest of my Summer of Narcisim… I mean, Summer of Music.

· House Concert 2.0

Spring Standards harmoniously rocking' the haus

Okay, so last summer Geo and I hosted the uber talented Brooklyn trio, The Spring Standards. We enjoyed James, Heather and James so much, we cajoled pestered sweet-talked them into a repeat performance exactly one year to the day of their 2013 visit. Through the miracle of technology that is incomprehensible to this Luddite, the kids broadcast our little dining room show out over the interwebs via Concert Window.

james squared on the schwang

The weather was ideal, the company of family and friends was superb and the music was spectacular. Along with those who have become regular house concert attendees, there were a number of newbies, including our dear friend from Texas, Myra Jean.

that's our southern belle, Myra in front of the monitor

Here they are singing some of our favorites of theirs. Their harmonies are gorgeous.

Geo and I have supported these three via Kickstarter for a number of years. For whatever reason, they're really sweet to us. They find our name amusing, and made up a little song and dance to go with it, all in good fun. Who'd a thunk when I saw them for the first time four years ago at SXSW, they would be hanging out on our deck, noshing on snacks and singing in our dining room. Sometimes life is too cool.

Everyone seemed to genuinely enjoy themselves and each other. After the band left, we all piled on the deck for more food, drink, and lively conversation late into the night. You know it's a great party when people don't want to leave. It could have been because of the world famous Prantl's burnt almond birthday torte, but I prefer to believe it was the camaraderie.

TORTE reward

· Matt Nathanson at the Library
Another highlight of the latter days of summer was Matt Nathanson. I've been wanting to see him ever since Steph and I watched his Denver concert on AXS last October. He's a pure popstar with thick floppy hair, mischief in his eyes and enough swivel in his hips to give the lovely blue-eyed one a run for his swoon-worthy money.

His shows are plain, old FUN! From the minute he stepped on stage, the audience was on its feet. He engaged the crowd immediately, prompting sing alongs, talking with some of those at the stage and playfully calling out patrons not willing to join the fun.

Sprinkled throughout the 90+ minutes, he did an entire bit about letting his inner Whitney Houston out,

as well as several mash-ups, mixing old songs with his own like Get High and Grease Lightning. The entire theater sang with him, following his every command. Again I say, how cool is it to stand back and hear 800+ people sing your words back to you.

Mash ups, flowing curls, and those hips…

One more for the road. My favorite of his, Faster. Mmmmmm….

The deal was you buy a t-shirt, you get to meet him briefly for a photo. Yep. What can I say? I'm a sucker for smart, witty, adorable floppy-haired crooners who enjoy shaking their asses.

· Bleachers at Mr. Small's
One of the great pleasures of having younger friends, or any friends for that matter, is exposure to new musical acts who would otherwise fly deep below my radar. I like to think I dwell in a well-rounded musical estate, but in reality, I just bunk in a small passageway in the back by the water heater.

Lizzie has been instrumental in introducing me to such musicians. Besides Chad Stokes and Matt Wertz, both of whom were represented by the label she worked for in Boston, she has a friendly relationship with the popular band fun. Her favorite member is Jack Antanoff, famous as much for being Lena Dunham (of Girls fame) boyfriend as for being the guitarist for the power pop icons. His current side project is fronting the band Bleachers.

Aside from their hit, I Wanna Get Better, I was clueless. But honestly, half the fun of these ventures is hanging out with Lizzie and her cousin, Gen. Bleachers were extremely energetic and fun. The modest crowd pretty much knew all of his songs, participating in every verse and chorus. For someone who is normally in the background, Jack is a very charismatic front man and lead singer, bounding from one side of the stage to the other, belting out lyrics and playing a mean guitar. And talk about sincere. If he said it once, he said it 20 times how much he appreciated the support he receives from the Pittsburgh area. I have it on good authority from Lizzie, he is a genuine sweet, sweet guy.

The setlist was not long, but his cover of a favorite Mountain Goats song, This Year was definitely a highlight.

And this rousing performance of his hit, I Wanna Get Better closed out the show. He even took time to shake the hands of everyone in the front row before departing backstage. Sweet.

·Jukebox the Ghost Live and Direct, WYEP
And lastly, Jukebox the Ghost stopped by the studios of the magnificent WYEP to play a handful of catchy new songs on their radio-only tour through the Northeast. Based out of DC, this three piece band has a lot of heart, a full sound, and a great sense of humor evidenced in the performance/interview here.

Aaaaaaaaaand… DONE!! WOOHOO!!

Monday, September 22, 2014

In Which We Experience Chicago In The Warmer Climes Thanks To A Rhett Winery Show

Okay, so there were a number of other events that occurred between The Stone Pony and now, but Cindy and I just got back from an overnighter in Chicago to see Rhett Miller's solo show at the Chicago City Winery---I mean, c'mon! You know me. Who else would it be, right?---and I figured, what the heck, it's kind of a theme. Might as well write about it while it's somewhat fresh in my deteriorating memory banks.


I've been wanting to see Mr. Miller play in Chicago ever since the Winery opened several years ago. The original New York venue is one of my all-time favorite places to see His Magnificence perform, so I've been curious how the Chicago house would stack up.

In the heart of a reclaimed industrial area, this space is downright cavernous compared to New York. It encompasses the equivalent of three large storefronts. The first is a dining/bar area populated with enormous metal vats filled with house-blended wines. The second is the wide open lobby with oversized individual yellow-frosted wine bottle light fixtures hanging from 20ft+ ceilings. The entrance to the concert venue is just beyond the lobby. The third space is a roomy, gated outdoor patio where guests can dine, drink or just hang out.

the beautifully appointed patio space

The venue is laid out similarly to the SoHo space, but with a lot more breathing room between table rows. There isn't as intimate a feel to this room, but the extra leg room is welcomed. And honestly, no matter the size of the room, Rhett fills it with his commanding stage presence. He's just one man with a guitar, but his unbridled energy draws everyone in like a moth to a flame.

He seemed as at ease on this stage as the one in New York. The energy in the room isn't quite as electric as the Big Apple, but has a more calm, polite, Midwest vibe. Like every city, their were the "regulars" in front and scattered throughout, feeding back the love. It was a great crowd who sang along and cheered especially loudly for his Chicago-centric songs. He played a nice combination of solo and 97's songs, newest and more obscure, and a couple of unexpected covers. One fan who drove five hours to get to the Winery, posted a list of requests on Rhett's Facebook page. He was kind enough to play them all, with the disclaimer if he messed up the lyrics, she had to help him, particularly on Sleepwalking. He did, and she did, willingly.

(the blue-eyed lovely, bathed in violet light, singing one of my favorites from MMU)

Two of the many things I love about his solo shows are a) the way he changes up his interpretations of his songs and b) his playful banter with the audience.

Each song sounded so fresh. The slight changes in emphasis providing a different meaning, a new feel... an extra naughtiness. Perfect example is 4-Eyed Girl. The chorus is "La La La I'm in love with a 4-eyed girl. She knows how to move me now. She knows how. BaBaBaBaaaaaa..." On Thursday night, when he got to the "She knows how", he stopped strumming and spoke the phrase slowly, with a verbal wink, "SHE knows how..." before playing on. A double, double entendre.


Cigarette, please!

Besides talking with the crowd, he told a number of amusing stories, including this one about cursing on stage in Nashville the night before.

One particularly funny yarn came about because his stage tuner quote, "shit the bed" the night before in Nashville. He searched to procure a new one that afternoon from a mensch of a man in one of those sketchy, locked storefronts where you must be buzzed in. Never a good sign, right? According to Rhett, despite owning a music store, this old dude had no knowledge of music. Struggling to explain what a guitar tuner was, for what seemed an eternity, the old geezer finally pulled out a dust-caked box containing a tuner from the 70s. He insisted it was the best because it was "chromatic."  Rhett bought it and, of course, it sucked. He couldn't get it to tune his middle strings after the second song. I believe "Fuck a DUCK!!" was the phrase used. Ha Ha! Fortunately, the opener, Dylan Pratt, came to the rescue, lending his turner. The crops were saved.

Okay, maybe you had to be there, but to hear Rhett go on and on in a crusty, old guy voice was pretty damn funny.

There was so much extra goodness going on between his entrance with whiskey glass held high and the last thrust of his sweat-soaked, extra long, luscious locks. Ridiculously entertaining. His showmanship is without peer. He is ALWAYS worth the journey.

And as if giving his all on stage for 90+ minutes wasn't enough, he came out afterwards to kibitz with fans. He graciously signed merch, posed for selfies and took the time to speak with every person in line. Turning each one (male and female) into super fans in a matter of minutes. Welcome to the fold! Here, have some Kool Aid. Ha Ha!

I know I sound like a broken record, but I just cannot express enough how much I love this man and his music and his big ole beautiful brain.

Extra bonus: I finally got to meet a long-time Twitter friend in the flesh. Yasmin, is a lovely young mother about to hatch another lovely being. There's a saying, great bands have great fans. Time and again, with each new person I meet, I find this to be true.

The City Winery Chicago is a place I can see visiting again. And because I am a total geek, here's the setlist from this most excellent evening.

Chicago Winery Setlist 9/18/14
Drowning in the Days
The El
Longer Than You've Been Alive
Buick City Complex (a rare treat!)
I'm a Train Wreck (another rarity)
Need To Know Where I Stand (by request)
Curtain Call (another fave oldie)
Disconnect (this one makes me want to hug him)
Champagne, IL (crowd favorite)
Murder or Heart Attack
Melt Show
4 Eyed Girl
Sometimes (by request, so sweet!)
Busted Afternoon
No Baby I (by request)
Bird in a Cage (chosen by a girl in audience)
Roller Skate Skinny
Wheels Off
Sleepwalking (by request)
Singular Girl (w/Hydra verse!)
This Will Be Our Year (Zombies cover)
(*2014 really DOES seem like his year)
Let's Get Drunk
Our Love
4 Leaf Clover
Hank Williams Cover
Most Messed Up
Time Bomb
Cindy and I could NOT have ordered better weather to explore the Windy City! Sunny and temperate, with neither exhausting humidity nor bitter winds, the Metropolis shined. Jebus, this town is amazingly clean and free of Big-City stench.
a calder in the mist
We stayed in the city Loop which made it perfect to walk to Millennium Park, Navy Pier and Michigan Avenue. The park was super fun. There was a new sculpture exhibit, Women of Chicago featuring ginormous heads of local women.
The glass block obelisks bore faces of men and women smiling right before they would purse their lips for a stream of water to spew forth onto the children playing beneath.
urban water park
And then, of course, there was the bean...

If you aren't charmed by this whimsical structure, we can't be friends.

cindy communing with the bean

every angle is an irresistible treat

amish album cover


last one

After indulging our inner child at the park, we headed uptown to Intimacy to get my ta-tas properly fitted. It wasn't as weird as I anticipated. There was no wrangling of the girls. Instead there was a skilled assessment of my current undergarment. It failed, miserably. Now I gots me a stand-up foundation garment that holds 'em high, boy howdy! There's even some long-absent cleavage involved.

Watch the eff out, y'all! My tats ROCK, BABY!!!

My only complaint about this wonderful urban setting was the bathroom in the kickass diner near our hotel. That stall was SMALL! And by small, I mean miniscule. So much so that my knees rested AGAINST the door as I perched precariously.

(tmi moment of the day)

Seriously. Thank baby Jesus I didn't have a dress on, because that bad boy would have ended up in the turlet for sure. Can you say, super awkward? Then, I had the grand pleasure of plunging the bowl to get the GD thing to flush. Let's just say I was thankful there were no kids dropped off at the lake.


Please enjoy more photos from this wonderful city.

Chicago river

"rump" tower
well, he is an ass

this busker was playing Guster
he earned a tip

bridge abutment on Michigan Ave

sooooo bummed we were a week too early for this

these four buildings look like they are all connected
perspective is a wild thing

Navy Pier
what a difference ten months makes
last November there was no one here

lunch al fresco

ACTUAL sailors at Navy Pier
go figure