Friday, February 29, 2008

leap day

So here we all stand on this little joke island of a day, February 29th. Don't know what a "joke island" is? Well, that's understandable since it's part of the private lexicon of the Mancine family. I will explain it to you. When the kids were little they had a really cheesy video golf game. (Perhaps one of them will comment here and kindly tell us which game it was.) If one hit the ball so that it landed just barely in one of the water features, a little round tuft of grass would appear in the water for the golfer to stand on. It was a joke island, if you will.

I suppose if one really cared about "winning" the game, one would not want to deliberately hit the ball into the water feature. However, in the wacky world of video game playing at our house, a joke island was very desirable, and the kids pretty much aimed for the edge of every lake or pond they encountered. Then one of them would come running to find us, saying, "Come look at the joke island I made!" It was all very entertaining.

Anyway, here we are on Leap Day, which you probably read all about in the local newspaper this morning, as did I. So you already know that we have it every four years to keep the calendar from shifting around until we have Christmas in the hottest part of the year like those wacky Australians. I understand all that, but I do have just one question about it. Why in the world do we have to add an extra day to the crappiest month of the year? Why not add a day to the lovely month of May? Wouldn't you love to have one more perfect day of late spring instead of another day like this one? That's all I'm sayin'.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Happy Birthday, Dad!

Today is my dad's 81st birthday. If you would like to send birthday wishes to him, you can just post them here, and I'm sure my brother will pass them along to him.

Right, Bill?


Friday, February 22, 2008

The Butler Institute of American Art

Did you know that I live within an hour's drive of the first museum built solely to showcase American art and artists? Well, I am embarrassed to say, neither did I. (That question is not for you, Joany. I'm sure you knew about it, but never told me!) Once I found out about The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, however, it took us less than a week to drive out there and see it.

I actually learned about the museum in an interesting way. Saturday afternoon I was working on Julie's second scarf, trying to get it finished before she had to go back to Maryland. I like to have the tv on while I knit, but I really listen to it more than I actually watch it. I was clicking around, looking for something to watch when I found Bob Ross just beginning a painting. Perfect, I thought, and began to knit. I quickly realized, however, that I didn't want to look away from Bob's painting to knit. I might miss something. Well, it was only a half-hour show, so I laid my knitting aside, and watched Bob work. I love the sound his brush makes as he taps the canvas with spring green paint, and his soothing voice assures me that there are no mistakes, just happy accidents. My eyes glazed over, and I never even realized when I fell asleep.

When I woke up, Bob was gone, and someone else was talking to me about the collection at The Butler Institute. I had heard the name before, and I guess I thought it was probably in Pittsburgh. I was totally surprised to learn that it was actually in Youngstown, a place I have never been, despite living within 50 miles of it for the last seven years. I sat down at my computer and googled the museum. You can see what I found here: Well, we love museums, and since Ben has this week off, the two of us headed out there on Wednesday, mapquest maps in hand.

We only got lost once, and within an hour of leaving home, we turned into the parking lot of the beaux-arts building designed in 1917 by architects, McKim, Mead and White. After a quick lunch in the small (and very cold) museum café, Ben and I set out to explore the collection. What a pleasant surprise this little museum was! It had works by all the big names in American art, of course, Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper and Grant Wood, to name a few, but it also had a lot of works by lesser-known (to us, unknown) artists, as well. I love to have a good mix of familiar and new art to look at, and that is exactly what we found.

A large new wing of the museum is "dedicated solely to new media and electronic art. The facility regularly displays works of art that utilize computers, holography, lasers and other digital media." The exhibits there were fascinating and fun, especially the interactive Ronald Amstutz installation.

Several hours passed before we knew it, then we headed for home. Although it took us a long time to learn about The Butler Institute, it won't take us long to return there. This was a One-Tank Trip well worth taking.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

time for another movie review

It is much more difficult, I find, to praise a movie than to pan one. I guess that is true of most things, actually. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Juno earlier this week with Julie. It was just what we expected it to be, and that is a good thing.

Juno is a modest little film, but that is not to say that it doesn't have some interesting things to say. As you probably already know, it is the story of a pregnant teenager who decides to give her baby up for adoption after she is unable to go through with an abortion. The movie follows her from her third pregnancy test (she tells the store clerk that the previous test result looked more like a division sign than a plus sign) through telling the baby's father and her parents, finding adoptive parents, attending school with an ever-expanding waistline, forging a relationship with the childless couple she has chosen, shedding tears in her hospital bed after giving up her newborn son, and finally, returning to the normal life of a sixteen-year-old.

This may sound odd, but what I liked about this film was all the things that didn't happen. Juno and her boyfriend weren't forced to get married. Her parents didn't disown her - or even chastise her. She didn't have a skeezy relationship with the man-child whose wife desperately wanted Juno's baby. She didn't have a car accident. She didn't miscarry. She didn't change her mind and keep the baby. Just like in real life, there weren't any shocking plot devices to change the course of the story. I liked that.

The actors were excellent - none of them struck a false note throughout the entire film. Ellen Page was outstanding as Juno, but I also liked J. K. Simmons as her dad. I recognized him as Dr. Emil Skoda from many episodes of Law & Order, of course. Well, I could just go on and mention each of the actors by name, but suffice it to say they were all pitch perfect. The dialogue was clever and smart-alecky, but didn't sound overly witty or artificial. Julie recognized much of the music in the sound track, and although it wasn't familiar to me, it seemed to fit just right.

Is this movie the best picture of the year? Probably not. However, it was entertaining and human and real, and watching it was a perfect way to spend a cold, damp February afternoon. I recommend it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

family is where you find it

I hadn't expected to be back in Elyria again so soon, but when I read in the online Chronicle that my friend Linda's husband had passed away, I knew I would attend the memorial service. I wanted to see Linda and tell her how sorry I was, but I also wanted to see the library ladies, whom I knew would all be there. Linda works at the library where I worked for eleven years, and one thing I know about working there is that the staff takes care of its own.

I left the house mid-morning on Saturday, and an hour later I was turning into the parking lot of the church across the street from the library. I was barely inside the church door when I ran into Jenni and Maggie and Joanne. There were hugs all around, and as we walked down the hallway together our first questions were about each other's kids and where they were and what they were doing.

As we waited in line to sign the guest book (is that the correct term?) I saw more familiar faces up ahead. There were Mary and Terri and Barb and Lisa standing to one side. I received hugs straight down the line from all of them, and although I knew it was a solemn occasion, I felt a huge grin on my face from the pleasure of seeing them again. There was another quick round of "how are the kids?" before we turned to enter the sanctuary. I saw Brenda and Marianne and Janet there, as well, before we sat down.

I found myself seated between Jenni and Mary, who is so tender-hearted that she had her pack of tissues open on her lap before I even took my coat off. Mary is Irish, as was my friend's late husband, and as the organist played "Oh, Danny Boy" and "When Irish Eyes are Smilin", Mary's eyes welled over. I knew she had lost her mother within the last six months, and I could only imagine how difficult the day was for her. She was there anyway, though. For Linda.

Sitting at the memorial service surrounded by my friends, I was reminded of another service we attended together - could it be ten years ago now? - when Ava died. Terri's bright, beautiful daughter, who attended law school in Akron, had been sick most of her life. You wouldn't know it to look at her; she looked vibrant and healthy and full of life. She was my kids' babysitter for the years that they needed one. Their most vivid memory of her, I think, is that they always watched Court TV together, and that Ava always knew she wanted to be a lawyer. She was working towards that goal when her final illness caught up with her.

Seeing Linda enter the sanctuary with her daughters and their families brought home to me how devastating the loss of her husband was. My heart ached for her. I could only hope that the crowded memorial service would begin a healing process that I knew would take a long time. As the organist played "Amazing Grace" at the end of the service, even tough little Jenni broke down, and I handed Mary's tissue pack to her so she could wipe her eyes.

As we filed out, I saw Gina sitting in the back pew. I knew then that I had unconsciously been looking for her all morning, as I had known she would be there for Linda, as well. In fact, I could have written out a list beforehand of the women I anticipated seeing on that cold February morning, and I know I would have listed everyone I saw. We shared our joys and sorrows when we worked together, and we were sharing them still. That's what family does.

Monday, February 4, 2008

looking for the silver lining

February is a difficult month for me, and today is a good example of why. The temperature hovers right around 30 degrees, which means that some, but not all, of the ice that covers all horizontal surfaces has melted into huge, icy puddles. The sidewalks are bumpy, uneven sheets of ice covered by freezing water. Rufus and I will not be able to take a walk again today.

The sun has not been out since (let me see - counting backwards...) last Thursday, but that was while I was at my dad's house, so it may have been overcast here. The sky is gray, the leafless trees are gray, the ice-covered streets and sidewalks are gray... Well, you get the idea. While it is true that each day is imperceptibly longer, it just doesn't seem to matter much when the whole day passes by without a glimmer of sunshine.

April may be the cruelest month, but it's a damn good thing that February is the shortest one. On the plus side, however, the New England Patriots lost the Super Bowl yesterday. That puts a smile on my face every time I think about it.

Friday, February 1, 2008

a final farewell

I went to visit my dad yesterday, which turned out to be a good idea, as today we are being soaked by freezing rain. Northeast Ohio in the wintertime - gotta love it. We had a nice visit, including lunch at a little family restaurant that was a skeezy bar thirty years ago. Now it is a bright and cozy space with mismatched Fiestaware dishes and the work of local artists displayed on the walls. They serve the best meatloaf I have ever eaten. (Yeah, we both had the meatloaf. Hey, it was my big meal of the day, so climb off.)

After lunch, we decided to drive by our old house, which has the misfortune to be located between two local behemoths that are swallowing up all the old homes surrounding them - the high school and the old folks home. (You can supply your own p.c. term for that - I grow weary of trying to keep them straight.) It is the high school that is taking our house, along with the rest of the houses on that side of the street. An eight-foot tall chain link fence surrounds them all now, and it looks like the workmen are finishing up the process of removing all the valuable fixtures from the interiors of the houses, and beginning the demolition.

The old street looks pretty bad now, although even when I was a kid, I knew it wasn't a "good" neighborhood. It was a solidly blue-collar neighborhood, with many of the fathers on the street walking to their jobs at local foundries, and then straight to the nearby bars when their shifts had ended. I suspect my dad was the only person on the street with a college degree, but things like that never mattered to him.

This is an ugly time of year in Northeast Ohio, and even though the sun was out yesterday, it could not improve the appearance of the empty, windowless houses with piles of rubble outside each of them. It was unutterably sad to know that I was seeing my old house for the last time, but at the same time, I was oddly comforted to be there with my dad. He is not a sentimental man, and I drew strength from his matter-of-fact attitude.

As we drove away from our house for the last time, I took with me the memory of a young father walking up the street with his daughter's small hand held in his own. It is twilight on a warm summer evening, and the two of them are walking to the local carry-out to pick up a six-pack and maybe a bag of pretzels, if she can talk him into it. He says hello to everyone they pass as they walk along, whether he knows them or not. He explains to his young daughter that it is courteous to do so. He walks on the street side of her at all times, explaining that a gentleman always does this to protect his lady.

Darkness has fallen as they walk home, and the three glowing yellow rectangles of the bay window welcome them as they turn the corner towards their house. The young father allows his daughter to run ahead once they have safely crossed the last street. Whatever else it is - or isn't - the old house is home to her, and she is happy to return there.