Chicago History Museum

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We visited the Chicago History Museum yesterday, where we enjoyed “The Secret Lives of Objects” before experiencing one of the best museum tours in our twenty-plus years of doing what we do here in the family-centered learning project. If you’re in the city, visit this treasure of a museum, and ask if Elizabeth will be leading any tours that day. She is a gifted docent.

We followed our museum adventure with a short walk along the lake, dinner out, and then The Little Foxes at the Goodman Theatre (reviews here and here). Recommended.

Behind-the-scenes at the museum

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When our children were younger, we attended the annual members’ nights programs regularly. We haven’t attended one since 2010. Our son, the newly minted Marine, had returned to California for SOI, so we took the Misses, then fourteen and twelve.

misses at field 2010

Time. Flies.

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One thing that is unchanged is our fascination with birds. The bird prep lab, conversations with David Willard and John Bates, and observing the preparation of samples were, as always, highlights of our behind-the-scenes experience.

Happy Good Friday.

This post was first published on the original Mental multivitamin site ten years ago. It was republished each Easter through 2013.

“Happy Good Friday.”

For seven years, the man who initialed memos and requisitions “JOB” greeted me such on this day in the Triduum. The first time it staggered me. Happy Good Friday? Even in my child-like understanding of the Roman Catholic tradition, I couldn’t reconcile “Happy” with “Good Friday.”

“It’s the beginning of the greatest mystery of our faith,” he explained. “He dies, but we know how the story ends. He rises. It is a celebration, the greatest celebration in our tradition. Happy Good Friday.”

Happy Good Friday.

Once upon a time ago…

I was a lector in one of the city’s large Catholic parishes. I am a great reader-aloud, and the stories on the liturgical calendar are among the greatest ever told, aren’t they? Whether you believe or not, the stories inspire awe. And it is this reader’s opinion that they should not be thundered or mumbled or chanted. The stories simply must be told. Read. With expression, not affectation. Oh, and I loved sharing those stories as much as I love reading aloud to my own children.

It happened, then, that the Triduum schedule was drafted. The liturgical director “scripted” the Passion readings for the evening Good Friday mass, breaking them into parts that five lectors would share. I was one of the lectors asked to read.

When I took my place at the lectern for the third time that Good Friday evening, it was to read the passages concerning Christ’s crucifixion and death.

I can affect no false drama — I laugh when it’s funny, cry when it’s sad. There can be no pretense. Artificiality is the death of narrative. Heck, it’s the slow death of feeling, of everything, isn’t it?

Well, at the sentences in which Jesus acknowledges his mother, my throat closed with silent sobs, and at “Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” I was reading through tears. Usually one to look my fellow parishioners in the eye while lectoring, I simply couldn’t see anymore. I chose to keep looking at the page. I can’t tell you what I thought or observed in the long moment that followed my last word and my move away from the lectern to take my place among the other lectors. I knew only that these were among the most profound passages in perhaps the greatest narrative ever written, and that they overcame me. (Later, I determined that, believer or no, if these words do not arouse in one overwhelming emotion, then one simply isn’t human.)

I stood with the other lectors and, as they say, collected myself. Writers know that these moments arrange themselves and occur far more quickly than we can possibly describe. As regular awareness returned to me, though, I realized that silence was an immense roar in my ears. That “what comes next” had not begun, seemed unlikely to begin. That the people crowded into that large, darkened church, the priests on the altar, the Eucharistic ministers behind me… we were, all of us, spellbound.

Of course, at some point, the liturgy did continue, in its power and the promise of hope and renewal.

But, for a few moments, we were, that Good Friday night, aware of terrible sorrow, the ineffable sadness that precedes a renewal or realization of a hopeful promise.

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What wise man said that we must look at Christ and not Christians because Christians disappoint but Jesus himself never does? If we were spellbound, then the spell did not last nearly long enough. Many parishioners felt compelled to talk with me afterward, about how this was the first time they had actually heard the words, felt them, been moved by them. A hundred, two hundred, and more thank-yous and hugs and tears. My legendary personal space issues had been lifted from me for this one evening, and I began to understand the meaning of “a community of faith.”

On the Monday after Easter, however, I learned that a young new priest was disturbed by the “drama” of the Good Friday liturgical celebration and was vehemently recommending a more traditional approach — notably a “straight read-through” delivered by priests or deacons, not members of the lay ministry.

My faith is usually strong, but my religion? A fragile thing in a glass menagerie.

It shattered that day.

Christ is in my heart, I think, in the hearts of anyone who can even begin to sense the enormity of his narrative. And today, he acknowledges his mother, giving her to his trusted friend. And today, he dies. Again. Because it is only in the repetition of the narrative that we humans get it. He will die every year. And he will be born every year.

It’s a story that perhaps mothers see most clearly.

And it makes us weep.

And that’s not drama, you foolish priest.

It’s life. And, perhaps, the promise of something beyond it.

Happy Good Friday.

It has been a while.

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Nearly two months, in fact, since my last post.

Well, since I last wrote, we celebrated my older daughter’s birthday, my younger daughter’s successful scholarship bids, and both daughters’ induction into the local college’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa. They’re now at the midterm of the spring semester and have already registered for two summer session courses. We also, per the photo above, celebrated Ultimate Pi Day.

We attended two concerts at the local college, as well as an Elgin Symphony Orchestra concert and a performance of Dunsinane at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (reviews here and here), the latter of which was jaw-droppingly good (which thoroughly explains the fact that the remaining performances are sold out).

I completed another MOOC — “Shakespeare’s Hamlet.” (My previous MOOCs were “Shakespeare and His World” and “Programming for Everybody (Python).”) I also completed six books. A particular standout was Daryl Gregory’s Afterparty. To my surprise (and chagrin), I already had an earlier work of Gregory’s on my shelf. Into the TBR basket went Pandemonium.

If you’re thinking, “Only six books?” well, so was I — until I realized that I really have been reading: journal articles, a daily paper (the Chicago Tribune, delivered digitally), many magazines, and several comics (The Walking Dead, Lazarus, Revival, They’re Not Like Us, Saga, and Postal). I’ve also been a promiscuous reader of books — beginning several, then leaving them in various states of undress as I slip off to meet another. Heh, heh, heh. In other words, I’ve been reading a lot, just not in the ways that make for good stats. And that’s all right by me.

Speaking of books, since my last post, I released about four hundred from our shelves, primarily homeschooling resources and duplicate copies of novels and texts we had used over the last four years. The project began when I was assessing the contents of our “art closet,” hoping to reorganize its contents to make room for our favorite games. The games were stored tidily but uninvitingly, and I hoped to move them to a more convenient location. Working through the art closet, I realized that at least half of its contents could now be donated. Although we continue to embrace the mindset of a family-centered learning project, our homeschooling days are clearly behind us. As other ruthless declutterers know, one project soon begets another, so with the acknowledgement that “What’s done is done,” I moved from the art (now game) closet to the floor-to-ceiling bookcases that line the back part of the house. As I gained momentum, I asked that everyone eyeball clothes and collections with a critical eye. Do you need it? Does it make you happy? If not, put it on the donation pile. We do this at the turn of each season, but because of the emphasis on repurposing the closet and reclaiming the homeschooling shelves, this reorganization took four long days. The results were subtle but wonderful.

You know, I think I’ve been easing into this new chapter of our lives for about year now. Last March, we had both bathrooms renovated, which led to several other redecorating and reorganizing projects. Not long after the contractors wrapped up the last dropcloth, we headed to California to celebrate our older daughter’s high school graduation, and when we returned, everything changed: While registering for the fall semester at the local college, the Misses also enrolled in two summer session courses, a term that began three weeks after our vacation concluded. So, although we enjoyed (and continue to enjoy) family book club meetings, film nights, “watch-it-like-reading-a-novel” series, and game marathons (to say nothing of theater, concert, and museum adventures, bike rides and long hikes, and more), I was, all at once, no longer a home educator.

Some in my position have assumed a new role — a job, a business adventure, a college program. Until late 2008, though, I had a job. In fact, for most of our home education journey, I worked assorted gigs in the interstices that parenting and teaching permitted, and much of my definition of self was once predicated on the pride I took in being a working writer. And then it wasn’t. Shrug. As for a business venture, well, I don’t think that’s my calling, really. I have already earned my graduate degree and done some post-graduate work, and although I love scholarly pursuits, I don’t think I need another degree at this point. So I’ve been taking my time to determine what I’d really like to do. Granted, I’ve been helpful to my daughters as a guidance counselor (our younger daughter is a dual-enrolled high school senior), as an academic adviser (the local college provides uneven service, at best), and as a mentor, and these roles have made some demands on my time that perhaps other parents of college students have not experienced. But I am no longer “in the thick of it,” as they say, so I’ve had time to think and imagine, to study flute and enroll in MOOCs, to become a literacy volunteer and catch up on my correspondence.

“All but retired.” That’s how I’ve described myself more than once in the last two months. Once upon a time ago, I would have thought this label both boring and impossibly old. Now? It feels… pretty feckin’ awesome. It feels like a privilege. It feels… expansive, like I have all the time, space, and opportunity in the world to envision the what-comes-next. And I am fully embracing it.

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When the weather warmed this past weekend, we lightly raked the lawns to avoid “snow mold” and thatching, and we gathered the leaves and debris that had collected under the bushes. We gave the bikes a thorough going-over and took the first ride of the year — only to find that part of our favorite trail was still, inexplicably, under a thick cover of snow. It was a good if slightly abbreviated workout, in any event.

And that brings us to today. Spring break is nearly upon us, but since the Misses have work, music lessons, and studies, we are staying local. We have tickets for The Book of Mormon (Broadway in Chicago) and The Good Book at the Court Theatre, and we’re planning to visit the Museum of Science and Industry when we head into Chicago for the latter. (I am also planning a small spree at 57th Street Books. I have some shelf space now.) Other than that, we have only planned rides, weather permitting, and some films and games, including my new favorite, Qbitz.

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So how have you been, gentle reader?

In which five weeks pass *SNAP* like that

Over our long and wonderful winter break, we saw six plays:

The Testament of Mary at the Victory Gardens Theater
Isaac’s Eye at the Writers Theatre
The Humans at the American Theater Company
Pericles at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Waiting for Godot at the Court Theater

Godot actually concluded our break.

VLADIMIR: I missed you… and at the same time I was happy. Isn’t that a queer thing?
ESTRAGON: (shocked). Happy?
VLADIMIR: Perhaps it’s not quite the right word.
ESTRAGON: And now?
VLADIMIR: Now? … (Joyous.) There you are again… (Indifferent.) There we are again… (Gloomy.) There I am again.

NOTE: For those of you in and around the Chicagoland area, drop everything and see if you can get tickets to the gobsmackingly awesome Waiting for Godot at the Court and The Humans at the ATC (reviews here and here).

While on break, we also visited three zoos. Just before Christmas, we saw “Zoolights” at the Lincoln Park Zoo before heading to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater for the Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol. Both experiences put us in a holiday spirit.

We spent Christmas Day the Brookfield Zoo…

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… and a few days later, we visited the Milwaukee County Zoo.

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We had hoped to see the “David Bowie Is” during our visit to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, but were content to see MCA DNA Alexander Calder.

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At the Field Museum, we saw “Vodou: Sacred Powers of Haiti” (photographs here — this is another must-see, if you’re in or around the Chicagoland area) and “The Machine Inside: Biomechanics.”

As you may have guessed, we essentially packed all of the adventures we would have ordinarily spread over the course of the fall semester into the five weeks of our winter break — including our annual birthday trip to the Adler Planetarium (two months late but still wonderful).

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It was a cold, clear day, but those brave enough to venture outside were treated to sun observations through Dobsonian ‘scopes outfitted with solar filters. We so thoroughly enjoyed ourselves that we promptly put one of our Christmas gift cards toward a solar filter for our own Dobsonian.

While Mr. M-mv was able to join us for the second and third weeks of our break (as well as an adventure here and there in the first week), it was a reunion of the “Girls Rule!” School for our trip to the Art Institute of Chicago last week.

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Always up for the interplay of serendipity, synchronicity, and synthesis, we couldn’t help but remark on The Crucifixion (1538, Lucas Cranach the Elder): “But she wasn’t there.” (Those who have read and / or seen The Testament of Mary understand.)

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And The Triumph of Death (1539, Georg Pencz) led all of us to exclaim that it perfectly complemented our recent viewing of The Seventh Seal (1957).

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Speaking of movies, in anticipation of their film course, the Misses asked me to use part of our break to fill some gaps in their film education. In addition to The Seventh Seal, I introduced them to Testament (1983), Rushmore (1999), Donnie Darko (2001), Psycho (1960), and The Godfather (1972). We hope to squeeze The Shawshank Redemption (1994), Amadeus (1997), and another viewing of Citizen Kane (1941) into this rather slow first week back to the familiar rhythm of work, studies, volunteering, and the rest.

And speaking of how much we love to watch (yes, they’ve seen Being There (1979)), I will share that over our break we made much progress in our quasi-binge-(re)watching of “LOST” — we have only eight episodes left. We’ve chosen “Jeeves and Wooster” as our next (re)watch project. The Misses were quite young when their brother and I first watched the series. They’ve seen some of it since then but not recently, and they’d like to begin at the beginning, as he did.

BERTIE: You can’t be a successful dictator and design women’s underclothing.
JEEVES: No, sir.
BERTIE: One or the other. Not both.
JEEVES: Precisely, sir.

The penultimate adventure of our break was a behind-the-scenes tour of the John G. Shedd Aquarium, after which, Miss M-mv(i) participated in the “Trainer for a Day” program while Miss M-mv(ii) and I explored the aquarium. Mr. M-mv and the Misses took part in “Trainer for a Day” in December 2011, when Miss M-mv(i) first expressed an earnest interest in pursuing animal behavior as a course of study. Over the following year, she and her sister also participated in similar programs at Oceans of Fun in Milwaukee and the Brookfield Zoo. We arranged for this solo return to the Shedd program to celebrate her upcoming birthday, and she arrived with the benefit of all reading she has done in the field, as well as a mental list of questions she had about the trainers’ education and experience.

In and among these many adventures, we all continued with our music practice and lessons, and the Misses worked during the first, fourth, and fifth weeks (swim instruction and lifeguarding). We also returned to the the conservation area where we spent part of Thanksgiving Day, this time for a longer hike, and we attended a seminar on the owls of Illinois. Miss M-mv(i) and I took an online bird behavior class with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and all of us enjoyed some board games, notably Clue, Set, and Blink. We read a great deal, the Misses sketched and drew, and Miss M-mv(ii) worked on her chess game using Chesscademy and built two small robots.

How did you spend the winter break?

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