Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The Memory Palace

Over the course of several weeks, I picked up this book, and put it down again, two or three times before it made it into my library bag.

It looked fascinating, but also disturbing. The Memory Palace is a memoir by Mira Bartok, of her life growing up with an absent father and a schizophrenic mother.

Bartok's honest retelling of her life, her memories, and her emotions brought tears to my eyes. She does not hide her deep pain, her feeling of responsibility toward her mother, her guilt over cutting most ties with her mom and changing her name.

Bartok experiences a traumatic brain injury, after which she finds herself making lists, confused about every day activities - and wonders if this is how her mother feels. As she attempts to piece her life and memories back together, she gets word that her mother is dying.

The account of Bartok and her sister with their mother during the last days is especially touching. They are able to be with her when she dies. Bartok realizes her mother was not as alone as she thought - a host of women from the shelter where her mother lived loved her dearly. Knowing that brings Bartok comfort - although she still wonders if she could have done more to help her mother in life.

Readers feel Bartok's pain and her love for her mother throughout this book, in the midst of her fight to survive the home in which she grew up.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Big Family Dinner

My mother and most of her siblings attended a Nyberg family reunion last weekend in Missouri. Since my aunt was flying in from Washington, D.C., she came back to Mom's for a few days. At some point last week, they decided to stop in Rockford and pick up my grandma and her husband, Roy and bring them to Mom's for a few days.

Which led to a flurry of e-mails to cousins and family living within a two-hour-drive radius. "Please come to Mom's for a potluck Monday night to see Grandma and Roy and Aunt Bev. Bring a dish."

(My cousin, Lindsay, ever the over-achiever, brought two fantastically delicious salads.)

Uncle Dave and Aunt Lyn (who couldn't attend the reunion) drove down from Sheboygan just for dinner. They brought Joel with them - freshly home from a tour in Iraq. We were all glad to see him - especially Grandma and Roy.

Tim and Lindsay and Kelsey and Ryan came from the far corner of Lake County. Uncle Neil and Aunt Rebecca decided to take a short detour and stay for dinner too.

We were missing many - Matthew, Pam Gideon & Charis (in Boston); Erik & Meghan (in Sheboygan); Daniel (in Door County); Natalie (at a summer class in Chicago); Andrew (in Battle Creek); Troy, Molly, Elijah, Priscilla, Ben, & Mary (in Chesterton); Carrie (in Chicago).

When I look at the list, it looks like more people missed than made it to dinner.

But what fun we had - laughing, telling stories, taking pictures.

I told Uncle Neil retirement becomes him. He told more jokes last night than I think I've heard in my entire life combined. Then, he washed the dishes. The first time I've ever seen him do that, so of course I had to commemorate the moment.

Over the weekend, my sister recounted a conversation she had about her family. "How do I describe my family? Well, it's so functional, it's dysfunctional."

True. We know, and love, so many of our extended family (my parent's cousins, aunts and uncles) I remember spending an entire hour with a second-cousin trying to put together all the family connections.

(Just don't tell Cousin Dean, who happened to be preaching during that particular hour.)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Let's Celebrate All Year

A milestone birthday is worth celebrating all year long. Thursday night I left my family in the suburbs and took the train to my sister's condo in the city. Friday morning, Molly and Beth joined us for a day of eating, and walking, our way through another birthday celebration.

We started at Ann Sather's - the cinnamon rolls! the amazing French toast!

Then walked to, and through, the Museum of Contemporary Art. Carrie wondered if it was worth it - but we saved the best exhibit for last. Success after all!

Then to Carrie's excellent recommendation for dinner - Ciao Amore. Oh. my. word. If you think you've had excellent Italian food, you haven't until you've eaten at Ciao Amore. The Gnocchi are a-maz-ing. So good, so fun - we spent three hours over dinner. Magnifique! (OK- that's French, but I don't know Italian.)

We brushed aside the waiter's recommendations for dessert - we were headed to Margie's Candies! Yummy Terrapins, hot fudge sundaes - the perfect ending to the perfect day.

When can we do it again?

Monday, June 20, 2011

No Biking in the House Without a Helmet

Who can pass up a book with such a crazy title as No Biking in the House Without a Helmet? I sure can't.

I checked it out of the library, then almost returned it without reading it. But we were going on a weekend trip, so I thought I'd give it a try - and am I glad I did.

In No Biking in the House, author Melissa Fay Greene tells the story of her family - her four biological children, and her five adopted children.

Greene has a great sense of humor, and I appreciate her honesty in telling the good, and bad, about international adoption. She tells about the struggles with her oldest daughter, about the difficult adjustment to including the adopted children in their family, and her fear of becoming a group home instead of a family.

When I read this book, I thought of my friend Beth, who recently adopted a little girl from Ethiopia (after adopting three boys from Korea). I happened to see her this weekend (what a treat!), and mentioned the book to her. She had read it too, and loved it.

I have not adopted internationally, and do not plan to, but I enjoyed this book immensely. Whether you adopt, or don't adopt, No Biking in the House is an honest, and very funny, look at what makes a family and the struggles in raising teenagers.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sea Glass

This summer, I'm hosting a weekly book club. We're reading You Matter More Than You Think by Dr. Leslie Parrott. I wasn't sure I would like this book, even though I picked it out, but it's turning out to be much better than I thought it would be.

One thing I like about it is Dr. Parrott's vulnerability. She's included some of her own poetry in the book, which normally I would skip. But Poetry Wednesday has taken hold of me, so I'm always looking for good poems.

I particularly like this poem. And although Poetry Wednesday has taken a summer hiatus, I'm sharing it with you anyway.

Lately I'm obsessed
With sea glass.
Every piece I find
I collect in a jar,
Marveling at the translucent hues
Browns, greens, blues, and milky whites.
If I didn't know better
I'd think I'm on a quest.
To gather what bits remain
Of my youth.
To discover meaning
In random fragments
Of dreams, goals, connections, experiences
By the velocity of time
Against reality rocks.
If I didn't know better
I'd think I am, simply
The jar
Hoping against hope
I can collect my life
Into a treasure.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

If you've asked me for a good family book recommendation recently, you've probably heard me rave about The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. My children and I loved the first two books (The Penderwicks and The Penderwicks on Gardam Street) and anxiously awaited the release of the third.

I'm happy to tell you The Penderwicks at Point Mouette is available now - and it does not disappoint!

In the most recent book, the Penderwicks are split up. Dad and Iantha (with Ben in tow) are in England for a honeymoon. Rosalind is heading to New Jersey for two weeks with a friend. That leaves Skye, Jane and Batty in Aunt Claire's care for two weeks - and they're headed for Maine. The great hope is that Jeffery will join them for the two weeks... but his mother is their nemesis and may not let him go.

With Rosalind in New Jersey, Skye is now the OAP, Oldest Available Penderwick. Skye is not used to being in charge, and the responsibility of caring for her younger sisters - especially Batty - is stressing her out. Then she loses her all-important list of things to remember. How will she ever enjoy this vacation?

The Penderwicks at Pointe Mouette is just as delightful as the first two books - full of everyday adventures and roller coaster relationships. And one huge, amazing revelation. Do not read this book unless you have read the first two.

And if you haven't read the first two, what on earth are you waiting for??

Monday, June 13, 2011

Growing a Farmer

My husband is trying to understand my new curiosity about farming. I don't understand it myself, but I keep reading books about people who farm.

I especially like the books written by people who had a childhood similar to mine - suburban without even a garden. I loved the first book I read, The Dirty Life. (click to read my review)

So, when I saw Growing a Farmer: How I learned to Live Off the Land by Kurt Timmermeister, I picked it up at my local library.

Timmermeister started his career as a chef, then moved to owning several successful restaurants in Seattle.

Quite by accident, it seems, he ended up buying some acreage on an island in the Seattle area. In Growing a Farmer, Timmermeister documents his journey from urbanite to farmer, the lessons he learned, the mistakes he made and how he made his farm a success. For now.

I really enjoyed this book. I admire Timmermeister's tenacity and determination in starting his farm. I appreciate his honesty about his farm, his mistakes, and the difficulties of life as a farmer. It's hard to not make farming sound idyllic, yet Timmermeister succeeds, in some ways, by giving an honest look at the hard, unrelenting work it takes to create and run a farm.

Of course, Timmermeister loves what he does, and his passion shines in this book. So, parts of his life sound idyllic. And it's easy, as a reader, to brush over the years and years of hard work he's put into his land, since he writes about twenty years of life and work in a mere 312 pages.

If, even after reading the whole book, you're inclined to start your own farm, Timmermeister gives a thorough bibliography at the end of books he's found irreplaceable.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011


Monday we spent the afternoon at the beach - pictured above. Tuesday the kids spent the afternoon in their second-cousins' pool. Today, we're hoping to dash out to the beach again before the storms hit and the temperatures dive. Most kids are ready to go, we're just waiting for the piano tuner to finish with our piano.

But, before I run off to get ready myself (read: shorts, t-shirt, good book and comfy chair), I wanted to give my offering for poetry wednesday.

This week, I am being bold and daring, and offering up a poem of my own creation. (Gasp!)

Our library is holding a contest to write a story (or poem or ditty) about Wauconda. There are prizes involved, so I did not need much convincing to write something. Amazingly enough, a poem nearly flew out of my figures. With a little revision, I even got it all to rhyme, although my rhythm is sometimes off.

Here it is (please, please! be gentle):

Wauconda Questions
Michelle Leichty

How did Wauconda get its name?
Why isn’t the lake named the same?
These questions haunted me
Most of my life.
Admittedly, they didn’t cause me much strife.

Lake Zurich is a town directly to our south.
“Let’s swim in Lake Zurich!” the residents shout.
Was that their town’s founders’ creative best?
I wonder the same about Island Lake, a town to our west.
Even further west, residents go down
to swim in Crystal Lake in Crystal Lake town.
To our northeast, Grays Lake graces Grayslake.
Why, in Wauconda, is it not Wauconda Lake?

In school I learned Justus Bangs settled here.
He built a fine house and lived here all year.
The children who lived here attended a one-room school
Where the teacher used Cobb’s Speller as one of her tools.
Well, that explains the name of our lake -
Although I don’t think Bangs owned all of Bang’s Lake.

What about the name of our lovely, fair town?
Why didn’t they call it Bangsville or Bangstown?
Instead we have a difficult-to-spell name:
Wauconda. Unusual? Sure. Different? Yes.
Only one other town shares our name in the US.

Tradition says an Indian chief is our town’s namesake.
He might be buried somewhere by the lake;
Though his grave is forgotten, his name has lived on.
Though the spelling of it? Yes, the spelling is wrong.
Chief Wakanda! remembered the leaders of our village.
But spell? No they couldn’t, no matter their heritage.

So Wauconda was founded. And so it grew.
Over ten-thousand residents - amazing from so few.
Two hundred started here in 1850.
Limestone, a mill, a stage coach, a smithy,
Wauconda boasted three stores in the 50’s.

Now we’ve grown larger, and have businesses aplenty.
And we’re not the only town mismatched - namely
Just to our east, practically just down the street,
Mundelein residents swim at Diamond Lake Beach.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011


I apologize for being rather MIA the past couple of weeks. We finished school, took a big, ol' field trip, cleaned bedrooms, and entertained guests.

To catch up a bit: The first order of business after school was a promised field trip to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, with a stop at Navy Pier after to wait for rush hour to be over. We all had a great time.
At the U-505 exhibit

On the plane

Posing for pictures

Enjoying the gardens at Navy Pier

After the fun, we worked, worked, and worked at cleaning the children's bedrooms. We had three times the usual amount of trash and recycling that Friday because they had squirreled so much away in their rooms. Yikes! The good news was that everything was ready for Grandpa and Grandma to visit for Memorial Day weekend.

Unfortunately, I forgot to get out my camera. So, here are some pictures from the 60th Annual Wauconda Memorial Day Parade (the largest and longest-running in Lake County, in case you're wondering).

can you believe it? they had tractors!

Grandpa and Grandma enjoying the parade.

Over the weekend, Grandma admired our lovely new tree, planted last summer. That, in combination with the return of some of our schoolbooks from a friend who borrowed them, inspired today's poetry wednesday selection.

Sara Coleridge

The Oak is called the king of trees,
The Aspen quivers in the breeze,
The Poplar grows up straight and tall,
The Peach tree spreads along the wall,
The Sycamore gives pleasant shade,
The Willow droops in watery glade,
The Fir tree useful timber gives,
The Beech amid the forest lives.

Nice little poem, but nothing about our maple tree. Autumn Blaze Maple it is. I'll post pictures of the bright leaves this fall.