Last Week’s Good Things

Jan18It was birthday week, so, of course, there were good things!

Somewhere in this house I have a great picture of me as a kid on my birthday. I can't find it. Here, I think it is Christmas, but I am at least opening presents!

Somewhere in this house I have a great picture of me as a kid on my birthday. I can’t find it. Here, I think it is Christmas, but I am at least opening presents!

  1. Birthdayfest – It is hard not to like birthdays when you’re me. From the Sunday before to the Sunday after, it was the celebration of Birthdayfest. During that timespan, Dan made me some great dinners: grilled steak, lobster rolls, Pasta Amatriciana. I got some sweet cards from friends and co-workers. Facebook filled up with greetings. The actual day of my birthday, I spent the day organizing and putting together my year’s resolutions. Both kids called and chatted. I got to meet Barb for a beer, followed by an amazing dinner at Novel. It is true that the birthday buildup is different as you get older. There are days that I think that the years go by too quickly and I want them to slow down. When I look at the number of years tick up, it is weird. But regret is useless, and I do my best not to do that. I enjoyed my Birthdayfest greatly and I thank everyone who helped make it a special one.

2.  George Saunders – On a number of “Best of” lists for 2013 was the short story collection Tenth of December by George Saunders. I had not read it, but when I found out that he was coming to town for a reading, I wanted to go. That was because of the widely circulated graduation speech that he did at Syracuse University for the class of 2013. It is a beautiful piece about personal failures of kindness. Everyone should read it. I will help you by linking to it right here. Anyway – I got tickets for us to go see him read. In the meantime, I read the collection of stories. They are kind of dark and a little odd. Some I had to read over to figure out what he was talking about. I liked them, but it was not what I expected. Tuesday night, in a pretty full big venue, he read a section of one of the stories. When I read it, it wasn’t very funny. When he read it, it was. When he finished reading, he answered questions for about 45 minutes. He was so kind. He was so engaged with everyone who talked to him. When he talked about his wife and his daughters, the words that he chose kind of melted my heart. Afterwards, we got in line to get our book signed. When it was our turn, he stood up, shook our hands, thanked us for coming – by name (it was written on a sticky on the book), and signed our book as shown below. I am charmed. george saunders

3.  Reading Reptile – This is another book thing. On Saturday we were going to a birthday party for a baby friend and we wanted to get a present. I knew just what we should get. She was turning one and I wanted to get her the same poetry collection that we had for Sam and Ali. Running into a local shop that is devoted to children’s books is a pretty awesome thing. That is what we have with Kansas City’s Reading Reptile.  Amidst the displays of handmade art projects and eye catching wonder, I was able to go directly to the book that I wanted and make my purchase. At the counter, it was lovingly gift wrapped in a roadmap of Europe. I admit that I do not go to Reading Reptile as often as I should – although I am kind of out of the kid’s book world, they still sell some specially selected adult selections. Maybe this year I will do better. It is an awesomely good thing!

4.  Mignon Faget, again – I wrote before about the wonderful customer service from Mignon Faget when a beautiful glass pitcher that Ali got us for Christmas weirdly shattered. When I let them know, they apologized and sent me a replacement. When I received that, I opened it up, only to find it also shattered. I wasn’t sure if I should, but I did let them know. I was assured that I definitely should have reported it, and they were sorry for the inconvenience that this had all caused me. Third time is the charm. Last week, I got a beautiful pitcher and a sweet note. That is customer service!

pitcherand note

5.  Movie Night – Good friends moved back into town during 2013, but we have not done well as far as getting together and seeing them. When we had dinner at the end of the year, we decided we just needed to set a date. We now have a recurring calendar event to go see a movie together once a month. This new tradition started this week. On Thursday, we met for dinner and then we went to go see Nebraska. I really can’t put into words what fun it was to have a pre-movie chat with people that mean so much to me followed up by a really great movie – and knowing that I get to do this every month! Yep – that is a most good thing! nebraska

Here is to another week of good, better, best things for all of us. To those of you who read, I wish you a wonderful rest of your week. Tell me something good if you care to!

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The Phantom Tollbooth and Marriage

When I opened the newspaper one day this week, the front of the fluff section immediately had me. The author and the illustrator of The Phantom Tollbooth were coming to town. I needed to go.

There is recent buzz about The Phantom Tollbooth since it is celebrating its 50th year. The book, like many wonderful children’s books, is a quest and adventure story. The main character, Milo travels through a mysteriously appearing tollbooth into strange lands inhabited by strange characters. He emerges from the tollbooth a new boy. Where he was once bored and unconnected, he becomes interested and ready.

I haven’t read the book in many years, and it even occurred to me that this is not one that the kids and I read together. I am planning, however, to get back into it again.

The event was delightful. On the stage of the lovely theater at the Jewish Community Center, the two eighty-plus-year-old gentlemen charmed the packed house. Norton Juster talked about how the book came out of avoiding writing a book about architecture that he had been awarded a grant to create. The adventures of Milo came to him during strolls on the beach. He would write each down and work on it until he was satisfied with it. Into each he would bring in the clever wordplay that his father had instilled in him as a boy. The finished episodes would be handed off to his neighbor and friend, Jules Feiffer who gave birth to the images of Milo, Tock and the land beyond the tollbooth. They bantered like longtime friends will do, and those of us in the audience smiled uncontrollably. We were watching a piece of our childhood come to life again. When the talking was over, the crowd moved out to the lobby. Many of us had new or old books clutched in our hands as we waited for signatures. We were like groupies waiting for the rock star to acknowledge us.

But I titled this post The Phantom Tollbooth and marriage. The marriage part of this story is just as charming as the Misters Juster and Feiffer. When I saw that article in the paper, I sent it on to Dan. I asked if he wanted to spend our Saturday evening thusly. He responded with an enthusiastic, yes. Dan had not read the book as a kid, and he was not incredibly familiar with either man. He did, however, read my enthusiasm and got on board.

That night, he waited in line with me prior to the doors being opened. He chatted with a cute couple behind us who brought along their copy of the book that was given to the husband of the couple by an old girlfriend almost 50 years before. We both got to unexpectedly see some old friends. And, after the talk was over, he happily waited in line to get autographs. That is what marriage is all about.

We are not married because we are the same person. We are married because we have our differences and we make room in our own lives for those differences. When Dan wanted to go to a national conference of homebrewers a couple years ago, I did not know what to expect, but I was pretty sure that it would put him in hog heaven. Turns out, I had a great time too. It happens in our hobbies, the food we choose to cook, the restaurants we want to go to, the books we read, the organizations we belong to, the jokes that we like. Some we merely have patience for; others we learn to embrace.

By the time we left the event, it was close to 10. Our plan was to eat after the talk, so we were kind of hungry. We arrived at a local mecca of restaurants and found that each finished serving at 10 – except for one bar. That bar was not what we planned. The restaurants that we had in mind would have been more interesting. The closing of restaurants at 10:00 seemed early for a weekend night. It was cold as we walked from place to place only to find the same story. But, it ended up that we got to sit in a warm place, filled with the happy sounds of people enjoying the success of their basketball team on the tv, drink a good beer, and eat some decent bar food. We laughed at the silly drinking apparatus his beer came in. We talked about the talk. We decided it was nice that the employees of the other restaurants had a reasonable schedule. It was a good way to close a very good night.

Marriage is its own kind of tollbooth. Lucky for me, my traveling companion shares the journey well.