Archive for December 2008


I was stunned yesterday to learn of the sudden death of Literary Mama columnist Ericka Lutz’s husband, Bill Sonnenschein. Ericka had been writing recently about a new and exciting stage in their marriage as Bill’s career took him to Madagascar. The family was there together for the holidays when Bill passed away. Ericka’s most recent column, Holding, is a beautiful and now terribly sad tribute to their relationship:

A painting I did the first year Bill and I were together shows a field of green. In the center there’s a floating bed, and in the middle of the bed two people, face to face, stare into each others’ eyes and hold each other. That was what we were like those first years. We held each other and saved each other and were each other’s everything.

Time passed, and of course we changed; we had to, and it was appropriate that we did. We moved out into our own worlds, but we kept that connection. Night after night Bill slept next to me, his warmth just inches away.

Please visit Literary Mama to read the rest.

A Christmas Treat: Sugar on Snow

Usually by Christmas Eve, I’ve baked at least half a dozen batches of cookies, but this year for a change, the kids and I made candy for their teachers: salted chocolate pecan toffee, spiced chocolate bark with dried cherries and pumpkin seeds, and, now that we’re in snowy Connecticut, a kind of maple candy called jack wax.

It’s always a bit of a nostalgia trip for me to come to Connecticut, where I relive with my boys some of the farm and garden life I experienced as a kid with my grandparents. In the summer, we gorge on fresh berries and vegetables from the garden. In the winter, we plan our meals around what my Dad’s put up in the freezer. The boys start every day with a bowl of thawed frozen berries, and we continue from there, pulling from pantry and freezer, making soups with the squash, chili with the dried beans, gratins with the potatoes, pastas with the frozen chard, broccoli, beans and peas.

This winter, we’ve arrived to find over a foot of fresh snow on the ground and plenty of last year’s syrup in the pantry, and so I finally got to teach the boys how to make a snack I first read about in Little House in the Big Woods. As a Christmas treat, Ma Ingalls boiled up molasses and sugar (it was too early in the year for fresh maple syrup) and Pa brought in two skillets full of fresh snow; Mary and Laura drizzled the thick syrup over the snow to make candy. My siblings, cousins and I did this with our grandparents when we were kids, but it’s likely been thirty years since I’ve eaten fresh maple candy. All you need is a cup of syrup and some fresh snow.

Boil the syrup until it comes to about 240 degrees on a candy thermometer, or let a drop fall from your spoon into a cup of cold water to test; it should form a soft ball. Drizzle over a pan of fresh snow. Eat.

War, What Is It Good For?

Ben and his friend were in the bedroom playing war. Because they are the kinds of boys they are, the game involved lego and much discussion but very little discernible war play. Still, because I am the kind of mom I am, I suggested some other more friendly narratives in which to involve their lego. Eli listened attentively and then offered his peace plan:

“All war, go home! Have dinner! Go to sleep!”

Mama at the Movies: Who Does She Think She Is?

My late father-in-law was an artist. After attending art school on the G. I. Bill, he and his wife moved to Italy for two years so that he could paint and study. When the couple returned to California, his career blossomed with several shows a year, including a solo exhibition at San Francisco’s M. H. de Young Memorial Museum. But then his public career quieted, his output slowed; he shifted to smaller, more saleable projects like jewelry and jigsaw puzzles. I never understood this sharp turn in a successful career – had there been a devastating review? – until my first child was born and it occurred to me one day to map Jim’s career against his children’s birthdates. And there it was: sons born in 1967 and 1969; a rush of shows in 1969 and then fewer and fewer until just two in 1972, one in ’76, and then nothing for twenty years. It wasn’t the critics, I realized, but the kids.


I hadn’t really thought about the constraints of space and materials that visual artists work with until I watched Pamela Tanner Boll’s moving new documentary Who Does She Think She Is? (2008), which introduces us to several mother-artists and asks why, when making art and raising children are both crucial for our culture, it is so hard to do both. The film wants us to know about these mothers making art, and it puts their stories in the larger context of all women artists. Like all women, women artists find their work less well-known and less well-compensated than the work of their male contemporaries. Like all mothers, mother artists endure isolation from their peers, sleep deprivation, and myriad claims on their time which make it difficult to continue their careers. But they do.

Read more at Literary Mama!

Road Trip, 1938 Style

So the diary seems not to be Tony’s grandmother’s after all. The references to “Mr. Parkford” had seemed a formal, but perhaps not too unusual, way to refer to her husband, but I was letting that go until I came to the entry for May 7th: “[Children] bought their mother a book and some flowers for Mother’s Day.” So is this the nanny keeping daily notes of the children’s activities and meals? More research is required.

In the meantime, here’s another entry (and yes, as you might guess from reading this, the Parkfords were big fans of the horses. I spent my first Mother’s Day nursing a colicky Ben at the side of a race track because it was such a treat for Tony’s mom.):

Saturday, July 16th, 1938

Left home at 7:30 A.M. for British Columbia. Went up the coast straight through S. Barbara, S. Maria, San Luis Obispo, Salinas, San Francisco to Petaluma.

Ate a picnic lunch consisting of turkey sandwiches, milk, cucumbers, fruit — near Pismo Beach. Collected some Associated stamps along the way. Got a glimpse of some of the horses at the Rodeo at Salinas. Saw Hoover’s home and part of the Stanford campus at Palo Alto. Saw Bay Meadows and Tanforan at San Francisco.

In trying to find Golden Gate bridge, a corporal in training camp told us we were going too fast. Got a glimpse of Palace of Fine Arts. Saw the Goodman’s home and the Fisher’s home. Enjoyed the bridge hugely — saw Alcatraz and San Quentin. Went through a tunnel.

Ate dinner at [illegible] at San Rafael and then drove to Petaluma and spent night at Petaluma hotel. Bed at 10:30 P.M. Tired. Drove 486 miles today.

What We Found in the Garage

Everybody’s garage holds some mix of trash and treasure; ours is slightly more interesting — to me, at any rate — because it also holds boxes and bags of things saved by Tony’s parents. They didn’t move often, but when they did, apparently, not a lot of weeding or sorting happened first. So cookbooks and ticket stubs and artwork and bills and jewelry and newspaper clippings and silverware all wound up in boxes together, and here we are, years later, still finding surprises.

A large plastic tub of crumpled newspaper. On closer inspection, the crumpled newspaper was protecting small clay objects: Pre-Colombian pottery from Tony’s parents’ art collection. Glad I didn’t toss it into the recycling.

A bag of cat litter. We don’t have a cat. Tony’s parents never had a cat.

2 small Calphalon saucepans (one with a lid!)

The 2 backseat headrests for our Hyundai.

Tony’s 1st and 2nd grade report cards. He did very well.

One large, square copper plate for etching. Unetched.

Tony’s grandfather’s real estate license.

3 silver trays.

A checkbook-sized magnetic Scrabble game (excellent!)

Copies of the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and L’Italia, dated November 23, 1963, reporting on JFK’s assassination.

A wine notebook, with tasting notes from the 1950s and 60s.

Boxes of slides from European travels, circa 1950.

A small cardboard box containing Remington cartridges, apparently from the previous owner of this house. Need to call SFPD for information on disposing of these.

A binder with notes, sketches, and a full proposal for a sculpture titled “Flying Flag” that Tony’s dad submitted to San Francisco’s Hyatt Regency hotel (a hotel that had previously commissioned a sculpture from him).

Tony’s grandmother’s journal for 1938, kept in a leather-bound “Business Yearbook” embossed with her husband’s name. This treasure deserves fuller examination; in the meantime, a brief excerpt:

Thursday, April 21, 1938

[Tony’s mother Nancy was 11; her brother Geoffrey a year younger]

Usual school day. Nancy had a French lesson at 3:10 P.M. Went to Dr. Dillon’s office at 4:30 PM. Geoffrey played at home after school. Nancy has 4 new petticoates — length 38 in., size 14.
Breakfast: orange juice, oatmeal, bacon, toast, milk
Lunch: steak, c. potatoes [creamed?], beans, spinach, rhubarb, milk, cake
Supper: tomato soup, cottage cheese, scrambled eggs, jello, cake, milk

We have a long way to go, but we might some day be able to park both cars in the garage. In the meantime, I’m going to be reading Tony’s grandmother’s journal and unearthing more about family life in the 1930s. Stay tuned…