Thursday, December 28, 2006

Monkeying around

Just before Christmas, Kissy Missy took the kids to Taco Bell to grab a quick bite between overachievement events. And there, dressed as Santa Claus, was Magical Balloon Michael. He's in his 20s, and was putting together a balloon sculpture like I've never seen -- a monkey in a tree as tall as Katherine. Quite detailed, too. He gave it to Katherine, who passed it along to the mother of one of her friends who was in the hospital.
Magical Michael was handing out business cards. I suppose it's better than honest work, and certainly better than his previous career as a professional wrestler. But what do I know about that? I haven't done anything my dad would consider "honest work" in years.

Upscale pie

Kissy Missy and I have returned from the Great (not yet White) North. It's a quiet day, and we went to lunch at the Grand Traverse Pie Co. in Mount Pleasant.

The day the place opened up, it was packed. It opened up right near the corner of Mission and Preston, just off campus, but this isn't a student crowd. It's too expensive for the run-of-the-mill student, although I've seen some sorority girls hanging out in here.
No, it's become wildly popular with the upscale professor and educator types, the same kinds of people who hang around Frankfort on summer's days.
The coffee's good, the wi-fi is fast, the soup's excellent and the pie, well, it's fabulous.

My one complaint is that the place can get real noisy on a lunch hour. And, OK, I have another gripe: the background music is insipid. But other than that, it's done a lot to enliven the city stretch of Mission Street, and provides a cool hangout for former hippies who now are old, fat, smart people.

America's best place name

Without a doubt, the best place name in America is Pine Stump Junction, Mich.
Yes, it's real. It's far from anywhere, about 25 miles north of Newberry. It is close to the Two Hearted River, of Hemingway fame, which hasn't changed much since Papa wrote about it decades ago. This year, it's pretty quiet because of lack of snow, but it's usually a snowmobile stop in the fabulous snow country west of Paradise. If you're looking for a place beyond the cell phones, beyond the Internet, somewhere close to the edge of the planet, this is your place.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Live from somewhere south of Pine Stump Junction

I’m still playing catch-up around the holidays. I’m writing this on Boxing Day at a restaurant in Newberry. I’m not sure when I can find a ’Net connection and post it.
The kids are at their mom’s; I’m glad to hear that all the kids were down there, along with Annie and Lexie. That’s something positive.
Kissy Missy and I came up to her mom’s on Christmas Eve, and got together with her brother, and his wife and kids. We had Christmas Eve dinner, then went to church at St. Gregory’s in Newberry.
Christmas Day was quiet and peaceful; Christmas dinner was meatball Stroganoff.
There’s almost no snow up here, and that’s got a lot of people worried. If there’s no snow, there are no snowmobilers. If there are no snowmobilers, there’s no winter economy.

Amazing display

One of the most wonderful things about Christmas in mid-Michigan is the holiday display at the Sheahan house.

The Sheahans did quite well as the owners of one of the local watering holes, and retired many years ago. Thirty or 40 years ago, the family began decorating the yard, and it’s kinda gotten out of control.

Now, people come from all over the place to see the decorations. There usually are cars on Kinney Street, slowly cruising past.

A giant snowman rules over the side yard

It’s perfectly OK to sit in the sleigh in the front yard. Kissy Missy was telling me she was cold.

Run away! Ski away!

Andrew’s eyes lit up when he opened his Christmas gift – a sweatshirt emblazoned with the killer rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail and the legend, “Run away! Run away!”

After spending four days skiing at Marquette Mountain, Andrew was glad to sleep in his own bed for a night. They had snow at Marquette, but it was rapidly going away, and one of the days was mostly slush. Yuck.
This year’s boys’ ski team seems as if it’s really, really competitive. That’s a good thing for the Oilers. Andrew’s new skis are fast, and he’s focusing on his need for speed.
Think killer rabbits on skis.

The Wicked Girl Returns

Katherine was ecstatic when she came back from Toronto.
She described seeing the musical “Wicked” as “beyond amazing” and “better than Broadway.” Of course, she’s never actually seen anything on Broadway, but I would imagine that any big-city musical production in Toronto would have incredibly high production values.
And I’m glad she’s seen them.
She and the other choir members had the opportunity to work with a couple of cast members the next day; one of them was highly complimentary to Katherine’s voice.
When I asked Katherine what she thought about Toronto, she simply answered, “Big,” as if it were a bad thing. It’s not; it’s just one of the coolest cities in the world.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Skiers, singers and buses

Christmas break, two different kids, two different buses, two different countries. Holy Wa!
Tuesday night, Andrew and the ski team got on a Hartzler bus bound for Marquette Mountain. It's the annual team-building and high-intensity training session, this year extended to four days.
The sense I got as the team loaded the bus was electric! I haven't had that sense before, but this group has the horses to do something really terrific this year, and I think they have the want-to.
It's been an uncharacteristically warm late fall, but at last report, Marquette Mountain was able to make snow, and had three runs open.

After the skiers took off, Katherine performed in the annual Holiday Collage concert (more on that later) then went home to try to get some sleep.
Wednesday morning, 4 a.m., alarm clock time. Katherine is out of bed, ready -- she's going on the trip she's been anticipating since August -- Toronto! Wicked, the musical, at the Canon Theatre!

The bus was to leave at 6 a.m.; we got there at 5:38, the first ones in the parking lot.
Passport in hand -- she does want to come back to the United States -- she was ready, excited, practically glowing.
Part of the trip is a workshop with the cast members, and, of course, shopping!
I suspect before the trip's over, she will have fallen in love with the musical theater, as well as Toronto.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Watching the wildlife

Last week, it got cold. It's been a pretty mild winter so far; according to my calculations, we're 7 percent warmer than normal as of this week.
Still, that means some warm days (like today) and some cold days. The temperature dropped down to the coldest it's been since last March, snow piled up in the woods, and it looked a lot like winter.
Outside the patio door, I looked out into the woods, and saw them. Three deer had bedded down in the snow just outside the door, right on the edge of the woods. They were warm and safe, sheltered from the cold.
A deer path runs through the woods north of the house, and it's not unusual to find signs that the neighborhood deer had bedded down in the tall grass behind the house. They're shy, of course, and they're pretty close to humans.
But here, at least for an afternoon, they felt comfortable enough to be there.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

The fridge dancers

Last June, Andrew, Robert, Kissy Missy and I went to Frankfort for Father's Day. Kathy had left the day before on her way to her European tour, so the four of us went to Lake Michigan, splashed in the lake, and generally had a great time.
One of the places we stopped was called the Trick Dog Gallery. It was an art gallery, which also sold food and gifts. The food at the Trick Dog is simple, but amazing; the specialty is a stuffed Brazilian French toast that is to die for.
We couldn't afford any of the really fancy art that owner/artist Greg Jaris had for sale -- although it was cool. It's quirky, fun, beyond trendy, just really neat. It's the kind of thing that you'll find in a teacher's house, a really cool teacher's house. Perhaps someday ...
But we did bring back souvenirs from the Trick Dog.
Kissy Missy picked out some refrigerator magnets with a twist -- they're silhouettes of a clown, a monkey, a dancer and a musician. All are fully articulated, and they can be placed in any position.
All four of them live on the refrigerator in the back room. Anyone is free to change the magnets' positions.
The monkey and the clown just seem to tolerate each other, tied with magnets to the freezer door. But the dancer and the musician appear to have started something.
They change, sometimes from day to day, sometimes from week to week, sometimes from hour to hour.
When I wake up in the morning, the dancers are there on the refrigerator door. They are joyful. They are a definite message that there is fun in the house.
It seems, sometimes, that a relationship has blossomed between the dancer and the musician. There's a story there, and the story hasn't come to an end. There is mystery in that story, told in silhouette and body language and dance. They are friends, perhaps. Or perhaps they are lovers, or perhaps they are siblings.
In any case, on any given morning when I awake, I wonder what new chapter of the story will be told. Are they happy? Intense? Angry? Is it the relationship of the century? Or will today's story be stormy and dark? Will it be over the top? Or perhaps under the bottom.

Downhill at speed

The sun had just set over the Buck Hills of southern Benzie County as Andrew and I pulled into Crystal Mountain.
The slopes were lit brilliantly, the bluish light of the mercury-vapor lamps reflecting off the snow.
"I love night skiing," Andrew said. He got his first lift ticket of the season, caught a chairlift and headed up the mountain to initiate his new Fisher skis.
"I still got it," Andrew said, as he returned from more than two hours and what he estimated to be 30 or 40 runs. "The skis work."
He'd sold thousands of Wendy's hamburgers to pay for those skis. Saturday night, it was time to cash in.
Crystal Mountain opened midday Friday. Andrew and I went there after he got off work Saturday.
"The snow was wonderful," Andrew said. "A little beaten up, but that's what you expect in night skiing."
That's because it was late in the day. A full day of temperatures in the mid-30s and what the racers call "civilian" skiers had torn up the surface.
"It's had all day to have skiers to go over it," Andrew explained, "and snowboarders, who don't carve very well, rip it up."
That made the surface "a little mushy" but the new Fishers were fabulous beneath his boots.
"My edges are so good I can bite down into the solid layers underneath," Andrew said. "There's more of a sense of control. They fit better how I move."
Andrew said he hit almost every open slope; 25 of Crystal's 45 runs were open.
"Some I was going for speed," he said. On his last run, he took the chairlift to the highest point on the mountain.
"I came straight down in a tuck," he said.
The equipment issues, at least for now, appear to have been solved. Andrew's looking forward to a very fast winter.

Friday, December 8, 2006

"A Christmas Carol"

The run of "A Christmas Carol" at the Broadway Theatre is continuing, with performances tonight, Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
Katherine has been working her tail off to keep up with everything involved. She's in the chorus, singing Christmas carols from the balcony. She solos on "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."
Katherine's been battling laryngitis on this one, but the show goes on. The family, as a family, sees the entire show tonight.
Break a leg.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Fuzzy, Annie and Lexie

I'm still playing catch-up after a slightly crazy period; this should have gone up several days ago.
Katherine and I went to Kentwood over the weekend for Lexie's first birthday party. It was so good to get together with Matthew -- and to see Annie and Lexie.
Annie is a fabulous addition to what once was the slightly warped Gang of Four. It's neat to watch the two of them relate to each other. There's little strained, little that's artificial.
Lexie, of course, is Annie's daughter. Just watching Fuzzy relate to her is a joy. He's a natural. He's completely comfortable with that little girl on his lap, and she's completely at ease with him.
I get the impression that Annie, who sees herself as a rebel, someone who tests the limits, has been looking for a comfortable place from which she can do that. I sense that Annie has been looking, perhaps even without realizing it, for a place where she can challenge and test and perhaps rebel, then come home safely.
Perhaps she's found it.
Meanwhile, Katherine is eyeing Annie's drum set.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

The annoying Christmas letter

When I started this blog I kind of had the idea of making this sort of a holiday newsletter that might run all year long.
Well, that's happened.
Well, we had all the images and stories. Why not put some of them into print? I was able to make a sort of a holiday newsletter -- but it's really kind of an ad for the Ranzenblog. That's going into some of this year's Christmas cards.
Click on the image for a full-size view. It's just fun.

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

A One

It's there on his nightstand -- a simple medal, with a design that probably hasn't changed in 60 years. It's Robert's Division One medal from last weekend's Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association Junior High District Solo & Ensemble Festival at Perry.
Students are judged on their playing ability on a scale from 5 to 1. I've never heard of anyone getting a 5; a 1 is the best.
"I got a One."
For band students, that just says it all.
He's been working on his solo for weeks. The bus would be leaving at 6 a.m., so he gradually set his alarm back so he would be used to getting up excruciatingly
early. That morning, he got up, put on his Blue Lake sweatshirt, and just played.
He says it was a great solo.
Robert got a One. Nothing more needs to be said.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Partying with the star

I'm playing catch-up here, so expect a flurry of posts over the next couple of days. The big one: Jeff Daniels and Kissy Missy.
Jeff Daniels is a CMU alumnus, who went on to fame and fun in "Dumb and Dumber," then truly got serious about his craft.
He's got a list of credits a mile long, but he's truly a nice guy.
He put on a fund-raiser for the CMU theater department last week. Kissy Missy bid on some tickets (at a substantial discount from face value, I might add) and we ended up with seats in the fourth row.
The show was at Bush Theater, not a place one ordinarily thinks of as an intimate venue, but it was a fun, intimate show. He told stories, sang songs and seemed to enjoy himself as much as the crowd did.
Afterward, he put up with the meet-and-greet types at the reception. It was great.
Kissy Missy, of course, has a special connection. She's an extra in the bar scene in "Escanaba in da Moonlight." He loves his craft, he loves the impact it has on ordinary people, and he's a nice guy.