All posts by GeorgiaGeis

Bettyville is a great place to visit

Me and my Alice. I think she and Betty would have been fast friends.

I first heard of the memoir Bettyville by George Hodgman on NPR. I was immediately drawn in and couldn’t wait to read this memoir about a grown son who returns home to care for his elderly mother. The author leaves his metropolitan gay life in New York to revisit the small byways of rural Missouri. Then of course life got in the way and I never managed to pick up Bettyville. My own mother Alice was dying and I was just trying to hold on. A few months later while purusing the new books at our local library I saw Bettyville and I knew the time was right to take this journey. My mother died only a few weeks before and somehow I knew this book would help me heal. And I was right.

It became difficult to read Bettyville in public. I would find myself sobbing at my children’s swimming lessons or laughing out loud at my favorite coffe shop. This book spoke to me like no other memoir has before. I was transported to a world of tenderness, humor, heartbreak and most of all honesty. Reflecting honestly on one’s past and one’s family is not for the faint of heart. Hodgman does this with such grace. He does not run away from his parent’s faults (or his own for that matter), yet he doesn’t exploit them like a cheap headline on the cover of In Touch Weekly. Everything he writes comes from a place of love and respect for his parents.

I could relate to so many aspects of caring for an elderly parent. That give and take, as a person tries desparately to hold on to any small control over their life. In 2008, my mom and dad came to live with my family while in their 80’s. After several falls and near fatal accidents, I knew that my parents could no longer live on their own with the closest family 70 miles away. I felt like I had just started to make my own life seperate from my parents. I had finally got up the courage to move away from the comforts of my hometown and I didn’t think I was ready to deal with living with them again. But, are we ever really ready to deal with our parents growing old?

This visit to Bettyville has helped me to come to grips with my own regrets and focus on the cherished meomories of my Alice. Hodgeman through his magic of words makes us face the fact that we have all made mistakes and he helps us find the beauty in that fact.


Throwing in the kitchen towel

Sometimes it pays to know when to throw in the towel. And this morning it was the case to throw in the kitchen towel.

I have never claimed to be a great cook or baker, but I have gotten more and more comfortable cooking in the last decade. But this morning it just wasn’t happening.

My first mistake was deciding to try my hand at my husband’s vegan pancake recipe (with the addition of some semi-sweet chocoalate chips of course). I wasn’t particularly set on eating vegan, but they are really yummy and that is the first recipe I came across. I should have gotten out my trusty dog-eared red and white checked Better Homes and Garden cookbook. My second mistake was pour way to much oil in the pan. Let see third mistake getting the pan too hot. Fourth mistake using our worn out frying pan that the oil all goes around the side and leaving the center to scorch anything you put on it. Sixth mistake, or no fifth mistake, oh I have lost track at this point. I put the one pan with the stuck dough in the sink and got out the cheap one that burns your hand on the handle.

Well needless to say we didn’t have chocolate pancakes today. I decided to get out the oatmeal of course I broke the top shelf in one of our primitive cupboards. But now my stomach is filled and order is restored in the universe or at least our tiny 9 by 9 kitchen.

Embarking on a new path

Like the dirty laundry and cat box, I have been neglecting my blog. I know at least two people are wondering why I haven’t been writing.

My parents are still living with us and the immense reality of everything that entails is slowly sinking in. They really need someone to help them everyday with medicine, doctor appointments, grooming, fixing meals…the list goes on.  And most importantly they need someone to help get their finances in order. I really haven’t been able to help them with many of these issues. Besides driving to doctor appointments, the pharmacy and making dinner for them.

It is an endless cycle of feeling guilty for not being able to do more for them (also not wanting to do more) and then feeling resentful that I have been put in this position without real planning and resources.  I’m probably the least prepared to do this out of my family. I’m the youngest with a small child, the one trying to get my career off the ground.  It is so hard to get used to my mom always asking when I will be home or telling me she is lonely if we spend the day away.

This year I’m embarking on a new path. I’m returning to graduate school. I will be studying Public Affairs at Indiana University Northwest. I want to concentrate on food policy. I’m also going to be volunteering for a local urban farming learning center hopefully doing grant writing. I’m so excited to find something I want to do as a career. Giddy like a school girl wanting to go buy my notebooks a month before school starts.

My son will be in a full day kindergarten. I’m so excited for him. We live in walking distance to his school. It really will be an exciting year.

As far as my parents go we are just wading through the paperwork and details of social services. I do think that if they were in their own place close to us they could get more attendants to come in to help and if they had two bedrooms my mom could actually get some sleep at night.

Of course my dad may have to go into the nursing home (which will be at least 3 to 6 months of financial logistics to get that done) but I just don’t think my mom is ready to make that decision. She doesn’t think he will make it in a home. And I don’t know if she will make it taking care of him all the time.

Lets find our way back to the garden

I came upon a child of god.
He was walking along the road.
And I asked him, where are you going?
And this he told me,
I’m going on down to Yasgurs farm.
I’m going to join in a rock and roll band.
I’m going to camp out on the land.
I’m going to try an get my soul free.
We are stardust.
We are golden.
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.

— Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”


And Target is hoping that the half-a-million strong find there way back to their nearest store and stock up on some nostalgia in the form of beach towels, candles, mugs, picture frames and of course replicas of the original posters.

When the brightly colored picture frame caught my eye I was thinking this is pretty cool.

I love the logo with the chubby white dove perched on the neck of a guitar. “Maybe my sister Janet would like this.” (who was in fact a bona fide hippie).

Then I realized how ridiculous it was. This is what we have come to or should I say this is where we are still at forty years later?

The almighty buck. Countless inexpensive merchandise made in China. Let’s relive the summer of love and say how much can we charge for that “trip” back.

Many of those sweaty people at that farm in Bethel, New York truly believed in a different way. A way in which consumerism wasn’t king, and there could be real peace on Earth, an Earth that we take care of instead of abuse. Some I’m sure was just looking for some good pot and definitely some amazing music. Woodstock was a time in history that as much as we would like we cannot recreate. It was (forgive me for using an overused term) an organic shared moment.

According to one article Michael Lang, one of the original promoters, doesn’t want anyone else to do concerts or festivals celebrating the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. even though he hasn’t exactly gotten it together to have a 2009 Woodstock himself. (see the New York Times article) So make sure your have Lang’s permission to say words like “peace” or “love”  this summer…and you may have to pay for it too.

Lets really try to find our way back to the garden and think about where that $5.99 frame came from. Check out the Story of Stuff video.

During Woodstock Joni Mitchell dreamed she saw bombers riding shotgun in the sky and they were turning into butterflies. Now forty years later we all wish the bombers were beautiful butterflies, but no such luck. You know they paved paradise and put in a parking lot (for a Super Target so you go and buy a hippie costume.)

“Save for Retirement”

No other adage rings as true. At least that is now that I know someone facing the harsh reality of growing old.

DSCN0805Having my parents live with us has been quite a learning experience. I really had no idea what was in store for us last October when my husband and his two brothers packed up all my mom and dad’s earthy possessions and drove the u haul truck across country.

For one thing, I have learned what it is like to navigate through the endless paperwork and phone calls to establish social services. It has been my mom who has taken on that enormous (and ongoing) job. And we have been shown great kindness.

For instance, a dapper gentleman who reminds me of Jimmy Stewart volunteers every Thursday to stay with my dad so my mom can get out of the house for a few hours.

Sometimes we go to doctor’s appointments or other random errands. But  usually we end up at the local Goodwill store. Fortunately, even when we go crazy on a “spending spree” it only sets us back about twenty bucks (I love that place!).  Or we go to Baker’s Square and share a piece of pie. My mom tells me stories of the past. Stories I have never heard before of a time when she was younger than me.

Or we talk about my Dad.

“Do you think that he is worse?” she asks me over triple chocolate threat. His confusion and anxiety fluctuates each day. Some days he has a hard time figuring out where to sit to eat or gargling mouth wash six times in a day because he seemed to have forgotten he just did it.

The care giving is taking its toll on my mom. Yet, at the same time it has kept her strong, not succumbing to the Parkinson’s or Diabetes.

We have looked into a few nursing homes in the neighborhood for my dad. It would cost close to $6000 a month for him to get 24 hour care. He would have to be put in the Alzheimer wing because of his dementia and memory loss. My parents can’t afford anything close to that on their fixed income of mostly social security.

I know that I can’t take over for my mom in care giving for my dad. The time constraints of working and mothering a four-year-old would make it impossible. Besides that, I just don’t think I could do it emotionally. My dad and I have bumped heads. Really, we don’t talk that much. I don’t think my dad has ever had an adult conversation with me. I guess he still sees me as his little girl.

I’ve always resented my dad for the way he has treated my mom, always expecting her to wait on him hand and foot, never taking her to a show or a museum.

Don’t get me wrong my dad is a good man with a big heart but he is also stubborn and selfish. He is human. He would always take over projects from me thinking I couldn’t do it myself. This of course gave me quite a complex. Well anyways, I just don’t think I could care for him like my mom.

And now through a generous grant from the organization Transition another home care aid is coming twice a week to help my parents. She will do household jobs and stay with my dad if my mom needs to go out (even if it is just to the backyard). The woman is very sweet and my mom calls her a “godsend.”

I can’t afford to take my mom out three times a week, but I’m hoping she will take an art class or at least use the travel easel we got outside in the garden to paint pictures.

And hopefully this spring/summer I can take her to downtown Chicago to see the sites. Time is such a valuable commodity, I hope we use it to the fullest.

Chicago Mourns

One of the greatest moments I have had as a writer was getting a chance to interview Leon Despres. The notable Chicago statesman was turning 100 years old and I was on assignment for the Hyde Park Herald.


I had become an instant fan of Mr. Despres after reading his memoir, “Challenging the Daley Machine.” As a new transplant to the Chicago area it was this book that served as my history primer. Leon Despres’ history is Chicago’s history.

Leon, a lawyer and alderman from 1955 to 1975 of the historic Hyde Park neighborhood, spent his entire life fighting for justice. Fighting for civil rights (although he is white he was called on more than one occasion “the lone Negro on the city council”), fighting for women’s rights, workers rights and fighting to keep parks assessable to all people and children safe from lead paint. He rode his bike miles to work long before it was fashionable to do so.

I visited Leon, called “Len” by his friends, in his home that overlooks Jackson Park and Lake Michigan. I tried to take in all there was to see in this Stoney Island apartment; the impressive artwork, stacks of eclectic books on the coffee table one happened to be about Frida Khalo, even a piece from a historic Chicago building that he failed to save from the wrecking ball hung on the wall. All artifacts of a colorful life.

During the course of our interview his phone rang a half a dozen times. Each time he politely took the call. And each time he was discussing either a newspaper article, a book or a new restaurant that had opened. This was truly a man who was living in the present and looking to the future.

Untitled-1_largeIn 2007, Kenan Heise wrote the book, “Chicago Afternoons with Leon: 99 1/2 years old and looking forward.” Heise describes outings he took with Leon around Chicago and what he thought about the schools, gentrification on the near South Side, the libraries and the parks. The book was a memoir but it was also a commentary on what should be done (or not done) in Leon’s beloved hometown.

I was saddened to hear that Mr. Despres died Wednesday at 101 years old. He was someone who lived his life to the fullest. Accomplishing more than most could in several lifetimes. I wasn’t sad for Leon. I can picture him now with his arm around the love of his life, his wife Marion, sipping a cocktail with his good friend Studs Terkel. No, I am mostly sad for Chicago, a place that still had a lot to learn from him.

I Love You

So I got five “I love you’s” from my little boy all before I let him out of the car at school. I usually don’t keep track but I was thinking about how amazing those three little words are. How do we learn to say them and what do they really mean?

I would say it all the time when he was a little baby and toddler. I would call his name and he would look at me or when he was old enough ask “what?” and I would reply “I love you”. Now he does the exact same thing to me 80% of the time when he calls Mom or Mama it is to tell me that he loves me.

I have to wonder when that sweet and sensitive side will be drowned out by the rough and tough side of boyhood. I know that it is important to fit in with friends and there are things that your friends just won’t allow…and someday that will probably be saying I love you to your mom. The other day at the park I was walking ahead about 5 or 6 yards and he yelled loudly MOM I LOVE YOU. It makes my heart melt. It makes all those hours of trying to get him to clean up his toys or to get ready for bed worth it.

Last weekend at a friend’s party he was playing t-ball with some other kids he hit a little boy in the head with one of the waffle balls. When we came running over both of them were crying. Max felt so bad for hurting him even though it was an accident. But will that kind of empathy be tolerated as he gets older.

How do kids become bullies? I really don’t want him to be a bully and I don’t want him to be the victim of bullying.

I just hope that he will always tell me that he loves me.

For the love of tomatillos and spring

I never would have thought that I would be a gardener. My thumb has never been green and most of my house plants have died. Of course, it doesn’t help that I have a cat who goes after all plants. Even after many stomach aches over the last 16 years his enthusiasm has not wavered.


Last year my husband unveiled his plans for a vegetable garden. And like all things my husband does he was going all out. We had 7 different varieties of heirloom tomatoes (and he really doesn’t like tomatoes!), many types of hot peppers (including one called fish which has been traced to the late 1800s grown by African Americans in the Chesapeake Bay region), miniature bell peppers, eggplant, potatoes (who knew there was a variety called French Fingerling) , strawberries, cucumbers, peas, crooked-neck squash, pumpkins, collard greens, cabbage, spinach, kale, basil, oregano, thyme, leeks, okra, carrots (eaten by our friend “peter parker rabbit”) and last but definitely not least…..


Salsa Verde has always been my favorite salsa. And coming from the Southwest that is saying a lot. I asked my husband to grow tomatillos because I hoped that we would end up with some jars of green salsa to enjoy. I had never really thought about the fruit beyond that. A cousin of the tomato I assumed and I do love tomatoes.

My love affair with this delightful fruit grew with the garden last year and now I can say it is bordering an obsession.

Tomatillos, also known as husk cherries, Mexican tomatoes, jam berries or ground cherries, have this magical paper-thin husk that forms. I know that it must be this fruit that inspired the creation of the Asian paper lanterns. I didn’t know what to do with these husks at first. Where is the fruit? I asked. But it soon became apparent that the bright green fruit grew within this protective layer until it almost split it in two.

Tomatillos have this interesting taste a mix of smokey and sweet. I hesitantly tried it right off the plant. Then I started tossing them in with meat and other veggies to cook in the oven. It was so delicious, really bringing out the sweet flavor. I want to find out all that is tomatillo. So please share if you have any tomatillo stories.


Well thank god it is Spring again. And I’m as excited as my husband about the garden. Like philosphers and writers through the ages have waxed poetic about being one with nature, there really is no better feeling than to be digging in the dirt or havesting bags and bags of vegetables. And this year we are growing five types of tomatillos!

An Open Letter to the Montessori Children’s Schoolhouse in Hammond

To everyone at the Montessori Children’s Schoolhouse in Hammond,

I remember the day I called the MCS. I was in a bit of a panic. I knew that we must find a preschool for our son who was going to be turning three.

My husband works at the University of Chicago and we had recently toured the U of C’s Laboratory School. The “Lab School” is a very prestigious prep school starting with preschool and ending with High School. This is the school that the Obamas sent their daughters. Because my husband works at the university we were entitled to half price tuition. Of course even at half price we would be living beyond our means. But it doesn’t hurt to look. Boy with the gothic ivy covered buildings and beautiful classrooms I was entranced. It was like going to the Hogwarts Academy sans witches and warlocks. Although the Lab school was a magical place it was apparent that we would be finding another place to send our son.

We were also in the process of looking for a house in Northwest Indiana (about 13 miles from Hyde Park in Chicago). The main reason we had decided to try and relocate was the fact that my parents were going to move out here after their house in Payson, Arizona sold (still not sold…. darn housing market) and the houses were affordable. We looked forward to getting a house and a nice yard where we could make a garden. We picked Munster, IN as our destination because the public schools were highly rated. However, in the mean time as we looked at places we had to find a preschool between Hyde Park and Munster. Since he was about two our son went to stay at a neighbor’s house. Mrs. Robinson is an amazing woman; she and her granddaughters watch many of the neighborhood children. But, it was clear that he was outgrowing this arrangement best suited for the infants and young toddlers.

I had always liked the Montessori way of teaching. I knew the children were encouraged to be independent and explore their world with all their senses. So when I saw that there was a Montessori school in Hammond, IN I thought I would check it out. I drove to the school thinking that the commute would be awful if we indeed stayed in Hyde Park.

I was impressed even before I went inside. The school is housed in a 1926 Northern States Life Insurance building with very beautiful stained glass and impressive grand columns. Mrs. Hill, the school principle, greeted me and immediately took me on a tour. She seemed like she was in a bit of a hurry but now that I know her this is just her nature, always on the go. The classrooms were buzzing with young children all doing different activities. I got a warm feeling right away. Like so many times in life you go with your gut feeling and my gut liked MCS.

We had not sold our Hyde Park condo by the registration deadline. Mrs. Hill graciously held a spot for us and let us “wait and see” if we did indeed move to the area by the fall.

The last two years that our son has attended MCS has been a great experience. His teacher Mrs. Renwick has such grace. I know that I would not always be as cool and collected with a room of 3, 4 and 5-year-olds as she is. She has been teaching at MCS for more than 30 years I believe. She has taught us all so much. And my son has blossomed.

MCS's Fun Fair

Learning his sounds, his numbers and how to add, but most importantly, how to be a friend. A skill I can say he has excelled at. This week he brought home his first book he read himself. I really can’t say in words what that means to me. MCS has become a second home for us.

We had planned to keep him at MCS for kindergarten. To complete the circle from coming in as a small 3-year-old and leaving as a “lunch buncher” ready to enter first grade. Unfortunately, since I have cut back on my work-load (meaning I bring home less money) and we have added expenses we are going to put out son in our neighborhood public school. We have heard great things about Eads Elementary and it is in walking distance from our house. We were going to put him in as a first grader so the transition was inevitable, but now it will come sooner.

I just want to thank everyone that works at MCS, an amazing group of people. You have given my son a great start. And we will be back for the Fun Fair next fall.