Thursday, April 20, 2006

A Sad Little Lamb story

Easter has come and gone at the Calvetti household once more. No egg dying, no egg hunts, no visits with the Easter bunny. Not my sons. They're 16 and closing in on 20, far too cool for that, though not too cool to get up and find their baskets filled with candy and a "Naughty Pet" from Target.

Nor are they too cool for the annual ritual I've grown to dread, the baking and eating of the lamb cake. I should have known better. I remember my mom grumbling about this same ritual when I was a kid.

A little explanation might be in order about now. As a child, Mom delighted us with a "Little Lamb" cake every Easter. This cake was your basic yellow cake, baked in a special molded pan resulting in a three dimensional sitting lamb. Piled high with buttercream icing, sculpted to look like shearling wool, resting on a bed of green-tinted coconut (which dried up untouched until being tossed with the last of the candy wrappers). Often, pastel colored icing was made into little flowers to adorn the lamb's head. Sounds cute, doesn't it? It is. Unfortunately.

Unfortunately, you say? Yes. Try actually making one of these and you'll understand the agony. Mom would grumble and curse under her breath when she made this thing every year. I didn't really understand it, until in a moment I'd live to regret, I sought out that same baking pan to relive the childhood ritual through the eyes of my young children.

Well! First off, that head is top-heavy! Thank goodness the nice man at Consumer Bakery, where I had to buy the pan, advised me to put a dowel through the top of its head before I started frosting and decorating, in order to keep the head from busting off the shoulders during the pushing and scraping involved. Mom must not have known that tip. Fortunately, I do.

Maybe my good fortune worked to become my misfortune. Since I didn't decapitate my first lamb cake, I couldn't throw in the towel as an inept cake decorator. Nope. In fact, despite a lack of Wilton training, I insisted on making it perfect for my little boys. Why, I don't know, but I did. Mixing small bits of color; green for leaves, blue, pink and yellow for flowers, I'd use the toy decorator tips abandoned quickly in one my of ongoing efforts to raise these boys in a nonsexist manner. They had no interest in delicately turned frosting leaves created by their own hands. No. Their interest lay more in dipping their own hands into said frosting and eating it. Straight up.

I knew they were my sons!

Nonetheless, year after year, I'd press on, creating this little masterpiece, using up the better part of Easter Sunday to make it happen. Many years, our friends Jon and Julie would join us in the evening for the ceremonial cutting of the butt, reserved for my husband. Photos would be taken with the lamb cake and the kids, showing the sameness of the lamb and the changes in my own little lambs each year.

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Circa 1992

A couple years ago, tired of spending the whole afternoon mixing and decorating, cleaning the toy decorator and then presenting the cake, I rebelled. I didn't make the lamb cake. They never said a thing!

I'd won!

So I thought, until the day after Easter my husband plaintively asked, "Why didn't you make the lamb cake?"

Sheepishly--ha-ha!--I pulled out the dusty mold the next year. I'm simplifying my life these days. I made the cake. Since my guys have never really cared about cute pink frosting flowers or carefully iced "fleece," I made the cake, made the frosting and slapped it on. Thick.

This year I made the lamb cake again, following my simple approach. My younger son Taylor did notice it wasn't quite as he remembered.

"Hey, don't you usually use blue M & Ms for his eyes? What's with these raisin eyes?"

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Circa 2006

That's right. He always ate the eyes. Too bad. You guys are nearly grown up now. Go bake your own darn lamb cake!

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Rivertown Retreat

For some reason, the idea of organizing a storytelling retreat initimidated me. I had this notion that I had to be someone with a level of caliber and recognition, like Doug Lipman or Mary Hamilton or Kevin Strauss. Maybe I'll discover I was right about that, I'll know sometime next fall.

Still, it was taking part in Kevin's Northwoods Storytelling Retreat this past January that I started to think perhaps I could bring such an event closer to home. After all, Kevin shared that his intent when he started was to bring a retreat close to his home. Why not? Geographically, I know of Kevin's retreat in far northern Minnesota and Mary Hamilton's WOW Weekends in far southern Indiana. Others, like Nancy Donoval, periodically offer coaching intensives, often in Chicago. Maybe my "Down by the Riverside" storytelling retreat will become the event of choice for tellers in the southwestern reaches of the Northlands Storytelling Network area.

I will admit it, organizing things isn't my best quality. If I set my mind to something, I can pull out the stops and make it work, though. I'm pulling out the stops. My first step was to find a suitable location. It seems that having a place that the tellers "own" for the weekend, away from distractions, is needed for the community building that has to occur to trust one another with our work. I discovered several places within an hour's drive of my home that I never knew existed. As I bookmarked and compared, I realized that though one in particular was charming beyond belief, the facilities were a little scarce for a bunch of strangers to bunk down for two nights. I was thrilled to discover Uncle Charlie's Cabin in Lansing Iowa. I love this town. Just a half hour down the Mississippi and across a huge bridge, it's tucked in against towering Mt. Hosmer, overlooking the river. The main street has been experiencing a kind of renaissance, with new little art galleries, quilt shops and a way cool coffee shop that opened recently, The Channel Cat. I'm hoping the retreat attendees will be able to do a concert on Saturday night here. We're still working that one out.

After doing my research, I contacted the owner of Uncle Charlie's, Fred Easker, and have sent in my deposit, assuring us this spot for the weekend of September 15-16. There's even a sauna! Check out the photo tour, it's a nice spot to hang out for a weekend.

Part of my research involved doing a survey among working storytellers to get ideas for good dates. Most told me September is a pretty quiet month for them. Hopefully some will find this weekend to be just the antidote to a busy summer library program, a chance to work on material in depth, in a safe and trusting environment. An environment where perhaps if we have a lovely fall evening, we can work on the deck, watching the river traffic go by.

I've been working out the math. It looks like the weekend will cost participants $175 for everything, food, lodging and the retreat activities. Maybe I can even figure out a break for early reservations. Not bad for the chance to spend a weekend with no more than seven other tellers, crafting your material and enjoying the funky rivertown setting. Watch for brochures at the Northlands Storytelling Network conference in Madison the end of this month! I hope to have a wonderful retreat for all who venture to Lansing this fall, one that will become an annual event.


As if I couldn't have figured this one out on my own....

You Belong in Dublin

Friendly and down to earth, you want to enjoy Europe without snobbery or pretensions.
You're the perfect person to go wild on a pub crawl... or enjoy a quiet bike ride through the old part of town.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

April Fool's Day

As an teacher working in an elementary school, I'm sure I'm joined by thousands like me who were very glad to see this day fell on Saturday this year...a non-school day. This meant we wouldn't have to endure a full day of really lame and ill-timed April Fool's jokes from 5 to 9 year olds.

"Hey Mrs. Calvetti! There's a big dinosaur on your chair! April Fools, I got you!" all said in one breath before even obliging by turning and pretending to be horrified that there was no dinosaur. That kind of thing. If you spend time around young kids, you know exactly what I mean.

I learned yesterday that even having this day fall on a Saturday did not leave me immune from such hijinks. I learned also that can be a good thing.

Our older son has offered many challenges the last two or three years. I won't go into details. It's not important to the story here. Let's just say that the combination of intelligence, talent and absolutely no common sense, plus unknown demons he's fighting, has not made for a happy life in his late teens. Not only do we rarely see him these days, when we do see him, he rarely smiles. Part of the problem.

So last night, as the rest of the family enjoyed watching a DVD in the family room, we could hear him come in after working at the fast food place in the mall all day, a job he's been at for over three years. We figured he'd be out the door shortly to hang out among friends we wish he'd lose, but he came downstairs to say hi and let us know he was home. Since these moments are usually brief, we didn't even stop the DVD.

With dead seriousness, he said, "I just got $700 worth of tickets."

Our hearts were in our throats. Now what?

"Reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon. I almost hit someone with my car."

Now the DVD was off. He let us worry for just a few seconds more, then a huge grin, one we haven't seen in probably three years, broke out across his face.

"April Fools!"

After we avoided throttling him, we laughed, too, and then he regaled us with stories of how he pranked his coworkers during the slow hours before closing. He finished off with a story of how he got all the others on the shift to join him in a prank on their boss, a young man originally from Malaysia. Once they'd reassured him this was a joke, he looked at our son and said, "You dead, Coop-ah!"

He was off after that, but we had a glimpse for just a few minutes of the son we know is hiding most of the time. A son who enjoys creating elaborate schemes resulting in big laughs. A son who can convince others of the most outrageous things. A son who, more than one adult has commented, reminded them a bit of Calvin in "Calvin and Hobbes."

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At the moment, I like to think of him as this young man, pursuing a vision for his future through his art, all the while engaging his creative mind to create laughter for others. The April Fool's joke at our expense last night was a glimpse and a hope that once he opens up the tangled path blocking his vision, we'll see more of this young man.


I've done another of those "what kind of..." blogthings that may shed a bit of light on the genetic code my son has been dealt. Interestingly, this one was spot on about me.

Your Hidden Talent

You have the natural talent of rocking the boat, thwarting the system.
And while this may not seem big, it can be.
It's people like you who serve as the catalysts to major cultural changes.
You're just a bit behind the scenes, so no one really notices.