2015 Holidays

Happy Holidays 2015!

If our year was a musical theatre production, we would have to call it Legally Bland. Liam became a legal driver, Maisie became a legal drinker and legally Maisie (more about that below), and Spencer became a “legal” composer, successfully copyrighting the 12 original compositions on his first album. “Bland” reflects the fact that despite ambitious desires to travel to Scotland or Scandinavia, we never left the Chicago area because there was no time when the whole family could get away together. (Though Eileen and Maisie redeemed the situation slightly by undertaking their second annual pre-Christmas pilgrimage to Walt Disney World in early December.)

Spencer is closing in on his first quarter century, which makes all of us, including him, feel old. Millennial that he is, he moved back home after college and seems to be growing roots. We made this less comfortable by charging him rent, which he offset by working another summer at the Ravinia Festival. He has stayed quite busy with instrument and composition lessons, and has been on the verge of releasing his self-published CD Upward for months—he has rewritten it completely at least once, and switched to new composition software which slowed down the mixing process. His creative juices seem to flow most copiously between midnight and 5:00am, so our electric bill is shockingly (haha) high, and he has developed a robust contempt for all home maintenance contractors, who unfailingly insist on starting noisy projects at the ungodly hour (in his world) of 8:00am. His pieces are exceptionally strong in rhythm, always instrumental, typically genre defying and complex enough that human musicians might have trouble playing them. Here is an example he posted online:

Clearly composition is his passion, so he is now applying to an MFA program in Composition for the Screen (films and video games) at Columbia College in Chicago. On the side he plays saxophone in his friends’ band Weird Beard, which won a Battle of the Bands and qualified to play a set at Chicago’s House of Blues,

a thrill for the band members and a reminder to Eileen and Loch that they can no longer withstand the volume levels at live rock venues. He remains an avid basketball and football fan, made the playoffs in his fantasy football league, and is more excited than we’ve seen him in ages about the new Star Wars movie.

Maisie turned 21 in January and has been enjoying the chance to sample cocktails in restaurants ever since. All of a sudden, she finds herself perilously close to graduating from Northwestern University. As a senior, she enjoyed lead roles in numerous performances this year: she played Alice Beane in Titanic the Musical,

got to play one of her dream roles, Mary Flynn, in Merrily We Roll Along, played three parts in See What I Wanna See, and was Frog in the mainstage show A Year with Frog and Toad (a male role, but Northwestern does enjoy gender bending). She also participated in two staged readings, including La Revolution Française, which gave her the opportunity to meet and work with the composers of Les Misérables. This summer she made her professional debut in the ensemble of Loving Repeating, a musical based on the life of Gertrude Stein.

It got glowing reviews and ran for 33 performances, which largely explains why we weren’t able to take a family summer vacation. Maisie’s other summer project involved securing a legal name change (from Mary to Maisie), a baptism by bureaucracy: So much paperwork! So many rubber stamps! She emerged from the courthouse clutching a court order decreeing that her legal name is Maisie Zella Rose, which can now appear on her college diploma. She finagled a trip to NYC over spring break to catch up on the Broadway scene, and was reminded that she does not want to relocate there any time soon--too big and hectic for her taste. However, she will still have to make the “sacrifice” of returning to NYC for her next (and last) college spring break in March, because she recently auditioned for and was accepted to Northwestern’s Musical Theatre Showcase, in which selected seniors perform for Broadway agents and casting directors. And parents are invited to watch—hooray!

Liam, now 17, is still holding out as our only child not to have contracted appendicitis, though we enjoy reminding him regularly that he is also the only one who still could contract it. He showed no real interest in driving until he woke up one morning in August and realized that he didn’t want to be the only senior still riding the bus, and got his driver’s license two weeks later. Since he still lives in front of a computer screen at home, it is fortunate that he wants to do the same in college. He is in the honors 3D animation class in high school and attended a 3D modeling summer camp, where he stayed in a college dorm while learning the Maya software tool in 2 weeks and using it to build a 3D model of a videogame character:

Since he is a homebody, we have identified 5 nearby colleges that offer good programs in 3D Modeling and Animation—one of them, Elmhurst College, has already accepted him—though most have urban campuses which do not appeal to him. He is a strange combination of a kid who dislikes nature and the outdoors (full of pesky annoyances like bugs and sun) and dislikes the big city (too much traffic and crime). He’d be happy living in a cave so long as it had an internet connection, which may explain the magnetic draw of our basement. He favors Nintendo games and has developed an interest in anime; he dreams of someday traveling to Japan to check out the video game scene there. He is starting to care about politics and has had the good sense to be much perturbed by the indefatigable blustering belligerence of Donald Trump—superb motivation to make his voice count in the general election in 2016.

Eileen spent the year in the usual fashion, trying to keep the house and her parents from falling apart. Re-landscaping the front yard was particularly satisfying, except for the afternoon she found herself hand-planting special-order daffodil bulbs according to Loch’s exacting written directions, which she’d made the mistake of requesting and didn’t trust the landscapers to follow. Her dad Jim, who will turn 89 in February, has developed into quite an involved caretaker for her mom; Nell, now 86, suffered more spinal compression fractures this summer, making pain management more challenging and further diminishing her mobility. While Nell is largely housebound, both proud grandparents were still able to see Maisie perform in A Year with Frog and Toad, a logistical tour de force on Eileen’s part. All of this was complicated for Eileen by a mysterious knee injury which might be a meniscus tear—gotta love those inconclusive MRI’s. She has come to respect the magical effect of steroid injections. She still spent much of the year combing thrift stores and flea markets for collaging materials and for potential inventory for a space in an antique mall—it may be time to stop collecting (well, mostly) and start selling.

A lowlight of the year occurred in early September when our 9-year-old cat Gemma was diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma. We tried chemo to no avail and had to euthanize her in late September. Eileen and the kids were quite broken up by this, and the plan was to spend some time pet-free while regrouping, but Eileen discovered that her will is weak, so we soon acquired a gray tabby shelter kitten named Oliver Maxwell. He is more affectionate than Gemma, quite a clown, and apparently part dog—he chases his tail, loves belly rubs, and plays fetch endlessly, actually dropping the toy at our feet and looking up expectantly waiting for the next toss.

Loch has shown increasing interest in the Chicago Bears and football in general. While fandom for most men involves ingesting unhealthy quantities of beer and snack food, for Loch it means excessive indulgence in data compilation and analysis, earning him the nickname of The Boracle—originally a mashup of Bears Oracle, the rest of the family now considers it shorthand for Boring Oracle. Meanwhile, his team at work has grown to 70+ analysts, and if you’ve heard the buzz about “big data”, that’s what they work with. He and the new kitten have established a sort of détente, which Loch reinforces with the help of a pillow and a spray bottle.

(NOTE: a short bonus paragraph appears here in the paper version of this letter.)

If you read through our letter you’ve already heard--in 2015 these amendments occurred:

We subtracted a Mary and added an Ollie—We all hope your holiday’s restful and jolly!