Ever Shifting Midnight Mood

Northern Lights

Do you run into the same debate every year that I do?

Two men conversing
Photo by Product School

On one side there are the “naysayers,” those folks who contend that New Year’s Eve is a whole lot of hooey (or some other even more disgusting load). Some deplore the debauchery, wage war on “excessive” food and alcohol, fear an increase in accidental fatalities of many kinds, and remind everyone else that the “new” year will be no different than the “old.” – happy and sad in all the same ways. To demonstrate their rejection of the noise, nonsense and “people in funny hats” they’re in bed by nine p.m.

Others argue that it is a holy season, best celebrated with sacred ritual, contemplation, reflection, and repentance. The stroke of midnight finds them on their knees – praying.

Photo by Andreas Dress

Tipping the other end of the seesaw are the “yay-sayers.” Even the most diehard naysayers know what they do – They have FUN! Or, at least, they attempt to do so.  Whether they succeed or not is an open question.

In the early years of our marriage, before we became parents, Jay and I “threw” a New Year’s Eve party every year in our tiny apartment.  I say threw deliberately because all those occasions were tossed together extemporaneously. At some moment after we’d survived Christmas with our families, it would hit us that NYE was just around the corner. We’d blissfully ponder the swank affairs available throughout the “toddlin’ town,” immediately realize we couldn’t afford even a glass of champagne at one of those venues, and without taking another breath announce to one another, “Let’s have a party.”

Parties, you might note, also cost money.  But, no, Jay and I are not only ultimate yay-sayers, but we also eternal optimists. We weren’t about to let our $5/week grocery budget stand in our way.  We had a commodity more valuable than mere currency.  We had friends!

Time to dial some numbers. (And yes, in those days we still had a dial-up telephone.) “Hey,” we’d announce, “we’re having a party for New Year’s Eve.  Yep, that’s right – this coming Thursday. Can you come?  You can? Cool! What can you bring?”

Two glasses of white wine
Photo by Element5 Digital

Not that we were completely freeloading hosts. A trip to Woolworth’s (I still find life without a local “five ‘n dime” more challenging than it needs to be.) and a couple of bucks laid down meant I headed home with a bag, filled to the brim for conical hats, streamers, crepe paper, and horns.  Our guests provided the booze and the food.  We provide the place and the fun!

Well, in all honesty, I cannot take credit for all the fun.  Some of that goes to our brother-in-law Bob.  At that time, Bob was a carney.  He actually traveled all over the Eastern United States with a carnival. He managed several amusement rides at county fairs and church festivals in the days when you didn’t have to travel to Orlando to be scared witless.

Bob’s sweep through the backroads of the Southern states put him in regular touch with the folks that brewed “hooch,” home-made alcohol of uncertain proof. Compared to liquor store prices, those spirits were dirt cheap – they were a fraction of the cost of the branded products.  Why? Well, their producers didn’t pay taxes. So, whenever our brother-in-law returned home at the end of the carnival season, he came bearing “gifts” That throat-searing, gut-wrenching liquor was his contribution to our New Year’s Eve blasts.

Clear-ish blue liquor
Photo by Marcel Straub

In fact, it contributed most of the “blast” to the affair. Neither Jay and I nor our friends were used to drinking much alcohol.  When we did, we shared a beer at a picnic or while watching a football game. Those years preceded the country’s love affair with wine. (Our contemporary growing consumption of wine didn’t kick off until the 1990s.)

Thus, even shot-glass size helpings of the “hootch” that we consumed at those parties transformed us into bon vivants for the night.  We found life weirder and more ridiculous with every hour.  The music we chose for the stereo became louder and more raucous as the conversation turned to laughter and giggling, and some couples drifted into a corner, losing all regard for decorum.  We did always manage to keep an eye on the clock and tune in the radio to the broadcast from State and Randolph for the midnight countdown.

In fact, the only “disaster” that ever occurred was when the “mayor’s casserole” exploded. Mayor Richard J. Daley’s wedding gift to Jay and I had been a silver chafing dish that held a glass casserole dish and sat on a silver stand over a Sterno burner.  Because we valued it highly, we only brought it out for the NYE party.  That proved to be bad timing.  As 1967 slid into 1968, a loud explosion rocked our dining area. Suddenly the middle of the table was engulfed in fire, a fire that surrounded the “mayor’s casserole.”

A  brave unknown threw a pan of chilled shrimp onto the fire.  Jay raced to the kitchen to get water.  Guests poured out the front door.  Someone else threw a heavy winter coat over the now diminished flames.  We had extinguished the fire.  (Thanks, perhaps, to those who spend midnight in prayer).

But the beautifully ornate silver casserole had disappeared.  In its place remained a blackened, scarred, ugly piece of metal. When it cooled, someone threw it into the trash can behind our apartment.  The pretty silver lid had been in the kitchen. For years I hung onto it – a useless reminder of our days of glorious foolishness. Jule kissing Jay at midnight


“New year is the glittering light to brighten the dream-lined pathway of future”
― Munia Khan


I’d love for you to share right here on these pages, your best, worst or funniest New Year’s Eve memory.



People toasting with wine
Photo by Kelsey Chance

Honeymoon Disaster

Skiers on Mountain Top
Twenty-Something “Logic”

Successful honeymoons are all alike. Every disastrous honeymoon is disastrous in its own way.

December is a whirlwind of celebration in our family – a birthday, an anniversary, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.  We do it all and we do it up big. Perhaps, Jay and I got this going because we’re still trying to wipe out the blot on the page that was our honeymoon, a misadventure if ever there was one.

Advent Wreath
Photo by Waldemar Brandt

Naively, we set it up that way. Getting married during Advent was until recently frowned upon in the Roman Catholic Church.  In the church year, this is a season of preparation and reflection, not festivity and frivolity. Had we heeded that ancient wisdom and chosen a more sensible wedding day, our honeymoon may very well have been blissful.

The minds of twenty-somethings, however, are not known for wisdom. And we were no exception. Immediately following Jay’s sister’s wedding in October, it seemed perfectly reasonable to plan one of our own to take place six weeks later. The Saturday before Christmas made eminent sense because we would both be on school break. Being married during a festive season chimed for us with romantic fervor.

Jule and Jay's Wedding Photo

In photos taken on my wedding day, I am truly beaming and dewy-eyed. No hint in those pictures that many of the guests became stranded in an icy underpass on the way to the reception or that the caterer took the lids off the food an hour early and everyone who did make it ate cold food. Undaunted by such setbacks, we took off in a snowstorm for northern Michigan and our skiing honeymoon.

Not Necessarily a Time for Everything

Skiing? Honeymoon? Those two words sound odd together because there are very few people in the world for which they flow smoothly in the same sentence. And we were not among them.

Vintage hotel room
Photo by Lina Castaneda

The idyllic oblivion that carried us through the wedding mishaps refused to let us be daunted by the icy roads and dense fogs that dogged our journey north. After several hours, we arrived cold, wet, hungry and happy at our shabby-chic inn on Traverse Bay.  Okay, more shabby than chic, but the beds were comfy even if the rooms were chilly.  And we had enough heat between us to overcome that obstacle.

The real calamity waited for the next morning. We headed for the ski slopes at a nearby resort, one of us a seasoned skier, the other one a complete neophyte. We intended to bridge the gap by signing me up for ski school. Once that was settled, Jay kissed me goodbye, hoisted himself on a J-bar and was literally up and away. I stared at the tall, thin boards in my grasp. My heart sunk. I couldn’t possibly learn to maneuver on such outlandish objects. I felt every bit the deserted wife.  And I’d only been married three days.

Nonetheless, I trudged after the bright young woman who assured a collection of other adults, all of whom appeared fairly stressed, that we’d be skiing “in no time.” Not true.  When Jay came to collect me for lunch, I could finally stand on the skis without immediately tripping, but I certainly wasn’t “ski-ing.”

Photo by Harrison Moore

After a hearty burger, he told me not to worry and headed for the slopes. My eyes followed him until he was a blur at the top of the mountain. Then I trudged by to ski-school. By the end of the second day, I was the last in my class still not “skiing.” My classmates had hit the hills – albeit the bunny slopes. Reduced to practicing with the kids’ class, my mood darkened every day.  Only the fabulous nights saved our marriage from being one of the shortest ones on record.

Calamity Jule

Downed skier

Photo by Clement Delhaye

And then that ended.  On the fourth day, I begged Jay to let me try skiing with him.  He chose the easiest of the trails. Heart in my throat, I slung a leg over the J-bar and managed to slide off at the top without crashing into the snow.  With much encouragement, I pushed off.  Suddenly the world raced by and I had no idea how to stop it or control its direction. I panicked, dug in my poles and flipped over backward.

Jay slid to stop, knelt beside me, and whispered “Jule” in hushed tones.

“What?” I barked back.

“Thank, God. You’re okay,” he answered.

“I am not,” I retorted. “I can’t move my right leg.”

Another skier alerted the ski patrol.  Rescuers arrived and I was carried down the mountain on the back of a very burly, good-looking hunk.  Sadly, I was in no state to appreciate that unique opportunity. At a nearby clinic, we discovered nothing was broken, but I had torn all the ligements in my knee and sprained my ankle. I would be on crutches for several weeks.

Girl by fireplace
Photo by Jon Tyson

The next morning, Jay set me up on a big cushy sofa in the front of a roaring fire, an Agatha Cristie mystery and a thermos of hot cocoa at my side.  He advised that I rest and sleep.  He’d see me when the slopes closed.  That lasted one day.

Honeymoons, I insisted that evening, were meant to be spent together. We need to move to Plan B, which as it happens was non-existent.  But we couldn’t go “home.”  Our apartment wasn’t available for another week.

Salvage Operation
Fox Theater Detroit
Photo by Josh Hammond

Instead, we drove to Detroit where we spent our first Christmas with my grandmother and treated ourselves to “Mary Poppins” at the Fox Theater.  It was the most enchanting moment of our honeymoon.  The movie was our “spoonful of sugar.”

It meant that for the next fifty-five years, we remember the ups and downs of the Honeymoon Disaster with fondness rather than bitterness.

We had vowed “For Better, For Worse,” and in one week of Love’s Lessons, we learned how very true that promise would be.

Did your honeymoon live up to your dreams?  What Love Lessons did you learn on your honeymoon?  We all have so much to share with one another.  Please do so right in the comment box.



Your honeymoon tells the world–and maybe you–who you are.

GINGER STRAND, Inventing Niagara


Frankie’s Catches Fire

Restaurant fire

“Frankie’s Catches Fire,” the headline read last January. Oh, no, I thought, not another one.

As the years fly by, many places that we cherished for the memories they evoked have, one by one, bit the dust. Jay remains the “love of my life.” Yet, it’s still hard to see empty space or alien edifices taking over where there once a cherished memory dwelt.

The little chapel where we vowed “for better or worse” transitioned into a school auditorium when St. Mary of the Woods Parish built a grander church, filled with spectacular stained glass and acres of marble, but no echoes of our hopeful promises.St. Mary of the Woods

On one of our many sojourns to northern Michigan, we discovered that the fine old Victorian Inn in which we had honeymooned had vanished. The past winter, hot flames fed by frigid winds had consumed its antique wooden frame, leaving behind only ashes and no incentive to rebuild in a style no longer considered practical.  We wandered the field at the edge of the harbor, but it was impossible to make out even a vague outline of the once elegant rooms.

A few years later as we rode along Touhy Avenue on Chicago’s northside on our way to the airport, we witnessed the swinging arc of a wrecker’s ball crashing into the truly ugly, but to us beloved, walls of “The Purple Motel.”  Ah, the wages of sin are death.  But our uppermost sentiment was not residual guilt but deep frustration that we couldn’t find a way through the cyclone fencing surrounding the deconstruction site.  We would not have even one grossly lavender brick to serve as a souvenir.

Building deconstructing
Photo by Davidson Luna


The motel joined the list, along with so many of the lovely Art Deco buildings along “Boule Mich” as we had loving called Michigan Avenue when we were young and first in love.  Back in those days, rather than the bustling upscale shopping area one finds today, fine old shops, bastions of the early twentieth century were going out of business.  There were almost as many empty storefronts as going concerns.  And Jay and I loved it that way. Strolling from the curve of Lake Shore Drive south to the Chicago River and back provided us with unhurried free entertainment. Once the John Hancock Tower went up and the avenue regained its popularity, we felt like strange tribes had invaded our private preserve of romance.

Now another announcement of loss!  But, no , as it turned out restaurant workers had managed to contain the fire and the South Bend landmark was saved.

Such relief.

In the mid-1960s, Frankie’s had been a crowded, yet surprisingly quiet, hang-out, a perfect place to listen to jazz and have long heart-to-heart discussions. Many an evening Jay and I spent all evening Frankie’s without noticing that there was another soul in the place.  We drank endless refills of root beer for me and the real stuff for him.  We solved the problems

Couple in window
Photos by Tao Heftiba

of the world and the difficulties of the university system. We embraced our hopes for our nation and for ourselves. We discussed music and movies, philosophy and religion, politics and sports, families and friendships.

We never actually spoke of love, but it was the subtext of every conversation. The more we learned about each other, the more we wanted to know.  The more we knew, the less we could imagine living without this person. So, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me when on Dec. 5, 1963, Jay slide a small leather box across the table.  But it did.  It took my breath away. Intuiting a reality and staring it in the face are two entirely different experiences. I opened the box.  Inside lay a small class ring. It was an exact replica of Jay’s Notre Dame ring.

Notre Dame did not allow fraternities on campus.  The tradition of Two class rings“pinning” could, therefore, not take hold in that culture.  Instead, a form of pre-engagement, unique to that university, was “miniaturing.”  This meant that a young man committed himself to a permanent relationship with a young woman by offering her a miniature of his own class ring. (My post-feminist awareness cringes at the term, but this is now, not then.)

The ring fit perfectly.  That, as it turned out, was pure good fortune.  Jay had not realized that the rings had to be ordered ahead of time.  When he decided to ask me to commit to him, he casually went to the college bookstore to buy one of the rings and heard the bad news that it took six weeks to acquire one. But, lo and behold, a miniature containing a stone that matched Jay’s had come back into the store that morning.  The young women for whom it had been intended said, “No.” Jay blithely went off with the ring to offer it to a girl he felt pretty sure would say “Yes.”  And she did.

But, over the years, I’ve often wondered about that other girl.  Did she ever regret it?  Did they change their minds? Is she still living with her true love?

Love’s lessons I’ve learned can be harsh, but sometimes what begins as loss can turn into a win.

“I find myself becoming increasingly nostalgic for the past, but after all I suppose that is the only thing one can be nostalgic about.”
― James Rozoff


Have you had a favorite place disappear on you?  Tell us about it.

Another Kind of Winter Wonderland

Lake Michigan in winter

Surrounded as I now am – some might say crowded out by – the objects of a lifetime of collecting, I recall the simplicity of our very first apartment both with nostalgia and with dismay.

Cluttered, Rustic Room
Photo by Jonathan Borba

These memories rose up in response to twitter posts that declared that certain pieces of furniture and accessories must grace a home in order for it to proclaim, “An Adult Lives Here.”

It’s a fairly materialistic viewpoint.  Surely, our actions, rather than our possessions, mark us as true adults.   Despite this truism, the lists make fascinating reading. They give the reader insight into the personalities of the list makers as well as opportunities to debate the lists and compose one or two of their own.

After reading several articles on this subject, my imagination swung back through the years.  I realized I could still see the very first home that Jay and I called our own as vividly as if I’d just shut the door behind me.  And as I walked those rooms inside my head, I fancied myself holding one of these 21st-century commentaries. The comparison between the glossy photos and the scene that presented itself was starkly hilarious.

The apartments in our building were smaller units carved out of what had once been spacious, high-ceilinged homes on Lake Michigan. Thus, as unlikely as it seems, although Jay and I were both still in school and neither of us had full-time jobs, our very first apartment stood at the end of Columbia Avenue in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. The view from our tiny bedroom and not much bigger living area was a huge expanse of Lake Michigan and its sandy shore, both of which were encased in ice and snow most of the time we lived there.

In the middle of a Chicago winter, finding any apartment at all presented a serious challenge. Traditionally, leases turned over only in May, but this tiny space, the back third of the original third-floor apartment, became available for a four-month sublet on January 1, just two weeks after our wedding. The rent, $160 a month, stretched our meager funds to the breaking, but we only had to make it work for one season. In May we could look for something more affordable.

Chicago alley
Photo by Zachary Lisko

The unit came unfurnished. Neither of us owned a stick of furniture. Jay had been living at home between college and our wedding. I was fresh out of a college dorm. Our financial obligations included not only living expenses but also law school and college tuition.

Thanks to generous wedding guests, we had received several small practical appliances and utensils along with the not-so-useful silver tea sets and candlesticks. That was a small start. But where to sit? To study? To eat? To sleep?

With our budget bottomed out by necessities, begging was our only alternative.  And there we got lucky.

Jay’s parents had no need for his bedroom set now that he’d flown the coop.  With the help of a friend’s Volkswagen bus, we took two trips to haul a twin bed mattress set, two dressers, a bookcase, a desk, and a desk chair across the northside of Chicago from Edgebrook to Rogers Park. His Aunt Florence heard of our plight and unearthed a card table and chairs that had sat unused in her basement for a decade.

Desk by a window
Photo by Musa Bwanali

Now we could move in. The entry to the apartment was off the back alley, up the backstairs and into a four-by-five-foot glassed-in porch.  We put Jay’s old desk and desk chair on that porch and I had an instant study. I cannot say I’ve ever had a nicer one- better furnished, maybe, but a better view – never.

We settled the card table and chairs in a corner of the “living room,” a space we thought might have been a housekeeper’s room at one time. Around that table, spread with sheets of long, lined yellow paper, Jay and his fellow law-school colleagues would sit and argue casework for hours.  Not good for their eyesight since the sole source of light was a small fixture in the center of the room, but an experience that bonded them into lifelong friends.

When it was time to eat, the books and papers were shuffled to the floor or the top of the bookcase.  We ate every breakfast and dinner at home, and I packed us each a lunch. Even fast-food restaurants were out of the question. (At some distant future date, we would spend more on a meal in a high-class restaurant than we spent on groceries in those four months.)

Coffee cup on bed
Photo by Taisiia Shestopal

The dressers went into the tiny bedroom, one for each of us. It would be eight years before either of us had any other space for our folded clothes.  That left the twin bed. It did double-duty.  During the day, the pillows lined up against the wall and it was our sofa.  At night, we curled up together like proverbial spoons in a drawer and slept deeply, happy and exhausted.

I visualize myself looking at the “must-have” list in my hand. What is missing in these rooms? It depends on whose list I’ve chosen, but several objects jump right off the page. There is neither a coffee table nor a console table (I don’t think I knew what that was in 1965.). Missing in action are a “really well-made sofa,” extra chairs, an ottoman, and art on the walls.  (Oh, wait a minute, there in the hall is that strange etching Jay’s mom’s neighbor gave us.  She’ll probably never visit – it’s a three-flight walkup, but best to have it on display.)

No, not by any accepted standards was that little place an “adult” abode.  Maybe that’s why it still saddens me to think that when our sublet was over, we had to move.  I closed the door not just on my first apartment, but once and for all, on my childhood.

“I am convinced that most people do not grow up…We marry and dare to have children and call that growing up. I think what we do is mostly grow old. We carry accumulation of years in our bodies, and on our faces, but generally our real selves, the children inside, are innocent and shy as magnolias.”
― Maya Angelou, Letter to My Daughter

Photo by Anders Wetterstam

When did you realize that your youth was over?