Kitchen Table Stories

Election Night November 8, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nora Lally @ 1:19 pm

I prefer quiet Election Nights. No blue and red maps or Russert-era dry erase boards. Just me, on my couch, continually refreshing the Toledo Blade website to check on the results in the Perrysburg, Ohio mayoral race because my brother, Tom, is one of the candidates.

[Currently 0 precincts reporting]

I’d sing Tom’s praises, but I already did that, once upon a blog post, and I’d hate to repeat myself (or, give my brother too much praise. Humbleness is good for those on the cusp of municipal power).

I should really give due credit to his entire campaign team, especially his lovely wife, Allison, who we all know is the real brains of the operation.

Earlier this year, Tom and Allison heard then-still-President Obama’s challenge to those disappointed by elected officials to “grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.” And so they did.

[Mackin 1974; Olmstead 953, 47.1% precincts reporting]

Since throwing his hat into the ring, my brother did the kind of campaigning that looks more like listening to your neighbor than party-line stumping.

The day day before the election, my mom told him he’d run the race just like my dad would’ve, rising above the negativity and nonsensical accusations.  In the realm of endorsements, that one is mighty.

And now, after the campaigning, the quiet waiting.

My dad used to spend Election Night seated at the kitchen table listening to results from the Lorain County Board of Elections come scratchily through the radio.

He would sometimes be up until the wee hours, gleaning results from across the land.

Thankfully, I already know that my brother won. During a break from results checking and in the midst of my nightly(ish) LEGO Challenge with my daughter (I was making a flower shop, should the record ever need to show), my sister texted with the news. Soon after, I enjoyed the appropriately proud and sarcastic comments on the family FB feed.

Also, I found this breaking news, which, even though it looks a bit like someone is about to push that woman in the water, makes my brother’s victory official.



I’ll admit that with all my joy at the outcome, there’s a tiny part of me that wishes I’d gotten the results over a scratchy radio, at seat in the kitchen, right next to my dad.


Smell My Feet November 1, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nora Lally @ 7:25 am

A true Midwestern girl, my daughter knows that a crucial element in Halloween costume selection is the amount of clothing you will be able to wear underneath the costume without ruining its integrity. This year, rocking a long, blue wig and a steam-punk-esque get-up, she flounced out of the house as Evie from Disney’s Descendants, a character I know nothing about, from a movie I’ve never seen.

In the store, she rolled her eyes at my ignorance of the heroines of Disney’s pre-teen soap operas and ignored my suggestions that a costume she made herself would probably be more fun. Wise beyond her years, she knows the limits of my crafting abilities and my patience enough to recognize the untruth of that statement.

Also, I probably didn’t do myself any favors in telling her stories of the times I did make my own costumes. Like the year I was a roll of LifeSavers, using water-based markers to transform plain poster board into bright, cheery, stripes. And how, child of the Midwest myself, when the rains came that Halloween night, all the color ran from the poster board to my jeans (and other layers) underneath and the costume, itself, disintegrated.

Or, that time I used a very similar technique to make myself into a package of M&M’s (peanut), but the poster board was ever so much too long, which meant that had difficulty bending my knees, which meant I had difficulty walking up steps, which made the mechanics of tricks-and-treats slightly challenging.

And those are just the costumes I remember. I’m sure there were other ridiculous configurations plucked from the box of Halloween costumes that lived in our attic, likely for longer than I lived in the room below it. Once a year, a brave soul would wedge the rickety ladder into the bedroom closet, ascend it’s rickety steps (while simultaneously pushing up on the attic hatch), then execute a complicated foot-placement from step, to upper shelf, to up into attic, careful to step only on the wooden beams, rather than plunge through the insulation to the floor below. After the box was located, it was lowered down to impatiently waiting hands, the attic hero/ine left to repeat the whole process, but in reverse.

What costumes were even in that box? Some sort of gypsy? An army man? No doubt a few of those plastic masks with the thin band of elastic around the back. That tiny bit of elastic was all there was to hold the mask on your face, which, actually, was fine, because you so quickly got hot wearing the mask and it was so difficult to see anything, it spent most of the night on the top of your head.

I know the family photo album holds pictures of the costumes, rotated through the years and among nine children, like some sort of chaotic evolution featuring a very short clown one year, a much taller iteration the next.

Sometimes, though, costumes didn’t turn out the way you wanted. My sister, Kate, admitted just this year that always tried to convince my Dad to let her use one of the St. Joseph’s CYO cheerleader uniforms also in the attic as costume. Of all the things my Dad held as sacred, CYO uniforms were high on the list, so Kate’s dreams of cheerleader costume perfection never quite came true.

But lo, though I tried to convince her that those costumes — the mishmash from a box in the attic, the soggy mess of Lifesavers or the no-knee-bend M&M, still got me plenty of candy and the memories are the stuff of Halloween joy, my back-when-I-was-a-kid-stories could not sway her from the lure of the long, blue wig.

Next year, though, I might have to muster my courage to look up in the attic. Maybe I can find that box of costumes or, at the very least, a CYO uniform.


Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right… August 31, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nora Lally @ 9:07 pm

This week, I’ve been contemplating my status, as one often does around the anniversary of the day they first met the world.

In so doing, I’ve made the partly hilarious partly terrifying realization that, at this point in my life, I am smack, dab in the middle: middle age, middle class, middle management. For heaven’s sake, I live in the Midwest. This middleness is not something I’m familiar with, as I generally hang out more at the edges – youngest child, back of the room, best and the brightest (or so they told me in that fellowship program), tall enough to reach the high cabinets.

So, what to make of the middle? Truth be told, I’ve been trying to come to terms with this place for years. In a culture obsessed with achievement and excellence in our children (either real or fabricated), I’ve had to get comfortable with celebrating my daughter’s averageness. It takes, I have learned, a certain amount of strength to proudly assert to a gaggle of parents that your smiling child is one of those kids in the middle (insert look of horror here).

Yet, realizing I am in the middle, makes me a bit twitchy. Not go buy a fancy car or get a tattoo twitchy, but twitchy nonetheless. So, now what? Well, being in the middle of a kayak is where I find the most balance, so that’s a good middle thing (or, an inspiration that my mid-life crisis should be to but a kayak). Sorry. Focus.

Perhaps one of the benefits of the mid-point is not having to know the answer. I can leave the bravado to the kids and the wisdom to the elders and hang in the middle, in a Lloyd Dobleresque “I can’t figure it all out tonight, Sir” kind of way.

What I know for sure is that the company I keep in this middle place, family, friends, co-workers, make this middle a place of joy.

I’ll figure the rest out from the middle of a lake, in the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of my brand-spanking new kayak.



Growing A Girl March 11, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nora Lally @ 9:41 am

I never cared to know what to expect when I was expecting.

I believed the molecules and cells were dancing in their own time and rhythm to create the new person I was growing.
And if they weren’t, I didn’t want to know about it just then, in between the pre-natal vitamins and the lotion to prevent stretch marks.

“Do you know what you’re having?” people, friends and strangers, asked.

“A baby, a tall, pale baby,” my husband and I replied, trusting our shared Irish lineage and above average height would likely bring the same in our new person.

Ten years, almost eleven years later, I would read every page of a book that told me what to expect in the growth of this daughter of mine.

And not about the physical stuff, there are doctors and dentists and orthodontists and eye doctors for all of that.

It’s the invisible stuff that terrifies me – is she growing enough confidence? Intellect? Resilience (whatever that is)? Faith?

Can I get a pictograph or paragraph to tell me what socio-emotional-intellectual health looks like for an almost 11 year-old girl. And can they tell me how to help her get there?

I could stop at the bookstore on the way home from the pool, where she is now splashing around with her friend, and look for such a treasure. Even if I found something, though, I wouldn’t end up buying it because deep down I know she will tell me her own story, in her own good time and her own good way.


Proverbs February 17, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nora Lally @ 12:32 pm

In fancy script in the lower right corner of the journal my husband gave me for Christmas is written: “You’ll never plough a field by turning it over in your mind. — Irish Proverb”

While I concede the physical fact of that statement, I don’t buy the lineage. One of the favorite hobbies of some of my favorite Irish people is turning things over in their minds.

My dad, for example, was a champion of this. When faced with a challenge, be it how to keep snow from gathering on the windshield of my sister’s car (old, yellow raft, obviously) or win the argument he was making in court (protected by attorney-client privilege, sorry), turned, over and over, the solutions in his mind with such intensity you could almost see the possibilities tumbling beneath his grey-my-entire-life hair.

Without turning things over in his mind (likely, all night), how could he have one morning informed us that the solution to our garbage disposal woes lay in the manipulation of the little plastic do-hickey things that you put over the top of your keys to tell them apart?

Perhaps the more apt phrasing for this (ahem) Irish proverb would be to insert “only” between the “over” and the “in,” to read: You’ll never plough a field by turning it over only in your mind.

Yes, that feels better, especially because the Irish I know take such pleasure in the turning over of ideas, great and small, especially around tables, great and small, filled with cups of steaming tea or tasty pints. Often, the more ridiculous, the better.

For exampimg_1075-1le, last Lasagna Day (known to the unenlightened as the day after Christmas), my family sat around a large wooden table in the dining room of the house where I grew up contemplating at great length whether or not a Cleveland Brew Boat would fit inside the dining room and living room. Websites were consulted, tape measures procured, and measurements taken. At 31.5 feet, it turns out, a Brew Boat would, indeed, fit.

Without the turning over this vital possibility, we would never have known for sure.

At this point, 352 words into this essay, it occurs to me that the Irishness of this proverb comes not from Irish likeness but from the necessity of something which must be pointed out to the Irish, lest they spend all their days in glorious contemplative creation of both problems and solutions.

Maybe the proverb writer (whoever that was) was reminding the Irish that while there is joy musing, accomplishment comes from doing. My Dad taught me that lesson years ago when “Angela’s Ashes” by Frank McCourt was all the rage. He wasn’t much moved by McCourt’s youthful stories of Irish poverty (“Lots of people were poor then.”) or his lyrical writing style. What impressed my Dad was that, of all those people raised in Irish poverty, McCourt had actually written the book, with acclaim and fortune to follow.

So thank you, journal page, for giving me a subject to turn over in my mind for the evening; for reminding me that just thinking about things isn’t as good as thinking about them and then doing something about them; and for making me think fondly about this 31.5 feet of love.





Max & Ruby – What Have They Done To You? January 23, 2017

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nora Lally @ 1:00 pm

A few weeks ago, my daughter stayed home sick from school. Meaning, she had a low-grade fever and an insatiable desire to watch television.

After a couple of hours, caught up on her Disney and Nickelodeon soap operas, she was casting around the channels for something to pass the time and she came upon some old friends: Max & Ruby.

In case you’ve never made their acquaintance, Max & Ruby are white rabbits of the cartoon variety. Based on children’s books by Rosemary Wells, they inhabit a brightly-colored, vaguely 1950’s world, filled with a bossy older sister (Ruby) and a badly-behaved younger brother (Max). They have many rabbit friends and neighbors and even a rabbit grandma but, oddly enough, no parents.

Every episode operates on basically the same plot lines: Ruby has something she either does (shop for new clothes; carefully watch her new doll, etc.) or does not (touch her Bunny Scout project) want her brother to do; Max, younger brother that he is, seeks to do exactly the opposite of what Ruby wants, generally with a smirk on his face, a frog in the pocket of his ever-worn overalls and very little talking (Max, who is probably about 4 or 5 for some reason has the vocabulary of a 2 year-old). Hilarity, as you can imagine, ensues.

So predictable was this pattern that it forged a refrain we still use in our house today whenever someone does something that, obviously, is going to turn out the opposite of how they want it: Bad idea, Ruby!

In the many, many hours that Max & Ruby provided the visual and audio backdrop to Katie’s own small child hijinx, I found them, actually, charming. Sure, Ruby could be a bit grating and I did wonder where their parents were, but I’d once read an article written by Rosemary Wells saying that the parents weren’t pictured because she wanted to show children how they can work out their problems by themselves. It seemed to me the same concept that Charles Schulz used in his Peanuts cartoons, where adults existed only as  “Wha Wha, Whaaa Whaa” voices.

Over the years, the Max & Ruby dvd’s have shifted from the prime position on the floor under the dvd player to further and further back in the cupboard, and I haven’t honestly thought that much about them. Until that sick day when Katie watched them. Her first words to me, when I walked in the house after work were filled with shock and low-grade fury.

“Mommy, I watched Max & Ruby and, you’ll never believe it — Max listens to Ruby; and he wears different clothes; and he TALKS and he HAS PARENTS. It was terrible.”

The words were tumbling out of her so quickly and they were so shocking I could barely take them in, so I made her find an episode for me through the On-Demand feature of our t.v. (sheesh — kids today).

Sure enough. Almost immediately in the episode, Max shows obedience to Ruby (the old Max definitely would’ve picked up the frog and put it in his pocket rather than let it hop away as Ruby told him to); he speaks in complete sentences; and after he shuffles obediently behind Ruby into the house, there’s Dad in the kitchen making dinner.

Ruined, indeed.

What used to be a show with enough comedy and personality to be entertaining for the wee one and tolerable enough for adults (if only for all the time you got to spend pondering where there parents were, why Max didn’t talk or change his clothes, etc.) is now perfectly normal. And perfectly boring.

More’s the pity for kids today, who will never know Max’s sly smile and comically bad behavior.  Except for Katie’s cousin, Charlie. She’s already announced that she’s saving her Max & Ruby dvd’s for him so he can learn about the real Max. Frog in the pocket of his overalls, included.unknown


To the Man in the Pink Elephant Socks November 12, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nora Lally @ 6:52 am

What a week. Seriously, has it only been a week since Chicago’s post-Cubs euphoria when everyone was joining in what my friend, Sarah, hash-tagged as Theosbender? Well, not everyone, I’ll admit.

I, for example, a lifelong Indians fan was not only not celebrating, I was in a lousy mood. I spent the week either watching people celebrate the victory I’d wanted for my team or actively avoiding all local media and most of Facebook.

When I did poke my head out of my den loss, all I could hear were exhortations to join the jubilation. “C’mon, this is history, you have to enjoy it,” the very wind seemed to say.

But, my heart replied, it is not my history, not my victory.

Last Thursday, walking down Chicago’s LaSalle Street, everything awash in blue the shade of the Cubs’ uniforms, I felt irritated, isolated, and stubborn in my self-imposed exile from the biggest party in the last 108 years. “Is this,” I wondered, “how Trump supporters feel?”

Even as I felt my feelings, my very own brain kept telling me they were ridiculous, for any of many very good reasons including: it was only a game; jealousy is an unbecoming (let alone, unchristian) character trait; I was probably setting a bad example for my daughter; I seemed to be missing a pretty good party.

My brain, however, was no match for my feelings, which remained rawer and more bitter than I am proud to admit until time passed, the news cycle turned, and Ireland’s rugby team, while playing in Chicago, defeated New Zealand’s for the first time in 111 years. Note: it’s not that I am a rugby fan, it’s just that I am immature imperfect person and it felt good that the Cubs were no longer the team in town who could boast of the most historic victory (shrugs shoulders).

Today, post-World Series angst seems a charming little memory, and compared to this week’s maniacal pin-ball machine of fact, opinion, feeling and falsehood, I almost miss it.

Since Tuesday evening, the airwaves and inter-webs have so crackled so palpably I’m a little afraid to turn them on. An action-oriented person of next steps, I’ve spent the ensuing days trying to turn down tumult and assemble a logical foundation on which to stand and from which to move. Unfortunately, all I’ve come up with is a possibly useless but personally satisfying list of observations and suggestions, which I will now share:

I think we should bring back the raucous town meeting. Having just returned from Boston, where our days were filled visiting now-revered historical sites of civil unrest and property destruction, I learned about colonial Boston’s rowdy assemblages to debate the issues of day. This approach sounds much more fun and substantial than liking, sharing, and commenting about issues in cyberspace. Huzzah!

There is a need for schools to teach and for adults to learn or get refresher on logic, rhetoric, active listening, analytical thinking and the differences between facts and opinions. A crash course on propaganda tactics probably wouldn’t hurt us any, either.

In a related observation, I believe everyone it entitled to their own feelings and opinions, but not their own facts. Just because someone says something or writes something, doesn’t make it true. (Note: I write this as a statement of my opinion, rather than a statement of fact, just to be clear).

Political pundits are like meteorologists — cataclysmically wrong, in their predictions in the evening yet we still look to them for answers the next day — and should be done away with (the pundits — not the meteorologists. I still need to know whether or not I should probably take my umbrella).

I could go on, but by now, I feel like all of the words in all of our language have already been strung together as a means of de-briefing from Tuesday’s results, so I’ll end with a story.

Yesterday, I was on the train home and the man sitting next to me, drinking wine out of a small plastic cup, was wearing grey socks with pink elephants. Said I: “I like your socks.” Said he: “Thank you. My son gave them to me. I’m thinking of giving everyone a pair because you can’t be in a bad mood when you are wearing pink elephant socks.”

Then began a 30-minute conversation between me, the woman sitting next me (Ranjana) and Sock Man (James), about the election, civil discourse; the importance of getting to know new people, the things that matter, and much, much more.

While we did’t get into the weeds, I sense that our world views were vastly different. Even so, without any name calling or specious reasoning, we discussed and even disagreed about serious (and less so) issues of the day.

I stepped off the train, feeling better about my country, and in desperate need of pink elephant socks.