Kitchen Table Stories

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.



Of Baseball, Zac Brown, and Politics October 15, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nora Lally @ 9:42 am

Picture this: I am lying on my couch, watching my beloved Cleveland Indians do battle with the foes from the other side of Lakes Erie and Ontario. Occasionally, my phone jangles with a text from my sister who is watching the same game from her seat in Jacob’s (er…Progressive) Field.

At the same time, my Facebook feed keeps alerting me that my nephew, Kevin, is live at a 250-person Zac Brown concert somewhere that appears to be in the middle of the woods, and for a few moments I hear the melodious stylings of a man who looks more lumberjack than crooner.

That I, on my couch, am so in-real-time connected to my people astounds me. The ties we have to each other, in so many situations, are immediate and deep.

Yet, slogging through my Facebook feed, it also becomes apparent how dis-connected we are. I’ve seen posts, mostly political in nature, from people whose acquaintance I’ve enjoyed that make me wonder, in agony, How can you possibly think that to be true? I expect they’ve thought the same about a post or two of mine.

I wonder how much of our current national dialogue (the one that looks more like food fight than a meeting of the debate team) is impacted by the ease of connection we have. It is so easy to make a point when your point of view rests on forwarded articles, opinion pieces or video clips.

Having grown up in a household where having an opinion meant being able to articulate and justify that opinion, around a large kitchen table, to a council of (in my case) elders, I know that arguing your position, face to face with anyone, makes for better arguments. It also allows for disagreements voiced with passion and vigor, but without animosity and scorn.

So how do we, a people living simultaneously in connection and division, get beyond the acrimony to a point of civil, reasonable, well-informed and thoughtful discourse?

There’s plenty of room at my kitchen table. Come on and let’s give it a try (as long as we can keep the Indians game on).



Celebrating the Cleveland Cavs Elsewhere June 21, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nora Lally @ 1:43 pm

That was the one word that came out when I flung open the patio door on Sunday and screamed into the Illinois night.
It came after high fives and hugs with my husband and the jumping up and down with my daughter, the scream that, as it turns out, had been brewing inside me for years, rising to the surface once in a while, only to be squashed in a series of painful, painful iterations of defeat’s cruel agony on gridirons, courts, and diamonds.
During the game’s last quarter, the last half of which I watched on my knees, about a foot from the t.v. screen in our a living room, the scream converted its potential energy into a kinetic tremor I felt through my whole body.
I’m not sure why I was even kneeling on the floor, other than as a good Catholic girl from Cleveland’s West Side, my body’s instinct in times of stress is to seek prayer, to whatever saint I could think of to act as patron of Beliveland (Jude, and his desperate causes, seemed appropriate). Or perhaps, in getting that close to the t.v., I was trying to feel like I was in  OraCLE Arena. Or maybe, some deep self-preservation mechanism knew that from kneeling, it was but a quick drop to the fetal position, should the MiraCLE not occur.
But it did. The Cavs won.
In the rush of emotion after every, single second was off the clock, watching from a place the length of the Indiana and half of the Ohio turnpike away (roads I’d traveled West on only hours before),  I needed to share in that moment by letting whoever could hear me know I was from Cleveland, and Cleveland had won.

After that, I had absolutely no idea what to do.

But my daughter, who’d spent a good part of the day devastated the she had to say goodbye to her cousin, Grace, for 18 whole days before our next summer trip to Cleveland, did. She ran to the fridge, opened it, pulled out two juice pouches, handed one to me, and offered a cheers to Cleveland (Note: the emoji pillow is because, after my scream, she suggested I could’ve just used the pillow to show my feelings, rather than frightening the neighbors).


From there it was all Facebook and Twitter and texts all around, a virtual joy-sharing that makes me want to thank Al Gore for his internet invention. I’ve spent the last 24 hours enjoying (vicariously) what victory begets you in Cleveland, like free ice cream at Mitchell’s and pierogis Sokowloski’s University Inn. I’ve watched that Nike commercial from 2014 about 20 times, and a certain video from  even more. Like someone who is so empty of food or drink they keep drinking or eating way beyond the point of fullness to cram in all of the goodness, I just can’t seem to help myself.
Jaunty with victory, I brought donuts into the office today. As it turns out, there are those who I work with who have such an intense dislike of LeBron James they declined to partake of celebratory donuts. Let that one sink in and rattle around for a bit. How can a Chicagoan dislike LeBron more than you like donuts?
I suppose these anti-LeBronist’s have their rationale, but I don’t pretend to understand it, and I do hereby officially require they stop citing “what he did to Cleveland” as one of their reasons for this dislike. Do you know what he did to Cleveland? He, who was welcomed home as the father welcomed the prodigal son, through an epically poetic demonstration of athleticism and sheer force of human will, won for Cleveland a championship.
And, if you’ve decided he’s a selfish jerk, tell me about the time you promised to pay college tuition over 1,000 students, at a price tag north of $41 million.
Enough already.

Since moving to Chicago in 2001, I have watched Chicagoans celebrate a White Sox World Series and three of Lord Stanley’s Cups for the Hawks. I’ve enjoyed the madness of it all, but in the way that one looks wistfully through the window to watch a party to which they weren’t invited.

On Sunday, I finally got my invite into the party, and, I’m not going to lie, it was really fun. Sure, it was a celebration for a team of professionals who make bajillions of dollars for playing a game. It’s not like they cured cancer (although, given the Cavs partnership with the Cleveland Clinic, they might have their hands in that, too).

And, I know, Cubs fans, other teams have waited longer, but Cleveland’s championshiplessness was (yes, I do enjoy using the past-tense there) failure, across-the-board and utter. Plus, how often do people scoff, their faces full of mocking, when you tell them you are from Chicago? Or Boston? Or other current or former long-suffering sports towns.

Being from Cleveland means that you know when you tell people where you are from, there is a high likelihood that a joke is about to be made about the river catching on fire or other mistakes on the Lake Erie shores. When this happens, you shake your head, realizing the jokester is neither very funny nor very aware of current events. That river thing, it happened almost 50 years ago and the Cuyahoga is part of a national park.
Still, it bugs you, because the only kind of burning river associated with your city anyone should talk about is the delicious kind made by Great Lakes Brewery, and you know also that your hometown is built of bridges and grit and, like the kid who the popular kids made fun of in high school and comes to the class reunion with perfect life, Cleveland has spent years knowing who it is and building its future.
And now, the future has a sweet title, and that title is World Champs.


(Great)Aunts April 20, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — Nora Lally @ 11:52 am

Big day today. My nephew, Kevin, and his wife Caitlin, welcomed into this world a tiny, perfect, already-adored son, Charles Mackin Schohl.  Charlie.

Awwww.  Charlie.

Seeing picture of his beaming parents cuddling their wee nugget, in his standard hospital issued hat and blanket, I think of the July day, some 30 years ago, in the hospital room in Westlake, Ohio, when I first met Charlie’s dad.  Sitting in the standard hospital issued uncomfortable chair, my sister, Bridget, watching from her hospital bed, my brother-in-law placed Kevin into my nervous arms.  Inhaling his sweet baby smell, while making sure to keep his floppy neck from flopping too much, I morphed from mild-mannered fifth grader into Super Aunt Nora.

Moments later, when he began to smell slightly less sweet and his lungs worked their way into full-on newborn baby I-AM-HUNGRY-AND-YOU-WILL-FEED-ME-NOW roar, I handed him back to his father, fully recognizing that  being an aunt was one of the best  gigs going.

In that spirit, I dedicate this post to Charlie Schohl’s six, newly-minted aunties (Caitlin’s sisters Emily, Maura and Kathleen and Kevin’s sisters Allison, Colleen, and Megan).  Welcome to aunthood.

I’d offer you tips, but the job is a fairly easy one — adore your nephew, and if you happen to do so in a way that torments his parents just a little bit (noisy toys for Christmas; tickle-attacks just before bedtime), don’t worry.  Those are but a few perks of the job.

Other perks include: hugs, kisses, giggles, love, and homemade Christmas presents that will become your favorites.  If Charlie is anything like his Aunt Colleen, he will specialize in giving pictures of himself.

As Charlie grows up, you will glimpse in him little bits of your brother or sister.  You will also learn the things about him that are 100% his own.  You will crawl on the floor right next to him and make an utter and absolute fool of yourself to get him to smile.  When he’s older, you will cheer for him in whatever he does, be it ball game, concert, or mock trial (this is Kevin’s son, after all).  You will cry as hard when he graduates from Kindergarten as when he does from high school or college.

You will be proud and happy to see who he becomes.

I say all of this in what is now my official title of Grandaunt Nora (it’s a thing, I saw it on the internet, and it doesn’t make me feel ready for Bingo night at the retirement home the way Great-Aunt Nora does).

No matter my title, I know he is a lucky lad, that Charlie Schohl, to have such amazing aunts.  Just don’t forget to buy him the loud toys.