Prayer for an Ordinary Day

I remember so many days in my life when I wished them to be ordinary, simply because they were not. I have committed many of them to memory.

One such day was a Fourth of July. At our community picnic, my son was escorting me down the hill to get a beer. I slid on some ice cubes someone had carelessly thrown on the ground. I careened and took flight. I can’t blame the fall on the beer, I hadn’t had any yet.

Unfortunately, ignoring the pain, I continued to party. The x-rays later showed that my femur bone had split because my ankle was broken. Many months and a total of four casts later, I wished for an ordinary day.

I found myself eating cereal off the floor because my bowl had dropped and the crutches had slid away. I prayed for just ordinary day. I had always taken for granted things like getting up and dressing or going to the bathroom. Don’t we all?

Now I try to I just live with sensitivity and gratefulness… I pray in the morning…just an ordinary day. A normal day! It is a jewel!

In time of war, in peril of death, people have dug their hands into the earth and remembered their ordinary days. In time of sickness and pain, people have buried their faces in pillows and wept for this. In time of loneliness and separation, people have become tense and taut and waited for this. In time of hunger, homelessness, and want, people have raised their hands to the skies and stayed alive just for this.

Ordinary day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Or even moment. Let me be grateful to you, for it will not always be so. One day, I may suffer and plead for you because as the Buddha reminds us… “Life is suffering.” May I notice and appreciate your beautiful moments of non-suffering.

Counting blessings, but not necessarily calories

Thanks and tears are what are more common to me these days, especially on special occasions… Both flow more easily as I am “longer in the tooth” now. When I was a little girl dressed in my holiday finery, thanks seemed a little boring. I just squirmed through it all and couldn’t wait for the adults to get on with it.

It’s heartfelt now and I am more appreciative for the chairs that are filled than for the food or anything else.

Today, the list of people I am grateful for seems boundless, but in the past few years I have become increasingly grateful for YOU, my readers.

I have seen you in the grocery stores, at the gym, and walking on the river path. I have encountered you everywhere and when I do, you say things like, I liked your column about going for a facial or about trying on bathing suits. You remember and mention a myriad of things I have written about.

I am always touched and honored that people take the time to read me. It humbles me and sends a little shock of gratitude to my heart hearing that said.

In any given year, I have listened to hundreds of people tell me their stories. I have asked them questions. I report what they said and I get the credit. I also am very grateful for my editor, Kim Williams, who makes sense of it all and puts up with me with more patience than I have ever known an editor to possess.

Many readers give me the credit for touching their hearts or their funny bone. They don’t know that they are my sources and my inspiration. The wonderful gift of writing a column is them. As a writer you get to observe more, learn more and ponder it all. I research things I never would have dreamt of. One of the greatest lessons of newspaper writing is that it’s a great big wonderful world out there…

So here we go… and you will see where it took me this week.

The first Thanksgiving was held in 1621 and bears little resemblance to the way we celebrate today. Researching for this column brought some interesting parallels.

For instance, although information is a little scanty, dinner was less vegetables and more meat. Kids today would like that. In the 17th century, vegetables weren’t part of their mentality.

They were not available to the colonists and no one worried about going to the health club afterward. Eating was simple; you ate to survive. Subsequently, we have gotten increasingly fatter with our current strategy.

Mom didn’t go to Trader Joe’s to buy a fresh turkey either. That FIRST Thanksgiving she sent at least four men out to capture venison and fowl. Dad did not have to put the extra leaf in the table or even sweat over the deep-fry turkey cooker. He had to bring home the kill with the Wampanoag Indians.

What manly men! They had no refrigeration so the men had to get lucky or their dinner would consist of dried food such as corn, ham, fish and herbs.

While the women today have to count backward as to when to set the oven so the turkey will be ready at the appointed time, among the pilgrims, someone was assigned to sit by the spit and turn it for hours.

People tend to think of English food as bland, but, in fact, the pilgrims used many spices, including cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and pepper and also dried fruit, in sauces for meat.

Unlike our computer-driven life where we can pull up a recipe in five minutes on the Internet, they mostly just improvised. When life is about survival I think improvisation abounds. Need often generates creativity.

They did not pass the food from person to person as we do today. The best food was set before the most important guest. They did not sample everything on the table either. There were no forks so they mostly ate with their hands and spoons and had big napkins.

Something new for you to do on Thursday might be to have the children serve you. In a pilgrim household, they did. Maybe I would have squirmed less if I had that responsibility.

Happy Thanksgiving.

New Event with Hollywood Icon Anjelica Huston–Tix On Sale Now to Members & Public Tomorrow!

Anjelica Huston 2 Anjelica Huston 1






Anna Marie Wilharm
(312) 661-0317


Chicago Humanities Festival Announces Closing Event
For 25th Anniversary Fall Festival
Anjelica Huston
Hollywood Icon to Discuss Her Memoir Watch Me
Friday, Nov. 14 at First United Methodist Church
Tickets on Sale Today to CHF Members and on Sept. 24 to the Public

CHICAGO, IL—Sept. 23, 2014—Today the Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) announced an added event with Hollywood icon Anjelica Huston on Friday, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m. at First United Methodist Church at The Chicago
Temple (77 W Washington St), to culminate the 25th Anniversary Fall Festival: Journeys. The famed actor, director, model, and writer will discuss her forthcoming memoir Watch Me with CHF Program Director (and former WBEZ host) Alison Cuddy. Tickets range from $20–$35, with book and ticket packages also available. Tickets go on sale at 10 a.m. today to CHF Members and go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 24. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling the CHF Box Office at (312) 494-9509 Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We’re thrilled to have Anjelica Huston as the finale of our 25th Anniversary Fall Festival,” said CHF Program Director Alison Cuddy. “To bookend this event with two fabulous female icons—kicking off with rising star Lena Dunham and wrapping up with legendary artist Anjelica Huston—has made our 25th year truly memorable.”
Academy Award-winning actress and director Anjelica Huston is well known for her roles in Prizzi’s Honor, The Grifters, The Addams Family, and The Royal Tenenbaums. She has received honors from the National Society of Film
Critics; the Independent Spirit Awards; and the Golden Globe Awards; as well as multiple Oscar, BAFTA, and Emmy awards and nominations. Huston most recently starred on the hit TV show Smash.
Huston is the author of two memoirs: the previously published A Story Lately Told, and the forthcoming Watch Me (Nov.  11, 2014). The first installment, A Story Lately Told, detailed her enchanted childhood and her coming-of-age as a model and nascent actress in New York. The second volume, Watch Me, explores her relationship with Jack Nicholson, her rise to stardom, her work with the greatest directors in Hollywood, and her love affair with her husband.
The program will be moderated by CHF Program Director Alison Cuddy. Before coming to the Festival, she spent more than 10 years at WBEZ 91.5 FM. There she helped launch Odyssey, a nationally syndicated talk show of arts and ideas, hosted the flagship morning program Eight Forty-Eight, and reported on arts and culture. She currently hosts Strange Brews, a podcast about the culture and community around craft beer.
The Anjelica Huston event will culminate the 25th Anniversary Fall Festival, with more than 100 programs that will explore the theme of Journeys, Oct. 25–Nov. 9, 2014. Huston joins the lineup of over 200 presenters, including, David Brooks, Lena Dunham, Chaz Ebert, Renée Fleming, Darlene Love, Paula Poundstone, Anne Rice, Eric Schlosser, Wallace Shawn, and Patti Smith. Tickets to the 25th Anniversary Chicago Humanities Festival are on sale now at
Tickets to Anjelica Huston on Nov. 14 are $35, with discounted tickets available for CHF Members, and a limited number of discounted student/teacher tickets. Book and ticket packages are also available. Huston tickets will go on sale today at 10 a.m. to CHF Members and go on sale to the general public at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 24. Tickets can be purchased at or by calling the CHF Box Office at (312) 494-9509 Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To become a member, visit


 Oct. 6, 2014 – Lena Dunham: Not That Kind of Girl [SOLD OUT]
o Part of the Elaine and Roger Haydock Humor Series
 Oct. 21, 2014 – The 25th Anniversary Gala Benefit
o Honoring John and Jeanne Rowe
o Featuring a public program with David Brooks, part of the Karla Scherer Endowed Lecture Series for the University of Chicago
 Oct. 25–Nov. 9, 2014 – The 25th Anniversary Chicago Humanities Festival
o Oct. 25 – The fourth annual Morris and Dolores Kohl Kaplan Northwestern Day on the Northwestern University campus
o Oct. 26 – The eighth annual Hyde Park Day on the University of Chicago campus
 Nov. 14, 2014 – Anjelica Huston

Chicago Humanities Festival

Hi Everyone! I would like to start you off on this magnificent  journey that I have taken for at least the last five years and which I consider the most  significant event that I regularly attend and write about. Mark your calendars, tickets go fast.
For 25 years, the Chicago Humanities Festival has celebrated the questions that shape and define us as individuals, communities, and cultures. For the intellectually curious, CHF’s vibrant year-round programming and robust Fall Festival offer the opportunity to engage with some of the world’s most brilliant minds. Collaborating with leading arts, cultural, and educational organizations, it presents scholars, artists and architects, thinkers, theologians, and policy makers that change how we see the world, where we’re from, and where we’re going. CHF also presents the spring Stages, Sights & Sounds international children’s theater festival. Visit for more information.

Forward into Fun

“Old age is the most unexpected of all things that can happen to us.”

–Leon Trotsky


No matter how old we are in this moment, we are ALL growing older.

When the very first gray hair appears on our head, it is an uncertain juncture in life. We go to the mirror with a sinking feeling of dread and try to pluck out the evidence – one here, two there. But the more we pull out, more seem to come in. The purpose of this blog is not to prevent the inescapable, but to find out how we might achieve agelessness in body, mind, emotions, and spirit as a four-part process.

I tease my friends by asking which of them would like to relive their teen years. It often brings a groan. Youth has a lot to offer, but so does the experience of age.

In India there is a joke:

It’s about a man going to a barber and asking, “Do you have anything for gray hair?” “Yes,” the barber says, “respect.”

Just because we don’t have wrinkles or a gray hair, we are not necessarily alive in the fullest sense of the word. Does that mean we are necessarily young or ageless?

This is the paradox of life: No matter how we cling to youth through our body, sooner or later it begins to let go of you.

But when we do not cling to the body – and beauty — there might be a different result. We see that not just in the lives of many great saints and mystics. We see it also in the neighbor next door, as well as in the famous and the not-so famous.

“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”

– Eleanor Roosevelt

A Walk Along the River with Shooz

A short time ago I moved from the west side of town to the east side.
I left behind not only a lot of friends but also pieces of nature that were ingrained in my memory throughout many seasons and changes. Images I thought were irreplaceable.

I lived in the Windings, a subdivision that was once an old estate
that had never been farmed. The result manifested itself in ancient trees that the prudent developers left intact as well as nature trails and a delightful little creek that meandered alongside the bike path.

My memories of my children growing up will always remain wrapped
around all of those scenes of nature and the great outdoors. I always
appreciated the gift of living in such a pretty place. My reminiscences are now like pretty hankies saved in a drawer, to be taken out and admired now and then and put back until missed again. So it was with gratitude that I just recently discovered a short cut to the Fox River. I am 1.9 miles away. It was just like looking for my glasses when all along they have just been perched on the edge of my nose. Like looking for my pen when it’s tucked behind my ear. I have new things to marvel at and listen to on my daily walk now. There are different vistas to explore.

Today I walked with my new friend, Shooz. She’s a Virgo and very petite, but despite her short legs she keeps the pace with grim determination, and we mostly communicate telepathically. She also has a very expressive face and one look of pure disdain from her is enough to make you mumble any excuse yourself for your behavior.

Shooz is a black-and-white Shih Tzu that belongs to my pal Mary Carol, who lives right on the Fox. She generously lent me my new companion for the adventure.

The river, like all rivers, tells its story if you are patient enough to pay attention. Shooz had an innate sense of when to listen, and when to stop and when to watch for the gifts from the regal Fox. It will tell you in advance of the weather by the way it is moving. The carp leap in the air this time of year and I have been told they are proclaiming the joy of mating. The fishermen who sit so quietly beside her teach you the value of being still.

Shooz can hear things I can’t so when she slows down I pay attention. Today she stopped and scanned the sky so I followed suit and we both observed a large splendid heron swoop low across the water and land gracefully on the other side. Nearer to the ground there was a nod and a gentle yank and she
confidently moved me quickly on with an I-mean-business demeanor.

When we came to the dam at the bridge on Route 25, we both stood
reverently and listened to the power of the water.

Men in high rubber boots cast their lines contentedly and bikers whooshed by and we both drank in the beauty of the shimmering sun on the water.

A lone rower glided through the
water, his paddles noiselessly slicing through more or less effortlessly.

Shooz made the decision that it was time to turn around now, but I wanted to go on so we had a little contest of wills. I did a little coaxing by flattering her ego with words of praise for her beauty and strength. Like most girls, she is vulnerable to flattery and it worked. We continued on for a long time and on the way back she blamed me for taking her too far, I could tell because she kept rolling in the dirt to pay me back.

When we returned to her owner’s house Shooz immediately collapsed under the kitchen table, turning her cute little self away from me to show her displeasure at my making the walk too long. She’ll forget because it’s impossible for her not to, and I hope we’ll do it again.

It’s a new gift.

Time to Write

Ok… I have invented many reasons NOT to write in my blog. Most of them are self-deprecating. It’s just time.  Besides, since I have gotten laid off from my column, I am having what might be called withdrawal. It’s rather like a kink in my hose of creativity. So whether anyone reads this or not… I will be spewing some sort of residue that I hope contains something worth a glance or two. Meet me here again.


The Chamber of Horrors

Summer is ending and the parks have closed their swimming pools. Even more sadly… my garden is starting to wane. I am very depressed except for just one thing that I have all winter to change. It’s my annual pilgrimage of terror, horror and humiliation to buy a bathing suit. It’s when a store dressing room becomes a chamber of horrors for me… Here’s this years account.

Generally I wait until after the Fourth of July just to ensure that I have exercised and fasted my way into a smaller size. Being the eternal optimist is one of my nobler qualities. The fact I have worn the same size for more than five years tends to escape my attention. I am not a detail person.

These were my humble requirements for 2013, fewer than $35 and making me look like I took off 25 pounds. That end result would leave me looking like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model — sexy, but not sleazy, and hopefully with my budget intact. Do you think that was just a tad unrealistic?

I arrived at the store and picked out eleven different styles and sizes. None of them had the bras or construction that the suits of my youth possessed. I still remember those little numbers. They were engineered to pull in your waist with clever little stays on the sides and the built-in bras pushed up and filled out your endowments. Those babies when lifted towards heaven resembled pointed mountain peaks. Heavy girdle like material kept your blubber tight. They did a decent job.

Today’s stretch numbers seem to be made of thin, almost-see-through latex similar to the stuff balloons are made from. They all looked undersized; I was sure they would become transparent in the water.  I feared my nipples and belly button would show, so I picked out some other styles as well. Bikinis were out, but a two-piece was added to my stack. I briefly considered a maternity suit.

I headed towards the dressing room and a frowning attendant counted out six suits — informing me that was all that was allowed at one time.  “Can you bring the next six to me?” I pleaded. She looked from me to the suits and grudgingly agreed.

I couldn’t see myself walking out in one of them for replenishment with my unshaven white legs and unpainted toes. I was still in winter mode.

Pulling the curtains tight, I undressed and fought my way into the first number, squeezing my eyes tightly. When I opened them, I was horrified. The lighting in those places turns a person yellow and most people look like they are in a police lineup, minus the numbers around their necks.

I gasped — my bosom was flat and my speed bumps had moved. One was under my armpit and the other was somewhere near my rib cage. The rest of me oozed out of the top, back and sides. I was certain that the three-way mirror had to have come from a fun house.

Dressing rooms should be lit by candlelight and the full-view assessment of the mirrors rigged to create a more slender you. Why have the marketing people not gotten that yet?

I cleverly covered myself with the curtain and called for replacements. A black suit with a see-through waist looked sexy and held my roll in check, but when I turned to see the rear view, I was oozing out of the deep V-line revealing where it all had ended up. And by the way, what fool decided on the term “love handles,” anyway?

Then there was the one that looked like a handkerchief with little black pants cut so high that I would need to wax my eyebrows as well as other unmentionables.

Most of the suits were designed for 17-year-olds who have never given birth. I considered having a tattoo artist paint a swimsuit on my body so I would never have to suffer this heartache and trauma again. Humiliated, I brought all of them back to the attendant.

“Did you find anything?” I hated the smug look on her face when I muttered no to her.

There is always next year.

That’s all I have to say about that.

Writer’s Block

My name is Joani and this is my first blog.

I have written hundreds of columns, essays, magazine articles, and am no stranger to writer’s block.

But for some reason, I have been afraid of my very own blog and it’s probably because I am technically challenged.

Thanks to some VERY patient friends, here I am … up and running, sort of.

No more excuses.

I am all in favor of Walt Whitman’s advice, “I loafe at my ease…observing a blade of summer grass.”

I was laid off recently from my weekly column with The Sun-Times Suburban Sun and that’s just what I have been up to… loafing. First of all, I have long ago been vaccinated for this condition (procrastination and loafing).

Having decided  I had the deadly “Writer’s Block” yet again, I employed some of the things that have worked in the past…

I went to my muse, Chloe, and  her advice was to walk by the river but it’s pouring rain.

Next, I began waiting for something like spontaneous combustion to happen so I would know what to write about.  It’s worked in the past.

Well, it didn’t happen, so while having coffee with my next door neighbor this morning, she said, “Write about being blocked.”

My best friend Dena has suggested Crazy Glue on my chair.

They were both right. Writers try too hard sometimes, that’s when we run into problems.  Often, I will simply begin telling a story. Have you ever heard of anyone getting stuck in the middle of a story when they are telling it?

So these are a few of the things I do when I feel blocked…

I stick my butt to my chair, and thoughts usually begin to restring themselves and then sort of hang together until an idea is revealed.

Another approach comes from daydreaming about a word or a phrase that has sparked the original idea.  Sometimes I see only a little piece of the elephant and have to go away for awhile and when returning… the elephant begins to show itself, miraculously creating a title, a beginning and now, “The End.”

All of my experiences are and have been “Grist for the Mill” in my writing life.

True Beauty Doesn’t Come From a Brush

I needed makeup. I had scraped the container until every last remnant was used up. Going though my drawer yielded some really old stuff that I must have used when I was a woman of color. I can’t remember that time, but it clearly had been used. Then there was my old clown makeup and some dried-up pancake bits and pieces from an ancient past. I don’t remember being orange either.
There is a lady that wrote a book and the title is “Don’t Go to the
Cosmetics Counter Without Me.” Where is she now? I looked her up on the Internet and she wrote a book, but it’s 720 pages long. I just don’t have the time for that kind of research. The reason for my panic is that if the past is any indication of the present, a trip to buy makeup generally results in a major deficit in my checking account. I MEAN a major deficit.
Now, I have tried the Walgreen’s brands that you examine through plastic to get the shade that matches your skin. The problem being, when it’s unwrapped, the color is very different. It is suitable for the bride of Frankenstein.
One time, peering in the mirror after choosing my own colors, I realized I had achieved the gothic look that a lot of teenagers sport. All I needed was to dye my hair black and hang a few chains around my already black-makes-you-thinner clothes.
No, I needed help, so off I went with my friend Dena to the M-A-Cosmetics store in Oak Brook. All of the salesgirls are dressed alike and have tool belts on. They look like carpenters in black only there are no hammers on their belts. Their tools are brushes, all shapes and sizes.
I guarantee each brush costs $30 or more and you need each one, really need each one for all the different parts of your face. You see, fingers are simply and unequivocally out. Brushes are in. The girls were all young and beautiful and perfect for selling the fantasy and illusion Dena and I were looking for.
My friend and I fell under the spell of it all immediately and began to play with all the jars and tubes and tints. We were looking for our lost youth. We are both on the downward slope on the mountain of life. We thought we might find a miracle in a jar and avoid the painful surgery that a lot of woman our age choose.
Enter Georgie with her peaches and cream complexion and eyelashes that I could certainly have by purchasing THEIR mascara. Secretly, we both want what she has. She offers to do a free makeover on me and I succumb to the word, “Free.”
After a through cleansing (you have to start with good skin care, she
explains), there is a special moisturizer for my eyes and one for my face. It seems the skin around my eyes knows the difference, even if I don’t. The peanut oil I have been using will clog my pores. A rough washcloth will not do as an exfoliate.
Georgie is writing all this down so I can know what to buy to achieve the dramatic results. The next step is a silicone base to even out my skin tones. She encourages me to feel my face; Dena feels it too. “It feels like plastic,” she says and steps back to survey me critically.
“We are only setting the stage,” the salesgirl says. Next is the foundation, which is applied with a special brush. We all agreed I looked too white, but not plastic anymore. I needed some blush. Applied with a blush brush of course. Next is a special base for my eyelids and again I am layered; you see it is all about layers. Georgie continued to rave about my beautiful eye color and how to enhance it further with two different shades of shadow and liner. (More brushes.)
One hour and a half later, Dena, Georgie and I were standing outside with a mirror admiring the results in the harsh light of day. Dena said jokingly that she almost wanted to kiss me, my lips looked so good. I moved back. Next, I was walking out with a nifty little bag holding $200 worth of hope.
We went to a coffee shop afterward and there was an elderly woman
sitting across the room gazing out the window. I think she was in her 80s and there were lines softly etched in her face that was framed by silver hair. While Dena went to get us coffee I studied the beauty reflected from her serene composure. She was stunning. She wore no makeup and looked so content.
I looked down at my little bag and knew that I would never spend the time it took to apply all that stuff and one by one I would eliminate all those steps to gorgeousness as I am mostly too busy in the act of living.
Whatever that woman had, she never got it from a jar or a brush or a
moisturizer and I want what she has.
I recognize true beauty.