Tag Archives: Patrick Somerville

Put it in the Alley

I just returned from a little trip to Chicago to visit my brother and his wife. It was the first time I have gone anywhere without Owen so I was naturally terrified but excited at the same time. I realized once I got there that it is possible to have an adult life while still being a mother. I think this was the first time that I realized that things do change and babies grow up and they don’t always need their mother. It was a good lesson for me as well as for Owen. We both survived without major emotional injury. Grizwald, however, seems to think every time I go near the front door I am leaving him again

I had a fabulous time and we did lots of eating and drinking and futzing around.  One thing that kept coming up over and over was this “thing” people in Chicago do.   I assume it has been going on for a long time because the system is quite efficient.  It all revolves around the alleys.  Apparently when you don’t want something anymore you just “put it in the alley” (I have this in quotes because every single person I talked to about it said this exact line). It’s essentially your own personal donating station. Almost every street has an alley of some sort so wherever you live you have access to this. You can put whatever you want in the alley and a truck with a few guys in it (they seem to control most of the stuff) or anyone who gets to it first will come take it. 

This “put it in the alley” thing came up a bunch when I was there with multiple people. It was like every day conversation between Chicagoans.  For example,  “I don’t know if I want this plant stand anymore.  I think I’ll just put it in the alley”. Stuff like that.

Alexis (my brothers wife) told me that a few years ago she had put this yellow dresser in the alley at their old apartment and just a few months ago she saw this exact dresser it in another alley waiting for its next home.

Anyone can find stuff in the alley, it’s not just the truck dudes. People go looking for stuff all the time. Alexi’s parents took me through their entire house to show me all the things that had gotten from the alley.  It was actually quite a lot of stuff.  I think that from the time I got to her parents to the time I left “the alley” was brought up at least 5 times.  Just normal conversation. 

I became obsessed with it. I wanted to walk the alleys of Chicago and find some gem that I could take home with me. I was secretly hoping I would find some amazing piece of furniture that I would have gladly paid the shipping on just for the story alone.   I expressed my fascination with this phenomenon while at dinner at Alexis’ parents house. Her mother told me I wouldn’t find much since pick ups were Fridays (this was Sunday) and usually at the end of the month. I said I wanted to go anyway just for the experience.    I love that she knew this information as if it was part of their bi-annual garbage schedule you get in the mail.  That’s how crazy it is. 

Alexis’s sister Emilie took me for my virgin alley crawl.  I was so excited I didn’t even complain (at first) about the 95 degree weather we would be walking in. We walked through probably 7 or 8 alleys. I wanted to get a feel for the kind of stuff people put in the alley. Literally anything and everything seemed to be out there just waiting for its next home.  And the cool part was that it wasn’t stuff that was broken or run down or heavily used.  Most of it was in pretty good shape.  During our walk we ran into a few of the “pick up” trucks that seemed to be either following us or trying to get ahead of us. We were actually beeped at by one truck as if to say “get the hell out of here you amateurs”. At least that’s what I thought. Maybe they were honking at Emilie who was wearing a very short dress  and 6 inch wedges.

Her mom was right about not finding a lot of stuff but I did come away with this lovely bird drawing and a VHS tape of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie (I used to love them and went to their concert for my 16th birthday). We also found a box for a brand new breast pump and thought it would be funny to give it to Alexis since she is having a baby. We brought it back and everyone was oohing and aaahing over the sweet find. Too bad it was just the box because this alley system is so awesome that even a breast pump next to a garbage can would be a good find and probably used without hesitation.

Overall I had a great experience with the alley picking.  If I lived there I think I would make a point of doing the alley crawls every weekend.  I love it.  I want to hear more stories from people who find things in the alley.


Surprise Disguise Visit

My brother Patrick wrote his first novel The Cradle three years ago and it was a big deal for everyone in the family. We were all really excited about it and couldn’t wait for the release.

He was scheduled to do one of his first readings at a little bookstore in Green Bay. I had been talking to my mom about feeling bad that I wasn’t going to be there when we both decided that it would be really nice if I surprised him at the reading. I also thought it would be hilarious if I came in a disguise.  My mother did not think that was a good idea. In fact her exact words were,  “Oh Sara don’t do that, it’s ridiculous.”.  She was right. It was a little ridiculous. Just going there to see him was a surprise so I didn’t really need to do it.

My mom also said “he will recognize you right away” and I said “maybe, but I bet you wouldn’t even recognize me”. This went on and on and I eventually told her I wasn’t going to do it (but had already bought all the disguise supplies and had it all planned out).

I also thought that I should do a little test with my mom to see if she actually would recognize me.  I knew she wouldn’t but I was willing to give her a chance. I had a layover in Minneapolis and thought this would be a good place to get everything on. I put on the wig, some extra make-up and my glasses that I hardly wear and came out of the bathroom thinking I was crazy. 

I didn’t really think about the security issues with my disguise but  I did, however, decide last minute that I needed to make the frames of my glasses a different color. Once I was on the plane I asked the flight attendant if he had a permanent marker I could borrow and he asked why and I told him what I was doing and he was not impressed. After telling me he wasn’t allowed to lend things to passengers he said, “are we going to have a problem here?”.  I of course said no and huddled into my seat secretly a little worried that I might get kicked off the plane.  THAT would have really made my mom mad. 

Once off the plane I got my camera out and tried to situate it around my neck so I could take a video but still walk and talk without having to stop taping.  I didn’t want my mom to know that I was taping her. 

The video I took is of me coming off the plane to meet my mom.  The quality is really bad but it proves that my mother did not recognize me at all.  She told me she thought I was someone famous but didn’t know who.  I was alright with that.  I think she recognized me but her brain couldn’t put the pieces together. 

We went straight to the reading and once my mom stopped scolding me for tricking her I think she was excited about seeing if Pat would have the same reaction.  I let my mom go in first and I followed shortly after her with my friend Molly.  The reading was very crowded so I was able to sneak around without anyone noticing.   My dad was in the back of the room setting up the video camera and recognized me immediately and didn’t seem to think anything strange was going on.  No reaction whatsoever.   Maybe he was just playing along?  You never know with him.

So we all get seated for the reading and Patrick starts off with a few words about the book and where the idea came from etc…  He then read an excerpt from the book and took questions from the audience.   There were a lot of people asking questions and I waited my turn trying not to draw attention to myself too early.  It had to be the right time and I wanted him to look directly at me and answer my question. 

 I asked him a number of questions about the book and he looked right at me and answered them all.  It was hard to tell what was going on in his head but I could tell he thought something wasn’t quite right.   The last question I asked was if he was adopted (the part of the story he read was about adoption).  It was that moment when my mother turned around to tsk  me about asking such a stupid question that he figured it out.  Of course he couldn’t do anything about it because he was still answering questions and signing books.   He told me afterwards that when he saw me in the crowd and was answering my questions  that he  thought his brain was exploding.   Similar to what my mom experienced I think.  Kind of interesting to watch people try to unravel something they see and not being able to put a finger on it. 

In the end it was a really fun trip and the book has been a great success and I am really happy that I was able pull off a Surprise disguise Visit.  It’s a little concerning that my own family didn’t recognize me but I guess I can forgive them.

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OowrHuA5gDs


I am assuming there is a certain “language” all toddlers have that only their parents can understand.  If I am wrong then please, do me and my son a favor and tell me.  Either way it doesn’t really matter but if any of you have been through the toddler stage with your child you might be familiar with this “language”.

Owen will try to say anything you ask him to and usually gets the syllables and the tone correct but it’s the actual pronunciation that is off.  So I have made a “Translation Key”  for Owen’s words just in case any of you get stranded on an island with him. 

Check out my awesome Microsoft Word skills here:

Translation Key

*note-these are the words that are most confusing, not the only words in his repertoire. 

I would like to mention that my lovely brother (http://www.patricksomerville.com/) taught him the word Jesus over Skype a few months back and it is one of the clearest words he says.  My brother, the author, with the immense vocabulary, taught him to say Jesus.  I can’t think of a word we use less of in this house.  Of course, I said it the other day about the number of sugar ants on my counter and he said it back to me.  It is possible that I taught him the word.  I also heard him repeat the word Dammit last week.   Time for a swear jar.


Owen received a lot of stuffed animals and toys even before he was born. I had them all set up in his crib for months (his crib never actually got used until he was 5 months old). In the crowd of animals was a bear that was given to him by his Nana and Poppy. The bear had a tag that said Sweeney. At first I was not that excited about the name but honestly… am I really going to take the time to think of a name for a stuffed animal? Come on. I should be happy he came with a name right?

Owen was about 6 months old when he first seemed interested in him. I thought it was so cute that he had a favorite already at such a young age. What I didn’t know was that a favorite turns into a best friend. I think Grizwald (our dog, who I’m sure you will hear about often) is by far number one on Owens list of friends but Sweeney is a very close second.

I have read many children’s books about blankies and stuffed animals etc…that kids become so attached to that they have to eventually be cut up into small pieces and placed in various pockets, bags, and beds (the blankies not the kids). I secretly always wanted my child to have that “security blanket” to help him through tough times but I never imagined it would be a bear that is as big as a one year old.

My brother and I both had blankets we liked when we were young. I vaguely remember mine but I distinctly remember my brothers. He had 2 pastel green and yellow blankets that I believe were the ones he was sent home from the hospital with. We both remember them smelling like maple syrup. I actually remember my brother himself smelling like maple syrup and therefore, everything he owned smelling  like it (and no, he didn’t have that infant disease where you DO actually smell like maple syrup). The funny part is my mom really did the “cut up the blanket into pieces” thing for my brother which I just found out recently. I was laughing so hard at the thought of my brother secretly having a piece of his blanket hidden somewhere in his condo currently. All ratted up and syrupy.

Sweeney has held up pretty well considering what he goes through on a daily basis. He is currently being forced to eat all meals at the table; in Owens lap. I can usually distract Owen and get the bear out of sight but if I don’t Sweeney gets many mouthfuls of whatever is on the menu for the day. Just a few days ago I gave Owen a real cup to drink out of (we made the mistake of letting him do it once so of course this has been a big hit in toddler land)  and so today I was giving Owen his daily demanding cup of water and I went into the other room for some reason and came back into the kitchen and he was pouring the water onto Sweeney’s mouth and making a little drinking noise (num num num). It was incredibly cute and endearing yet not that awesome to clean up. I can’t even take myself seriously most of the time so how am I supposed to have this conversation with Owen about how “Sweeney doesn’t need water because all Sweeneys are thoroughly watered before they go to their new homes”.  I often wonder about where I get this shit from. 

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that I am happy that Owen has Sweeney (he calls him Naaam, I have no idea why) to comfort him during his moments of shyness and uncertainty.  He sleeps with him, cuddles and wrestles with him, and does the classic dragging him behind him when he walks and overall seems to be a pretty solid friend.  

And this is why I am Sweeney’s Keeper.  Because deep down that damn bear knows he’s gonna get sliced up into little pieces and stuffed into pockets and pillowcases.