the chair lady

and who is the chair lady, you ask. my name is barbara mahany. for nearly 30 years, i was a reporter and feature writer at the chicago tribune. now, i’m an all-on-my-own writer. i’m married to the tribune’s pulitzer-prize-winning architecture critic, blair kamin, and the mother of two heavenly boys, will, who is 18 and away at college, and teddy, who is 10.

before all that ink got on my hands (and in my veins), i was a pediatric oncology nurse at children’s memorial hospital in chicago. i’d dreamed of opening an inner-city clinic and taking care of women and children, especially the ones who needed it most.

but a sad thing happened on my way to grad school in boston: my dad died.

at his funeral, the priest read a letter i had written to my papa the christmas right before he died. someone who was there in the very-packed pews, a bigwig at the chicago ad agency where my dad had spent nearly two decades, took me to lunch two weeks after the funeral, and said, “kid, you can write. have you ever thought of journalism?”

i walked home from that lunch, and, lo and behold, because of that one piercing question, i now have a master’s in journalism from northwestern university, nearly 30 years of filled-up tribune notebooks, a husband, two kids, and a grey-striped farm cat. some lunch, wouldn’t you say?

we used to live in an old moss-colored victorian house on chicago’s north side, until the waning days of 2002, about a year after our miracle boy was born. (both boys, of course, are miracles; one just happened to come totally unexpectedly, a few years after the doctors told me i would never ever have another baby, a few months shy of my 45th birthday.)

nowadays, we live in a grey-shingled house with a blue-grey door in a leafy suburb, just north of the city. this old house reminded me of my grandmother’s the first time i traipsed the curving stone walk, up the stone steps and through the front door. bit by bit, we have torn down walls, tucked cupboards here, crown moldings there. this old house echoes my heart nearly everywhere i look. it’s the house where i will grow old. it’s the house that stokes my dreams.

you’re welcome to send me a post…(just click the reply down below, until i can find the way to send you to email…)

or wander over to my website barbaramahany.com

these are some things that make my heart skip…

the tick tock of a clock early in the morning…

watching a flurry of birds come in for a landing at my feeder, taking turns, shooshing each other away…

studying mama bird build her nest, collect her stringed things, shop for just the right twig. learning patience in the way she spends unbroken hours on her unhatched hope-filled eggs…

a long, fat letter from a faraway friend…

snipping herbs from my windowsill in the winter, from my kitchen garden the rest of the year…

a wine-steeped stew bubbling away in the oven all afternoon…

a basket of garden bounty, char-striped and oozing juice, as it’s lifted from the grill, amid snow or rain or sun, it never really matters…

collecting children’s books as rich in story as they are in illustrations…

candy canes and marshmallows populating steamy mugs of hot cocoa after school…

pink lemonade and pretzels, ferried on an old metal tray to a screened-in porch, on a hot summer’s afternoon…

the cobalt of delphinium as it climbs to touch the heavens….

red tulips spilling from the old cracked milk pitcher that sits on my counter…

bread so thick and so packed with whole grains you need a butcher’s knife to cut it….

cranking my teenager’s tunes so loud the walls rattle, especially when he’s home to join in the madness…

my brothers, i have four of them…

the women i have collected all my life, the ones i call my sisters…

birdhouses in crayola colors, hanging from limbs, from walls, sitting on shelves…

red plaid bows. brown paper packages. all under a fir tree…

old quilts…

listening for God in everyday whisperings…

lighting candles at dinner in the middle of the week….

tea sets so tiny the cups are smaller than thimbles…

listening to my husband talk about windows, telling me they’re the source of divine animation….

old typewriters….

lists…

waking up early, making a pot of coffee for me, stirring oatmeal and a pantry full of dried fruits for my boys…

shabbat dinner every friday night; getting ready for shabbat all friday afternoon…

filling my table with friends whose ideas soar like kites, whose laughter makes the walls shake…

long walks in the winter woods…or in springtime, tiptoeing among the tender shoots as they first crack through the thawing earth…

crackling logs in the fireplace…

watching my boys, all three of them, play at the fine art of living…

tucking love notes under pillows, in lunch bags, in coat pockets…