The Pfister and I are Getting Serious

Have you run into me yet?

I’m burrowing deeper into this narrator role and already finding a few favorite haunts and pasttimes at the Pfister.

I’m likely to be found in one of these spots:

– Clutching a snack mix trio in the lobby, not sharing well with others, slathering my breath in garlic right before I chat with guests. Many a narrator has praised this snack mix, but until you’ve tried it, you just can’t imagine the trifecta of spicy wasabi, garlic rye and those delicious seasoned breadsticks. I plan to eat my weight in them this year.

See? I devoured the rye chips and all the garlic pretzels before I remembered to take this photo.

– Margaret Muza’s tintype studio. I’m in utter awe of Margaret and her stunning tintypes. I lurk around her hemlock-hued studio whenever I can, hoping some of her creativity will sink into me.

– Breakfast in the Café. I love to escape to do some morning writing over a creamy Eggs Benedict with all the other sleepy-eyed guests.

– Blu, anytime of day. The view is marvelous, every single time.

– And last but not least, the antique desk on the lobby stairs that is the perfect perch for a narrator.

I’d like to invite you all to write with me at that desk. How?

Beginning very soon, I’ll offer a monthly thought-provoking question and post it with a box at the desk. Please jot down a few lines and pop your words into the box. I’ll compile them into a piece each month. We’ll have written something interesting together, as a vast array of very different people roaming around this beautiful old hotel.

So to start us out:

What is something you are afraid of and intrigued by at the same time?

Visit the narrator desk, even if I’m not there, and you’ll quickly understand why I love it so. Pen a few lines and add them to the box,

OR comment with your answer below,

OR email me at

HotelNarrator@gmail.com.

And please, if you have a favorite Pfister nook or painting or view or cookie flavor or fireplace or cocktail or event or sitting spot, let me know. I’m on a mission to soak it all in.

When You Know, You Know

If you’re married, chances are there was a Before and an After for you, when the gradual movement towards a wedding suddenly felt inevitable. Before that moment, or that conversation, or that subtle turning of your heart, you weren’t sure if this relationship was any different than the others before it had been. After this turning point, you were somehow willing to bind your life to this person in joy and in sorrow.

For me, I don’t know the exact moment I decided I’d marry my husband, but I do clearly remember the moment I realized my heart had quietly decided this while I wasn’t paying close attention.

I was with my father at a very loud Buffalo Wild Wings, and he asked in a casual tone if I thought I’d end up marrying the guy I’d been dating. (Now a parent myself and a little wiser, I understand that the question asked in that noisy restaurant was anything but casual for my dad.) Without having to think too hard, I said, “Yeah, I think I will.” Hearing my own voice say those words with such surety halted us both, and we cried into our chicken wings.

Today in the lobby, my eyes follow an excited young couple. She is wearing a beautiful white sundress that is special enough to seem like she may be headed to a rehearsal dinner. Sure enough, Carlye and Mike are getting married—tomorrow! On the eve of the day that changes everything, I ask them what that moment was for them, the one that veered them inexorably toward tomorrow’s alter.

Carlye tells me about a stuffed animal she still has from her childhood, a rare species maybe called a Puffalump, that is tattered from love. (Carlye’s brother is all-too-happy to report how “utterly disgusting” Puffy was–“That thing should have been burned.”)

Brothers may not have a lot of tenderness in their hearts for their sister’s precious toys, but true love is strong enough to sail seas, scale walls and even care about ugly stuffed animals. Mike saw that Puffy was looking especially bedraggled, so he got out a needle and thread and stitched him up for Carlye. She says she knew then that he’d eventually be her husband.

Mike can’t wait to travel with his new bride. He’s visited 49 states and the remaining one, Hawaii, is a destination they eventually plan to honeymoon to. For about ten years, just a few states languished on his To-See list, until Carlye helped him tick them off by planning a birthday surprise trip to Connecticut and Rhode Island and then another to a few places they had little desire to visit, Idaho and Montana. When days with Carlye in those lackluster states and at home too felt “seamless” to Mike, he knew he wanted to marry her.

Sometimes the decision to marry might feel fated, even catastrophic. Other times it might be much more level-headed, a careful measuring of what life would be like with or without the other.

 
Maybe you witnessed a tender kindness like a stitching up of a threadbare and beloved childhood companion, and you simply knew in your bones who your companion would be all your days.

Mike and Carlye’s Wedding Stats:

Time Engaged: 1.5 years

Hailing From: Wisconsin (him) and Maryland (her)

The Most Interesting Wedding Party Ever:
His:
Best Woman- his sister
Best Man- 4th grade nephew

Hers:
Men of Honor- her brothers
Matron of Honor- sister-in-law
Maid of Honor- 5 year old niece

Creativity Comes in the Morning

This morning, I return to these things: bacon, eggs, smoky coffee. The ting of fork on plate. The warming mid-morning light.

 
I’m sitting by myself to soak up the quiet in the café, but two tables over, Carol beams. She exudes a calm joy that I need this morning. A jewelry designer, she proudly shows me three pieces she created herself and is wearing to breakfast.


The design for her trademark “spinner ring” is clean and fresh—a wide, curved band that has been subtly textured to remind of birchbark. The “spinner” component comes from two thin bands that twirl around the larger band. After looking at this ring for just a moment, I can tell Carol knows what she’s doing. The piece is both elegantly simple and innovative, and it interacts with the movement of her hands.


She is glad to talk about the other pieces she’s wearing as well—a necklace hammered from a trio of metals and bound by rivets, a design Carol is particularly proud of. It’s begun to take on a beautiful patina. Her earrings are metal as well, hammered so they catch the light.

 
Carol describes her creative style as “rough organic” and says she rarely forms anything dainty or delicate. Her husband calls her a tomboy and she laughs appreciatively.

 
Our conversation happily hums along. As Carol tells me about the physical processes she’s learned in order to make such intriguing jewelry—enameling, soldering, and hammering metals—I wonder what it would feel like to take a piece of hard earth and tangibly bend it to creative vision.

 
Would it be even more satisfying than taming these flittering words?

What to Do When Your Kids Grow Up and Move Out, according to Jeff and Lisa

1. Head out to celebrate your 27th wedding anniversary. 27 years, while just the beginning for you two, is such a hard-won, precious accomplishment.

 
2. Run into the Pfister with your sister and niece to pick up a gift card for a friend and have so much fun that you decide to just stay at the lobby bar to celebrate your anniversary here.

 
3. Order Miller Lites on tap. Though there are a myriad of other fancier options, stick to what works for both of you. After all, you’ve learned that whenever you try to deviate from this usual order, you will just end up asking the bartender, “Do you have anything that tastes like a Miller Lite?”

 
4. Plan a trip to Hawaii. Plan it for soon, like in a few months.

 
5. Both of your kids have recently graduated and moved out of your home. Remind each other that you’re “dating again” and gleefully start over together. Even after 27 years, there are still so many adventures ahead.

 
6. Get your motorcycle license. Your son wants to get his and you’re worried about his safety. Take the class with him just to keep an eye on him but fall in love with motorcycling and buy a Harley six weeks later.

 
7. Start taking your motorcycle on sweet little day trips together. Wake up early to be the only vehicle on the road, dewy fields and little towns rolling by. Stop for breakfast somewhere like Madison or Port Washington, then turn around and head home. Laugh at how even after all this time, life continues to open up for you in new ways.

 
8. Wait, you know what you should do? Rent a Harley in Hawaii! Immediately make a plan to bike to as many waterfalls as you can with a backpack of food and an elated freedom.

 
9. Take time to reminisce about when you first met, about how it took seven years of dating to get engaged but once the ring was finally purchased, he couldn’t wait another minute and just proposed right in the living room.

 
10. Wake up each morning to the same person, the one you choose in routine and in spontaneity. Forge ahead into these uncharted days together.

 
What Not to Do In Marriage, At Any Single Point in Time:
– Say, “You’re becoming your mother.”

A Tintype Reveals

A few days ago, Margaret Muza took my tintype at her gorgeous studio in the Pfister lobby. The intricate chemical and photographic process she uses is a tale for another post—I’ve never seen anything like it, and the whole thing is truly fascinating. Something I wasn’t expecting, though, is the surreal moment Margaret places the black plate into a bath and your face materializes, recognizable as yourself but also somehow strange. In a digital age where we take photos made of pixels and immediacy, there is something mystifying in seeing what this antique process makes of your face. Watching my image slowly emerge felt beautiful and enigmatic.


As she swirls the bath, the ghost
of my face surfaces, hollowed eyes.
The light comes
first, then a swell
of shadows.
My face emerges
as a dark dawning.

But this isn’t the face of mine
I recognize.
This is my timeless
face, as I might have looked
a hundred years ago.

It is disquieting to see
my face
outside time,
features budding without artifice,
this face of mine
that would have dawned
in any age.

The Rule Is To STAY FANCY

Until today, all my four-year-old sons Oliver and Milo had seen of the Pfister was the restroom outside the cafe. I’d had to drop off some materials while I was in the midst of applying to be the next Narrator, and the plan was that I’d just run in quickly while my husband waited in the car with our four kids. Suddenly and not at all surprisingly, Oliver and Milo insisted that they had to use the bathroom. So I piled them out of our van and tried to rush them through the lobby, but they wouldn’t be rushed. The Pfister restroom, they declared, was “like heaven” because it was “so sparkly”. I knew in that moment that if I became the Narrator, I’d have to bring my boys back to the Pfister, show them more than the bathroom, and watch this place, my new home-away-from-home, spark through their wild and wonderful little eyes.

So this afternoon, we put on our “fanciest” clothes and headed to the Pfister to see “all the special things where Mommy writes the words”.

We tried out the narrator desk

and the leather chairs on the lobby stairs: “Wow! Comfy!”

Oliver’s Pfister tip: If you want to test if you can really kick back in a chair, suck your thumb to see if the chair is a natural fit.

Of course the lobby lions were a magnet. Christened by countless children, today they were named “Tawr and Rawr”. (Not the most original names for a writer’s children to call such stately beasts. I was a little tempted to tell you my children deemed them worthy of names like Regulus and Elbert. But the truth was a very prosaic Tawr and Rawr.)

The lobby was very impressive, and we literally gasped at the mural on the ceiling, but what we found next in the cafe was magnificent enough to rival even the bathroom…the cafe’s giant candy jars.

There was literal leaping for joy happening over those candy jars.

After much deliberation and approximately eight changes of mind, desserts were chosen and tucked away in boxes to be eaten all the way up in Blu.

To get there, WE GOT TO RIDE THE ELEVATOR! WE WERE UP AS HIGH AS A ROCKET SHIP WOULD GO! WE COULD SEE THE WHOLE CITY AND ALMOST THE WHOLE WORLD, EVEN THE OCEAN, WHICH IS CALLED THE SOUTH OCEAN, WE ARE PRETTY SURE.

This part of the story is pretty much a blur of scrumptious food– strawberry tart, peanut butter cookie, warmed cinnamon roll, and a bowl of snack mix that miraculously appeared in front of Milo that he assumed was just for him to gobble all by himself.

Sometimes we got a little too excited to remember to use our best manners. But when I reminded Oliver and Milo of this, they quickly admonished each other to “stay fancy!”

As we reluctantly gathered our things to leave the “almost all the way up to outer space” grandeur that is Blu, I asked the boys what their favorite part of the Pfister was.
“Eating treats up so high!”
“And riding the elevator!”
“And just being really fancy!”

Will they still eat their dinner when they get home?

Both simultaneously: “Probably not.”

Let’s Start a Book Club!

There’s just nothing quite like a really good book club.

Reading is usually a solitary pleasure, but certain books cry out to be mused over or bickered about. Certain books live better when we can see them from someone else’s point of view or yell together, “Can you believe that ending!?” Like most of life’s beautiful things, books are often better shared.

And my new theory is that you just haven’t really experienced a book club until you’ve been in one at the Pfister Hotel.

Seriously, I’ve been desperately attempting to decorate my home library to look like a corner of the Pfister, all brown leather and fireplaces and striking antiques. It’s…a work in progress. Now is my chance to read in the real place. Are you with me?

Let’s meet up monthly at the Pfister to discuss a good book together!

Here’s what you need to know:

1. Beginning July 13, for the next year we will meet the second Thursday of each month from 7-9 pm.

2. Bring a friend, bring your book club, bring someone who wishes they could be nudged into reading more.

3. If you’ve never been in a book club before, don’t be intimidated! Join us every month or just drop in when you can. Half the fun is listening in on the myriad of perspectives on the same book. I can promise delicious, sometimes book-themed refreshments, the Pfister as the perfect literary backdrop, and a non-pretentious, welcoming club—maybe our motto will be “Not Snobby, Still Swanky”.

4. We are partnering with Boswell Book Company (2559 N Downer Ave, Milwaukee 53211, www.boswellbooks.com). If you haven’t been there yet, go now. I take all my bookish friends from out of town there and they marvel. If you are ever unsure of what to read next, Boswell booksellers have covered the walls with handwritten suggestions that are varied, intriguing and spot-on. Look for the Pfister Book Club selection for each month displayed at Boswell.

5. If you’re staying at the Pfister, you can also pick up a copy of the month’s book in our gift shop.

6. If you can’t make a month’s meeting but are still reading along, tune in to this blog the Monday following each club meeting to see photos from the evening and read some of the highlights of what we talked about. It will feel like the next-best-thing to being at our club in person.

Onto my first book selection!
I’m so excited to read A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles right along with all of you. It’s racking up so many glowing reviews and I also chose it because it’s set in a hotel, which will be the perfect way to begin our bookish pursuits in this beautiful hotel.

Here’s the book’s description that will have you racing to Boswell right now to start curling up with A Gentleman in Moscow tonight:

He can’t leave his hotel. You won’t want to.

From the New York Times bestselling author of Rules of Civility—a transporting novel about a man who is ordered to spend the rest of his life inside a luxury hotel.

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

“And the intrigue! … [A Gentleman in Moscow] is laced with sparkling threads (they will tie up) and tokens (they will matter): special keys, secret compartments, gold coins, vials of coveted liquid, old-fashioned pistols, duels and scars, hidden assignations (discreet and smoky), stolen passports, a ruby necklace, mysterious letters on elegant hotel stationery… a luscious stage set, backdrop for a downright Casablanca-like drama.” –The San Francisco Chronicle

Enjoy reading it, and I can’t wait to hear what you think on July 13!

Art in the Pfister Emboldens Us All

There is a disruptive beauty when someone is deeply passionate about something. Disruptive because it halts you, makes you lean forward and listen carefully, nudges you to examine your own life to see if you care about anything that much.

Maeve Jackson (www.maevejackson.com) has this type of passion about art. Ask her about videography or photography and she will talk with barely a breath, ideas flowing into each other and then swooping back out again in ever-widening arcs. A Milwaukee-born artist who works out of a studio called Pitch Project on 5th and National, her work primarily explores the role of women changing overtime. Maeve is leaving in a few days for Algoma, a small town on the lakeshore just outside Door County, to show her piece called “Art of Water” at the James May gallery. It’s an ongoing series she’s been working on for three years, and it involves video of water and the idea of the Superior Woman. She will be showing parts 1 and 2 and filming part 3 while in Algoma for the monthlong show, and she says that as she prepares to shoot part 3, she dreams of water.

As a local, Maeve doesn’t come to the Pfister much except to meet with friends from out of town. She is at the Pfister today because of her admiration for the new Artist in Residence, Margaret Muza. Maeve has been an avid follower of Margaret’s tintype photographs on social media and when she heard that Margaret had been named the newest Artist in Residence, she excitedly came to see her studio in the Pfister firsthand. She hopes to pose for Ms. Muza herself, excitedly pointing out the fellow artists and personal friends she recognizes amongst the tintype portraits on the studio walls.

Maeve is in awe of the way Margaret is able to work in her Pfister studio here, this “fishbowl situation” that allows the artist and the subject to both enter into the work as part of it. She extols the physicality of the tintype process and how it allows for a unique way of engaging with Pfister guests. She explains to me that in other mediums, the subject will usually walk away without immediately knowing what the end product looks like, while in tintype portraits they experience a “more rewarding, more meaningful” interaction with the artist that results in an immediate piece.

She is also drawn to Margaret’s work because of the “vortex to the past” her pieces create, and the remarkable way Margaret has revived an antique process. Maeve draws my attention to how each portrait we can see hanging in the studio is crafted, how the subjects’ vulnerable eyes and frank expressions demonstrate that Margaret is having a conversation with them.

This creating of moments and of exploring the past’s inextricable bonds to the present makes Maeve feel that her work has a lot in common with Margaret’s. Maeve tells me that she’s considered applying for the Artist in Residence position for years but has always been too timid and self-conscious, helping other artist friends with their applications but never actually submitting her own. But now seeing Margaret, an artist she can relate to, in the position has given Maeve hope that she could possibly have the job herself someday.

As she talks, her inspiration is palpable. I can’t help but be inspired too, by Maeve and Margaret and also the Artist in Residence position itself. I realize that the residency is a channel bringing creativity not only from a single artist out to Pfister guests and employees, but also from artist to artist. Maeve is leaving the Pfister today with a renewed intensity and desire to create, and it’s infectious.

And all of this occurred while Margaret’s studio is closed and she’s out to lunch. Just her presence here is already emboldening us to greater things.

I’ll Be There For You (Cause You’re There For Me Too)

Want someone to light up? Ask them about the people they love.

I do that in Blu tonight.

Chelsea and Lexi are the kind of friends who gush about each other in the most endearing way. They’ve been friends for only two years but both immediately say it feels like much longer, because they’ve slipped into a pattern of easy closeness that is built on ritual watching of the movie “About Time” every two months through tears, letters handwritten in gorgeous script and then mailed or tucked under windshield wipers on disappointing days, and mutual love of flower arranging. (Really, these two are adorable. I could very easily gush over them, gushing over each other.)

Lexi is getting married next weekend, and Chelsea will be a bridesmaid. Lexi’s fiancée, Alex, languished in the “friend zone” for NINE YEARS (!!), not dating a single other person while he waited to see if Lexi might get around to falling in love with him. I want to interview him and title it something admiring like, “An Unbelievable Story of Bewildering Persistence”, because very few men have the guts to settle down in the friend zone, forsaking all others, and then somehow manage to scrabble out and end up married. (We should all head to their wedding this weekend to just slow clap Alex and his steadfastness.)

Lexi says her favorite thing about Chelsea is her genuine honesty, how she isn’t afraid to voice her real thoughts and trusts that the friendship is sturdy enough to not buckle underneath.

Chelsea tells of Lexi’s deep thoughtfulness. Lexi has a key to Chelsea’s apartment and once she let herself in to take care of a dead succulent. Who wouldn’t look for that kind of tenderness in a friend?

Haley and Brian say they had to show their friend Bobby, who is here visiting from Iowa, the majesty that is the Blu skyline during his weekend visit to Milwaukee.


Brian and Haley have been married since August, and decide their favorite part of marriage so far is having “constant adventures together”. These two are high school sweethearts, but actually crossed paths far earlier—after they began dating, Haley randomly found a photo of her first communion in second grade and recognized Brian standing next to her, though they’d had no idea they’d known each other back then. She laughingly tells me that in the photo, little Brian is leaning away from her in the photo, suspicious of girls. They displayed the photo at their wedding.

Another love story here tonight, less gushy than the others but still longstanding and true, is the friendship between Bobby and Brian. They have been friends since first grade, and credit the obnoxious YouTube videos they made together in someone’s basement as middle schoolers as the glue that held them together through the years. Somehow one of these videos, a parody of the song “Roxanne”, has racked up an impressive 33,000 views. They are the first to express amazement that this video has any views at all, and tell me that they plan to show it to their future children to embarrass them.

And Angela tells me about her utterly loyal friends, who invite her to their homes for Thanksgiving and Christmas since she lost her husband two and a half years ago.

She recently took a class to learn how to paint silk scarves, and on Mother’s Day, since her own mother is gone and she isn’t a mother herself, Angela brought the three scarves she’d painted to her friend Pam’s house. She told Pam that she is “the model mother so many women should be” and asked her to choose a scarf as a gift.

“She actually picked the one I liked the best. And I was glad.”

In this simple story, I see Angela herself living out what she told me earlier means the most to her in a friend: going out on a limb to be kind.

Delighted, I’m Sure

The Pfister lobby this afternoon is gilded, gleaming and oh-so-peaceful. I’m beginning my year as Narrator, which is so thrilling I can just feel life cracking open before me.

A few things from my “real life”, which is usually distinctly less gleaming than this moment, are conspicuously absent in this magnificent place. I have two, yes two, sets of twins. Four children under four, one set identical and one fraternal, “double-double” as they like to call themselves…however you explain them, they are adorable, exhausting, messy, sweet, and very loud.

Though of course I love my children so deeply they are in my every sinew, I’m also delighted that they aren’t here right now. Not a single person in this lobby has gulped my drink without asking or needed my help to go to the bathroom. See? Delightful!

Also delightful?

I’m not here to be a mommy; I’m here to write.

I’m here to soak in and breathe out story—true, harrowing, lovely.

I’m here to capture the Pfister and all of us who live, however briefly, inside these ornate walls, themselves thrumming with history.

I’m here to meet you and narrate your story. Already, on this first day with the year ahead still obscured like a gift, I feel so honored.

***********

Since beautiful things tend to come into my life in pairs, I’d like to introduce myself by way of twin bits of my own story.

Just in case you aren’t as familiar with twins as I am, and I’m well-aware that you’re likely breathing a sigh of relief about that right now, let me explain how twins are revealed.

You know, by now, that there is something your life possesses now that it didn’t just a short, already blurred, while ago. You don’t know that thing is an “A”yet, the first in a series with others trailing along behind it. To you, “A” alone is enough to flood the whole world with expectation and excitement. And then you are told, in a moment that splits life into a “before” and an “after”, that there is also a “B”. And suddenly, in shock and awe and fear and trembling, you intuitively know that A and B are so bound up with one another that in some crucial way, they are as intimate and intwined as anything in life can be. They are twins.

So, dear readers, to say “hello” and “let’s begin” and “Isn’t this so wonderful?”, I give you a small, but not inconsequential, Twin A and Twin B from the part of my story where I am a writer:

A: As a little girl, bored in the sticky summer heat, I’d often ask my mother to give me three words that didn’t fit together at all, like lobster, toenail, and skydiving. I’d while away the day (just as delighted as I am this afternoon), writing a story that featured all of the words. The fact that my delight in writing could also birth delight in my mother as she read the story was half the fun.

B: As an adult, I’m sitting at the Pfister now, fingers tapping out this satisfying flurry of words, words that have been my lifelong friends, and now I somehow get to be a writer, for and with you. Ta-Da! I want to bellow to that little girl I was, your love of story will morph all your life, and one of the destinations will be the Pfister, a glorious trove of story.

So here I am, your Narrator. Please come meet with me in the lobby or Blu or under one of those ridiculously entrancing chandeliers this place is teeming with, and let’s spin out the richness of your story.

I can’t wait.