Monday, January 31, 2011

Blizzard! (Soon)

Jolly good fun ahead for the first of February, says the National Weather Service. All caps as usual, copied from the 3:20 pm bulletin for Cook County (and a lot of other places): THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN CHICAGO HAS ISSUED A BLIZZARD WARNING... WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM 3 PM CST TUESDAY TO 3 PM CST WEDNESDAY.


Guess it's our turn, then. Heavy snow has been slapping most of the rest of the North, and some of the South, all winter, but not so much here. In fact we'd slipped into a late-February-like winter stasis lately, with snow cover but mostly sedate air.

The weekend might have been a better time for such a blow, as far as most people are concerned, but I'm glad it didn't hit yesterday, when Ann had her birthday party. This was the rush to open presents.

As usual at my daughters' birthday parties, I learned about corners of the toy industry I didn't know existed, and yesterday was no different. One of the girls brought Ann a Lalaloopsie™ doll, a creation of MGA Entertainment. Turns out they were the It doll of the 2010 Xmas season. I missed hearing about them completely, and that's to my youngest daughter's credit. She didn't ask me for one.

Back in November, blogger Julie Ryan Evans wrote, "There are reports that the doll that typically retails for $24.99 is already being sold on eBay for $150." A price that caters to the more-money-than-sense demographic, which is large if not overwhelming in size. Now that Christmas is over, of course, the stores are probably full of the things again.

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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Then and Now

January 30, 2003

January 30, 2011

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Without Bees, Our Nation Would Be Misshapen

Another winter blast for the East again. I traded these e-mails today with an editor of mine based in New York:

Me: Did you make it to the office today? To hear weathercasters tell it, New York has been buried under mountains of snow. But they are an excitable bunch, prone to a little exaggeration.

Him: Yeah, it’s not that bad. A lot of snow, sure — especially in Queens and the other boroughs — but not exactly the apocalypse.

Here on the western shore of southern Lake Michigan, in that region called the Midwest, but which is all part of the North to me, not so much snow today. Maybe an inch fell late this morning and into the early afternoon, just enough to freshen up the dirty snow already on the ground and add a new top ingredient to the snow/ice parfait on certain outdoor surfaces, such as sidewalks. That's not usually a good thing to have underfoot.

The retailer Amazon pestered me with an e-mail this morning, the subject line of which said, " recommends 'Bees in America: How the Honey Bee Shaped a Nation.' " I puzzled over that for a moment, then realized that the Amazon Machine had reached the conclusion that if I'd buy one book about bees and honey, I would surely want another. I don't particularly.

Last month I bought A Short History of the Honey Bee, images by Ilona, text by my old friend Ed Readicker-Henderson (Timber Press, 2009, subtitled "Humans, Flowers, and Bees in the Eternal Chase for Honey"). It is, astonishingly, the first and still only thing I've ever bought from Amazon; but I'm a late adopter in many things. Actually, "adopter" is too strong a word, since I still vastly prefer physical bookstores and will do my little part to help a few survive, along with physical books themselves. I haven't read Ed's book yet, but it's in my vague queue for this year.

Bees seem very important, and Bees in America might well be an excellent work, but "shape a nation"? I'm reminded of a skit I saw long ago, on The Carol Burnett Show or its ilk, that involved a traveling Jim Nabors striking up a conversation with another traveler.

Nabors played an earthworm salesman, I think, and went on at some length about how important earthworms were for farms and the nation and the fate of the free world and so on, with the kind of irritating enthusiasm he brought to Gomer Pyle, much to the other character's displeasure. (Tim Conway? Or maybe it was Harvey Korman, trying not to laugh.) Toward the end of the skit, Nabors said something like, "When you think about it, earthworms are the backbone of this country!"

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Oz Day '11

Australia Day has rolled around once again. This year with some melancholy, considering the terrible natural disasters that parts of the country have endured recently.

Some time ago I was listening to reports on the Queensland flooding and heard of Anna Bligh for the first time. She's the state's premier. Bligh? Not a very common name. Related to Capt. Bligh?

Just kidding; here's a statue of the historical Bligh, who tends to be referred to as "Gov. Bligh" in Australian sources, since he was the fourth governor of New South Wales. Another uprising happened during his watch, known as the Rum Rebellion (beginning on January 26, 1808), resulting in Bligh being illegally tossed out of office. Some managers just can't catch a break.

Anna Bligh is indeed a descendant of William Bligh, who was actually a lieutenant at the time of the mutiny on the Bounty and a vice admiral at the end of his career (kicked upstairs by the Admiralty after that incident in NSW, it seems). But history and Hollywood have made him a captain forever.

Also for Australia Day: four versions of "Waltzing Matilda" selected from among countless others. More information on the song than you'll ever need is here.

First, a video by the late and much-beloved Slim Dusty, Australia's answer to just about every North American country singer. Next, a version that's geared to children (and those who don't understand Australian English of the song) by Rolf Harris, best known in this country for "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport."

A symphonic version is next, with violin by Dutchman André Rieu, whom I understand isn't a favorite of classical music critics, perhaps because he's too popular, though I'm not competent to say. Anyway, he does a good turn on "Waltzing Matilda" and the Australian audience seems warm to it. And I have to like the Dutch description of the video by the fellow who posted it, because Dutch is so much fun to look at. It begins: Een meesterwerk van André Rieu en zijn mannen en vrouwen. Zoooo mooi. Dit nummer hebben ze gespeeld tijdens hun tour in Australië. Koop die CD. Hij is super!

Finally, Tom Waits' version of the song ("Tom Traubert's Blues"), which is mostly not the song. But any day is a good day to watch some Tom Waits.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I encouraged the rest of my family to eat some nopalitos this evening during dinner. The other day I was tasked to buy tortillas, and went to an Aldi for that and a few other things. The stigma of highly visible discounting -- deposits on carts, no bags provided by the store, that sort of thing -- keeps some people away from that brand, I think, and if so they're missing out on some fine items, such as the store's superb line of German chocolates. Anyway, Aldi had no tortillas, or none that I could find.

That seemed odd, but then I remembered the Mexican supermarket at the other end of the strip center. Why would Aldi compete directly with that store on Mexican items? So I visited the other store and found tortillas among at least a dozen choices (half flour, half corn), but I also had to come away with an impulse purchase: a 15.5 oz. (440g) bottle of La Costeña brand tender cactus (nopalitos). Been a number of years since I'd had any.

Ingredients: tender cactus (phrased that way, I guess, to discourage the idea that nopalitos are prickly), water, onion, cilantro, serrano peppers, iodized salt, vinegar. Serrano are supposed to be hotter than jalapeño, but maybe not when being used this way, since the end result was a milder heat than jalapeño. In fact, the way I described it to Yuriko to persuade her to try it was "a mild jalapeño" taste (she is unusual for a Japanese in her fondness for jalapeños). Try it she did, and she didn't find it objectionable.

Lilly was harder to persuade to try it. Impossible, in fact. It was as if I'd suggested she take a bite out of one of those spiny cacti people keep in pots on their windowsills. Ann wasn't interested either, but her rejection wasn't quite as spirited.


Monday, January 24, 2011


I heard on the radio earlier this month that Estonia has trashed its currency and opted to join the euro zone. I don't quite follow the thinking that went into that, but in any case the Estonia kroon (pronounced "crone," according to the radio) is gone.

Naturally that sent me to my stash of increasingly obsolete foreign coins to see if I had any. All I could find were two 20 Estonian senti pieces, a fifth of a kroon, both dated 1992. That must have been all we had left when we exited the country, which was unusual, because usually we didn't quite spend down our currency quite so completely.

One side (not sure if this is the obverse or reverse):

The other side:

The three lions have long been associated with Estonia. According to the Estonia Institute, that country's equivalent of Germany's Goethe Institut or Spain's Instituto Cervantes, "the heraldic lions of the coat of arms are the most ancient of Estonia's symbols. They have been used since the 13th century, when they served as the big coat of arms for the capital city, Tallinn.

"Tallinn got these slim blue lions from the King of Denmark, Waldemar the Second; Denmark was the ruling power in northern Estonia at that time... Various other foreign powers came and went, but the three lions remained to become the coat of arms for most of the Estonian territory.

"The State Assembly of the independent Republic of Estonia adopted the three lions officially by resolution on June 19, 1925. The current large coat of arms is a golden shield charged with three blue lions passant guardant with golden oak branches on both sides of the shield. The small coat of arms is identical, except there are not any oak branches."

The lions are interesting, but feature I liked best about the kroon is its international code: EEK.

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Not Much of an Item From the Past: The Other Elvis

While thinking about inaugurations last week, I remembered that on the day Ronald Reagan became president, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, with Squeeze as the opening act, happened to play at Vanderbilt. I saw them, but I'll never be a music critic because all I wrote about it -- and I was keeping a diary regularly at the time -- was "Neal, Layne and I went to Langford to see Elvis Costello and Squeeze. Good show."

Langford was Langford Auditorium, and I also remember that the acoustics were lousy. They always were at Langford. So maybe the show wasn't quite as good as it could have been.

Macklam Feldman Management manages Mr. Costello these days, and interestingly enough publishes a detailed chronology of his career that mentions the VU date. Apparently he took advantage of being in Nashville.

"A Nashville date at Vanderbilt University provides an opportunity for a trial session with Billy Sherrill at legendary Columbia Studio B -- venue for 'Stand By Your Man,' 'Behind Closed Doors' and 'Blonde on Blonde,' " notes the site.

"Pedal-steel player, Pete Drake, augments the Attractions for the session, which yields two cuts, Hank Cochran’s, 'He’s Got You' -- a hit for Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn as 'She’s Got You' -- and the Bobby 'Blue' Bland R&B ballad, 'I’ll Take Care Of You.' ”

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Previous January 20ths

Compare and contrast inaugural addresses from exactly 50 years ago and 30 years ago. I don't remember the Kennedy inauguration, of course. I was a little young then; in utero, as it happened. That accounts for my sense that the 1961 event happened in the misty past, while the 1981 one wasn't all that long ago, even enough the time between now and 1981 is half again as much as between '61 and '81.

Of course, if you really want to push things back, watch this remarkable color footage of Franklin Roosevelt's third inauguration, which was exactly 70 years ago. That's as far back as January 20 inaugurations in years ending in 1 go, since inauguration day used to be March 4. Warren Harding took the oath of office on March 4, 1921.

Interesting to note some of the details captured across the decades. Top hats were everywhere among those near the president in 1941, while only some of the men seated behind Kennedy were wearing them, and there was nary a one in audience behind Reagan only 20 years later. Actually Reagan would have looked pretty good in a top hat, but I don't think any of his successors could have pulled it off (or his predecessors all the way back to Johnson, for that matter).

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

RIP, Marie Estes Stribling

My Aunt Marie passed away earlier this week in Philadelphia, Miss. This is from her obituary in the Jackson Clarion-Ledger:

Mrs. Stribling, 98, died Monday, January 17, 2011 at Neshoba County Nursing Home.

She was a native of the Deemer community of Neshoba County and a longtime resident of Philadelphia. She was a retired beautician. Mrs. Stribling was a member of First United Methodist Church, where she taught kindergarten age Sunday School for several years. She volunteered at Neshoba County Nursing Home for a number of years. She loved playing bridge and other card games.

Mrs. Stribling was preceded in death by her husband, Bruce Stribling; and a brother, Frank Estes.

Survivors include her son, Jay Stribling of Jackson; grandchildren, Bruce James Stribling and Jessie Marie Stribling both of Flowood; sister, Cecil Wyatt of Philadelphia; and brother, Everett Estes and his wife, Mildred of Philadelphia.

Marie's husband, Bruce, was my father's brother, older than he was by more than 20 years, since Dad was a late-life baby. By the time I was born, Bruce had died, but as a child I met Marie. As an adult in the 1990s, I went to Philadelphia twice to visit her and my cousin Florence. Marie lived with her brother Frank and her sister Cecil in those days, and they were most hospitable each time, providing me a place to sleep in their guest room and some delicious bran muffins for breakfast the next day.

Along with my cousin Jay, I visited Marie at the Neshoba County Nursing Home in the summer of 2009. She wasn't conscious during our visit, but I'm glad I went.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011


Other parts of the country might have had large blasts of snow so far this month, but here in northern Illinois we've only had snow showers. Still, they've added up, since temps never rose above freezing between New Year's Eve and MLK Day. So what to do on a long winter weekend afternoon? Take a walk in the Busse Woods Forest Preserve. With a camera.

Black-and-white seemed fitting for that neck of the woods. But through the magic of digital photography, it's easy enough to make the switch from B&W to color. There isn't a lot of color in a January forest preserve landscape, but there are subtle browns in the hibernating tall grass.

For some reason, the rest of my family declined to go with me. It's cold, of course, but once you've been walking for 10 minutes or so, it doesn't seem so bad, especially on a windless day like Saturday. The best thing about walking on the "bicycle path" was that there were no bicycles, like there would be any other time of the year.

I'm all for riding bicycles on forest preserve paths, but as a pedestrian it puts you on edge sometimes when, during a peaceful stroll among the leafy trees, a bike zooms within inches of you without so much as a bell-ring warning. Thus the unstated but wise rule for pedestrians on bike paths (and on sidewalks in Japan): no sudden lateral moves.

At two places the path crosses Higgins Road, a busy, four-lane thoroughfare that cuts the forest preserve roughly in half. The western crossing is at street level, but the eastern one is a steel bridge that arches up and over the road.

I had it all to myself.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Endless Ring

I've been inconsistent about this over the years, but time for the MLK holiday to be a no posting holiday. Back on Tuesday.

Today was a monochromatic day. Full grey overcast skies hanging over just enough snow cover to obscure the ground, all the while at some degrees below freezing, where the temps are predicted to stay for a while. We're entering the pit of winter. But at least the days are slightly longer now, just enough to be noticeable.

I wrote this recently about a dorm -- I mean, a fairly new student housing community near, but not on, a university campus: "[It] is comprised of two‐ and four‐bedroom units. Amenities include outdoor basketball and volleyball courts, a fitness center, game room, computer lab, tanning salon, pool and spa. [The property] also includes... retail space, and is also near [shops], restaurants and entertainment venues."

It sounds like an excellent property and a fine place to live. But the description also inspires curmudgeonly thoughts. Students need all that? They're students. They ought to be pretty good at inventing their own diversions.

I'm reminded of an amenity we had in the dorm I lived in exactly 30 years ago, a place called East Hall. That is, we had a telephone in the room. Bet most new student housing doesn't have that.

The box was fixed to the wall, of course. It had a rotary dial and, remarkably, there was no way to disconnect it, either the receiver from the cord or the box from the wall. That's not important unless it starts ringing in the middle of the night for no understandable reason, which is what happened periodically. And I don't mean a regular series of rings, but a constant ringing. One time we let it ring just to see how long it would ring, and the thing went on for about five minutes, until our next-door neighbor, a fellow called Spoon, banged on our door demanding that we stop it.

Usually, we would take it off the hook, which would stop the ringing (and there was nothing but silence in the receiver). But then we'd hear a fairly loud zzzt! zzzt! zzzt! to let us know that the phone was off the hook. That was just as bad as the ringing. Hanging it up again usually brought back the ringing. Soon we settled on putting the receiver into a nearby drawer, wrapped in towels. That usually muffled it enough, especially if the room's steam heat or the air conditioner were running. (We had those amenities, too; it was toward the end of the 20th century, after all.)

I'd forgotten about that damned phone until I paused today to think about my accommodations all those decades ago. Sometimes it's good to have an adversarial relationship with part of your dwelling space, as aggravating as that can be at the time. It teaches, or hones, problem-solving. Students living in a resort-like community might miss out on that kind of experience.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011


I haven't spent a lot of time over the years watching presidential speeches on television, despite my enthusiasm for presidential history. But there have been occasions when events, usually violent, have drawn me to see a president speak, such as following the Oklahoma City bombing and the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

I thought tonight there would be a speech worth watching, maybe even an extraordinary one, so I watched President Obama speak in Tucson a few hours ago. It was extraordinary indeed.

We all watched it. A rare moment when we were all watching the same thing at the same time. I insisted Lilly leave Facebook behind for a few minutes for that purpose, and she did so, grudgingly. "This might be an historic speech," I said. "The only historic speech by a president I got to see when I was 13 was Nixon resigning."

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Alley Green

The last time I was downtown, I walked past this imprint in the concrete at the opening of the alley between N. LaSalle St. and N. Wells St. near the north curb of W. Washington St.

"City of Chicago Green Alley," it says, plus glyphs that seem to be the Earth, the Sun and one of those curly-toed shoes that Santa's elves wear. Also: "Richard M. Daley, Mayor." (Will he miss being able to stamp his name on public works? Maybe. Note that he's careful to distinguish himself from that other long-serving mayor, Richard J.)

So it's a green alley. It's hard to tell just by looking at it. Literally speaking, it looks like many Chicago alleys.

What's a green alley, then? "Chicago has approximately 1,900 miles of alleys and about 3,500 acres of paved surface, city estimates show," said the Tribune a few years ago. "That's equivalent to about 11 Grant Parks. A 2005 Tribune study found more than 90 percent of the city's blocks are bisected by alleys, making Chicago the alley capital of the world.

"Chicago has so many of these little pathways because city planners saw how East Coast cities such as New York and Boston had garbage overflowing onto streets, said Perry Duis, an urban history professor at UIC. Chicago planners didn't want a similar situation, so they created easements behind homes for garbage.

"Ninety-eight Chicago alleys have been deemed green alleys because they incorporate specific environmentally friendly materials or design, such as a permeable pavement, recycled materials or light-colored concrete, according to... the Chicago Department of Transportation.

"The city started its green alley pilot program in 2006 to improve stormwater drainage, reduce heat, promote recycling and conserve energy in alleys. The program began with five alleys, and about 30 to 45 of the city's thousands of alleys have become green each year since."

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Hard Knock Life

Glad the great Southern blizzard didn't come our way. But if it had, the snow would simply be more winter and not a city-closing event. Occasionally I miss those days when I wasn't so inured to heavy snow and ice, living in places that collectively didn't know what to do on those rare frozen occasions.

Speaking of the South, an old friend of mine, an attorney in Georgia, has started a blog. Sure, the world has a lot of blogs, but not so many by people as highly intelligent as she, nor ones describing a corner of the criminal justice system most of us have no contact with. I'm glad I have no contact with it, since she's a public defender.

So far there aren't a lot of entries, but I encourage her to write more, and everyone else to read it. This is the kind of thing she's written: "Last week... I experienced the uncomfortable vortex of a case where I really disliked my own client, I thought he was guilty as charged, and I really, really liked the alleged victim. Boy, was that a mess. Thank goodness a completely irresistible plea offer was made... it's the situation that all my non-pd friends believe I live on a daily basis. You know, the friends who say, 'How can you do that job?' This kind of situation occurs a lot less often than most people think. And that's a good thing, because I for one would have a hard time doing this job if I were in the vortex routinely."

More at It's a hard knock life.

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Sunday, January 09, 2011

Happy Birthday Dear Millard, Happy Birthday to You

In case you missed it, Friday was the 211th birthday of Millard Fillmore, 13th President of the United States, 12th Vice President, and Know-Nothing (oops). It's not too late to muse on the man's immortal deeds, provided you have a fascination with antebellum U.S. presidents.

I'm glad this Kia commercial is still around on YouTube; and, as I said three years ago, that the Bathtub Hoax still has some life to it.

Of course, a bigger deal is always made out of Elvis Presley's birthday, which was January 8. Sure, he recorded a lot of fine songs and did some other remarkable turns, but did he open up Japan? That's usually attributed to Commodore Matthew Perry of the U.S. Navy, but the commodore had his orders. From President Fillmore.

"Assisted by Secretary of State Daniel Webster, Fillmore ordered a trade mission to Japan by Commodore Matthew Perry," notes the Miller Center of Public Affairs of the University of Virginia. "Although the mission was not fully completed until the succeeding administration of Franklin Pierce, the policy did open Japan for trade with the rest of the world. The consequences of this mission, both positive and negative, were the work of Fillmore."

That's not all. He thought the Monroe Doctrine should apply to the Hawaiian islands: "Elsewhere in the Pacific, Fillmore showed strong resolve in preventing the Hawaiian Islands from falling into either French or English hands. When the French government tried to force an annexation agreement on Hawaii's king, Fillmore warned Napoleon III in no uncertain terms that the United States would not stand for any such action."

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Thursday, January 06, 2011

The New Nation of Bob?

At about midday today I found myself wondering what the new nation carved out of southern Sudan is going to be called. That's the kind of thing that a longstanding fascination with political geography will make you think about. When I was young, I was so taken with our copy of Historical Atlas of the World and its maps that the book eventually fell apart. Sometime in the 1990s, I bought a reprint of it (which wasn't updated: the editorial cutoff remained about 1970) that I still peruse from time to time, for the sheer aesthetics, enough though the Internet offers the likes of this and this and much more.

I'm fairly good at dating old globes, too, a skill I wish paid something. There are plenty of giveaways. If I didn't know the globe we have around the house was almost new when I bought it in the late '90s, I'd know it was post-Eritrean independence (1993) but pre-Nanavut (1999). More exactly, Hong Kong has no colonial designation on it, but Macao still says "Port." So that pins the globe down to between the handing over of HK on July 1, 1997, and the creation of Nanavut on April 1, 1999 (Macao was Portuguese until December 20, 1999).

I keep a couple of older globes out in our garage -- who could stand throwing away a globe? -- including one made after the reunification of Germany but before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a fairly tight window from late 1990 through 1991. The other one is older: it still has a divided Vietnam, and Angola and Mozambique as "Port." (both pre-1975) but also East Pakistan, which would put it pre-1971. But that globe, a lovely 12-inch "Land and Sea" Replogle, isn't old enough to include the likes of French West Africa. Closing the window a little further, it does sport Afars & Issas, which had been French Somaliland until 1967 (and became independent Djibouti in 1977).

A favorite of mine to find on an old globe -- and I have seen it, though I don't own one -- is the Central African Empire (1976-79), created by one Jean-Bédel Bokassa, or Emperor Bokassa I, who apparently decided that being a tinpot president-for-life of the Central African Republic wasn't grand enough. Wiki tells me that his full title was Empereur de Centrafrique par la volonté du peuple Centrafricain, uni au sein du parti politique national, le MESAN ("Emperor of Central Africa by the will of the Central African people, united within the national political party, the MESAN").

The reason southern Sudan came to mind is that I heard part of a radio show discussing the southern Sudanese independence vote. They didn't say anything about the name. The information on the official web site of the government of Southern Sudan (GOSS, which sounds like an organization trying to kill James Bond) makes me think it will be "Southern Sudan." I suppose it's their business, but couldn't they come up with something more interesting? "Equitoria" is still kicking around. Or maybe "Bob."

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Useless Article Idea

Lately my work e-mail address has been receiving messages with suggested "article ideas," including the likes of "Lindsay's Leaving Rehab: What Next?" This is what's next: I will continue not to care, though this Craig Ferguson monologue touches on the subject of celebrity rehab in a way that's worth listening to.

I sent the organization that sent me the e-mail an unsubscribe message. Who knows whether that will work.


Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Not Yet Off to Storage

The post-holiday pattern is settling in, even though the season ought to last until January 6. Only a scattering of houses still have Christmas lights aglow; spent Christmas trees are appearing curbside, naked and forlorn; and stores are marking down holiday items 50 percent or 75 percent off, at least in the case of candies whose sale can't be delayed much longer. I got a package of six Russel Stover chocolate santas and snowmen for well under a dollar yesterday. I think they were priced at about $3 not so long ago.

Our tree still stands. It comes down next weekend, with its ornaments packed away for the next 11 months. I suppose one-twelfth of a year isn't too bad a run for seasonal decor.

Speaking of storage, Geof Huth reports that his latest contribution to the archives of the University at Albany has been completed, just before the old year expired. Even though I've known Geof going on 30 years, that wouldn't be of any particular interest to me except that about four years' worth of my correspondence to him has been included in the transfer, as well as my brother Jay's.

Geof calls what we send him "mailart." I call it a hobby based on sending (mostly) postcards to people who will appreciate them. Geof gets more than anyone else because he sends (mostly) postcards in return.

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Monday, January 03, 2011

Mickey Takes an Uppercut

The first meal of the new year was pancakes, made by me. That happens often enough on Saturdays anyway, but this time I had pecans and blackberries on hand to add a little zip to the creations. Ann still asks for pancakes with mouse ears -- you know, like the famed cartoon character. Since blackberries were available, she asked for a face made of those, and watched me add eyes, a nose and a smile.

I had a little trouble with the flip. On a plain pancake, or even a nonrepresentational pancake studded randomly with blackberries, that wouldn't have affected its essential goodness. But since I was going for a smiling face, it looked like Mickey had gotten his jaw dislocated in a bar fight. Maybe he was defending Minnie's honor.

Ann didn't complain too much, eating it all with syrup, and gusto.

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Sunday, January 02, 2011

True Grit Holidays

New Year's Eve 2010: the Great Melt here in northern Illinois. Three or so week's worth of snow started melting in earnest with overnight above-freezing temps early on the 30th. By the 31st, all except the hardiest of snow islands were gone and the air pleasant, like a lost day of spring. A parting gift from the year 2010, which will not be remembered fondly for a while, and then forgotten in its particulars, except by historians and other eccentrics.

I finished True Grit, the Charles Portis novel, on Christmas Day; and saw True Grit, the movie now playing, on New Year's Day. Like a lot of people, I hadn't ever read the book, but had seen and enjoyed the famed earlier movie version, though it's been a good many years now.

The prospect of seeing the new movie led me to the book first, and I was rewarded with the best novel I've read in years. Guess I'm a sucker for books about tough yet sympathetic characters on harrowing journeys as opposed to, say, books about unhappy academics who commit adultery and struggle to write books about unhappy academics who commit adultery.

The Coen brothers' movie hews pretty close to the book, which helped make it satisfying, though they usually make satisfying movies in a lot of other ways, such as by hiring a talented cast and paying close attention to the details of time and place, as they did with True Grit. The arresting visuals, with Texas passing for Oklahoma, greatly added to the effect.

I dragged Lilly, protesting, to see the movie. She's old enough now to see an occasional movie that hasn't been dumbed down for an adolescent audience, male or female. She was one of the youngest members of the New Year's Day audience at the suburban multiplex we visited, a fact she pointed out. But after it was over, she said it was "not bad." High praise indeed for something her dad likes.

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