Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Brief Mild Thematic Elements

Yesterday, a friend of mine and I saw the charming film, Marley and Me, while I was visiting in Austin Texas. I had read the book last year and cried, so I was prepared for it when I saw the movie.


I was just a big ol’ sobbing puddle of goo.

Anyway, while we were watching the half-dozen previews before the actual movie began, we both noticed that one of the upcoming movies was rated PG. Now, whenever a movie is rated something besides ‘G’ there’s always a disclaimer to say why it was rated a certain way.

For example, if a movie is rated ‘R’ they’ll say something like “Contains graphic violence, nudity, and strong sexual content” or something like that. A ‘PG-13’ movie might say “Contains strong language and brief nudity.”

This PG-rated film said it contained, (are you ready for this?) “Brief mild thematic elements.”

Could anything BE more vague?

What the hell does that mean?

I can just see it now – a young couple trying to decide if their 10 year old kid should be allowed to see Marley and Me because it’s rated PG.

Wife: Honey, do you think we should let Cooper see Marley and Me? It’s rated PG because of brief mild thematic elements.

Husband: I don’t know, honey. Didn’t we agree that he wouldn’t be exposed to thematic elements until he was twelve?

Wife: Well, it really is a cute movie. I read the book last year and I didn’t notice any really strong thematic elements in it.

Husband: Well, I guess it’ll be okay. After all, it did say that the thematic elements were brief.

Wife: And also mild.

I really wonder what the Motion Picture Association of America meant by this description?

Hmmm. Come to think of it, most of the dates I go on contain nothing more than brief mild thematic elements.

Oh, by the way, when you go see Marley and Me, there’s a scene where the lead character played by that blond guy (I can’t remember names) is surprised with a birthday party. While the guests are singing Happy Birthday, one of the guests is none other than Dave Barry, the humor columnist from the Miami Herald.

I thought that was pretty cool.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

The No. 5 Washtub

I'm still going through old photographs and scanning them while I'm visiting my parents.

Anyway, a while back, dear Speck over at Worms Puppies Barbecue mentioned a No. 5 washtub and inquired if anyone knew what one was.

I sure did. My grandmother in Texas kept several of them around for us kids when we'd visit.

You see, back in the day before air conditioning, a washtub was the perfect way for a kid to cool off in the hot humid weather of the South. Grandma would appear with washtubs, plop them in the back yard and a stripped-down kid would have a ball, splashing around in the cool water from the garden hose.

So, here is proof of my No. 5 washtub heritage. I'm the one holding the hose, accompanied by my brother and cousins.


Scenes from the Past

I was rummaging through some old family photographs last night and came across two pics of me that I haven't seen in 30 years.

I was a freshman in college at the time and my new best friend, Eileen, was studying photography as a journalism major.

She had me pose so that she could take some black-n-white photos outdoors. I was really kind of shocked when I came across these photos last night.

Was I ever this young?

Thursday, December 25, 2008

While at O'Hare. . .

This morning while I was waiting for my flight to Houston, the plane was about to board and I heard the following announcement:

"Passenger Buckner Wheat, please report to the customer service desk. . . "

. . . Ruh roh. . .

It was good news, actually.

It turns out that there was a family that wanted to sit together. I guess the airplane people figured out that I was a poor schmuck traveling alone on Christmas day and wouldn't mind being shuffled to another seat.

The good news was that the other seat to which they wanted to shuffle me was in the emergency row.

I've always preferred the emergency row until the greedy airplane people started charging ninety dollars extra for those seats with the extra leg room. I guess no one was buying those extra special seats anymore and now the airplane people wanted to put me there.


Of course I obliged. I love the emergency row because:
1. I'm 6'3" and need the extra leg room
2. If the airplane falls to the ground in a firey crash, I'll be the first one to leap to safety.

Actually, I would have gladly been shuffled to any seat on the plane so that a family could sit together. Families should be together on a flight especially if little ones are involved. And especially on Christmas day.

I'll be with mine soon enough.

While Connecting in Houston. . .

I just arrived in Houston and am awaiting my connection.

I did have quite a culinary treat here at the airport in Houston. Right as I walked into the terminal, there was one of my favorite restaurants down here, Pappadeaux. It serves Cajun seafood fare that is really outstanding.

I had three hours before my connection, so I thought, “When in Texas, do as the Texans.”

I was surprised to find that this Pappadeaux featured a seafood buffet for lunch. Cool! I had blackened catfish, shrimp etouffè, spicy boiled shrimp, fried catfish and shrimp gumbo.

But you may know by now that I love oysters on the half shell so I had the waiter bring me a half dozen of those too.

Hey, I was all alone in an airport on Christmas day. So I treated myself to a pretty fantastic Christmas dinner down on the Texas Gulf Coast.

In a couple of hours I’ll board the little bitty airplane on Aero Guacamolè that will take me to my little bitty home town southwest of Houston.

I’m not too particularly fond of that little plane, but the airport in my home town is only a couple of miles from my mom’s house. The convenience factor trumps the scariness factor.
Most of the time.

Morning Scene - At the Airport

I've arrived early at O'Hare for my flight to Texas. I was walking toward the subway to take the train this morning, but it was 5 degrees, windy, and the sidewalks were very very very icy and slippy. It rained most of yesterday, then the temperature plummeted.
I SO hailed a cab.

And look what I saw at the airport. The sign for Hudson News featured my apartment building.

I really love where I live. I can see Michigan from my house!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Lizzies

I’m sure every family has holiday traditions when it comes to food (one of my favorite subjects).

One that we had in our family was my grandmother’s Christmas cookies, called “Christmas Lizzies.” It turns out that a “lizzie” is a type of cookie but I’ve only seen recipes for Christmas Lizzies.

It’s basically a fruit cake in cookie form. Oh, and my grandmother was called ‘Budgie.’

As a kid, I’d know Christmas was right around the corner when packages of dates, raisins, walnuts, and candied fruit in various colors would appear in Budgie's kitchen.

I don’t know what started Budgie making these Christmas lizzies and I don’t recall anyone actually enjoying them a great deal. After all, they were basically fruit cake in cookie form; hardly as appetizing as, say, a chocolate chip cookie.

The thing that was so unique about Budgie’s Christmas lizzies was that the recipe called for 8 oz. of Mogen David concord grape wine. And we were strict Southern Baptists. And Southern Baptists are totally, without a doubt against drinking alcohol or even attending an event where alcohol is served.

Southern Baptists have the reputation for being against dancing. I can tell you that that’s not true. They don’t have anything against dancing per se. After all, it was Budgie who taught me how to dance with a girl when I was 13, and she could do one hell of a Charleston.

No, it's not dancing they're against. It’s just that where ever dancing takes place, there’s alcohol.
Bowling is a very questionable activity for Southern Baptists. There’s always beer served at bowling alleys.

Here's a joke: (my own, thank you)

Q: Why are Southern Baptists against pre-marital sex?

A: Because it could lead to drinking!

So, I remember when Budgie would start making the batter for the lizzies. A hush would fall over the house as she would bring out the bottle of Mogen David from its Secret Hiding Place in her kitchen. It was pretty ominous. Really.

Oh, and I have to tell you that it was always pretty funny regarding the means by which she’d obtain the bottle of wine. After all, this was a town of 1,700 people and it had one liquor store. There was no way Budgie could be seen in there, for crying out loud.

One bottle of Mogen David would make about three recipes of lizzies. So, it was a tradition that every three years, our next door neighbor, Letitia, who was a dear friend of Budgie’s, would buy it for her.

After all, they were Presbyterians.

Anyway, here is Budgie’s recipe for Christmas Lizzies:

2 1/2 cups golden raisins
1 1/4 cups chopped dates
1 cup Mogen David concord grape wine
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 pound light brown sugar
3 eggs
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 cups chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
1 pound red and green candied cherries, halved

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare cookie sheets by lining with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, toss together the golden raisins and dates with the wine; set aside.

2. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter. Add the eggs one at a time, mix until light and fluffy. Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg; stir into the creamed mixture. Stir in the walnuts, pecans, cherries, and finally, the raisin and wine mixture.

3. Drop cookies by rounded tablespoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart. Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for 1 minute before removing to cool on wire racks.


Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Postcards From the Edge

Forty years ago today, do you remember what was happening?

I sure do. It was the famous Apollo 8 mission; the first time humans circled the moon. That was the mission that showed the earth rising over the moon’s surface while the astronauts read the first ten verses of Genesis as it was broadcast back to Earth on Christmas day.
Remember that?

I was only eight years old, but I was already a little space-nerd. The sixties was a great time for a kid to wallow in space-nerdity. The Soviet space program continually beat the Americans to the punch with the first space flight, the first human in space, the first human orbiting the earth, and the first space-walk.

And then there was Apollo 8 and that iconic photo of the earth from the moon.

You’ll often read that that photograph was the first time that the earth was seen from the moon and that this was the first time humans had seen the dark side of the lunar surface. But it wasn’t. The Russians had already seen that sight over a month before the Apollo 8 astronauts were circling the moon.

On November 14, 1968, an unmanned Russian spacecraft transmitted this photograph after orbiting the moon, though the Soviet government seldom published it.

As a matter of fact, the Soviets had been orbiting the moon and photographing the dark side as early as 1965 with three other similar missions the following year. On February 3, 1966, Luna 9 had even landed on the moon and transmitted photographs of the lunar surface to earth. Luna 10 achieved another moon landing later that year.

I think this was typical of the differences between the American and Soviet space missions. The Americans, true to form, were in it for the sensationalism, the fame and notoriety.

Meanwhile the Soviets were quietly sending scads of scientific missions to the moon, to Venus and even two of them that orbited the sun – well before that iconic flight of Apollo 8, forty years ago today.

I wish I’d known about all those Soviet missions back when I was a kid in the 60s. That would have been so incredibly interesting and entertaining.

Instead, the idiotic Cold War kept so many of us little space-nerds in the dark.

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Portia Gets a Treat

I’ve been doggy-sitting for Portia the past few days. Each night around 8 pm, she gets a treat which is just about the high point in her day.

Well, aside from sniffing dog urine outside. I call it “reading her p-mail.”

Anyway, part of the evening-treat-routine entails the following. I say, “Are you a good dog?” and she starts bounding up and down.

Then I say, “What do good dogs get?” and the bounding becomes more energetic.

It culminates in “Do good dogs get TREATS?” She just about loses it then.

She really can understand the phrase, “Are you a good dog?” because I disguise it among other dialog just to make sure.

Check out this cute little video from last night.

Oh, and her treat is comprised of a sweet potato. She loves them.

Check it out. Click here.


Homeward Bound

I’ll be flying home to Texas for Christmas on Christmas Day. I’m really looking forward to it, as my new rolling garment bag will have its inaugural trip. I have to admit that I get very excited over new luggage. I don’t know why.

I also have to admit that I’ll miss the winter weather we’ve been having here in Chicago. It’s supposed to be 78 degrees in south Texas on Christmas day.

That’s just wrong.

My flight will take me to Houston on a regular-sized airplane. By “regular-sized” I mean one big enough on which one may obtain a bloody mary if you so desire.

In Houston, I will traverse Continental Airline’s Terminal C which is actually larger than Houston itself. Then I'll take a shuttle-thing to Continental Airline’s Terminal B-5ZX-R-2.5 where the mini-sized airplanes are located.

By “mini-sized” I mean one small enough so that the pilot can reach back and swat at unruly passengers, much like mom would do to my brother and me when we were little.

The mini-airplane will take me, if I’m lucky, to my little bitty home town which is located halfway between Houston and Corpus Christi Texas. You know, where the Texas Gulf Coast sort of curves downward toward Mexico, that nation that buffers Texans from most hurricanes each summer.

There used to be about four or five flights from Houston to my little-bitty home town. Now, Continental Airlines has whittled it down to only one daily flight. If you miss that connection, you’re pretty much stuck in Houston until Memorial Day.

I’m really wondering what they do with the mini-plane once it lands in my little bitty home town. The next flight back to Houston isn’t until 6:20 AM the next morning. Does the pilot have to stay there? Does the mini-plane just remain next to the mini-terminal overnight?

These are questions that I must find the answers to when I get down there.

Anyway, I will be in the Frito Pie Crescent for nine days and I’m looking forward to it.

The best thing about flying into the little bitty airport is seeing my mom’s face against the glass as I look out of the window of the airplane. I hope everyone has someone whose face is against the glass upon their arrival.

Oh, and I also enjoy the cows scurrying to get off the runway.

Morning Scene - Frozen River

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

The Chicago River is freezing over. Soon the whole thing will be solid white from shore to shore.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Away in a Manger

Miss Healthypants asked me to re-run my Christmas scene.
Here you go.

December 1969:
I was a bearded Joseph at my church's nativity play and my friend, Beth, got to be Mary.

All we had to do was to walk out, stand there, and gaze at the baby Jesus which consisted of a doll in a cradle festooned with hay. Beth was to kneel beside the cradle and I was to stand beside her with my hand on her shoulder while the shepherds and wise men did their thing.

That's it!

However, some pranksters (i.e. my younger brother and his friends) had crossed the eyes on the doll just before the play began.

Beth and I ended up having to gaze at this psychotic-looking doll the entire time. Needless to say, we turned into a couple of out-of-control nine year olds by the time the narrator read, "and wrapped him in swaddling clothes."

That got me to thinking about the manger scenes that are displayed every year, especially the original one on December 25, 0000.

Everyone is always displayed gazing upon the baby Jesus with these looks of adoration, but I've often thought, "Just how long did they have to do this?"

Our nativity play took about 15 minutes, tops, yet it seemed like forever. So, how long did everyone really stand there gazing at the baby? An hour? Two? Until sunrise?

And who decided how long they had to do this? Did they get bathroom breaks? Did they take a break when Mary had to change his swaddling clothes?

I can just imagine how it went:

Shepherd #1: (pokes Shepherd #2) Psssst! Say, how long are we supposed to stand here and look at this kid?

Shepherd #2: Beats me. Maybe that guy with the myrrh knows something.

Shepherd #1: What the hell is myrrh, anyway?

Angels: (in three-part harmony) Aaaahhhhhh! Aaaaahhhhh!

Mary: If Joseph suggests this 'natural child-birth' thing next time, he's gonna end up with that staff around his neck. God! I wish I'd gone with the epidural. . . .

(Donkey suddenly pees all over the straw)

Shepherd #3: Hey. Did you guys remember to shut the gate on the flocks we were watching by night?

Shepherd #1: I told Shepherd #2 to get it on the way out. We're good.

Angels: Aaaahhhhhh! Aaaaahhhhh!

Mary: Joseph. . . . Hey! Joseph (snaps fingers) Did you remember to pick up some disposable swaddling clothes like I had asked you?

Wise Man #2: The kid's still crying. I don't think he likes frankincense

Wise Man #3: He didn't seem to care for the myrrh either. He seems more interested in the box it came in.

Wise Man #1: (looking up in the sky) Where'd that star go? Hey. You guy's know the way back?

Wise Man #2: Beats me. I'm terrible with directions.

Mary: (sigh) It's west, you fool! . . . . Dammit! Would somebody tell that little boy to knock it off with the drumming?

Shepherd #1: Seriously guys. Just how long are we supposed to hang around? I'm hungry!

Angels: Aaaahhhhhh! Aaaaahhhhh! (cough! cough!) Did anyone bring any Sucrets?

Mary: God, get me outta here . . .

. . . Joseph! Please tell me you remembered to call the day-care back in Nazareth!

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Morning Scene - None

I don't have a morning scene today. When I tried to take a photo, the lens kept fogging up because it was friggin seven degrees below zero this morning. (Minus 22 with the wind chill)

I'm doggy-sitting for Portia for a few day and we were out for our morning walk at 5:30 this morning. And see? Even CNN mentioned how cold it was:

But Portia's Labradorian genes just kick in and she just prances around in the cold as if this was Labrador or something.

I don't very much prance when it's minus 22 and I haven't yet had my coffee. Believe me, the minute those dog-doots hit the snow, she's yanked back in the house.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Rocket

Playland Park was an old fashioned amusement park near downtown San Antonio, which opened in 1947. I have an incredibly fond history with Playland Park.

I remember being about five or six years old and being amazed at their signature ride, a wooden roller coaster called The Rocket. To me, it looked like the most terrifying ride in the world.

I remember my dad and I watching the coaster and him explaining how it would gain enough speed from the first drop to make it coast up to the top of the second hill. I just thought that was the coolest thing ever.

My dad had grown up riding this same coaster and wanted to take me on it but there was no way I was going to get on it. Besides, I didn’t see any little kids riding it – only teenagers and the like – so I told my dad I would ride it when I was nine.
To me, nine years old seemed like “big kid” and, surely, I’d be brave enough to ride it then.

(I wasn’t)

Flash forward to 1972.

I was in the eighth grade and my mom took me and my friends to Playland Park for the day. All my friends were having a blast on The Rocket, but still, I was too afraid to conquer it. However, I got my best friend, Tim, to take my little pocket camera on board and snap this photo as it crested the lift hill.

A few days later when I got the photos developed, I was just amazed at the sight, looking down the first plunge of the terrifying ride. Frankly, I’m pretty amazed that the photo turned out this good, especially since a cheap little pocket camera had been used.

I love this photo.

Flash forward to 1980.

I was a junior in college and some friends of mine and I were in San Antonio for the weekend. Somehow, I convinced them to go to Playland Park for the day.

There, at the end of the midway was The Rocket, the source of my chickening out year after year. Finally, I rode the thing and just loved it.

I think I rode it about five times that day.

It’s a good thing I did, for the very next year, Playland Park closed forever and was abandoned. For several years after that, I’d drive past and see my old friend, The Rocket, becoming more and more weather beaten in the weeds.

Here’s a photo of what’s left of Playland Park in San Antonio.

I don't think there's anything more sad than an abandoned amusement park.

Epilogue: Strangely enough, the defunct old coaster was given new life. It was purchased by a small amusement park in Pennsylvania, dismantled piece by piece, refurbished and re-opened as The Phoenix. (A very appropriate name) It operates to this day at Knoebel’s Amusement Park in Elysburg, Pennsylvania.

Here's a photo of it after having been resurrected as The Phoenix:

I hear it still provides one hell of a ride.
One of these days, I’d love to go there and ride my old friend.

To me, it will always be The Rocket

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Morning Scene - Cloud Gate

Here's a photo taken from our office window looking down at the snow-covered Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park. The ice rink is next to it.
BTW- this is a color photograph.

It's a cold, snowy, sloppy day in Chicago.

Here's the Cloud Gate sculpture in more clement weather

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Thursday, December 18, 2008

The B-word

To those of you who seemed surprised that I once called a police officer a bitch, well, here’s the story. . .

Back in 1987, I was involved in a car accident. I was visiting my aunt in a suburb of Dallas when it occurred. I was traveling in a line of cars through an intersection (the light was green), a 17 year-old kid suddenly turned left in front of me and I broadsided him.

No one was hurt, but there was significant damage to his car and mine.

The police officer ticketed the kid for making an illegal left turn and told me I could obtain his report at the police station.

Fine. I didn’t call him a bitch.

That night, the kid’s father called me at my aunt’s house. It turned out that he was an employee of the sheriffs department or something like that.

Anyway, he asked if I’d be willing to have my insurance company pay for their damages and have their insurance pay for my damages since their damages were much more significant and their insurance would go way up if it looked like the kid was at fault.

I wasn’t willing to do that and he got mad.

Fine. I didn’t call him a bitch.

The next day, I went to the police station and, miraculously, the report indicated that both parties were at fault (even though I was not issued a citation). I asked the nice lady if I could have documentation of the police officer’s citation that he had given to the kid. She said there was no way I could. And she said it very rudely to me.

I was feeling really jerked around by that pont.

That was not fine.

As I walked out the door, I said “Bitch!” and left.

When I got back to my aunt’s house, the phone was ringing. It was the chief of police and he was mad. It turns out that the nice lady behind the counter was a police officer and he was rather displeased that I called one of his officers a bitch.

He demanded that I return, apologize to his officer, or else he would send an officer over to arrest me.

I was thinking that there was probably nothing in the penal code that made it an offense to call a police officer a name. I’m sure they get called names all the time, not that that’s appropriate or anything. Still, I’d always made it a point to avoid having a criminal record so I went back.

I apologized. I told the officer that it wasn’t like me to call anyone a name, I could imagine how that must have felt, etc. (I basically laid the bullshit on really thick – I am good at that).

It was really humiliating, nonetheless, and I was even more sure that they couldn’t have arrested me for it. I also felt jerked around that the police record of the accident had been changed. And besides, she had really been rude to me in the first place.

She was pleasant enough and thanked me for apologizing.

As I walked out the door, I made sure no one could hear me . . .

I said “Bitch!” and left.

Let it Snow, Let it Snow. . .

It looks like we are in for one doozy of a winter storm today.

The thing is, right now as we're all arriving at work it's not snowing at all. But later in the day, the forecast says we're supposed to get 7 to 11 inches of snow and sleet with a half inch of ice as well -- just as the afternoon commute begins.

I am so glad I live just six blocks from my workplace, most of which can be traveled through the underground ped-way if I need to.

On the other hand, when my boss lets everyone leave early because of icy road conditions, I'm always the one to stay until the bitter end.

She knows where I live.

Anyway, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. . .
. . . that is, if you live in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Morning Scene - Lunch Plaza

This little plaza where I work is a lovely place to eat one's lunch - - in June

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Eating Slime

Okay, I’ve been playing around with raw food recipes for a while, trying to develop something that actually tastes good and is appealing.

Some raw-foodies call it “energy soup” and after tinkering around with a recipe for it, I think I’ve finally “got it.”

The thing about this is that it really does give you energy. I’ve made it for three days in a row and consume it for dinner and breakfast. I can really say that I feel great and don’t require near as much sleep. It really is pretty remarkable.

Here is my basic recipe, enough for dinner one night and breakfast the next day.

½ bag of fresh spinach

2 carrots

1 cucumber, unpeeled

1 apple

1 avocado or ½ cup of soaked green split peas

A few cashews for protein

A few soaked golden raisins

Juice of one lime.

Dash of salt

Chop everything up a bit and bung it in a blender with about 2 cups of water.

Blitz it.

Yeah, it looks like bright green slime. But it tastes good, you get all your veggies in one go, and it sure keeps you feeling spunky.
The thing is, I'll probably do this healthy-eating-thing for a few more days, then break down and have a giant deep-dish Chicago style pizza delivered. With anchovies.

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You Want Fries With That?

Just when I think I’ve heard it all, here’s the perfect gift for that guy who loves Burger King.

Burger King has announced the sale of “Flame” which is a Whopper-scented body spray. For $3.99, your guy can smell like a Whopper all day.

"Behold, the scent of seduction with flame-broiled meat"

Isn’t that cool?

You can order it here.

I'm just wondering if this will start a new trend in the food service industry. Will places like Taco Bell or Red Lobster come out with their own body sprays?

Hmmm. I can tell you this – As a Chicagoan, I think most guys here would probably prefer a White Castle scent.

I’m just sayin’

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Even though I left Texas eleven years ago and have lived up north since then, (including three years in Toronto) I still get excited over snow and winter weather.

But not as much as this happy dog.

This has got to be one of the cutest videos I've seen in a long time.

Click here.


Morning Scene - Bicycle Rack

Very few people travel the city streets by bicycle after a snow storm.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Newest Addition to the Family

Everyone in my family just got “bumped up” one notch with the arrival of my niece’s baby boy. I am now a great-uncle for the first time.

You see, this baby is the first one of a new generation for both sides of his family. This baby’s great-grandfather is my father. My younger brother is a grandfather.

My niece and her husband are in their early 20s and live in England, as he is in the military. The little guy arrived six weeks early, but he and mommie are doing fine.

The thing about my great-nephew is that his name is Joseph VI. That’s right. Joseph the Sixth.

Apparently, he comes from a long line of Josephs, so it’s my guess that there wasn’t much question regarding what his name would be.

It's a good thing I didn’t have a kid and had been expected to carry on a familial tradition like that.

I would have ended up naming the kid something like ‘Percy.’

80 Above, 8 Below

Today, my nice boss took the staff for a lovely lunch on the 80th floor which is at the top of the building where we work.

It's snowing and the temp is 8 below zero. (Celsius)

Here are some snaps of Chicago from 80 stories up.
Looking northwest toward the Trump Tower:

Looking west across downtown:

And, no, this photo is not upside down. It's looking east across Lake Michigan. That's ice covering a good part of the lake. It reminds me of the opening scene in the movie, Fargo; one of my favorite movies:

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Following One's Dreams

Yesterday, I conducted a workshop for students with developmental disabilities in a suburb far, far away. It was about how to go about finding a job, how to interview, etc.

The temperature was nearing absolute zero on the Kelvin scale, but nonetheless, I was still traipsing around out there.

Anyway, the kids were very enthusiastic and I really enjoyed interacting with them. It’s nice to get out of the office ever so often and into the Real World.

At one point, I was making the point that each of us should know what type of job we want or what we’re good at. So, I went around the room and had each kid say where they would like to work if they had their choice of anywhere they wanted.

One girl with Down syndrome said she’d like to work in a daycare center because she liked kids. Another wanted to sell jewelry. Another wanted to work in an office with computers.

Finally, I came to this one particularly enthusiastic young fellow. I said, “Joey, where would you like to work if you could work anywhere you wanted?”

He thought and thought about it. Finally, he broke out with a big smile and you know what he said?

“The Olive Garden.”


He got a hug afterwards.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Morning Scene - Frozen Lake

It's really cold here. Lake Michigan is freezing over.

Ten Things

Ten things I've never done:

1. Watched Casablanca

2. Watched Gone With the Wind

3. Watched Star Wars

4. Eaten a Rice Krispie Treat

5. Been to California

6. Watched an entire football game

7. Played tennis

8. Been to a temple or synagogue

9. Grown a beard or mustache

10. Been summoned for jury duty

Ten things I’ve done only once and will never do again:

1. Shot a firearm

2. Eaten liver

3. Tried water skiing

4. Called a police officer a bitch

5. Traveled to Mississippi

6. Gone nude at a nude beach

7. Jumped off a high diving board

8. Driven a car over 100 mph

9. Eaten chicken enchiladas

10. Watched It's a Wonderful Life

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Christmas Letter

Have you ever received one of those honor-yourself Christmas letters from a friend or family member?

I wrote this one a couple of years ago and am re-running it for your reading pleasure. It's from Ella-Maureen Doogie of Durant, Oklahoma:

Seasons Greetings from the Doogie family!

What a great year it’s been for us! Rudd, the girls and I are still here in Durant and doing just fine! The good Lord’s truly blessed us all this year.

First of all, we’re buying Aunt Jeena’s double-wide next month!!!! We were finally able to get that bank loan now that mama’s court case was dismissed and she was able to co-sign. We could surely use the extra room, especially since we just found out that Rudd Jr. may be up for probation earlier than expected!!!

That was sure a turn of bad luck for him, especially just after having been accepted to trade school and all! It’ll be so good to have that boy home again!

Our youngest daughter, Sue-Deen, finally graduated from 8th grade!!!! In September, she even made the drill team at Durant High!!!! We really enjoyed going to all the football games every Friday night to see her on the squad. She had to take October off on account of that “no pass no play” rule but after she dropped English, she was back on the field in no time.

Rudd took a bad fall and had to quit his job at the car wash last summer. We used the same lawyer Aunt Jeena had from her casino law suit and got a real nice settlement. Rudd still can’t work, but he’s drawing workman’s comp so we’re doing just fine!

After the lawyer fees were paid, we had enough money to give daughter Brittany a really nice Sweet Sixteen party last month. Praise the Lord, she’s finally quit smoking!! I told her over and over that she was setting a really bad example for her girls. I think the cost finally got to her, especially since the girls’ fathers can’t pay child support anymore. She also saw how big a chunk those cigarettes was taking from her SSI checks. Don't tell anyone, but Brittany’s even thinking of getting her G.E.D!!!!

Uncle Booger’s his usual, crazy self. It turns out he’s been on the wrong medication all this time!

I’ve been awfully busy myself! Last month, I signed up for those credit restoration classes down at the community center. I’m gonna need good credit because after we get that double-wide, I plan on opening up that day-care center I’ve always wanted to own!!!! Here in Oklahoma, you don’t need a license to operate a day-care in your own home like in other places, so it ought to be real easy.

Since we'll have all that extra room in the double-wide, Rudd's also thinking of combining my day-care with a firearm repair center that he's always dreamed of opening. We'll both be business owners!!! It'll also give Uncle Booger something to do during the day.

On a sad note, we had to put Rascal down right after Thanksgiving. After having been blind for so long, he finally wandered out on the highway and was hit by a Piggly-Wiggly truck. With his broken hip, it was the only humane thing to do. It’s a good thing we hadn’t yet pawned Rudd Jr’s shotgun like he’d asked us to.

Rudd and I will be celebrating our 20th anniversary next year!! Can you believe it’s been 20 years already? We’re thinking of going all-out by celebrating it in Las Vegas!!! We've always wanted to go there and who knows? We might even go crazy get married there! We'll be sure to send you all a post card!!!!

Here’s hoping that you all have a Very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Until next time,

Lots of Love From Ella-Maureen and the Doogies!

The New Governor's Mansion in Illinois

Since Blago refuses to step down, my guess is that they'll just transfer the governor's mansion to the correctional facility in Joliet Illinois.


Remember When. . .

With all the ugliness going on right now with politics in Illinois, I thought that posting some memories of election night would be a nice antedote.

Here are Iwanski and Danny Wanny, monitoring minute-by-minute election results via multiple wireless devices.

Meanwhile, Miss Healthypants encourages the opening of champagne.

And a cork is popped.

A very happy crowd gives a toast to our new leader.

From left to right:
Iwanski's sister and nephew, Iwanski, Miss Healthypants, Karen (Mrs. Wanny) and Danny Wanny.

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Morning Scene - State & Lake

If you're heading south from this intersection, there are a lot of options. The 2, 6, 10, 29, 36, 62, 144, and 146 bus lines all stop at the corner of State St. and Lake St. in downtown Chicago.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blogging About Blagojevich Some More

When I heard about our governor's incredibly smarmy dealings, my first thought was, "There goes our chances of hosting the Olympics."

You see, Chicago is one of four cities selected to host the 2016 Olympic Games. The other cities are Tokyo, Madrid, and Rio de Janeiro.

However, his actions don't appear to be having any negative impact on our bid as mentioned in this article. But you never know.

Oh, and I have a vested interest in Chicago hosting the Games. You see, if the Olympics are held here, I am SO going to rent out my downtown apartment and make a bucket of money.

I plan on renting it out for, like, $1,000 per day.

Or to the highest bidder.

You know.

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Morning Scene - Electrical Housing Thing

This electrical housing thingie is on the corner of Wabash and Lake St.

Normally, one doesn’t notice these things, but this guy I used to be friends with is a project engineer and designs them. Really. That’s all he does.

He flies all over the U.S. and Canada where these things are made, meeting with manufacturers, tweaking the designs, etc. We’d be driving along and he’d point to one of these somewhere, get all excited and say, “Now, why would they use a Model XK47B at that location?” and I’m thinking, “Geez, dude, you really need a more exciting job.”

I shouldn’t berate one’s profession. Thank god there are people like my friend, Dan, who are willing to make things we need but nobody thinks about.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Back in the Saddle Again

On Sunday, I actually went to church. A Catholic church. There was incense and everything.

You see, a friend of mine found this Catholic parish in Chicago that actually performs really good music.

By “really good music” I mean none of that guitar mass insanity or songs from that horrible Catholic songbook called “Gather” -- Horrid, treacley songs like On Eagles Wings that make breakfast suddenly rise in my throat.


By “really good music”, I mean four-part choral works in Latin composed no later than 1600, like God intended.

So, I went to check it out on Sunday. This church has a Mass in Latin at 11:00 and a “Tridentine” Mass at 12:30, also in Latin. I opted for the Tridentine Mass just because I’d been to only one before in my whole life.

For those of you who are wondering what a Tridentine Mass is, (and I’m sure you’re all on the edge of your seats), it’s the Mass that they used to do back before the Vatican reform in 1965 (Vatican II). It’s the old rite -- the one where the priest has his back to the congregation while little old ladies in head shawls finger their rosaries.

There’s not a lot of audience participation in the Tridentine rite. Hardly any at all. Every once and a while, the priest sings “Dominus vobiscum” (The lord be with you) and everyone chants “Et cum spiritu tuo.” (And with your spirit). But that’s about it.

There were lots of altar boys doing their altar-choreography. No alter girls at all, no siree. These were all clean-cut adolescent Caucasian boys and lots of them. It was sort of creepy.

There were two choirs on hand during the service. One was all men, singing the parts of the Mass in Gregorian chant. The other was a 16 voice mixed chorus singing lots of Palestrina. God was pleased, I could tell.

There was a recessional hymn at the end with a rousing pipe organ accompanying it. Finally, a chance for the congregation to sing.

But, typical of folks attending a Tridentine mass, none of them sang. Those attendees seldom do – they’re there to let the priest do all the work and then get besmudged with incense. For them, Vatican II is just a vicious rumor.

Now, having been raised a Protestant, I was appalled that no one was singing. Martin Luther would have been rolling over in his grave.

If they wanted to stand there like a gum drop, fine. But I sure wasn’t going to let their apathy keep me from making a joyful noise.

During the third line of the hymn, the melody rose to some higher notes and I was just letting loose with the inner-tenor in me.

Right then, this little kid in front of me spun around and just stared at me. I really wanted to lean over and hiss at him, “It’s called SINGING, you little urchin. And your mommie and daddy are going straight to hell if they don’t start piping up!”

Anyway, I called the choir director yesterday and I’ll be auditioning for two of the choirs this evening.
It looks like I’m back in the saddle. . .

Sleeping with Anderson Cooper

No, I really didn't do that.

But I do sleep with CNN going all night. This proclivity of mine helps me sleep -- I don't know why but it does.

However, Anderson does often seep into my unconsciousness and causes some pretty strange dreams sometimes.

For example, last night I dreamt that I was kissing Hillary Clinton and her mouth was full of peas.

Go figure.

Morning Scene - That First Cup

I took a cab to work this morning because it was windy, raining, and very cold. Not a bad way to spend five bucks.

So, my morning scene is my first cup of coffee. Fortunately, my workplace has a really good coffee service that they provide for the staff.

And for that, I am truly grateful.

Blogging About Blagojevich

Our governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, has just been arrested by the FBI on charges that he accepted bribes to appoint Obama's successor:

"Federal authorities arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich Tuesday on charges that he brazenly conspired to sell or trade the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by President-elect Barack Obama to the highest bidder.
Blagojevich also was charged with illegally threatening to withhold state assistance to Tribune Co., the owner of the Chicago Tribune, in the sale of Wrigley Field, according to a federal criminal complaint. In return for state assistance, Blagojevich allegedly wanted members of the paper's editorial board who had been critical of him fired.
A 76-page FBI affidavit said the 51-year-old Democratic governor was intercepted on court-authorized wiretaps over the last month conspiring to sell or trade the vacant Senate seat for personal benefits for himself and his wife, Patti. Otherwise, Blagojevich considered appointing himself. The affidavit said that as late as Nov. 3, he told his deputy governor that if "they're not going to offer me anything of value I might as well take it."
"I'm going to keep this Senate option for me a real possibility, you know, and therefore I can drive a hard bargain," Blagojevich allegedly said later that day, according to the affidavit, which also quoted him as saying in a remark punctuated by profanity that the seat was "a valuable thing --you just don't give it away for nothing."

It's such a shame. He has such pretty hair.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Morning Scene - Baby Christmas Trees

These itty bitty Christmas trees along the plaza of Marina City and the Chicago River add a festive touch to the holiday season.

Unfortunately, someone had thrown up just a few feet from where I had taken this photo (not pictured).

Friday, December 05, 2008

A Must-Read

Well, it looks like O. J. Simpson got sentenced today.

Fifteen years for a first offense seems like a lot. . .

But I hear he's already working on a new book, "How I Would Have Robbed That Hotel Room in Vegas."


It's Festivus Season

A few years ago, I gave a Festivus Pole to my friends, Jack and Steve and Portia, as we are big fans of Seinfeld.

Well, they don't celebrated Festivus like they used to, so Jack gave it back to me yesterday.

It's the only holiday decoration I've ever displayed - - - ever.

But that simple, high-tensile strength aluminum pole just gives me a warm feeling whenever I look at it.

Isn't it pretty, with the warm glow of the TV shining upon it?

The Iwanskis have been invited over for the traditional "Airing of Grievances" on the 23rd.
Sigh. . . It's truly the holiday season now.


So Long, Alta Vista!

This is so cool.

Google now has a translation service that's pretty impressive. You can enter phrases or websites to translate to a multitude of languages.

Click here for Google Translate.

I tried some phrases that I knew in Spanish, translating them from English to Spanish and was really impressed at how bad my Spanish was.

Here is my blog in Spanish:

And Arabic

How about Russian?


Morning Scene - The Gourmet Pantry

One sort of needs to be a spelunker to get into the little cave of this place.

Do not be deceived, though. This little place has everything: a deli, produce section, lots of unusual food items, even some hardware and a decent wine selection. You wind your way through several rooms and eventually to a back entrance that’s accessible to the underground ped-way.

It’s only a block from where I work, on the way home, and awfully convenient when you need a little sumpm for dinner.

(Sorry if the pic was blurry, but it was 7 degrees and very windy this morning – typical Chicago in December)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

The Best Sarah Palin Interview Ever

Yesterday, as I was getting my hair cut, the woman who does my hair told me about this Sarah Palin interview.

Apparently, Palin had gone to a turkey farm outside of Wasilla and had just pardoned a turkey for Thanksgiving. She then continued on with an interview.

However, over her shoulder, turkeys continued to be “processed” all through the three-minute interview.

Shirley, my hair stylist, told me about it and I really didn’t believe her.

Lo, and behold, it was true. I found an unedited version for you. (Fox News blurred out the beheading and subsequent flopping around of one turkey).

Keep watching until the very end where Palin mentions that promoting a local business "was fun" and won't be controversial - - while that poor gobbler is thrashing about.

The irony is priceless. Even the writers of Saturday Night Live could not have come up with something this hilarious.

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Morning Scene - Downtown in Winter

When there's lots of precipitation, freezing and thawing, you'll see these signs along the sidewalks among the tall buildings.

It's best to heed their warnings. I've often seen building-bergs come flying down and shatter among the pedestrians.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Sushi and Shoe Shining

My ever-elusive quest to find a gym that I’ll actually go to continues.

You may recall that the Crunch Fitness that was so conveniently located in my apartment building closed down. Subsequently, those of us Crunch members who had been dislocated were provided with discount memberships at another Crunch place five blocks away.

I went there three times in the past two months. Also, since Crunch had closed down MY facility, the other one was always jam-packed. Not only was this other Crunch five blocks away and jam-packed, but they played really loud rap music all the time.

It made it very difficult for me to even hear my Enya and Vivaldi on my iPod.

It was not a happy place.

So, I joined a fancy-schmancy gym today. Actually, it’s not a gym but an athletic club. What’s the difference, you ask?

Well, an athletic club shines your shoes while you work out and also has a sushi bar inside.

Oh, and it also costs twice as much.

But the fancy-schmancy athletic club is next door to my workplace. Actually, it's connected to it. We can even smell the chlorine from the indoor pool in the lobby where I work. I would have to be a comatose amoeba not to get my sorry butt in there.

Please don’t think I have buckets of money with which to join fancy athletic clubs. My workplace gets a discounted membership for us and my workplace also reimburses us for half of any fitness membership we use. It comes out to a pretty sweet deal.

Oh, and this athletic club also has (I am not making this up) Doggy Yoga Class.
It’s called Paws & Flow.
Isn’t that cute? I’m definitely going to bring Portia. She would love it.

Besides the sushi bar and shoe-shining, this facility has an indoor pool, a roof-top pool, a sun deck, an indoor track, laundry services, a spa where they rub strange things on you, a pro shop and valet parking.

And not one scintilla of rap music.

I’m really looking forward to going there.

Still, I’m sort of confused. . . .

. . . Exactly how many calories will I actually burn while eating sushi and having my shoes shined?

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Ho Ho Ho, Happy Holidays

It’s the holiday season. And you know what that means. . .

. . . it’s that joyous time of year when fundamental Christianists begin their campaigns to boycott any department store that advertises “Holiday Specials” instead of “Christmas Specials.”

It’s also that time of year when most department stores try to be over-politically-correct by avoiding every iota of anything to do with “Christmas”.

I recently passed by Macy’s in downtown Chicago and noticed their window displays. It was so obvious that they were trying their best to avoid anything remotely indicating a religious holiday. Each window display simply had words like “SPARKLE” and “SHINE” and "SHIMMER" in big red and silver letters.

That’s just - - - well - - - stupid.

Pretty much the only music you hear in these stores nowadays is the instrumental, Sleigh Ride, over and over. . . .

Anyway, here’s how I look at it.

I’m all for saying “Happy Holidays” because it incorporates the whole gamut of days that we get paid for not coming into work; from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day.

But advertising “Happy Holidays” isn’t reason enough to get your Christian panties in a wad, for crying out loud. I hardly see how that is an affront to one's religious beliefs.

If your belief in Christianity is so fragile that you can’t shop at a store where the employees say, “Have a nice holiday,” then perhaps it’s time to re-think your religious affiliation.

On the other hand, have we become so enamored with inclusiveness and political correctness that we can’t ever mention Christmas at all?

For example, this is not a “holiday tree”.

It’s a freaking Christmas tree. Get over it.

My grandmother always baked Christmas cookies.
She never baked ‘holiday cookies.’

This is a Hanukkah menorah. (Because it has eight candle branches instead of seven)

It’s not a "holiday menorah."

And yes, the Grinch stole Christmas. He did not steal ‘The Holiday.’

In three weeks, I’ll be traveling home for the holidays because I’ll be there during Christmas and New Year’s Day.

While I'm there, we will eat Christmas dinner, not a 'holiday meal'.

So, that's my little rant on all this nonsense.

Good gosh, I’m sounding starting to sound like Andy Rooney. . . .
In the meantime, I do hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season.

Morning Scene - Guard-Pigeon

Due to this little guy's diligence, I've yet to see any bikes locked to this gate.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Eating Healthy

I tried another “raw food” recipe the other night. This time, it was a compelling recipe for “energy soup” that a raw food blogger eats every day. It sounded awfully healthy so I had to try it.

Basically, you put some water in a blender, add fresh greens (I used spinach), an avocado, a cucumber, a bit of apple to sweeten it, and a little lime juice. Then, you hit that ‘puree’ button.

The result?

Liquid lawn in a bowl.

I wish I could get ‘in’ to the raw food recipes for they appear to be awfully healthy. I mean, we should be eating more raw spinach, cucumbers and avocados every day.

But I think when our Cro-Magnon ancestors accidentally charred a bit of food in a fire, they were on to a good thing.

Julia Child added butter and there was no looking back.

The thing is, I had bought four avocados thinking I’d be getting very healthy by eating energy soup all week. The avocados came four-to-a-pack at Trader Joe’s and they all became ripe at the same time.

What to do?

Well, when life hands you avocados. . . .
. . . . you make guacamole.

You also buy corn chips at the little grocery store in the lobby where I live.

And then you lay in front of the TV and have a big, honkin’ bowl of guacamole and chips all to yourself.

If I come up with a recipe for "energy soup" that’s actually appealing, you’ll be the first to know.

Morning Scene - Decorations

These giant Christmas tree balls were on display in the plaza near my workplace. I thought they were pretty cool.

(And yes, they're Christmas tree balls. They go on a giant Christmas tree; not a giant 'holiday tree'.)