Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Chicago 2016

On October 2, the announcement will be made regarding the city that will be chosen to host the 2016 Summer Olympics. The four cities being considered are Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Chicago.

As of now, it looks like Rio and Chicago are neck-and-neck to be the host city. That’s why President Obama has decided at the last minute to head to Copenhagen in order to make an appeal for Chicago.

No president has ever directly lobbied the IOC to host the Games. Even more powerful than Obama, we've sent Oprah to get in on the action as well.

Wouldn’t it be great if Chicago were the host city for the Olympic Games? Host the Games, get a new transit system. Just think of what it could do for the local deep dish pizza economy.

Chicago has a lot to offer, too. A beautiful lakefront, a breathtaking skyline, and a very interesting history.

Why, we could host the shooting events on the site of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre.

Spectators could take a short train ride to visit Michael Jackson's birthplace in nearby Gary, Indiana.

Coverage of the Olympics could coincide with Blagojevich's trial which will, perhaps, begin by 2016.

Chicago has so much to offer. . .

How nice it would be to be able to host several friends and family members at my place in the heart of downtown so that they could be spectators at the glorious Olympic Games? Wouldn’t that be a generous offer to make? Shall I plan on doing that?

Rub a lamp!!

I don’t want to sound heartless, but can you just imagine how much cash I could rake in by sub-leasing my apartment during the Games? It's located within 5 minutes of most of the venues. Just imagine how much a 50th floor downtown apartment could go for, especially at the last minute.

(My friends, Jack and Steve have already said I could stay with them during the Games. I would, of course, give them a cut of the proceeds.)

If they announce “Chicago” on Friday, I shall gladly pump my fist for all who have worked so hard to bring the 2016 Games to this beautiful city. But in reality, I'll be thinking

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Monday, September 28, 2009

He Wasn't Making This Up

The first thing I do every Monday morning (after pummeling the snooze button seventeen times) is to read Dave Barry’s column online.

The guy’s a brilliant comedic writer who actually got to meet me at one of his book signings about twenty years ago. No doubt, that was a high point in his career which I'm sure he remembers with great fondness.

He’ll often take an obscure news story then turn and twist it with his hilarious observations. Sometimes, I’m a bit envious of his abilities, but then again, he got to meet me at his book signing so I guess we’re even.

Today’s article is about a guy in Minnesota – okay, that’s funny already – who is making wine out of caterpillars, namely, army worms.

At first, I thought Dave Barry was making this up, even though he often uses the phrase, “I’m not making this up!” So, after doing some extensive, journalistic research on my own, (I googled “army worm” and “wine”) it turns out this story was true.

He really wasn’t making this up.

Check out http://www.armywormwine.com/

Apparently, there was this guy in Minnesota, (okay, stop laughing) Ray Reigstad, who likes to make all kinds of wines as a hobby and there were lots of these “army worm” caterpillars on his property. He had heard about someone else who used to make wine from army worms “back in the day” so he tried it himself.

He gathered about seven pounds of worms in plastic buckets, poured boiling water over them to kill them instantly, mashed them up, added sugar and let it ferment.

Then, he strained out the army worm mash (letting it drip through a strainer making sure to get all the “army worm flavor”) and bottled it.

Only one bottle exploded.

Apparently, it tastes pretty good. Four local wine connoisseurs were invited to taste the wine and described it as dry, pale and crisp. They compared it to a pinot grigio or white Bordeaux.

One said it would probably go well with walleye which is a popular fish in Minnesota. (Why do you laugh every time I mention Minnesota?)

Unfortunately, one can’t buy it on the internet. I would like to try it, but I can’t say I’d probably enjoy a whole glass of it.

But if you’re ever up near Duluth, you might want to look this guy up and buy some of this special Minnesota vintage – especially if you’re having walleye for dinner.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Morning Scene - From the Balcony

It's been a while since I've posted a photo from the balcony, especially since I've moved up to the 50th floor.

We've been having really humid, cloudy, muggy weather here in late September. But that's okay. Chicago still looks good in grey.

Russian Passion

I am currently addicted to playing Scrabble with my Facebook friends.

I'm really not that adept at plotting creative words here and there but I love seeing how my friends' minds work. Obviously, Lorraine and Stacy were the girls who knew how to do the "word problems" in high school algebra and from whose tests I tried to cheat.

Algebra nightmares such as:

"A vendor sold cashews at $5.80 per pound, almonds at $4.20 per pound and peanuts at $3.00 per pound. How many pounds of each would he have to use to arrive at a mixture that sold for 8 decimeters per kilo on the Kelvin scale?"

Oh my god!

Then there would be Lorraine and Stacy, plunking down x and y that equaled something else that equaled 8.00, divided by 4.2 which equaled z ,
tra la-la-la-la
, quick as a bunny, boom! they'd have the answer.

Meanwhile, I'd be left in the dust wondering what a 'pound' is.

But I've always had a fascination with languages. That's why I love my Scrabble.

Ever since my first Latina baby-sitter, Lydia, told me that dulce meant candy, I was hooked on the fact that “this” meant “that”.

One would think that growing up it South Texas where over half the population was bi-lingual, my second language would have been Spanish.

But no. The Latino kids of my generation, while completely bilingual, were never required to speak Spanish full time. It was of mere convenience.
Their parents had to.
My friends did not.

Therefore, I was never required to converse in Spanish at all (except for really vile curse words) though I was continually exposed to it while growing up (mostly with really vile curse words.)

In college, I was required to study a second language or take math. Since math made me cry, I chose German. I was a music major and German was the language of lots of music, (not Spanish) so I chose it over the other.

I loved it.

It was the first time I got to pronounce vowels with umlauts and to learn of nouns in the dative case. At the same time, I was majoring in music, singing Brahms and interpreting 20th-century Schönberg piano notation on the keyboard.
Num-num-num. I ate it up.

While in my early 30s and living in Dallas, I became close friends with two Russian families who had immigrated to the U.S. and spoke very little English. The mother of the family was a renown pianist from Moscow who spoke English very well. Marina and I were both in our early 30s.

She was my entry into the Russian language. We were both pianists and that was our common denominator. Music was our first common language.

Food was our second language.

Not unlike Julia Child, I embraced both with quite a passion. Some of the unique Russian food items were:

Poor-man's caviar (ground, roasted eggplant mixed with tomatoes, garlic, and onions)
Dumplings filled with chicken livers and doused with vinegar;
Homemade blinis so thick with egg and cream, filled with sour cherry preserves, or
Savory blinis, really eggy and rich, rolled around thin slices of raw onion and raw bacon (oh my god!) That was good.
Ukranian borscht - a thick beet soup studded with garlic, onions, ham, and sour cream, and a
Northern Russian variation of wienerschnitzel -- rather than pounded veal, ham was used, lightly battered and fried in butter then doused with a light, sour cream sauce, woody mushrooms, with a spike of really hot horseradish mustard.
Dessert -- open-faced, dark rye pastries filled with rice pudding and raisins (they really looked like . . . well . . . . female genetalia.)

Stroganoff never made an appearance, nor was mentioned.

I worked with her uncle Victor at the bank and it became my job to teach him the subtleties of the English language. (By the way, our consonant “h” is completely foreign to all speakers and I haven't any idea how anyone manages it at all. )

I spent weekends with Marina and her family, cooking with her Russian grandmother who didn’t speak a word of English and yet taught me loads about cooking. Marina and I collaborated on the piano together -- she gave me private lessons in the rigid, athletic technique that was taught in Moscow. (How rare and valuable is that!) and I did my best to convey Western notation with our expressive mindset that she’d never been exposed to before.

We had a ball.

Meanwhile, I took a private language course in Russian and practiced with Grandma (Asha). Believe me, there is no better way to learn a language than to have to speak it to a grandma who is teaching you how to cook!

I loved my Russian friends and wanted to embrace their culture as much as possible. I wanted to learn Russian. I really did but it was difficult at the ripe old age of thirty.

While living in Dallas in the early 90s, learning Russian just seemed to be sort of controversial and I embraced it. At times, I felt a little like Lee Harvey Oswald and, I must admit. enjoyed it a little. I learned the Cyrillic alphabet and the 36 letters of the Russian language. (It’s pretty easy, actually.)

Then I practiced writing in Russian. I have to admit that I became a bit obsessed with it. Printed Russian is SO different than hand-written Russian.

I really enjoyed re-learning how to do all that in another alphabet. I don’t mean to brag (but, okay, I WILL brag here) but I also worked really hard at developing a very nice script at Russian cursive.

My Russian grammar and language is absolutely horrible, but it looks awfully nice.

Lee Harvey Oswald lived in Russia, was obsessed with being able to communicate in Russian, but just look at his horrible Cyrillic scrawl:

Now, here's a close-up of my handsome Russian script:

And here is a one-page letter.

Doesn't it look like it could go on the Declaration of Independence?

For a while, I corresponded with a pen-pal in Siberia who lived in the large city of Krasnoyarsk. (That's west of Irkutsk, just so you know.) The thing is, when I was corresponding to my friend in Russia, my letters would often not arrive by post to that remote city. I felt like I had wasted all my effort at learning to write in Russian until. . . .

We figured out that it was much more efficient for me to write my letters in Russian as usual, then scan them and email the scanned copy to him. He would then read his email (my handwritten letter) at an Internet cafe in Krasnoyarsk.

Instant communication (sort of) without the hassle of that pesky Siberian postal system.

It was more efficient for me to write my letters than email a message. Have YOU ever tried typing on a Cyrillic keyboard? Besides, my handwriting was pretty.


I wonder what awful grammatical atrocities Russian kids are texting to each other nowadays.

I'm sure I could find out and try to text someone there, but no.

I really don't want to see the bastardization of the language that Lee Oswald and I worked so hard to learn.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

] ; ! ' , / : } - ( _ .. { " ' ?

Fear not the semicolon!

Embrace the brackets.

Ponder the period.

Yes, today is National Punctuation Day -- the day when we're encouraged to become more familiar with the rules of proper punctuation. We're also supposed to organize punctuation activities in our schools, libraries and offices.

I really wish that the officials in the National Punctuation Day headquarters would have given us at least a month's notice so I could have organized lots of punctuation activities at my workplace. My boss would have only been so pleased. . . .

If I had my National Punctuation Day wish, it would be that if kids didn't use proper puctuation when texting, their cell phones would automatically blow up.



In honor of National Puctuation Day, I give you this photo displaying what I call "The Apostrophe Nightmare." (It was probably made by someone who texts a lot.)


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The "Adventure"

Do you remember that incredible scene in the movie “Stand By Me” where the boys barely escaped being run over by an oncoming train while walking across the bridge?

Here it is:

The same thing happened to me and my brother when I was seven years old, only it was our grandmother, Budgie, who had been responsible for us being on the train bridge.

Whenever we were visiting our grandparents, Budgie would take us out on “an adventure” as she called it. This usually involved a hike along the San Antonio River or some nearby creek, picking blackberries beside a dirt road, or just taking a drive along the back roads throughout the county.

It was a means of keeping two little boys entertained. It was also so our grandfather could enjoy an afternoon nap without being bothered by two little boys.

One afternoon, our “adventure” entailed a walk along some nearby railroad tracks which was awfully exciting for me since I had a “thing” for trains.

Soon, we came to a bridge that crossed the San Antonio River and it was one of those old, steel truss bridges. I wanted to walk across it in order to get a better look, and since this was “an adventure,” Budgie took our hands and we started across.

It was pretty scary, looking down through the railroad ties at the water far below. But Budgie had a firm grasp on our hands and besides, the ties were close enough together to prevent a small child from actually falling through.

About halfway inside the steel trusses, we realized that the end of the bridge was really farther than we thought, so we decided to turn around and head back.

I took a look back over my shoulder to examine how the girders were constructed and noticed something in the distance. . . .

“Budgie! There’s a train coming!” I exclaimed.

She thought I was teasing my younger brother, as I was wont to do, and said something to that effect.

“No! Really! There’s a train coming!" I reiterated, more emphatically this time.

Much whooping and hollering came from Budgie as she looked back and saw the train herself. (She had a tendency to sound like Edith Bunker whenever she got excited.) The three of us began running across the remainder of the bridge with our wrists firmly bound in Budgie's death-grip.

The train really was quite some distance away which allowed us plenty of time to get off the bridge. However, the tracks were then bordered by steep, earthen embankments on both sides which prevented us from scurrying to safety.

We had to run quite a bit more until, finally, we found a pathway up the embankment and quickly nestled ourselves up there. Soon, the train was barreling by just where we had been running a few moments before.

About twenty-five years ago, freight train service ended on that line and the tracks were removed. However, the old steel truss bridge was left standing over the San Antonio River.

Whenever I visited home, I’d notice that old bridge and remember the many “adventures” that Budgie entertained us with. Those were wonderful memories that I am truly fortunate to have. (It was a good thing my grandfather wanted have a quiet house to himself on those afternoons, too.)

Recently, I came across a photographer who lives in my home town and sells his work on line. I was looking through his work and was instantly captivated by one photograph in particular.

It was the old train bridge across the San Antonio River.

Years of neglect were evidenced by the encroaching vines and undergrowth. But I can still hear Budgie’s squeals of surprise as the train approached on that summer day over forty years ago.

(By the way, I contacted the photographer to order a print of this photo)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lunch During the Wonder Years

I’m not that old. Really.

But life in my little-bitty hometown in Texas was really behind the times, so to speak. The everyday surroundings and lifestyle that I was accustomed to in the 60s and 70s was really equivalent to that of, maybe, the 40s or 50s.

Case in point.

I was in the sixth grade in 1971. Junior High, for crying out loud. We had an “open campus” back then which meant we could go anywhere we wanted for lunch, provided we were back by the time the bell rang. One could walk home if you wanted, eat in the cafeteria with the nerds, or bring your lunch and eat outside or even down the street.

Or better yet, you could eat downtown.
(Cue the Petula Clark soundtrack here)

The town square was only about five blocks away and, if you ran really fast, there was just barely enough time to eat at one of the lunch counters and, if you ran back really fast, make it back to school in time for the bell.

But just barely. Such an intense endeavor was horribly exciting for an 11 year-old. But off we would go, running down to the square as fast as we could go.

Here’s a picture of downtown in my little-bitty home town.
Raymond’s Café had a very economical hot roast beef sandwich that we liked. You’d get a few slices of roast beef on Texas toast, topped with brown gravy and a side of mashed potatoes for the everyday low price of . . .

. . . are you ready for this?

Sixty-five cents. (.68 with the tax)

We would tear into Raymond’s, plop down on the spinning stools (spinning around like a whirling dervish, of course) wolf down our hot roast beef and gravy, plunk down the 68 cents, and run as fast as humanly possible back to school. (If you were late, the privilege of “open campus” was revoked for about a month, so you didn’t dare be late. Ever.)

There was not a minute to spare – certainly no opportunity for getting into trouble. I’m sure the school officials planned it that way.

I doubt that any Jr. High schools allow open campus anymore, not that it matters.

After all, it’s really impractical to run five blocks and spin at a lunch-counter while texting "OMG WHERE U AT" the whole time.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

These Kids Nowadays

I love seeing photos of letters written back in the 1800s, especially the beautiful handwriting that people used back then. Every sentence was written in such neat, horizontal lines – a digital level could not have improved it. The slant of every letter was so consistent that it looked like a protractor had been used. I’ve always tried to use good penmanship, even to the point of being a little obsessed about it. Quite a bit obsessed, actually. For example, ever since the 4th grade, if I wrote the letter “e” and it ended up looking like the letter “i”’ I feared something really bad would happen to my mother. I’d fix it so it looked more like an “e” and all would be well.

I still do that.

But I do have nice handwriting and have always taken a little pride in that. I studied Russian and even my Russian cursive looks pretty nice – much better than Lee Harvey Oswald’s anyway.

Here’s part of a letter I wrote to a Russian pen-pal a while back:

Well, it seems that the learning of cursive and basic penmanship is quickly falling by the wayside these days. At first, the old fuddy-duddy side of me kicked in and was lamenting this trend. (“These kids nowadays!”) That is, until I realized how little we actually utilize handwriting anymore.

We may scribble notes to ourselves during meetings, but more and more, I bring my laptop to do that.

Writing checks? Nope. I do it all online now.

When you think about it, we actually do no more handwriting than can be placed on a Post-it note these days.

A hundred years ago, teachers predicted the demise of handwriting when typewriters came into use. Later, they even discouraged the use of ball-point pens for the same reason.

So, I will concede that learning penmanship has little practical use anymore.

But what really irks me to no end is the horrible spelling and grammar that’s used by these kids nowadays, mainly due to this bothersome and totally useless activity called 'texting.' I really don’t want to even respond to a message like:

omg it was like 2 kewl 2 c u

or worse

where u at

I want to call this person back and say, “I am ‘at’ a place where I don’t respond to messages that end with a preposition.”

Back when I was a kid in school, we actually wrote notes to each other and illegally passed them while the teacher wasn’t looking. Notes that contained hugely significant and well-written treatises such as:
I like you a lot
and we actually spelled out the horribly long word, “you”.

We would have never even considered writing "I like u a lot." The recipient would have thought the sender was an idiot and would have never returned the much-anticipated, "I like you a lot too."

Sigh. . . .

We were good kids. . .

If I ever caught my kid sending a text that contained the atrocity “where u at” he’d have to spend a couple of hours at the kitchen table writing "Where are you?" about two hundred times before he got his cell phone back.

It’s a good thing I’m not a parent.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Scrabblers Anonymous

Oh boy, have I got an addiction now.

A couple of years ago, dear sweet Lorraine turned me on to Speed Scrabble. Hours were spent with us playing Speed Scrabble. Then on my business trips, I’d play Speed Scrabble with myself alone in the hotel rooms. (That sounded weird.)

Now, I’ve discovered online Scrabble through Facebook and I can’t get enough of it. Currently, I’ve got games going on with Lorraine, Miss Healthypants, Sfoofie (who is Miss Healthypant’s niece) my college friend, Martha, and five anonymous players who are kicking my butt.

These anonymous players must be Scrabble uber-champions or something. They’ll play words like “asphixy” and “exequy” that criss-cross other words in intricate patterns while I, on the other hand, play the word “ah”.

But I do love Scrabble.

It combines your creative knowledge of language along with strategic planning and spatial concepts. What’s not to like?

I just ordered a Scrabble game where one can play against a computer at various levels. I tried a trial version of it and even on the beginning level, it pretty much trounced me.

I wish my gym had Scrabble built in to the treadmills so I could play while working out. Unfortunately, the gym plays nothing but loud rap music and has the overhead TVs tuned to The Explosion Channel for our entertainment.

If anyone needs to be working out, it would be Scrabble geeks.


One of the Best Jokes Ever

Okay, telling jokes on one’s blog is pretty much a cliché as well, but I recently came across this doozy of a joke that warrants passing on.

Here it is . . .

A man appeared at the bedroom door carrying a sheep in his arms while his wife was in bed reading a book. She looked it him with disgust and said, “What the hell are you doing with that sheep?”

The man replied, “I just wanted you to see the cow that I make love to whenever you have a headache.”

The woman answered, “You idiot. Anyone can tell that’s a sheep and not a cow.”

The man responded, “I was speaking to the sheep.”

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dinner with the Girls

Went to dinner the other night with Miss Healthypants and Liane. This time we went to the Greek Islands Restaurant in Greektown. Yum.

Fresh octopuses were waiting for us in a display case upon arrival.

And here they are, char-grilled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Tender and juicy. If you've never had octopus, this is definitely the way to go.
Soooo tasty!
Lamb and moussaka:
A stuffed pepper and moussaka:

A sampling of vegetables:

This place is really incredible. Get there early.

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Morning Scene - Farmer's Market

These gorgeous beauties were only $3 for ten of them.

I bought ten of them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Worst Hymn Ever Published

Having been a church organist in a wide variety of churches, I’ve seen some pretty weird church music in my time. I’ve seen Zippa-Dee-Doo-Dah as the opening song at a Unity church. I’ve had to endure years of music from the abominable Gather songbook in the Roman Catholic Church.

Baby, I’ve seen it all.

However, one hymn really sticks in my memory as being The Worst Hymn Ever Published. This accolade goes to the hymn titled . . .

(are you ready for this?)

“God of Earth and Outer Space” which was included in a Baptist hymn book from the 1970s.

The Baptists had used the standard Baptist Hymnal published in 1956 and this was the one I grew up with. But in the early 70s, it was time to modernize the hymnbook and I guess the editors, in their misguided wisdom, decided that a hymn about space flight would be timely.

I can recall only one occasion of ever hearing this hymn actually sung in church. During the Sunday evening worship, we would often have a sing-a-long service in which members of the congregation could request a hymn to be sung by calling out the page number. One time (and one time only) someone called out "Number 20!" which was the page number to this thing.

It was horrible. You could tell everyone was embarrassed about actually singing:

God of earth and outer space,
God of love and God of grace,
Bless the astronauts who fly
As they soar beyond the sky.
God who flung the stars in space,
God who set the sun ablaze,
Fling the spacecraft through the air,
Let man know your presence there.

God of atmosphere and air,
God of life and planets bare,
Use man’s courage and his skill
As he seeks your holy will.
God of depth and God of height,
God of darkness, God of light,
As man walks in outer space
Teach him how to walk in grace. . . .

Isn’t that the most excruciating thing you’ve ever heard? As the congregation sang it, you could tell everyone just wanted to crawl into a hole.

Obviously, the editors of this hymn thought all astronauts should only be men. (Never mind the fact that the Soviets had been deploying female cosmonauts since 1963.) Heaven forbid any Soviet accomplishments would ever be incorporated into a Christian hymn.

I wonder what ever became of this thing.

The Baptists now have a new hymn book, and if there is a god, “God of Earth and Outer Space” didn’t make the cut.


Morning Scene - From the Trump

I had to drive out to a suburb very early this morning and used a Zip Car located in the nearby Trump Tower.

This is the view from Donald's parking garage.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

My All-Time Favorite Movies

I just canceled my Netflix account because, truth be told, I just really don’t enjoy watching movies at home. I found myself begrudgingly adding movies to my queue and then letting the DVD sit on the coffee table for two weeks before returning it without ever viewing it.

However, there are a few movies that I truly love and I find myself watching them over and over and over. Here’s the list of my most favorite.

I know, I know - - blogging about one’s favorite movies is such a cliché, but I just used the word “cliché” so that makes me special.

Babette’s Feast

This 1987 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Film is, hands down, THE most beautiful movie ever. Babette is a French refugee who escapes to a tiny village in Denmark in 1871 and, for 14 years, hides the fact that she’s one of the world’s greatest chefs. That is, until she sees a chance to selflessly transform the villagers by preparing her most famous meal for them. The Christological symbolism in this film is astounding. I’ve seen this film so many times, I can practically speak Danish now. This movie makes me weep in a different part every time I see it and THAT is what makes a good movie.

84 Charing Cross Road

Helene Hanff (played by Anne Bancroft) is a struggling writer in New York City who has an affinity for English literature but is unable to find her favorite works in print. She learns of a book shop in London (located on 84 Charing Cross Road) that can supply her with the hard-to-find works of literature from across the pond. For the next 20 years, she develops a charming relationship (by mail) with the staff at 84 Charing Cross Road, namely with the proprietor, played by Anthony Hopkins.
It’s impossible to watch this film and NOT think of the word “poignant.”

Mitt Liv Som Hund (My Life as a Dog)

Apparently, someone in Sweden got hold of my journal written when I was eight years old and made a movie out of it. The similarities are uncanny. The kid looks a lot like me at that age, too. (Note: Michael Jackson contacted the little actor who played my character after this movie came out – eeww.)


The juxtaposition between the villains’ stupidity and greed compared to the hero’s intelligence and altruism is sheer brilliance. The backdrop of a bleak Minnesota winter really appeals to me.

The Nun’s Story

Audrey Hepburn plays a young nun in this film about her life in a convent. I first saw this movie when I was considering joining a monastery and I think I have to attribute my final decision to enter to this movie. When I “took the habit” and was assigned my new name (it’s a very solemn ceremony that you’ll see in the movie) I have to admit that I was thinking of Audrey Hepburn.

At the end of the movie, Audrey leaves the convent, hangs her habit on a peg and silently walks out the back door.

I SO did the same thing when I left. It was ever so dramatic.
By the way, the name I was given by the abbot was Br. William.

So, there you have it. My all-time favorite movies.

Go and enjoy.

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Morning Scene - Homeless in Chicago

As I was walking to work this morning crossing the State Street bridge, I noticed this homeless woman down on the River Walk below. She appeared to be passed out on a bench, but then seemed to be partially conscious as she raised her head and passed out again.

I took a photo of her with a zoom lens, thinking it would make a powerful photo for my “Morning Scene” series. After all, it's a good dose of reality.

Then I got to thinking how dangerous it is for a young woman to be in that situation. Should I call 9-1-1? Would I call 9-1-1 if it had been a man? (No, we see that all the time.)

I did call 9-1-1, saying that she appeared to be in distress, gave the location and they said they would send an ambulance.

I got to work, downloaded the photo and was shocked to see the photo - - there were little bare feet under the blanket. I wanted to cry when I saw that.

See? It’s always better to err on the side of caution.
I hope this woman and her little one get the help they need.

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Monday, September 14, 2009

ATM Development

The other day, I went to my friendly neighborhood ATM machine to deposit a check. It had been months since I had ever really deposited an actual, paper check and I was really amazed with the new technology.

I had been used to filling out a deposit slip, filling out a deposit envelope, endorsing the check with my signature and account number and then, boop-boop-boop-boop, getting the ATM to accept my deposit and crossing my fingers that the funds would actually appear in my account someday.

Not anymore.

You just endorse the check and slip it in the ATM. It actually reads the handwriting, the account numbers, credits your account and includes a copy of the deposited check on your receipt. (Next thing you know, it will hand you a cappuccino.)

Oh my gosh! It was almost scary.

I had worked in the banking industry during the 80s and early 90s and have always marveled at the progress in technology.

I remember going out with some college friends one night in 1980. A friend of mine had one of those new “Automatic Teller Machine” cards and wanted to stop and get some cash. It seemed so high-tech at the time so all of us piled out of the car to watch.

After about fifteen minutes of failed attempts, he finally gave up. It just wouldn’t work.

In 1984, I was working in the customer service department at a bank in Austin, Texas, and we were really trying to promote the use of our new ATM machines. I remember one old crotchety customer (who had lots of money in the bank, by the way) made it very clear that he would never, ever use one of “those goddamned tit-less tellers.”


Like I said, we were heavily promoting the use of the ATMs and, subsequently, the ATM department was suddenly inundated with applications for cards. We were all summoned to help process the applications after work (overtime pay!) and really had fun doing this for several days.

On each application, the customer had to request a four-digit PIN – it could be letters, numbers or both. I can tell you this: The most frequent PIN that women chose was “L-O-V-E.” We’d be sitting there, entering the applications, and announce, “I got another LOVE one here” and we’d all act like we were gagging or stick our fingers down our throats. Such a great way to make overtime.

Guess what the most frequent PIN was for the guys?

Yep. It was the F-word.

I swear, I’m not making this up. We definitely noticed a pattern there.

Doesn’t that tell you a whole lot about the social make-up of men and women?

Women want “LOVE” and men want . . . well. . . .you know.

Men are such pigs.

By the way, my PIN number is 9999.

The '9' is closest to the 'enter' button and I really like the keyboarding efficiency of that configuration.

I'm such a nerd.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Great-Nephew

Everyone in my family has made numerous comments about how cute my niece's little boy is.
I mean, really cute.
Baby-food-commercial cute.

Here is a recent photo.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Morning Scene - Bennison's Bakery

Every two weeks, I have a meeting in the suburb of Evanston. On the way from the train stop to my meeting place is Bennison's Bakery.

It's been here since 1938 and, oh my goodness, they have the BEST latte ever. I don't know how they do it, but they make Starbuck's coffee taste like counterfeit swill.

Their scones and black & white cookies are really good too.

I hope places like this never go out of business. There's always a line of folks in there, so there seems to be little danger of that.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

I Need a Weekend

I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to a weekend as much as I am now. I really need a weekend. Bad.

I had a great time during my visit home to Texas. Family and friends are all doing great. But nine days is a long time to be away from one’s familiar surroundings. That would have been okay but for the fact that I had to turn right around and drive to Springfield the very next morning for work-related stuff. And it was wayyy stressful work-related stuff, too.

Now I’m back and really really really looking forward to doing things in familiar surroundings for a whole weekend.

I’m looking forward to the following:

Sleeping until the crack of noon on Saturday.

Going shopping at my grocery store. I need watermelon, corn and parsnips.

Going shopping at the Bed, Bath, and Beyond next to my grocery store. I need new pillows. Mine now have the firmness of a rotten, fetid cantaloupe.

My morning routine on Sunday which consists of (1) Starbucks (2) Church choir (3) Shopping at Trader Joe’s. All three are in the same block which, frankly, is a slice of heaven.

Go to the Sears Tower to stand in the new glass sky-box. I’ve wanted to do that since it opened but places like the Sears Tower are inundated with tourists during the summer. Maybe they’ve subsided now that their kids are busy sloughing off in school while their parents are busy shielding them from President Obama’s speech -- in which he invokes them to do well in school.

So, that’s what I want to do this weekend – the glorious, lazy weekend.

All those sound like great endeavors. But the truth is that I’ll probably just watch Tivo and play typing games.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

From Texas to Springfield


Get to the airport in Austin.

Screaming baby on the plane.

Screaming baby on the plane.

Screaming baby on the plane.

Take the subway home from O'Hare.

Screaming baby on the subway.

Screaming baby on the subway.




Got up this morning at 6:00.

Drove to Springfield for work-related meeting.

Screaming baby in the restaurant.

Screaming baby in the restaurant. . . .

I'm now in my hotel room in downtown Springfield.

I was just here two weeks ago.

I'm tired and cranky.

The screaming baby in tomorrow's meeting might be me.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Texas' Best

Here are two of the best things to eat in Texas:

Matt's El Rancho restaurant in Austin features these incredible chicken enchiladas. The chicken is smoked over pecan wood and you can get them with various sauces. I couldn't decide between the chipotle sauce or the salsa verde, so I got one with each.

The pecan smoked chicken is to die for. This is the best Tex-Mex I've ever had.

Next is Blue Bell Ice Cream.

Blue Bell began as a small dairy in Brenham, Texas, and began making their ice cream back in the late 70s for the locals. Gradually, they expanded out, county by county, and now you can get it state-wide.

They have flavors like chocolate chip cookie dough, blackberry cobbler, and white chocolate almond. But their signature flavor is Homemade Vanilla. I swear, it tastes just like the hand-cranked stuff you'd find at a church ice cream social.
Here is a freezer full of it at Central Market in Austin.
Folks, this is the holy grail of ice cream.

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Thursday, September 03, 2009

Life in Texas

A squirrel-control device by the back door.

Taking aim . . . (notice that I hadn't shaven this morning)


Yeah, like I shot a squirrel . . . . or a firearm for that matter.