Monday, February 28, 2011

The Oscars

Apparently, there was some type of event on TV yesterday called, “The Oscars.”

I posted on Facebook that I had absolutely no idea what “the Oscars” were and, the thing is, I was being totally serious.

I’ve heard of the Tony Awards and the Academy Awards (I don’t know what they are either). I think the Grammy Awards are for music, but then, it seems lots of Rap people get Grammy Awards – so one can hardly say that Grammy Awards are really for music.

Well, after looking up “The Oscars” on Wikipedia, it turns out that they are the same thing as the Academy Awards. Why do they have two different names? Anyway, it’s an award one obtains for making movies.

It’s not surprising that I didn’t know what they were because
(1) I have a complete inability to remember names of things,
(2) I very rarely watch movies
(3) the idea of celebrities taking themselves that seriously is . . . well . . .
. . . stupid.

Miss Healthypants teases me because about the only movies I seem to enjoy are the ones where nothing actually happens. Here are some breathtaking examples:

My Life as a Dog

Babette’s Feast

THX 1138

Stranger Than Paradise

Parting Glances

Getting it Right

I’ve probably watched those films at least ten times each. They’re brilliant. If you ever find yourself in a melancholic mood with nothing to do or to look forward to, there’s your must-see viewing list.

I seriously doubt any of them had anything to do with that Oscar broadcast-thing.

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Saturday, February 26, 2011

In Retrospect

When I was in the fifth grade, I composed a little piano piece, wrote it down and announced to my mom that I thought it would be a good idea that I abandon my public school education and became a full-time composer and concert pianist. 

I was totally serious.

My mom, being a public school teacher and a good, effective mom, gently but quite firmly guided my attention back toward my career as a fifth-grader. 

During the subsequent years, my piano studies continued and I actually ended up acquiring a small, tuition-only scholarship in music to pursue my studies at a state university in Texas.

Although I achieved some modicum of success in the music department, I never really studied as diligently as I could have. It was, after all, the late seventies and I hardly neglected the new disco scene and all that it offered.

My studies waned. They took somewhat of a tail-spin and I’ve always regretted that.

But over the subsequent years, I’ve kept up my piano studies; sometimes a lot more intensely than I ever did in college. But still, I’d always regretted “sloughing off” during college.  . . . I could have done much better.

Flash forward 15 years. . .

I had joined a Cistercian monastery in 1993. One of the fellow monks was an elderly gentleman who had been a very accomplished (though eccentric) concert pianist in Hungary back in the late 1940s and early 50s. He'd also been forced to flee his homeland prior to the Communist takeover in 1956.

He was there at the monastery, now in his mid-eighties. He was a bit reclusive, though still had an eccentric side and an underlying joie de vivre  (For a while, I was in charge of collecting the monks’ laundry and was surprised to see that he only wore red briefs. I remember thinking, “Good for you! You GO, guy!”)

The Abbot of the monastery thought it would be a good idea if I took piano lessons from him; it would give us both something to do during my first year of being “cloistered” from the world; (It’s the Novitiate year, that is, monk “boot camp.”) and it would give him something to do besides annoying the Abbot. 

So, once a week, I'd have piano lessons with this reclusive, eccentric, red underwear-wearing monk during that year. We had our lessons on a shoddy upright piano in the basement of the monastery and I’d practice on my digital piano in my “cell” (the room to which each monk was assigned.)

The guy was absolutely brilliant. He'd had decades of study with the finest musicians in Hungary.  I was the fortunate recipient of all that knowledge, insight and joie. Red underpants notwithstanding.

During that year, he had me working on Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23, the “Appassionata”. It’s not one of my favorites, but definitely one of Beethoven's more challenging pieces.

I’d never really appreciated the “Appassionata” because it always seemed to go in “fits and starts”. There was never any congruity to the piece. The whole thing never seemed “fluid”. 

So, my monk-piano-teacher and I worked on that booger during my novitiate year in the monastery. If there was an insurmountable, difficult passage, he'd say, "Lift your elbow! practice coupling the inner notes with your second-and-fourth fingers . . ."

Boom. It would work.

Then, I remember him saying,  
"Practice Bach like you're playing with a child; 
Perform Beethoven like you're fighting with a man; 
And Schubert like you're caressing a lover."

Wow. It would work.

The guy was brilliant.

Anyway, this video was taken the day that I took “vows”. You’ll notice that I’m wearing the all-white habit of the novice, but it was soon changed to the black-and-white habit of the professed monk. My parents were there for the event and had lent a video camera so that I could immortalize the work on the “Appassionata”. 

Perhaps that 5th-grade boy who wanted to quit school to study music full-time would have been a bit pleased with his future-self.

Oh, and here I am during the next year as a professed monk on my roller-blades: (My monk-piano-teacher passed away soon after this photo was taken.)

I've been on an awfully good roll so far. . .

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Getting the Giggles in Church

I may have mentioned this before, but I’m a choir member at the Episcopal cathedral here in Chicago. It’s a really fine choir and I’ve always enjoyed the “high church” aspect of the Anglicans.

About ten years ago, the Episcopalians and Lutherans came to some sort of ecclesial agreement acknowledging their common mission and we had a commemoration service of that agreement in church yesterday. We were joined by the Lutheran bishop, had a smattering of our bishops, and our choir was joined with two choirs from local Lutheran congregations.

The warm-fuzzies were flowing.

At one point, we were singing a feel-good hymn about “one mission” and oneness and all that. One of the Lutheran choir members smiled at me and I got the giggles.

With all that feel-goodness going on, benevolent smiling back and forth, I couldn’t help but think of the following scene from that hilarious movie, Airplane!


MAJOR giggles.

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Morning Scene - Aon Center

It's a cold, blustery, misty day here in Chicago. Here's a cool view of the 83-story Aon Center where I work. This is the corner of the building looking up to the tippy-top that's shrouded in clouds.  And no, this is not a black & white photo -- it's just a dreary, gray day

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Friday, February 18, 2011

Dinner and Friends

Last Wednesday, my dear friends Miss Healthypants and Liane and I were finally able to go out to eat at our all-time favorite restaurant, Lao Sze Chuan.

We had intended to go during the previous week, but with the temperatures hovering well below zero, it would have been a bothersome and painful endeavor. The Blizzaster of 2011 and other cold temperatures had kept us from it before that.

We always have an incredibly great time together. Pure, unalloyed fun. We’re lucky people.

Also, there’s the astoundingly good food at Lao. I’ve said it before many times, but this Chinatown restaurant is amazing. It features Szechuan cuisine and it’s the real McCoy, too – nothing remotely related to Panda Express. If you like hot and spicy, Lao Sze Chuan is ground zero.

Here are photos of our meal:

Beef in Szechuan Sauce. It’s a huge serving and one of their signature items. (If you get the serving to go, it’s two quarts.)

Dry Chili Chicken: Lightly fried, salty chicken with lots of garlic, five spice powder, and an amazing amount of chili.

Kung Pao Scallops.

Spinich with garlic. (The things this place can do with vegetables is astounding.)

Now, here’s the fun part. Afterward, we were meandering among the shops in Chinatown and came upon this brightly-lit Asian candy store. Candy – neat!

The place had dozens of bins filled with little wrapped candies of all sorts. There were even little bowls of samples – I love that. I’ll eat anything weird. I tried one called “Dried Red Peach” and exclaimed that they should definitely try it.

Miss Healthypants asked, “Is it really good?” and I said, “No! You should try it just to see how horrible it is!” (Which it was. It was bitter, salty and mostly tasted like rotten, fermented cedar.) “But you should taste it, really!”

Then, we came upon the most interesting item of all. Like I said, all the candies were individually wrapped, but this one particular item caused a stir among us. I couldn’t help but to buy one. Here it is:

Now, what does it look like to you? We were wondering: Would an Asian candy store really carry one particular feminine product as well?

I can just see it now. “Hey! Asian candy! And I’m have a ‘heavy’ day, anyway. Let’s go there.”

Hilarity ensued on the ride home.

Afterward, I looked this item up on line. It’s a Japanese candy called a Caplico Stick and it’s described as a “frosting-tipped waffle biscuit.” I still haven’t opened it. I keep it in a little side-pocket of my shoulder bag, right were it belongs.

So, that was our evening.

Needless to say, we’re already looking forward to our next outing.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Morning Scene - Remnants

Even though temperatures are climbing into the 50s now, there are still big, ugly remnants of the "Blizzaster" that occurred on February 2nd.

The snow is quickly melting, but the sidewalks are now a goopy, muddy mess.

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Great Aunt

Last night, my dad informed me that my Great Aunt, Joy, had passed away.

Needless to say, I was genuinely touched at the news.

Aunt Joy was the last of my grandparent's generation. She was much younger than all of my grandparents who had all passed away decades ago. Aunt Joy was the family historian, the old, ancient relic aunt who hung on, the one who relayed all the family history when we'd gather at funerals back in the 1990s. . .

But still, my Aunt Joy was the last of my grand-parents /-slash-/ great aunts or uncles to hang around.
My paternal great-grandparents passed away in 1961, 1962, 1967, and 1977, respectively,  (I remember the last three.) The last of my direct paternal offspring was my paternal grandfather who died in 1963

He was hospitalized in Austin Texas, and I remember, as a child, being driven up to Austin and being shown the capitol building -- so I always think of the Texas State capitol building as the building "where Poppy died."

I hardly remember my paternal grandfather, but I'll always remember that trip up to Austin when I was four years old:  My dad pointed out the destinations from Kenedy Texas: Up to . . .Nixon! (where Granny and Big-Mama lives!) , then to-- oh my gosh,  Luling; then to Lockhart, then -- finally -- to Austin! Where Poppy is in the hospital . . . in that big building with the dome on top. For some reason, I remember that trip when I was four years old, (Nixon, Luling, Lockhart, Austin!)

Poppy died in 1963. His sister, my Aunt Joy, died last week in 2011. Poppy was only sixty. Aunt Joy was, like, a hundred and two-hundred years old. (She was actually was ninety-something)

Each of these siblings died 48 years apart from each other and they were both a memorable part of my family.

Just for fun, here is a photo of me and my cousin with my great-grandfather, Big Dad.
I actually remember sitting it that reddish leather chair and picking at the cigar holes in the arm of the leather.

(I'm the little guy  with the big head.)

But what really astounds me, is that I can remember both of their funerals, 48 years apart.

Rest in peace, Poppy and Aunt Joy.  

I've loved your offspring so very much. . .


Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Meryl - Margaret

I seldom post about Hollywood stars here because, quite frankly, I think film celebrities have a reputation of taking themselves way too seriously. Same goes for pro athletes. I often want to say, "You're an entertainer. Leave it at that. Please."

But I will say that I loved Meryl Streep in Julie and Julia. The woman is amazing, right? If her talent thus far hasn't convinced you, get a load of this:

She'll be playing Margaret Thatcher in the upcoming biopic, The Iron Lady. The first publicity photos were released today. Here is Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher:

Can you believe it?

Streep is quoted, "The prospect of exploring the swathe cut through history by this remarkable woman is a daunting and exciting challenge."

She added: "I am trying to approach the role with as much zeal, fervour and attention to detail as the real Lady Thatcher possesses – I can only hope my stamina will begin to approach her own!"

I'm sure it'll be an incredible performance. Next thing you know, the woman will be playing Mikhail Gorbachev.

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Saturday, February 05, 2011

Deep in the Heart of Texas

I'm sitting at the airport in Austin, waiting for my airplane to take me back to Chicago. I had a wonderful time with my family and got a good dose of being "Uncle Buck" for a week. Here's a photo of my great-nephew, Joseph.

He has big blue eyes:
The little guy climbed right up in my lap and we connected really well. Two readings of "Green Eggs and Ham" were supplied:

On the way back to the airport, I passed through the tiny town of Hochheim, Texas. It's about 45 miles outside of my little bitty home town. When I was in college, I used to stop at this general store and buy beer after visiting my folks.

I was a stupid kid then, and as one can see, the general store is long gone.

Time marches on . . .


Friday, February 04, 2011

Winter Storm in South Texas!!!

I'm visiting my folks in my little bitty home town in South Texas which is about seventy miles southeast of San Antonio. Last night, the local forecast predicted that we were due for one-to-three inches of snow -- something that seldom occurs here in this part of the country.

Last night, the local news kept interrupting regular programming with Storm Tracker! alerts. School closings were announced. Highways were closed. It was all very exciting.

About 11 pm, I took a look outside and noticed a thin film of snow dusting our cars. The Storm Tracker! warnings were about to come to fruition!

This morning, I looked outside. Here are a couple of photos of what a winter storm looks like in South Texas:
There was a mockingbird singing merrily away.
And yes, the schools are closed today.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


One thing I love about living in the North is that I get to experience winter weather. While growing up in South Texas, snow was something we totally missed out on. I was always jealous of the kids in Chicago or Minneapolis who got to play in the snow, sled down hills and miss school.

Well, it looks like Chicago is due for The Biggest Snowstorm in All of Chicago's History. Over 24 inches of snow is expected in the Windy City. Chicagoans are referring to it as "Snowmageddon." Neat, right?

Well, guess where I am? I'm visiting my folks in South Texas where I grew up and, once again, missing out on the snow.

It was 82 degrees yesterday.