You Can’t Go Home, Or To The Cabin, Again

Old Log Cabin, Lamb’s Canyon

The family cabin is slowly collapsing… this photo is from 2005, so things have probably gotten even more dilapidated. My cousins own it and though we used to have access, apparently that’s no longer as simple as asking for the key and checking the calendar. My oldest cousin tried to sell it a few years back, causing shock and dismay. Yet it’s a pretty big tax payment each year, so I can see why he’d want to sell.

Reportedly he sold off the piece of the property where I stood to take this… there’s a fancy new vacation home there now. There’s some sad memories associated with that spot, but some of us consider the property almost sacred ground. So it’s painful. I still have dreams where I’m in the mountains, trying to get to The Cabin.

My mom’s old house still looks much the same; on last weekend’s visit to Salt Lake, I didn’t need to drive by, but my niece did, and took this photo.

Both buildings have seen better days. Both contain memories of people long gone. I spent last weekend with family and had fun, but felt this pull to look for places I remembered (so much of Salt Lake is being rebuilt, it’s hard to find those old familiar places).

My room was the dormer window. They’ve put in window-mounted AC there and in the dining room window… the weaklings. And the only visible change is the fence on the side, and they took all the stinky “Trees of Heaven” down. Good riddance, they rot from the inside out and drop a mess of branches after the smallest storms.

What I wouldn’t give to smell the scent of those trees on a sticky, hot night again… or to lie awake in an old Coleman sleeping bag at The Cabin, listening to the faint hooting of owls and the stealthy fluttering of the resident bat.

It was good to see my side of the family last week – both sisters, all four nieces and most of their spouses. It wasn’t a super planned long weekend; we hung out at Holly’s house to reconnect Thursday and Friday, we managed to meet up with Raeanne and her husband Ron at Hogle Zoo (Ranny and I were raised together and we’re closer in age than I am to my sisters; same with all of my nieces).

We even had a chance to meet some of David’s co-workers face-to-face for dinner at a suburban Italian joint, a very enjoyable evening. Who knew that one couple would turn out to be avid parachutists??

Salt lake has changed and is changing so much. We stayed downtown near the City-County Building, now surrounded by a nice park and a lot of Trax light rail lines. I chuckled as we passed the corner where Mom got a ticket for pulling a “U-ey” in the middle of the road. “Ma’am, I’m afraid I have to ticket you, you can’t do that right in front of the main police station.” Heh.

Every time we went somewhere, I felt a need to spot familiar buildings and landmarks and reconnect to forgotten memories. However, though we drove down the neighborhood arterial street near Mom’s house, I didn’t need to drive by (although Raeanne did later to take her picture). It was somehow comforting to see some of my neighborhood remains as I remember it, and some shops and houses have been nicely updated.

Holly’s party was held at Trolley Square and it was fabulous – the local arts alliance have a theater and event space and the food was catered by a local Brazilian restaurant and butcher, so good. I even danced with my sister and nieces, though the band was a Grateful Dead tribute outfit and definitely not my favorite party music. It was interesting though in that the keyboard player was Mike Lookinland, yep, from The Brady Bunch.

David and I drove up the canyons – ALL of them. Emigration, Parley’s, Mill Creek, Little Cottonwood, Big Cottonwood. But we mostly had to go to Lamb’s Canyon to see how far up we could drive in our rented SUV. Turns out, not far at all, there’s a new gate at the mouth of the canyon, just off I-80.

Wil Wheaton: Cool RAMBLE

You first have to read this blog post by TV’s Wil Wheaton – he tells a great story about his relationship with Jonathan Frakes, and how important it is to find the family that laughs with you, not at you. I’ll wait. Tagging @annewheaton and @lenperalta

I can almost imagine what it must be like to have a dad who loves you – WIL WHEATON dot NET
— Read on

First of all, he’s no longer “TV’s Wil Wheaton,” ironic construct. He’s “Wil Wheaton’s Wil Wheaton.” He’s made a good life and career for himself as a writer, voice actor, nerd-culture TV host, blogger, and most importantly, dad to two sons. He’s also an awesome pet dad, though he doesn’t mention it in this particular blog post.

This blog post made me so happy and my face got all leaky – based on the comments, a lot of faces got all leaky out there in the internets. It’s a nice look at past Wil and current Wil, and how he relates (literally, in a chosen-family way) to fellow actor and Star Trek: Next Gen alum Jonathan Frakes.

Longtime readers of Wil’s blog will know a lot of his backstory; in fact, Wil was a very early blogger, almost a pioneer at the beginning of blogging. As it happens, I’ve been reading his blog for more than 20 years – certainly from when we still lived in the condo we had in a different suburb, and from when this blog was still put together with Movable Type.

At the earliest time I became aware of his blog, Wil was years beyond his Star Trek career – struggling, trying to figure out how to grownup with his young family, recording early writing success and wondering if he’d get to act again. I continued to dip in and out of his blog, catching glimpses and privately cheering when he reported something good happening – books published, voice-over roles, seeing old friends at Star Trek conventions.

Some time after that, after we moved to this house, and while I was still doing long blog posts, AND just after taking on the role of webmistress for the Holy Moly church website, this happened. 

Poster by Len Peralta / @jawboneradio (CC Some Rights Reserved)

Just re-reading that reminded me of why I missed writing long blogposts. I used to do that  A LOT, maybe too much. Also, many of the friends mentioned in the first part of the post (where the picture links are busted) have now moved to Arizona, and we’ll be seeing them soon. We’ll see Mitch and Gloria, too.

So I want to thank Wil for the comedic slap shot to the head that led me down that particularly enjoyable RAMBLE (random-access memory blog link excursion). And I hope he’s got a chance to work with Frakes and the rest of his extended chosen Star Trek family soon. Or maybe just take a road trip with Frakes, a van, and two GoPros.

A Cuppa Hot Joe: TeaBagger Joe Walsh Melts Down, Yells “Don’t Blame The Banks…That Pisses Me Off”

Too funny. The wheels are coming off of Joe “Deadbeat Dad” Walsh’s bus. He’s not doing anything for the district, he’s been redistricted into a primary with another GOP Congressman, and he doesn’t deal well with critics. He prefers the “way to go, Joe!” sycophants on his Facebook page – there mostly fromfrom the Cro-Magnon Wing of the Republican Party.

I hope this teaches people in the district a lesson: “VOTE. Or the crazies win.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.) met with some constituents in the Chicago suburb of Gurnee Sunday — and apparently didn’t like what some of them had to say about the role of big banks in the financial collapse.
The “Cup of Joe with Joe Walsh” event was held at an UNO Bar & Grill in the northern suburb, and “a number of topics were discussed,” according to Round Lake Area News. But, as ThinkProgress reported Tuesday, Walsh did not like when the conversation turned to big banks and their power within government. (Watch the conversation above)
After one attendee grilled Walsh about the lack of regulation which ultimately allowed banks to bet against their own customers, another pointed out the presence of bank lobbyists in Congress and other financial regulatory agencies.
Walsh cut off the man, and screamed at him: “Don’t blame the banks … that pisses me off” before telling the calm constituent that he was going to ask him to leave if he didn’t stop talking.

Link: Joe Walsh Meltdown: Screams At Constituents, Dont Blame Banks VIDEO – The Huffington Post


Pay Cash For Your Cars – And Buy Used, Not New

This article reminded me of the time Mom dickered with a car dealer on a price for a car, got a firm quote (after discussing loan terms more favorable to the dealership than herself) and then pulled a wad of cash out of her purse to pay for the car on the spot. She meant to pay cash all along, as it was from an insurance settlement — she just wanted to string the guy along and see how low he’d go.

The suggestions in the article are pretty good; however what we’ve done with our vehicles is pay them off with a home equity loan that offered us a significant tax advantage. That strategy might not work for everyone, especially in these tougher times when you don’t want anything against the equity in your home unless you’re certain your savings and employment are rock-solid.

First, the insurance costs in the second scenario are lower as well. For those first five years, the person owns a used car which will have lower insurance costs than a new automobile.Second, considering used cars in your buying decision can save you money. When you run the numbers on your car purchase, always include used cars, particularly ones from model years with a good reputation. Sometimes, those cars can save you significant money over the long haul through insurance savings, plus they allow you to retain some of your cash savings for your next car purchase.Finally, having the money in the bank puts you in control. If you can buy the car in cash, you’re no longer worrying about your credit history or about whether a bank will offer you a good rate. You have your cash, you find the best deal, and you buy. Simple as that.

via Should you pay cash for cars? Yes! Here's the math to prove it. –

Guck, Bucum, and Scrud

In the last few weeks, I’ve gotten pretty obsessed with the A&E reality show, “Hoarders,” which if you can get past the piles of junk, “treasures,” and poo, is compelling. In the season preview clip above, the newly famous Possum From Hoarders makes her (not his) daring leap for freedom after being poked with a stick. This little clip apparently kept the other obsessed fans talking all summer, but the actual appearance of the Awesome Possum did not disappoint; she hopped in a handy Pet Taxi and lit off for the bright lights of the big city. You can read all about her adventures on her Facebook fan page. Seriously, comic relief like this makes watching “Hoarders” bearable; otherwise it’s just one horror show after another. So fans focus on silly things like possumbombs and kitchen rakes to keep from shouting “NO, THROW IT OUT, THROW IT OUT, NO DON’T SAVE IT, IT’S GARBAGE” at their televisions.

Since then, I’ve been cleaning and organizing stuff pretty much every time I catch an episode, and today I’m cleaning out the guest room, which has been “the room where all the snorkel stuff is in the middle of the floor” for many months now. At the moment, the luggage and snorkel gear is now neatly stacked in the closet, which has been cleared for my guest, but after my lunch-tea-and-blogging break I need to get the freshly laundered sheets on the bed (fancy new dryer just beeped happily) and sweep the floor, vacuum, and damp mop with the wooden floor cleaner.

I already cleaned a lot of guck, bucum, and scrud in the kitchen, but there’s more to do. Definitions to follow…

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Christmas Disasters | Padre Mickey’s Version

Padre Mickey tells the thrilling tale of one memorable Christmas, when a flaming dessert burned itself into the memories of everyone present (also the carpet, furniture, the kitchen floor) before being kicked back into the kitchen). He promises 2 more visitations of this memory, as recalled by other, saner heads. It’s a Rashomon Christmas! You owe it to yourself to read the whole thing: I nearly coughed up a lung laughing at it.

We had a wonderful meal; lots of good food, and the children opened presents, and oh, what a wonderful Christmas it was! Gramma Connie had prepared a lovely Plum Pudding (Gramma Connie can bake like nobody’s bizness!). And, as is normal with any foody and creative cook, she wanted the presentation To Be Perfect (we were all unaware of Martha Stewart, and quite happy about it, I might add!). Grampa Jim splashed some clear rum on the pudding. Gramma Connie splashed some clear rum on the pudding. Aunt Sally splashed some clear rum on the plum pudding. I don’t think any of them had discussed this rum-splashing with the others. Then, Gramma Connie artistically placed the holly on the pudding, Grampa Jim lit the rum, and, with it all flaming, our hostess, Aunt Sally, slowly walked into the living room carrying the pudding-laden platter into the living room while we all sang, Now bring us some figgy pudding, now bring us some figgy pudding, now bring us some . . .OH MY GOD!!!!

Via Padre Mickey’s Dance Party: Christmas Tales Of Padre’s Family: Rashomon Kurisumasu: The Flaming Pudding Toss.

I’m trying to think of a comparable Christmas Disaster from our own family’s collective memory; there’s photographic evidence somewhere of one from the last Christmas I spent “at home” with mom, before I got married. Mom was making a batch of “disappearing cookies,” which had to be started in a double boiler to melt butter and brown sugar together. She somehow bobbled the transfer of the stuff (I think she was bending down to retrieve something from the dishwasher, and knocked the bowl on herself from the counter) and was covered with warm, sticky, buttery goo. Fortunately, it wasn’t hot enough to burn, but it was in her hair, down her front, and all over the kitchen. She was laughing so hard she couldn’t talk. Scratch one batch of cookies.

This Is Not Your Father’s Little Red Wagon


This is just WRONG. I had a red wagon that wasn’t a Radio Flyer, and I was always embarrassed because it wasn’t the classic square shape and brand. It was kind of a weird streamlined shape that was actually ideal for coasting down hills because you could sit in it and dangle your legs over the curved lip while steering.

This? It’s just too much. You can’t coast in this thing, it’s designed for a jogging or speed-walking parent to drag two little kids along on a workout. With tunes.

Safety belts? Cupholders? GAH!

But then, I did break my arm coasting downhill in my wagon… got run over by Billy Noel, who was speeding on his tricycle right behind me. Still, seat belts would not have prevented me from having to wear a cast when I started kindergarten.

Cupholders. Mp3 player. Good God.
Classic Radio Flyer wagon updated for 2.0 world –

“We approached this product much like an automotive company might with a concept car,” said Mark Johnson, Radio Flyer’s product development manager.

Outfitted with 5-point safety harnesses, padded seats, cup holders, foot brakes and fold-out storage containers, the sleek, curved Cloud 9 has every family covered for a ride through the park. But that’s just for starters.

There’s a digital handle that tracks temperature, time, distance and speed — just in case energetic parents want to track their split times around the playground. And there’s a slot for an MP3 player, complete with speakers, for some cruising tunes.

That’s right: The little red wagon has gone 2.0.

Blogyear In Review

While putting off the task of adding a personal note to holiday cards that MUST! GO! OUT!, I decided to review My Year In Blogging.


Today, at Holy Moly, we had some excitement too. I ended up staying for both services just because there was a rehearsal for the big day after the second service. There was lots of laughter, a little girl threw up in front of the choir, Pat Kalicki stood in for Bishop Katharine in the run-through wearing a paper bishop’s mitre, and there was lots of chaos and general anarchy.

Later on in February, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori visited Holy Moly. A good time was had by all and sundry.

Via My Week: Cold, Busy, Cold, Busy, Cold


One of the blessings of a “mixed” family heritage is that you get to eat comfort foods from more than one buffet line. Case in point: yesterday’s family confab and lunch nosh, which was held at Max’s Delicatessen in Skokie.

I knew going in that on a bitterly cold day, fighting a “bug” and trying not to cough too much, I needed lots of chicken soup, STAT. Probably with kreplach (dumplings) or matzoh balls (actually, one ginormous matzoh ball). But I’d never seen anything like the menu item under the various listings for chicken soup extras – underneath all of them, it said “Mish-Mosh Chicken Soup.” It was a lot more expensive, and my rudimentary knowledge of Yiddish told me it was a mixture or a little of everything. Good enough, and then I saw that the 1/2 soup, 1/2 sandwich option for lox and a toasted bagel included a note: “$3.50 extra for Mish-Mosh.”

Sold. I ordered. The waitress asked “Nova, or regular?” and I knew to answer “regular” because Nova Scotia lox is more expensive. David ordered mish-mosh for his half-and-half, too. My nephew Josh chuckled “Mish-mosh, it’s brutal.”

Presently, a tremendous bowl arrived, with all kinds of stuff sticking out of it. A giant matzoh, made with dill weed. A couple of kreplach, including some broken ones. A bunch of little bitty thin, flat noodles like the kind that come in Lipton’s dried onion soup mix, but longer and curlier. A ladlefull of rice. And finally, a whole bunch of loose crumbled corned beef, that must have falled out of yet more unseen broken kreplach.

Oh, man, was it good.

The lox and bagel arrived after a few minutes’ work on the soup. It was a disappointment, with two thin strips of lox, barely enough to put on each half of toasted bagel. I’m used to sandwich places that give you FOUR strips and CAPERS, but no. And the onions were the super-hot kind, not the mild sweet kind that goes better with smoked salmon and any kind of plain or savory cream cheese (I had plain).

But the soup more than made up for this deficiency of lox. I finished most of the solid stuff out of it and didn’t leave much liquid behind, either. MMM, yummy.

After we’d all mostly finished eating, the announcement to the family was made. Somebody will be going through chemo after surgery again. This was a surprise to a couple of people, and just at that moment, all kinds of service people descended on the table offering bills, more coffee, more new pickles, and offering to box up uneaten food. Argh! Go away! But it was the most convenient place to meet the busiest subset of the family, so that’s where we were instead of at one of our homes.

So we listened, and we pondered, and we offered help and casseroles, and expressed hope and love and support.

My mom-in-law Leah came through with flying colors and again sports a full head of hair. YAAAY!

Via Mish-Mosh of the Soul


My husband David and I – as he noted on his blog – were finally seduced by the Light Side, the Forces of Brightness, the White Lord of the Pith, the Core of All Good, etc. etc. We both got iPhones as we’d previously warned.

Stupidly, we went to Woodfield Mall yesterday, rather than driving to the brand new AT&T store on Algonquin in Rolling Meadows, which as of March 17th had 16G iPhones. The Apple store was out of the 16G’s and didn’t expect to get any for some time, so we shrugged and said “Okay, we’ll take the 8G phones, we won’t need the extra capacity, it was just a thought.”

We may yet have cause to regret this impetuousity.

Plus, this timely link:

You can have my iPhone… when you pry it from my cold, arthritic, obsessively clutching fingers.

Via We Drank The Kool-Aid


Wow. I still can’t believe that I had a chance to see the McDades at the Abbey Pub, a well known Chicago institution. And that my husband David and I got to see them gratis, a fact that makes me absurdly grateful and humble. Hell, this blogging gig is pretty cool if people contact you out of the blue and give you free stuff and invite you to all the best parties.

Okay, enough about that, I’m a mere amoeba on the Great Evolutionary Chain of Blogging Being.

The thing I REALLY can’t believe that there were only about 10 people at the show. I feel bad about this, because that means that at least 20% of the crowd was there for free. So the next day, I went to the The McDades – Music website and bought their latest CD, Bloom. No, I could have downloaded it from iTunes for less, or I could have gone to Borders and rooted around in the Celtic/World Music bins until I found it, but no. I freaking felt compelled to pay Canadian funds and Canadian shipping, because I felt terrible for the band and for their mom, who was nice enough to contact me in the first place.

Via The McDades at the Abbey Pub 22APR08


A selection of photos from our trip to Maine and Washington DC

I Heart Maine

Can I just say, I “heart” Maine?


This looks like a nice place to stay, right?

Well, not exactly:


It’s probably a bitch to get to in the winter, but you’d never have to worry about sightseeing rubberneckers trying to poke their noses into your business.


Or maybe not.


Local color, to better lure the tourists into the restaurant

After some more wandering, we decided to give Hyannisport a complete miss and found our way to a beautifully serene nature preserve dedicated to Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring.


It was a nice walk in the woods, very quiet.


Boothbay Harbor at sunset

Via The East Coast Trip Part I


Perhaps the most telling endorsement of Obama is something I just heard an NPR “In Character” piece on Mr. Spock, the Classic Star Trek character played by Leonard Nimoy. After a discussion of Spock’s intriguing hidden qualities and his half-human, half-Vulcan heritage and how that translates to contemporary issues, we find out that Nimoy is an Obama supporter, too.

Actually, I bet someone’s already done a parody of the candidates as Star Trek characters. McCain would have to be late-stage Kirk, perhaps from one of the odd-numbered movies. Although I’m also tempted to see him as Commodore Matthew Decker…

Ron Paul might make a good lesser commander, probably one of the insane ones with fanatical followers, like Capt. Ron Tracey.

Hillary Clinton? the best she could hope for is as a wannabe Janeway, in my opinion. She runs the ship, but doesn’t really get anywhere, is literally tossed around the galaxy by events beyond her control, is in permanent damage control mode, and everybody is relieved when it’s all over in a confusing jumble.

It seems I missed a bet on re-casting Kirk

Via I Am A Demographic Anomaly


My husband David and I are well on the way to fogeyhood: without consulting each other’s schedules, we made doctor’s appointments for the same day within 15 minutes. He’s up first, then me.

By way of illustration, I see the large-type Readers Digest has a relevant article.


As you can see the Readers Digest large type edition has an article about the Things Your Doctor Isnt Telling You.

Via Officially Middle-Aged


“He who is tired of London is tired of life. “

We’re not tired of London, and are already plotting a return trip. But it’s time to move on to the Cotswolds for five nights and we won’t miss our cramped little hotel room near Paddington.

On Sunday, I made good on my threat to attend services at St Johns-Hyde Park. Met the Rev. Margaret Legg, who presided while the Vicar preached. Very diverse, progressive people – they’re looking forward to the Blessing of the Horses Sep 21, where the vicar will don cope and split cassock and bless the cavalcade (I believe there is a pub visit as well). Terrific young female soloist, plus a young man who played classical guitar.

Before church David and I walked in Hyde Park, with all the dogwalkers and riders on horseback. We paid several appendages to eat breakfast at the nearby Hilton. After I returned we headed out and wasted a lot of time on the Original Bus tour on a boat to Greenwich; took too long and the museum was closing by the time we got done with lunch and then had a terrible time getting back on the tube.

Also encountered: an old gentleman feeding his squirrel friends in St James Park, and a polite young Peruvian bear named Paddington, who we met at the station as we were leaving London. We gave him a lift and he now lives in Mt Vernon, IL with our niece Melissa. She calls him “PB” and is always fussing over him.

Via Horsies and Squirrels and Bears Oh My!



The story on this image: David and I were doing something we rarely do – watching TV more or less “live”, and even more unusually, we were watching a network show and not bothering to zip through the commercials. This one came on for a product called Botox Cosmetic — with the tagline “it’s all about freedom of expression!” We had to pause the TiVo just to laugh. Apparently, the makers are quite proud of their product and address the troubling question of “Will I be able to make facial expressions after using Botox-Cosmetic?”

Yeah, right. Aaaaanyway.

My husband David said “there is something so wrong about a product ad that says “toxin.” I said “I thought botox gave you freedom FROM expressions.” As we looked at each other, we both made the same facial expression… the “I’m so blogging this” expression.
We both dove for a blogging appliance.

Via Botox: Freedom From Expression



I have to say, early on it was a thrill, because I got to vote for Barack Obama and Joe Biden in the Presidential race at last. At last! Great God almighty… well, two more weeks until we know for sure. But I decided it would probably be inappropriate to burst into tears, song, or both, so I sucked it up and kept on voting. I was happy to vote for Sen. Durbin, who’s kind of been on fire the last two years what with suddenly being one of the highest ranking majority members and being able to get a lot more bills through committee and passed than ever before. And I voted for Bean, who’s done all right and also benefited by becoming a majority-party U.S. Representative in her second term.

There was definitely electricity in the air, though, and we overheard the village hall guy say that on Friday and Saturday, the first days of early voting, there was a wait of 35 minutes, with people out the door waiting to vote. Earlier today, I was reading about how Utah’s doing early voting, and today was the last day to register. So in Salt Lake, they had so many people show up that they set up a drive-thru outdoors, with extra staff deputized to hand applications to drivers, who filled them out in their cars (or on their motorcycles) and handed them back. A number of people then were able to vote early. A TON of people have been registered in Utah; many of them are Republicans who never bothered voting for the last decade because in Utah it was either a waste of time (Clinton) or safely in the bag (Bush).

But there are a lot of Democrats in Salt Lake, and Salt Lake County. Also not a few in the Park City area; I think that’s Summit County. They might be electing a few down-ticket candidates, else why would Hillary Clinton bother to show up for a couple of fundraisers in that reddest of red states?

And we pretty much know how that turned out, thank GOD. Also, Salt Lake County went (barely) for Obama. The Democrats in Utah are feeling good.

Via V is for Voted


Palin fakes admirably and fails irrevocably, trying to not let on that she has absolutely no clue who the people are that “Sarkozy” is raving about. She doesn’t even drop to it when “M. le President” notes that he can see Belgium from his ass. Sarah laughs uncomfortably, perhaps not wishing to embarrass the gentleman over his poor command of English idioms. Too bad Palin’s never bothered to glance in the direction of Canada from her bathroom window, or bone up on the name of its premier.

UPDATE: Okay, he may have said “from his ‘ouse” in his strong Quebecois accent, but it sounded like “ass,” same as what he made of Palin.

You get the impression that Sarah is listening for those dog-whistle phrases to which she knows the answers. She knows enough about Sarkozy to gush about his beautiful wife and family. And finally she is told she’s been pranked by the Masked Avengers comedy radio duo from Quebec. The background discussion between Palin and at least two aides after she repeats aloud “Ohhhh, we’ve been pranked… what radio station?” is worth the toe-curling agony of listening to Palin. At the very beginning, she can’t even take the call with aplomb, starting to talk to the prankster who’s playing the part of the aide to the French President. She bobbles her greeting and then hands the phone back to her aide, saying “I always do that!” before getting back on and saying “Hel-LO” to the fake French leader just like she did to the “aide.”

Funny stuff. I doubt they’ll have much success with Obama’s people.

Good times, eh?

Via Daily Kos: Palin Pranked AAAAAH!!!! SO FULL OF WIN


We went to the holiday party last night for David’s office. In recent years, it’s been an enjoyable enough affair, especially after they stopped booking the DJ nobody liked… but the experience we had was somewhat beyond our wildest expectations of a nice evening.

Meson Sabika was the setting, a large mansion in Naperville, which is one of the few Chicago suburbs with a sense of its own history. First settled in 1811, it’s set in gently rolling country, with a vibrant and architecturally appealing downtown, with public space and art everywhere. We drove down after work, and I was in my typically grumpy “I HATE GETTING DRESSED UP” frame of mind on the way. All that changed as soon as we walked in the door.

Via Meson Sabika Flamenco Holiday Party

The Feast of Saint Nicholas

St Nicholas is special to me. Not only do I attend a church named after him (he’s our “patronal saint” in liturgical churchspeak) but he’s indirectly responsible for my 20-year career in travel. As he’s the patron saint of children, sailors, and travelers, this seems more than mere coincidence. How’d this happen?

When I was still living in Eugene, I was drifting along at a dead end job after I left college, working at a dry cleaners. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life or what I could do to improve my circumstances. More schooling seemed impossible; I had no more veterans’ or Social Security benefits left that paid tuition, and I’d pretty much wasted several years of my life goofing off and having fun, with no degree to show for it.

I’d become friendly with Eveline Elliot, a travel agent who worked down the street at the old Eugene Travel (which closed years ago). She was the person who got me started in the exciting and glamorous world of travel (oh brother) by hiring me to deliver tickets to her many clients on the University of Oregon campus. As a former student, I knew exactly how to find my way around the various office buildings on campus; I knew what “508 PLC” meant, where the building was, and that it was likely an English Lit. professor. After a short paid gig, I was asked to become an unpaid intern for 6 months, take all the free SABRE self-guided lessons in the computer system, and even travel to Dallas to American Airlines’ training center for weeklong classes, from the most basic to more advanced. The catch was the “unpaid” part, and since I didn’t wash out in the first month or two, they had a free employee with the understanding that if I got up to speed quickly enough, I might be offered a real job. Well, I couldn’t have gone 6 months without a paycheck, without Mom’s help. When I told her about it, she said it was no problem if it was what I really wanted. And my expenses were really, REALLY low: rent at the time was $125.00 a month, plus groceries and phone. Utilities were included.

As it happens, I got offered the paid position, but something had gone horribly wrong between h the owner of the agency and Eveline, and she was no longer working there (long story, owner was SO in the wrong: prison ensued on a later issue). But I was offered a better deal at another agency down the street because Eveline let them know I was available (an Apollo shop, so I had to totally re-learn some formats) and I was set for a year. Eventually, I got laid off from there (at Christmas, naturally; Eveline’s departure the year before was also at Christmas). More than a decade later, I was working in Seattle, not happy, and had met David, who lived in the Chicago suburbs. After a Christmastime trip with David to Colorado, I came home to the news that my employer was firing me (well, I really didn’t know what to do about that one big debit memo and put it off, can’t blame them). So I ended up working in travel here in the Chicago area, and now attend a church named after St Nicholas. It’s weird how it worked out that way. I just hope that my big job change (switching to another team sometime in the next week) is just another Christmas work-life development and not the harbinger of yet another holiday-time interruption in my continued employment in the industry. But I remain thankful for my job, which I suspect I may owe to the machinations of a Turkish saint who is very popular in Holland.

Eveline was Dutch, the seamstress at the dry cleaners was of Dutch extraction, and Eveline included me in her circle of friends. Eventually, this led to my participating in her annual Sinterklaas parties with other local friends. These were a lot of fun; the gifts could be quite modest, or even dug out of the trash and re-used, but they had to be elaborately wrapped and presented with a satirical poem that contained clues about the gift secreted somewhere inside the package, which could take any outlandish or mundane shape.

I remember Eveline one year had to work her way through a meticulously built cardboard steamer trunk, that opened on hinges and had little drawers and construction-paper clothes on hangers. It was lined with wrapping paper, and contained an itinerary that had the sprocket-holes along the sides just as the SABRE printers in her office produced for her clients. Eventually, she found something simple, like a luggage tag… that was the gift! Another year, an avid runner got a Nike running shoe, about the size of a breadbox. After reading the clues and taking it apart in the prescribed manner (there were several more installments of snarky poetry giving him clues) he eventually discovered a half-used tube of Shoe Goo.

You weren’t supposed to know who gave you the gift, and had to call out “Thank you, Sinterklaas!!” once you found your gift. Every now and then, someone would throw a handful of ginger nuts (also called pfeffernuessen)into the center of the group. This was to commemorate St Nicholas’ penchant for tossing gold and money bags through the windows of poor orphans and impoverished lovers.

Earlier today, I found the candy boxes from this years Fannie May fundraiser stacked on the front porch, dusted with snow. I knew UPS would be delivering it to the door, rather than to one of the St Nick’s parishioners, but I forgot to check the porch for it yesterday before the snow started. It should be fine, a little cold won’t harm fine chocolate. But as I brushed the snow off and brought it in, with David’s help, I couldn’t help calling out “Thank you, Saint Nicholas!”

From Benjamin Britten’s
St. Nicholas Cantata (1948):

Across the tremendous bridge of sixteen hundred years
I come to stand in worship with you, as I stood
Among my faithful congregation long ago.

All who knelt beside me then are gone.
Their name is dust, their tombs are grass and clay,
Yet still their shining seed of Faith survives-

In you! it weathers time, it springs again
In you! With you it stands like forest oak
Or withers with the grasses underfoot.

Preserve the living Faith for which yours fathers fought!
For Faith was won by centuries of sacrifice
And many martyrs died that you might worship God.

Help us Lord! to find the hidden road
that leads from love to greater Love, from faith
To greater Faith, Strengthen us, O Lord!
Screw up our strength to serve Thee with simplicity.

Benjamin Britten’s St. Nicholas Cantata (1948) – The Saint Nicholas Center

Via Madpriest

Zenith | Well, that’s where they make ’em

Chicago Public Radio just broadcast an amazing documentary about the old Zenith manufacturing plant, which closed 10 years ago. They interviewed several former employees and intercut them in a really compelling, evocative way. I was transported to another time and place as I listened. Somehow, I managed to keep enough attention on the road to get home safely. You’ve got to hear this, because it’s not just people talking about where they used to work. They’re talking about who they used to be, and what this country used to do.

Today marks the 10th anniversary of a historic plant closure in Chicago’s western suburbs. For more than 3 decades the Zenith plant in Melrose Park turned out millions of picture tubes. Those tubes were installed in televisions and sent around the world under the slogan “the quality goes in before the name goes on.” But after years of struggle, the company decided to close the plant and lay off the last 1,200 workers making a living there. 10 years ago to the day, employees at the Zenith plant worked their last shift and said goodbye to the massive facility.

This is a documentary produced by Chicago Public Radio’s Ben Calhoun. He spoke to three Zenith employees about their time at the plant, what it meant to them, and their feelings about the decline of American manufacturing.

A few years ago Chicago photographer Ken Burkhart was asked to document the Zenith facility before it was demolished. He spent days exploring the plant with little more than floor plans and a spotlight. He found parts of the enormous building in disrepair and some rooms so intact they looked like they were still in use.

Via City Roomâ„¢ – Metro – A Big Time Hurt: Zenith Closing 10 Years Later

30 years ago or more, I came to Chicago as a wide-eyed teenager by train from Utah with the rest of my high-school church youth group. We were from First Congregational Church in Salt Lake, and we were headed to Waukesha, Wisconsin for an annual meeting called NAPF. The organizers of the trip (youth leaders and so on) had arranged for us to spend the night in suburban Naperville after taking an overnight train to Chicago’s Union Station, and the pastor of the local Congregational church would pick us up, show us around a little, and then take us to the church for a sleepover. The next day, they put us on commuter trains to get into Union Station and then on up to Waukesha.

I don’t remember anything about Naperville, or the church. All I remember was a kind of giddy hysteria; none of us had slept, the train was hours late, and the pastor was unintentially hilarious. As he showed us around downtown Chicago, on foot, and then in his big old station wagon, he’d point at large buildings or industrial plants and declaim loudly “Hey! Have you ever heard of Florsheim Shoes? Well, that’s where they make ’em!” or “Kids! Do you ride a Schwinn bike? Well, that’s where they make ’em!”

We drove endlessly. The pastor was one of those “leadfoot stompers,” the kind of driver that’s always tromping on the gas or punching the brakes, sometimes in quickly alternating succession. We were so tired of traveling, we just leaned against each other in the back like sacks of potatoes, trying not to think about carsickness. Some of the boys leaned more purposefully and furtively on “their” girls. It had been a long night on the train.

At some point, giggling helplessly, we all looked dutifully as yet another large factory building was triumphantly pointed out. I remember seeing a big, familiar lightning-bolt logo. We all chanted along in the infuriating way that only teenagers can, when they think the adult in the car isn’t bright enough to know when they’re being mocked.

“Hey, kids, have you ever heard of Zenith Televisions? Well, that’s where they make ’em!!”