Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Alex Collection

I was at my brother, Scott's house today. My niece, Ainslie, aged three months, is just starting to dig the infant toys. So I was trying to get a decent shot on the camera phone:

I was having a hard time because, you know, kids move. Alex, age four, wanted to try. And considering that he is pre-school and I don't often get a clear pic, I think he did ok. An eye for the abstract, I believe it is. He called this one, "One Eyeball!":

"Thing in the way!" :

Then he got tired of Ainslie.


"Bottom of My Slipper!"

And my personal favorite, "Rug!"

Such excellent use of light and shadow. You can find the entire session on my Picasa page. If you are my mother, and actually care.

Friday, February 27, 2009

My Bird is So Smart

It is not news that parrots require a lot of toys. Some things to destroy, some to make noise, some to dispense treats, some just to figure out. Kiwi the Grey doesn't destroy things as fast as, say, a cockatoo. But then, she is sometimes convinced that a toy is going to eat her. (Have you seen those piñata things? From the Devil, she thinks.) So I am always looking for new things to try.

Barrel of Fun is a little plastic thing that hides a treat. The bird must figure out how to twist the "key" at the end to open it. It is a bit more difficult because it unlocks at an awkward point. Kiwi has figured it out and opened it three days in a row.
Not a fluke.

She also poses for pictures very well. I am incredibly proud of her.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pass on What You Have Learned

I was having lunch with my boss, Dave, and my co-worker, Christy. Christy is in Accounting. They are talking about a Clearance Sale that our Public Relations department is offering to our members on some older publications. Christy encouraged it, saying the products were expensed two years ago, so anything they earned on the sale was a bonus.

“But,” I said, meekly. “I thought I learned in my Accounting class that you have to record the Cost of Goods Sold at the time you record the Revenue.”

Christy looked at me. “We don’t do it that way.”

I scowled at her. Then thought for a minute. We are a non-profit. We don't sell things for the purpose of making money. “Wait. Is that because we don’t actually book the publications as Assets?”

“Yes,” she replied.

I was all pleased with myself. Christy turned to Dave and said, “This is the problem with educating employees. They start to ask questions.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Speaking of Spooky the Cat

The cat is making me crazy. Since it seems he is more senior than Moses, the vet wants to protect the health of his kidneys by putting him on canned food. Or at least kidney-friendly dry food:

He thinks not.

After his most recent appointment, I decided to give canned food another shot. As a supplement, if you will. I bought a bunch of different varieties. This is what he does to them:

He laps up all of the "gravy" and rejects the "morsels". He will touch nothing "ground" or "minced" or "pâté". He will touch nothing that has been already refridgerated, only fresh from the can (or pouch). Gravy. Fresh from the can or pouch.

Is he kidding me?

Worst Movie Sequels

So. I went to check my e-mail after lunch. And MSN had an article about the worst movie sequels ever made. Of course, Grease 2 was on the list. And it named songs. I have had "Let's Score!" in my head all afternoon. I thought I should share it with you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Walking Cats

There is so much in the news I have been wanting to write about, then I found this article in USA Today. Apparently the trend among the weird people is to walk their cats. Outside, on leashes, like dogs. The advocates say that cats need outdoor-action and this is a safe way. The haters say you can't control the environment and there is nothing worse that a wigged out cat.

Here's my take:

They are all correct.

Spooky the Cat came to live in my house at age 8 1/2. From his kittenhood he was allowed to come and go as he pleased, but my mother and I knew we would not be able to take worrying about a cat that went prowling (or whatever they do) all night. So he became an indoor cat.

For a few years, he made regular jail breaks. The back door was always opening and closing with dogs coming and going, and all it took was good timing. Which he has. Then one day, we got him a leash and took him in the back yard. He was pretty pissy about it at first, and he pointedly ignores me when we are outside together, but he understands:

If he wants to go outside, this is how it is done.

The jail breaks diminished. Significantly.

I don't really "walk" him in the back yard. He walks me. And finds some plot of dirt to roll around and kick up dust. Eventually, I will find a spot to sit down and read, and he will, too. It makes him happy.


Once in a while, Shadow the Dog will get all excited that Spooky is in the backyard. He will run in circles and play dance. (This is how I know the dog is retarded. He thinks Mr. Cranky Cat is going to play with him? Outside? For real?) And sometimes, he gets too close and Spooky will freak out, which involves hissing and scratching and forgetting that I am the person and Shadow is the Dog that's bothering him. And omigod, when we had two. I remember locking the dogs in the house to minimize the drama of Spooky's outside time and they would not. Stop. Barking.

Anyway, I can't imagine what would happen if a stranger dog came to sniff him. (Wait. Yes I do. Because a strange Rottweiler tried to meet Spooky in the waiting room of the vet's office. Spooky flat out attacked.) For one thing, the leash makes him feel somewhat vulnerable, in that it makes him unable to bolt from perceived danger. Since I can't quite tell what he will perceive as "danger", I am not really able to control the environment enough so that he doesn't freak out.

So I only Walk the Cat in the safety of my own backyard. And the neighbors still look at me funny.

P.S. Walking this cat would be of no practical use, anyway. He is incapable of doing his business with anyone looking at him.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Truth & Beauty: A Friendship, by Ann Patchett

Book 7

I read Truth and Beauty: A Friendship, by Ann Patchett. Patchett is the novelist that wrote, Bel Canto, a book club favorite a few years ago. This book is a non-fiction memoir of Patchett’s friendship with Lucy Grealy, a poet-turned-memoirist semi-famous (I say because I had never heard of her before) for writing about childhood cancer, horrific treatment processes, facial disfigurement and a lifetime of reconstructive surgeries.

Patchett wrote a compelling story here. This 20 year friendship ended with Grealy’s death in 2002.

Patchett and Grealy were college acquaintances that became close friends in graduate school. Grealy’s jaw was all but disintegrated by radiation and chemo therapy when she was around 10. Besides the feeling of being “ugly”, Grealy had trouble with several basic physical tasks. She couldn’t close her mouth all the way, so she couldn’t effectively swallow. As such, she had a very hard time eating. The surgeries (nearly 40 by the end of her life) were mainly reconstructive grafts – sometimes bone, sometimes soft tissue.

Patchett does a great job of expressing some of Lucy’s realities. For example, I would have thought that someone with a physical disfigurement would be very physically modest. Lucy was the opposite. Patchett attributed it to spending so much time in the hospital, being examined by so many doctors. At the same time, Lucy always felt that her life wasn’t really going to “begin” until she was finally finished with surgeries and looked “normal”.

One of the surgeries was a breast augmentation. I would have thought someone that required so much surgery wouldn’t elect for anything unless absolutely necessary. But the fact that cancer (or its treatment), stopped her growth (at age 10 or so) it was important to Lucy to rectify it. I spent the first half of this book learning a lot about illness and the aftermath. My heart went out to this girl-poet and I was rooting for her.

At some point in the second half of the book, it hit me. I didn’t really like Lucy all that much. She was so emotionally needy. She manipulated Ann, particularly when Ann was in a relationship with a man. In fact, Lucy was continually competing for attention and affection. On one hand, I could understand why. She spent so much time alone. On the other, she had plenty of friends. What she wanted – demanded – was to be loved best. It was just not fair. By the time Lucy started using drugs, Ann was distancing herself somewhat.

Funny thing – when I started the book, I figured the cancer was coming back and that would ultimately take Lucy’s life. Suicide was never out of the question. The drug overdose was not a surprise to anyone.

One of the comments on the cover was that if this book made some of us read Grealy’s memoir, it would be a great thing. Hm. I am not running out to buy it. But I suppose if I stumble upon it at a Book Sale…

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Productive Weekend

I took my last Accounting quiz on Saturday. The final exam isn't until next Saturday, so it felt like I had an almost free weekend. I started it rearranging my library, and filling those new bookshelves. I won't be "done" until I finish importing all of my music to iTunes. Then I will box up all of those CDs.

I trashed an old bookcase from Target (or wherever) to fit in the new shelves and spread out my history books. Lots of room to grow in those, but I didn't seem to make any room for fiction. So I pulled out my mother's old quilting magazines and my father's old home improvement books. That should hold me for awhile.

Then I sat in front of the television and watched a movie. Glory was on cable and, to my shame, I had never seen it. I don't suppose it counts as spoilers 20 years later, but fair warning:

My mother was walking by and said, "You know this doesn't end well, right?" I figured as much, since it is a war movie. "So everyone dies?" I ask. "Pretty much. One person lives," she replied. "Is it Denzel?" I ask. "I think so."

Lies! Upon angry Anne interrogation, it was revealed that no one can possibly remember the details of a film one saw 20 years ago. Anyway, I am glad I saw it. And then I finished reading a book. A real book. And imported more music.

Today, a guy we know came to take away our old dining room set. It was a very nice set, but was in desperate need in refinishing. He got the furniture and we got a whole room for the birds! Pictures to come at a later date. Kiwi the Grey seems to have adjusted, but the lack of carpet has created a terrible echo whenever the dog starts barking.

I have been reading another real book. I expect to finish it tonight. I made dinner - pizza on a fresh flatbread crust that my grocery store just started making - while watching a PBS special on Fats Domino and New Orleans. Seriously. On PBS. Not some random cable channel like OTV. Good old local PBS is telling me to go to New Orleans.

And for the first time since Rainman, I am completely skipping the Oscars. It is rather liberating. Since there is no House marathon, I have completely turned off the television. It is going to be a long week, but at least I feel like I accomplished something.

"Luxury Shame"

I have been hearing the term "luxury shame" around lately. An article in the Chicago Tribune called it, "a sense that even if you can still afford it, it's best not to make a show of it".

"Frugality is the new cool", was another quote in there.

Here is the main event:

"Conspicuous consumption is out," she said. "Conspicuous frugality is in."

I've been preaching forever that we all (and I point a very big finger at myself) should learn to save more money. But I think the fact that it is "trendy" and "conspicuous" to bargain-hunt misses the point.

"Conspicuous frugality" suggests to me that one is being frugal only so that one's friends notice. Not because they have learned anything. As if Once the Current Crisis Has Subsided, I Will Max Out My Credit Card.

I recently made a "conspicuous consumption" purchase - the bookcases I posted about the other day. So I am sorry if this comes of as rationalizing my own choices. I absolutely do not want anyone to go out and buy things they cannot afford. But it really burns me up that the very people that might contribute to the rebuilding of the economy are...oh, never mind.

Here was the good news:

"While sales for retailers of books, CDs and DVDs have plunged, the Chicago Public Library saw circulation grow by 28 percent from July 2007 to July 2008."

You can read the entire article here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My New Orleans: Ballads to the Big Easy by Her Sons, Daughters and Lovers, edited by Rosemary James

Book 6 - 2009

My New Orleans, edited bt Rosemary James, is a collection of essays. Some written by professionals, some by rather famous natives. James owns Faulkner House Books, which is a lovely store in Pirates' Alley where I make a point to stop whenever I am in town. It is a post-Katrina piece. I don't remember buying this book, but I know it wasn't actually in New Orleans. I pulled it from the shelf because I was tired of carrying around hardcovers and this is a pretty slim paperback. And it was good enough to make me decide that Alaska can wait, and I am going back to New Orleans for my summer vacation.

It seems weird that I am so into New Orleans. I am the opposite of everything that makes it cool. From my clothes to my job to the food I eat. I am totally inhibited: I don't dance, don't sing, and don't like to be touched too much. I am cranky and impatient. Hell, I barely even drink anymore. The fact that I am remotely comfortable in this place does not make any sense at all.

That's probably it.

There was a piece by a guy whose name I didn't recognize. He was talking about how he visits regularly, but would always be a tourist. I was kinda relating to that, except the next piece, by novelist Bret Lott, said it better:

"Walking the Dog with Joe" was about how he was visiting his friend, Joe, who lives in the Quarter. They were walking the dog, Zuli, before heading out to dinner. Zuli was a standard poodle and the piece was all about the attention the dog was getting in the street. This was the ending:

"Zuli, I see, in all her imperial bearing, all her presence and regal posture and beauty and carefree nobility, might as well be New Orleans herself.

And now I hurry to catch up."

I am looking forward to going back.

Friday, February 20, 2009

My Museum

The National Museum of American History is about my favorite museum on the planet. When I was on my 8th grade trip to Washington, we visited. Later that day, we were told that we had an hour to spare. We had two choices on how to spend that time:

Go back to the History Museum; or
Go Next Door to the Natural History Museum and see the Hope Diamond.

Of the 120+ students on the trip, exactly three of us went back to the History museum.

At AU, there were regular class assignments that involved going off campus to use the resources of our Great Nation's Capital. Once in biology, we were sent to a cemetery in Georgetown to research infant mortality rates. I'd blame that on being pre-Internet, but we could have gone to the Library. The professor just wanted us to run around a cemetery. Anyway. About once a semester, someone on my floor had an assignment that involved going to the History Museum. The pact was that if one of us had to go, we all went. It made the work easier. And anyway, it was my favorite museum.

It shut down for renovation so long ago that I don't remember. There was some buzz about the big donor throwing his weight around about things, but I guess if you are spending $100 million dollars on a museum, you are allowed to be pushy. I withheld judgement. The Reopening was in November and yesterday was my first chance to see it. I tried to take a picture from the lobby, but none were coming out, so I stole this one from the press packet:

That big silver thing in the back? Is supposed to represent the flag. Because that is where the original Star Spangled Banner was. Well, actually, that was just a representation, also. When I was very young, they lowered it a few times a day for the masses to behold. Behind that silver thing is the Star Spangled Banner exhibit. I didn't get back there - there were too many children.

The place is clearly not done yet. There were serious wastes of space that I attribute to exhibits not being finished yet. But the impression I left with?

The exhibits are as great as always. (The old First Ladies one seems skimpy, but maybe that is just because I am older). The American President was great. And the Lincoln one was fabulous. It made me feel much better for having forsaken my ritual pilgrimage to his shrine to go to the museum.

Having said that. The design? Is what I like to call "a post-modern monstrosity".

OK, maybe the old look was a little dark. And there are better ways to preserve the artifacts - like Lincoln's top hat! But...ugh. If it had been like that in the Air and Space Museum, it would have been ok. But Mr. Behring, if this is what you were fighting for - I am disappointed.

Anyway, the Public Service Annoucement here is Go See President Lincoln's Exhibit!

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I have made two big purchases in the last month and this is the first:

I have been looking for these all my life. Or at least since I determined that I required my own library. I found them at Crate & Freakin' Barrel, if you can believe that. They were delivered today and the only reason there are no books in them is that I am still in Washington. My mother was kind enough to send me a "Before" picture.

If I had a million dollars, I would buy another set for the other wall.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Being Grateful for the Little Things

In case you haven't heard, flossing your teeth is very important. Something about bacteria and heart disease. Whatever. I am into hygiene and all, but flossing is a pain and I am lazy. Which is why the totally not-green plastic flossy things have been so great.

Just to sound like a commercial, Crest Glide floss sticks are the best of the many, many I have tried. How do I know? Because when I tried to use something more eco-friendly (involving less plastic) my dental hygienist, Marina, could tell the difference in my mouth.

Imagining that scene is right now making my mother cringe. She knows Marina.

So about six months ago, I was in the drugstore and they were on clearance. I bought every last box in a total panic. As my supply is diminishing, I have been considering trolling the Internet and paying shipping for these things.

Yesterday, I went to the CVS down the street because I can never remember to pack toothpaste. And I found them again - in new packaging.

I could just floss all night.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Happy Travel Day

Everyone has airport horror stories. Particularly about my own airport. Did you hear that we were rated the “worst” again? “Worst” meaning of all the airports in the U.S., you are most likely to encounter a delay at O’Hare.

Boohoo. Go find another airport.

So I thought I would change the pace and tell you all about my great day.
The cab was early. So I arrived at the airport early. Went through security without any trouble at all. Even though I wear gym shoes and had a laptop in my bag. I picked up some caramel corn at Garrett’s to get me through the week (Garrett’s! #12 on the list of Reasons Why O’Hare Rules!) and then went to Starbucks for oatmeal.

Eating my oatmeal at the gate, I see that the 8am flight to Washington is boarding. I am on the 9am flight. I consider trying to get on the 8am flight, then decide that I would never find room for my luggage and anyway, I am eating my oatmeal.
I finish my oatmeal and see on the new, fancy informational sign that this flight has 60 available seats. And seven more minutes to board. The gate agent is just trying to track down two last no-shows. Everyone else has boarded. I walk up, explain that I am booked on the 9am, but only have carry on luggage and would be happy to go early if it was convenient.

It most certainly was. She gave me seat 3D. I kicked the squatter out of my chair, stored my luggage, e-mailed my mother (because she has made clear that if I die on a flight that I am not supposed to be on, she will be super-mad) and went to sleep.
The flight took off early and landed early so I arrived in time to have lunch with my boss. Which is a good thing.

Happy travel day.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Even More about the Kindle

A Blog of Note led me to an article in the Economist about the Kindle.

Part of it talks about how Kindle is not to books what iPod was to CDs. But here is what I really liked:

“So far, says Mr Kessel, this does not seem to spell the end of paper books, since Kindle users buy just as many bound books as before, so that their total consumption of books goes up by 2.6 times. That may change as more titles become available. More importantly, the Kindle and similar devices made by Sony and others represent only one side of the evolving e-reader market. They are for aficionados, since paying $359 for a device makes sense only if you read quite a lot of books, newspapers or magazines on it. “

I am leaving for Washington again on Tuesday, and I will be taking the Kindle with me. I noted this afternoon that I will hurry up and finish the book I am reading so as not to carry both. I purchased three books at Half Price Books sale this weekend. Oh, and one more at the Library Used Book Store on Thursday.

Although. Except for that first purchase, (and the 99 cent Complete Shakespeare), I have only downloaded the free e-books from Amazon. I just picked up a free Sherlock Holmes e-book the other day, actually. It’s kind a thrill-of-the-hunt bargain shopping thing.

And I can’t get any real reading done while school is in session!

Anyway. You can read the entire article here.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hand and Foot Creams

Janet Franz wrote a mid-winter article in the Chicago Tribune comparing hand creams. It seems Aveda wins and Neutrogena is the best from the drug store. (Neutrogena is also the best for boys that don’t want to smell like girls.)

But the real conclusion Franz came to is that most of the hand creams on the market will do the job if you can manage to remember to use them. A good scent helps with that. I would add that to keep one at your desk at work, it must be non-greasy. Franz also notes that most hand creams don’t really manage dry cuticles. So true.

I am still using my Bath and Body Works Hand Creams. Shea Cashmere at work and Breathe “delight” at home. But I am not particularly loyal because I don’t think anyone has found something head and shoulders above the others. In my price range, anyway.

And speaking of price range, I have even more trouble with what to use on my feet. I want to keep them healthy and moisturized, but am not willing to spend the same dollars as I do on my hands. During the Ulta clearance sales, I found this:

Bag Balm is one of the creams that dairy farmers use on the udders of cows. And I have to tell you, this stuff works. I shower at night, so I slather this stuff on my feet and cover them with socks. And my feet feel great.
The downside:

Looks like Carmex, doesn’t it? If I remember correctly, the smell is similar. Which is unfortunate. But I have been using this almost every night for over a month, and barely put a dent in it.

So. That is how I am getting my feet through the winter. Any further recommendations are welcome.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Any Given Friday During the Semester

Spooky cannot seem to stay away from my computer. I took it downstairs to do some homework and supervise parrot play time.

Eloise was on her perch, eating her almond butter sandwich. Shadow was at her feet. Kiwi the Grey flew to the floor and veerrrry quietly waddled toward the dog.

Me: "Shadow! Watch out for Kiwi."
Kiwi: (turns to glare at me)
Shadow: (huh? waiting for treats now!)
Kiwi: (turns back to Shadow) "You're ok!"

Yes. She literally said that.

I got up, thinking either to scare her off of biting the dog's feet or to snap a picture of her doing it. I hadn't decided. By the time I had the camera, she had given up. And the cat was at the computer.

This scene could seriously happen on any given Friday night while I am in school

Thursday, February 12, 2009

On Lincoln's Birthday

I don't know if the rest of the country is going as goofy as Illinois about President Lincoln's 200th birthday. But the other day I was watching something on TV where the historian was saying that the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Speech were just about the best two pieces that any leader had ever written in this country.

"The Second Inaugural," I thought. "That's the one on the other wall of the Lincoln Memorial. The one about 'with malice toward none'."

I'm not proud of that. Luckily, I have a copy or three in my house, so I pulled it out and think you should read it (again):


At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, urgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war--seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

When the snow melts

When the snow melts, we see what has been sitting in the snow banks all winter long. At my office, that usually means cigarette butts.

I don’t mind smokers as a rule, but I do mind their littering. My real-life friends will know that I have three times had a lit cigarette discarded by a drive land inside my car.

Also, we see a lot of road kill. Mostly raccoons, but over the weekend, I swear I saw a deer on top of a snow bank. Sorry for being graphic, but I am seriously wondering if it had involved a snow plow and been there all winter.

On Monday, I was finally able to leave my office and crossed the parking lot to Taco Bell. Because the snow is piled at the back of the parking lot, there is no easy way to walk over there.

This is what is left. You can't tell from the picture, but this mountain was six feet high when I snapped the shot.

It is going to snow again this weekend, so the mud will be covered with a dusting of white. For a few hours.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

On this, the nicest day of the year.

The other night, I was driving my father and step mother to dinner. She doesn't speak a whole lot of English, so he and I are just chattering away. I asked what he was doing this week. Visiting friends, going to the casino, etc.

Me: "Dad, Susan has never been to Chicago. When are you taking her into the city?"
Dad: "What is there to do in the city?"
Me: (names 10 things)
Dad: "Susan grew up in a city in China. She has no interest in seeing the city."
Me: "Really? Did you ask her?"

The next day, at Alex's birthday party, he said:

"I stand corrected. Susan wants to see the city. Let's do that on Tuesday."

So I took a vacation day, got online and figured out how this would work. They got on the train near my brother's house and I picked it up closer to where I live. I had to fight to get him on the 9:18 train.

So. The first thing he says is that he needs a new wallet. So we end up at freakin' Macy's. Again.

Well - I don't remember how to get everywhere, but the State Street Marshall Fields? I remember. And it. Looked. Horrible. I hadn't been in since they changed it to Macy's, so I don't know if it is always that horrible or if this is some kind of post-holiday, economic slump thing. But it made me sad.

So we went to the Park and they get a big kick out of the bean and Navy Pier and The Art Institute. By the way, The Art Institute is doing free admission for the entire month. The Munch Exhibition doesn't start until next week and they are charging for that, but if the gift shop can be believed, they have conned the Smithsonian into lending them "Vampire" (which was apparently originally titled "Love and Pain" - thanks Internet) and I really love that piece.
And then we had enough.
Here is my father's life: it has been about 10 degrees every day since Christmas, but he flies into town and the temperature skyrockets and the snow melts. He is leaving tomorrow. And what is happening tomorrow? First the rain. And then the temp drops 40 degrees.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Airplane Etiquette

MSN’s Travel section had an article about how Virgin Airlines is “advocating a return to civility” in flight. I thought, “Finally, someone is going to shut these whiners up”.

I am no Million Mile passenger, but I fly regularly. I make a conscious effort to be pleasant to the airport staff as well as the airline people. Their jobs are not easy. Sure, there are the horror stories of sitting on the tarmac for six hours. And I have often complained about the lack of communication from the airlines about expected delays. Oh, and the fact that they are charging for checked luggage has made the competition for overhead bins unbearable. But that isn’t the fault of the staff at the gate, or the flight attendants.

Generally, the biggest trouble for me in flying is the other passengers.

“Much has been made in recent years of the lack of civility when it comes to flying, with the term air rage now part of the daily lexicon. Many point to post-9/11 security, which forced a focus on safety over service, as the cause. But in the past two years, flying has become even more trying: in addition to security hassles, there are fuller flights with smaller staffs; increased airfares, even as airlines charge for food, pillows, and checked luggage; and a spike in flight delays. It's no wonder that increasingly beleaguered passengers are looking to reassert their control — even over issues as seemingly inconsequential as where their It Bags are stored.”

Hm. That sounds like we are excusing them.

Virgin Airlines is training its staff to bend over backwards in accommodating people so as to defuse air rage. I liked it better when they were kicked off the plane. You know why? Because I don’t like that people are rewarded for behaving badly. Check this out, from a role playing training session:

"Do you know how much this bag is worth?" Cournoyer countered.

"Yes I do, and if I had one I wouldn’t want to let go of it either," Nobles replied with the reverence of one who knows her Hermès from her Hervé. "But how about I wrap it between two blankets for you, stow it overhead, and as soon as the seat-belt sign is turned off, I'll run down the aisle and give it back to you? I promise! Please!"

Or how about if you can’t store your luggage like a normal person, you don’t bring it on the damn airplane?!

As flyers, we are all in this together. We are all stuck in security lines. We are all subject to delays. We are all looking for space in the overhead bin. We are all “beleaguered passengers” looking to “reassert control”. That is no excuse for behaving badly. I wish Virgin the best of luck – points for trying something. But I’m not convinced.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Birthdays and Christenings

Half the state was at my brother's house this weekend. Friday night we celebrated my nephew and my father's birthdays by having dinner at Lou Malnati's. Pizza is one of the three foods that Alex really likes and Malnati's is all Dad wants when he is in town, since he moved to Florida.

Saturday was Alex's birthday party. It was also his uncle, Michael's birthday. So there were two cakes. And cupcakes. I managed to get home in time to review my lectures and take my weekly Accounting quiz. Not feeling particularly confident, though.

Today was my niece Ainslie's christening. I distracted Alex and his best friend, Ellie (also age 4) with the camera phone. Worked for five minutes. Mostly, they took pictures of each other, and they all came out blurry. But Ellie went for the "flowers":

The baptismal font (or whatever it is called) is huge in that church. And they do a full (well, up to the chest) "immersion" of the child. Would you believe that the priest told Alex and Ellie that sometimes snakes come out of this thing? Alex did two laps around it, looking for snakes from every angle, which was funny. And so not what I thought he would do:

And then we had an ice cream cake.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pretending to Be Springtime

The weather was absolutely beautiful today. We broke 50 degrees and while I know this is just the Halftime Show of Winter, I don't care.

When I arrived home from Alex's birthday party - at 4:30 or so, I opened the garage door and let Shadow out in the front yard with me while I went to the mailbox. He wandered around for awhile, when I was expecting him to have to pee.

Finally, he stepped up onto what was left of a snow bank and did his business. As if he no longer understands the purpose of the lawn!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Grade School Suicide?

Story broke yesterday in Evanston, Illinois about a 10-year old boy that was found unresponsive in his school bathroom. Hanging from a hook. He was found by someone on the maintenance staff that immediately started CPR. The boy died at the hospital.

When the story first broke, there were no details about who might have seen him or talked to him or what might have happened at school that day. My gut feeling was that it had been a prank gone bad. A bunch of kids copying something they had seen on television. But really – no one heard him call for help?

This morning, we learned that it appeared to have been a suicide. The boy, with previous “psychological” history, was scolded by a teacher for something or other. He literally told the teacher he was going to hang himself.

At first, I was actually relieved. It wasn’t stupid kids, wasn’t some horrible bullying story. Then I remembered that it was a 10-year old boy.

I don’t pretend to understand the path of despair that suicidal people travel before making the attempt. But a 10-year old? How does a 10-year old get there?

You can read more about the incident here.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Camera Phone

Google has been linking to articles from “WikiHow”, the Wikipedia of “How to” stuff. Today they had “How to Take a Good Picture on Your Camera Phone”, which I clearly need. So here is my biggest problem:

“Keep your hand steady as you press the shutter button. After you take the picture, keep the phone in position to allow the picture to be recorded. If you move immediately after pressing the shutter button, often times you will just get a blur!”

Keeping the phone steady is near impossible for me. Then factor in the movement of my most frequent subjects: dogs and parrots. Then you have to hold still while it records – and it is completely hopeless.

There were some good tips in here, particularly about the lighting.

They say to keep your space free by downloading immediately. Personally, I e-mail it to myself and then delete. There were also a couple of hints about lame pictures - like self-portraits in the mirror.

Like Wikipedia itself, the articles in WikiHow are somewhat Hit or Miss. But I liked this one.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Page a Day for Book Lovers

In my stash of fabulous Christmas loot was one of those Page a Day calendars from a colleague. It is for “Book Lovers” and each day has a suggested read. They are all relatively recent publications and cross genres very nicely. I have been making two piles – you might call them “Yes” and “No”. By the 17th of January, there were four books in the “Yes” pile.

As if.

I started to worry. I have enough books to read. I am in school. I volunteer at the library and Half Price Books is my favorite store. What the hell am I doing taking more book recs?

Luckily, the rest of the month was a bust. Today’s pick was World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Apparently a sequel to The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks. Hm. I was going to make fun of it, then thought better. Utter_scoundrel may be into it.

P.S. File Under “Things I hate about Windows Vista”: You have to change menus to find the hyperlink button. I had no idea how often I use hyperlinks!

Monday, February 2, 2009

Post Impeachment

Friday, after the impeachment was finished, the news cameras were all at the former governor’s Chicago home. His security detail was packing up and leaving. Apparently there is no provision for security once a governor leaves office – insert joke about going to prison here.

Something about the abruptness of that bothered me a bit. I don’t expect that anyone is going to physically harm the family. But I wouldn’t be surprised if a brick went through a window. It made me think of some other things we hadn’t considered before.

Like the fact that there was no way to stop a presumably corrupt governor from appointing someone to the Senate even after he was indicted for trying to sell the seat. There is also no provision in the Illinois Constitution for electing or appointing an interim Lt. Governor.

As I was mulling this over, my mother reminded me that I voted (rather adamantly) against calling a state constitutional convention last fall. This was a routine measure, not a campaign for reform. I had two reasons:

First, former governor Jim Edgar noted that having the same old politicians craft a new constitution isn’t going to fix what we don’t like about the old one. Second, Illinois doesn’t have the money for it right now.

While I am not quite so adamant about it these days, (because clearly the Illinois Constitution needs some work) I do not regret my vote.

The second reason – the cost - is also the reason why I wasn’t particularly interested in a mid-term election for President Obama’s Senate seat. An election would take more money and more time than I think we want. Roland Burris would not have been my candidate, but I hardly think he is going to do a lot of damage for the two years remaining in the term.

I hope I am done talking about this now. Illinois is embarrassed. I hope we are embarrassed enough to start making changes. Until then, the cartoons are pretty funny.

Important Discovery

Since I have been unable to go out for lunch lately, I found these in our sundry shop. Best. Chips. Ever.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Eloise, Shadow and the Pizza

In case you didn't believe me, about Eloise the Foster Grey and Shadow.

Incidentally, the pizza was some "rustic" packaged thing from Costco. It comes with three crusts and the sauce. You provide your own toppings. I just used cheese and turkey pepperoni. The reason there are two half pizzas on the counter is that I thought I could eat one all by myself. Not so much.
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The Carwash

It hit 40 degrees today, for the first time since December. Apparently, 1985 was the last time that Chicago saw a January without hitting 40 degrees. And it was partly sunny, so we all went to get our cars washed.

By "we all" I mean everyone in the six county area in possession of a vehicle on four wheels.

Last winter, on a similar day, the wait was 45 minutes to get into an automatic car wash. Does that sound ridiculous to you? Well take a look:

This is not "dirty". This is "eroding". It is worth the wait.

Today, I went to one in Northbrook that has a human operator set up the cars before sending us through. You know - the ones where you drive your car on to the little tracks and put in into neutral. The machine pulls you through the wash.

It makes the dog insane.

Anyway. It is a universal truth that the back end of the car never gets as clean as the front end in an automatic car wash. But if you tip the guy, he takes the power spray to the salt before the car is pulled in. Obviously, my car really needed it. This place also had an undercarriage wash, which I think is equally important to be rid of the salt.

Check the "after" pic:

The salt is still not gone! But I think it is clean enough to get my license plate sticker to stick.

Edit: WGN says it didn't actually hit 40 degrees.

Horrible Star Wars Thing

My friend Holly sent me this and I am only posting it here so that I can find it again when I need to make someone throw up. Like my brother.

Star Wars: Retold (by someone who hasn't seen it) from Joe Nicolosi on Vimeo.