Monday, December 31, 2007
Today is cold and snowy and besides running a few errands and taking the dog for a spin we've put our feet up and sat back with our laptops and books while we await dinner reservations and a couple of New Year's toasts here and there with friends and family. Cheers to you all and enjoy the last of 2007!
Sunday, December 30, 2007
It's hard to tell but this is a photo of Eric and his brother Andy running in Chicago this evening. We are getting some snow at the moment and the flakes are monster sized. Besides taking this photo, I stayed inside (warm), got no exercise and read a book like a smart girl.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Friday, December 28, 2007
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Eric, my sister Katie and I went to the mall today to use some gift certificates. Growing up in Lincoln, Gateway was always the cool mall (and only one of two). It's not called Gateway any longer. It is only one of a whole slew of Westfield shopping centers. It used to be small and quaint and many of the stores were actually only accessible from the out of doors. In fact, there used to be a neat little water fountain where all of the children of Lincoln would throw in their coins and whisper their wishes into the air. One day my friend and I sat on the edge of the fountain and dipped our hands in long enough to steal thirty-five cents each. Just for the sheer thrill of it. It was perfect because on the other side of the fountain was a fast food joint called Amigos where they sold twenty-nine cent burritos. We ate lunch on the dreams and wishes of Lincoln children that day.
Today, in the same spot as that old fountain there now stands a carousel. I like to think that it came about by the children tossing their coins and wishing for something better in the mall than a lame water fountain. I don't like to think about how it might have been an even better carousel had I not eaten the burrito that day long ago.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
This is my brother Wes. He is the younger of my two younger brothers and lives in Lincoln, Nebraska with his lovely wife Anne and their new son Noah in a stone house that makes me so envious that I actually see green. Wesley is definitely our public service guy. A trained firefighter, Wes currently serves as a sergeant in the Army National Guard. It looks like he'll take off in February for nine to twelve months to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas for training in biomedical equipment repair. I must say that we are all very proud of Wes and his hard work. There really should be more people like him.
His five favorite things are: (BTW, I usually tell people not to include people on their lists)
1. His cat Roxy
2. The Crescent Moon coffee shop
3. Grandma Langan's peanut butter and jelly
4. Mom's chocolate chip cookies
5. Boulevard Wheat beer
Monday, December 24, 2007
In my family, we love to play cards. Recently we've been addicted to the game called "BS." For the sake of young ears, we call it Bunny Slippers and leave it at that.
Here is how to play (I copied this from the internet):
One standard pack of 52 cards is used. All the cards are dealt out to the players; some may have more than others, but not by much. The object is to get rid of all your cards. Select at random who should go first and continue clockwise.
On the table is a discard pile, which starts empty. A turn consists of discarding one or more cards face down on the pile, and calling out their rank. The first player must discard Aces, the second player discards Twos, the next player Threes, and so on. After Tens come Jacks, then Queens, then Kings, then back to Aces, etc.
Since the cards are discarded face down, you do not in fact have to play the rank you are calling. For example if it is your turn to discard Sevens, you may actually discard any card or mixture of cards; in particular, if you don't have any Sevens you will be forced to play some other card or cards.
Any player who suspects that the card(s) discarded by a player do not match the rank called can challenge the play by calling "Cheat!", "Bullshit!" or "I doubt it!" (depending on what you call the game)(Bunny Slippers). Then the cards played by the challenged player are exposed and one of two things happens:
if they are all of the rank that was called, the challenge is false, and the challenger must pick up the whole discard pile;
if any of the played cards is different from the called rank, the challenge is correct, and the person who played the cards must pick up the whole discard pile.
After the challenge is resolved, play continues in normal rotation: the player to the left of the one who was challenged plays and calls the next rank in sequence.
The first player to get rid of all their cards and survive any challenge resulting from their final play wins the game. If you play your last remaining card(s), but someone challenges you and the cards you played are not what you called, you pick up the pile and play continues.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
We gathered for a noon meal in the warmth of Eric's grandmother's house, Pickrell, Nebraska, USA. I've always liked taking pictures of barns but it's even better if you know the people behind the barn. This sturdy structure was built by Eric's Grandfather Henry Huls, and his father (Eric's great grandfather), Herman Huls in the early to mid 1940s. Barn-board wood siding clad the barn until 1970 when that was replaced, again by Henry but this time with his son Loren, with tin siding. Now it gleams from the hill as you drive up the road.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Friday, December 21, 2007
Thursday, December 20, 2007
Many thanks to Erin for a lovely evening of pizza, hot chocolate and the girls of Eastlake Terrace. Erin dubbed it girl's night in and what a great gig in a city this size-an evening where Jenny, Ruta and I all just walk over. No cars, no trains, no parking. Just a three minute commute down my steps, across the street, and up Erin's steps. It's almost like being on a college campus again, maybe we all live in different dorms but there is no cafeteria food, no french exams and we are all allowed to have dogs.
In our little two-person family we put up a little pink christmas tree, listen to quite a lot of The Dean Martin Christmas Album, make several jokes about celebrating the First Leon and send out Christmas cards of questionable taste. Somehow, this year, the season slipped away from us. Tomorrow we embark on the trip back to Nebraska and I'm suddenly realizing the Chicago traditions that we've missed. One being Christkindlmarket Chicago a German market set up downtown in Daley Plaza, and The Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theater (how do I never get sick of that story?). Other things that go on around town is the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival (can't handle this pre-thanksgiving event), The CTA Holiday Train, which includes a flatbed that carries Santa's sleigh (he walks through the train handing out candy canes with his elves, (you know you love it)), and the adorning of Macy's windows. I'm not usually drawn to the window decorations, but I hear that this year the theme is Mary Poppins and somehow, Mary Poppins makes animatronics strangley and wonderfully okay with me. (Much like Tim Burton movies and 1950s ads where foods have faces are strangely and wonderfully okay with me.) I might have to catch Mary on our way back into town.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Let's reflect on the cuteness. First of all, on the way that the red piece of construction paper is masking taped to the tree, but also on the fact that it is masking taped to a Norway Maple, an invasive, ultra sturdy, best friend of the city planner, street tree. I couldn't quite figure who HAFC is. I know the Howard Area Community Center (HACC) has a family center (FC?) which serves as a daycare. HA+FC? Not sure. But certainly the Lagoon classroom knows these trees as the ones that volunteer to grow in vacant lots and cracks in the alleys. They're the ones that can absorb and thrive on any amount of bus exhaust. They don't even need sunshine really. Tree people in Chicago complain about them to no end. They think the city should put up the tax cash to furnish us with less weedy Elm and Ash trees. But I'm with the Lagoon classroom. Just love your trees. To call a tree annoying seems a little silly. Call breaking your toe annoying. Call the Twelve Days of Christmas song annoying. Call a virgin daiquiri annoying. But, hey, love, hug and tape things to the trees along your streets.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
I know I'm being grumpy. But I stopped in front of this bike today and thought ...yeah...right? The snow and cold are a bummer. That bike hasn't moved in weeks.
But here's some fun to cheer us. Even though it's not a nice long bike ride along the lake shore in a tank top, there's probably no mood the California Raisins can't boost.
Monday, December 17, 2007
Today as I sat working on my computer I choked on some food or coffee or something. I probably almost died. I mean, I sputtered for like fifteen seconds and I know if you're sputtering that at least the airway is somewhat opened. But I did what every person should always do at any time. I hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. While I was choking, I checked my e-mail and got to dreaming about those articles you read on how a person's dog dialed 911 or jumped on the owner to perform some sort of heimlich maneuver. I suddenly looked for Max expecting to find him at least poised with concern as I gagged. But no. I found him in the position posted above. And I want you to know that one second before I took this photo his head was all the way back and he was snoring.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Saturday, December 15, 2007
This, folks, is Sarah. I met Sarah what seems now like ages ago. (Ages= five years.) I think it was at a Cubs game, a work outing for Eric who happened to work with Steve, her husband. Anyhow, it was good timing because I had only been living in Chicago for a few months and I was starting to think that my only acquaintances were going to be actuaries, not that there's anything wrong with that (but there's a little something wrong with that). One of the things that made both Eric and I know we would like Sarah forever was her lifting her elbows in the air and declaring that when she was a kid, she liked to put them in her playdough. It still gives us a good laugh. (I'm thinking you had to be there.) It's been wonderful getting to know Sarah over the years. I can count on the books she lends me being fantastic, the music she recommends being addictive (she's responsible for my being a Greg Brown fanatic) the recipes she hands over being delicious/involving cheese, and her gardening tips being genious if not utterly useful (did you know that you can eat some of the weeds that grow in your yard?)
I put Sarah on the spot today and made her tell me her five favorite things. And they are:
1. Mashed potatoes
2. The Odetta Christmas Album
3. Her (Phat) Bike
4. Spending a whole day reading
5. Getting personal mail
Friday, December 14, 2007
Last night I asked Eric, "So what should I wear to your work party tomorrow?"
"I think it's pretty dressy." Eric said.
"I'm wearing a suit coat."
This girl barely gets by at a summertime Friday afternoon wedding, much less a holiday event at a fancy pants restaurant.
"I don't have one of those cocktail dresses that women often wear to such events." (Code for "I'm not about to go shopping in the holiday madness.")
This morning I found a lovely new black dress hanging in my closet. When I told Eric that he was like living with the love child of Prince Charming and the Fairy Godmother, he said that this was what he was going for and that he was also hoping to fly me on a private jet to Mexico for dinner and dancing tonight, but that he had already checked "steak" and "salmon" for the mandatory holiday party. "The dress is where it will have to stop," he said.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
I got to have homemade lentil soup for lunch today with and made by LK. It was such perfect eats for a cold day that I thought I'd share a recipe with you. Though it isn't LK's, this recipe requires extra olive oil for drizzling -so you really can't go wrong.
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 medium onion, chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 pound lentils (approximately 1 1/4 cups)
11 cups low-salt chicken broth
4 to 6 fresh thyme sprigs
2/3 cup dried elbow pasta
1 cup shredded Parmesan
Heat the oil in a heavy large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery. Add the garlic, salt, and pepper and saute until all the vegetables are tender, about 5 to 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes with their juices. Simmer until the juices evaporate a little and the tomatoes break down, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. Add the lentils and mix to coat. Add the broth and stir. Add the thyme sprigs. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cover and simmer over low heat until the lentils are almost tender, about 30 minutes.
Stir in the pasta. Simmer until the pasta is tender but still firm to the bite, about 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
Ladle the soup into bowls. Sprinkle with the Parmesan, drizzle with olive oil, and serve.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
I must give Erin a high-five for introducing me to Amiee Mann. I suppose that I already knew a couple of her songs but I probably wouldn't have gone to see her without the invite and quality sales pitch. But I'm sure glad I did. She does an annual Christmas show tour and it's really one-of-a-kind. It's a variety show, you know Bob Hope style, and there are several guests and some really intriguing Christmas music. Some original, some traditional and, like her cover of "You're a Mean One Mr. Grinch," all of it fun. There was a short film Amiee made (with Ben Stiller, Weird Al, Will Ferrel, John Krasinski etc.), some comedy, some other musical guests, and even a visit from the rapping Hanukkah fairy. And all of this, at The Vic, an old Chicago vaudeville house (once called The Victorian") that still charms us even through the peeling paint and crumbling wall statues. But back to the show, there was one Nellie McKay in the show and I really liked her. I came home and looked her up and she is wonderfully weird. No one song does the job of showing who she is...but I chose this one to share with you.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Monday, December 10, 2007
Today, as a way of putting off the work I should have been doing, I ran to the fabric store to get some embroidery floss. The man at the counter had what might have been a Russian accent and was pleased to talk about threads and fabric and places you could go that had even better threads and fabric. When the phone at the counter rang, he answered and began to talk to someone who wanted to know the name of the store across the street. He turned to look out the window. "Sorry. There's a big truck in the way. I can't see the store you're talking about." He looked at me and rolled his eyes. Then he continued, "I'm sorry, being how it's cold outside and that I'm working, I'm going to have to charge you to go outside, cross the street and write down the name of the store." I could hear that the voice on the line became raised. The man hung up and told me that I owed nine dollars for the floss and that if I laughed at one more thing he did, he would charge me for entertainment.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Today we headed our cold toes down to Space Time Tanks and partook in the sensory deprivation tanks. I feel that I've already talked about these ad nauseum, so instead of writing about them, I'll just say that on the way home, that good relaxed feeling was ruined by almost getting run off the road by a BMW. Almost every time I am cut off or run off the road it is either by a cabbie or a BMW. So in honor of today's test of my good brakes, I pass this joke on to you:
What is the difference between a BMW and a porcupine?
A porcupine has pricks on the outside.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Friday, December 7, 2007
This is what it's like in Chicago today. The sky is gray. The lake is grey. The snow is getting pretty gray. And did you know that you can spell grey however you want? (Well, within reason.) I've just discovered that it can be spelled with either an "e" or an "a." That both are technically correct. That g-r-e-y is how the English traditionally spelled it and g-r-a-y is an American variation. I read somewhere: "gray" is a color and "grey" is a colour. But we, fellow people, are free to spell it how and when we want to.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Oh, a gem has been found. There's a little diner that we pass on our way to screenwriting class called the Diner Grill. Tonight we finally stopped in at this little whitewashed building (formerly two old train cars) and sat on two of the ten stools along the counter. There are no tables and there is no pretense. The grilled cheese was warm and gooey and even though I wanted a chocolate shake like Eric ordered, I needed a diet coke to stay alert through class. The guy behind the counter looked into my face and knew me in a moment. And he poured the rest of Eric's shake into a separate glass for me. Now mind reading...that's service. This great little joint on the edge of the Lakeview neighborhood has been around, in one form or another since the 30s. They are open 24 hours 7 days a week and are known as one of Chicago's best people watching spots. They are famous for what they call The Slinger, which is comprised of hash browns, grilled onions, two cheeseburger patties and two eggs over easy covered in chili. There is actually a sign taped to the wall that says "The SLINGER. Don't ask, just eat." It's such a mess that the diner will award you a certificate if you can eat it in one sitting. And no, I will never have that certificate. But cheers to places that name their food concoctions things like "slinger" and "garbage omelet." They make me certain that I live in Chicago.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
The picture was taken from far away, so this feels more like a Sasquatch sighting. But I saw a black squirrel today! For those of you who live in or around Omaha, Nebraska, this is no big thing since you have one of the largest population of them in the world, but we think they're pretty cool around here. (Yes, I speak for millions.) Scientists have determined that black squirrels aren't their own separate species but are a variation of the grey squirrel where a fairly rare genetic variation has kicked in. They are a "melanistic morpheme" or in hip science people speak, "color morph." They are sort of albino... except the opposite.
Not only did I see a black squirrel today, but I also came across a cool publication called Chicago Wilderness Magazine. I'm a big and sudden fan. Click the title above to see what they say about black squirrels.
Monday, December 3, 2007
One of our favorite hangouts in Chicago is a quaint little north side neighborhood called Lincoln Square. Several friends live right there and it's a good place to meet up with those who live wester or souther. It's home of German Fest in the fall (as the population is quite German) and of several great cafes, bookstores, bars, boutiques and The Davis, a cozy four-screened, movie theater. Lincoln Square began as a farming locale off the beaten path, but right after the great fire, people swarmed up to the area. Here they could still build the cheaper wooden houses which were now outlawed in the city. Yep, the people came. Pickles, celery and flowers became big business and taverns opened to quench the thirsts of the farmers and shoppers alike. Eventually, Chicago proper crept up and swallowed the neighborhood whole.
Good German beer is one reason to be in Lincoln Square but so is the friendly-family, green and happy feeling in the air. (You know the one you get after drinking the beer). No really, it's a great little family neighborhood. People really do seem to know each other. And there are at least two trees for every dog. It's sort of my own little Chicago dream to live there some day. I would want to live in one of the houses along the Chicago River that have their own docks on the water. Then I could throw my canoe in and race the brown line train into the city, which is the very reason Eric says we will never live there. He knows I'd do it.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
Today we went to see Erin play her violin in the Evanston Symphony Orchestra's Christmas show. (Sorry about the blurry photo.) I must say that after the impressive tunes, occasional dancers and big whopping choir during the second act that we left in quite the holiday mood. Santa Claus and loads of little elves even showed up during the christmas carol sing-along. And I really wanted to sing but I'm afraid that the candy cane in my mouth took top priority.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
I must make an announcement. The Mill in Lincoln, Nebraska has finally lost its best coffee joint in the world status. At least in my humble book. Coming in as my new number one is Charmers Cafe here in Chicago's Rogers Park. I haul my laptop over there on a regular basis when I need to get work done but want to get out of the apartment. So not only is it a little relief from cabin fever, it's a warm cozy place with great coffee, tasty bagel sandwiches, kind employees and free wi-fi. It's the first cafe with regular hours to open up in the neighborhood in quite a while. And it's the little touches that make this place dear. They give you a little box of Chiclets with your bagel, artwork in your steamed milk, outdoor seating in the summer, a water dish for dogs and colored paper and colored pencils for children ages 0-99. They even have an orange squeezing machine for fresh juice and ample vitamin C. Though I think I'll always be emotionally attached to the taste of the coffee at The Mill (I have yet to find a match) they brew tasty and local Metropolis coffee at Charmers and I think they've somehow cast a spell on it, because I must return, even just a quick drop in when on a walk with Max, almost every day.