Sunday, December 25, 2011

All I want for Xmas is the Bears at the Super Bowl and other lies we tell ourselves

Last week, Johnny Knox had his back broken and underwent surgery on Monday, the 19th, to have two vertebrae fused together.  I am so very sorry for him and his family and his teammates.  He is a good solid player and this doesn't look very good for his future with the NFL.  Knox is good, solid receiver and breaking your back in the rough and tumble life of the NFL doesn't bode well.  The last thing I heard is "this is not career ending" and "he is getting out of the hospital in a few days."  Johnnie, I hope like heck you finished college and were playing attention in class.  (An aside:  I've heard interviews with this gentleman and both are doubtful.  Sad but true.)

This week, well into the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field, the Packers are haberdashers, handing the Bears their hats over and over again. The Bears came back but that is their job.  The Chiefs bested the Packers last week making me all super hopeful the Bears might be able to do the same.  Aaron Rodgers was mighty pleased with his Xmas gifts of today and gave Packers fans everywhere the gift of whooping out rumps.  As a non-Packers fan, I wish he might've curbed his enthusiasm but Josh McCown, who hadn't started as a QB since 2007, did not totally embarrass himself which is kind of what Caleb Hanie did.

Just when Jay Cutler is hitting hit stride, he breaks his thumb (and reunites with his fiancee).  Matt Forte, playing without a contract, is proclaimed one of the most formidable players in the NFL by not only fans and sportscasters, but this teammates; he suffered a knee injury so bad that he is still out.  Add poor Johnny Knox plus Gabe Cremini, the Bears #1 draft pick who spent the season out after needing some NFL-induced knee surgery, and we are just sad, sadder, and not in any playoff saddest.

Next week is the last game of the regular season and that will be that for the year.  There will be discussions of missed chances, and coulda-woulda-shoulda.  There will be chats of if-onlys.  This was not the Bears' year.  This was the year to test their mettle and that of their fans including me.  Next week we can hope they aren't so handily beaten (Aaron Rodgers is a great QB, y'all) so they can end their season on a more positive note, hopefully looking toward the 2012-13 season.  Bears fans always look hopefully forward because that is the fans' job.  I expect no one has nonrefundable reservations at any of the Indianapolis hotels but if one does, go, have fun, and cheer like a son of a gun for the Bears to be there next time.

Packers prevail over the Bears, 35-18.  I didn't say they mergalized the Bears because it could have been 42-7 so "prevailed" is pretty darn kind.

Courtesy of Reindeers.Info
Merry Christmas to all and a shout out to Santa.  Here are two of his eight-plus-one reindeer unit, relaxing after a hard night of work.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

They came for you

A while ago and for several years, I worked with a woman whose husband was a federal prosecutor.  He worked very hard, putting in long hours during the week and on weekends.  He and his coworkers never complained about the very long hours they put in because while they adored their wives and children, their passion was for the law and justice.  What I gleaned then and from other federal cases in the news is this:  If there is a knock at your door and you are being arrested by the feds for something like fraud, racketeering, or drug smuggling, the case against you is already very, very strong, you will lose at trial, and you will be going away for a very long time. 

Ah, Sam Hurd.  Proclaiming his innocence for buying a mere kilo (2.2 pounds, y'all) of cocaine and twirling off to stash it in the trunk of his car.  He wanted 10 kilograms of cocaine and 100 pounds of marijuana because he wanted to go into a nice sideline business for himself.  Being a Chicago Bear wide receiver and earning millions of dollars a year is just not a long-term proposition, after all, and you have to plan for the future.  Please might he also get some untraceable Mexican cellphones?

Those were federal agents working undercover and they'd been watching Sam Hurd since his time with the Dallas Cowboys.  When Sam moved to Chicago, the investigation moved north with him, and at the Morton's Steakhouse in Rosemont, Illinois, Sam got not just stupid but super stupid and off he went to the Metropolitan lockup on the corner of Van Buren and Clark in downtown Chicago.

A judge released Sam Hurd on $100,000 bail and said he could remain free on bail as long as he held a full-time job.  Later that day, the Bears cut him.  It hardly matters because next week he will be arraigned in Texas, where the case will be tried and you can't be two places at once.

Meanwhile, I hope he gets his affairs in order.  They came for him and that is that.

At Solider Field the Bears lost Johnnie Knox to a back injury in a fiasco of a game.  The Seattle Seahawks strolled off with a 38-14 win and with any hope of a Bears playoff berth.  There are just a few games left but there will be no January ball to write about, for major fans to sweat over and enjoy, to capture the imaginations of the loyal.  Remove the fork, wash it off, and expect some heads to roll on the Bears roster and with Bears management and coaching.  I hope Johnnie's surgery (yeah, back surgery) goes well tomorrow.

For several years, ComEd, the local electric utility, has sponsored Zoo Lights at the Lincoln Park Zoo.  My birthday is tomorrow (and it's a big one) and I asked the birders if we might please go to see Zoo Lights.  They agreed and we all went.

First we went looking for birds at Montrose Harbor (a few mergansers bobbed on the lake) but then took our binoculars to the South Pond.  There was an American Coot that instantly was alarmed and skitted across the water to get the freak away from me.  Because the water had some ice on it, we may soon not be able to see much of anything in that pond but Hans and Prima, the Mallards, were there as were their neighbors, the Other Mallards, and four females of that species who were hanging together for safety, company, something to do.

A Wood Duck cooperates today at Lincoln Park Zoo
The duck pond in the zoo was alive with activity.  There were those Hooded Mergansers and the crazy Wood Ducks and the adorable Ruddy Duck (its bill is sky blue) but also a Pin-Tailed Duck.  All the ducks seemed very happy in that duck pond, with it's two floating islands (seriously, they are floating;  I saw one island move and thought vertigo had returned).

Okay, bla bla bla animals, now I am going to skip ahead to the lights.  Zoo Lights is the bomb.  Lots of people came out and there are cute wire animals lit up with bulbs but the greatest part were the avenues of trees that were covered with lights.   There were lights that seemed to be cascading down like rain.  There was a stand of pines covered with lights that were programmed to light up with music.  There were trees with all the same lights -- yellow, green, red -- and others that were different colors, a wholly red tree next to a gold one, etcetera.  There were not just a few trees and lights, there were lots of trees and lots of lights and it was as exciting for me to see as it was to see the Santa Train running on the Blue Line last year.

This picture is cool but seeing it in person is so much cooler.  GO!
If you live in the Chicago area, go!  It's free and the weather is unseasonably warm which makes loping around a large area most pleasurable.  It's just the kind of thing that would have made my head explode when I was a child.  Hell, tomorrow I will be a senior citizen according to Rail Europe and it still almost made my head explode.  At the Lincoln Park Zoo, open every night through December 23, 5pm to 9pm.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Welcome to the Third World

Yes, yes, y'all, the Bears played today in Denver against the Broncos and FOJ Tim Tebow, but something much more pressing is on the horizon.  They want to gut, ruin, and disembowel the United States Post Office, a notion that is far more important than Caleb Hanie leading our hometown team against the Armies of Tim, I mean the Broncos.

The United States Postal Service plans to close 252 mail processing centers and lay off 28,000 employees by the end of 2012.  They will close and sell off buildings and properties, eliminate a letter arriving the next day in local markets, and allow an additional 461 more centers to close by the end of 2015.  Those 28,000 people who are targeted for layoff will likely not find any job nearly as good as their postal jobs ever again, because jobs with the USPS translate to nowhere else in the work force.  And ultimately, we will never again get our mail in a timely manner.

I have a post office box in downtown Chicago.  I got very good service at this station for a long time.  It was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  If you were downtown on a Saturday night and you wanted to swing by to get unclaimed mail and, oh, look, I got a package!  You walked to the post office box window, rang the bell, and someone would greet you pleasantly and fetch your package.  It was delightful.

About two years ago, a lot of the older employees decided to take early retirement.  They have been replaced by either no one or employees who are so elderly that they have been made ill by the work they are required to do.  People with postal boxes are not getting weekly periodicals in a timely manner and, far worse, are not getting their bills and even checks in a timely manner.  When one doesn't get bills in a timely manner, one is forced to go to extraordinary measures to get the money there in time.  Race to the place of business and slip a check under the door.  Overnight a payment using Express Mail.  Call a utility or a credit card company and beg for extra time.  Pay on line.

One of the great joys of my birthday is receiving cards and bon mots from people via the US Mail.  (Not everyone can get it together for that, so phone calls are also lovely.)  Bon mots you can hold in your hands and carry to your brain and to your heart are precious things.  Emails are fine, touching in their immediacy, but the surprise of getting congratulations, sympathy, a birthday wish cannot be compared.  Thank-you notes are taken more seriously if they are in writing.  Someone has cared enough to make or else go to a store and buy something, then go to a facility that sells postage, affix said postage to the envelope, look up your address, and mail it to you.  That is effort that only the US Mail can provide.

America is an enormous country.  In the great American heartland and in the vast American west, there are tiny farming communities or former mining towns whose sole link to the outside world is via the US Postal Service.  These places are on no regular trucking routes, relying on the US Mail and rural free delivery.  A farm may well be 30 minutes from town and the person on that farm might be elderly or infirm.  If mail is eliminated in their town, they would be forced to go fetch their mail on their own in some other town that might be 90 minutes away in each direction (this is a conservative example; consider Alaska).  Because not all transactions can be done electronically, if they are expecting a check they need for their business to survive, they have to use gasoline and time away from their jobs to receive the check, and they have to keep doing it until the check arrives.  That is three hours and many gallons of gas (at approximately $3.40 per gallon) just to see if they received money due them.

I visited Dubai, one of the United Arab Emirates, in 2004.  As recently as 55 years ago, Dubai was a sleepy fishing village; these days, as you all know, it is something much bigger.  There is no mail delivery in Dubai.  There are no street addresses and no postal codes.  Everyone, individuals and businesses, has to get a post office box and then go to post offices to fetch their mail.  DHL, Fedex, and UPS can deliver with street and building names and a solid, working phone number for the driver to call for more specific directions. Dubai has grown up fast without sensible urban planning; America has grown greedy and foolish.

I am sure that some pea brain somewhere (with a political affiliation that is not my own) thinks this is a good idea, but I tell you that it is not.  Getting a card that is sent from one side of Chicago to the other side of Chicago in more than a day or a bill that goes from North Carolina to San Francisco in more than three days smacks of the Third World, of an emerging nation, of a country that also can't get it together to get the citizens proper health care.  Oh, wait, that's us, too.  Mail is a simple thing and we have been doing it for a long time, like from the inception of the country including, for a short while, even using guys on fast horses.  Because the mail is important.  Due to some idiocy of governance, all of this could go away.

Snow, rain, heat, humidity, biting dogs might not keep the mail from going through, but it would be shameful if Congress doesn't act to keep a strong, fast mail service.  Otherwise the greatest nation on earth will take yet another step toward becoming the greatest jerkwater joke of all time.

And back to the Bears and Broncos.  It got to overtime and the Broncos won.  Never mind that the tying and the winning points were thanks to Denver field goals, the talking heads of sports talked to FOJ QB Tim Tebow like he did it personally.  He thanked the team for keeping the faith and he thanked some big guys upstairs (John Elway not included and he used the "g" reference).  He did not say, "Holy smokes, we got dang lucky that Marion Barber made a mistake at the end of the fourth quarter."

God doesn't care about football.  If God cared about football, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) would not be a concern and players would espouse the virtues of a solid education in concert with a solid athletic performance.  I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pressing forward into the lackluster

We at the offices of Oh, I Think So congratulate Mr. Jay Cutler on his re-engagement to Miss Kristin Cavallari.  The happy couple is now living together during Jay's recovery from thumb surgery.  I have this to say to them:  Jay has only one chance to make a perfect recovery so both of you make it your job to ensure a perfect result.  Since being famous is not a real job, Jay is the primary breadwinner, always will be the primary breadwinner, and Jay getting better is focus enough.  Should she feels distracted, Kristin might take some nice polish to that 5.2 carat sparkler or feed the microscopic people who use it for an ice rink.

But for the less good news, the Bears were beaten by the LAST PLACE Kansas City Chiefs at Soldier Field.  As I am a nervous fan, I have mostly lost confidence in Mr. Caleb Hanie.  Donovan McNabb was given his walking papers by the Minnesota Vikings but we didn't grab that.  Kyle Orton was snatched up by the KC Chiefs.  We wisely spent good money to give Earl Bennett a four-year extension on his contract; Earl Bennett is a very good player.  I simply think it might be nice to have some more experience calling the shots on game day.  Two games in a row were lost which makes the Bears season record 8-5.  There are other teams in the running for the Wild Card slot and I would really like some nice post-season play. I am fairly certains the Bears Organization would like the same.

The Chiefs win it, 10-3.

At home with the Mallards, Prima and Hans
Yesterday was the first Saturday in December and unseasonably warm in Chicago, getting to over 50 degrees farenheit.  The birders and I went to a different viewing point at a different time of day and reaped great rewards.  We went to South Pond in Lincoln Park, near the Lincoln Park Zoo, and were rewarded with a Long-Tailed Duck and the small, supercute Ruddy Duck.  Canadian Geese came flying and glided onto the water.  (Witnessing  the geese landing was a big darn treat as they parted the waters gently.  What got locked into my brain?  The sound of the soft rush of water as they completed their flight.  It sounded exactly the same with each landing.)  There were male and female Mallards  (so many Mallards!), a Northern Shoveler (big old thing), a Ring-Necked Duck.  There were Trumpeter Swans, an American Coot, and a Grebe (OMG which I actually identified!).  There male and female Hooded Mergansers -- stunning in person.  There were male and female Wood Ducks, the male Wood Duck being one of my favorite of all birds.  (Who came up with this bird?  Was Mother Nature doing some serious LSD and when she was done tripping found it was too late to take it back?) 

"Mike, for the last time, I already swallowed the shrimp."
Sure, sure, the swans were probably regular zoo residents but the rest of the waterfowl?  Nope, they just knew where some tasty, free eating might be and decided to hang and nosh and paddle about, maybe kibbitz a little and then shlep south next week.  There was a handsome stand of flamingos including two who seem to have issues, each with the other.

The romance of exotic blossoms or high humidity?  You decide.
Since time flies whether or not you are having fun, it had been years since I'd been inside the Lincoln Park Conservatory.  The birders, who also know much about plants and gardening, agreed to go inside with me even though it was not their first choice, so thank you, birders!  I used to live fairly close by and would stop by on a regular basis and it was even more wonderful than I recalled.  It was lush and green and so humid that it was quite a while before my camera lense stopped fogging up.  Ah, look at the lovely picture of an orchid through the humidity.  It looks ethereal and mysterious or like I just couldn't get my darn lense to not fog up.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Jay can't play on Thanksgiving Day (or for several weeks)

Jay Cutler had surgery to repair his busticated throwing-hand thumb somewhere in Colorado.  Aspen? Vail?  Somewhere in Colorado that isn't Denver.  Regular readers of this blog will know what I am going to say next, so it will be no surprise:  What?  There are no good hand surgeons in Chicago?  Ah, but there are.

Almost 20 years ago, I had two hand surgeries within the span of nine months.  About five years ago, I had occasion to visit an orthopedic surgeon and I told him about my experience, especially with the second surgery which was pretty complicated.  He looked at my hand and said, "He did a very good job."  Dude was a stellar human being, too.  Perhaps America's premier thumb surgeon operates solely in that lovely part of the Rockies.  It's Jay's working hand so I will cut him some slack.  Mark this day on your calendars.  I guess Jay will convalesce in Colorado, former home of, well, Jay, making it easier for multiple followups with the doc.

Good luck and happy healing, Jay.  Get back to work so I can smack talk you aplenty.

Meanwhile, in Oakland, CA, Caleb Hanie and the Bears took on the Oakland Raiders.  My opinion?  Hanie did not stink too terribly as the Raiders didn't win by that huge a margin.  The intentional-grounding incident in the 4th quarter with the clock at four seconds was kind of ditzy but otherwise, not too shabby and I thought the rest of the team was also with the program.  It might've been a blood bath but was a very not-shameful-although-they-still lost 25-20.

A foggy downtown + brush = Me on vacation!!
I was on vacation this whole past week and got to visit the Magic Hedge in the middle of the week.  A birder and an out-of-town family birder and I all went to the Montrose Harbor location and were treated to some lovely sights and sounds.  During the week, it is much quieter there.  It was an overcast day, cool with a damp chill lingering, the clouds heavily weighing on the downtown area.  There was a full out chickadee party to which we were not invited.  A downy woodpecker did his thing on a tree and I saw a male cardinal which always gives me a big charge (translation:  I can recognize a male cardinal as a male cardinal).  The next day people were said to have seen some NEW snowy owls that were DIFFERENT from the snowy owls of a couple of weeks ago and I am sure the area was instantly filled with the Men of Giant Lenses and the Giant Need to see these birds and capture them digitally, kind of a dick-measuring contest with feathers.

Not part of anyone's breakfast
When we were arriving we met a very charming man who reported seeing juncos and a couple of mergansers and a few other birds.  The charming man liked seeing all bird things.  He could see a cooper's hawk eating a mouse from his window so he had breakfast with the hawk but I am fairly certain he had something more basic, like cereal or coffee and some fruit.  It is always nice to meet someone pleasant but it was also nice to meet someone who got a charge out of all the birds and not simply the major visitors.
Hello, Sage Thrasher.  I come in peace.
Speaking of major visitors, we did not see the sage thrasher.  The charming man has never seen the sage thrasher.  I suspect we will not be seeing the sage thrasher who is so far from his home and who will be able to get there either.  At Thanksgiving, we can be thankful that we all know not just where we are from but we know how to get there if we have the need.

So maybe you've been to Chicago but have avoided the CTA like the plague.  I've lived here a long time and rely on it pretty heavily during the week and for weekend trips to areas in and near downtown Chicago.  This past weekend I experienced something that's usually for weekdays only, which is the "delayed train running express through your station and it ain't gonna stop for you so you might as well just shut up and take it because you got another, better idea?  No, so shut up, there's another train behind it" phenomenon.  This is what you are missing by not taking the CTA on visits.  I share because I love.  Enjoy!

Monday, November 21, 2011

So sorry, Jay, and Don't you know that the bird is the word?

I will give it to you straight and fast.  Just when the Bears are turning into a solid team, winning five games in a row, just when I decide that Jay Cutler has hit his stride and is a good, solid QB, he takes a spill during a play, breaks the thumb on his throwing hand, and is out for 6-8 weeks.  There, I said it.

The San Diego Chargers and the Bears were trading points back and forth until Charles Tillman took the ball from them and the Chargers never got it back long enough to make a difference.  Bears win, 31-20 at Soldier Field, but lost Mr. Jay Cutler.

Our starting QB will be Caleb Hanie who has never started a pro football game in his entire career.  I am hoping we will all be pleasantly surprised and young Caleb will be up to the task.  I am also hoping Congress will get it together and listen to the billionaires.  Finally, I am hoping to see that sage thrasher.  Maybe the Bears can get Brett Favre, except, oh no, one of the Bears finally ended his career last season.  Still, I understand he has a lot of time on his hands.

Well?  How did they get here?
Last week we failed to see the sage thrasher and this week the birders kindly fetched me and we had these intentions:  (1) Find the thrasher; (2)  look at the thrasher through binoculars for an unset period of time; (3) utter things like "cooool," "It's where now?" and "I thought it'd be bigger;"(4) move on.

We did not find the thrasher but we found other birds to look at through binoculars for unset periods of time that really made us forget the sage thrasher in a big way.  There were owls, two different owls, and we saw them.

Birders are a very generous lot.  If there is an unusual species to be seen in the Chicago area, one of the those birders will hit the internet and post sightings.  She or he will detail what was seen, where it was seen, at what time, and what designer's fashions it was sporting.  No, wait.  That last part may not be quite correct, yet not totally wrong.

The birds of excitement were still the short-eared owl from last week and two newly-arrived snowy owls.  Short-eared owls might be seen around town on occasion but snowy owls are very unusual.  When we got there, the birders we ran into advised one snowy owl flew south and the other had been sitting on the pier but was scared by a dog and it flew to Foster Beach.

We got a very good view of the short-eared owl in flight as it banked and hovered and turned.  We looked, we exclaimed, we moved on in search of shore birds but, alas, were treated to a pair of mallards and the Mystery of the Balls of Golf from last week.  The sage thrasher was somewhere in the brush and we were determined to find it.

Brown thrasher bird calls were played which totally fooled me.  "What?  WHAT??" I exclaimed, only to be advised it was a bird call.  The sage thrasher was not at all fooled which leads me to believe that I am not as clever as a bird brain, darn the luck.  We agreed to take a different loop in the trail which is where we saw a gent beating feet toward the pier.  It might've been a morning constitutional but people usually don't take constitutionals while carrying big binoculars and a digital SLR with a long lense; constitutional types are unencumbered or at the mall.  We asked what was up and he shared that one of the snowy owls was back at the pier.  So he had heard about the bird, was in hot pursuit, and we went after him.

As we approached the pier, every birder with a cell phone was converging on the pier, in singles, in pairs, in trios.  The level of excitement was high.  Imagine if a bunch of paparazzi heard that Lady Gaga were in line to buy coffee at the Dunkin' Donuts in Union Station -- that is the level of intensity. These are high-level hunters, well-versed in stalking their quarry, creeping quietly and standing as motionless as a middle-aged guy could stand for an extended period of time.  Snowy owls don't come to Chicago often (much like Gaga who I am certain would not go to the Union Station Dunkin' D if she were in need of a cup of java) and there had to be evidence that one saw it.  "I saw it," isn't enough when your lense is big and it's wearing camouflage gear or a heavy sweater.

Most of us had never seen a snowy owl outside of a zoo.  Snowy owls are big birds, about two feet high and weighing four pounds which is enormous for a bird of flight.  It is the heaviest of all owls.  (Chickens and turkeys are going nowhere so they can weigh all kinds of pounds but flying birds usually weigh almost nothing.  Eagles weigh 10-14 pounds but aren't good eating.  A hyacinth macaw weighs less than three pounds.)  So there it sat in its whiteness, at the end of a pier, behind some fallen pier debris, right above the soccer ball that bobbed in the water, just being cool and looking around while the birders all approached as closely as we individually dared, and when we each decided we had seen it long enough, we left to bask in the memory of the bird and were able to send emails that bore sweet bon mots like, "Just saw a snowy owl, bitches."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Blerg so no blog

I feel like these taste, thanks.
For me, Brussels sprouts are never sought out for consumption because they just taste bitter, hard, and nasty.  I've known some stellar cooks in my life and I've never met a single one who was able to make this vegetable taste anything other than nasty, bitter, and hard.  Nasty with bacon, sure, but still not good.

I feel nasty today (neither bitter nor hard because sometimes you just get sick), so I can't write about the Bears or the birds.  More tomorrow or next week, whenever this thing passes.  Thanks for checking.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Throw the Lions to them

The Bears have returned to a nice normal schedule and thank heavens.  We went to the Lions earlier this season; this time the Lions came to us.  Grrrr infinity.

The score was so lopsided in favor of the Bears that at about 11 minutes into the third quarter, what came into my head was, "Wow, I wonder if any of those Lions would like to just forfeit, go back to their hotel, and have a nice soak in the tub?"  Of course, they don't pay those men to surrender and, as they like to say in sports outings, "the opera ain't over 'til the fat lady sings."  (Obviously, they've not been to the opera recently.)  The Bears have turned things around big time with Jay Cutler finding Earl Bennett (new fave bitch, errr, wide receiver), with guys running with the balls, with the offensive line being unoffensive much like fresh daisies in a field in springtime.  The commentators said this was just not Detroit's night and not the night of Stafford, their QB, especially.  You know whose night it was?  The Bears, who are now in second place in the NFC North.  Bears 37, Lions 13.

One of the most amazing events in college sports took place on 11/11/11, Veterans Day, on board the USS Carl Vinson, docked in the harbor at San Diego.  The TV images were crazy:  a beautifully constructed basketball court, its wood surface gleaming.  The cameras pan back and it's on an aircraft carrier, it's outside, and there are about four thousand people in attendance, including President and Mrs. Obama.  Michigan State vs. number-one-ranked North Carolina.  Michigan State, the team that produced Magic Johnson.  North Carolina, the team that produced Michael Jordan.  North Carolina won but holy smokes, they played on an aircraft carrier, which I found both supremely nuts and way freaking cool.

I joined the birders in an outing to the Magic Hedge by Montrose Harbor and what a treat it was.  We went to see the sage thrasher but instead the raptors were coming, hurrah, hurrah.  After I missed seeing a junco (of course I did), the raptor show began.  We first saw a Cooper's hawk flying quickly away.  This was immediately followed by another, larger Cooper's hawk in hot pursuit.  Each hawk stopped in a tree and posed, turning its head this way and that so we could get a good look.  We trooped off to the beach where a man was trying to get a picture of a short-eared owl.  We saw about 65 golf balls on the beach.  These are not technically birds but, yes, these were those dimpled spheres that are used to frustrate grown men and women by not going where they are supposed to go.  In this case, they ended up on a Lake Michigan beach and the closest golf course was on the other side of the harbor.  Then we saw another junco followed by a kestrel that wanted the junco for its second breakfast.  (The junco made it away this time.)  There were goldfinches in the bushes, wearing their fall feathers which let them blend in with the browned bushes as they ate an early lunch.  Up in the air:  a rough-legged hawk.  I got my first cool sighting:  a downy woodpecker, not in a tree but in the bushes with the finches, hanging out and looking black and white and red, except I said, "woodpecker" because I still pretty much stink at precise identification.  Over in the harbor, there were hooded grebe, diving and diving, diving and diving.  They would surface and they would dive.  And it was fantastic.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Monday night?? AGAIN??? Let's shop!

It is well documented in this blog that I don't like Sunday night games and like Monday night games even less.  Night games compete with precious sleep, getting my blog up before Sunday night TV prime time, and do no one but the networks any good.

I asked the man who runs the office rate-'em-how-you-feel-'em pool how he feels about Monday night games and he said, "I hate 'em.  They just drag out the whole process."  In other words, how can you have a winner if the networks dictate the schedule?  Yes, yes, Monday Night Football is one of the longest running shows on TV (now moved to ESPN so not really TV any more, is it?), but is it necessary?  No, no, a thousand times no, I say.

What to write about when the Bears aren't doing their thing?  Birds, it would seem, except no, not birds.  The birders went to Michigan for a visit.  I don't like to schlep so I have been keeping my binoculars in the trunk of the car that carries the birders and me to birding destinations.  Yes, the binoculars accompanied the birders to Michigan and I trust that they all had a very good time.  And so welcome to my own Sunday punt.

This morning I made a semi-serious attempt to pay attention to the NFL but was only befuddled by the number of announcers/broadcasters/analysts/commentators employed by various networks to give the blibbety blab about professional football and, wow, they are all enthusiastic.  I take that back.  They are ENTHUSIASTIC!!  And each and every one of them has something to offer.  They talk so much that I suspect they could talk the labels off cans, the friendly bacteria out of yogurt, and the paint chips off that unpainted garage up the block from me that was not scraped before it was painted so you can just imagine what that looks like and how big those chips are going to be and way sooner than the owners think.  (They also have a wooden spike fence and decided to paint the pointy parts white except when they laid out tape for the line at the bottom of the white part, they didn't bother to check that it was straight before slapping on the paint so it's kind of a undulating, suggestion of straightness.  I call this fence "Fort Ticonderoga.")

In other words, I could not stand a single word.  I left my place of residence, got in my car, and did the girly thing:  I shopped at a store that sells sewing supplies and crafts.  After all, I had a coupon.

Yesterday featured shopping, too.  I got a new sweater and a pretty and pretty heavy-duty bra.  I had my eyebrows waxed.  I got stuff for my hair and a new tote bag.  I was pleased with my acquisitions and also got to meet up with my friend who also made acquisitions, and to see my friend's nephew's girlfriend,  a personal shopper with a great eye for fashion, who knows how to put things together for people, and helped my friend to amass outfits.  My friend has a very good job and has meetings that mean something and socializes for business so she needs outfits.  I have a sub-mediocre job so I need neither outfits nor new clothes just clean clothes but it's nice to have some new and tidy things now and again.  They were having a cosmetics event at one of the stores and women were sitting in chairs being transformed into various versions of themselves -- crazier, prettier, edgier, older, but not younger because that is too hard to do with mere cosmetics -- while too-loud music thumped.  Better than the spectacle of make-up was that I got to sit and chat with my friend at a lunch.

Today featured another amazing spectacle of shopping.  The store was stuffed because this store offered a coupon for 25%-off everything you bought, including things already on sale.  There were sale racks with fabrics for 50%-off the already-discounted price, then knock off another 25%.  There were young men with their male friends who sewed trying to figure out what some of the notions were:  "It's a small wheel and it perforates ... what?"  There was a young man picking out various fabrics for his fabric stash.  There were young women loading up carts with plenty of fabrics -- fleeces, ducks, denims, and silks -- to make wonderful things of their own creation.  Women studied the pattern books.  People bought Christmas papers and tags and bags and boxes.  They accumulated flower pots, yarn, knitting needles, felt, picture frames, thread, snaps, and scissors.  There were dozens of people ahead of me in line when it came to check out, just 10 minutes later.

Unemployment is very high and I know if I tried to change job it would just be an exercise in futility and heartache and there are too many people who have been unemployed for so long that they no longer receive unemployment benefits.  But this was not in evidence at the mall yesterday and it wasn't at the fabric store today.  People were spending and happy to be doing so.  Yes, there were bargains being had which gets everyone initially motivated, but at the mall and at the fabric store, happy days are here again. 

The birders and the binoculars come back tonight and the Bears go to Philadelphia tomorrow to see Michael Vick and the Eagles.  Last year, the Bears won.  Fingers crossed that they will do it again.

End of punting.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Have you seen the gallinule?

American purple gallinule, courtesy of VIREO
Yesterday morning I set off with the birders to look at birds at the Magic Hedge near Montrose Harbor in Chicago.  As we were arriving, I found out a gallinule had been spotted very recently.   Two men were walking away from the harbor as we were leaving our car.  "Did you see the gallinule?" my sister asked. These were two very sweet and funny guys.  "No," said one, "but I saw a really big fish," and held his hands about 20 inches apart.  "I don't look at fish," said the second, "but I saw a grebe.  The gallinule is supposed to be down by Slip A."

Fall at the Magic Hedge near Montrose Harbor, Chicago
There was a difference for me this week.  I had my own [not great but they work and hey, they were free] binoculars.  I forgot my plastic bag so I couldn't concentrate on picking up trash (which was too bad as there was a lot of it).   I actually looked at something and was later almost able to figure out what it was, bird identification not being my strong suit.  (That and speaking Danish.)

Get off my beach, you kids!
Birders are a friendly bunch, everyone sharing what they'd spotted.  "I saw a redpoll," said one.  "I saw an orange-crowned warbler," said another (and then we did, too).  And all reports were followed by, "Did you see the gallinule?"  We walked around the Magic Hedge and on the beach (where there was a murder of about 30 crows) to the water and across the sand and through trees.  We saw a Cooper's Hawk.  We saw a hooded grebe, then another, diving down into Montrose Harbor in search of a snack.  We saw a pair of coots.  We walked to Slip A and we looked and stared and gazed and considered.  We saw a man walking along in a sport coat, looking like he said to his wife, "Yeah, honey, I'm happy to go to the wedding, but I want to see the gallinule," who later asked us with great enthusiasm, "Did you see the gallinule?"  (Turned out he was going to work, not a wedding, and was running late but wanted to see, well, you know who.)

Have you seen this gallinule?  Courtesy of Ted Swoboda Photography
My sister later reported to me that a couple reported seeing the gallinule twice and right after we were there.   Shifty little SOB, that gallinule.  Other people advised seeing a sage thrasher who was rumored to just be hanging around.

I started my Magic Hedge visits as going along for the walk and the company and maybe taking out some trash and now I like stopping and looking and seeing if I can figure out which bird is which.  For me, a robin is still the easiest thing (though there was a fat one in a tree that gave me trouble yesterday) and now I am like the other birders.  I just want to see the gallinule.

Bears back next week, y'all!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

London freaking England

For reasons unbeknownst to me but abundantly clear to Roger Goodell, Commissioner of All Things Football, the Chicago Bears took on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today at Wembly Stadium in London.  It was a sold-out game.   Roger Goodell didn't ask me what I thought about NFL teams playing American-style football in a country that has no professional American-style (or even Canadian-style) football teams of its own.  Roger Goodell asks me nothing.  It's like he doesn't even know me, like we've never met.  This is mostly because he doesn't know me and we've never met.  I am sure if we met, Roger and me, that he would instantly take a disliking to me and flee, refusing to listen to my very good ideas and solid opinions.  My ideas are these:  Why waste football franchise money on travel to the UK, possibly including getting new passports for those who don't have them (approximately $120 each without the rush fee or the fees for hiring a passport and visa service) and might not otherwise need or want them?  Why allow revenues -- food and beverage, souvenirs, parking, local transportation -- that might go to local governments and businesses, to instead go to foreign ones?  Why risk jet lag that can make for tired players who might then play less than optimally?  What is the big deal about playing American football in London? 

Let's go back to last week's game where everyone played great!  The offensive line stopped multiple sacks, Jay played like a real quarterback, the defensive line was masterful and did them some sacking of Mr. Donovan McNabb.  Lady Football, in far flung elsewhere-in-the-state, sent me a text message at about halftime and we spent the second half exchanging texts about the game.  Once Prince Football, now age 1, finally got to sleep Lady Football was able to concentrate on the game and shared her thoughts with me.  All hail Lady Football!  Chicago Bears whomp the Minnesota Vikings, 39-10.

So now we go to this London game where, except for a mere bobble at the end, the Bears played great and beat the Bucs on foreign soil with a solid enough score of 24-18.  Jet lag wasn't an issue for our home team.  Go Bears!

After the game, I heard a radio interview with Brian Urlacher.  He was very complimentary of Matt Forte, calling him the greatest player in pro football today.  He said Forte could run the ball, catch the ball, and that he was also very humble.  The interviewer asked Urlacher if he thought playing regularly in London was a good idea and he paused and said, "I don't know," and went on to say that they love soccer there, not football.  He handled the question very diplomatically.  They had taken the Bears on a tour of London the day before and they asked Urlacher what impressed him most. "Harrods."  Yes, the giant department store was what impressed him most.  I don't know what was on the tour (I am thinking at least a driveby of the Houses of Parliament, Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, Tower Bridge, St. Paul's Cathedral, and Marble Arch), but Urlacher appears to like him some retail therapy.  He went on to say Harrods was "as big as a mall."  With that little tidbit of info, I am betting some solid holidaytime trolling of local suburban malls would let one come upon a certain large man buying gifts and, perhaps, a new shirt for himself.  Should that happen, I promise to keep a civil tongue in my head and perhaps score an autograph.


Next week = Bye week.  I will opine as always, y'all.

Before every game, Chicago Bears defensive tackle (and Detroit native) Anthony Adams does a dance to get his teammates pumped up for the game. Called the "fat man dance," he recently sent a tweet telling fans to come to the Bean in Millennium Park and the one who did the best version of the fat man dance would win a pair of tickets to an upcoming Bears game.  Fans showed up to meet Adams, who judged the contest himself.  Most other Bears players, please note:  he met with his fans.  The footage I saw showed a very happy man interacting with very happy fans.

I found the Adams version of the dance on You Tube:

Sunday, October 16, 2011

About one game and the day the buildings opened their doors

Last week's Monday night game in Detroit was best categorized as a fiasco for every single member of the team except for one standout guy. The Bears defense, known for being hard-hitting, tough, and determined was quite opposite. The offense was, as my friend at work said, offensive. After the game, everyone except the standout guy was almost apologizing; they're professional athletes and mammoth salaries mean you don't have to come out and say, "I bit and I am sorry." Brian Urlacher sounded dismayed at his and the performances of his fellow defensive linemen.   Lovie Smith sounded miserable. But everyone named the one guy who did a good job. No one is more surprised than me. The guy doing the stellar job was Jay Cutler.

When the offense, the defense, and the coaches all say Jay did a great job then Jay must've done a great job. Jay looked sheepish and frustrated but he wasn't arrogant or annoyed. Jay did his job with great gusto while his teammates were sluggish. Everyone else ate chili with beans and cut-up hot dogs, extra-large malts, and double orders of fries drowned in ketchup while Jay obviously ate nothing that would make him play like a giant child. Wah wah wah, y'all. If I am complimenting Jay Cutler, then the rest of the team and the coaching staff need to get it together and play like for-real adult pro football players. Congrats to Jay (and, of course, to Robbie Gould who always holds up his part of the bargain).

The Lions maul the Bears so badly we can't recognize them: Detroit 24, Bears 13.

Next week I'll yammer on about the game tonight against the Vikings and next week's WTF game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London, England.  Seriously, the NFL doesn't ask me about these things ahead of time so don't blame me for them.

This weekend, the Chicago Architecture Foundation worked with dozens of buildings and companies to allow visitors to stroll through all day for two days, October 15 and 16.   Called Open House Chicago, my sister, brother-in-law, and I took advantage of the opportunity to go inside buildings we either didn't know about or would not have been able to otherwise access.

Indoor pool at Park Gables
We drove north to visit Indian Boundary Park but especially to see the pools at Park Castle and Park Gables, condo buildings that look out over the lush park. Each has its own pool built in 1925 and 1927, respectively. Gorgeous and free for the condo owners to use, the pools reminded me that just because a building has something as lovely as this doesn't mean I could live there -- the parking bites, the public transportation is difficult, and there are no nearby grocery stores. However, wow, that these two places still exist makes me very happy.

Emil Bach House
Our next successful visit was to the Emil Bach House, the 1915 Frank Lloyd Wright-designed residence at 7415 N. Sheridan Road.  How often does anyone actually get to walk around in a Frank Lloyd Wright House?  Almost never, I say.

This is called a compact Prarie House for good reason:  the rooms are eensy by today's standards (the kitchen was just a slice) and the closets are either tiny or nonexistent.  The ceilings are low but, bottom line, if someone handed me the keys and advised that this was now my home, I would have to think about it.  The neighborhood is sketchy, public transportation is not terrible but the commute would be long, and there are no grocery stores nearby.

Ceiling at Second Federal Savings
Driving south and west took us to the Second Federal Savings at 26th and Pulaski.  None of us knew this place existed and it was a revelation.  Look at this ceiling!  The original wooden teller counters remain.  Sometime, someone might have said, "We need to modernize this place," but then thought better of it.  Good news for us.

An owl, not Batman, on library
We visited the Fisher Building, designed in 1896 by Daniel Burnham, now redone as an apartment building.  The halls are charmingly reproduced to resemble an office building of that time, names of bogus companies stenciled on each apartment door.  The apartment was a generic-loft presentation -- way too cramped for my taste -- but looking out over the Harold Washington Branch of the Chicago Public Library.  Seeing that building from that particular vantage point was a thrill but I wouldn't want to live there -- quarters were too close and I am just one person.

Lake Michigan through the porthole at Santa Fe Building

Years ago, I was a reservations agent at Amtrak and the office was at the Railway Exchange Building, designed in 1904 by Daniel Burnham and now termed the Santa Fe Building because of the Santa Fe sign on top.  Amtrak was on the top floor and the offices were pretty darn terrible -- so terrible that I don't recall the round windows being in our office at all.  The same space is now occupied by Goettsch Partners, an architecture firm with a major worldwide presence.  Their offices are lovely and they gave tours all around their floor.  For me, the money shot was one of Lake Michigan through one of the round windows.  I have mentioned before that I am a nervous photographer so when I put up my camera and did the deed, I assumed it would be totally effed.  I am pleased with it and was pleased with the whole day.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Double the fun -- next week! -- but today ...

The Bears are off to Detroit, birthplace of me, to have at the Detroit Lions for Monday Night Football. The 4-0 Detroit Lions. Therefore, there will be no talk about what Jay Cutler means to me (nothing); how angry I was when he was in the audience of "Dancing with the Stars" to give support to his ex-fiancee when I thought he should be at practice (very angry but then a co-worker investigated and found out the Bears had Monday and Tuesday off; I calmed down only slightly because he needs extra practice getting rid of the ball); how much I cared that his ex-fiancee was voted off the show (not at all). Instead we will talk about the 1985 Chicago Bears and their Super Bowl trip to the White House, 26 years in the making.

The explosion of space shuttle Challenger made the White House cancel the scheduled Bears-Reagan Super-Bowl-winner-presidential meet and greet. Walter Payton, who died of a rare liver disease, and Dave Duerson, who committed suicide brought on by CTE-induced depression, couldn't be there to enjoy the White House glow. Dan Hampton chose not to be there. He said if their families were not invited he would not go plus he doesn't like President Obama. Oh, Dan, Dan, Dan.

Mike Ditka, "Da Coach," is one of the biggest Republicans in all of Illinois and he was there, in front of the whole team, smiling and joking with Mr. Obama. Coach Ditka had no problem resolving his feelings.

Dan's friend and ex-teammate, Steve McMichael, said this to's Jeff Dickerson:

"They said, 'Are you going?' Because there are a couple of my teammates that aren't going to make the trip. But let me tell you something, I don't care who the president is. I don't care what's going on in the government, if I'm against a war or what. If you are somebody that the White House wants to honor, and you're a citizen of this country, it behooves you to show up and look at it like an honor and a privilege.

"I told them I'm going to have bells on."

Well put, Steve!

In other words, Dan, in this life it's not often about you, but when it is, you should go and let your back be patted. Stand there and smile and enjoy the adulation, admiration, and celebration that happens so rarely in life.

I can tell you that Dan will be at the grand re-opening of the Jewel at Clark and Division in Chicago on Saturday, October 15. Gee, that is so much better than the White House.

Moses Mosop of Kenya finished the Chicago Marathon today in a record breaking time of 2 hours 5 minutes 37 seconds, winning $100,000 and an additional $50,000 for breaking the record. Unlike last year's close footrace, there was no one able to come close to Mosop which made for some very cool television pictures -- a guy running in the middle of an otherwise empty street except for fans lining the curb and waving and no one to be seen for blocks behind him.

Liliya Shobukhova of Russia won the women's division with a time of 2 hours 18 minutes 20 seconds, won $100,000 and a spot on the 2012 Russian Olympic team.

The London Olympics will take place before the next Chicago Marathon.

Maru is a male cat (rumored to be a Scottish Fold except his kitty ears just do not fold) who lives in Japan with his creative owners. To me, he looks like the perfect anime cat, like he was drawn and then brought to life through the miracle of ink and chemistry. Behold his latest video offering:


Thanks,! Here is an aria by Renee Fleming that added to the perfect evening.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Being true to your team

Last week was the annual observance of employee appreciation at my place of business.  There were prizes ranging from crap to decent.  There were stupid games and there were interesting games.  We were treated to lunch or breakfast on four of the five days and something that happens every year at least once during the week happened again which is not enough food was ordered, which sends the managers out to apologize.  The managers in my area are nice people and it's a shame they have to apologize for something that isn't their fault but they know someone has to do it. They never talk smack about the committee that orders the food, just apologizing and being loyal corporate citizens.

The biggest thrill for almost everyone is that they get to wear jeans all week long.  Jeans from decades past are excavated and worn proudly with declarations of comfort (and to again let Sergio Valente have his day).  Friday of the week, everyone is also allowed to wear a shirt for their favorite sports team.  This year, everyone was decked out for the Bears.

One of my coworkers is not more than five feet tall and that may be giving her height she doesn't have; she is simply short.  She had on her well-worn Brian Urlacher jersey and it looked like a dress.  Another gent wore a very strange looking Bears jersey, also Urlacher.  "So yours is an unofficial jersey," I said.  It was just off, with orange stripes on the sleeves, an orange number 54, and the name in orange and all lacking official white piping around the edges (except officially it would have been white everything with orange piping).  Yes, the external labels all declared it to be an official NFL jersey, but nothing about it looked right.  "NO!" he said emphatically, "This is an official NFL jersey!"  He paused and added with a grin, "But I it off the back of a truck."  Urlacher is a popular guy.

Our IT guy is not like most IT people:  He knows what he is doing; he has a lovely personality and gets along with everyone; if there's a computer problem, he will not act like he is a gift from the gods of digital processing and become difficult -- he will just fix the problem.  Friday morning he was doing some work in my area and I could not believe my eyes.  This great guy was wearing a Cutler jersey, number 6, and the jersey was new.  I made many disparaging remarks about the Bears QB and engaged him in conversation and his bottom line was this:  "Don't be saying bad things about my quarterback."  He agreed that Cutler could improve and he would not say the Bears should jettison him.   For every argument he had for keeping him or how he could improve, I had an argument for sending him packing or how he was just not going to improve, ever ever ever.  But the lovely guy refused to say Cutler bites and you have to admire that sort of loyalty.  It made me look toward the game with hope.

There is hope and there is also new movie out called, "50/50." and I wanted to see it, so I did.  I watched the beginning part of the pocket squares guys -- doing shtick, in fact, featuring Jimmy and his hair --  but then scampered off to a bargain matinee.  The movie is about a young guy with a great friend, a beautiful, artistic girlfriend, and nutty parents who finds out he has Stage 4 cancer.  Sounds like a super-ultra-mega bummer?  It's not.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the guy with cancer, Seth Rogan is his friend, and their friendship was real like your friendship with that person you knew in school or your work friend or the friend you got to know in that acting class.   When you can toddle off to the multiplex and see acting that doesn't seem like acting?  That is great acting.  When I got in the car after the movie, I got the very good news that the Bears had just beaten the Carolina Panthers, 34-29.

This score gave me the great hope I'd been craving.  It was a running game and the stars of the show were Devin Hester and Matt Forte.  I listened to the usual wrap up radio program I like.  They interviewed Lovie Smith who said it wasn't a great game but it was a win.  They interviewed DJ Moore.  There were other players interviewed.  They talked to each other.  Then it occurred to me that no one was mentioning Jay Cutler.  They kept using the term "running game."  If it were Jay's game, it would be called a "passing game."  When they opened the phones to callers, the first one mentioned Jay and things got kind of sad.  They said Jay was sacked a couple of times.  They said, "Oh, it was a running game."  They, like my job's IT guy, were trying to be loyal but Jay is just making it so hard.  "You can't be running the show all the time," said one the bravest but lamest of the broadcasters except that is Jay's job, to run the show.  Still, it was a win and we go on to the play the undefeated Detroit Lions on Monday, October 10.  Yes, those undefeated, 4-0 Detroit Lions who beat Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys today in the Palace of Fine Football in Arlington, TX.  In the meantime, I will follow the lead of my coworker and at least think about being loyal to my QB, the sackable Mr. C.

Last week, you will recall I joined the birdwatchers as they looked for and mostly found birds.  I enjoyed the walk and was invited to come again or, to put it more right, I invited myself to come along and was allowed to do it.  I found my binoculars and I saw birds, but mostly, I was watching the birdwatchers.  I followed their lead and saw a white-capped sparrow, a goldfinch, and various gulls.  We also saw and heard dozens of high school runners who were competing in a nearby running event and decided to mess with nature by pounding through on the trails of the Magic Hedge and, at one point, over the ropes that mean "Do Not Disturb," crashing through nature itself.  Yes, you can imagine that the birds heard them, too, and felt the earth pounding, and made themselves scarce.  The added show was that Lake Michigan was all churned up with giant waves and crashing into the breaker, at one point sounding like a gunshot and at another, like thunder.  Of course there were people insisting on walking on or next to the breaker, getting drenched or risking getting swept into the lake.  One man wore autumn's least favorite footwear:  flipflops.  Either he got left home before his wife saw, his wife thinks he is a hopeless idiot, or the dog really did eat his shoes.

But look!  A monarch stopped and cooperated.  I can identify a monarch butterfly and if you couldn't before, now you can, too.
Migrating home, stopping to pose for a glamour shot.


Thank you, Blue Kitchen! Blue-Kitchen.Com very kindly posted this video from the evening of opera a few weeks ago.  It's wonderful, it's "Barcarolle" from "Tales of Hoffman," and it's one of my favorites.  Renee Fleming, as regal as a queen, and Emily Fons, also terrific, provide an exceptional interpretation that I will never forget.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Better Bears but not wonderful Bears

 So we march into the classic battle against division rival and Super Bowl champs, the Green Bay Packers, led by Aaron Rodgers.  Surprise to me, it wasn't a blood bath.  Sure, yes, there were a couple of stupid things -- and I mean STOOOOPID, like Devin Hester getting in a fight with one of the Packers in front of a referee and really smacking said Packer hard in the head -- that made for lost yardage yet I am willing to admit that they played like a pro football team and really mostly had it together.

Still, Jay Cutler got sacked.  The player to whom he might throw -- yes, I suck; I didn't take game notes -- waved at Jay that he was in position.  Jay, instead, got sacked.  I wondered if maybe Jay needs to have his vision checked.  Admittedly, Jay was better at getting rid of the ball this time but he was playing against Aaron Rodgers and his pinpoint accuracy.  Maybe Aaron can give Jay some pointers.

The Packers pack some Bear meat, 27-17.

Last week I posed this question:  Do you agree that Jay Cutler sucks?  I asked five people, three women and two men, all devoted fans of the Bears.  The results were surprising to me.  Of respondents polled, 60% agreed that Jay Cutler sucked, but 40% thought the offensive line was, as one respondent put it, offensive.  The defensive lines of opposing teams had to be held better, people had to be in position to catch the ball, and Cutler had to be protected, said another, and that wasn't happening.  In other words, there were those who simply could not agree that he sucks.  The 40% would agree that he was not worth the money spent on him but, for them, the offensive line carries the burden of suckiness.
In other words, we again agree to disagree.

Yesterday was a lovely day in early fall.  There was a little rain but not enough to keep people inside or acting weird on the streets or sidewalks.  There wasn't a lot of wind and I was invited to join my sister and brother-in-law (more accurately, I found out they were going and I asked if I could go) for a walk at the Magic Hedge by Montrose Harbor.

The Montrose Beach Bird Sanctuary (the "Magic Hedge") is a great destination for urban birding.  It sits right next to Montrose Harbor on one side, Montrose Beach on the other, Lincoln Park behind it, and Lake Michigan in front.  It is a migratory rest area for 300 species of birds coming through the area.  Birders flock (excuse the pun) to the Magic Hedge for the chance to see something that might happen to be off course or maybe passing through Chicago on its twice-a-year migration.

Close up of downtown from Montrose Harbor, sailboats included
My sister is a very good, determined, and patient birder.  My brother-in-law is a good birder, too, patiently listening and scanning the trees and sky.  I was, at one time, very interested in birding.  I quickly realized that my ability to differentiate between birds was pretty terrible.  I also sucked at finding the bird in the bird book.  What I like is going out and maybe trying to figure out which bird is which but really, to have a walk, to be with people who know what they are doing, and to pick up some garbage littering the pathway.  My strength is in being respectful and bringing along the plastic bag so I can pick up some trash.  But not the spent condoms.  There are not tongs powerful enough for that.

After we walked around much of the 15-acre plot, we walked along the water by Montrose Harbor and sat and watched water spouts attempting to form on this overcast day.  That was weird, wonderful, a little scary, and something each of us -- even me -- could figure out and enjoy.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The day we all agreed

What has the count of 52 last year and 11 this year and we are just two games into the year?  Why, it's Jay Cutler sacks, of course!

Jay Cutler loves football.  He loves football so much he cannot get rid of the damn thing in time to save himself from getting nailed by large defense players whose job it is to nail him.  Jay knows this.  Jay certainly understands this but Jay just cannot productively let loose of that ball.  Can Jay just not see the person or persons to whom he might throw the ball?  Does he have QB's remorse and feel insecure about his decision to throw it to said person or persons?  Does he just suck hard?  All three?  Today's commentators, including Dallas Cowboys ex-QB Troy Aikman, were as baffled as me and ended the broadcast showing a defeated Jay Cutler looking pretty freaking grim and it seemed, to me anyway, as if he were going to cry man tears.

Cry all you want, Jay, because we all have to agree that Jay really doesn't have it so much this year.  I thought Rex Grossman sucked when he was with the Bears but in terms of suckage, Jay makes Rex look like a Hall of Famer.  I also wonder about the coaching staff that should have, after the sixth (6th) sack, taken Jay out and let him (1) recover and (2) think about what he did, i.e. not much after the first half.  They did not.  Instead, it was Oh, hey, Jay!  The Saints turned it around with just two minutes and 53 seconds left on the clock at the the two-yard line so get back out there and do something strong.  So Jay did.  He threw the football away.  Twice.  Out of bounds.  But on these two occasions, the Saints didn't succeed in sacking him.  Of course, the offensive line was nothing to which we can point with pride.  "Things fall apart," is an apt title for what went on with that bunch.  

I think we can all agree that when Jay has a hard time of it, he has a very hard time of it.  So it makes me wonder this:  Has Jay lost his passion for the game?  If he has, he needs to get out because he could get himself hurt very badly and no one needs to see that.

After the game, I listened to fan analysis on a radio call-in show and one fan said he could see Jay becoming an elite QB if only the offensive line were better.  I vehemently disagree.  Elite QBs don't get sacked numerous times because elite QBs find a guy to whom they can throw the ball and then, please pay attention, they throw it to that guy.  The offensive line can hold back the opposing team's defensive line for only so long before the defensive line breaks through and does their job, i.e. to sack the QB.

When I go to work tomorrow, I am going to do Southwest Corner's Straw Poll and ask one question only:  Do you agree that Jay Cutler sucks?  I will question at least five people.  I will post my unscientific findings next week.

The Saints make the Bears do penance with a score of 30-13.

When you were in elementary school, what lesson were you taught that you have never forgotten?  Maybe it was a history lesson or how to climb a rope hand over hand or where we are on the globe in relation to every other country.  Not reading, writing, or arithmetic but the stuff that is slightly different or a bonus.  For me, it was the lesson of time.

It was a Friday afternoon and as the school day was ending, our homeroom teacher introduced the concept of time.  She told us that you can't go back in time, that this particular day would never happen again, that time only moves forward.  I was in the 3rd or 4th grade and this concept was new.  Decades later, it's still in my brain, the number one different school lesson ever taught to me that permeated my brain and stayed there.

She left out the thing that as you get older, time goes more quickly.  My mom told me that one.   We had very elderly neighbors living in the house next door to our first house in Detroit.  When I complained to my mom that things were moving so slowly and next week was so far away she told me that time, for me, went slowly but for our neighbors, days flew by, which happens when you get older.  That might have shut me up for about sixty seconds but the concept remained.  I am now decades older and, yeah, my mom was right.  As you get older, days go by like a shot.

So today, two conceptual reminders:  Time only moves forward and as you get older, time really does fly.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Boom! Boom! BEARS!

Everyone waited all year and, like the TV ads say, football is back!  The yakkety-yaksters and professional guessers and Those Men Who Can't/Won't/Don't Shut-the-freak-up About Football were all saying the Bears were going to lose their home opener.  It might not be a big margin, they said, but the Falcons would be victorious with Julio Jones, the Falcons rookie wide receiver (a/k/a bitch), doing especially well.  Julio did do well (on one play it took two Bears to take him down) but not well enough as the Falcons were summarily defeated by the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field.  The Bears took 'em to the woodshed and showed them their saws and logs or whatever the hell "taking them to the woodshed" might mean.

A favorite highlight:  The Bears WON!  30-12 so everyone can suck it.

In addition to football being back, so is opera.  The Stars of the Lyric Opera concert was last night in Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.  The weather was just right, the crowd was well behaved (lovers of opera and rich people not usually resorting to fisticuffs), we all sang The Star Spangled Banner (and my sister and I put our hands over our hearts when we sang it, just like we learned to do when we were growing up and attending very good public schools in Detroit; did no one else get this lesson?), and we were all treated to a lovely evening.  Attending the opera isn't cheap and it was wonderful to hear Renee Fleming sing four times -- FOUR -- for FREE.  FREE!  We got to see and hear new singers who will one day have fantastic careers in opera, especially Rene Barbera, Susanna Phillips, and Jamie Barton.  French conductor Emmanuel Villaume moved things along at a brisk pace which made what we were hearing all the more thrilling.  It seemed as if the singer barely got to the microphone and BANG, the orchestra was off and the singer had best have been paying attention because that musical train was going to leave without him/her.

Renee Fleming with Lyric entourage, graciously greeting the hoi polloi
The most amazing of all was about an hour and 45 minutes before the show when Renee Fleming actually came from backstage to interact with the audience.  Sure, it was a Lyric Opera group that was assembled for interaction, she was surrounded by Lyric Opera staff, and it was for about 20 minutes, but first she had to walk by those of us who were waiting to get actual seats in Pritzker Pavilion, and then walk back by us again.  This stroll was the opera world equivalent of Jay Cutler leaving the dressing room to walk by where fans were lined up for a game, saying hello to everyone who was waiting to be admitted, then walking back to the dressing room and being just as nice.  (It is only an equivalent as it would never happen in a million years.)  The picture of Ms. Fleming was taken with my cell phone as she was returning to the dressing room.  Yes, she got quite close to us in line.  Yes, she is as pretty in person as she is in her photos.  Yes, she was as gracious as you would hope.  Perhaps Renee Fleming can sit down with the Bears and give them a crash course in how to be gracious to fans.  I bet the course failure rate would be 78%.  ("I am sorry, Mr. Urlacher, but returning to the locker room without signing a single autograph was not one of the multiple choice options.")  She might also give a course to her fellow opera singers as no one's ever done anything even remotely similar in all the years I've been attending this concert which is many.  (Once after a show, Quinn Kelsey, the great baritone, was standing at the front of the stage and we went and shook his hand.  He is a very large man with giant hands.  He was quite gracious and about the same size as a pro football player, which proves you can be large, in charge, and nice to fans.)

Today marks the 10-year anniversary of the events of 9/11.  As do most Americans who were alive and aware that day,  I remember what I was doing 10 years ago.  But I am only going to share what happened toward the end of evening.

My mom had major surgery the day before so I had a lot to think about in addition to the horrible events of the day.  I make my hair appointments weeks in advance and the next one was scheduled for September 12.  My mom was getting out of the hospital on that day and that would require my attention.  As I was leaving the hospital on the 11th, I called my guy to reschedule.  "Do you want to come now?  I have one person coming but you can come now."

When I got there, my hair guy didn't have another person in the chair which almost never happens.  "Cancellations," he said, "but my next appointment is going to be coming."  He shampooed my hair and we were having an oh-my-god conversation as he cut my hair when the next scheduled appointment swept in.

If this lady were punctuation, she'd be an exclamation point.  She said that after spending a good portion of the day crying, she was determined that she would get a haircut and look good no matter what happened next.  She brought two bottles of wine, pate, and crackers.  The best way to describe our time together is a toast to the departed and a toast to life as we knew it right then.  Thinking about it, I almost feel guilty for how much better I felt when I left there.  Almost.  There were many times of tears, horror, and sadness in the upcoming days, months, years, but right then with my hair looking better and having toasted with lovely people, things were better and I always remember better.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Surprises around every corner

The Bears beat the Browns in their final pre-season showing.  Fingers crossed that they can do some more beating when the new season starts, one week from today at home against the Falcons.  Go Bears!  Final cuts were made yesterday and I really have to plead ignorance on the cuts.  I do wish those cut the best of luck in their future endeavors.  Football ain't the be all and end all, y'all, and I hope the lack of it doesn't screw with your heads and the rest of your lives.

The time of the football pool is back and one I'd neither seen nor heard of surfaced this week.  First, you are fully advised which team is home and which is away and you pick who might win that contest.  Second, you have to list your confidence in that pick from 1-16, with 16 being pretty darn confident who you chose to win will, in fact, win and 1 being not at all confident.  Third, you turn your form into the guy and he enters it into his home computer.  Fourth, all the games are played, numbers are added up, and a winner is declared.

The doctor of this pool advised that picking the winning or losing team is not as important as your confidence ranking.  This is totally different!  No fantasies, no point spreads, just confidence in your selection in an outcome.  Crazy!  I chose teams and based on my knowledge, I put down my rankings.  Trust me on this one:  I would have put down 1 for every outcome but that's not how it is played.  It's all a total freaking crapshoot just like any other pool.

My big WTF is for the White Sox.  They were down to their last 28 games when they went into a three-game series against the Tigers in Detroit (my hometown).  In order to stay in the mix, they had to do very well -- i.e. win -- against their division rival.  On Saturday I had a mini-vacation in a suburban hotel and deliberately didn't listen to news and sports results.  While driving on errands this morning, I heard the Sox had a lead of 8-1 and then LOST 9-8.  I said aloud, in my car, to no one but the air, "Are you f*&#!ng kidding me?"  That is a monumental screwup and, yeah, there's gonna be some White-Sox-letting in just a few weeks and none of who might be let go will surprise me at all.

ADDENDUM:  On Sunday, the Tigers finished the job, winning 18-2 -- yes, you read that right -- over the Sox.  Heads will roll.

This week I've added to my blogroll.  PostSecret is a hugely successful blog that is an ongoing community mail art project, created by Frank Warren of Maryland.  People make homemade postcards and mail them in anonymously.  Since 2005, Frank has selected secrets that are posted on the PostSecret website or used for PostSecret's books or museum exhibits.  Within 24 hours of its release, the PostSecret App for iPhones became the best-selling app in the USA and Canada.

(Occasionally, Frank has shown pictures of the sacks of U.S. Mail that are delivered to his home and has written very nice things about the Letter Carriers who bring them.)

I have been reading PostSecret on line for years and have even read one of the books, a format for which I don't much care.  The best thing about PostSecret is that there are just a few to ponder.  The book gave me the mental feeling of eating too much and not being able to digest as fast as I needed.  No more PostSecret books for me but if Frank comes to the Chicago area again and the event isn't way, way out in the suburbs and it's not winter, I would enjoy giving one of his lectures a whirl.

Once I thought I saw the secret of someone I know and asked vaguely about it and was summarily ignored so either it was this person's secret or it was not this person's secret or it was not either of those two choices because the person never actually read the vague email I sent.  I didn't pursue it further.  It was, after all, a secret.