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.
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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.

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


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Thanks, Blue-Kitchen.com! 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.
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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.

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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.