Christmas Lights, Mañana

A foot of snow isn’t expected tomorrow — as we got on December 1, 2006 — but we are experiencing sliding temps. Feels about like winter now.

Also, the Christmas-industrial complex has revved into high gear, as usual. I was going to do my little (very little) part by stringing lights on one of the bushes in the front yard, though not lighting them for a week or more. On Monday, it rained all today, so I didn’t do it. Yesterday was relatively warm, but I forgot to do it. Today, I thought about it, but temps just above freezing put me off.

Tomorrow? Well, maybe. Depends on whether I feel like doing it tomorrow, or whether I feel like doing it mañana.

A Wad of Paper Circulars

We still get a paper newspaper some days of the week, and last Wednesday’s newspaper was the heaviest I’d lifted off the driveway in years. It was a regularly sized mid-week paper supplemented by a weighty array of circulars, mostly from retailers fighting the battle against stagnant physical-store sales, though of course most have online sales as well.

They included (no special order): Macy’s, World Market, Sprint, Carson’s, The Dump, Best Buy, Abt, Duluth Trading, La-Z-Boy Furniture Gallery, AT&T, JC Penney, Kohl’s, Guitar Center, Mattress Firm, Bed Bath & Beyond, The Tile Store, Home Depot, Fannie May, Verizon, Sears, Art Van Furniture, Ulta Beauty, JoAnn, Staples, Office Depot/Office Max, Ashley Homestore, Value City Furniture, Walgreen’s, Sleep Number, Kmart, Walmart, HOBO (Home Owners Bargain Outlet), Bose, Toys R Us, Lowe’s, CVS and Target.

Some of these retailers aren’t just fighting to keep their physical stores busy, but against ending up in the dustbin of retail history. If you know even a little about retail, you can guess which ones those are.

The only one on the list I’d never heard of was The Dump. It calls itself “America’s Furniture Outlet.” As far as I can tell, there’s only one in the Chicago area, in west suburban Lombard. The brand is in nine other markets around the country and, strangely enough, notes its web site: “Regular stores open every day of the week and you pay for. [sic] We are only open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, which keeps our cost of doing business down.”

Rasputin in America

Early in the morning on Thanksgiving, I dreamed about a TV sitcom, Rasputin in America, that I either was watching or had created. Considering that it was my dream, both are fitting. The Mad Monk, updated to the 21st century but with the same wild eyes and hair (but no beard, oddly), runs afoul of the authorities in Putin’s Russia and comes to America to live with relatives. Namely, Valerie Bertinelli. Hilarity ensues.

It was only a dream, but no worse than a lot of sitcom conceits. Ms. Bertinelli was either Rasputin’s aunt or his niece. The thing about her is that while the actress might be in her 50s now, she’s also always in her teens, at least in the sitcom universe.

I was also reminded of Ivan the Terrible. Not the tsar or the Eisenstein movie, but a TV show I expect almost no one remembers. It came to mind after the dream. I hadn’t thought of it in many years, but I did see it.

The show was a summertime replacement that didn’t catch on. Here’s part of the Wiki description of it: “Ivan the Terrible is an American sitcom that aired on CBS for five episodes during 1976… Set in Moscow, the sitcom starred Lou Jacobi as a Russian hotel waiter named Ivan Petrovsky, and the day-to-day misadventures of Ivan’s family and their Cuban exchange student boarder, all of whom live in a cramped, one-bedroom apartment… Harvey Korman appeared as a Soviet bureaucrat in an uncredited cameo at the close of each episode.”

Thanksgiving ’16

One of the good things about Thanksgiving is that, while the next day technically isn’t a holiday — and some years ago, I worked for a skinflint who insisted that people work that day — it really is part of the holiday. So for me the thing stretched from Wednesday afternoon to Sunday afternoon (I usually get back to work on Sunday evening, since things need to be filed Monday morning).

Our Thanksgiving meal was pretty much the same as it has been for the last few years, after Lilly took over the making of the major starches: mashed potatoes, stuffing, macaroni and cheese. The meat, ham. The bread, King’s Hawaiian. The drink, Martinelli’s sparkling cider. The dessert, pecan pie. Call it habit, call it tradition.

Time to read: a valuable commodity. Needing something light, I buzzed through Lafayette in the Somewhat United States (2015), a popular history by Sarah Vowell, which guarantees a humorous tone. Humorous, but with genuine historical information included and, something I particularly like, accounts of her visits to often obscure places and monuments associated with the subject. In this case, sites associated with Lafayette. In the case of the only other book of hers I’ve read, Assassination Vacation, sites associated with the deaths of Lincoln, Garfield and McKinley.

There was also time over the holiday to watch a few movies, two on the small screen, one on the big screen. Radio Days, which I hadn’t seen since it was new. I appreciate the wonderful soundtrack a lot more now than I did then. Then there was Twelve O’Clock High, a first-rate war movie and Gregory Peck vehicle that I’d never seen before.

On Saturday, we all went to a nearby movie theater. Lilly and Ann wanted to see The Edge of Seventeen, a coming-of-age flick. Yuriko and I weren’t interested in that, so we saw Doctor Strange, a superhero movie about a character I knew virtually nothing about. Been a while since I’ve seen a comic-book inspired movie, especially in the theater. It was better than I expected. The story wasn’t great, but it managed to avoid outright stupidity, and the CGI was astonishingly good.

I also saw pieces of movies over the holiday. Days off or not, I see more pieces of movies now than whole ones, because there’s work to do, but also because I often don’t feeling like sitting through a whole movie, especially ones I’ve seen before, or already decided I don’t need to see.

Between Wednesday and today, I saw pieces of (no more than 30 minutes, no special order): Swing Shift, The Gay Divorcee, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Marie Antoinette (2006), The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Gone With the Wind, The Godfather, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Capote, Juno, and Gran Torino. The last two were the only ones I’d never seen before. I lucked into some justly famous scenes in a few cases, such as the escape from burning Atlanta in GWTW, and the particularly memorable Phoebe Cates scene in Fast Times.

A Bum Pressure Switch

Back again on November 27. A good Thanksgiving to all.

As predicted, the unusual warm days of November came to an end recently, replaced by lower temps. Time, it turned out, for a gizmo known as a pressure switch on our furnace to give up the ghost. tells us that “a gas furnace pressure switch closes to allow current to pass through and start the ignition of the furnace. If the pressure switch is stuck, it does not send enough power to the inducer, and therefore, the ignition sequence does not begin.”

Sure enough, there was no ignition, so the heater blew unheated air through the system, which is no good when it’s just above freezing outside the house. The problem started Sunday evening, so we spent the night without heat, since I’m not qualified to doitmyself. Once double-time rates were over, on Monday morning that is, a technician came to install a new pressure switch that cost a little less than $200. Could have been worse, as in more expensive. Has been worse.

The house holds its heat fairly well. Small electric heaters were able to raise the living room temps to about 65 F Sunday night. Since I didn’t want to run those overnight, the house then cooled. Inside temps were just over 50 F by Monday morning.

Sleeping under two thick comforters wasn’t bad at all. Except the inevitable wee-hour moment when my bladder reminded me that I’m thoroughly middle-aged.

Lilly at 19

Lilly’s home from UIUC for Thanksgiving week and, by coincidence, her birthday.
Birthday cakeThose are ordinary number candles, except for one thing. They were atop my mother’s, Lilly’s grandmother’s, cake last month. In reverse order: 91 vs. 19. Quite a difference threescore and 12 years make.

I didn’t make the trip home from college for Thanksgiving ’79, staying in the dorm practically by myself, since it was too far to go just for four days (no whole week off in those days for Thanksgiving). That was considered a sad option, but I didn’t mind. Four days of quiet and not much to do wasn’t bad at all.

November Get-Together 1987

For a little while in the later ’80s, I took an interest in making black-and-white pictures. But not enough of an interest to pay for a higher-quality camera, so the results were usually mediocre.

Still, I documented a few moments I might have otherwise forgotten. Such as a get-together in my Chicago apartment on November 21, 1987, attended by a small knot of my friends. Such as Wendy and Susie, with Wendy blowing bubbles.


Barbara and Lee. The Period Clothing sign I found thrown away in Nashville after a resale shop near my apartment had closed. I brought it with me to Chicago.

nov21-87-2Becky. The door led to the back stairwell. People who wanted to smoke went out there. But I don’t think anyone there that day smoked.

nov21-87-3And Nate near one of my bookcases. I probably still have all those books, or almost all of them.

nov21-87-4I imagine we had a good time, but I don’t remember anything about the event. Seems like a long time ago. Because it was.

Thursday Bits

Two days in a row now I’ve been able to eat a mid-day meal on our deck. It wasn’t been quite balmy, except compared to the usual November temps, but even so it’s been nice out there. I expect that to come to a quick halt soon, and never come back till April. Or May.

bowelsThough it was only a few weeks ago when I did so, I don’t remember why I scanned this box front. Maybe to remind me how glad I am that the procedure is over. Nothing amiss down there, fortunately. Man, the taste was awful.

Product recommendation: Trident Seafoods Panko Breaded Tilapia, available in the handy (if a little large) three-pound box at your neighborhood warehouse store. It’s remarkably good for frozen fish. Best frozen fish I think I’ve ever had.

Of course, you can worry-worry-worry about tilapia if you want. I understand that people do, such as Dr. Axe, who breathlessly tells us that Eating Tilapia is Worse Than Eating Bacon. Gotta tell you, Dr. Axe, bacon is better than talapia. Bacon is better than a lot of things. But I plan to keeping eating both bacon and tilapia. Living dangerously, I am.

It’s one thing to see Christmas decorations and hear music in stores now — not something you want or need, but something you expect — but what’s the excuse for Christmas lights decorating a house in mid-November? I can see stringing the things now, since it’s relatively warm, but lighting them? I saw house lights this evening not far from home. Bah, humbug.

The Illinois Heritage Grove

At Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary is the Illinois Heritage Grove. A sign there says that the grove “represents a sampling of native Illinois trees and shrubs specifically adapted to our climate and soils.” It’s a modest enclosure, with an oval footpath making its way around the grove.
Illinois Heritage GroveSpring or summer might have been the time to take pictures at the Illinois Heritage Grove, but there’s also something intriguing about bare trees. This is a cockspur hawthorn, Crataegus crusgalli.
Illinois Heritage GroveA surviving American elm tree, Ulmus americana.
Illinois Heritage Grove-elmThe USDA explained that “shipments of elm tree logs from France to Cleveland, Ohio, accidentally introduced the fungus into the United States in 1931. Within 4 to 5 years, scientists could trace the logs’ trip inland by looking at elm trees along the railroad route. The death trail ran all the way to furniture manufacturers in Cleveland and Columbus, where the imported elms were used for making veneer.

“By 1980, Ophiostoma ulmi — the fungus that causes Dutch elm disease — had virtually wiped out 77 million American elms. The loss of those prized shade trees denuded hundreds of tree-lined streets in towns and cities across the country.”

White ash, Fraxinus americana.
Illinois Heritage Grove - ash treeThe species in North America is under siege by the dread emerald ash borer. We’ve had personal experience with the loss of ash trees, ones we used to see every day near our front yard.

A black maple, Acer nigrum.
Illinois Heritage GroupNote the brass plaque hanging from the tree. It says:

6/6/76      5/19/95

I don’t know why his family, or friends, decided to memorialize him that way, but there it is. A modest search reveals that Christopher died in a car accident in Oklahoma, and is buried at Saint Michael The Archangel Catholic Cemetery in Palatine, across the road from the smaller St. John UCC Cemetery.

That’s entirely too melancholy a note on which to end. Here’s a little whimsy, then. I’d never heard of Bird & McDonald until today, but that’s what YouTube is for. Not sure when the clip was made, but with Redd Foxx in it, and from the looks of things, ca. 1980.

Spring Valley Fall

I find myself at the Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary in Schaumburg fairly often, because it’s close by and pleasant. I’ve heard a bird soap opera there, seen statues draped in winter clothes, and noted the aftermath of a controlled burn. I saw a frog looking like a bit of driftwood and encountered the glorious peonies during the warmer months, but also experienced the place in the bleak mid-winter.

Sunday was clear and not exactly warm, but it wasn’t cold either, so we thought Spring Valley would be just the place. Fall is well advanced, even though it hasn’t been so cold this month, not even quite freezing.

Spring Valley Nature Center Schaumburg

Spring Valley Nature Center SchaumburgBut not quite all the leaves have taken leave.
Spring Valley Nature Center SchaumburgAt the Volkening Heritage Farm, which is part of the preserve, the animals were enjoying the mild day.
Spring Valley Nature Center SchaumburgSpring Valley Nature Center SchaumburgThe pigs might not have been so placid if they’d realized that next weekend is the “From Hog House to Smokehouse” event at the farm. According to the Schuamburg Park District, “Visit the Heritage Farm to find out where bacon comes from and help preserve food and meat for winter as they did in the 1880s. Visitors will make sausage, smoke hams and learn other pork-related activities.”

I don’t think they’ll baconize all of the pigs. Just a number of them, as farmers would have in the 1880s. No preternaturally intelligent spider is going to come along to save any of them, either.