1 Jiao, 1980

From the NWS at 3 p.m. today, for northeastern Illinois: WINTER STORM WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 6 PM THIS EVENING TO 9 PM CST FRIDAY…

“Heavy snow expected. Travel will be very difficult to impossible at times, including during the morning commute on Friday. Total snow accumulations of 8 to 14 inches, with localized higher amounts are expected.”

Well, that ought to be fun. Snow had already started as of 6 p.m. Thursday. Fortunately, all of us can stay home tomorrow.

One more small banknote for now. Small in value, about 1.6 cents, and small physically, 4½ by 2 inches. The 1 jiao of the People’s Republic of China. The PRC. I miss it being called red China, just a little.

1 jiao is 0.1 yuan. So you could say that this is a Chinese dime. The gentlemen depicted on the note are stalwart examples of Gaoshan and Manchu men, presumably looking boldly toward the socialist future. Manchu, I’d heard of. Manchu Dynasty and all that. Gaoshan, on the other hand, I had to look up. Seems that’s a term for Taiwanese aborigines.

Dated 1980, but in fact part of the fourth series of the renminbi (as opposed to FECs), which were issued from 1987 to 1997. So I might have picked this up in China. I know I have a few 1 jiao aluminum coins from our visit. Or the note might have been among the bunch o’ cheapies I got more recently.

Harvey and Irma

Harvey and Irma sound like an elderly couple living next to your grandparents 50 years ago. Actually, Irma was a woman living in the house next to my grandparents in Alamo Heights back in the mid-century. I have no idea whether she was a widow or, as my grandma would have put it without being remotely judgmental, an old maid.

When I visited my grandma as a young boy, Irma was kind enough to let me play in her yard and even on her front porch, and I think gave me snacks sometimes. I’m certain Irma is long gone, like grandma, but when I walked by her old house last year, it looked a lot like it used to, unlike my hard-to-recognize grandparents’ house.

Out of curiosity, and because I was busy today and so had the urge to spend time profitlessly, I checked the list of hurricane names at the National Hurricane Center, which is maintained by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization. Tropical cyclone names have a six-year repeating pattern, alternating between female and male names in alphabetical order, except names beginning with Q, U, X, Y or Z, which are skipped all together. I remember when men’s names joined the list in 1979; it sounded odd at first, but normal pretty soon after.

So how many names on the Atlantic hurricane list are as old-fashioned as Irma? A few. Hazel, Beulah, Edna, Agnes, and Eloise have been retired, but Ida and Bertha are still on the list. Arguably names like Florence and Karen and Joyce are on their way out, but not yet. At least the WMO hasn’t picked up the likes of Brooklyn, Madison or Nevaeh. I’d go along with Moon Unit, though.

If Irma’s as fierce as it seems to be, the name will probably be retired, along with Harvey. That would leave an I name and an H name open. Alas, Igor is out — there was a storm of that name in 2010. Hortense is out as well, after a 1996 storm of that name.

Bucktown Sunday Morning

At about 5 pm on Friday afternoon, wind and rain and lightning struck Chicago’s northwest suburbs with special fury, knocking down trees and large branches. Itasca was particularly hard hit.

Lilly, whose train from the city was due later that evening, found herself delayed by a hour because of debris on the tracks near Itasca. On Sunday morning, we drove through that town on Irving Park Blvd. and saw several large trees laid low, including one on top of a building.

Our neighborhood didn’t get hit quite so bad. But we did get hail for a few minutes. Smallish ice pebbles that made some noise, but did no damage to the roof or the car that I could see.

Bucktown Chicago 2017By Sunday, the weather was very warm and steamy and not especially violent. Just the kind of day for a walk in the city, which is where we were going as we drove through Itasca. For a stroll I picked Bucktown, which is directly north of Wicker Park.

I didn’t live, dine, shop or play at all during my late morning amble, except that I was a living being as I passed through, and maybe I “played,” in the sense that walking around and looking at things isn’t work, unless that’s what you’re paid to do.

I don’t remember hearing much about the neighborhood during the late ’80s, but by the late ’90s, Bucktown was known as a gentrifying area. The gentrifying process is now mature, in that the area’s not a cheap place to live, though I suppose Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast and their ilk still outprice it.

With the cost, you get amenities. Such as a statue of a bovine looking through a telescope, or maybe a fanciful theodolite.
Bucktown Chicago cowAnd shady residential streets to walk down. That turned out to be an important feature on Sunday, as temps climbed toward 90 F.
Bucktown, ChicagoBucktown features a fair number of interesting older buildings put to new use.

Bucktown Chicago 2017Bucktown, ChicagoAs well as new construction.
Bucktown, ChicagoAlong with some interesting detail sometimes. This figure looked out from just above the entrance to an older brick building on Damen Ave.
Bucktown Statue of LibertyYou never know where you’ll find Statue of Liberty-like images. The statue deserves to be called the i-word, but that word has been beaten to death in our time. My own favorite use of Liberty Enlightening the World — or La Liberté éclairant le monde to be more than pedantic — was a sizable one I saw years ago over the entrance of a pachinko parlor in Osaka.

The Rains of July 12, 2017

Around 7 this morning I wasn’t entirely awake, but a loud clap of thunder decided I should be. It was the first of several. Rain seems to have fallen earlier, in the wee hours, but around then it started pouring with gusto.

That didn’t last too long. But a few hours later, it happened again. And a while after that, one more time. A lot of rain had fallen by midday, though not as much as some unfortunate places north of here, such as Mundelein, Ill., in Lake County. Many of the flood pictures in this Daily Herald item are out that way.

Our streets were passable, the lower level of our houses dry. For us, it wasn’t quite the Inundation of 2008. Still, at about 2, returning from an errand, I noticed a neighborhood park, about a mile from my house, that was largely underwater. I happened to have my camera.

July 12, 2017 rain

July 12, 2017 rainJuly 12, 2017 rainAll of the water in the pictures is not normally there. A small creek runs through the park, and while I’ve seen it expand with rain, I’ve never seen it go Incredible Hulk on the rest of the park.

Sierra Mist Goes Missing

Temps dropped into the subzero kill-you-if-it-could range beginning on Sunday night and continuing through early Monday morning, though they moderated to the balmy teens above zero F. during the day today. The temps didn’t get to me, this being an age of central heating and Gore-Tex, but it did lay waste to some cans of soda in the garage.

Mist Twst

This isn’t the first time we’d forgotten some cans in the garage, only to have them become a chemistry demonstration: solids tend to take up more space than liquids.

We probably forgot them because “Diet Mist Twst” brand isn’t all that memorable. (Where’s the missing i?) We acquired the cans as part of a 12-can package, though I don’t remember why we bought that particular brand. Probably because they were temporarily cheap and represented something different. Worth a try. As a drink, it’s OK. Basic unmemorable lemon-lime.

A year ago, E.J. Shultz wrote in Ad Age that “Sierra Mist is about to the leave the mountains behind. The PepsiCo-owned brand is removing the word Sierra from its name as it becomes “Mist Twst” as part of a major branding overhaul that will put more emphasis on taste…. The change is the latest makeover for the lemon-lime-flavored soda brand, which has undergone multiple overhauls since launching in 2000.”

Ah, it used to be Sierra Mist. I didn’t notice the change. Or any of the “multiple overhauls.” As brands go, it’s no Coca-Cola. Or even Pepsi. But what is?


Bitter cold days ahead, especially after weekend snow. These things happen in December — this far north, anyway — but it still seems a little early. This is like late January. Are we going to get a break in late January? I have a feeling we won’t.
At least an ice storm isn’t being predicted for this weekend any more.

As an old writing pro, I don’t use too many words that I know the readers won’t understand, just to show off. That’s the mark of an amateur, or even a dilettante. Still, I occasionally float something to my editors to see if it will pass, knowing it won’t. This week, for instance, I wrote a sentence that ended this way:

… an investment firm that does nothing but manage the Brobdingnagian funds of X and his family.

A completely accurate way to describe that particular fortune, believe me. Moreover, Brobdingnagian is a fine word that needs more currency. After all, no one would think twice about using Lilliputian in a sentence.

But I knew it wouldn’t survive the final cut. I was right.

… an investment firm that does nothing but manage the enormous funds of X and his family.

I would have substituted “vast,” but that’s just a personal preference. Probably should have used that in the first place.

More on Swiftian coinages here. I never knew that Yahoo, as in the search engine and related tech-ness, is supposedly an acronym: “Yet Another Hierarchical Officious Oracle.” I too am suspicious that it’s really a backronym.

RIP, Susan Disenhouse. I never met her in person, but she was a professional acquaintance via phone and email.

The East End Historic District, Galveston

The East End Historic District covers over 50 city blocks in Galveston. In July the time to take a stroll in such a place is early in the morning — not something we did — or late in the afternoon, which we did. It’s a delightful mix of housing styles, or as the East End Historic District Association puts it, offers views of “a towering pillar, shadowed silhouettes of ornate carvings, a splash of stained glass in a window, welcoming porches or a bit of wrought iron fencing.”

It also has trees large enough to move the sidewalks from underneath with their roots. Ann asked about the malformed sidewalks, and I explained that the roots did it slowly over the years.

The Julius Ruhl Residence, at the corner of Sealy and 15th and dating from the 1870s, has a widow’s walk. That’s just not something you see in suburban Chicago.
Galveston, July 2015Many houses sport fine porches. A good thing to have in pre-air conditioned times. Or even after air conditioning was invented.
Galveston, July 2015This is the J.C. Trube Castle.
Galveston, July 2015It dates from the 1890s. Its web site — the place is a commercial enterprise now, available for weddings and other events — says the building is “constructed of bricks covered by stucco mixed with Belgium cement creating a rusticated stone effect. The mansard slate roof with seven gables and the battlement tower give the historic home a castle distinction. The observation deck on the top of the tower offers a view of both the gulf and the harbor.”

The building is also one of the few remaining designs of architect Alfred Muller.  Nicholas J. Clayton didn’t design everything in 19th-century Galveston. The Prussian-born Muller also had the relative good fortune to die a few years before the 1900 hurricane.

More pretty houses.
Galveston July 2015Galveston July 2015Note the plaques to the left of the door on this house.
Galveston July 2015Galveston July 2015The upper one’s a little hard to read, but it says 1900 Storm Survivor. Hurricanes are serious business around here. Lest we forget, Ike slapped Galveston as furiously as Katrina hit New Orleans.

Crystal Lake Cave

Three storms passed through northeast Illinois on the last day of June 2014, one in the wee hours, two others in the evening. All of them featured hearty electric displays and vigorous rain. We were warned about possible bursts of high wind, but didn’t see much of it. Not like the wind blasts of late summer ’07 (was it that long ago?) or the howling afternoon of June 18, 2010, but enough to worry property owners hereabouts, such as me. But the condition quite literally blew over.

Today, on this Canada Day 2014, it’s sunny and warm here somewhat south of Canada. (Actually, I could drive east and reach a small part of that nation.) Chamber of Commerce weather, as a former colleague of mine used to call it. Similar conditions are predicted for the run up to the Fourth of July.

Speaking of the last day of June, yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the Night of Long Knives. Who but Al Stewart would write a song about that? But as far as I know, he’s never done one about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the centennial of which was of course over the weekend. Not long now till Der Tag.

Crystal Lake Cave, a few miles south of Dubuque, has some nice features, but it was one of the tightest commercial caves I’ve ever been through. Often the ceiling was low, and the walls were close in as well, just wide enough for an adult to pass through in many places. Our guide pointed out that in its natural state, the floor was a lot higher. So the original cavers – men who were looking for lead deposits – would have had to crawl through. No thanks.

Crystal Lake Cave, June 2014The Chandelier.


Crystal Lake Cave, June 2014

The Chapel.

Apparently Crystal Lake Cave enthusiasts have been married in the small room called the Chapel, though as far as I could tell, there would barely be enough space for two people, much less an officiator.

There’s also an underground body of water in the cave, hence “lake.” What I saw looked more like a pond, but it might extend much further. And anyway, “Crystal Pond Cave” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

Ice, Ice, Ice

Here’s an arresting picture: a false-colored image the Great Lakes from space, taken on February 19 by a satellite called Aqua, which studies the Earth’s hydrosphere. Worth every bit of the tax money it took to put it into space, and then some.

The notes for the image say that “according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), ice cover on North America’s Great Lakes peaked at 88.42% on February 12-13 – a percentage not recorded since 1994. The ice extent has surpassed 80% just five times in four decades. The average maximum ice extent since 1973 is just over 50%.

“On the day this image was captured, according to NOAA GLERL, the ice concentration covering the great lakes were as follows: Superior, 91.76%; Michigan, 60.35%, Huron 94.63%, Erie, 92.79%, Ontario 20.78% and Lake Saint Claire, 98.78%, making for a total ice concentration of 80.29%.

“The extreme freezing of the lakes is an unusual sight for residents, and has brought tourists flocking to certain locations, such as the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, where Lake Superior’s thick ice has thousands trekking about 1 mile across the lake to visit spectacular frozen ice caves.”

I’d read elsewhere about the ice caves on Lake Superior. If driving up to northern Wisconsin weren’t such an ordeal in February, it’d be worth going that far to see.

The thought of something as mighty as Lake Superior freezing over boggles the mind. Even in warmer months, at 3 quadrillion gallons that lake is awe-inspiring.

Storm of the Century

I found Burmese Days at a bookstore not long ago. Once I finish rereading Homage to Catalona, which I’m close to doing, I’ll read that for the first time. It’s a wonder that George Orwell escaped Spain with his life in 1937. How close the world came to never having Nineteen Eighty-Four, Animal Farm and the rest.

What have we missed because antibiotics weren’t quite good enough yet to save Orwell in 1950? The man might have written for another 30 or more years. To modify a line of Tom Lehrer’s, it’s a sobering thought to realize that when Orwell was my age, he’d been dead six years.

Actually, I’m taking a detour from Orwell to read a book I chanced on at the library the other day and couldn’t resist, Storm of the Century: The Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, by Willie Drye (2002). I’m pretty sure I first heard about that storm watching Key Largo. Lionel Barrymore’s character mentioned it, at a time when the hurricane would have been still fairly fresh in memory, as Katrina is for us.

“On Labor Day in 1935, a hurricane that produced the record low barometric pressure reading of 26.35 inches hit Florida’s upper Keys, destroying virtually everything in its path,” the Publishers Weekly blurb cited by Amazon says. “In his meticulously researched work, Drye gives a vivid, detailed account of the storm’s approach and impact when it made landfall. Drye was drawn to the story of the unnamed hurricane not only because of its intensity, but also because it killed nearly 260 World War I veterans who were building a highway as part of a federal construction program.”

So far it’s pretty good. The book even has occasional funny asides, something you wouldn’t expect. For instance, Key West as a modern tourist destination was largely invented during the 1930s, to help it recover from the Depression but also the contraction of the area’s ship salvaging and natural sponge businesses earlier in the century. The Florida Emergency Relief Administration led the effort to clean up the town and its attractions, hiring a PR man named E.M. Gilfond to handle publicity.

“Gilford and his staff, which included talented graphic artists, launched a nationwide advertising campaign to lure tourists to Key West,” writes Drye. “When the visitors arrived they were given a booklet published by the Florida ERA that included a map of the city’s attractions.

“The effort was a rousing success. About 40,000 tourists visited Key West during the 1934-35 season, and the city’s income from tourism increased by about 43 percent…

“No one had bothered to confer with Ernest Hemingway before putting his house on the maps handed out to visitors. The author’s home was listed as attraction number 18, and a fair number of those 40,000 tourists tramped onto his property and peered into the windows of his home or gawked at him from the sidewalk as he tried to relax on his porch with a drink and a cigar. One especially bold visitor opened the front door of Hemingway’s home and marched into his living room as though he were walking into a museum.”