Tag Archives: Bro

Totality

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Bro has been talking about the 2017 total solar eclipse for at least three years. Nearly two years ago, he reserved hotel rooms in Perryville, Missouri. Just off the interstate, so in case it got cloudy, we could drive to a location with clear skies.

On August 21, Bro got up at 5 a.m. to check various weather apps and decide if a move was necessary, and where we should trek to. By 6:30, we were heading down to my Toyota Sienna (affectionately nicknamed Moby Dick) to load it up with telescopes, binoculars, cameras, chairs, tables, and coolers before wolfing down breakfast and driving to Eddyville, Kentucky.

Around 10 a.m, Bro and George, aided by Bro’s Bride, George’s wife Bonnie, and me, were setting up equipment, including Bro’s specially-fitted telescope and George’s mega-fabulous binoculars. Our hosts for the occasion were the lovely people at Eddyville United Methodist Church. Unlike the gougers in Hopkinsville, Kentucky ($200 for a 10’x10′ space in a WalMart parking lot? Please!), the Methodists’ expectations were modest and their hospitality generous. For $10 they provided parking, real rest rooms, a pair of eclipse glasses, water, and a box lunch.

And lest I forget, the box lunches contained:

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According to Bro, a total solar eclipse is the most impressive natural phenomenon most people ever report seeing. I had my doubts. I’d seen partial eclipses before. They were nice.

He was right, though. A total eclipse is a whole other ball game.

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Bro reported first contact around 11:55 a.m.

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Almost total.
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During totality

Now. This is why you need to plan for the next total solar eclipse (for me, that will be in 2024). The above picture (taken during totality, when Bro was able to remove the filter from the telescope) is pretty nice. If you look really hard, you can see the reddish prominences at roughly the three- and five-o’clock positions. Sadly, this shot doesn’t approach what it feels like to look up just after you’ve whipped off your eclipse glasses (only safe during totality). The prominences were more…well, prominent, and there was one more prominence visible, which didn’t show up well in any picture I saw.

The barking dogs, chirping crickets, sudden darkness, temperature drop, and the delighted oohs, ahs, laughs, and applause of those around you just don’t show up your smartphone photos. And the diamond ring–the flash that occurs just as totality ends–can only be fully enjoyed in real time (even accompanied, as it was for me, by the little frisson of panic when I realized I’d better shield my eyes fast; I guess I looked away quickly enough because my vision remains undamaged).

There was real camaraderie among strangers. Bro and George were everyone’s best friends. People enjoyed Bro’s eclipse soundtrack and loved the telescope and binoculars outfitted with solar filters.

Two morals:

  1. Knowledgeable eclipse buddies can’t be beat. Make friends with an astronomer today!
  2. If you live in North America, start thinking about where you want to be on April 8, 2024.
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Three Fun Things

Fun Thing #1: Third Annual Bro Week

Bro came to visit right after Thanksgiving, as he is wont to do. We did tourist activities and saw many wonderful things. Bonus points if you can figure out where the following video came from:

Yes? No? How about this one?

Fun Thing #2: Voices From The Dark

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I just found out the anthology that just came out from eleven Writing Journey authors (including me) is available for pre-order in a number of e-book formats.The print book is already available.

The e-books should be available February 1. It will be available for Kindle here.

This is supposed to be the iTunes link:  https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/voices-from-the-dark/id1069197259?mt=11

And this is the link for the Barnes and Noble Nook:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/voices-from-the-dark-the-writing-journey/1123150660?ean=2940152529197

Fun Thing #3: Picks

Then, to cap off the month, we got an unexpected present. A small, mysterious padded envelope arrived from China addressed to BK and me. When we opened it, this is what it contained:

Picks

Picks! For the playing of guitars, ukuleles, and the like. It was a wonderful surprise. I have my suspicions regarding our benefactor(s) which I will check out by Christmas. In the meantime, if anyone wants to fess up in the comments section below, feel free!

Million Word Party — Recap

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I wish I had pictures of the singing and ice cream, but I was too busy singing, eating, drinking, mingling, and accepting congratulations to snap pictures.  A couple of days later, I was able to take pictures of the gifts and cards I received, so I’m sharing those.* These mementos were an unexpected perk of giving the party. Featured below are a few closeups of the handmade items.

Tim, knowing of my recent fondness for gnomes (I blame the Writing the Other workshop), made me a congratulatory sculpture, which now lives in my writing area.

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Isn’t it fantastic?

In addition to sharing much-needed freezer space, Beth put Al to work. Using his arcane computer knowledge, he was able to offer advice on how to generate the next million words.

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I knew the responsible party immediately

Whitey used leather working skills I didn’t even know he had to create this gorgeous journal cover, which he filled with Moleskine soft cover note books. I carry a notebook with me most of the time to note observations and ideas; this will replace what I’ve been using. For all you Doctor Who fans, the cover symbol is in Gallifreyan, the script of the Time Lords. It means create.

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Learn to write Gallifreyan here!

I got other lovely gifts and cards as well. There’s Bird by Bird (by Anne Lamott) and a fabulous multicolored set of disposable fountain pens from Jack and Carol. There’s the wall hanging from Dick and Jill that proclaims “The Book was so much Better”.  There were thoughtful congratulatory cards from Sue and Ed and Kim, too.

Sis gave the gift of a venue. With all the traveling this summer, my house was in no shape to receive guests, so she generously offered hers and it was swell, from the living room that was transformed into singalong space through the kitchen which became the ice cream bar to the backyard patio with fire pit.

Cookie and Cookie Junior brought brownies and beverages and gave me the gift of time to actually attend the party by taking over serving and cleanup work in the kitchen. Joanne brought yummy homemade peanut butter cookies.

We all loved the comic Hindi song Kishin and Rita performed for us and the song-leading and instrumental gifts that Jack, Bill, Al and BK provided.

I haven’t yet mentioned several people who gifted me with their presence and good spirits: Camille, Cheryl, Katherine, Barry, Sabrina, Len, Carole, Pam, Cathy, and Kim. I have to admit, though that the attendees who astonished me the most were Bro and his lovely Bride, who came all the way from Houston without letting their intentions slip in any way.

If I forgot to mention anyone or to connect the right person with the right card/gift, I’m sorry. Please blame it on the overwhelm factor.

For those interested in the ice cream, here are the flavors we made for the party: caramel pecan, chocolate, coconut, lemon-orange gelato, peppermint, pineapple sorbet, strawberry yogurt, triple chocolate, vanilla, and vanilla yogurt.

We also created frozen (and other) drinks that required plenty of ice cream, including root beer floats, coffee or chocolate stout floats, piña coladas and grasshoppers.

A lovely time was had by all, or at least by me! Thanks again to all involved.

*Disclaimer: In no way did we expect the party to be a gift-giving occasion. BK and I were just delighted that people were willing to show up and celebrate.

Million Dollar Quartet

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Apollo Theater in Chicago

This is my last Bro-related post for a while. Bro and Bride went back to Houston a few weeks ago, but we did take one more fun excursion—not previously shared in this space—while they were in town.

Bride said that at some point during their visit, she’d love to see some theatre. A lot of times when people say that, they mean they want to see one of the big touring shows. This can be an occasion for eye-rolling from a host who lives in the area and knows that Chicago’s local theatre is awesome. However, Bride knows there are plenty of worthy shows all over Chicago, and she was happy to see something homegrown.

Left to my own devices, I might opt for an original play, something on the experimental side, like In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story at Lookingglass Theatre, but we needed to pick something everyone would like. We hoped to get into the Second City revue, but you can’t exactly do that at the last minute.

Luckily, we ended up finding tickets to Million Dollar Quartet at the Apollo Theatre. The Apollo is a fun little theatre. They’ve previously produced other shows along the same lines as Million Dollar Quartet, by which I mean musicals based on actual performers/events, which feature their big hits as kind of a backbone to the proceedings. Sis and I saw Always Patsy Cline there some years back. On that occasion, and before we even got into the performance space, we discovered that they served Schlitz beer, a brand we hadn’t seen in years. The reason they were serving it became clear very shortly into the performance, when we saw the actress playing Patsy knocking them back.

Yep. At the Apollo, they encourage you to bring your drinks into the theatre. Once Bro discovered this, he was totally on board with the entire concept. Other than a pretty relaxed theatrical experience, though, we weren’t sure exactly what we were letting ourselves in for. The good news is, it was a lot of fun: a tight show that clocked in around 90 minutes, with no intermission. So you’d be all right attending in the middle of the week, even if you live in the suburbs, because you still won’t be up too late.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the show, Million Dollar Quartet is based on an actual event—the night of December 4, 1956. Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley were all at Sun Records together, and magic happened. It’s a great excuse to hear some fun music, like Who Do You Love, Sixteen Tons, Hound Dog, Whole Lotta Shaking…I could go on and on. The actor/musicians blew me away, especially Lance Lipinsky as Jerry Lee Lewis and Shaun Whitley as Carl Perkins. But really, the show was about a pivotal night in the life of Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records. He was an artist in his own right, or at least a muse, and people just don’t remember him in the same way that they remember the names of the guys in the quartet. Anyone who’s ever tried to express something new artistically could relate to Sam Phillips’ struggles. That’s what spoke to me most about Million Dollar Quartet. It had something for everyone, or at least something for everyone in our group: fun, drinks, music and a thought-provoking, character-driven story line.

 

Pizza – a War for Hearts and Minds

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When Bro and Bride came to town, we had to get pizza. In fact, Bro had a strong opinion about where to go for it.

There are at least as many different opinions about pizza as there are pizza purveyors. There’s the pizza rivalry between Chicago and New York, recently highlighted by Jon Stewart.

The easy thing to say is that New York pizza is thin and floppy—something you can fold up like a crepe and eat while you’re walking down the street, while Chicago pizza is thick and gloppy, and you have to eat it with a knife and fork, like—as Jon Stewart would say—a casserole.

I don’t know from New York pizza. I only ever had it—or something that was called “New York pizza”—when I went to Wash U in St. Louis. On Sunday nights, when the food service was closed, we often frequented Talayna’s, which I recently discovered is Yiddish for Italian. Talayna’s served what they called New York pizza and Chicago pizza. Since their Chicago pizza wasn’t what I remembered from home, I wasn’t willing to accept that their version of New York pizza was especially authentic either. For Talayna’s purposes, New York and Chicago were code for thin or thick crust, which is how many people think.

The reality is more complicated. There are varying thicknesses of pizza in Chicago, and I’ve been known to indulge in, um, all of the above. Usually I save deep dish (or stuffed, and there is a difference) pizza for special occasions, because it’s very rich. For thin crust, I  like Rosati’s if we bring it home and Home Run Inn if we eat it there.

But, ah—deep dish pizza. At the right place it’s great, at the wrong place it’s either inconsistent or just plain gloppy. The epic tale of Chicago thick crust pizza moguls  is almost the stuff of Greek theatre. Though with the Italian influence, we probably ought to go with opera instead. Somebody write the Chicago Pizza Opera, please! Stolen secret recipes! Betrayal! Revenge! I’d go to the Lyric opening night to hear that one.

An interesting article from the BBC travel site explores the story in some depth, and also divulges their favorite.

As for me, I’ve had Uno’s/Due’s, Gino’s East, My Pie (or My π, if you prefer) and Giordanos. Lately? I have to agree with BK, Bro and the BBC reviewer. Pizano’s.

But if you want to judge for yourself, maybe you should book a Chicago pizza tour

The next time Bro comes to town, we may do that. Purely in the name of research, you understand.

Chicago Botanic Garden – Indoors and Out

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Chicago Botanic Garden is breathtaking on a nice day, but still quite lovely even if you’re dodging raindrops and trying to keep warm.

Yet again (4 days in – on Thursday), chilly and rainy weather kept us indoors during Bro’s week of fun. We all went to Walker Brothers and then Bro, Sis and I went to the Chicago Botanic Garden. We timed our walking about so that we didn’t have to dodge too many raindrops. Here are a few of the things we saw outdoors:

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Planter Highlights – and Phun with Photoshop

 

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The ranunculus were ridonculous

On our way to the indoor greenhouses, we spotted the bonsai exhibit. I’ve never really seen much bonsai up close and personal. It is thoroughly amazing. I swear there was a tree in that exhibit that was 40 years old, but don’t quote me. If it takes 40 years to create great bonsai, I won’t live long enough to take bonsai up as a hobby. I’ll just have to content myself with marveling at other people’s results. I could have spent the whole visit just looking at bonsai, but it started to rain again and I didn’t want to melt.

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Fabulous, right?

 

The conservatories were our next stop. We visited three areas:

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1 – Tropical

 

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2 – Desert

 

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3 – Semitropical

 

I also loved the blue poppies in one of their indoor planters

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While we were at the Garden, I downloaded their GardenGuide app and was amazed at all the events they had scheduled. I wanted to do it all, but we should have planned ahead if we wanted to make that happen.

We definitely need to get back there on a nice day. The Japanese and English gardens (among many others) beckon!

Oh – thanks to my brilliant and beautiful sister for the lovely photos.

Chicago History Museum – Even Better Than You Think

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Robert Chevalier de La Salle

Bro and I had such a swell time being tourists last November that he dragged Bride to town for a similar excursion this spring. The idea was that the weather shouldn’t be too bad, and in fact might be glorious. Bro and Bride have lived in Houston for over twenty years, and have forgotten their Midwestern roots. Or maybe whatever regulates their body temperatures has forgotten how to deal with the cold. It doesn’t help that all their clothing consists of golf shorts, tropical shirts, and bikinis. My theory is that everyone in Houston dresses that way all the time, because the temperature in Houston never drops much below 80º.

Be that as it may, Bro and Bride got into the area Sunday night. The weather was not glorious. They drove through freezing torrential rains to get to us. The forecast continued cold, with a chance of rain all week. We hadn’t planned anything ahead of time, and it turned out that on Monday, both Bride and Sis had to work. It fell to me to suggest fun indoor activities to occupy Bro on Monday. We both wanted to go see Edward Gorey at the Loyola University Museum of Art, which I thoroughly enjoyed with Cookie about a month ago, but which Bro hadn’t seen. That would have been an excellent plan for a chilly, rainy day, except for one thing. LUMA isn’t open on Mondays. Auggh! Wailing and gnashing of teeth commenced. On to plan B.  I offered Bro a list to peruse, which contained such items as:

  • Target shooting at Glisson Archery
  • The Art Institute
  • The Museum of Science and Industry
  • Chicago History Museum
  • Seeing a movie like Captain America: The Winter Soldier or The Grand Budapest Hotel

That last option was so attractive—or at least the Captain America part of it was—that Bride was willing to knock off work early to accompany us, so that’s what we did. It was a fun movie. I have to take BK to see it.

Why did I share this long, boring list?

Here’s why. On Tuesday, when we hoped to take an architectural tour on the Chicago River, the day started with fog, segued into more damned rain, and then subsided back into fog. Not ideal, especially if you’d like to see the tops of the buildings you’re looking at. We needed a substitute activity, so Bro pulled out my list from Monday.

Cookie and I were planning to meet the others where the tour boat launches,  but when it became clear that it was another day for indoor activities, I called Bro on my trusty smart phone and and said, “So maybe today’s the day to do LUMA.”

It turned out Bride and Sis still weren’t interested.

“How about the Art Institute?” I asked. Cookie is a fellow there and could have gotten us all in. I could almost hear the yawns on the other end. Seriously? I love the Art Institute. Tough crowd. In their defense, they’ve all been to the Art Institute multiple times. Anyway, what Bro, Bride and Sis chose really surprised me. They said they wanted to go to the Chicago History Museum.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. I wanted to go, after all. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be on the list. But I figured I was the only one. When I mentioned it to Cookie, she was all, “Sure, sounds interesting.”

One reason I wasn’t sure people would want to go is that I remember going to that museum a long time ago. It wasn’t called the Chicago History Museum then; it was the Chicago Historical Society. I remember it being squashed-together and poorly lit. There were dioramas. I have a fair tolerance for that kind of thing if I’m interested in the content of a museum, which is why I wanted to go. I’d read about some cool exhibits there—the Jack Delano Railroaders and the Ebony Fashion Fair exhibits, to name only two.

Anyway, that’s where Cookie and I met up with Sis, Bro and Bride. It is no longer squashed together and poorly lit. Once inside the now-spacious interior, we opted for the free tour of one of their main exhibits, Chicago: Crossroads of America. It was quite cool. I wish I could tell you the name of our guide, but I’m hopeless at remembering that kind of detail, especially when I’m not taking notes.

What I do remember is learning that during the 19th century, Chicago was the fastest-growing city in the world. (The town was incorporated in 1833, when the population was about 350. By the time of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, there were 299,000 inhabitants. After the fire, the city’s reconstruction and growth were incredibly rapid, and the population reached 1.7 million in 1900.)

Another great takeaway was  that Chicago owed its phenomenal growth to the railroads. Chicago was on America’s frontier when it started; by the 1850s, it became the nation’s transportation hub, because of its water connections to the eastern waterways and the Mississippi River, and the 30 rail lines that entered the city.

My new appreciation for the railroads made Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography even more interesting. To quote from the museum’s web site:

In 1942, the Office of War Information issued photographer Jack Delano a new assignment: document “railroads and their place in American life.” During the next several months, Delano captured three thousand images, two-thirds of them in the nation’s rail hub—Chicago.

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Another excellent part of our visit was the Ebony Fashion Fair exhibit. Here’s another quote:

The Ebony Fashion Fair began in 1958, and over the next 50 years the traveling fashion show blossomed into an American institution that raised millions for charity and helped Johnson Publishing Company reach audiences.

Show organizers overcame racial prejudice to bring the pinnacle of Europe’s premier fashion to communities that were eager to see, in real time and space, a new vision of black America that was the hallmark of Ebony and Jet magazines. Eunice Johnson took over as producer and director in 1963, and under her direction, the traveling show took on new heights as she expanded her cachet and power within fashion circles.

Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair recreates the experience of the Ebony Fashion Fair through the story of Mrs. Johnson and more than 60 garments from icons of the fashion industry such as Yves St. Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Christian Lacroix, and Patrick Kelly among others.

If you want to see the Ebony exhibit, do it now! It’s only there until Sunday, May 11, 2014.

We spent all day at the Chicago History Museum (the café is just fine, by the way) and barely scratched the surface. We didn’t get by the Abraham Lincoln or historical clothing sections at all. I can’t wait to go back.