Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year's Resolution #5

I will go see/hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra

I'm ashamed to admit I've lived in this city for 15 years minus 3 and I've never been to see and hear the CSO. I've been to Symphony Center once, to see Mavis Staples (doing a tribute to Mahalia Jackson, many years ago), and I've heard the Grant Park Symphony Orchestra on a number of occasions, but never the CSO. Now that I've been to Second City and taken classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music, this is #1 on my list of things I will hate myself for not having done if I leave Chicago.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Very Burton Christmas

7:45am - My alarm goes off. My alarm being my bladder. Linnea doesn't come until 9am, but there's no going back to sleep now. I check the kitchen and am disappointed to find that Santa did not do the dishes as I had hoped. I grab a jacket (the kitchen has no heat) and dig in.

I contemplate throwing a Christmas CD in the boom box that's in there, but turn on the radio instead. I am treated to the very pleasant sound of David Sedaris reading from his hilarious Christmas book "Holidays on Ice". It's going to be a good day.

A few minutes later David is cut off. This is just Weekend Edition playing an excerpt. The news kicks in soon and I'm reminded of Simon and Garfunkel's "7 O'Clock News/Silent Night". I turn to XRT in hopes they're playing Christmas music, and am treated to INXS instead.

After making a dent in the dishes I move on to tidying up the living room in preparation for its imminent demolishing. I remember a year past when VH1 Classic showed Christmas videos all Christmas day and look for this. They're showing a Kiss concert. I turn to TBS' day long A Christmas Story airing and find it at my favorite scene - the department store Santa. I just love that kid in the aviator outfit in front of Ralphie in line. I love Ralphie's awkwardness and wanting nothing to do with her (him?).

8:55am - Linnea arrives. I manage to convince her to take her coat off before she starts opening presents.

9:15am - All presents have been opened. She is pleased.

9:20am - I am helping her open her new doctor dress-up/playset. A strange look comes over her face. I ask if she's okay. She says "I just can't deal with all this stuff" then immediately says "just joking". This is troubling. I've never seen her get visibily stressed out like that before. I've been fairly relaxed all morning and I don't think she's picking it up from me. Divorced holidays are stressful on kids, I remember all too well my own experiences. I'm just as troubled though by the "just joking" comment - if that's really the way she was feeling I don't want her to feel that she has to mask it. She moves on pretty quickly though and makes a very cute doctor.

10am - Linnea ate at her mom's but I'm getting hungry. I make eggs, which for the first time I can remember, come out perfect. The coffee is perfect too. Merry Christmas to me.

11am - Linnea wants to play her new Winnie the Pooh Uno game. It's pretty easy and she mostly gets it, but she doesn't want to give up all of her cards, which is of course the idea of the game. I win the first round and she's pouty. Given the option to just goof around with the cards on her own terms she chooses to play another round, which she wins, mostly fair and square.

11:20am - The Lego pirate play set gets opened. This is her first "big kid" Lego set - normal sized pieces with directions so you can make it look like the things on the box. She does amazingly well with it. We put together a few of the items based on the directions and she is patient and helpful. She then decides she wants to put the ship together however she wants, so I let her and she makes a decent little raft.

1pm - Tomato soup and a sandwich for lunch. She wants to watch her new Scooby Doo video.

3pm - My mom, stepdad and Grandmother call. Linnea doesn't want to stay on the phone for more than a second and doesn't really want to let me talk. I juggle this for awhile until Linnea spills M&Ms all over the floor and I take my leave of the call.

3:10pm - M&Ms cleaned up. Linnea is doing her new computer software. I play some Rock Band on-line battles. I find there's no better day than Christmas to up my rankings....people get it for Christmas, decide they're ready to play expert right out of the box, and I get to squash them. It's the little traditions that make the holidays special.

4:00pm - Linnea wants to watch the other video she got today - Curious George movie. That movie is the only context in which I can stomach Jack Johnson music. I'm all tuckered out and try and doze on the couch while she watches the movie and squirms all over me.

5:30pm - Chinese food has been ordered from Koi. Linnea is on her second viewing of the Scooby Doo DVD. Normally I wouldn't let her watch so much TV, but it's Christmas. Heck, I'm still in my pajamas.

6pm - Chinese food arrives. I ordered a couple of sushi rolls in addition to fried rice and crispy duck. The sushi is horrible - very little fish buried in enormous amounts of rice. I will never order sushi from there again. The fried rice and duck are good though.

8pm - Against much resistance I start moving Linnea towards bed. We finished reading Stuart Little last week (the first long-form book she's had read to her) and she wants to start it again. I all of sudden remember I had intended to get her a new similar type of book for Christmas. Whoops. We start it over and I make a mental note to pick up something this weekend. Charlotte's Web maybe?

8:30 - Linnea is in bed and seems ready to sleep. I'm a little lost as to what to do with myself.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Music Round-Up

With the majority of my Christmas CDs still MIA, and likely never to be found, I've had to go searching for some new entries to bulk up the collection. In the process I've found some really, really good, and some really, really bad.

I was thinking today about who I really wish would put out a Christmas album. At the top of my list for some reason is Alison Krauss, so I went looking to see if she had anything out there. I found 2 tracks from compilations - "Shimmy Down the Chimney" and "Only You Can Bring Me Cheer". They were both utterly horrible. I removed them from my IPod and will be happy never to hear them again. The first sounds like it was produced completely on a Casio keyboard, and not a good one. The second is all Nashville and no bluegrass. I know she could do better; much better.

Others on my list of people I'd like to hear Christmas albums from? Nina Simone, though that will now never happen. Ron Sexsmith has a couple wonderful original Christmas songs out there already - warm and sentimental in a good way, without being the least bit sappy or cloying, and could probably put together a wonderful mix of covers and originals with his soulful melancholy vibe. The Decemberists have already covered one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs - Please Daddy Don't Get Drunk This Christmas - but I'm sure they could provide a few more Christmasy tales of sailors, gypsies, and doomed lovers.

Browsing ITunes' Christmas section I was intrigued by a new Killers single called "Joseph, Better You Than Me". Even though I can't stand their current single with the idiotic name I can't remember, and I did note that this track features Neil Tenant (Pet Shop Boys) and Elton John, I bought it anyway. Bad move. It went straight to the recycle bin with the Alison Krauss tracks. $3 poorly, poorly spent today.

My other ITunes purchase of the day was Weezer's Christmas EP. All "traditional" Christmas songs, and all pretty straightforward Weezerish renditions. I'm a moderate Weezer fan, and this one gets to stay on my IPod, but it didn't particularly excite me. It actually reminds me not a little of Manheim Steamroller.

There is a good bit of free indie Christmas music out there to be had, and I spent a good portion of my day listening to it. Sufjan Stevens makes a Christmas EP for his friends every year, 5 excellent volumes of which were compiled and released a few years ago. The general, non-friend-of-Sufjan public has to settle for one new track this year, found on the totally free Sounds Familyre Compilation "A Familyre Christmas Vol. 2". There's some interesting stuff here, from a mix of familiar and unfamiliar bands (to me), but not much will be making my regular Christmas rotation. Danielson was already near the top of my "wish they would put out a Christmas CD" list, and after hearing their track here, I'm even more convinced. The Half-Handed Cloud and Soul-Junk tracks are also worth a few listens. Last year's compilation is also available for free download at the same link, and is a bit less challenging than this year's.

Also free to e-music subscribers (does not count against your available downloads), or a mere $1.99 on Itunes, is the considerably more mainstream Redeye 2008 Holiday Sampler. Ron Sexsmith contributes a stellar track alongside other great stuff from the likes of Over The Rhine, Supersuckers, Elk City, and Apples in Stereo. Lisa Loeb contributes a very pedestrian Jingle Bells, which I was disappointed to hear as she's one of my huge guilty pleasures. I'd still pay $1.99 for the whole album in a heartbeat.

My two most pleasant surprises for the year were the new Raveonettes EP "Wishing You A Rave Christmas" (4 songs. Avaiable on E-Music or for $3.96 on ITunes) and the indie classic from Low, "Christmas" (8 tracks, available on E-Music or for $7.92 on Itunes). I had not previously heard much from the Raveonettes am very interested after hearing this. One cover (Christmas Baby Please Come Home) and 3 mellow but heavily 60's influenced originals; alternately fuzzy and shimmering, and all lovely. It's all streaming free at their MySpace page. The Low album shares a similar aesthetic while being considerably more lo-fi. Both albums are more pretty than depressing, but neither will have you rockin' around the Christmas tree.

That's about it for new finds. As to what I'm missing most from my Christmas CD collection - Bruce Cockburn's "Christmas", Aimee Mann's "Another Drifter in the Snow" (I do hold out some hope of turning this one up), a Louis Armstrong Christmas CD, and a Mahalia Jackson Christmas CD. If they don't turn up this year, I'll have to start looking into replacements.

Monday, December 22, 2008

New Year's Resolution #4

I will go to the dentist

There's a Simpsons' scene where Lisa asks the saxophonist Bleeding Gums Murphy how he got his name. He asks Lisa "You ever been to the dentist?". She replies, "Yes". He says, "I haven't".

While I've certainly been to the dentist before in my life, it's been a long time. Years. Many. It's a catch-22 for me really. While I can certainly scrape up the funds for a check-up and cleaning, I have a fear that it's not going to end there - that I'm going to be told I need more painful and painfully expensive work. So I don't go because I don't want to face this reality. But the longer I don't go, probably the more I'm going to need and the more expensive it's going to be. So the problem just perpetuates itself.

But this is the year, I promise, I'm going, and more sooner than later.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New Year's Resolution #3

I will get rid of my cable

I've been promising myself I would do this for the last year or so. With the newfound ability to stream Hulu and Netflix to my TV, and the financial crunch being what it is, the time has come. No, I don't have any grand aspirations about watching less, reading more, getting out, etc...If I can't do all those things with cable, I'm not going to be drawn to them without it. If it's mindless entertainment I'm after, I'm sure to find it elsewhere. The reality is though that I'm not a major junkie. I rarely turn it on just to see what's on, but rather watch with intention. That's not to say I'm watching Nova or C-Span or anything.

So my plan is to keep it through the holidays then find some rabbit ears and one of those digital convertor boxes for the impending elimination of analog broadcasts, and make the call.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

New Year's Resolution #2

#2 - I will stop drinking soda in front of my daughter.

This has been such an area of hypocrisy for me. Whenever we go out to eat, I get soda and make her get milk or juice and then listen to her beg for sips of my soda. If it's not good for her, it's not good for me. I don't have it in the house, I shouldn't have it out of the house either. I haven't figured out what I will drink in its place. Water I suppose.

Friday, December 19, 2008

New Year's Resolutions - #1

Resolution #1 - I will blog about my New Year's Resolutions

It's nice to set myself up with a nice easy resolution I can knock out right away. Now I have some momentum and confidence to move on to the rest...

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

At Long Last, A New Mix CD

As I sat down to make this mix CD I remembered the main reason it had been so long since I made one - ITunes isn't compatible with Vista & my burner. I had found one registry fix that worked but was annoying and had to constantly be repeated, but even that doesn't seem to work for me anymore. It's a known issue shared by many, but I'm guessing patching their products to work with Windows isn't a big priority for Apple. So anyway, this took a lot of jockeying of files around, but here it is:

"Deck It Out In Fairy Lights - The Best of 2008"

1. White Winter Hymnal - Fleet Foxes
Easily one of my favorite songs of the year. I was actually upset when the radio here picked it up. I wanted to keep it all to myself.

2. Get Better - Mates of State
"Everything's going to get lighter, even if it never gets better". I have no idea what that means, but they made it stick in my head for a really long time.

3. Suffering Jukebox - Silver Jews
I don't know how anyone could ever be surly listening to the Silver Jews.

4. Heart of Stone - Chris Knight
The only song to make me cry in 2008. Kind of cheezy, but, yeah...

5. Why Do You Let Me Stay Here? - She & Him
She & Him is actress Zooey Deschanel (Elf & Almost Famous) and singer M. Ward. Zooey handles 95% of the vocals and wrote most of the songs. Sunny, soulful, a throwback to another time without being derivative. The concert I most regret missing this year.

6. Don't Tell Me To Do The Math(s) - Los Campesinos!
I haven't decided if this was my favorite album of 2008, but I know I listened to it more than any other. Amazingly they just released their second full length record this year, and it's almost as good.

7. Good Times - Colin Meloy
He's no Sam Cooke, but he could still put out an EP of him singing the telephone book and I'd buy it and like it.

8. Past Time - The Baseball Project
Combining 2 of my favorite things, baseball and Scott McCaughey. This had the look of a novelty album, but turned out to be a superb everyday use type of album.

9. Home - David Byrne & Brian Eno
I've never understood why I don't listen to more David Byrne.

10. Living In The Aftermath - Chris Mills
This guy is sadly underappreciated. This album came out pretty much under the radar this year, but is an alt-pop masterpiece.

11. Ooh La Ooh La - They Might Be Giants
On their third "kids" record, Here Come The 1,2,3s, TMBG have created a classic. It's all my daughter wants to listen to and it's yet to wear on me. They make good music first, and market it to kids later.

12. The Righteous Path - Drive-By Truckers
This overly long album didn't do much for me this year, but there are a few songs that stick out, and this is definitely the brightest.

13. The Twist - Frightened Rabbit
Apparently I'm into Scottish indie-emo-alt-whatever. Last year it was The Twilight Sad, and this year Frightened Rabbit. As far as I'm concerned Scotland can keep it coming.

14. Joke About Jamaica - The Hold Steady
Much like the new Drive-By Truckers, this was the first Hold Steady album to really disappoint me. They experimented a bit too much and it was lyrically disappointing. This song is hard not to like though.

15. We Call On The Author - Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
By far the hardest/grittiest album I bought this year. I think Nick Cave could sing the phone book too and make it sound important.

16. No Baby I - Old 97's
Rhett Miller has got to be get near to his God-given limit of incredibly good pop-rock songs.

17. My Year in Lists - Los Campesinos!
Really hard to pick a favorite song from this album, but I think I listened to this one more than any.

18. Make No Plans - Marching Band
Rookies of the year? I liked this album alot, but expect that the best is yet to come.

19. Jigsaw - Mates of State
"You write the good songs baby...". Yes, she does.

20. We'll Get By - Gary Louris
Probably my number one musical disappointment this year. Can be appreciated in a certain mood, but not often. This track is a keeper.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

What Is She Waiting For?'s full of Barbie fashion accessories. No, I didn't buy it.

Monday, November 10, 2008


My friend's blog has been bothering me lately. She keeps asking the question "what does Christian unity mean?" or, "is it alright to criticize other Christians?", or even to be angry at them? These questions have bothered me because I've rarely thought twice about criticizing Christians who I feel aren't getting it right or twisting beliefs I hold sacred. I've even pretty regularly read magazines dedicated to such criticism or listened to Christian music that often turns a satirical eye on its own community. But I guess deep down I believe that I'm both right and wrong in the way I do this and these questions about unity and criticism have forced me to realize I've never really set any boundaries in this area.

So I've done some thinking about what the Bible says on the topic. Jesus says judge not lest ye be judged. Jesus says take the plank out of your own eye before pointing out the speck in someone else's. Jesus spends a lot of time putting religious leaders in their place. Paul talks about being unified with other believers. Paul spends 1/2 of the New Testament telling other believers what they're doing wrong. This could be discouraging, but I actually find it encouraging.

What does it mean to judge? If I wanted to sound smart I'd dig into the Greek and all that, but I never took Greek, so I thought about the English meaning. A judgement is something final. It says "You are this" or "You are that" - you are guilty or you are innocent; you are going to jail or you are free. Jesus says that God is the only one who gets to make those kinds of judgements. Who we really are, in an absolute sense, is inside of us in a place only God knows. It is not for us to tell people "You are a bad person", "You are not loved by God", "You are not really a Christian", "You are going to hell", etc...

But at the same time as we're not supposed to pass grand judgements on people, I don't believe we're supposed to completely close our eyes and our mouths to things people do, just because they do it in the name of Christianity. Even when it's not some huge glaringly obvious wrong like killing or abusing people, I don't think we have to bottle our sensibilities in the name of unity. During my time in the retail world I got to take a short management class where I learned some basic skills for talking to unhappy, or soon to be unhappy, employees. The suggestions are really good for any interpersonal relationships and I think for how we deal with our fellow believers. The main guideline - use "I" statements: "When you do this, it makes me feel this way", "What you are doing does not fit in with my beliefs about Christianity", "When you handle snakes on Sunday morning, I fear for your life and wonder if we're reading the same Bible", "I read your Left Behind book and it doesn't fit in with my beliefs about good writing or good theology". You get the picture. These types of statements don't pass judgement on a person - who they are deep down, what their relationship with God is, or what their eternal destiny might be. When we keep the conversation focused on our feelings and our beliefs, it leaves room for both parties to dialogue, and learn about each other. I know there's a fine line between "I" statements and backhanded criticism (and one or two of my examples certainly walk that line), but this approach goes a lot farther than telling someone "I can't believe you would do that and call yourself a Christian", etc...

I certainly don't mean we have a free pass to express every feeling we have about anybody or anything the second we have it - we should be slow to speak about these things, looking for the planks in our own eyes on the matters, deciding whether dialogue on the issue is necessary or potentially fruitful. This is where I fail constantly. This is where I need boundaries. We are called to speak the truth in love, and I think the boundary I need to work on is not speaking if it's not in love, not out of real concern for a person or a situation. Not speaking when it's only to say "look at those idiots". I think the bottom line is that "unity in Christ" means the ability to love in spite of differences. Not the ability to put them all aside and pretend they're not there and never speak of them.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Look At Us, We Formed A Band!

I've finally gotten around to doing one of those things I've been meaning to get around to doing - take one of the ensemble classes at the Old Town School of Folk Music. I last took classes there sometime before we moved to Durango, so it's been awhile. Those classes were just guitar and mandolin classes. The ensemble classes have always sounded interesting but intimidating, but I finally grew a pair and signed up for the Alt Country Ensemble. I went in not really knowing exactly what an ensemble class is about, but anxious to find out.

I got to the main Lincoln Ave location about 15 minutes before start of class to find my class not listed on the directory. The people at the info table pleaded ignorance and sent me to the main office. They looked me up and told me I was supposed to be at the Armitage location. I actually made pretty good time getting down there and miraculously found a very close parking space with little trouble and was only 20 minutes late. I had never been in that location before - it's very small and was pretty deserted when I got there. I found my class on the posted list, then wandered upstairs looking for it, but couldn't find it, so I came back downstairs and asked in the office. I was directed downstairs where I found my class and apologized for my tardiness and was told all I had missed was introductions, which was too bad because I would have liked to have been there for those as they are helpful in orienting oneself to a strange new situation. The teacher didn't ask my name or anything.

I found an empty seat and got my guitar out. There were 7 people including myself, 8 including the teacher. 3 guitarists (myself included), 1 banjo, and 1 guy who started on guitar then switched to bass and seemed happier there, and 1 drummer. The teacher played guitar. 2 girls (both guitarists) and a wide range of ages. There was a six pack of beer in a plastic bag in the middle of the floor. After I sat down one of the girls handed me a stapled packet of music - lyrics and chords. I flipped through and was happy to see I was familiar with every song except one (familiar in that I have heard the songs, not that I necessarily know how to play them). We quickly jumped into "I Ain't Ever Satisfied" by Steve Earle. There was a little going over of chords and rhythms, but nothing in the way of arranging Whoever wanted to sing along sang along. We went through the song twice, going back to work a part or two that was a little tricky. And that was pretty much the MO for the evening as we played 5 or 6 songs before our hour and a half was up. We also played New Madrid by Uncle Tupelo, Papa Was Rodeo by Kelly Hogan (originally by Magentic Fields), Can't Let Go by Lucinda Williams, This Flower by Kasey Chambers, and I Married Her Just Because She Looks Like You by Lyle Lovett.

It was all very low key and pretty fun. I was comfortable enough to talk and sing along a bit. I did wish I had brought my mandolin. I don't feel this class is going to stretch me much if I play guitar, whereas mandolin, which I'm horrible at and haven't played in ages, would be a stretch. Keyboard is a possibility too. I will definitely bring the mandolin next week. Our teacher said she would sign us up to perform a week from Friday at the school's once a month Friday night get together or jamboree or whatever you want to call it - I've never been to one.

Art Brut - Formed A Band

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

That's My Daughter in the Water

Took Linnea to her swim lesson for the first time tonight (my first time, not hers). They were held at the high school down the road from her mom's. I felt like we were an odd pair walking through the halls of the high school. I spent a lot of time at the high school in Durango, so that wasn't so strange, but I hadn't been in a high school locker room in many many years and it didn't really bring back good memories.

We were early and there was some sort of diving team practice going on (which continued at the opposite end of the pool throughout Linnea's lesson). It was a girls' team with a male coach who equally berated and joked with the girls. At one point he seemed to be sending a few of them home, and I couldn't tell in what spirit or under what circumstances this was happening. Their dives were video taped then instantly played back on a TV on the wall. One girl used a large harness that the coach somewhat controlled with one end of a rope. She was doing flips. The coach kept saying he thought that maybe she could do it without the harness. I'm not sure exactly what the harness was doing to help her.

As for Linnea's lessons, I was unclear as to whether she was being taught by high school students or what. First a friendly girl who seemed to be about college age came over, but she didn't know Linnea. She asked who she was and who her teacher was (I didn't know the answer to the second question, but she was able to look it up on her list). There were about 4 different teachers/classes going on simultaneously with different age groups. I'm not sure if her teacher today was her regular teacher. She was also youngish, but I don't think high school age. I came to the conclusion that the lessons were through the park district and they were just renting the school's pool. The girl seemed to be doing an okay job, but it seemed to be just that to her - a job. Some of the other teachers seemed to be enjoying themselves, but her not so much. She often looked up at me when she would tell Linnea something as if she was concerned that I wouldn't approve of how she was working with my daughter. I sat on the bleachers and read.

As I watched Linnea on one end of the pool and the high schoolers on the other, I couldn't help but think about how soon she'll be on the other end. It's a strange and sad thing, and maybe it's just me that does it, to have a daughter who's only 4 and already be sad that her childhood is so short. I wish I could do a better job of just living in the moment. I definitely understand how people end up with multiple children - every little bit of their independence is a piece of your heart and you long for that time when they were completely dependent on you (and unable to talk back) and you forget about the not sleeping and crying all the time parts.

Loudon Wainwright III - "Daughter"

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sorry Joy Yee, You're Just Not Cozy Enough

Forgive the title of this post. It's horrible, but I couldn't resist.

There are many noodle places in Evanston, but Joy Yee certainly gets the most attention. With their gargantuan menu with big pictures, humongous entrees served in hollowed out pineapples, huge fruit drinks with disgusting black tapioca balls at the bottom, the place is always packed. And when I say packed, I mean packed. You could barely slide a paper doll between the tables. When they closed down to renovate and expand into the space immediately next door, there was speculation that the crowding would ease up. I predicted there would just be more tables incredibly close to each other. I was pretty much right.

I like Joy Yee's food, and it's kind of fun, and they do make a great Thai Iced Coffee which would be on my list for my last meal on death row, but there's a little, mostly unsung, noodle place a few blocks down that I would much rather spend my time and money in. I'm not sure how I missed Cozy Noodles & Rice for so long, but I'm glad I finally found it. I'm pretty sure I've blogged about it before, but I'm going to do it again. It's like a family friendly Joy Yee without all the flash. The walls are adorned with kitsch - old lunchboxes, pez dispensers, bobbleheads, etc....but somehow they manage to come off as more of a wierd collection than an attempt at retro-cool. That's neither here nor there for me personally, but Linnea loves looking at it all. The menu is considerably shorter than Joy Yee's, but it has all the noodle shop staples plus some specials, and I'm yet to have a bad dish. Their Thai Iced Coffee is also excellent and they also have a selection of fruit freezes, though I'm not sure about the tapioca.

Tonight we were sat in the smaller room for the first time, along with a few other families (possibly a birthday party?), which made me feel comfortable and not overly concerned about Linnea's volume or penchant to wander around. Linnea really enjoyed the fact the tables in that room were old sewing tables that still had the wheel and the foot pedal. We had the spring rolls which are unlike any I've had anywhere else - I'm not even sure what's in them. Rather than the rice paper the wrap is a thicker spongier material, and fillings are thicker too - tofu or something, all drizzled with a very sweet sauce. I get them whenever I go, and Linnea even likes it. I ordered the Bammee noodles and the waitress tried to talk me out of them, giving me the sense that I was too white for this dish, which only solidified my resolve. They turned out to be ramen type noodles with very good BBQ pork, peanuts, and a couple pieces of crabmeat (imitation I'm sure). It wasn't bad but the noodles were too sweet. We also got Yakisoba noodles with tofu and carrots, which Linnea loved and I liked too. Linnea was in a good mood and willing to try things, including the tofu, which she liked. The service was very friendly and prompt, but not rushed, though the food came very quickly. Though we didn't get it tonight, they have great mochi too (something I'm pretty sure Joy Yee doesn't have).

This is probably one of the most family friendly restaurants in Evanston, though you might never suspect it to be. My daughter loves the food and the atmosphere, and it's great to be able to take her some place where grilled cheese isn't an option.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

My Week of Tedium - Tuesday

I went to bed last night around 9:30, which is very early for me. I awoke this morning from another vivid and very angry dream. The weird thing was I didn't know anyone in the dream. I can't figure out who they were all subbing for either.

Got Linnea to her Grandmother's and then hit the Skokie post office to mail that package. While I frequently use the self service machine in that post office, this was the first I've used an actual human being, and was scolded for not understanding where the line was, in spite of the fact that there were no visual clues to help me with that.

The freeway was horrible and I attempted an alternate route, but decided I probably would have been better off staying on the freeway and am swearing to never let myself talk me into trying different routes again. They never turn out well.

Not much excitement at work, though I felt a bit more productive than yesterday. After work I stopped at GameStop to pick up Fable II. The clerk was a bit of a wiseacre at my expense, but I remember my own attempts to entertain myself while working retail. Played a bit of the game before heading off to youth group, and a bit after. It's way too early to pass any judgement, but it looks nice.

Jr. High Youth group was well attended and the students were energetic as usual. A number of high schoolers were there too who are planning to go on the retreat this weekend as helpers. There are a lot of them planning to go on the retreat and I'm concerned the ratio may be too heavy on adults and high schoolers, but we'll see.

During baseball season I love listening to Cubs games while I clean the kitchen. I actually almost never watch games on TV. When baseball season is over, this creates quite a void for me and it is hard to get myself into the kitchen to clean. I was trying to think of what else I might enjoy listening to while cleaning and I thought of a show on XRT Tuesday nights at 10pm that I've been wanting to listen to for years, but when am I ever listening to the radio at 10pm on a Tuesday night? So I made a date to listen and clean tonight (don't worry, I clean more than once a week). The show is often hosted by Jon Langford who is one of my favorite Chicago musicians and seeming all around cool guy, though I've only personally spoken about 2 sentences to him. I caught about 45 minutes tonight and wasn't terribly hooked, but will try again next week. I'll have to start looking out for some NPR or WLUW programs in the evenings that I might make a date for too. And hopefully by April I'll be ready to let the Cubs back into my crushed heart.

Monday, October 20, 2008

My Week of Tedium - Monday

I managed to drag myself out of bed around 7ish and found "Alex Chilton" by The Replacements going through my head. I don't actually own any Replacements, which I'm starting to feel the need to remedy, but "Alex Chilton" is in Rock Band and was one of the last songs I played last night and it is darn catchy. Not only does it make me feel bad about not having any Replacements in my collection, it makes me feel bad about not having any Big Star.

Managed to get a lunch together (leftover Turkey Burger from the other night) and rode in with A. Stopped at NYC Bagel for a tub of their incredible Sun Dried Tomato cream cheese, which I then left at work, as usual, so I have to remember to bring bagels to work with me. It does pain me a bit to be in Chicago going to a place called NYC Bagel, but if there's better bagels and cream cheese in Chicago, 2 blocks from my office, please direct me.

Work was work. I was very sleepy and non-productive this afternoon. At lunch I walked to the bank to deal with some money transferring. It started to drizzle on my walk back, but luckily I made it before it started pouring. The only real excitement in the day was M had brought in an old (fully functional) Commodore 64, with disk drive, monitor and a box full of games. I spent much of my adolescence playing with my Commodore 64, so it was a trip down memory lane. I have no idea what became of my C64 or when I stopped using it (sometime in high school), but I didn't own another computer or game system until my mother-in-law gave us an old 486 computer, which I think we replaced within a year with a then-current model.

Took the el home and walked in a few minutes before Linnea got dropped off. The kitchen is still a mess from the weekend's cooking so we went out to eat. Something possessed me to take us to Chili's - I don't know why. I try very hard not to eat at such places. I had chicken club tacos with stale tortillas (I do like their lime rice though). I couldn't even complain about the tortillas - I don't expect better from them. Linnea and I had a really good time though. Linnea did a 46 number connect the dots and I figured out a way to use what she already knew about counting to help her find her way through the 20s, 30s, and 40s. She's a pretty smart kid, but every parent probably thinks that of their child. On the way home we stopped at CVS to pick up some packing tape so I could mail something I sold on E-Bay, and I was glad we stopped there because when I went to pay I realized I left my bank card at Chili's (luckily I had enough cash to cover the purchase, which was a miracle since I almost never carry cash). We headed back over to Chilis and I double parked and called and asked them to bring it out to me to cut down on the hassle of parking in the garage and dragging Linnea back and forth.

This is really boring. Luckily it's the end. Maybe tomorrow will bring something exciting.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Come, Just Are You Are To Worship, Unless....

So this morning during church I'm playing keyboard in worship band and we're up there doing the song "Come, Now Is the Time To Worship", which has the line "Come just as you are to worship". I had made the crack to someone earlier that morning that one of these days I would actually show up for worship "just as I am" unshowered, unshaven, in my boxers and undershirt or something. I was contemplating just how much we try and put our best selves forward for church....not so much for God, but for other people.

In worship band we have a rotating cast of drummers, one of whom is Pete. Pete's young daughter can often be seen in the front of the pews getting her groove on during worship. She's Linnea's age and one of my fondest church memories is playing piano during a youth sunday a few years back and watching the 2 of them having a great time dancing. This morning Pete was drumming and his daughter and her friend were up there having a ball, until an usher came over and shut them down. They weren't in anyone's way. They weren't out of control. Their mother's were right near by. It was a sad thing to see happen, particularly while we're in the middle of singing "Come just as you are to worship".

Working with youth I try very hard not to make church a place where you have to act a certain way, dress a certain way, believe a certain way. One phrase I have sworn will never come out of my mouth is "you can't do that (say that, etc..) at church". That prhase fosters the notion that you behave one way at church, and a different way in the rest of your life. It's not just that I want kids to take their church behavior into the rest of their life, but I want them to be themselves at church. I might tell them to do this or that in the spirit of being respectful to others (things I would tell them to do in any similar secular setting), but never just because it's church and we have to do things a certain way. Our church has come a long way in that we now have drums and can play music that it's even possible to dance to, and some people feel comfortable raising their hands. But why not a little dancing? I hate for our kids to come away feeling that church is just a place where you have to dress nice, follow rules, and listen to some boring sermons, and I would hate for these young girls, or anyone, to have their desire to dance crushed in the name of religious piety.

A Week of Tedium - Sunday

The alarm went off at 6am and I immediately began questioning my devotion to playing in the worship band. I wouldn't have had to get up quite so early except I always forget to give Linnea a bath on Saturday night and I couldn't possibly bring a dirty child to church (that's a joke, but really, by Sunday she needs the bath). Luckily she was pretty cooperative this morning and we got out the door okay. I really wanted to stop for coffee on the way, but part of her bribe for being good during band rehearsal is that we go to Starbucks between rehearsal and Sunday School, so I had to wait. Luckily she was pretty well behaved during rehearsal and I got to have my coffee.

Jr. High Sunday school got onto the topic of salvation and heaven and does God send good people who don't go to church. Bob was straight out with the "Jesus is the only way to heaven" dogma, and to his credit he was pretty diplomatic about it. I was having a pretty agnostic morning after reading part of a New Yorker article about theodicy and tried to put forward a bit more inclusive take on things but I think I was overly vague and didn't really say much of anything. I need to figure out what my best answers to these questions are and how to relate them to kids. You would think I would have that figured out by now, but my faith is a constantly developing thing and my views on things change and develop and refine.

Worship during second service was a bit disheartening (see other blog post) and the service was long....very long. I nodded off, but that's nothing new.

Linnea and I had lunch at home then K stopped by to pick up a DVD I made for her. I also sent her away with some of the cookies I made, which are awesome by the way. Linnea sat on my lap for awhile and we went through a kid's magazine my mom sent her a subscription for. I think it's supposed to be Highlights for younger kids (I thought you could only get Highlights in pediatricians offices).

After dropping Linnea off at her mom's I tried to call to see if her new headboard/footboard were ready to be picked up, but the guy needed to call me back with an answer so I headed home and started watching "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" which I had from Netflix. I eventually got the call back with a confirmation that the bed was ready and that they closed at 6. So I took a nap then headed over to pick it up and get some dinner. I ended up at Sashimi Sashimi, which has my favorite roll in the world with the worst name - the Big Chicago. I don't even know what it has in it, but it's awesome. Then I grabbed a coffee at Peet's and headed home. More Forgetting Sarah Marshall, my usual Sunday Rock Band 2 drumming session (with neighbors and Linnea the times when I can play the drums are extremely limited, but they're really fun, so I've found Sunday afternoon/evening to be a good time for it), then laundry and putting Linnea's headboard/footboard together. I could write a whole long blog about the ordeal of what it has taken to finally get her a new bed, but I'll take a cue from my friend's blog and just not go there.

A pretty good Sunday and now I should be in my bed.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Week of Tedium

And now for no particular reason (this is Chicago Randomness after all), I will attempt to blog everyday this week about the details of my ever so exciting days.

This morning Linnea woke me from a vivid dream around 8am. I don't remember the dream, but I've been having some doozies lately, which really means I haven't been sleeping all that well. I rejoiced to discover it was 8am and not 6:30am or whenever she often likes to get up. It was a good way to start a Saturday. For some reason I didn't feel the usual Saturday trip to Dixie Kitchen for brunch, so we just had the usual cereal and whatever. I did though have to get my coffee fix and the only coffee in the house was some weeks old ground coffee, so we walked to Starbucks. It was a fairly nice day and we ran into a couple of the high schoolers walking to the fabric store for Halloween costume fabric. Linnea was a little too antsy in Starbucks and I didn't get to sit and drink my coffee (opting to take it home instead). While we were in Starbucks I saw my co-worker V standing outside talking on his cell phone. I texted him that I could see him, but being on the phone he didn't get it until we had already left. On the walk home we saw more friends, A & her daughter G, in their car on their way out of town. One of the things I surprisingly miss about Durango is the small community and being known almost everywhere you go (that of course has its disadvantadges t00), and I think seeing all these people in one morning makes Evanston feel a little more homey to me than it usually does. Oh, and on our way out of Starbucks Linnea saw a family she knew. She said they were from Pope John, but I didn't recognize them.

Once we got home Linnea played with play-dough while I worked on a jigsaw puzzle that has been sitting on my dining room table for months with little action. Then lunch, then off to T-Ball. It's tough to watch a T-Ball practice and keep your mouth shut and not yell at your kid to get with the program, but I did a pretty good job. They actually played a slight approximation of a game today, which I hadn't seen before. They each had a turn to hit and field. Linnea didn't see any action in the field, and didn't seem to really be looking for any. She managed to get a modest hit on the 3rd or 4th try. When I pressed her later about her activities in the field she said her pants were falling down and thus she couldn't get into the "ready" position her coach had showed them. Not much I could say to that.

From there it was directly to Highland Park for a classmate's birthday party. This was a drop-off party so I had a little over an hour to kill in the neighborhood. I didn't know where anything was except Ravinia. I sought out a coffee place but went the wrong direction and drove pretty aimlessly for a long time before finally stumbling upon their downtown. I ended up in a Corner Bakery with a cup of soup and a coffee and my current read, "My Name is Asher Lev". When I got back to the party they were whacking at a Barbie pinata (I wouldn't mind hitting Barbie with a baseball bat). They had made caramel apples and had cake and ice cream. Kids apparently don't open presents at their parties anymore - I'm not sure what's up with that. Maybe kids are too honest in their reactions and it's to save feelings from getting hurt?

On the way home I got a call from my friend L who I hadn't heard from in ages and I was actually planning to call tomorrow as part of my effort every Sunday to connect with someone I've been out of touch with for too long. Some time ago we had discussed some furniture they were thinking of getting rid of and they had just come back from a rummage sale with some new stuff and wanted to get rid of the old. Since we were about to drive by their house anyway I asked if I could stop over and take another look at the stuff. I'm going to take a dining room table and chairs, but have to pass on a large computer work station (because it is a corner unit and I just don't have a suitable corner). The table will be nice though - I've had my current table since right after we got married. It's a hand-me-down from my friend's K&A who I've pilfered quite a bit of furniture from. It's a very sturdy table, but pretty beat up. The one I'm getting from G&L is also kind of beat up, but the big plus is it has a removable leaf and more, nicer chairs. So we hung out over there for a little bit and said hi to the kids and helped them move some of the new furniture, but they were pretty busy so we didn't stay long.

We came home and I made a grocery list and we headed off to Jewel. It only took about 5 minutes for me to insist Linnea sit in the cart, which meant I had to listen to her complain about it for the rest of the somewhat lengthy shopping trip. I ran into one of the same high school kids, with a different friend, also from our church, who were shopping for items to make dinner for one of our church families. I made Turkey Burgers, fries (frozen bag), and sugar snap peas. The Turkey Burgers and peas were from a new recipe book my mom sent me that it supposed to be healthy kid friendly food. The recipes don't try to be cutesy kid stuff, which I appreciate. The burgers were pretty good. It was silly in that I had bought Turkey patties forgetting that I was going to mix a bunch of stuff in, so they ended up in a big wad anyway. They were cooked in the broiler and came out a bit dry, though Linnea liked the homemade tartar sauce from the recipe. The peas were also pretty good, which is saying a lot for me since I'm not much of a cooked green vegetable kind of guy. They were a frozen bag that you put in the microwave without piercing it or anything. They come out nicely steamed. The recipe added a peach preserve and soy sauce glaze. It was also supposed to have some ground ginger in it, which I had bought but forgot to put in. I'll try that next time. I also made a tollhouse cookie type recipe that is still cooling. I'm concerned I undercooked it. It took me two tries already. The first batch I accidentally put in twice the flour and put the egg in at the wrong time. Luckily I abandoned it before I used up all the chocolate chips. I had enough of everything else to try again. I've done very little baking and had to buy the right size, pan but was pleasantly surprised to discover that I still have a hand mixer. Linnea tried to help and did a surprisingly good job with the hand mixer, but it was after her usual bedtime and I had been cooking too long, so we were both grouchy and it wasn't a good mix.

Well off to try those cookies and unwind a bit. Until tomorrow, when I hope to use shorter paragraphs.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Apatow/Rogan remake Disney

So I was home ill yesterday and pleased to find some pay-cable channel or another showing "Knocked Up". I had seen it in the theaters and enjoyed it and identified with it strongly (Paul Rudd's character, not so much the porn-site running stoners or the pregnant girl). It is certainly the strongest offering in the now oversaturated Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen market (though I'm yet to see Pineapple Express).

Anyway, it dawned on me as I watched parts of it this time that it's a remake of Lady and the Tramp, sans songs and siamese cats. Rogen is a tramp who struggles with this woman pulling him away from his Bohemian lifestyle, and Heigl's character is (obviously) Lady, slowly being charmed by the tramp's carefree attitude. Rogen's character is truly a tramp, unemployed and living off the last $900 of an accident settlement he believes will carry him for a few years. She slowly warms to aspects of his lifestyle, even helping him screen movies for celebrity nudity to log on his website; much like Lady was willing to throw off her muzzle and scrounge for hand-outs with Tramp. I didn't make it through to the end on this viewing, but if I recall correctly it is almost identical to the end of the Disney film - in the same way that Tramp ends up domesticated with Lady and a litter of puppies, Rogen ends up domesticated with Heigl and a newborn.

Then "Hot Fuzz" was on next....seems I miss a lot of good movies by being gainfully employed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

1 Vs. 100

I finally hit that milestone that every adult dreams of - my 100th Facebook friend. One thing I've come to realize from using Facebook is the reason we fall out of touch with people is that we can only sustain so many real relationships. There are so many people on Facebook I was excited to find or excited to have find me that I still have had almost no contact with. I think a lot of the times it's been more about collecting people than connecting with people. My regular contact is with the people I'd be regularly in contact with anyway. That's not to say it's not a great site just for the fun of it - walls, status updates, photo sharing, groups, event invitations, etc...are all great. But it has certainly not revolutionized my social network.

So, just for the heck of it, here's the breakdown on my 100 "closest" friends:

26 - Former youth group kids (now in college or older)

13 - Current youth group kids

11 - People from summer mission trips I took when I was in high school, some of whom I've had ongoing relationships, some of whom I haven't spoken to since the trips

7 -People I went to college with (almost none of whom I've had ongoing relationships with)

6 -People I went to high school with

5 - Friends/Acquantainces I see on a regular basis, mostly from church

5 -Former youth group leaders

4 -Current Co-workers

3 - Hard-to-classify acquantainces, friends or significant others of friends, etc...

3 -Former youth group leaders i also went to college with

3 - Current Youth Group Leaders

2 - Friends I knew when I was in high school but weren't from my high school

2 - Former youth group kids, still in youth group, at my previous church

2 - Former Co-workers

2 - Current youth group leaders who were also former youth group kids

2 - Staff or counselors from summer camps I counseled/spoke at

2 -People I went to college with but didn't know until after college

1 - Former High School Teachers (Actually still a high school teacher, formerly my high school teacher)

1 - People who for some reason have 2 profiles

Since 1 person has 2 profiles, my 100th friend was really my 99th (thanks alot Lisa - everyone else is happy with 1 profile, why can't you be?). Luckily, since beginning to work on this post, I've received my 101st friend request. So I add -

Family Members - 1

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Pointless Things I Do Out of Habit - Hard Boiled Egg Edition

Fact: I keep my uncooked eggs in the refrigerator (usually a good idea), in their original packaging, which is typically your standard cardboard egg carton. They never, ever, are kept in any other fashion.

Fact: I keep my hardboiled eggs in a bowl. They never, ever, are put in back in the egg carton. It's not even a temptation (though now that I think of it, it could save refrigerator space, like I have anything in there competing for space anyway).

Not Quite A Fact in the Scientifically Provable Sense: Approx. 85% of the time, if I'm hardboiling eggs, they're the only eggs in the house anyway because I'm trying to use them up.

In spite of these facts, everytime I make hardboiled eggs, I knock the egg against the counter to put a small dent in the shell signifying its hardboiledness. Pointless. Utterly. A carryover from my childhood when eggs mingled carelessly in the melting pot that was our refrigerator.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

$100,000 and a Bottle of Schnapps - Ghana Day 7

While my previous Ghana posts were written while in Ghana, this last set is being written a good week and a half after the fact, which is to say I've probably forgotten everything that happened and will just make some stuff up. Actually, I took some notes each day to try and make this easier and to capture some things I wanted to mention.

Sunday morning was our last meal at the hotel. Breakfast was some dry french toast, then the return of the cute spreadable cheeses because they were out of jam. I put some cheese on the french toast - it was edible.

We loaded up our luggage and got in the bus. Our driver drove like a crazy man, honking the horn the whole way and creating his own lane through the traffic. It was equal parts exhilirating and frightening. The driver said that people would assume we were a UN delegation. Not sure we deserved that kind of priviledge, but it got us to church on time. One of our group shot some video and put it on YouTube. It doesn't quite convey the speed at which this was happening, but it's something. I've embedded that video below, but the same person (and I'm not sure who it is?) has also posted some other videos from our trip. Click here to browse them.

Church started on time, which was surprising, and it wasn't long before a full-on dance party out, which was fun to see and hear, though I'm not so much for participating in dance parties myself. There was some singing, some scripture, Pastor Jeff from our group preached a short sermon in which his attempts at humor were completely disregarded. AC sat up front with the pastors. There was a very good "singing band" that did 2 or 3 songs. We presented the church with some banners, and they presented us with some outfits. The girls had been measured a few nights before and knew something was coming, and if I recall correctly it was a top and a separate skirt.

The church has their own fabric: with a drawing of the church and their logo.
In writing this I realized I had never tried mine on. I'm surprised how well it fits. The men also got cufflinks with the same logo.
At the end of the church service, the congregation broke into "birthday groups", in which you meet briefly with other people who were born on the same day of the week as yourself. This wasn't a total surprise to me as earlier in the week I had been asked by a few different people what day of the week I had been born on. I have no clue and tried to explain that in the US it's just not an item of concern. In Ghana though, it's a pretty big deal. I'm a little fuzzy on the details, but many people are named, at least in part, after this day (the whole naming system in Ghana is very complicated and they all have very long names). So, for purposes of church I just picked a group, and pretty much all they did in these groups was take an offering. I'm not sure for what.
So that was the end of church and then we were served lunch, which was another large buffet similar to the one they had served us a few nights earlier. One item we hadn't seen before resembled hush puppies, but may have been made from yams. There was also a salad that had some beans and hard boiled eggs in it, as well as the customary fried chicken, rices, etc...They also gave us a very good fruit drink (bottled).
While lunch was being served Pastor Clint had the unenviable job of assigning us all to host families that we would stay with for the rest of the trip. He initially assigned AC and I to a family, but then AC was claimed by one of the pastors that had taken a liking to him, and I was re-paired with Brandon, which was fine. My biggest fear was going somewhere alone. Many of the men in the service had been wearing toga-like outfits, and the man we went home with, a tall older gentleman named Yeow (sp?), was one of them. We got into his truck and drove about 15-20 minutes to a very nice house in the city. We pulled up outside a fenced & gated residence; he honked his horn and one of his nieces, nephews, or grandchildren came out and opened the gate. The front yard had a nice lawn with beautiful plants and flowers, and a porch with some deck chairs, 2 dogs, and some chickens running around. We were ushered inside and introduced to his wife Sarah, a very nice woman who walks with a cane (we later found out she had had some surgery). We put our luggage in our room, which was a simple room with 2 beds. Mine was much more comfortable than the hotel bed. We made polite conversation for awhile until our host suggested we take some time to rest (while they ate their lunch).
Yeow and Sarah were very friendly, but we weren't given a tour of the house, shown where the bathroom was, or introduced to the teenagers that we kept running into (nieces, nephews and grandchildren). We weren't completely ignored, but weren't fawned over either.
After resting for a couple hours (I napped), Yeow informed us that he had to go to a meeting and we could come if we wanted. As best I could understand, it was a town council meeting for the village Yeow came from, in which he was still and elder. Yeow was a retired government electrical engineer, currently running a consulting business, and he helps the village with various public works type projects. I was somewhat enthused about the opportunity to go the meeting, though I'm not sure Brandon shared my zeal. We drove to the center of Accra, which we hadn't seen yet, to a hotel/conference center where we went into a small conference room. Two men were seated at a table up front and maybe 20 or so people were in the "audience". We were introduced and given seats in the front row, while Yeow joined the 2 men at the table. I was asked to say a few words. I made some comment about greetings from Presbytery of Chicago and the kindness of our host. I was brief.
The meeting opened in prayer, which surprised me a bit. One of the men up front was clearly the chief, and ran the meeting. The other man seemed to be the secretary, taking some notes and struggling to stay awake at points. Yeow was mostly silent and never laughed when the chief was making some kind of joke. He was deferred to occasionally. The meeting was mostly conducted in Twi, with some English woven in and out. They all had a tiny yellow booklet which was apparently the town constitution, which they were in the process of revising. This day's meeting concerned death benefits, I think to family members of the city council. This was confusing because they kept speaking in terms of millions of Cedis (Ghana's currency), which we understood to have an exchange rate of about 1:1 US. I was ready to sign-up for the town council. At one point Brandon and I are fairly certain we heard one death benefit as "$100,000 and a bottle of Schnapps". We both heard this twice, so we're pretty sure that's what they said. After the meeting Yeow clarified the monetary issue - Ghana recently revalued their money, and they were speaking in terms of the old currency, which was more like 10,000:1 US, so they were really talking about hundreds and thousands of dollars, not millions. We didn't ask about the Schnapps.
When we got back to the house we were given dinner. We ate with Yeow and were served by the children, who seemed to do most of the work around the place. I was excited to see something that looked like a fritter, but disappointed when I found out it was "yam cakes". Not horrible, but I didn't ask for the recipe to take home either. There was also white rice, a cabbage/carrot/green pepper mix, and some shredded beef in a greasy red sauce that had a very fishy taste to it. Dessert was chocolate chip ice cream that had some kind of yellow stuff in it we weren't able to identify, but was pretty good.
After dinner we sat and talked and watched TV with Yeow, Sarah, and one of their older nephews who didn't seem to have to do any of the housework. Occasionally the younger ones would sit down, but back at the dining table, away from us adults. There was news on the television (in English), then a replay of a large political rally that had taken place earlier that day or the day before. Ghana has elections in December and I believe the rally was for the encumbent party. There were many celebrities there and it greatly resembled an American political rally.
We went to bed pretty early.
Sorry this is so darn long.

Life in A College Town

I was ready to enjoy my favorite brunch this morning at Dixie Kitchen, my favorite Evanston restaurant. Wanting to read I was a little grouchy about being seated right against a group of four college students when there was plenty of room elsewhere, but was relieved when I saw they were paying their bill as I was sitting down. Got to enjoy a mostly peaceful breakfast until another group was seated at that table and I looked over and it really looked like the same people who had been there before. I then heard them explain that upon leaving the restaurant they had sought a place to go drinking (it was about 10:15am when they left) and, surprise surprise, couldn't find anywhere open at that time, so they returned to Dixie Kitchen, which was ready and willing to accomodate their early morning alcohol needs. Sounded like they were in town for the NW football game, possibly with the other team as they didn't seem to know the area very well. I did my best to block out their fascinating discussion of which lite beer they like best...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ghana Recap - Day Six

So if these posts seem matter of fact and less than reflective, it's due to the fact that they are written late after long days and the internet connection is insufferable, so by the time I get things loaded to where I can blog, I'm out of patience.

Breakfast this morning was the usual - eggs, toast, rice porridge. The only new twist was some pineapple jam that was surprisingly good.

We departed early for our day out to the coast. Our driver was in downright crazy mode, creating his own lane and pushing everyone out of the way. Kind of fun and scary. After a few hours of driving we arrived at Kukum National Park for what would be a brief tour of a rainforest. We took a short walk through a pretty forest up to a "canopy walk" which involved a short walk across two wobbly rope bridges high up in the trees. It was scary but the view was pretty. We didn't see much in the way of wildlife - a crazy long worm, and a pretty butterfly or two, but none of the elephants or monkeys we were told were around.

From there we drove to a nearby hotel for lunch. The hotel restaurant was surrounded by water and there were a few crocodiles roaming around. The food was the usual rices and meats. The only new additions were some beans, which were very good, and some excellent sangria. They had a large screen on which they were projecting an Olympic basketball game in which the US was slaughtering Spain. 

From there we went to Elmira Castle, which is a castle right on the coast built by the portugese in the 1400s as a trading outpost. It quickly became the center of the trans-atlantic slave trade, with slaves being held in horrible dungeons for months before being shipped out. Later the dutch took it over. Now it is a fairly well preserved reminder of our horrible past. A sobering, important experience.

From there it was time to make the long drive back to our hotel. Tonight is our last night in the hotel. Tomorrow we go to church and then we'll be parceled out to host families for our last 3 nights. I'm quite apprehensive about this. This may be the last time I'm able to blog before coming home, as I have no idea whether my host home will be internet capable, but am guessing probably not.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Ghana Recap - Day Five

 Today started as the others have with breakfast at the hotel (scrambled eggs with some onions, and a slightly different, thicker, oddly tasting toast).

When we arrived at the worksite some of us wandered over to a few nearby villages different from the one we visited yesterday. More huts, children, animals, pictures taken. In the first village they told us we were the first white people to ever visit. We saw one villages' well, which is dry when there isn't enough rain. One village had a large corn harvest neatly stacked up, and some cucumber bushes (trees?) which I had never seen before and had the hugest leaves I think I'd ever seen.

Back at the work site we moved some bricks, but it was more of mostly being unneeded. We played with the kids - baseball, soccer, crafts. Rev. Clint organized a bit of a passion play in which AC got to play Jesus.

This was our last day on this worksite, so there were many tears and goodbyes as we headed back to the hotel for lunch (more of the same, but some good mango was a new addition). We cleaned up and got ready to head to the Keneshie Presbyterian Church for the first time. While we were waiting to leave it rained considerably and another group of Americans arrived at the hotel - "Engineers Without Borders" from Univ. Wisconsin Platteville. The electricity was out when they arrived, but their electrical engineer refused to get involved. 

It was an hour long ride to the church with their ridiculous traffic here, but it was interesting to see some other parts of the city. We passed a bad accident that had apparently involved a coke truck - there were hundreds of smashed coke bottles all over the ground.

The church is large, modern looking, and quite beautiful. The Manse is next door and also quite large and modern. We were fed a large dinner outside - there was green salad, some kind of potatoes which I decided was a version of potato salad, fish, some excellent chicken, the usual rices, some tomatoey beef, and a fish soup I didn't try. Dessert was an unexpected surprise - very rich vanilla ice cream with pound cake, watermelon, mango, pineapple, and papaya.

After a leisurely dinner we were brought into the sanctuary. I was a little unclear of what our purpose was. I thought we were going to be part of some regular youth service, but it was more of a presentation for our sakes. There was some great dancing and singing. The bulk of it was an hour long dramatic play, in English, but almost indecipherable due to the combination of accents and bad PA. I was tired which made it harder to focus on what was being said. After the play ended and there were a few more dances, AC was asked to come up and close in prayer. 

Tomorrow we're off for some sightseeing.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ghana Recap - Day Four

Today began a bit earlier than the previous day. Breakfast was some type of french toast, some tiny sausages, and rice porridge. The french toast was okay with some strawberry jelly. I don't care much for white rice so I don't touch the porridge, and I took one bite of the sausage but didn't care for it. We were encouraged to bring lots of snacks on the trip, and these come in handy this morning. Coffee here is what I expected - powdered Nescafe, which is what passes for coffee in much of the world. I had a cup yesterday, and it is passable if I think of it as a wholly different beverage than coffee, but this morning I didn't see any value to it. I had considered brining my french press and some ground coffee, but though better of it.

We drove to the work site again and were immediately diverted to walk down to the village, where the chief gave us a tour. Everyone had their cameras ready and it felt very voyeuristic to me, like we were being toured around some kind of oddity that was there for our amazement. It is odd to us, and it is essential that we see how the people were are working for and with live (something many tourists to Africa may never really get to experience), but something about it still feels unsettling to me. I took a few select pictures (I'm not of the "oooh, it's a kitty, in Africa, I better take a picture" type). We were shown an idol they used to worship, which was strange and not what I expected. It was human size carved in stone, seated, dressed, face drawn on, smoking a pipe. Apparently there are others, but we didn't see them.  A young boy was sent up a very tall coconut tree to shake down large green coconuts for us. We were offered sips of the milk, which was sweet and light, and slimy pieces of the flesh, which were good. Pastor J warned us though that it was somewhat of a laxative, so most of us partook cautiously. 

Work this morning was about the same as the previous day. I moved a few bricks then migrated back towards the kids activities. They sang beautifully for us and were led in a craft and a lively soccer game.

Katie got the good news that her luggage was finally at the airport and, as it was actually checked in my name, she and I left for the airport before lunch. We were first driven to the hotel in a jeep with a few Ghanian young adults. We chatted with two young ladies who were journalists of some sort (and connected to the church somehow). A song about Obama came on the radio and they spoke of how much they like him and how Ghana is very in favor of him. The conversation turned to the naming of babies and we were "interviewed" on tape about American customs. Apparently in Ghana the man gets the naming rights and a naming ceremony is held on the 8th day after the birth. These ladies were not real happy about this situation and were fascinated by the more democratic method by which most children are named in the U.S. 

The trip to the airport was long through much very slow traffic. Vendors were all along the rode, coming up to our car to hawk their goods. We saw people selling bread, eggs, peanuts, water (it is common here for purified water to come in plastic pouches), and some things we didn't recognize. We passed some areas where there were very nice looking homes. We got to the airport and fairly easily got the luggage. Upon returning to the hotel, another nap, then dinner.

After dinner AC was in charge of the Vespers service. Katie led an activity, AC read a verse, I initiated a discussion of the days events. We ended by singing the doxology. I then played some Euchre for the first time in ages.

Tomorrow we will go to the "work" site in the morning, then to the large Presbyterian church that is hosting us for the first time.

Ghana Recap - Day Three

Got a good night's sleep and awoke for our first full day in Ghana. Breakfast consisted of toast with spreadable individually wrapped cheese, and some excellent omelettes that would have passed muster in any American restaurant. 

After breakfast we got back on our bus to head out to our work site. I quickly noticed that many businesses had Christian names. For example "Jesus is Lord Drinking and Chop Bar" or "God is Good Block Makers". It wasn't just a few businesses, it was almost all of them. There was one area we went through that almost felt like a Christian theme park. Very strange. We quickly got off the paved road onto the dirt road and through some fairly primitive villages. Chickens and goats roamed free, children waved to us.

Our worksite is to be a school and church for a small village. The children currently walk about 6 miles to school, so there is a great need. Upon our arrival the site consisted of the foundation for much of the building, with most rooms having at least a few layers of bricks. One room had a small big-top like tent over it and we were shepherded in there for a little ceremony with the pastors of the Kaneshie Presbyterian Church (who is sponsoring our visit here), as well as the village chief and religious leader. They had agendas printed up and everything. I ashamedly dozed a bit, though it wasn't too long. 

After the little ceremony, we headed out to work, which started slowly. There were already a large number of locals on the job, and it was pretty clear that we were inessential to the whole operation. Lest we really insert ourselves into the work, we are not called upon to do much. It is mostly mixing cement and laying blocks, and there are only a few shovels and a few trowels, so our scope is limited. The building work is exactly what I spent the summer doing in Tanzania in 1991 with Teen Missions, so this trip is really taking me back. Last night I dreamt of people from that summer.

We were also swarmed by adorable children at the worksite. Kids were held, games were played, balloons were passed out, songs were sung. 

Upon the urgings of the church leaders, we took a short day and headed back to the hotel for lunch and rest. I napped. We had a short Vespers service before dinner, then I read a bit and went to bed. I've been pretty tired.

Some general observations - most people here speak excellent English, and most of the signs around are in English. It is very easy to be a tourist here. The weather is gorgeous. Humid, but breezy, a bit rainy now and then, but not often. The church people have been wonderful, taking great care of us and attending to our every need.

At the end of day three, Katie still has no luggage but has not complained. I loaned her a shirt which I'm not sure she wanted, but she wore anyway.

Ghana Recap - Days One & Two

To label this post Ghana recap is a bit misleading, as day one found us nowhere near Ghana. Monday morning began with me checking our flight status online shortly before I was set to leave the house, and discovering that our flight out of Chicago was cancelled, and eventually discovering that we were rebooked to depart at 4:20pm (rather than 11:30am) and go through Cincinnati then Amsterdam (rather than NYC to Ghana). We phoned Delta and got nowhere, but under considerable pressure from the rest of the group that we were supposed to meet in NYC, we headed to the airport anyway.

We got through ticketing and security okay and were booked standby on an earlier Cincinnati flight. When we walked up to our gate we did a double take as there was the rest of the group who were supposed to already be on their way to NYC. They had been put the plane, sat for 2 hours, then got taken off. We didn't get to talk long though before we were called for standby on an even earlier Cincinnati flight than the one we thought we were standby on. Unsure of what the future held as far as meeting up again with the rest of the group, we got on the Cincinnati flight. The flight was brief and full of anxious people afraid of missing their connections because apparently that flight was getting out late. Upon arrival, a fight almost broke out getting off the plane when someone was blocking the exit, talking to the pilot or flight attendant.

We had a long time in Cincinnati and lingered over a late lunch, looked through shops, had a Chick-Fil-A sandwich. I called Linnea to say goodbye, she just went on an on about some coupon they had for pizza they were getting that night. Often on the phone all she does is describe what she is doing at that exact moment. She did ask if we could walk to Africa.

The flight to Amsterdam was long, but relatively comfortable and uneventful. Twice I tried watching Iron Man on the personal video system, but became too tired and turned it off. I did manage to watch an episode of 30 Rock I'd never seen.

Day Two:

We arrived in mid-morning in rainy Amsterdam. We had to visit the ticketing desk where we were attended to by the most stereotypical looking gorgeous Nordic blondes, who told us we weren't actually booked on the flight to Ghana. They got us on no problem, but this was a bit of a letdown as Delta had told us we were booked in business class. A few moments later the rest of the group arrived, having ended up flying directly from Chicago.

After a few hours in Amsterdam, pretty much sitting doing nothing, we had to go through a long security line to get on the flight. AC and I were seated next to each other in the last row of the plane. I had the aisle seat which had a large metal box attached to the floor in my legroom under the seat in front of me. I was miserable. I don't even understand how they can sell that seat. I asked the flight attendant if there was anywhere I could move to and she thought not. Sometime later she came back and told me there was one aisle seat farther up in the plane. I sat next to a Ghanian woman who sang quietly for much of the trip. I managed to watch all of Dan in Real Life which was okay, and dozed on and off, listening to some music. I had a headache most of the trip due to dehydration and too much air conditioning.

We arrived in Accra, Ghana and exited the plane onto the tarmac, which was a little humid, but not too hot. Katie's luggage did not arrive, so we were there quite some time trying to work that out. Next was a fairly long bus ride to our hotel, on which I quietly took in the sights for awhile before falling asleep. We didn't get a very good sense of the city in the dark that night.

Our hotel is amazing and completely unexpected. It's kind of a closed in compound. There are a variety of rooms with most of us having 2 people in a room with 2 beds and a private bath. Some have air conditioning, but ours does not and is plenty cool with a ceiling fan. We pretty much have the place taken over and the "restaurant" is more or less our personal chefs. We ate dinner that first night before heading off to bed. Dinner consisted of some Uncle Ben's type long grain rice with some onions and seasonings, fried chicken, some kind of beef with onions and gravy, salad, and delicious fried plantains. Other lunches and dinners here have been slight variations on those dishes. It's all fairly good.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Makes My Brain Hurt

I never keep water on my nightstand because I'm afraid of spilling it. Last night, for some reason, I put a big full glass of water on my nightstand for no good reason. I wasn't particularly thirsty, it wasn't a thought-out reasoned exception to the rule, I just did it. Every night I climb into bed, remove my glasses, and with reckless abandon place them on my nightstand. I can afford to do it recklessly because I don't keep water on my nightstand. Well, you can see where this is going.

What hurts my brain though is that I don't keep water on my nightstand because I'm afraid I'll spill it, but the only reason I spilled it is because I don't usually keep water on my nightstand. A catch-22 I suppose (which reminds me I've been meaning to place that book on my "to read" list).

Friday, July 25, 2008

Skeletons in My Musical Closet - Billy Joel

It's hard to keep a critical distance from anything we once loved unabashedly, particularly if it was something we loved in our childhood or adolescence. Thus the presence of all three seasons of "Land of the Lost" at the top of my Netflix queue, and the mostly unapologetic appearance of a few Billy Joel albums on my IPod. In the past week I've troubled over two reviews of the 30th anniversary deluxe reissue of Billy Joel's "The Stranger" (from The Onion's AV Club, and from Pop Matters). They trouble me because I have a strong childhood connection to that album, and to Billy Joel in general, and I'm not sure what to do with it. Until recently I've mostly avoided thinking much about Billy Joel, and have never paid much attention to his critical & popular position in the pop/rock canon.

There's a key scene in Cameron Crowe's musical love letter "Almost Famous" in which the protagonist discovers his older sister's LP collection. It's clearly his moment of musical revelation, and it changes his life. [Note: The link is to a stupid montage, but look around 1:53]. While I have a few moments of musical revelation in my past, one of my earliest involves my brother's vinyl copy of "The Stranger". I won't go so far as to say it changed my life, but it at least cemented my devotion for many years to a critically dubious musical icon.

As for my moment of musical revelation? I don't remember how old I was - my best guess would be jr. high, approx. 10 years after "The Stranger" was released. I was in our faux wood paneled den, where the only real stereo in the house was, and I guess I must have been digging through my brother's record collection, and for whatever reason pulled out "The Stranger". While I'm pretty sure I listened to the whole album that night, it was "Scenes From An Italian Restaurant" that I listened to over and over again. As a piano playing lover of musical theater on the cusp of his teenage years, I was probably doomed to love this song. A story of lost teenage innocence, in four acts, with heavy piano underneath it all (and I'm sorry, but the piano intro to act 3 is still a blast to play), this song had all the hooks I needed.

In subsequent years I would become a complete Billy Joel devotee. I had every album, all the piano music, the videos, saw him on the Storm Front tour, and made my best friend J try and play the saxophone part on "Scenes..." (as well as other songs) while I accompanied on piano (and maybe vocals?). Then sometime between "Storm Front" and what would be Joel's last pop album, "River of Dreams", I put him away. I don't know that I ever even owned "River of Dreams", and I'm not sure when or where my collection of Joel CDs went (though I do still have the piano music, but no piano). I wish I could say it was because my musical tastes improved, but my more honest guess is I lost touch with him during my "Christian Music" fanaticism years (see future, even more embarrassing, "Skeletons in My Musical Closet" blog post). I guess I've been surprised to only recently discover that Billy Joel wasn't critically respected during his heyday, and certainly isn't now; that he's even kind of a joke. In some ways he seems to have even less cred than his sometime tour partner Elton John, though Joel never did anything as egregious as The Lion King ("Innocent Man" may come close). So thanks reviewers for making me confront a large piece of my musical past. I'm more confused than ever, but it's comforting to know there are writers working for reputable music outfits that struggle with some of the same demons.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What's On Your IPod

I usually avoid internet surveys like the plague, but my friend J posted this one on her blog and I'm a sucker for anything music related, so here goes.

This would probably be more interesting if I hadn't had to replace my IPod some months ago. I'm still in the process of getting my library onto the new one and am about 3000 songs shy of where the old one was at.

Total Library Length: 8043 Songs, 21 Days, 34.41 GB

First and Last Songs (by title):

  • Abbatoir Blues by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (ABC by the Jackson 5 comes in second J)
  • 911 to Orson Wells (sp?) by Robert Deeble

Shortest & Longest Songs:

  • The Sky is a Harpsichord Canvas by Olivia Tremor Control :04
  • A Long Day by The Polyphonic Spree 36:31

First and Last Albums (by title):

  • A.M by Wilco
  • 80th Birthday EP by Charlie Louvin
    (I think these make nice bookends. J - I guess my copy of Achutung Baby hasn't made it on yet, but if it did, it would be 6th)

First and Last Artist (by name):

  • A.C. Newman
  • The 1900's (J - 10,000 Maniacs is second to last for me)

Top 5 Most Played Songs (actually 6 because of a tie):

  • Don't Tell Me To Do The Math by Los Campesinos! (18)
  • I Want You Back by Jackson 5 (17)
  • Death to Los Campesinos! by Los Campesinos! (15)
  • We Both Go Down Together by The Decemberists (14 Tie)
  • Run Myself Out of Town by The Holmes Brothers (14 Tie)
  • Hey Baby by The Holmes Brothers (14 Tie)
    This is where having the new IPod is a bit of a bummer. I'd be much more interested to see the top 5 over the last 3 years. I listen to my IPod on shuffle about 90% of the time, so there is some aspect of randomness here, but all 6 six of these songs are definitely favorites. I'm not at all surprised by the Los Campesinos! appearances as I've beat that one to death the last few months. I'm also not surprised by the Jackson 5 as they're constant favorites, though I am a bit surprised by "I Want You Back" as I've made no special effort to listen to that song (and I swear it has nothing to do with my recent divorce!). Ditto the Decemberists and Holmes Brothers...both favorites, and a few of my favorite songs by them, but I don't believe I've been purposefully calling them up or hitting repeat.

Search for the following words. how many songs show up?
  • sex: 5, though one qualifies because it has the word "sexton" in the title (after eliminating songs by Ron Sexsmith, Charlie Sexton, and Martin Sexton)
  • death: 24 though one album has "death" in the title and accounts for 12 entries
  • love: 525
  • you: 868
  • home: 108
  • boy: 129
  • girl: 168

First Five Songs That Come Up On Party Shuffle:
As best I can tell party shuffle actually uses my computer library, not my IPod library and the computer library is much smaller than my IPods, but here goes:

  • Daylight Savings Time By Josh Rouse
  • A New Family by Colour Revolt (This is from a sampler CD and I'm not sure I've even heard it)
  • One Last "woo-hoo" for the Pullman by Sufjan Stevens
  • Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You by Sally Timms
  • Welcome to the Occupation by R.E.M.

...would be a strange party.

Friday, June 20, 2008


Yesterday morning I awoke to find the cordless phone next to my pillow. I'm about 95% sure it wasn't there when I went to bed, and I have no recollection of doing anything with it during the night. The caller ID didn't show that I received any calls. Contemplating whether I might have made any calls, I realized I know exactly four phone numbers - my home (though sometimes I'm fuzzy on that one!), my cell, my work, and my grandma (because it's been the same number all my life). So if I made any calls, it would have had to be one of those. I rely very heavily on my cell phone contacts list, which is why I'm always screwed when I lose or break a phone. I wouldn't even have a home phone if it wasn't saving me money on my cable/internet for 12 months. After the 12 months is up I plan on getting rid of it.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Some Observations From Tonight's Bedtime Stories

1) If you're going to run around town with a monkey, you should probably be committed to keeping better tabs on him. Letting him get into the kitchen at the pizza place and start making pizzas is just plain lazy monkey-wrangling.

2) It's pretty rude to just leave your monkey at the ice cream shop while you go run errands, unless you've made arrangements with the proprietor.

3) It's okay to be curious and make trouble - as long as something good comes out of it in the end, everyone you've injured and offended will forgive you.

Corn Accessories Sur La Table Would Like Me To Consider

Planning to cook up some corn tonight and realized I no longer have any of those poky corn holder thingies. In perusing my options on Sur La Table's website (I'll walk over to their store at lunch today), here are some other suggested corn-related accessories:

As for the corn holder options (apparently also termed "corn picks"), I'll have to see what exactly is available in store, but options I won't be going with:

  • Lobster Corn Picks (in shape of lobster, for some reason)
  • Barbecue Folk Corn Holders (one end in shape of the head and shoulders of some down-home barbecueing type person that looks like they might have been designed by Gary Larson, the other end in the shape of the person's lower half)
  • Corn Picks (in shape of ears of corn, in case you forget what you bought them for)
Two conclusions to be drawn:
  1. If properly accessorized, grilling and serving corn for four people could run you $70 if you leave the kernels on the cob ($150 if you're also making martinis).
  2. There is need for an official term for removing kernels of corn from the cob. I suggest that this term not be "zipping" or "slitting".