Wednesday, December 30, 2009

last holiday-themed post

Maybe. These photos are just too sad for my Flickr account, so here you are. The lousy weather meant I didn't try to go to Iowa for Christmas. Then my family called on Christmas to see if I'd come the next day or later, but by then I'd given up on the idea of going, and besides I'd started coming down with a cold the night before (when I had a nice night out with an out-of-state friend here to visit her family, going out for a big dinner in Chinatown and drinks in an apartment in a former paper factory, I think it was). So I didn't go to my hometown, didn't have family here, and didn't know if it was okay to call friends (some of who turned out to be here, and would have invited me to dinner and to get glogg at Simon's [which was kind of my dream day if I was stuck here] if they'd known I was also in Chicago). But I was too sick, not very sick but sick enough I didn't want to make things worse, that I couldn't have gone out with them anyway. Nor could I go out and have fun seeing what was open in the Thai neighborhood, or ride Metra when hardly anyone was on it, or check out an unguarded abandoned building.

So on Christmas I had a cold, and only went out (because I needed to go somewhere, briefly) to the 24-hour Starbucks at North and Wells (open till 7 pm on Christmas, however). My breakfast was a large venti eggnog latte and lemon pound cake, and I spent a few minutes reading a coffee-table book on the past few decades of the Boston Bruins.

When I got around to dinner, I made some cheap staples (soup and macaroni and cheese) from Family Dollar, but fortunately I had salad ingredients from Treasure Island and a beer from Olde Main in my hometown, so the dinner wasn't too pathetic. Also, in the evening my friend in Boston called and it turned out he hadn't gone home (Albany) for Christmas either because of car trouble, so we had that to talk about, and hockey, lots of talk about hockey (I still don't have a Chicago friend to regularly talk sports with).

Dessert/late-night snack was hot cocoa (Penzey's mint mix) and cookies from another friend. I didn't get to make any cookies this year. What I didn't do for Christmas (cooking, decorating, sending cards, giving or getting gifts), and won't be doing for New Year's (though at least I'm going to the Blackhawks game, the last one I got a ticket for before the prices went absurdly high), would fill volumes. So, I'll try not to think about it too much. It wasn't a terrible day, but I can't believe I did so little. Except listen to the all-Christmas-music lite station incessantly for weeks (as noted previously). And it did switch, right at midnight, to a non-Christmas Tom Petty song.

Next up (what I should have blogged tonight, but I want to get back to that Bruins book so I can technically finish reading it in 2009): the impending closure of Standee's, the 24-hour grill in Edgewater. Which the Chicago media hasn't covered much, maybe because this happened so suddenly? And they're supposed to move across the street, but we'll see...They have amazing stories to tell there. And when I ate there with a friend the other day, the food was the best I'd ever had there. Go figure, I start to like the place right before it closes.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Rust Belt Gingerbread Spectacular 2009!

As good a time as any to explain what photos I post here and which I post on my Flickr pages. (This discussion takes place in the alternate universe where I've actually been posting 2-4 photoblogs a week here, not the real one where I'm so overwhelmed by the 1000+ photos I often take a week that I barely know where to start...) On Flickr I post images "artistic" enough to stand alone, and/or images that document an event or place I think needs to be documented in a way that will allow people to 1) easily search for it on Flickr 2) conveniently comment on it.

But photos that group well together and/or tell a story work well here (may include ones I've posted or will post to Flickr)...and that means I put some here that I don't quite want to "waste" space on Flickr for. Such as, well, a Stanley Cup in gingerbread, as you'll see later. Interesting enough to post, but I'm not putting a gingerbread Stanley Cup on Flickr unless it's one I make myself when--oh, you know when.

The first set of photos was taken in the Tower City shopping center in downtown Cleveland, after 7 a.m. on Sat. Dec. 5, after an overnight ride from Chicago on Megabus, long before the stores opened. Needless to say, this gingerbread display was a tad eerie at that hour.

After a Greyhound ride through Akron and Youngstown, both of which I once again really wished I could explore for real, I was in Pittsburgh, with all afternoon to kill in lousy weather before heading to Mellon Arena. I'd thought of going to the Heinz History Museum, but all the holiday displays downtown were tempting, especially when I saw a huge gingerbread structure exhibit. A lot of it was in window displays across from the ice rink and Christmas tree, while some was indoors with an impressive model train layout running through it.

LOTS of's PNC Park, where the Pirates play


And a Steelers fan

And where the Steelers play

Out of gingerbread, someone made...giant non-gingerbread cookies. Ridiculous? Brilliant?

The window display had a few trains running by

And a gingerbread trolley

And...yes. "Hail to the Chief"

And there's the Stanley Cup! But I didn't see a gingerbread Mellon Arena

But there's PPG Place, where the exhibit was

For comparison...

The Titanic? Wow. Okay, time to see the indoor display...

 "Christmas at McDonald's"

This was pretty nice

PPG Place again, this time more realistic

Gingerbread White House, with Santa stuck in the chimney

A diner! And other architecture, beautifully done

Gingerbread trains!

Real trains! Er, real model trains. This one, a streamliner, was my favorite.

Friday, December 25, 2009

ideas for a future Christmas/holiday post

Well, first off, Merry (what's left of) Christmas to those who celebrate. Hope all my readers (spammers who seem to be the only recent commenters here excepted) are having a great holiday season. I finally got back into blogging via my sports blog a little chippy but haven't transferred all that energy over here yet, so I missed out on the pre-Christmas posts I'd wanted, but I can throw a few ideas out here for the future and hope no one outright steals them...

First off--has anyone done any real investigation of the popular wisdom that the Christmas season (at least from retailers, radio stations, etc.) "starts earlier every year"? I'm just not buying it. I'm sure it's changed if you go back a generation, but Christmas products in stores soon after Halloween (or often before)--that's been around as long as I can remember. Yet every year people act shocked, SHOCKED, that Christmas stuff shows up well before Thanksgiving. I wrote a paper in 8th grade where I actually spoke to people at Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Target and maybe the mall in town (this was in central Iowa). I believe Target said they put out holiday products in September. (Yes, I know that's anecdotal evidence, to put it mildly...) The earliest I saw this year--the Family Dollar store very near me in Chicago started stocking Christmas products the last day of summer. (I was in the same store the day earlier.) But I'm pretty sure I saw it that early as a kid, too. So, I'd love to see a story on "The Myth of 'Christmas Creep.'" I might not be the one to write it, but expect this little rant again next year. (I'm not saying I'm OKAY with stores doing this; I'd prefer seeing much less Christmas stuff, and not till Thanksgiving; I'm just saying I think it's been a problem for a long time, not getting worse all the time.)

The "War Against Christmas?" That's not even worth the space to refute...but, I grew up Christian in an overwhelmingly Christian town saying "Happy Holidays" (or at least sending cards that said that) because I took the phrase to mean "Merry Christmas"/"Happy Hanukkah" AND "Happy New Year" (and I was often a little late with my cards). I don't remember anyone freaking out about it then. Shakesville had a lively piece on the War on the War on Christmas, and an awfully strange reaction to the "war," Deck the Cross.

look, "Happy Holidays" in the title of a 1950s Christmas cookbook! does Fox News know about this?!

On another note...10 Things I Hate About Christmas, at Jezebel, is a reasonable, and entertaining, list, but...there's so much contrarian/curmudgeonly stuff out there about Christmas, I want to be a counter-contrarian (er, possibly not a word) and say: dammit, I LIKE cheesy Christmas music! I've been listening to the lite station since they switched to all-Christmas music, before Thanksgiving. (I wish they didn't end it right at midnight on Christmas; it should at least go another few hours...) I've grown to tolerate or like many of the songs I used to hate ("Santa Baby," even "Wonderful Christmastime," but there's no question that "Baby, It's Cold Outside" is a really disturbing song). And I love eggnog! Or at least Silk soy versions or the regular kind diluted with milk. And I even love fruitcake--or at least our family recipe for it, which is lemony and slightly boozy and delicious. I keep meaning to make it myself someday; I think I bought the lemon extract and candied fruits oh, 5 years or so ago and they're probably still in the pantry. I'll make the family recipe, I'll try to make a vegan version of the family recipe, I'll try a different recipe for comparison, and I'll write a "Fruitcake Isn't that Bad" post. (I'm sure some foodie blogs and magazines have already done stories like that...)

that's "Fluffy Fig Pudding," which may or may not be that bad  

More reading: the excellent blog Sociological Images had Fun with the 2009 Target Catalog and looked at Gendered Gifts Galore, as well as Santa's Evil Side Kick, Krampus.  The Sexist reports on a story on different stereotypes of unhappy women at Christmastime.

Now, I'm off to play my "A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector" CD yet again, which, if last year is any indication, I'll be listening to every day well into January...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

and now, Thanksgiving and Black Friday

Things here tend not to be in an order that makes sense--so, after yesterday's first day of winter post, here's my Thanksgiving/Black Friday excursions. Not especially impressive, but I got a few pics I liked.  

My approximation of a Thanksgiving dinner was the delicious (free!) food at the Whirlaway, a neighborhood bar in Logan Square. I hung out with some people that Wednesday night watching an amazing Blackhawks @ San Jose Sharks game, but I put that story on my other blog...

Since I've been in Chicago without family for the past few Thanksgivings, I consider it a big day to see a lot of the city. I think 2005 was my first time doing that--I took buses around, mostly to the far northwest side, and eventually found somewhere to eat. The CTA was on its holiday schedule, the weather was very cold and a little snowy, and I took 8 buses around. And waited a total--a TOTAL--of about 45 minutes for ALL the buses. I doubt I'll ever have such luck with the CTA again (for comparison, last week, I waited an hour in freezing rain for a bus that never showed up).

Then in 2006 (these link to my Flickr photos for each day, but I might not have many posted) it was sunny and 60 degrees F. I went on the longest bike ride I've ever had in Chicago, about 50 miles total, including bicycling all of Pulaski Ave. from south (111th Street) to north (Devon) within city limits. This needs its own post someday... In 2007 I had an exciting visit to my favorite, and now gone, abandoned building, Washburne Trade School. In 2008 I didn't do much, but had dinner a couple different places.

In 2009? I did even less. In fact, all I did besides stuff at home was go downtown for a brief visit before it got dark, to look at decorations and shop at Old Navy--they were open on Thanksgiving in the Loop.

I'll confess, I've done the early morning door-buster sale on the day after Thanksgiving--once. It was Target, years ago (they haven't done doorbuster sales--i.e. the 5 am-11 am Black Friday morning type of sales--in years), probably back when there was only the Logan Square Target in Chicago. I usually buy a few things that day but try to avoid crowds. I appreciate the spirit of Buy Nothing Day, created to counteract Black Friday hype, but...oh, I guess I now have 11 months to work on my rant about it (suffice it to say, I think it's a little elitist to have it on the day a lot of things people actually want are at a price they can afford, especially in this economy).

This year, I wasn't motivated to go shopping in the morning. But I felt like taking a look at the one Wal-Mart within Chicago's city limits, which happens to be just a couple miles down the street from where I live. 

It wasn't nearly as bad as I'd feared. Kind of messy, though. I was there briefly in the early afternoon, snuck a few photos (Wal-Mart was being strict about photography/video this year because of negative publicity from last year's tragedy), bought a few things, and went home to watch a depressing Blackhawks game online, then went out to watch a not quite as depressing (but still a loss) Chicago Wolves hockey game in Rosemont.

I'd love to actually cook, or help cook, a huge Thanksgiving meal in Chicago, but it never seems to happen. A Thanksgiving potluck/big bike ride (if it's nice weather)/abandoned building excursion could be spectacular....

Monday, December 21, 2009

first day of winter

(or, it's Christmastime in the city)
all photos taken Dec. 21, 2009, posted from earliest to latest.

in the heart of the Loop

near the Sedgwick Brown Line station, Old Town. taken two weeks after this photo on Flickr...
can't believe they're still there. I didn't notice the pumpkin (hidden on the left) last time...

taken from the #72 North bus, Lincoln Park. CB2 is a sort-of hipper version of Crate & Barrel
(but they didn't add the graffiti)

Wal-Mart, west side of Chicago

bus stop across from Wal-Mart. strawberries in the snow, similar to one of the all-time great cosmetics color names (I shouldn't have to tell you, but it's Cherries in the Snow)

parking lot graffiti, bakery, Humboldt Park. there for a week now.
the city's Graffiti Busters were supposed to come out

Humboldt Park sidewalk

Humboldt Park alley

another Humboldt Park alley.
I would have taken more photos, but it was getting dark really early for some reason.

why, these photos seem sort of cynical...

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I love my neighborhood.

You'd think I'd write about it sometime, wouldn't you? I've lived in Humboldt Park for years and I don't recall if I've even ever posted shots of Humboldt Park-the-park, or the two bakeries near me, or the construction and demolition that occasionally goes on (an entire building a block away from me completely disappeared this week and I didn't know until it was an empty lot. It was one I don't particularly miss; I'm just a bit perturbed because it shows I didn't get out much this week). Here's a couple shots I took on a brief errand Friday. My neighborhood is not actually this color; I've just gotten into digital cross-processing on Flickr this spring...

The nearby shopping center (seems too small to call a strip mall) recently got resurfaced, and the store below now has windows. Big windows. I stopped first at my favorite dollar store of the ones near me (well, it's gone from three to two dollar stores, not counting Family Dollar. They're a decent store but NOT a real dollar store, though when they turn up in news broadcasts [I swear Chicago has a lot of Family Dollar calamaties--roof collapses, shootings, I forget] they're referred to as a "dollar store"). It was a short visit, made even shorter by the fact that the store had the overwhelming smell...of skunk. Well, that's a new one in my Chicago retail experience. The store IS near a park, but...huh? The clerk explained when I paid for my stuff--a man smelling of skunk had been in the store. Possibly raises more questions than it answers.

On to the liquor store, for cheap beer for the weekend, and empty boxes to sort things in my apartment. I noticed the unrefrigerated 16 oz. 6 packs of Old Style were still marked as $3.99 (I used to buy the commemorative Cubs cans of the stuff) so I grabbed one. The clerk didn't know the price and had to ask someone else, which took a while. He said it was $5.79. I said the sign still said $3.99 and he said it was just the Colt .45 6-packs that were $3.99. I went back and got a 12 oz. 6-pack of Hamm's, same price, instead, glancing again at the sign (still said Old Style). I told them they should change the sign. I wasn't going to argue my way into paying less for Old Style, I like to think I have SOME dignity.

Another employee saw what I'd bought and asked if I could carry 2 6-packs. "I'll pay for one." Shocked, I managed a "yeah." And he bought me another 6-pack (of Hamm's, though I didn't notice that till hours later), pointing at the Old Style and saying "as long as you never buy that again!" In a mild state of shock, I thanked him, grabbed some empty boxes on the way out, and walked home. I wanted this post to be a little more in-depth than "I GOT FREE BEER," but I won't deny, that's the main reason I posted.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Under repairs

I should have just found some kitschy old image that would signify "closed for repairs" and put it up a while ago. Well, blog's not closed, I still mysteriously get a hit or two a day of photos here showing up in my Flickr stats. But I AM going to drastically redo the blogroll--adding at least one new category, combining others, fixing the links of people who keep changing to new sites (some photographers I know, ahem), getting depressed at which blogs are now set to private, etc. I'd really like to change this to a three-column format, but Blogger bizarrely doesn't offer any as an option. Learning to split it into 3 columns myself (I've already searched this out) would be preferable to trying to move the whole blog over to Wordpress, however.

I've finally put the effort into getting a feed for blogs I follow (Bloglines) and bookmarking (Delicious), and I've got a new email address (I don't think I ever put the old one up here, which actually prompted a few people to start Flickr accounts just so they could email me there!) I'll post, and I may have started or restarted a few other places online, so there'll be a lot more "where else to find me" stuff here soon.

I even impulsively started a Tumblr blog and posted a couple dozen times, but because 1) virtually no one I know is on Tumblr 2) no one I'm following there added me back 3) it's just not very interactive, I will be...get ready for this...starting a SECOND blog on Blogger. It's for a different audience but I trust there'll be some overlap. It means I have to repost all my Tumblr content on Blogger, but at least I decided on that quickly (so it won't be like how I was uploading Flickr photos from the wrong directory for my first 6 months and then had to replace 1500 photos one by one). My brilliant theory is that I'll be signed in all the time to keep THAT blog frequently updated, so I'll have no excuse not to be signed into THIS blog all the time. Because I haven't been...since spring. Did I mention that many times already?

Also! I'll probably change the template here, though I do like this one quite a bit.