October 17, 2009

Leaves, tanks, and cold autumn air

I know, I know, I know. It's been well beyond weeks since I last placed an update on the blog site. I've been meaning to for some time. Birthdays. Gatherings. Outdoor events. Pictures have been taken. But nothing ended up on this site. Of course, none of YOU have actually demanded anything of late. No inquiries, posts, or threats to be had.

But no real excuse -- aside from life just getting in the way. A VERY ramped up work schedule has sucked most of the leftover energy right out of my system. After a long day, a traffic-filled trip home, and a late dinner, the last thing I end up thinking about is the blog site.

But I decided to add a small update today. It's Saturday. It's chilly out. Everyone is relaxing. I don't feel like starting new projects. So why not a few photos?

Last weekend, we took a journey -- about 1.4 miles down the street -- to Cantigny Park for their annual fall festival. In years past, we haven't found our way into the park very often, despite how beautiful it really is. But this year, it's just been too convenient and offers up many things to keep Su busy. So a fall festival, complete with games, things to climb on, food, and a hayride seemed just the ticket for the day.

Although not the 40 degree temperatures. A day more than 20 degrees below normal just didn't end up quite as "festive" as we had hoped. And it made the hayride pretty darn chilly.

But we did have some fun. The ride was still nice, as it provided a beautiful tour of the park. And some hot chocolate was a perfect remedy to the biting winds and chill. And a little bit of extracurricular climbing on the tanks (yes, it's a park full of military vehicles, the First Division Museum, and many other displays and recognition for our country's veterans) for Su helped knock out some of the energy. And, at the very least, it got us out of the house and into nature for a little while.

Winter is approaching fast. So we have to take advantage of these wonderful outdoor opportunities. And here's hoping for 60 degree temperatures NEXT year!

July 21, 2009

Take me out to the ball game

Ah, yes. The ball game. America's pastime. And the White Sox. America's team. Okay, they're admittedly probably not even CHICAGO'S team. Seems like it's easier to show undying allegiance to the lovable losers on the north side rather than show support for an organization that's produced far more winning in recent years. Better scouting. Shrewd trading with a tighter budget. They've got Sweet Lou. We've got the Oz. They have Wrigley. And, frankly, they can have it. We've got the Cell. They have Harden, Soriano, Aramis, Zambrano... Ah, who's kidding whom? They can keep 'em all.

But I'm drifting a bit, aren't I?

The White Sox have been a part of my life for the last 30+ years. Starting with about 1977 and the infamous lineup of Zisk, Gamble, Lemon, Soderholm. That lineup put a charge in Chicago baseball for most of the summer until poor pitching proved to be too much to overcome. But that 90-win season (and let's not forget those hideous softball-style uniforms) forever placed the team in my heart. And the Sox have been part of the "household" (defined by the period of marriage, kid, etc.) for the last 20+ years. And with that devotion comes much bias in the house. And with that bias comes much influence. And that brings us to Su.

Su has been a White Sox fan for almost all of her 7 years of existence, starting with her early pajama-style jumper, the gift cap from Uncle Clement, the small ballpark giveaway bat (with etching misspelled as "Chacigo White Sox"), and her full range of t-shirts, most of them sporting the name/number of her favorite player: Paul Konerko. She's also was the only kid her age (4 and 5 at the time) that could actually SAY the name Tadahito, not to mention know that he played 2nd base for the team.

But it was only just this past weekend that we took her to her first actual game. She finally reached an age where we felt confident in her ability to hang with us without getting tired and/or whiny during the 1-1/2 hour drive, the 3+ hour game, and the return trip home. Courtesy of Uncle Bill, we were able to take Su to the Saturday game against the Baltimore Orioles. Great seats (21st row, 1st base side, edge of the net) and great weather (not too hot) provided the foundation for a great day of baseball.

And the home team didn't disappoint. With Mark Buehrle on the mound, it was a fast-paced game, wrapped up in about 2-1/2 hours. Timely hitting and solid defense gave the Sox the lead and, despite a little shakiness in the 9th, they held on for the exciting win. Su was able to see her favorite (Paul-ee, Paul-ee, Paul-ee) up to bat and play first base. Anita's fave (Jermaine) hit the go-ahead home run. And all of this was wrapped around a "Beach Bash 2009" theme for the day. And that also meant free Sox beach towels!! Su couldn't believe it, asking the staff person, "You mean we get to KEEP these?! Sweet!!"

Mixed in with the game was food and fun. Su was thrilled to get the ballpark hot dog, the Gatorade, and most important -- the COTTON CANDY (see pic). And as we were leaving, a very kind vendor, closing up his concession area, gave Su his last item -- a 1/4 pound cookie.

Somewhere in between the cookies and candy, the Sox won and gave Su a victory in her first appearance at the Cell. We hope to do it again very soon.

June 24, 2009

Rocky Mountain High

Wow. It's been well over 2 months since my last posting. I can't believe 2009 is just about half the way done. So much I wanted to add to the blog over the last weeks. Su's horse-back riding. Easter. Yikes. Easter? Okay, enough about past events that I never discussed. Time to talk about the current good stuff... VACATION!

I'm not proud of the fact that it's been about 7 years since our last true vacation. I'm not talking about the "extended weekend" breaks, like a trip to Madison, WI. Nope, a real vacation. The last time we were on a plane was 2003 -- when it all started with Su. So fast-forward almost 6 years from that time and Su finally gets to board a plane again!

We decided to take a trip out to Boulder, Colorado this past week. Boulder has been a location on our radar for some time now. Beautiful locale. Much to see and do. Enough activities for the little gal. And also enough adult things to do that can also be done with a young'un. So off we went last Thursday.

Flying is certainly not my thing. In fact, with advancing age, my anxieties seem to increase in intensity. But Su loved it. Shrieks of delight followed every little bump or turbulent encounter. But I think she received a huge dose of reality when it comes to flying... the day is just agonizingly LONG. Adding up the car ride to the airport, the "lead time" required to be at the airport, the in-air time, the shuttle time (to the rental car) and the drive from Denver to Boulder, it was about 8 hours of total travel time, putting us in our hotel room by around 8:00 p.m. mountain time. Wow. So we quickly checked in, dropped off our things, and walked about 2 blocks down the street to a Mexican restaurant for a quick bite to eat. Not much closer to the hotel at that hour. It was decent. We were hungry.

Friday: I went for a run in the mountain foothills. Between the added elevation (running at 5,000+ feet) and the incline, it was one intense workout heading up. Now heading back was a blast. All downhill! Then it was off to breakfast, into the car, and a trip north to Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park!!

What a beautiful drive that was. Highways filled with scenic beauty, hundreds upon hundreds of cyclists out there charging up through the hills. And the slow, steady climb to the city of Estes Park, and then the continued climb through the mountains until we reached our destination for the day -- Bear Lake, elevation about 9,500 feet.

It was about 65 degrees, yet we also were walking through snow. A gorgeous day, surrounded by more mountain views, snow capped peaks, beautiful lakes, and even elk!! After taking a shuttle from the car up to the lake, we then spent some time hiking around the lake, as well as adding some other passable trails. But short on snacks, water, and (later) energy, it was time to shuttle it on back to the car and make our way down the mountain. Next time, we'll pack better, go higher, and see if we can't get near the highest travel point -- about 12,000+ feet. THAT will be mighty cold, too.

We spent some time touring Estes Park, then headed back down to Boulder. Su and I went to the hotel pool for a little while and Su actually made the leap from hanging on the poolside to actually SWIMMING! What a treat that was to see. Suddenly, she looked like a little fish splashing through the shallow end of the pool. Anita and I were both very proud of what she accomplished. She had a blast.

Then it was off to downtown Boulder, to the Pearl Street Mall -- the several block long, outdoor mall with shops, restaurants, and outdoor entertainment. A huge tourist attraction and actually a lot of fun. So much to see.

With food in our bellies and much more walking taking place, it was time to head back to the hotel and much-needed rest.

Saturday: Another fun run in the mountain foothills started off my day, this time advancing further and pushing it to about 8.5 miles. The breathing seemed a bit easier this time around. Breakfast was then next on the agenda, followed by a day of parks, hiking, shopping, and more food. Plus some more swimming. A great day.

Sunday: This time, my run along the Boulder Creek Path went in the other direction, as I decided to take the path east to discover more of Boulder. A great path that follows along Boulder Creek, with a great mix of sun and shade, as well as bridges and the sound of rushing water. After breakfast, we went for an extended hike this time, with a lot of actual trail work and rock climbing. Su just LOVED this part of it. While tentative at times, the thought of being a "rock climber" was just so exciting for her. She held up well and we also brought the needed amount of water and snacks.

After reaching the bottom again, it was at this time that we saw the posted sign on a nearby info area that said "You are in rattlesnake country." Great. Fortunately, they are supposed to be Prairie rattlers and not aggressive. Still, it would have been nice to have seen this before the walk. Or maybe not.

In the latter part of the morning, we took a trip down south to Golden, Colorado -- the home of the Coors Brewery! We went for the free tour, which was actually pretty cool. Su was a bit bored by the tour, but Anita and I enjoyed it. And the free sampling of beers was worth the trip. Nothing like a cold Killian's Red to cap a tour. And, because of Father's Day, they were handing out free cake to the dads. So, of course, I took a couple of bites and the rest went to Su. Probably the highlight of her tour experience.

A return to the hotel for some cool air conditioning and then another trip to the pool for Su and I. By now, Su has advanced to attempting some side-stroking and even a backstroke effort! She's certainly showing quite a lot of confidence in the water now -- something she didn't possess at all just a couple of days ago.

Monday: Sort of a melancholy day. By now, the full realization was upon us that the trip was near over. We were to check out by noon and head on back to Denver to board the plane. I went out for one last run and then we all had a good breakfast, knowing that the food needed to sustain us for a while. It would be some time before we'd be back in Illinois and in search of late dinner.

Su kept wishing we could stay, as did I. In fact, Su is already planning for College at the University of Colorado. Hmmm... Maybe mom and dad would have to "retire" to Boulder when Su ventures off to college out there. It's a plan, right?

And as I type this, having taken a couple of extra days off from work, I stare at the clock, realizing that this post now needs to end, sleep awaits, and then it's back to the daily grind.

Depressing? Yes. Work is just no fun these days (maybe another post on this...). But we're just really glad that we were able to enjoy this trip together. And plans for next year are already underway.

Bear Lake - Su and dad

Bear Lake - more Su and dad

Bear Lake - Su, dad and mom

Hotel entrance - Su and mom

Visitor's Center on the way to Bear Lake (Rocky Mountain National Park, Estes Park)

Su and mom downing some cold ones at the Coors Brewery walking tour

Su at the park, hamming it up

April 06, 2009

Toothless grin

It's happened!

The first wobbly tooth to fall out on its own.

(The first two bottom teeth don't count. They were yanked out by the dentist.)

This one fell on its own free will. During bacon and eggs.

There was much excitement throughout the household.

The Tooth Fairy would soon visit. And Su is a happy gal.

March 08, 2009

Corn Weenie: the birth of a star

A bit of a silly post here. But it occurred to me that it could be one worth sharing. Besides, how many times in one's life are you likely to be able to use the words "corn weenie" in a story of any kind?

At the end of January, a call went out from a friend of mine that just screamed of urgency. And only a select few of us could come to the rescue. To make a long story somewhat short, it seems that radio station WFMU (found on the dial in some areas or through the internet) was reaching out to listeners to produce a remix of a classic old recording (rumored to be created in the 80s at some point?), I believe entitled "Learn How to Speak Hawaiian," and referred to by some as the Corn Weenie song. This clip (or song) had been played for some time on the station and tortured listeners. So it turned into a remix challenge -- results of which would be aired, posted for play on the website, and later available on a CD compilation.

Anyway, Intangible Arts (my favorite blogger) reached out to many of us on January 31st ("Time-sensitive CORN WEENIE alert!") asking for a contribution -- namely the audio of us saying the words "corn weenie." Whether it be via MP3 or by telephone answering messages, the goal was to collect various versions of the words and form the "Corn Weenie Chorus" needed to complete the remix.

Incidentally, Intangible Arts is also Chester Hawkins (aka Blue Sausage Infant), perhaps my favorite experimental musician (and friend since the late 90s). His mission was to capture some of the original recording and put his own stamp on the mix, incorporating these added chorus contributions.

As many of you know, I spend a bit of time in the studio myself and saw this as a chance to have a bit of fun. I decided to incorporate Su's help! I fired up the basement studio mixer and asked Su if she wanted to give dad a hand with a new recording. Of course, she thought that sounded "sweet," so we proceeded to rattle off a few different takes on the corn weenie theme, laughed hysterically all the while. We anxiously sent our final MP3 results out to Washington D.C. via email and waited for the final product.

The end result was 3:30 minutes of pure fun. The original loose recording (see link near the top of the story as a reference point -- if you can get through the early bits) was transformed into a sort of corn weenie psychedelic stomp -- complete with corn weenie chorus -- and the addition of other weenie contributions added in as the song builds.

But for fans of Su, the payoff is at the very end of the song. Play it out through to the final seconds. Just when you think the song is about over and fading, you'll hear Su's starring moment.

It's a riot. It's fun. A star is born.

Also, I became aware this week that the CD compilation is available now through WFMU (with contributions to the pledge drive). I, of course, sent in my cash just to have the actual full-fledged release, forever showcasing Su at 6-years old. Well, there's that and about 100 different interpretations of the Corn Weenie song. Not for the faint of heart, I suppose.

At her young age, Su is already reaching an international audience. Something old dad never accomplished in all his years of playing.

So for your listening pleasure, I present EPIPHANY AT PORT SAID -- or the Corn Weenie Song -- by Blue Sausage Infant. Just click on the link here and enjoy.

February 18, 2009

Opening of the eyes

This past Sunday was a pretty special day for the family. For those few of you actually peeking at this blog once in a while, you might remember a post I wrote up in November about our visits to the Chicago Nichiren Buddhist Church. Around September or so of 2008, after about 8 years attending a temple in West Chicago, we started making the journey into the Chicago area instead. A lot of research and examination went into this decision. And it only took a few visits to realize that we had truly found our home. For a little background on that discovery, please read the earlier post.

At any rate, we reached a point as a family where we decided that it was time to actually become members and give up that "guest" status. This decision actually was arrived at sometime in December, but it took nearly 2 more months to make it back to the temple location. January's service was canceled due to extreme cold and the early February make-up date was canceled due to a water pipe issue in the sanctuary. So that brings us to this past Sunday.

The path to membership is actually an easy one. And probably made all that more more so because of the previous years of practice and having already a solid grasp on the teachings of Buddhism. It wasn't like we were thrust into anything altogether new -- just improved! And all it took was a verbal exchange to the priest, Rev. Hosho Higuchi, expressing our wishes.

So on Sunday, we traded in our old Gohonzon and enthusiastically accepted our new Shutei Gohonzon, bestowed on us after an "opening of the eyes" ceremony. The Gohonzon is a calligraphic mandala used by members in their households and they generally are inscribed by Nichiren Shu clergy. The link included here connects to a youtube.com video that displays the remaining undamaged 125 copies of the Gohonzon that Nichiren wrote between 1271 and 1282. Kind of cool. The copy dated the third month of 1280, regarded as the most significant, is now preserved at Myohonji Temple in Kamakura, Japan. The incribed Gohonzon then resides in an altar display at each member's home, where daily practice occurs. Members face the Gohonzon while reciting Lotus Sutra passages and chanting the Odaimoku (Namu Myoho Renge Kyo, or "Adoration to the Scripture of the Lotus of the Perfect Truth").

Anyway... Enough historical background.

In addition to our membership and receiving our Gohonzon, we also participated in the New Year's ceremonies (Setsubun), also postponed earlier due to the weather conditions. The Setsubun ceremony is another important date for Buddhist believers. So it made for a very celebratory day.

Setsubun literally means “seasonal division” but it usually refers to the Spring Setsubun. Close to the Lunar New Year, the Spring Setsubun can be thought of as new year’s eve. Therefore, it has a special ritual of cleansing away all the evil of the former year and drive away disease-bearing evil spirits for the year to come. This ritual is called MAMEMAKI (bean scattering or bean throwing) and it is performed by those who are born on the corresponding year of the Animal Zodiac (2009 is the Year of the Ox /the cycle runs every 12 years). The beans are thrown and people shout out “ONI WA SOTO! FUKU WA UCHI!” (“Demons/Evil Spirits out! Luck/Blessings in!”). It is also customary to eat the beans one for each year of one’s life plus one more for bringing good luck for the year to come.

Because of the length of the morning ceremonies, the "bean throwing" did not take place, else there would have been quite the cleanup effort required afterword!

In addition to these ceremonies, good friends Kent and Daryl (shown below) decided to undergo the eye opening ceremony for their two new statues -- one representing Nichiren and the other Sakyamuni -- that will be placed at their home altar. I've included a photo of the two statues, shown alongside the temple Gohonzon, basking in the incense and good vibe of the ceremony (photo shown above).

Last was the lunch, served downstairs in the lower level under the sanctuary. Every month, members contribute meals, desserts, drinks, saki (!), and good conversation. Many of the meals are served in more of a Japanese style and can be hit-or-miss for someone more discerning, like Su. But this week was a variation of chicken strips, along with rice, egg, some fruit, and even cake! So Su ate very well and really enjoyed herself over the course of the day.

After cleaning up and saying our goodbyes, we drove the nearly 1 hour journey back home and settled in for some quiet time and naps. A very festive day for all -- and a memorable one.

February 15, 2009

Holy sombrero, Batman! It's...

Sunday morning came with the revelation that Winfield seems to have a new superhero in town. Louder than a speeding locomotive. Able to leap piles of Polly Pockets in a single bound. Armed only with her blanket/cape, sombrero, thundering feet, and booming voice... It's, it's...

Anyone got a name?