Friday, September 22, 2006

New Windows and a Tornado Warning

Today workmen came to replace our front facade windows. It's one of the two big-ticket items on the condo association's improvement schedule for this fall, the other one being the replacement of the building's back exterior stairway. It's gonna be an expensive autumn, folks!

But the new windows... Man. What a difference. Our ancient condo's sunroom is an extension of the living room. There is no partition or wall--the living room just flows right into the sunroom. And the sunroom has four French-door type windows with floor-to-ceiling casements (two each on the south and west walls) and two slightly smaller casements on the north wall. In addition, the west wall of the living room has a floor-to-ceiling casement. The casements are wooden and original to the building (c. 1920). They are anything but tight. The old storm windows on the outside of the casements--the ones that bit the dust this morning--were in terrible shape. They weren't very tight either, and one of them was broken entirely--the top storm window had fallen out of its frame and was lodged against the bottom storm window, with only the screen to keep out winter winds at the top.

Was it any wonder that our living room was really, really cold every winter? That even our attempts to put up that plastic stuff that you shrink-wrap tight with a hair dryer didn't keep the frigid blasts from intruding and chilling us to the bone? That we used to layer on the sweaters and socks just to sit on our sofa and read of an evening?

Well, no more!

These windows are tight! There is nary a crack to let in a draft anywhere on them or beside them. They can be opened with ease, and they tilt inward for exterior washing. Well, that would be a perk if I ever had any intention of lifting a finger to wash them...I mean, let's be honest here.

It was a most amazing experience, though, standing in the sunroom as a big storm whipped up early this evening. I had taken the day off from work to be there for the window installation, but Jeff had just returned from work, and we were admiring the new windows when all the trees on the street started bending to and fro, leaves flying everywhere. Rain started pelting the new windowpanes, but what a revelation! The casements were silent--no wind was moaning through them. The sunroom was cozy--there were no drafts wafting around our ankles or any other body parts.

And then we heard some thing odd through those tight, tight windows. At first, we thought someone's horn had gotten stuck on the street below. Then reality dawned. Evanston was blowing its alarm--its tornado warning siren. When I worked in Evanston seven years ago, the town tested the alarm every Tuesday morning at 10 am sharp. And now... yipes! The wind was wicked (still no draft through the new windows, though!), the sky was darkening to that sick pea green, and the clouds were roiling. We stepped out of the sunroom and loitered in our hallway for a while, puzzling whether it was the best place in which to cower. When a couple minutes had passed with no tornado to show for it, we ventured back out to watch the storm which, according to present lack of google news hits, apparently did not produce a tornado in Evanston or vicinity. We probably should come up with a plan, should a tornado actually put in an appearance in the future, though.

At any rate, it's good to know that even gale force winds can't penetrate these new windows. I think we can get away with a single sweater each this winter.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Nordic Trackin'

I love my Nordic Track. It's old, its little performance tracker thingy bit the dust a couple of years ago, and I really should give it a good going over with a Swiffer cloth, but a half-hour on that thing makes the general craziness of my average day melt away. Not as much as doing a mile of laps in the pool will, but I don't have a pool in my sunroom. And I don't need to worry about chlorinated water seeping into my goggles on the Nordic Track. And I don't have to put on a bathing suit to use it, either.

Some history on this wondrous piece of machinery: I received it as a Christmas present back in 1992, although it was somewhat belated (due to the timeframe of ordering, delivery, etc.) and actually arrived the second or third day of January 1993. It was the last present my ex ever gave me--but what a doozy of a gift. Which made it that much more unbelieveable--so much more of a disconnect--when he returned from a week or so in Los Angeles in mid-January to declare that our nearly 12 years together were over. I mean, who gives their sweetheart a big-ticket gift like that if they are planning on ditching the dame? I can see you are way ahead of me on this one--someone who is feeling rather guilty. Believe it or not--astute observer of human nature that I am--THAT penny didn't drop in my too-trusting (or too mired in denial) brain for quite some time.

Now, I had wanted the Nordic Track because I wanted to get into shape, and, as I had mastered its admittedly ungainly technique (so much, at first, like patting your head and rubbing your stomach) at a local health club, I knew that if used properly it could give a great workout that was easy on the knees. Since I had (and still have) a wonky knee--souvenir of an aerobics class gone bad during my short sojourn in Boston--easy on the knees was a definite plus. Those were the halcyon days of the stair-master, a torture device for my poor patellae.

The rest of that winter and into the spring, though, I didn't use the Nordic Track to get in shape. I used it mostly to try to get warm. When you drop 20 pounds or so in a matter of a couple of weeks, you tend to get a bit cold. And my apartment in San Francisco didn't have central heating, so it tended to be pretty cold and damp, especially since the infamous drought had broken with a vengeance and every day brought chilly rain and winds that seeped in through the loose window sashes. But a few minutes on the Nordic Track had me sweating. And, sometimes, put me in a better frame of mind. Which is also why I kept it all these years--through the throes of binkdom, the happy surprise of meeting someone who was actually enamored of my dorkiness, and the married bliss that followed. I even sent away to Nordic Track to get a special packing box to protect it in the moving van when I moved to Chicago.

So, I've skied in place--off and on--for nearly 14 years. I sometimes go for months, letting the device collect dust as it hunkers, collapsed but patient, under the north windows of the sunroom--the ones that aren't floor-to-ceiling. Sometimes I use the thing every single day. I'm trying to get into the latter phase, because, aside from providing a really good workout, hopping on this ancient exercise machine and striding along to the oldies on my iPod makes me feel good. And it is great for building a shapely ass, although with less than a month to go before the infamous reunion, my guess is that even with the great workouts it provides, the Nordic Track has its work cut out for it. And so do I! Yikes!

Friday, September 15, 2006

And the Sun Sets on Summer

And on Lake Michigan.

If you are a Chicagoan, watching the sun set on Lake Michigan is just a tad disorienting. For us, the sun rises over the lake. Drive east around the southernmost tip of the lake--even for only 80 miles or so--and suddenly the sun is going down over the big lake waters. And the directions! "Take a left and drive west toward the lake..." West toward the lake? Buster, the lake is EAST. Well, in Chicago it is. In Union Pier, it is west.

Last weekend, Jeff and I joined a couple of friends from work, their kids, and a number of other couples--some with kids and some without--on the eastern shores of Lake Michigan to see summer out. The venue was Gintaras Resort, an assemblage of lake houses and cottages set on a bluff overlooking the lake. Most of our party stayed in the log house, a six-bedroom lodge with a stone fireplace

and a huge screened in porch.

Our friends Nancy and Paul enticed us there with tales of golden, warm days--the last perfect weekend of summer--and sunset gatherings on the beach where many toasts would be made to old Sol as he sank below the horizon. For ten years straight, they had enjoyed only the best of beach weather--until 2006. As fate would have it, Friday evening was the only evening that produced a toast-worthy sunset. Saturday was overcast and windy, and Sunday dawned to pouring rain. But it was a lovely, restful, good time of weekend even without having to slather on the sunblock.

By Saturday morning, the wind off the lake had whipped up the surf into respectable breakers. Those who braved the waves claimed it was great fun. The water was warm compared to the chilly wind on the beach, they said. Jeff and I decided a nice walk on the beach was more to our liking, although we might as well have taken a dip. We got plenty wet just from failing to dodge some of the more insistent breakers. The kids found it hard to keep away from the water--even when they took a break from bobbing in the surf and changed from bathing suits to street clothes, they just had to head down off the bluff and wade. As you can see, Joseph and Abby weren't much better at dodging the waves than we were!

Jeff and I decided to explore the Union Pier/New Buffalo area on Saturday afternoon. We stopped at an antique barn, hoping to find a deal or two, but even New Buffalo, Michigan, is too close to Chicago to find any such bargains. We stopped in at the local farm stand to pick up some salad fixings for dinner and came across this photo op:

On our way back to Union Pier, we stopped at a store called Customs, which, among other things, purveyed lawn ornamentation. This stuff was a tad different than what I found in Virginia lately, however.

Inside was a treasure trove of international decorabilia--Buddhas of teak, of brass, of plaster, of glazed clay. Ganeshes of every size and demeanor, from a very angry painted wood Ganesh (whose photo, alas, turned out too blurry to do justice his snarling visage--that will teach me to use the flash sometimes) to this brass fellow whose little rat friend warrants a separate footstool:

There were wooden scuptures of swans and two-headed caymans, beautiful antique Asian chests and breakfronts detailed with inlaid mother of pearl and glass cabuchons, enough wispy cotton paisley bedspreads and throws to turn a '70s dorm room into an oda, a tray of sparkly, spikey-tailed kitties in a rainbow of colors (again, blurred by my hubris at my own steady-handedness), and this display of wooden skulls and skeletons, snapped just to amuse my pal Lee:

Upon our return, we simply relaxed. We sat and read by the fire. We chatted with new friends. Jeff tried to instruct me in the basics of Frisbee throwing, which I soon gave up in disgrace, most of my attempts landing the flying disk in back of me rather than forward into Jeff's patient hand. When I left the game, a couple of the kids were right there to take my place--and they were much better at it than I was, too!

That evening, the whole crew gathered on the screened porch for a big pot luck dinner. Everyone had made something or brought something to eat or drink, and we had a leisurely feast and talk fest

while the kids enjoyed themselves just as much.

That night, sated with dinner, dessert, and lots of wine, we sat around a bonfire on the beach and watched some of the guys send bottle rockets and Roman candles glittering into the dark Michigan sky. Even though Sunday was rainy and much colder than Saturday, our whole crew stayed well into the afternoon. Then family by family, we packed our cars and headed back to where the sun rises out of Lake Michigan.

Next year we hope we'll be able to return for the last weekend of summer, novices no longer, but good old friends meeting once more to toast that setting sun.

Friday, September 01, 2006


I headed off to Virginia with every intention of taking lots of pictures of the old hometown to upload here, but alas! There is never enough time.

Aside from the nightmare of getting to Waynesboro (due to thunderstorms in Chicago, travel times stretched from about six hours from door to door to sixteen hours, and then some), the trip was great fun. I got to spend time with my mom. We went to dinner a few times, both alone and with my brother. We had lunch with my best pals Barb and Beth and their mom. We went antiquing (I purchased loads of cool, vibrant old linen post cards, which I may one day get around to scanning and posting here) at the Factory Antique Mall in Verona, and we went book shopping with my old friend and classmate Leanne Skelton at the Green Valley Book Fair near Mount Crawford. I attended a bonfire and weenie roast at Barb and her husband Charlie's place, where I met a couple who were on their way to Marfa the next week to take in the world famous Marfa Lights Festival. Small world, huh? I watched the Emmys for the first time in years and years at Beth and her sweetie Cortney's place--Barry Manilow trumps Stephen Colbert? What is this world coming to? I took in the hilarious film Little Miss Sunshine at the newly restored Visulite Theater in Staunton. I met a friend in person with whom I've engaged in many a hearty conversation on a message board--she lives in Charlottesville, and she is as gracious and funny and kind in real life as she is online. In short, I had a blast. But I didn't take one picture of any of the above.


On Monday, Barb and I drove up to Harrisonburg to a purveyor of concrete garden statuary, and I DID bring my camera. So here we go:

The name of the place was Harper's, I think, and it had quite the array of painted and unpainted plaster geegaws. I'm not sure why I failed to snap the row on row of overstocked Easter Island heads... but I did manage to capture Barb with this panoply of garden gnomes:

Now, I want everyone to see the incredible detail on these gnomes. First, there is the ever popular gnome with bunny:

Then there are the jolly lantern gnomes. Note the bizarre variation on the fig leaf motif, even though both our boys are wearing trousers--or at least tights:

Last, but certainly not least on the gnome shelves, I offer you a few variations on the recumbent gnome and a gnome with a bottle, well on his way to becoming recumbent. And, as a lagniappe, I present you with a beautifully sculpted pair of buttocks de cherub, mooning elegantly in the background. Oh, la-la!

What roadside statuary emporium would be complete without creepy cherubs

And ubiquitous racist stereotypes?

I know it's hard to believe and horrid to imagine that someone would actually purchase something like that to adorn a garden or yard (and, yes, they had lawn jockeys too, but at least the majority of those were painted white), but if several were on display, you know that there is some kind of a market for them. Sigh. I mean, the one on the far left was even painted with pointy teeth! Oy.

While there's no way I'd put a statue of a little watermelon-eating kid--black or white--in my balcony garden, even sarcastically, I might be persuaded to plant a gnome or even a garishly painted, demonically staring cherub among the pots. Or an Easter Island head. Yep. That's the ticket. I only wish they had sold those hats and the huge eyes the originals wore as well.

Sorry, guys, that I didn't take snaps of the mountains, the main street, the locals, the bonfire, the Visulite, etc., etc., but I'm returning to the "big W" in October for a high school reunion. Maybe I'll get around to it then.