Monday, December 31, 2007

2007--Ah, What a Vintage

So, it's almost time to bring down the curtain on 2007--and how did those resolutions of mine fare? Well, let's see...

1. Lose weight: Yes. I lost weight. I could lose more weight, but I made an admirable start, even if I do say so myself.

2. Get back up to at least 5 miles at a time on my runs: Well, I made it to four miles. Lately cold weather has kept me from running outside (what? you think I'm one of these "hit the trail no matter what" types? sure.), and work constraints have kept me away from the indoor track, so I've backslid a bit on this. I have been keeping up my Nordic Tracking, though, and it's a good cross-trainer for running. I think I might achieve this in 2008.

3. Get back into knitting: I was more engaged in this activity earlier in the year. I made a couple of sweaters for myself, but I have yet to sew them up.

I need to get back on the stick on this one.

4. And playing the guitar: Lately I have been playing a little bit. I'd like to devote more time to it this coming year.

5. Last but not least, finish the novel: Sigh. I'm almost there. I'd say less than 10,000 words to go. Right now it stands at 341 pages and a tad less than 95,000 words. Obviously, I didn't get a draft to Jeff by April 1. But I will this year!

Which brings us to my resolutions for 2008. All told, I didn't fail utterly... except for not finishing the novel. But I wasn't completely successful either. Therefore, I resolve to get in better shape (and that includes weight management and exercise--I want to run the Ricky Byrdsong 5K in May), to polish up my guitar skills, to knit more (and actually sew up and finish my projects), and to finish the daggone novel!

So, I say this with all of you as witnesses: I will hand Jeff a draft to read on or before February 1. You read it here, folks! Hold me to it!

And now, on to the much anticipated (I am sure) 2007 retrospective.

This year for Mardi Gras, we celebrated by decorating the cat. Well, I did. Jeff disavows any and all cat-decorating activities.

Laissez les bons temps roulez!

Jeff and I went to Normal a couple of times to visit Greg and to shop at just about every chain store known to humankind.

We also went to Marfa a couple of times, enjoying, as always, our sojourn at the Hotel Paisano,

attending a barn dance--really, it was held in a genuine barn--

celebrating the blessing of Rachel and Chase's marriage,

and cutting a bit of a rug (as well as basking in the glow of our own twelfth anniversary) at the party that ensued.

We went to the balmy Bahamas

and swam with dolphins.

We oohed and aahed over Independence Day fireworks on the Evanston lakefront.

We went to the West Virginia State Fair

and to the incomparable Dinosaurland.

We spent a waning summer weekend on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan,

and I headed back to the Shenandoah Valley for the annual local Fall Foliage Festival.

We drove up to Madison for a crisp autumn weekend of brewpubs and strolling,

making the pilgrimage to House on the Rock along the way.

Yes, I know that I've uploaded about a bazillion photos of HOTR to this blog in the last month or so... but what is one more among friends?

The weather here in Chicago turned quite cold early in December. There was ice.

And then there was snow.

And even more snow.

Christmas was upon us. Greg asked for and received an acoustic guitar--a really lovely Washburn that we liked so well we might just purchase one for ourselves.

Shelly received a toy, but she much preferred the discarded wrapping paper. As always.

And so, as the year draws to a close, I wish you and yours a happy, healthy, prosperous New Year. Let's hope that cooler heads prevail throughout the world, and that we can start working toward that elusive prize, peace on Earth.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas at House on the Rock

A couple of years ago, Jeff and I headed to Madison for our at least once a year visit a little later than usual, and we feared that we would find House on the Rock closed for the season. But lo! It was merely transformed into a winter wonderland by yet another collection: Santas!

In fact, much of the place was adorned as above. So much so that we started calling our experience night of the living Santas.

Here's the thing about the Santa collection at House on the Rock, though. The collection is quite extensive, but not exactly pristine. By that I mean that some of the Santas are, well, in less than mint condition. Some are simply dingy. Others have eyes just a tad off plumb, if you can picture that. Others are just plain creepy. This is apparent throughout the attraction, and nowhere so much as on the World's Largest Carousel. But don't take my word for it... see for yourself!

Whew! Just makes you want to hop on Santa's lap and ask for goodies, now, doesn't it?

Well, no matter how crazy or creepy House on the Rock can make Santa, we all know that he'll be making his rounds tonight, so we'd better not be making TOO much fun of him, huh?

Merry Christmas, everyone !

Pleasant holiday dreams!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Music to Clean By

Just taking some time away from readying the house for Greg's holiday visit tomorrow to say that the Putamayo New Orleans Christmas CD makes a mighty fine cleaning soundtrack--it's like scrubbing the tub to a second line extravaganza. Add to that the gospelly goodness of the Blind Boys of Alabama, and you will have your place clean in no time! (Well, as long as no one looks in the junk--I mean, the GUEST--room.)

In other news of holiday frustration, it finally warmed up enough that the soil in the balcony planter boxes unfroze, allowing me to "plant" evergreen boughs and sticks with fake berries, all in aid of securing some icicle lights to hang off the front of the balcony. Then--zap! Another deep freeze. And wind gusts that rattled even the new double-paned windows--blowing the boughs and sticks into a snarled frenzy. At least they didn't blow AWAY--you see, they are frozen solid into the soil. Oh well. The lights are still in place and working!

Next up--a treat from our favorite tourist attraction...

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Screamer

We have a screamer in our alley, and when it gets going, the noise rings throughout the back half of the condo.

The screamer is a squirrel. It usually hangs out on the utility pole right outside the back room, which is Jeff's office/fort. It perches on the wires and screeches to beat the band. Sometimes it paces up and down the pole, screaming all the while. Yesterday when we went to the basement to get the tree box, it was hiking up and down the railing of our next door neighbor's back deck, stopping every few steps to, well, scream. We have tried to figure out what it is screaming at, but it does not appear to have a target of its wrath.

We don't know if it is simply royally pissed off at the world in general, or if it is simply mental.

Is there such a thing as a screwball squirrel in real life?


Monday, December 10, 2007

A Meme... Blame This on G.W.

I pulled this months ago from G.W. Ferguson's blog, Secret Mountain Laboratory, and I have been meaning to post it for a while now. So here it is:

"Everybody's doing it!" Fill this out about your SENIOR year of high school! The longer ago it was, the more fun the answers will be.

1. Who was your best friend?

Barbara Spilman, who is now Barbara Lawson. We became best friends in Junior High School, and we are still best friends.

2. What sports did you play?

None. Although back in 10th grade when I was still taking Phys Ed, I discovered that I had a knack for softball. I could actually hit the damned thing—and make it go far, too! That never translated into any varsity efforts, though.

3. What kind of car did you drive?

I would sometimes persuade my dad to hand over the keys to our 1969 Buick LeSabre, a white whale of a car that actually had a built-up gas pedal. The only way I (and my dad… both shorties) could drive the behemoth.

4. Friday nights where did ya go?

Mostly to the drive-in movies to see double feature cheap scare and schlock movies. We’d cram several cars full of like-minded individuals and caravan to the Skyline Drive-In or the more down-rent 340 Drive-In and mill about around the cars and make fun of the movies. Blackula, The Corpse-Grinders, and The Undertaker and His Pals were among the favorites I remember. Sometimes we would collect crap from our basements (and/or steal flags off the local golf course) and use the detritus to dress up a half-sized, fig-leaf embellished statue of David that stood at the entrance to a local apartment complex. One of our “dress David” efforts even made it into the local newspaper!

5. Were you a party animal?

No. I was pretty innocent, all told.

6. Were you in band, orchestra, or choir?

I was in Concert Choir, the elite touring choir. You had to audition for it. Membership could be politically motivated, as the principal’s daughter was tapped for the choir as a rising sophomore (the youngest you could be), and she couldn’t sing worth shit. Most of us had at least a bit of talent, though. I was a second soprano—not the first chair either. I was a competent chorister, but not a soloist, by any means—something that carried over into my years playing and singing in bands. The females wore evening dresses and the males wore tuxes, and we gave concerts around the state. A year or so after I graduated, Concert Choir started performing in New York City once a year—but I think that has stopped after there was a scandal with the conductor and some students.

7. Were you a nerd?

Well, kinda. I was a wannabe hippie chick with a quirky streak. My friends and I didn’t really fit any stereotypes, except that we were all kind of oddballs. We started a group called “Young Fools on the Go,” and we amused ourselves accordingly. We knew we’d never be “popular,” but that didn’t mean we couldn’t have fun or belong to a social network. Here is a picture of some of the Young Fools:

Back row, L-R: Barb and her then-beau Rob; Middle row, LR: yours truly, Lee (aka, G.W.), Chibby (aka, Susan), Ginanne, and Jeanne; Front row: Laura. As you can see, we were a compromised but fun-loving bunch!

8. Did you get suspended/expelled?

Oh no. Never. I was a good girl.

9. Can you sing the fight song?

I don’t think we had one, although we did have a school song to which I still recall the words:

In the hills of old Virginia,
The lovely Shenandoah,
There’s a school that looms supremely.
Each year I love it more.
The sky is bright with the sunshine;
The spirit of love is there.
There’s truth and faith and courage
And friends who do and dare.

Dear Waynesboro High School,
As time goes on,
We’ll e’er be faithful
Daughters and sons.
We’ll float your colors
Only where there’s right.
We’ll keep your standard
Spotless and bright.

There was a cheer that was sung at football games and such, but I don’t think it qualifies as a “fight song”:

Little Giants are the best!
Are the best of all the rest!
Little Giants are the best!
La-di-dah, la-di-dah, la-di-dah.

The name of our team was The Little Giants, as you can probably tell.

10. Who were your favorite teachers?

Michael Hamp was my English Lit teacher, and he was great. I also loved Mr. Zimmerman (or Mr. Z, as we called him), who was the choir director. He had directed my church choir when I was in elementary school, and he had been the director of all the choirs and choruses in which I’d sung since 7th grade.

11. Where did you sit during lunch?

We had a “Senior Lounge” beneath the stage in the auditorium, and I used to sneak over to Mick or Mack (the grocery store across the street—we were not supposed to leave school grounds, but hey) and buy something to eat and some Dr. Pepper to drink and then hang out in the “lounge.”

12.What was your school's full name?

Waynesboro High School.

13. School mascot?

I don’t think we had one. But then, there's this guy:

14. Did you go to Prom?

No, but I did go to Finals Dance, which was an uber-prom for seniors and their dates only. Women had to wear white gowns. Since nobody asked me, I asked a fellow YFOTG member who was about three years younger than me. It was kind of lame, really. I look at the picture now and wonder what I was thinking, using the ribbons I cut off the end of the dress (to hem it—me being a shorty and all) as little bows in my hair. Yikes.

15. If you could go back and do it over, would you?


16. What do you remember most about graduation?

It was really hot, and I was sweltering in the gown.

17. What was your fave class?

Concert Choir. English Lit a close second.

18. Where were you on senior skip day?

I actually don’t recall a senior skip day. Uh oh.

19. Did you have a job your senior year?

No. I ended up working at Burger King (and later doing inventory at General Electric) the summer after I graduated, though.

20. Where did you go most often for lunch?

See above… Mick or Mack.

21. Have you gained weight since then?

Sadly, yes. I’ve been on a yo-yo since then. At my 10th reunion, I weighed 20 pounds less than I weighed when I graduated, and no one recognized me. That was gratifying. But at the latest reunion… feh. Dumpy and middle aged. I’m trying to work on the dumpy part right now. Can't really do much about the middle aged thing, though!

22. What did you do after graduation?

Went to the all-night party, first at the YMCA and then at the Wayne Theater, for a double-bill of cheesy scare movies.

23. When did you graduate?

June, 1973.

24. Who was your Senior prom date?

Bruce Taylor. Well, he was my Finals Dance date.

25. Are you going to your 10 year reunion?

I went… see #21 above. I also attended the 20th, the 25th, and the 33rd (don’t ask).

26. What was your favorite thing to eat at lunch?

I liked the rotisserie or the fried chicken at Mick or Mack. In the school cafeteria, I liked the open-faced grilled cheese sandwiches. They were always kind of bubbly and almost burned. Yummy!

27. Who was your boy/girlfriend?

I didn’t have one, although I had some severe crushes on Robbie Robertson and Chris Sandquist. They were friendly to me, but popular, so there was no way they were going to see me as date-worthy. Sigh.

28. What was your favorite memory your senior year?

Making our own 8 mm scare movies at the abandoned Claudius Crozet railroad tunnel through Afton Mountain.

Great fun.

And inner tubing down the Maury River through Goshen Pass.

29. Did you like how you looked in your senior picture?

No. Ick.

30. How have you changed since high school?

I’m a lot more confident, although I look back on the whole YFOTG thing, and I’m impressed at how we all embraced our status as oddballs rather than trying to suppress it and fit in with mundane popular kids who wouldn’t have given us the time of day for our efforts. I’m glad I learned early to trust and follow my instincts and not follow the pack. It’s served me well.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

House on the Rock, Part the Seventh

Once you've left the Circus Room with its plethora of Baranger Motions, you proceed into the Galleries, which House on the Rock literature describes as a "collection of collections."

First up, weapons. There are guns and guns and more guns, as well as this charming implement of mayhem:

The weapons are followed by the "Oriental Collection," the bulk of which are Chinese ivory and cork sculptures, porcelain, and a host of skeery, skeery marionettes. Trust me on this--nightmare fodder:

Then there is the armor collection, which includes--among your standard-issue suits standing at attention--tableaux of a medieval battle

(note the mood lighting!) and of Hannibal crossing the Alps.

The Galleries also feature a collection of replicated Crown Jewels of Britain and a scale model of Buckingham Palace. Oh yeah. and another tableau of a Samurai battle.

And then--steel yourself, dear reader--the Galleries give way to the

Doll Carousel Room. Where there is not one, but TWO carousels filled with dead-eyed, staring dolls.

Catwalk ramps take you in a spiral around the larger of the hellish whirligigs, where you can be sufficiently chilled by scenes such as this:

And this:

The second carousel is smaller, and sports, in general, smaller dolls. But it's pretty creepy in its own right, what with its bevy of soiled nudie beauties adorning its upper tiers.

This visit, Jeff and I stood and pondered these dirty girls a while, it dawning on us that perhaps the dust wasn't simply due to an overwhelmed and understaffed cleaning crew, but that it might have been an actual aesthetic choice of Mr. Jordan's or of the current management. And that's just, well, ewww.

Hanging on the walls and ceiling of the Doll Carousel Room are row upon row of carousel horses.

All those horses that AREN'T on the "World's Largest Carousel" are here, surrounding the creepy, staring, dead-eye dolls.

Including the four horsemen of the apocalypse! Name them all!

Alas, your tour is nearing its end. At this point, depending on how fast or how slowly you walk, as well as how much you have stopped to ogle along the way, you've been winding your way through the House on the Rock and its attendant displays for three to four-plus hours. You're pretty much ready for a rest and a chance to buy tzotzkes. But before you go, the tour leads you back into the Carousel Room on an upper level where you can get an aerial view of the whirling carousel. And where more strange statuary reminds you that this place is about as bizarre as they come.

Before the recent expansion scheme, the tour used to spit visitors out smack dab into the gift store, and maybe that will be the case again once the construction is complete. For now, though, you will have to wend your way to a courtyard and follow inscrutable signs

to find the t-shirts and postcards and pens and souvenir books. Alas! We did not see any of the CDs of the music machines for sale as they had been on previous visits. Perhaps since the management has gone to the trouble of tuning them up (well, as best they can), they plan to re-record them? Ah, but I have all four of them already! Ha ha HAH!

And so, weary and bleary-eyed from wonder, you stumble back to your car and head off into the rolling hills of Wisconsin's Wyoming Valley. But you will always carry visions of House on the Rock with you.

The mysterious snake charmer of Moon over Mankoora:

The brass chime-players that grace the Mikado:

And all the other weird-ass stuff House on the Rock throws at the unsuspecting tourist:

Y'all come back now, y'hear?

Odds are, you will.

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