Wisconsin Union Protests 2011

The protesting that has been happening in Wisconsin’s state capital, Madison, has gripped the nation.  I was in Madison this past weekend and made my way to the Capital to see what was going on.  The building was closed, but there were still crowds of people around, chanting, banging drums, and speaking out against the current Governor’s early reign of tyranny.

Below is a link to the set of photos I took.  The crowd was rather light, since I was there on a Friday– but they were just as passionate as ever.

http://rickaiello.smugmug.com/SpecialEvents/Politics/Wisconsin-Union-Protests/16113600_qHBbc

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Feelin' Good!

The past couple of weeks have been a little rough for me.  I fought off bronchitis two weeks ago and this week I feel crappy again -probably due to the changing weather and all the leaves falling off the trees.  Allergies suck, don’t they?

But it’s autumn in Chicago and it’s starting to look and feel beautiful around here.  I love the cooler temps and the bright colors on the trees.  Sadly, I know this gives way to nasty weather ahead– but that’s the price you pay when you live in Chicago, I guess!

This past weekend I visited my mom and my sister and her family came up for a visit.  We went to Jerry Smith Pumpkin Farm in western Kenosha with the twins and had a great time.  The weather was beautiful and the girls seemed to enjoy the sights and sounds… though Abby got cranky with it all pretty quickly.  They’re 8 months old already.  I can’t believe how quickly they’re growing up, and how cute they’re getting!

Afterward we went to my mom’s and the girls played with some toys while we all relaxed a bit.  Watching the girls play and seeing how much they have changed from those little tiny beings I remember seeing earlier this year just amazed me.  They’re developing such distinct personalities – Abby is a bit more fussy but extremely attentive; and Emily is more social and easygoing.  They are both able to sit up on their own and are becoming more independent as each day passes.  It’s so interesting and exciting to see.  

Sometimes I feel a little sad that I may not experience parenthood for myself.  I’m enjoying watching my nieces grow up, but even though they are rather close, I still don’t get to see them all that often.  Even though we are family, we all have our own lives, and we have to invest our time wisely.  But I do feel a part of their lives, and as they grow up, they’ll know me as “Uncle Rick,” and not just some guy who comes around every now and then.  I can’t wait for that to happen.  

Until then, I’m the guy with the camera, following them around all the time.  My sister said she feels somewhat like a celebrity because of all the clicking of the camera wherever they go.  What can I say… I like taking pictures of my family. 🙂  And the end result is worth it. 

So, then, here are some pictures from our weekend together.  Hopefully as Autumn settles in I’ll start to feel better… until then, I have some nice memories to keep me smiling.

Abby meets a calf

Emily meets a big bull!

Well, hello there!

Busy girls

Does this hat make me look cute?

Hi, Emily!

A Tisket A Tasket…

Every so often I notice a recurring theme in my day-to-day life.  The theme seems to involve anything from events that are happening to similar occurrences in the news, or something as simple as things people say at various times over the course of a week.

This past weekend’s recurring theme was baskets.

I’ll let you dirty-minded sorts chuckle on that one for a minute, just to get it out of your system.  Done?  Good.

Because I’m not talking about those kinds of baskets.

In fact, the types of baskets I am referring to are a little more literal than that.  Each held something important, and each represented something special.  Each touched me in a special way, and each had something to do with one another.

The Fruit Basket

Our Homemade Fruit ArrangementThis past weekend was my sister’s baby shower– which itself is an unusual circumstance, seeing as how the twins were born in February.  My mom did most of the work on the party (I helped whenever I could), and one of the things we — well, actually, she — decided to do for the event was to make our own edible fruit arrangement.  I’m sure you’ve seen these – sliced melons and shaped pineapples arranged in a basket or a planter with strawberries and grapes.  They’re visually striking and usually very expensive, so my mom decided we could, and would, make our own.

While it wasn’t technically a basket (we used a ceramic flower pot), the look is that of a huge basket of fruit- therefore it’s one of the baskets of this past weekend.

I have to say, it turned out great.  I’m really proud of what we produced- but in no way do I foresee this being a cottage industry for us.  These suckers are a lot of work to create, and by the time we were done we were both exhausted.  We certainly understand why they are so expensive!

But the end result was worth the effort.

The Broken Basket

My Teddy Bear LampMy Nana (my Dad’s mom) was quite fond of ceramics.  For years she would “Go to Ceramics,” which was a tiny converted home run by a lady she knew.  There she would select a ceramic figure, paint it, glaze it and give it as gifts to members of our family.  Every year for holidays we would get a new figurine created especially by our Nana – assorted dishes, animals, and even Chicago Cubs were created with our names on them and inscribed at the bottom with our name and “Love, Nana.”

Before I was born, she created a lamp for me featuring a white teddy bear sitting in a bed of daisies.  I had this lamp in my bedroom for many years, finally putting it in the basement sometime before I entered high school.

Beth's LampShortly after she was born, my sister got a lamp featuring a figure of a little girl wearing a green dress, holding a doll and a wicker basket.  Her lamp, too, ended up in the basement, and for the past 15 years or so, they both sat on a shelf and collected dust.

I found them over the weekend as we were preparing for the party and decided to clean them up and bring them as a surprise for my sister.  The lamp mechanisms were both in bad shape, but the bases looked to be just fine.  I brought them both upstairs and started cleaning them up.

I started with my sister’s old lamp.  I removed the lamp mechanism, filled the sink with water and placed the lamp base in the water and started scrubbing.  As I cleaned the figure, I noticed a gummy substance coming off the figure.  I quickly realized this was probably glue.  I removed the figure from the water and let it drain before proceeding, but it was too late- the figure came apart in two pieces.

Apparently it had fallen at some point in history, and it had been together using Elmer’s Glue instead of Super Glue.  Great.

I drained out the rest of the water from inside the figure and let it sit to dry.  As it sat, I noticed the basket started to fall away from the girl’s hand.  I hadn’t even realized it was broken, but upon closer inspection, I realized it had not only broken, it had been extensively repaired and made to look like nothing had happened to it.

My dad was a pretty good artist.  He was good with paints, markers, whatever he could get his hands on. He was always creating posters and signs, and drawing pictures and cartoons.  Many times I can recall him repairing broken items with plaster and paints, and when he was done with it you couldn’t even tell anything had happened.

As it turned out, the basket the girl was holding was broken into tiny pieces.  As the pieces came apart in my hands, I realized how much effort my dad had made to repair this basket so it looked like new.  He probably used Elmer’s glue because that’s all he had available at the time — he just wanted to fix this lamp and make it look great for his little girl.

That’s the kind of man my dad was.

I did the best I could to restore his handiwork, but by that point a lot of the pieces had become ragged and the plaster my dad added was soft to the touch.  I reshaped and re-fit the basket as best I could and put it back on the figure.  I then put the top of the figure back on the base and secured it with Scotch tape until it was secure.  It looked okay, but it would need some explanation as to why the basket was so badly broken.

I cleaned the Teddy Bear with Windex and rinsed it under water instead of submerging it– I had learned my lesson.  As far as I knew, my lamp had never broken like that, but I didn’t want to take any chances.  In the end, both of them turned out fine and we brought them both to the party and presented them to my sister for the girls.   Needless to say, she was surprised.  And even though the basket was broken and held together with tape, she got a special gift that she can now pass on to her daughters.  With love, from Nana.

The Food Basket

About a month ago, my mom called me up to tell me about something she wanted to do – a church around the corner from our house was having a food sale – for $30 she can get a full basket of food and for an additional $20 she can get some extra items.  With food prices being so outrageous, and her income being so limited, she took interest in this program, and wondered if I wanted to go in on it with her at all.  One of the “special” items was an assortment of meats, which would come in handy for my camping trip around July 4, so I agreed.  The catch was that we had to pick up the food at the church on Saturday, the day before my sister’s shower.  Seeing as how I was going to be in town anyway, we agreed that wouldn’t be a problem.

At 3PM, Mom and I were deep in the middle of preparing our fruit arrangement, and I had to leave to pick up the food.  I grabbed a few “green” shopping bags and headed over.

I expected a possible crowd, but I didn’t expect the crowd I saw.  There was a line snaking out the door of the church and into the parking lot.  People were there with boxes, bags, carts, and baskets.  As I stood in line, I overheard many people talking.  The family in front of me drove up from Milwaukee.  Another family came from southern Illinois.  All of them spoke of how difficult it was to buy groceries when they are so expensive, and how much this program means to them.  They were hard-working, lower- to middle-class people, who were merely trying to put food on the table for their kids.  I felt guilty standing there, knowing I can afford to feed my single self on my salary.  But I also knew the money went to a good cause, and helped the organization continue to do what it does.

As I went through the line, I watched the other people as they received their food.  They were so thankful and so happy to get these items.  Everyone was friendly and helpful, making sure the elderly got a hand bringing their food to their car, or helping a large family with more boxes for their supplies.  Sure, the quality of the food may not be as good as what you get at Whole Foods or even your typical supermarket — but it is food, and they need it just like anyone else.

When I got home and unpacked the bags, I told my mom we would keep the food in her freezer until we needed it.  She agreed and we went back to creating the fruit arrangement.

But I couldn’t help but think of those families who came from so far just to get a box of food.  It made me wonder why we were doing something that seemed so excessive, so unnecessary.

Three “baskets,” three different stories – but all added up to a pretty special weekend.

Oh, and here is one last “basket” – a baby basket!  Abby and Emily are now just over 4 mos. old and getting cuter by the minute.  Proud Uncle Rick, signing off.

Abby at the shower
Abby

Emily at the shower
Emily

Kitchen Floor – Instant Flashback

Originally uploaded by lauri N lily

It’s amazing the things you sometimes find on the internet.

While working on a project that has a somewhat retro feel, I remembered my mom’s kitchen floor that was laid in about 1975 or so, and stayed there until the mid-90s.  For some reason I found myself inspired to search “70s floor” on Flickr, just to see what I would find.

The second photo that came up was this photo.  This is the pattern that was on my mom’s floor during that time.

Seeing this pattern brings back a lot of great memories for me. I remember when it was laid in, and how new and wonderful it was. One of my favorite things to do was to pretend the little paths between the circles were streets and use them for my Matchbox cars.

We kept this pattern far too long. By the early 90s it was coming up in spots throughout the kitchen and was creating a safety hazard for all of us. In 1994 we replaced it by placing a low-pile blue carpeting over it, and in the early 2000s we replaced it again, this time removing all of the old layers (by then there were three- the carpet, this floor and the original linoleum underneath) and re-did the entire floor with another new carpet.

But this floor holds the most special memories for me. Memories of birthdays and breakfasts. Memories of Christmases and dinners, both formal and informal. Memories of chairs being dragged along its bumpy surface. Memories of echos of laughter and the dishwasher running. Memories of our dog’s toenails clacking across it as he came in from the cold, racing into the living room to play some more.

The power of the senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, touch. It’s amazing how they work to dig up such wonderful memories.

Memorial Daze

Memorial Day never lasts long enough. No sooner than it starts, it’s over.

But thankfully, I got to fit some really fun activities into my beloved three-day weekend.

The big question when this weekend rolls around is always, “What am I going to do?” It’s like planning for a major event for some; for others it’s a welcome time for rest and relaxation.

In Chicago, an obvious solution is to participate in some way in the festivities at the International Mister Leather (IML) event. This event happens every year and draws a very colorful–in dress and in behavior– crowd that is perfect for people-watching as well as participating.

But I didn’t participate in the IML festivities this year. Most of my friends took off for other locales. I didn’t feel like doing the leather thing alone, since I’m not much into the scene to begin with; so I had to make some different plans. I chose a much more leisurely approach to the weekend.

My friend Matt and I both got new cameras in the past year, and we’ve been talking about going on a photo excursion somewhere in the city for a while now. The weather was nice and was looking to stay that way all weekend, so I thought this would be a great time to go on our first excursion.

Needless to say, I am pleased with the results!

Arthur Caldwell Lily Pond Swim, Duck, Swim!
Skyline from Lincoln Park Lagoon Arches
Enter here Pink Crabapple

On Sunday night I headed north to Kenosha to pay mom a visit.

As I went home Monday night, I realized there was one thing we didn’t do– we didn’t visit dad’s grave.

I don’t think we decided to do this consciously. We certainly talked about dad over the weekend, and other relatives who have passed as well.

It seems to me that people pay tribute to those they love in their own ways. I think if Mom could get around better we would have made a point to go to the cemetery; but we chose to remember him in our own way. We certainly don’t love him any less; it just was easier for her to do it this way.

I cut up old branches that had fallen the yard, and cut down some tree saplings that had begun the grow in the flower beds. I went out in back of the garage and picked an enormous bouquet of lily of the valley and plucked a few sprigs of lilacs and put them in vases on the table so she can enjoy them. I brought up her laundry, I changed light bulbs and did other odd jobs around the house that she couldn’t do for herself.

And we cooked and talked and laughed and just enjoyed each other’s company. In all, it was a really nice visit. I think Dad would have been pleased with that.

Now the week is all messed up. Tuesday should be Monday and Wednesday should be Tuesday. It’ll be like that til Friday- which will come faster than expected, and that’s a good thing. But it was worth it to have that extra day to spend with my mom. I’d gladly take a hundred more of those days than have to work five days in a row! That’s better than any vacation.