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!

An Angel Watching Over Me

It’s 4th of July weekend again, and to me that means a lot of things. 

Of course, it means the birthday of the USA– which, in all honesty, is the least of my reasons to observe the day. 

It also means my friends and I make our yearly trek to Saugatuck, MI to go camping.

It also (sometimes) means observing the holiday with my family.

And, of course, it also means the anniversary of my dad’s death.

This is the second anniversary of his passing, and while I’m actually a lot less emotional about it than I was last year — it truly does get easier as time goes on — I decided to take at least one day off and spend some time with my mom.  So after work on Wednesday, I went home, packed for my camping trip, loaded up the car, and headed up to Kenosha.

It was dark by the time I hit the road — about 9:00PM.  The skies had looked threatening for most of the evening, but no rain had fallen yet in the Chicago area.  As I made my trip northward, however, I could see that was about to change.  Lightning was flashing up ahead, and I could see the clouds moving quickly toward the east. 

I’ve driven in rainstorms at night many times before, but I was prepared to be extra cautious this time around.  There is a lot of construction on the route to Kenosha, and the cramped quarters are bad enough even in good weather.  Typically, people drive with good sense in such conditions, but there is always some crazy fool who thinks otherwise. 

After I passed through the toll plaza onto the Illinois Tollway, the rain started to fall– first a fine mist, and then hard, huge drops.  Traffic slowed to about 35-40 MPH.  I was in the left hand lane, doing my best to concentrate on the road.

As I approached Six Flags Great America, the rain seemed to subside a bit.  Then in the right lane I saw an impatient vehicle pass quickly through the slower-moving crowd.  I couldn’t see if it was a truck, an SUV or a car; but whatever it was, the vehicle hit a huge puddle as it passed by.  The backlash went skyward, and I could see it quickly approaching me.  There was nowhere for me to go.  I started to pump my breaks to slow down as quickly as I could, but it was too late.  The splash hit me with a massive force and I lost control of the car. 

The car skidded to and fro, and I did my best to turn with the skid, all the while praying that I wouldn’t hit anyone, and nobody would hit me.  Finally the car came out of the skid and hit the median.  Because my car is a manual transmission, the engine cut out since I had probably taken my foot off the clutch. 

I was stopped cold in the left lane of Interstate 94 in a rainstorm. 

As soon as my car stopped moving, I saw another car swerve past me and spin around in front of me.  It was a mid-sized SUV.  I saw the car hit the median hard and bounce to a stop. 

My first instinct was to turn on my hazard lights.  I tried to get my wits about me.  I set the parking brake.  Wrong.  I put the car in neutral.  Right.  All the while I was glancing in my rearview mirror, chanting to myself, “Please don’t let anyone hit me…. Please don’t let anyone hit me… ” over and over again. 

Finally I got my car started again and found a safe path back into traffic.  The car ahead of me started moving forward with its hazard lights on, and I kept mine on as well.  We both drove to the Grand Avenue exit and pulled off to the side of the road. 

The driver got out and came up to my car.  “What happened back there?” she said, shaken.  “I saw the wall of water and then you were stopped in the road!”  I said, “Yeah, the water hit me and I lost control of my car.  I had just come to a stop when I saw you spin around in front of me.  Are you okay?”

“I’m okay,” she said, “but my car isn’t.”  We decided to pull into the nearest gas station to survey the damage. 

When I got out of my car and looked at it, I was shocked.  I expected a crushed fender, maybe a broken headlight, and a busted bumper.  There was hardly a scratch.  The only evidence I could see was a crack in the bumper.  That was it. 

I walked ahead to the other driver.  I could hear right away that her car was damaged, but when I saw it, it was definitely much worse.  It looked as if King Kong had grabbed the front grill and tore it away.  I couldn’t believe it was even running. 

We both went inside the shop and recounted our stories.  We both agreed that we saw the guy speed through the puddle, which washed us both out and caused us to lose control.  We exchanged information in case insurance adjusters needed to corroborate our stories, but we didn’t call the police.  Maybe that was a mistake, but we’ll see what happens.

As I finished my journey to my mom’s house (using back-roads instead of the Interstate), I realized there must have been an angel watching over me to help me get out of that situation alive.  It could have been so much worse. 

I’m not saying the angel was my Dad, but it’s kind of nice to think it could have been him.

Father's Day – The sound of my dad's voice

Another Father’s Day has arrived.  The second since my dad passed on.

I’ve given a lot of thought about how to honor the day on my blog.  It seems that I’ve told just about every possible story and shared countless pictures of him in the past two years.  If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you probably know him pretty well.  

But the one thing I hadn’t included was his voice.

You see, one of the wonderful things about being born when I was born is the advent of so much great technology.  Generations of people lost family members over the years, and subsequently lost the ability to hear their voices or even see their faces again.  As time went on, we had photographs, then home movies, and then even audio recordings.  

When I was born, my parents purchased a portable cassette recorder made by Realistic, the house brand at the time for Radio Shack.  It probably about 10 lbs. heavy and needed an external microphone to record. 

Shortly after we were born, they tried to catch our first words on the recorder; then as we grew up, my mom or my dad would set up the tape recorder and sit with us and have us recite our names, our address, our phone number, and then have us count or say the alphabet, and then sing some songs.

It is on these tapes where I can hear myself counting to ten at the bright young age of two.

It is on these tapes where one can witness my budding interest in music – singing songs like “Top of the World” by the Carpenters and “It’s Such A Good Feeling” from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood with confidence and pretty darn good tonality.  

But it’s also on these tapes where I am reminded of how loving and nurturing my parents were.  

Toward the end of my Dad’s life he became a very bitter and angry person.  These tapes bring me back to the Dad I really knew and remember the most.  They show how proud he was of me when I counted to 10 at almost 2 years old, then counted to 30 at the age of 4.  How he laughed when I said something silly (which was fairly often, especially when I was 4), but was stern when I wouldn’t give my sister her turn at the microphone, telling me that it’s only fair that she have her turn.  

Over the years, some of the tapes had broken, and some of our memories were lost forever.  But fortunately, most of them still survive to this day.  I took them into my possession a few years go and decided to digitally record them on my computer, preserving them forever.  I then burned them onto CDs for me, my mom and my sister.  

So on this Father’s Day, I want to share with you some of my memories.  You don’t have to listen to them if you don’t want to (they’re pretty long – about 20 minutes each), but if you do, you’ll have some sort of idea of what kind of a dad my Dad was.  He was a pretty great guy.  

Thank goodness I can still hear his voice today. 

Me with my Dad and Mom, November 20, 1972

After dinner, Mom and Dad ask me what I want for dessert, then ask me some questions, which I repeat back to them- sometimes repeatedly.  I also explain the contents of my Dad’s wallet, which has forever been a source of comedy and good memories for my family. (For years my nickname was “Wallet” because I always wanted to see my dad’s wallet and look at his credit cards.  Obviously a shopper was born.)  I also count to 10 – at 1 year and 11 months old. 

Me, my sister and my Dad, various dates, approx. 1974 and 1975

This tape has my sister and I sharing the microphone as best we can at various ages.  It seems like my sister is older and more talkative in some spots and younger and less talkative in others. I think my dad recorded over some stuff at some points, too – he was never much good at figuring out the tape recorder – but throughout he is there, coaching us to say things and sing songs. Toward the end, there is a segment with my Mom where she “interviews” us.  I was a pretty silly kid at this point.  To this day I still don’t know what “I am very it” and  “Everybody likes it to be here” mean.

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.