Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year's Eve 2013

This angel candle will be lighting my way safely into 2014. I'll be at home tonight, drinking a bottle of wine, eating something yummy and watching film noir classics. May your New Year's Eve be safe and yummy, too.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Holidaze 12/30/13

These two ginger Barbies are all dressed up to hit the New Year's Eve parties tomorrow night--though, from the looks of their hair, they've been partying pretty hard already.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Friday, December 27, 2013

Vanishing Chicago: The Lincoln Restaurant

I was a sickly kid.

I spent much of much of my childhood in and out of hospitals with various ailments: Chronic tonsilitis, eventually leading to a tonsilectomy; a kidney infection that landed me in hospital for nearly three weeks; a viral infection that caused me to have internal bleeding and stuck me in St. Elizabeth's Hospital (the same institution where I was born) on New Year's Eve (grape juice at midnight, yum!); persistent migraines; a broken right wrist and a 2" gash in my left foot, necessitating stitches and walking with crutches for two weeks.

As a result of these illnesses and injuries, I spent a lot of time in my family doctor's office, which was in a small professional building at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and Irving Park Road.

My family doctor was a real-life version of Marcus Welby--a kindly, silver-haired man went the extra mile for his patients and always visited me in the hospital, even though the doctors there were taking good care of me. (We even shared the same birthday--May 4.) When Mom and I went to visit him, I might have been scared of what might be wrong with me, but I was never scared of him.

Even so, his office was nowhere near where we lived, and sometimes the appointments were late in the day (after I'd finished school and/or Mom had gotten home from her shift at the plastics factory). That meant either waiting until we got home from the doctor's office to eat dinner--which, given that we did not have a car and would have to submit ourselves to the none-too-tender mercies of the CTA, could be eight or nine o'clock--or we could walk around the corner from the doctor's office and go to the Lincoln for dinner.

The Lincoln Restaurant, like so many places and things in our city (streets, neighborhoods, parks, etc.), bears the name and likeness of the 16th President of the United States, and the interior of the restaurant was decked out in an appropriate Civil War theme. The food, though, was standard diner fare. I can't remember how many times Mom and I ate there. It might have been just once; it might have been a hundred times. (Memory has a funny way of either creating reality that was not real or of obliterating reality that was.)

I know we went there at least the one time--I had the meatloaf sandwich, served open-faced with mashed potatoes and gravy. And I know that meatloaf made me feel better, regardless of what was wrong with me that particular day. (Like I said, I was sick a lot, so it could have been any one of a dozen things.)

Flash forward a couple of decades or so. Both the original La Casa del Terror and its nearby successor lie within long walking distance of the Lincoln, so I would occasionally pop by and have dinner there. Did the meatloaf taste the same as what I remember from those sick days long ago? No. Nothing ever tastes that good, really. But was it good nonetheless? Yes, it was, especially since, as a now-all-grown-up person, I could have a Samuel Adams with it if I wanted to.

With the sweet, though, comes the bitter, like meetings and dinners best forgotten more for the circumstances surrounding them than for the venue or its food. I know. That's just how life is. Doesn't mean I have to like it.

Just as I didn't like this news: The Lincoln Restaurant is closing.

Details are vague, seemingly because the owner (who is apparently retiring) doesn't want to talk about it. His right, of course, and I'll not intrude any more than to say this:

I'll miss you, Lincoln Restaurant. Thanks for the meatloaf.

Holidaze 12/27/13

Thursday, December 26, 2013

On Christmas Day

Olivia thoroughly enjoyed the box from the Brita pitcher Mom gave me for Christmas, though she enjoyed having her photo taken considerably less.

Holidaze 12/26/13

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holidaze 12/24/13

It wouldn't be the Holidaze without an appearance from Angelique.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Christmas Cups

As regular readers may or may not have noticed, I own a fairly wide variety of holiday-themed coffee mugs--a fair number for Halloween and even a couple for Easter, but the overwhelming majority of them tie back to Christmas.

I try to give each one a spin during the holiday season, but it's not always easy to do so, since I don't drink coffee or tea at home much anymore (only on weekends or days off, and usually only on Sundays). It's been especially challenging this year, since the holiday season has been so much shorter than usual--just 35 days from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day.

Even with that compressed time frame, there are some traditions that must be observed--from putting up Grandma's Christmas tree to putting Angelique on display to finding spots for Rudy and Peppermint Kitty to hang out for the season.

And there is one more tradition I observe--the Christmas Cups.

The Christmas Cups are not like the other cups mentioned above. They are not remotely holiday themed. No snowflakes flutter across its glazed surface. No reindeer frolic. No Santas or snowmen smile back at you. No poinsettias or cardinals or angels aglow with heavenly light adorn it.

They are small, fragile, simple things Made in Japan sometime in the front half of the last century, with pink (maybe faded magenta) designs on it. Designs of Japanese houses, fishermen, streams, trees, hills. Each has a matching saucer.

And both cup and saucers have been in my family for decades.

Whenever we went to Grandma's little cottage on McLean Avenue, I drank coffee and tea out of this cup. After she died, Mom took all the china and silverware to our house and stored them in the basement. (Most of it is still down there, unmoved and untouched in the two decades plus since Grandma died.) When I moved into my own place, Mom let me have my pick of Grandma's china. I chose two of those Japanese cups and saucers.

During my move into the original La Casa del Terror, a friend told me that those cups were likely made with lead in either the clay for the china or the paint for the design. Either way, it wouldn't be safe to use those cups on a regular basis, especially since they all had chips and/or cracks--certainly not daily, nor even weekly. Once in a while, though, would be fine.

Thus, they became the Christmas Cups.

Confession: I sometimes use them at other times of the year--never, however, more than two or three times a year, and always, always on Christmas Day.

I took the two cups and saucers (instead of just one each) with the notion that someday, I'd have someone to drink coffee with (and not just on Christmas morning)--a girlfriend, a wife, maybe a young'un or two. Hell, even the occasional "friend with benefits."

Never happened. Scattered dates, occasional snogging and even more occasional sex (as in "I can remember exactly the last time I got some--because it's been that long"), in all this time, no one's lips have touched these cups but mine. And, at this point, no one else is likely to.

Come Christmas morning, though, I'll likely scramble some eggs with sausage, cheese and Serrano peppers thrown in--I'd call it an omelette, but I lack the pan-flipping coordination to make anything that pretty-- brew a pot of Eight O'Clock French Roast, fill one of those cups to damn near overflowing (the other cup will have to wait until next time, probably next Christmas) and watch a few holiday movies, Grandma's tree in the window behind me, Olivia curled up within arm's reach (never a lap kitty, she) and decorations here and there.

The warmth of the day, all swirling in one small, fragile, simple cup. For the sake of the day, it will be enough.

Holidaze 12/20/13

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Holidaze: Daley Plaza

After work last night, I tarried in Daley Plaza for a few minutes. It's where the official Chicago Christmas tree stands, along with Christkindlmarket, the faux Bavarian village where one can buy glass ornaments, hats and scarves, sausages and beverages to warm the innards on a cold December evening.
This year's tree--donated, per the cost-saving measure of the past few years, by a suburban family--is nice and full, and the lights and ornaments enhance the fullness.
This life-sized nutcracker has been guarding one of the ornament houses year after year; his twin guards the other side of the doorway.
While wandering through one of the ornament houses, I found these. Not making this up--"Horny Christmasgirl." Seriously.
After leaving the ornament house, I found that it had started snowing lightly on the Plaza, adding to the festive holiday atmosphere.

Every Picture Tells a Story 12/17/13

On the Way Home Last Night 12/16/13

Holidaze 12/17/13

Monday, December 16, 2013

Grandma's Christmas Tree

As I've mentioned before more than once, I annually struggle with whether or not to decorate La Casa del Terror for Christmas. Some years, I go all out, with trees and lights and ornaments galore. Other years, everything stays in the closet--not a Santa or reindeer or angel in sight.

Most years, though, fall somewhere in between--modest decorations, with something glowing in the center window of the living room. And that "something" is usually Grandma's Christmas tree.

I know I've told this story before, but here's the condensed version: When Grandma passed away,I inherited the small, lighted plastic pine that she used to display in the living room window of her cottage on McLean Avenue every December until she had to move to a nursing home--and then it stood on her bedside table during the holiday season.

It's an easy thing to put up, really--the lights are permanently affixed to the tree, and most of the ornaments are attached by twist ties. Even the ones on hooks usually hang on when the tree is in storage; those that don't just fall to the bottom of the bag.

The ornaments themselves are an eclectic mix of the traditional glass balls and the mini-figures Hallmark (amongst others) manufacture just for tiny trees like this. I've collected quite a few such ornaments over the years--ceramic snowflakes, wee snowmen, even a miniature Catwoman--from a variety of sources (Hallmark stores, eBay, Uncle Fun, etc.)

This year, was able to add a good many more thanks to my local resale shop, which likes to bundle small holiday-themed items together in plastic bags and sell them in groups. Thus, I was able to add a bunch of "new" ornaments to Grandma's Christmas tree this year, including a pewter carousel horse and a gold-plated cat (which nicely complements the gold-plated reindeer that already dangles there).

Of course, the old issues remain. How much time and/or energy do I have to light the tree during the week, given my often-insane work schedule? Not much. Who is going to see the tree aside from me? Aside from those who happens to notice it as they wander past my window, hardly anyone.

Does any of that matter? Not really. The tree makes me smile whenever I get the chance to light it. And in the midst of another holiday season, I'll take all the smiles I can get.

Holidaze 12/16/13

Have you ever wondered how Santa Claus gets into houses and apartments that don't have chimneys? He has a key. That can open any lock anywhere.

Yeah, that's a little creepy.

This Week's Travel Reading (Holidaze Edition)

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Winter Wonderland

Yesterday, Chicago had a decent snow--4" in the city, with larger amounts (up to 8") south and east. It was a wet, heavy snow that stuck to damn near everything (people included) and made walking a chore.

The sidewalk in front of Walgreens was shoveled and salted.
The Kedzie Brown Line platform? Not so much.

On the Way to Work This Morning 12/15/13

Holidaze 12/15/13

Yesterday's Breakfast