Archives for category: Family

42435050_2093293160760111_4630001528504057856_nThis morning I gave the eulogy at my father’s funeral. It was the most difficult task I have ever undertaken. I was unprepared. I was in shock. And the one man I knew I could always turn to for steady advice, cool counsel and sharp insight– that man was my subject.

This morning I gave the eulogy for my father. This is my tribute to the most influential man in my life– forty-eight years summarized into barely eleven hundred words.

It is not enough. It will never be enough. And yet it must be. This is my what I said in church this morning in front of hundreds of our grieving friends and family.

I don’t want to be here.

I want to be somewhere else. I want to be with Dad.

I want to be cold– and tired. I want to feel blisters popping on my toe. I want to hear the whir of chainrings rush past my ear. I want to be above timberline. I want Dad to encourage me one more time. “It’s all downhill from here.” All the while he’s looking over me toward the treeless peak far above my head.

We could be anywhere else. Someplace evocative! We could be on our way over Music Pass. Phantom Terrace. Mount Massive. Old Monarch Road. I want to be bouncing around the Jeep onto the back side of the Sand Dunes. I want to try once more to dam Medano Creek with sand and look for arrowheads.

I want to hear the winds howling down the San Luis Valley and look on in wonder as it shreds our campsite to pieces.

I don’t want to be here. I want to be with him.


Let me tell you about my Dad.

My Dad is an explorer. He takes me exploring everywhere. Mountains and canyons and rivers and lakes and sea shores.

When the destination is a bit further away, a bit of a logistical nightmare, we go by book. He opens a novel and he and I travel to a new world. A world of pirates with peg legs. A world of castaways. We pilgrimage to Mecca. We go to Mars. We go on adventures with his friends across the river in Missouri. Do you know Tom and Huck? We go everywhere. Anywhere.

And when I got to a certain age, an age when I had absolutely determined the exact locations of everywhere cool–. When I foolishly decided Dad can’t know anywhere cool. You may know that moment yourselves. That wise old age of, oh, let’s say six. Or was it twelve? Or twenty-one. Or forty.

At that moment I resolved to find my own destinations (thank you very much). My own evocative locations. Why not? If Dad can do it, so can I.

I think a proper eulogy should contain some parables, right? A myth or two? A heroic legend? An epic, told by a poet. Let’s go.

I am remembering a cold February evening in Berlin. I am deciding to take the U-Bahn to the end of the line and walk across the bridge to Potsdam. I am disembarking the train and walking down the road. It’s dark. Snow is falling. The air smells of coal fires. I stop. I pick up a fragment of concrete– a shard of the Berlin Wall.

I am continuing on to the bridge. I am imagining myself involved in some clandestine prisoner exchange with East German Stasi agents.

Close your eyes. Close your eyes as you stand on the Glienicke Bridge. See a tall, dignified man emerging out of the snow from the other side. You recognize him as he points to the Wall fragment.

My Dad is a student of history. Listen. Listen as this man, my Dad, describes the weight of the piece of history you hold in your hand. What shaped it. What broke it. How you came to hold it. Listen. Listen in this cold quiet. The snowfall swallows all other sounds. Listen and you can hear him. He is right here.

Listen as he explains the complexities of war– both hot and cold. The intricate web of incremental choices. Some are small and seem insignificant. They become powerful when he sums them together. Some are dramatic. Bold, decisive actions taken by just a few. He teaches you patience. It takes time to expose the truths of history. He teaches you understanding. He teaches you to listen. He shows you the enormous complexities of the world.

He is right here.


My Dad is a storyteller. I’m trying to be that for him– to be his raconteur. It’s an impossible task. To summarize a man’s life into minutes. I’m trying to be Homer. Or Plutarch. Or Herodotus. I’m trying to demonstrate some aptitude for his laconic speech. It’s an impossible task. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Here. Here are a few anecdotes about arguments with Dad. They could have occurred some evening on the back patio, or at the kitchen table or on the shore of a tarn at timberline in the Sangre de Cristos. We are arguing. We are having some ridiculous argument. He and I.

Which is the most representative form of American music? Dad says “bluegrass”. Me. I say, “the blues”. I lose. (This one I remember. It happened at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago.)

We argue for an age-appropriate curfew. I lose. (Maybe that was parental privilege.)

Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton? It doesn’t matter. I have this argument twice. I defend each side. I lose. Both times.

My Dad is a musician. I’ve already told you about the first round of arguments about music. Blues vs. bluegrass. Let me tell you about the rematch.

This should be good. I’m confident about this one. I’m older now. I’ve seen some things. I’ve been to a concert or two. This one I’ve got. I go into it wanting to quote King Leonidas’ response to Xerxes at the Battle of Thermopylae (Yeah, wonder who first told me that one?). I want to declare “Molon labe“. Come and take.

Dad chooses the Beatles as the finest rock band of all time. He picks Rubber Soul as his exhibit. I choose Led Zeppelin. Physical Graffiti. I think maybe he was spotting me some points by avoiding Sergeant Pepper. I still lose. Demolished. Trounced. No contest. Dad admits a little grin behind that ever-present moustache. It’s as close as he ever gets to gloating.

After all, it was Dad’s voice that guided me to rhetoric. He showed me the power of argument. How to support statements with evidence. Deductive reasoning. Nuance. Subtlety. Flavor.

In the end he instructs me to, “Say what you mean. Mean what you say.”

I want to lose the next one. I want to have the next one.


Through all of this my Dad is teaching me about failure. All of these methods: rhetorical combat, climbing insurmountable mountains, racing on the velodrome and hiking across untamed wilderness. Through all of this he’s teaching me what is important about failure. Failure, he says, does not matter nearly as much as what comes after. Get up. Try again. Learn. Adapt. Adjust. Overcome. Surmount.

And because of him, we do.

This is my Dad. You know that already. I know you know that. You’re here.

Dad emboldened you.

Dad defended you.

Dad challenged you.

Dad guided you.

Dad supported you.

Dad championed you.

Dad made you a better you.

Dad loved you.

This. This is how Dad loved you.

 

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20525197_10212296097789056_6161385892751995455_nWhirl and I spent this past weekend celebrating a milestone: twenty years of marriage. That hardly seems real and at the same time I cannot imagine my life without it being real.

To celebrate, we traveled with our friends to Indianapolis for Gen Con, the best four days in gaming. Games have been a huge part of our lives– both separately and together. We fell in love playing games together. It felt appropriate to mark this anniversary with four days filled with games. Board games. Card games. Role-playing games. Puzzle games. Tabletop games. Games, games and more games.

It was wonderful.

Highlights included a romantic dinner for two at St. Elmo Steak House on Wednesday night. I reconnected with one of my college roommates and slipped back into a game of D&D with him as if it were nearly thirty years ago. We reconnected with our Best Man and Maid of Honor and their two children. We survived True Dungeon!

Did I mention all the games? There were a lot of games. We didn’t sleep much. We played. We played a lot.

I think play just may be the secret to happiness.

Go. Go play.

Elgin Tower Coal FurnaceWhirl and I had our 15th wedding anniversary this week on Thursday. As we were talking about what we might want to do to celebrate, the logistics of a mid-week anniversary complicated things. So we put off making a decision until the day was upon us. Whereupon we put it off again. “Let’s do something this weekend.”

And now it’s Saturday and we still don’t have anything planned. We’d tossed a few ideas around. Go out to dinner somewhere, go to a show, or a concert or a movie. (I remember at one point earlier in the year we’d talked about going to Lollapalooza for our anniversary, but tickets sold out before we could get our acts together.)

“What about Elgin?” Whirl suggested.

Elgin.

Now hold on a minute. Don’t give up on me just yet. You see, Elgin isn’t quite as bad an idea as it might appear on first look. When we took stock of ways we’ve commemorated our anniversary in the past, we realized we have had similar celebrations before. In 2005, the year I got hurt, we spent our anniversary in Springfield, Illinois. Another year we rented a car and headed generally north. We ended up spending the weekend in Cedarburg, Wisconsin and attended the Oazukee County Fair. A couple years before that we took a similar trip to Michigan– although that trip was in a Mustang convertible. And there’s always the year I was laid off on our anniversary and no new job lined up, so we spent the entire day away from the job search at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Several years we’ve just spent the day together the two of us exploring some part of the city– often somewhere along the lakefront.

Okay, maybe Elgin is still a bad idea. But it’s not an uncharacteristic idea. Not for us, anyway. And why I argue that it’s not a bad choice is because all of those other simple days together were really very fun. We have a lot of fun together when we do these simple things. We just hang out and see where the day takes us.

So today we took the Metra Milwaukee District West out to the end of the line in Elgin. Whirl wanted me to see the Elgin Tower where she had visited a possible nest site two years ago. But beyond that we didn’t have much in the way of plans. We didn’t need them.

Historic Downtown ElginWe took the 12:30 from Union Station and arrived in Elgin at 1:45. On the way out we’d picked out a couple of other things that would be worth exploring. There’s a downtown historic district and also a historic residential district with a number of Sears kit homes still extant. A walking tour along the Fox River– and if all else failed there’s the Grand Victoria Casino that I was pretty sure would be happy to take our money.

We never made it to the casino. We didn’t want to. Our first stop was the 15-story art deco Elgin Tower Building, originally the Home Banks Building, built in 1929 shortly before the stock market crash that led to the Great Depression. Other than the assistant building manager we were the only ones there. He gave us a tour of several of the floors. On the twelfth floor we saw one of the peregrine falcons from the 2011 visit streak away off to the north. He excitedly showed us the Internet cafe now converted into the ETC Speakeasy in the newly renovated technology center inside the building. Our guide pointed out the new chairs, books and tables in the library before offering up my favorite moment: the active coal furnace in the basement.

Nothing quite says happy anniversary like riding a manual control elevator into the darkened basement of a 85-year old building to see a coal furnace.

We emerged unscathed, thanked our makeshift guide and headed out. Where we ran across the second surprise of the day an arts festival in historic downtown Elgin, Art & Soul on the Fox. Over 80 artists, and live music ran for several blocks in the downtown area. So we took our time and explored the various booths and stalls until we got hungry.

Elgin Historic HomeOur third pleasant surprise was Al’s Cafe. Right in the middle of the arts festival with lots of outdoor seating, delicious burgers, delicious beer and delicious homemade ice cream malts. I know this because I tried all three. In fact I was filled with nostalgia, given the time of year and the availability of Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel. This was a favorite summertime beer of mine when I lived in Tübingen. Historically, I have not had much luck finding it Stateside. Al’s Cafe had it. So I had it. And it was good.

Whirl picked up a fused Falcon Ridge lodi zinfindel wine bottle from Patricia Donnelly as a memento before we continued on our walking tour of the town. In another bit of serendipity, it turned out that Donnelly was an interested reader of Whirl’s Peregrine Falcon Journal. This came out when they discussed Whirl’s choice of bottles and talked about seeing one of the pair on the tower earlier that afternoon.

Afterwards, we took in some of the historic homes, learned about the floods and a bit of the history of Elgin. You may be aware of the Elgin Watch Company, a a major US watch maker from 1864 until its closure in 1968. But something you probably weren’t aware of– and certainly one of the more interesting stories I’ve ever heard– is the freshwater pearl rush in Elgin in the early 1900s. At a time when the average daily wage was $2, a typical pearl taken from the clams in the Fox river were going for $25. And exceptional specimens might demand $100 to $150.

Maybe not the most exciting adventure, but it was a day full of a number of unexpected and pleasant little surprises. I got to spend it with my best friend, and we came home lightly sunburned and happy. And really, that’s what’s important, isn’t it?

What's That!?

Before a couple weeks ago I’d never been to Lake Tahoe. To be honest, I’d never really known much about it. I hadn’t given it much thought at all, even after hearing the stories over the years from Whirl and her family. That’s all changed. I can happily state I am a fan of this spectacular place.

The trip was a family reunion. Everyone came from all over the West Coast– and the two of us from the Third Coast– to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary of Aunt Cynthia and Uncle Dennis. Twenty-three of us all together. Three generations. We spent a week there, at a rental property just outside Squaw Valley and down the road from Truckee. The site was no coincidence. Dennis grew up in Tahoe. He met Cynthia there. The two of them were married in a little church in Squaw Valley. Most of the family, at one point or another, has lived in the area for a time. And everyone– except me– had been there before.

I was the newcomer.

Arc of the Covenant

Which was fun to be. I got to see everything for the first time. Everything about the place was new to me. Certainly parts of it were familiar in a general way to my own experiences in Colorado, but this was someplace new. And nothing I’ve ever experienced can compare to the lake.

I swam in the lake– a little over a mile and a half in 56-degree water. The sun was shining and I’d brought along my wetsuit for just this occasion. It was exhilarating. We swam in the Truckee river, as well. We climbed all over the Squaw Valley ski resort. We went fishing. We cooked giant feasts for everyone for dinner. Played games of all sorts: from dominoes to euchre to Scrabble to ones that were made up on the spot.

Dennis 2One of the most interesting things was just listening to Dennis talk about his life there. Dennis is a builder, as were his father and grandfather. I talked with him at length about the various construction jobs he worked on in the area. From working on the construction of the dam at Stampede Reservoir to the rush of development that accompanied the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley and a number of homes along the north and west shores of the lake. I felt like I was visiting his giant backyard.

We took our photography gear with us and tried to capture some of the emotion and character of the place and the family.

It really was a great trip, with wonderful people to a beautiful place. Just what a summer vacation should be, I think.

Whirl had her birthday at the beginning of this month. Along with that particular event came “All The Unpleasantness” regarding gall stone attacks. So I wanted to do something fun for her for her birthday. While I was walking north up State Street one afternoon late last month, I noticed the name Ricky Gervais on the marquee of the Chicago Theater. He was planning three nights of stand-up in Chicago for the first time in his career. I said to myself, “Self, that sounds like a birthday present, it does.”

I stop by the box office, get my pick of seats, and in three minutes the deal is done. All without the obligation to contend with Ticketmaster “convenience” charges. (They keep using that word. I don’t think it means what they think it means.)

I first learned about Ricky Gervais nearly six years ago while working with Midway’s London office. The NBC television series “The Office” was set to premiere and my British colleagues were quick to disabuse me of the notion that this was original material. They quickly educated me about the original BBC version of the show and when later in 2005 while working in London and Newcastle I had an opportunity to catch a few episodes on borrowed DVDs. Whirl and I have watched all of the original BBC and the ongoing American versions of “The Office” series. We thoroughly enjoyed the short-lived HBO series “Extras” and his first standup tour recorded for HBO, “Out of England”. But we had never seen him perform live. He’d never come to Chicago to perform before last night.

Gervais’ show at the Chicago Theater was fantastic. I felt there was an air of authenticity to the show that broke through the perception of performance. And that’s not an easy task given the nature of the room. The Chicago Theater is an ornate space, one that reinforces with every turn and detail that the audience is here to be entertained. To see a show. But I never felt like Gervais was putting on a show. It just seemed like he was telling funny stories. Cringe-worthy, outrageously funny stories. Maybe it was because he occasionally broke up this structure to discuss the very nature of comedy, or to explain that there was a particular exclusivity to what we were seeing. After all, he was testing new material and would throw out the “shit bits” that didn’t work. We’d be the only ones to ever get to see that part of the act.

John Dugan posted an excellent review of last night’s show for Time Out Chicago. Chris Jones posted another for the Chicago Tribune.

They’re planning to film the performances tonight and tomorrow night. And when we spoke with the ushers before the show last night, the second two shows are nearly sold out. But if you get an opportunity to come down and see him, do. If you cannot, listen to the “Ricky Gervais Guide to The English” at The Guardian.

On photography note, the promotional art for the tour was shot by Dirk Rees in April 2009 for an article for Shortlist magazine. It was retouched by The Operators. The red cross on Gervais’ face is for St. George’s Day. I think it is a fantastic, inspirational portrait.

Through the GardenIt is time to introduce another installment of the Gingerbread Project. For more than ten years, Spencer, Templar, Whirl and I have gotten together around the holidays to build some sort of creation out of gingerbread. Previous constructions include a model of the Field Museum, “Gummi Bear Castle Under Siege from Marshmallow Men”, the pod race from The Phantom Menace, “The House of the Atomic Duck”, “Velociraptors Escaping the Zoo”, and numerous other whimsies and mistakes. As you may have gleaned from the titles, our reverence for the Christmas holiday often takes a backseat to a more insidious form of gallows humor.

This year’s project is entitled “A House Under Construction”. Spencer and Templar have spent much of the calendar year suffering under a series of home improvement projects conducted on their new house in the Oak Park. Some of the projects were necessary for the sake of livability; some were more accurately classified as design changes based on personal desires. All of them involved a disruption to the daily routine, contractors, dust and the associated discontent that comes with living under construction.

We wanted to reflect some of that condition with our gingerbread house this year. Spencer took up the role of general architect. She designed a two story floor plan with one wall cut away to reveal interior scenes. The original design included two matching round turrets atop the structure. This element revised down to a single square turret after our attempts at baking a gingerbread tube suffered multiple catastrophic structural failures.

Comic Mischief 2Hill oversaw the inclusion of several elements of “comic mischief”. At one point he installed a gummi bear boxing ring in the second story, had other gummi bears stuck entering or exiting various windows of the house, and included at least one gummi bear plummeting to his demise upon a pile of bricks. As he generously explained to me, “it’s not funny if it does not include some element of pain.” Spencer and I rescued the falling worker with some Twizzler-rope and a team of gummi bears to belay.

Whirl took it upon herself to develop the small details. She outfitted the gingerbread house’s kitchen and bathroom. The kitchen included counters and tables based on IKEA designs. The bathroom included a functional toilet. Whirl was even kind enough to provide an indisposed gummi worker with reading material while he went about his business.

Danaan and Hill also worked on the house’s garden. The garden included reindeer, a Christmas tree, banana trees and a stone fence. Hill later added a team of gummi gardeners and a squad of gummi hunters attracted by the promise of an easy reindeer hunt in the garden. The gardeners hoped to provide sufficient deterrent with their rakes and shovels.

Through Danaan's EyesWe incorporated several elements to illustrate the state of being actively under construction. I used marshmallows to represent a brick facade, leaving one side of the house incomplete and piling the marshmallow bricks nearby for completion. Whirl created a stack of lumber out of thin gingerbread pieces. Teams of workers and foremen swarm the construction site, although several are occupied by the marauding alligator trying to get into the house through a first story window.

This year’s project is smaller than the Field Museum from last year, but it still took the six of us about four hours to complete. It measures a little more than eighteen inches wide by about 30 inches long by about 30 inches high at the top of the turret. And like all of the projects, it will remain at the Perry’s house and serve as decoration, snack and dessert for the next couple weeks. The candy usually goes first, and then the gingerbread. Sacrifices to the spirit of Christmas sugar.

Rainforest Butterfly 2Vacation this fall consisted of a trip to northern California. Many of Whirl‘s family members live in the area. We stayed in Oakland with Whirl‘s cousin, Ani. Nancy and Ray drove from southwestern Colorado to spend the week, staying with Nancy‘s sister Cynthia in Berkeley. Aside from getting together with family — something that does not happen as often as it once did for either Whirl or me — the trip’s other objective was the retrieval of Whirl’s possessions left behind when she moved to Chicago almost fifteen years ago. When Whirl moved to Chicago she packed up everything she could into a few big suitcases and we boarded a plane. Everything else ended up in a storage shed outside Santa Rosa. Where it waited, patiently, for us to return someday and move it with us. This was the mid-90s. Now it’s almost 2010, and we still haven’t retrieved it.

So, with the storage facility prices growing regularly, the service level declining by equal measure, and the value of the items in the shed potentially diminishing due to pest infestation, flooding, theft or any number of other variables we decided to finally clean out the storage shed, rid ourselves of a regular bill and finally bring those things of value back to Chicago. It is our home after all.

Ani and StephanieOpening the shed was something like opening a time capsule. Books, collectibles, clothes from the 80s — including a whole wardrobe of bridesmaid dresses Whirl wore for nearly a dozen weddings throughout the late 80s and early 90s. In short order, Nancy, Ray, Whirl, Cynthia and I separated items we wished to keep from those we could do without. The former we packed up and shipped to Chicago. The latter we threw in the back of Ani’s pickup truck and drove to the Santa Rosa Goodwill.

The trip included a lot of games, laughter and visits. Besides the trip to Santa Rosa, we headed across the rickety Bay Bridge into San Francisco for the day to visit the de Young Museum and the Academy of Sciences.

We took a couple cameras to document the opening of the storage shed, and I got some portraits of the family and our trip into San Francisco.

In the end we shipped sixteen fifty-pound boxes back to Chicago, almost entirely full of books — including some rare first editions — and thousands of comic books. The post office worker was bemusedly surprised when we showed up with the shipment. The packages will take up to two weeks to make it across the country, but after fifteen years, another two weeks isn’t really significant. Making our house more of a home is.

CoolThe well-worn idiom reads necessity is the mother of invention. Last week the central air conditioning unit for our loft finally konked out. The system had been installed thirty years ago with the original 1979 conversion of the commercial building into residential use. Ours is the last of the original A/C units on the roof. And up until last week, it still worked rather well. It was noisy, and sometimes cantankerous. It usually needed a mild servicing call in the spring each year. But it functioned. It cooled the loft effectively.

Our only real trouble with it came in 2005. The A/C blower mechanism decided it was going to leak sporadically over the top of our bathroom that spring. Whirl — already taxed with taking care of me after the brain injury — spent considerable amount of time and energy maintaining the house and managing the leaks until we finally found the cause and corrected it. An archaic drainage system had clogged up and would overflow from time to time depending on the humidity. That was the catalyst to start our planning to replace it. We put a new A/C system in our budget and started socking money away. Our intent was to upgrade the entire system in 2009 or whenever the unit died. Whichever came first. As it turns out the deadlines came due at almost the same time. Almost.

We just wish the unit had hung in there for two more weeks.

Rather than pay to repair the old unit only to replace it a few weeks later, we decided to build our own air conditioning unit on the cheap based of some plans originally attributed to some college students in Calgary.

Tools and ComponentsTools and Components : Styrofoam Cooler (1), Box Fan (1), Copper Tubing (3/16 inch; 50 feet), Zip Ties (60), Aquarium Pump (1), Aquarium Tubing (20 feet), Mini Tubing Cutter (1), Scissors (1)

Rigging the Tubing 3Rigging the Tubing : We began by positioning the coil of copper tubing on the front of the box fan. We aquired 50 feet of 3/16ths inch tubing and took advantage of the grid-like guard that existed on the front of the fan to anchor the tubing. We used zip ties on the cross-hatches, beginning on the outside edge and methodically spiraled toward the center.

Cutting the TubingCutting the Tubing : We could have planned a tighter spiral that left us with less leftover tubing. However we decided to cut the excess with the mini tube cutter and leave it off. We connected the aquarium tubing to the ends of the copper spiral with the feed starting at the outside edge and the return from the other end of the spiral.

Imagine Cool Air HereTrimming the Zip Ties : I liked the look of the the forest of zip ties. It gave the whole design some motion. However the noise of the box fan was already considerable. When the flapping of the free zip ties was added to that, it was too much. We quickly cut down all the zip ties.

Filling the TankFilling the Tank : The experiment attracted the attention of our two cats. At several moments throughout the project I felt like they were our foremen, directing our efforts. We submerged the aquarium pump in the water and connected it up to the vinyl leads to prove out the entire closed system.

Ice!Adding Ice : The pump is not particularly powerful, but given enough time it was able to provide a constant — if somewhat weak — flow from the water reservoir through the copper spiral and back to the return. The last step of the process was to get that water cold. We added a lot of ice to chill the water as much as we could.

Completed A/C UnitSuccess! : Turning on the fan and the pump yields a small but refreshing breeze of of chilled air. It does not replace our failed A/C unit but it does provide significantly cooler air than what comes off of our unmodified control fan. A more powerful water pump would propel the cold water through the copper tubing faster and provide for more effective overall cooling.

The complete gallery of photographs includes a few more images than what I’ve included here. The unit is not pretty. It will not cool down the big expanse of the loft, but it was a fun experiment and cost about $50 in parts altogether. And more than half of that total was spent on the tubing.

Illinois Canyon 8This past weekend Whirl and I celebrated our eleventh anniversary at Starved Rock State Park outside Utica, Illinois. I have been to Starved Rock several times but I had not been back to the park since college and I don’t recall ever spending the night there. We stayed in the historic lodge (a lodge that is currently celebrating its 70th anniversary) and spent much of our time on the park trails exploring. We took the opportunity to haul a bunch of our photography gear with us and I am quite pleased with the results of having done so. (Even if my back is a little annoyed with me for asking it to lug that stuff up and down the canyons).

We had mostly great weather — comfortable temperatures and lots of sun — for most of our stay. Saturday afternoon was rainy and we stayed indoors after a leisurely morning exploration of Illinois Canyon at the far east end of the park. The rest of the time we tromped around the trails unencumbered by computers or cell phones or other people. It was a great opportunity for us to just spend time with each other doing something we both enjoy. And doing it together.

The Lodge was bustling with activity. At least three weddings, and two major family reunions happened while we were there. One of the women working the front desk remarked that they were booked solid through the end of September and had been steadily busy most of the summer.

American White Pelican Pod

As far as wildlife, we were far too late to see the famous Bald Eagles that winter above the Lock and Dam on the Illinois River. But we did see plenty of other animals. Dozens of Great Blue Herons, scores of Double-crested Cormorants, rough-winged swallows, chipping sparrows, wild turkeys, an Egret, deer (complete with a spotted yearling fawn), blue birds, Indigo Buntings, blue-gray gnatcatchers, and what we’re pretty sure was a muskrat swimming along the riverbank. Perhaps the most surprising sighting for me were these huge pods of American White Pelicans traveling west down the Illinois River. On Sunday we perched on Eagle Overlook above the Lock and Dam and watched as pod after pod flew by in formation. Most of the groupings were ten to twenty birds in size, with the largest grouping number well over fifty birds. Over the course of a couple hours we must have seen two hundred pelicans flying west along the river. Spiders, dragonflies and damselflies were out in force feeding on mosquitoes. The spiders provided particularly intriguing opportunities for macro photography.

If you’ve never been to Starved Rock State Park, I highly recommend visiting. It is a wonderful little oasis in the middle of the state.

Marley & Me, John Grogan John Gordon writes that Marley & Me is a story about his life and love with the world’s worst dog. I disagree. My family had dogs as pets all the time I was growing up. We had good dogs and bad dogs. Smart dogs and dumb dogs. My parents still have dogs. I sometimes tease my mother that when I went away to college she replaced me with a dog. I’ve grown up with pets as part of the family. When I moved to Chicago most of the places were I rented apartments had fairly draconian rules against dogs. That suited me fairly well, as I believe that having a yard is a prerequisite to having a dog. No yard, no dog. I know people without yards make it work with dogs. There’s a woman with a loft in Printer’s Row who has two Great Danes. I often see her walking them around the neighborhood. Anyway, my pets in Chicago have been cats. Quirky, wonderful, sneaky, loving cats. I don’t mean this as a slight on dogs or people who like dogs. I like dogs, too. A lot. This is all rambling pretext of no particular relationship to this book– other than to add that Mom read this book a while back and suggested it to me with the warning that she cried through the last several hours of it. Because really, I don’t think this is a story about a misbehaved dog so much as it is a story about the value of animals in our lives. And that transcends any species or breed.