Archives for category: Family

South Entrance DetailOne of our traditions is to build gingerbread houses with Spencer and Templar sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We started doing this probably ten or eleven years ago, while Spencer and Templar were attending graduate school and before Hill or Danaan were born.

The first year we each built our own construction. I constructed the John Hancock Building. Whirl built a jail scene from rural Louisiana. Spencer succeeded at a traditional gingerbread house, and Templar added a giant “atomic duck” to Spence’s backyard. The next year we decided on a combined project: a big gingerbread castle. Spencer was in charge of all the Disneyesque fantasy themes while Whirl, Templar and I subverted it with candy-on-candy warfare. We deployed a gummi bear army to defend Gingerbread Castle and rallied a huge band of marauding barbarian marshmallow men to assault it. The castle grounds were covered in candy-gore. We cut gummi bears in half and dripped red food coloring over the icing for blood. We constructed small siege engines and then smashed them. It was deliciously gorey. This set the tone for the project from then on. A somewhat coordinated effort using the combined creativity of the group, limited by the construction properties of gingerbread and the availability of particular cookie cutters.

The third year we built a zoo — but not your ordinary zoo this one came complete with a Jurassic Park-styled velociraptor pen. Of course in our version of the zoo the velociraptors escaped and began eating the hapless gummi bear zookeepers. We had giant gummi worms, and gnostic bears worshiping a mysterious coyote-god. In 1999, we included our friends Viv and Rio in on the fun and built a Star Wars: Phantom Menace inspired gingerbread pod race. (Templar built a Sarlacc Pit to go with it.)

For several years the gingerbread tradition languished when Spencer, Templar and Hill moved to Philadelphia. We got together for Thanksgiving in 2004 in Philadelphia and reprized the tradition in an abbreviated form, building a Gingerbread Race Track for Hill and his Hot Wheels.

Peregrine Falcons 2This year we got back into the full swing of things and built the Gingerbread Field Museum. While we considered adding some horrorshow elements to the construction, we generally kept things on an even keel, and did our best to try and represent the museum in gingerbread. We included elements of well-known exhibits like Sue, the lions of Tsavo, the hall of gems and Bushman the Gorilla. Whirl meticulously fashioned a pair of peregrine falcons out of jelly beans and installed them on frieze above the south entrance.

We are not particularly reverent with our portrayals. Spencer has pictures from several of the years projects, but most of them were shot on film. We talked about scanning them in sometime and including them online. If she can find them.

This year’s was big. It took the six of us — four adults and two children — about six hours to complete. It measures a little more than three feet wide by two feet deep by about a foot high. Both Spencer and I took pictures before, during and after the construction.

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.

ChildhoodI’m trying to remember my first encounter with photography in any form other than being the subject of my parents’ all-seeing eyes. My dad enjoyed taking pictures of me as I grew up. He would shoot both slide and print film. Not unlike the experiences of many people, my childhood included a number of moments captured on film for all eternity. Some are sweet: my sister and me standing among the aspen as the leaves turned color in the fall. Some are embarrassing: naked, two years old and pudgy, collapsing a plastic swimming pool. Many are memorable in that classic sense, quiet captures of being in a certain place at a certain time. In all of this I was aware of the camera only as I was the subject.

I think the moment of realization that a mechanism to photography existed came later. The understanding that my dad had learned this method came to me when as a young boy as I looked at a picture he had taken at night in Washington D.C. I cannot recall the exact subject of the photograph– I suspect the primary subject was one of the monuments or famous buildings from the capital. I want to say it was a wide shot along side the mall with the Washington Monument off to one side. But what I remember clearly was that it contained a streetscape. Bright streaks raced along the pavement where the cars should have been. But there were no cars. There were only these streaks of light. I asked dad about the picture. He told me how he took it. I thought he was a magician. He took a picture and made all the cars disappear. Obviously the cars had gotten zapped by these streaks and now were gone!

Dad patiently explained to me how he composed the shot. He had taken a long, multi-second exposure and what I was seeing was the glow of tail lights as the cars moved through the frame. The entire lesson went right over my head at the time. What stuck with me was this idea that a photograph was an object in its own right. Up until that point I had thought that photographs were just ways to record what something else looked like: a secondary thing of no real importance. But the taillights proved otherwise. I knew the cars had been driving by when dad took the picture. But they were not in the picture. They disappeared. I knew taillights were not a hundred yards long, but they were in the picture. They went all the way down the mall to the monument.

I wanted to learn how to do this. I wanted to know how it worked. And with childish intensity I continued to pester my dad until he relented and began to reveal the secrets to me.

1965 Nikkormat FTDad’s 35mm Nikkormat FT was one of the first real cameras I ever used. Dad had bought it when he was in college. He took it with him everywhere. Backpacking in Colorado, canoe trips in Indiana, bicycle trips around Lake Michigan. Dad used this camera to capture the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon and the top of Long’s Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. He hauled it up to the top of Mt. Elbert and through the backwoods of the Minnesota Boundary Waters Wilderness Area. When I was fourteen, Dad gave me this camera. Although in all honesty I suspect it was a loan that I never paid back.

Read the rest of this entry »

MillipedeWhirl has worked at the Field Museum for ten years. She’s worked for a number of departments and divisions in that time doing a wide array of different jobs. We have joked that she seems to be collecting various divisions as a twelve year-old boy might collect baseball cards and have gone so far with the joke as to tell it to several of her current and former supervisors. But one thing she has not done in all of those years work at the Field Museum is to attend Members Night.

Members Nights are the museum’s annual Open House. Individuals who have agreed to become members of the museum get an opportunity to enter the collections and research areas typically off-limits to day-to-day visitors. What I quickly learned after Whirl began working at the museum is that only a small percentage of what The Field Museum is involved in is visible to the typical visitor on the floor. The Field Museum is a working research institution, not just a collection of dusty artifacts from long ago civilizations and exotic lands. Hundreds of scientists associated with the museum perform primary research in Anthropology, Botany, Geology, and Zoology. Members Nights are the museum’s way of inviting interested people behind the scenes to explore that vital aspect of the institution.

Horn from the MarquesasThis year, Whirl’s boss invited her to represent the Insects Division for the Zoology department. She had never done this before and so she attended for a short while on Wednesday night to get an idea of what to expect. On Thursday I went with her to explore on my own and to take a few photographs of her department and the other departments presenting exhibits at the museum.

Some highlights of this year included the preparation of a cheetah for display, newly received artifacts from the Marquesas islands, and hissing cockroach races. I also learned that fluorite is the state mineral for Illinois.

It is often that when Whirl and I talk about our work it seems like we are speaking entirely different languages to one another. The chance to see the museum in the same light that she does– if only for a few hours– was a treat.

Stephanie on the Ferris WheelMy sister, Stephanie—not to be confused with my child bride of the same name—arrived in Chicago on Friday evening as I was flying back from Pittsburgh. (Yes, I passed the exams, thank you for asking. Aced them, in fact.) She stayed with us for the weekend and flew back out to Colorado this afternoon. It was just her; she did not bring her daughters with her.

Saturday morning we went to breakfast at Orange and then we went to Grant Park. We walked along the lake to Navy Pier. We toured the stained glass exhibit at the end of the pier, rode the Ferris Wheel and took in the Cirque Shanghai Bai Xi performance. Whirl left us for a bit to run back home and do some things about the house. So I took my sister up to American Girl Place at Water Tower. — Stephanie and all her daughters have American Girl dolls I learned this weekend. I’d never been to the store, but I knew where it was. Now I’ve been. And I know more about American Girl than I ever wanted to know. This week has been rather educational for me with regards to “what children want”. Still, we had a good time. Stephanie picked out some things for her girls and I played amateur sociologist.

Saturday night we went to Buddy Guy’s for dinner and some live blues. Between sets Whirl and Stephanie transformed themselves into epic pool players. Just ask them. They’ll tell you how epic they were at the tables. Go on. Ask.

Read the rest of this entry »

I am tempted to start this entry with a quote from Agent J from Men In Black II. “Old and busted; new hotness.” I know that phrase fails to capture either the tone or the facts of the latest change in my life. Still, I like the humor in it. It makes me smile. In the simplest terms I have resigned from my position at Midway Games and accepted a new position at the Chicago Tribune.

Those of you who know me may have realized there had been changes in direction for me just based on the recent books I have been reading. I know those hints do little to address the inevitable question as to why I left Midway. I am afraid that is going to remain private. I will not upbraid Midway or the people that worked there with me. This will have to do: the most concise answer is that I was not happy. When I combined that fact with several failed attempts to decrease my dissatisfaction the outlook grew dim. So I left.

I have come to accept my own sentimentality. And I admit that the idea of working for a newspaper is something I have thought about doing for a long time. My very first job was for a newspaper: I was a paper boy for five years. Perhaps I have come full circle. I cannot say in good conscience that I anticipated working in this particular aspect of the newspaper—running the networks that glue it together. Still, I am working for the paper. And that feels good. At the end of the new employee orientation program, they invited us into the front page meeting. Where the editors for the various sections of the paper sat down and went over their various possibilities to run on the front page of the paper.

That experience galvanized me: I had made the right decision. This is a place I could enjoy working. I have only been here a couple days and I am quite optimistic that it will be many more.

It seems strange to be writing about love and Las Vegas at the same time. I can reconcile the ideas of lost love with Las Vegas, or betrayed love, or love of money. I can reconcile thoughts of lust, greed and gluttony– even wrath, sloth, pride and envy. But love? That just does not seem to fit quite right.

Maybe that contradiction served as a reason for the Cirque du Soleil to stage their tribute to the Beatles in Las Vegas. In reflection, it may have been a contributing factor in my decision to see that show rather than one of the hundreds of other opportunities.

Read the rest of this entry »

Q and Me Enjoying the SunDeath, fear, tragedy—these are indisputable elements of life. I know that. The rational, reasonable side of me knows that. I accept these facts. In time, I accept these facts. I wanted to believe that I had been given a reprieve after last year. A reprieve for a short while, at least.

Yesterday afternoon Whirl and I put Equus down. Something happened around 2:00 am, Monday morning. He woke up as he often does and hopped off the bed. Whirl also got up and went to check on him— a move done more out of habit than any particular concern. She discovered him to be terrified, seemingly bewildered. Like he had been spooked by something. She made him comfortable in the bathroom and got him some water and woke me up to let me know she suspected something was wrong with Q. Whirl was right.

I got up and joined her. As soon as I had, Q suffered the first of what would be three violent grand mal seizures within the hour’s time it took us to get him to the emergency vet. The veterinarians did a comprehensive battery of blood tests and urinalysis. They took x-ray pictures. They could find no obvious causes: no infections or hormonal imbalances, nothing wrong with any of his major organs. They kept him for a few hours – until our regular vet opened—and we carefully transferred Q back close to home.

He never recovered. — He had lost his eyesight immediately preceding the first seizure. He would not respond to light or movement of any kind. He lost his balance. He was unable to stand. He lost coordination. We believe he lost most of his hearing. Always a vocal cat, he uncharacteristically made not a sound. He just was not there. Nor was he ever going to be there. Treatment was going to involve either MRIs and exploratory brain surgery or phenobarbital. I’ve been through the hell of the former. The latter would have likely wrecked his already fairly delicate liver. Both avenues promised very little chance of meaningful recovery.

The likeliest cause is trauma—a stroke or possibly a tumor.

Read the rest of this entry »

My grandfather died on Friday. He was ninety years old. My uncle Larry wrote in the Peoria Star-Journal:

Born November 22nd, 1915 in rural Yates City, Illinois to Winfield and Till “Tillie” Ware he married Helen Louise Pullen on August 29th, 1941 in Peoria. He was preceded in death by his wife, Helen, a sister, Mildred, and one daughter, Mary Helen. He worked at R.G. Letourneau (later WABCO) as a machinist from 1940 to 1979. He served in the United States Navy from 1945 to 1946. He enjoyed hunting, traveling and reading but most of all his dear friends and family.

Whirl and I spent much of this past week in Peoria with my family. We attended the wake, the funeral and the internment. I last visited Grandpa shortly before my injury when Whirl and I helped to prepare his home for sale following Grandma’s death.

I spoke at Grandma’s funeral. I wanted to speak at Grandpa’s. I could not rouse myself to do it. My dad, my uncles, my cousin Jackie—they spoke clearly and eloquently. I slipped into a quiet, simmering ire. As a boy I feared Grandpa. Tall and stern, he held you to a high level of expectation. He held those expectations in such a way that you instinctively did not want to disappoint him. You knew to do so would be wrong. As I grew up, I grew to know Grandpa. Fear matured into respect.

Grandpa combined quiet stoicism, hard work and self-discipline with the unwavering moral virtue of living for the sake of others—the venerable patriarch of our family. I love him very much. I will not forget the lessons his life—and now his death—have taught me.

I have been thinking about death. In the past year death has taken on a prominent place in front of me. This winter Whirl saw her cousin die of brain cancer. I had my own confrontation with death at the same time. Last night Whirl and I put Elijah down.

We first noticed changes in his behavior a couple weeks ago. This disease moved quite swiftly— mercilessly. The final lab results came in yesterday afternoon and showed that Elijah was suffering from a highly aggressive carcinoma in his gut. He had considerable interior bleeding, blood in his urine, and several large cysts on his liver. He would not have survived surgical treatment, and chemotherapy would probably have killed him faster than the disease. As of yesterday, he had stopped eating entirely—although he really has not been eating or keeping much down for the past ten days.

I do not want to be overly maudlin or angry in telling you this. It was tough—is tough. When we went to see him last night, he was alert and very affectionate. He had his loud purr going. He looked better. He seemed better— until I touched him and saw the distended belly. Until I felt the bones of his spine. Until I witnessed the weakness that was all through his body.

I miss him. I was with him until he died and then stayed for a long, cumbersome time after, to remove his bandages and to say goodbye. To say thank you. Just a few months ago he helped me. He stayed with me and watched over me while I struggled to get back on my own feet. He has been with us for ten years. Only weeks after Whirl moved to Chicago we adopted Elijah and his brother from the Harmony House for Cats. These two cats have been an extraordinary part of our family. We have nursed him when he was sick or injured; we played with him when his fickle, feline demeanor permitted us to. He loved to curl up next to me on the couch.

Elijah will be cremated. Whirl and I will spread the remains in the garden just to the south of our building.

I miss him so very much.

August 30, 2005 at 7pm, Elijah passed, almost 10 years to the day from when we first brought he and his brother home from Harmony House. I write this the day after as a way to find some solace from my unimaginable grief and to pay tribute to our beautiful Mr. Grey, our Elijah Lee.

In late January of this year, I went to Bellingham, Washington to be at the side of my cousin Tim who was dying of a brain tumor. He died February 13, 2005. The second day I was there, I got the most unbelievably terrifying and shocking call of my life. Sean, who was back in Chicago, had been in an accident and I needed to get home as fast as I possibly could. I did. Sean was in a coma for 9 days and over the next months made a hard but absolutely miraculous recovery from a traumatic brain injury. On this day, he is, as he says, 98% back and I feel inexpressible gratitude and love towards him for working as hard as he did to come back. I can’t imagine life without Sean. He means everything to me.

A large part of his healing was support of his family and friends. A large part was the unconditional, inexhaustible love he got from our two cats, especially Elijah.

When Sean came home from the hospital not actually sure of where we were going or what ‘home’ looked like, Elijah and Equus were at the door. They saw him and both started ‘talking’ and purring and rubbing him. For the next particularly hard several weeks, when Sean basically couldn’t get out of bed because of the intense pain in his head, Elijah and Equus quietly laid with him – Q sometimes with me. Elijah simply never left his side. When Sean was at his lowest, I saw him hugging and petting Elijah and actually smiling as Elijah purred and looked him straight in the eyes and laid his paws on his arm. The comfort and help in healing that Sean got can’t be expressed, really.

Read the rest of this entry »