Welcome to our web site. For more information about Stephie's art, please also check out artbystephie.com.
For Matt's writing projects, please go to storiesbymatt.net. Enjoy your visit here!


12/28/16: The new job is going well, but the 68 mile round-trip daily commute is a little wearing. At least I have a reliable vehicle, and plenty of podcasts and old-time radio shows to keep my mind off being stuck in traffic. Many people have worse problems.
     I saw an interesting sight outside my office building as I approached today, and I had the presence of mind to get my phone out and take a picture. As I rounded the corner toward the door, I saw this little cutie peeking in the window. I snapped a couple of pictures before she spotted me and took off. The building is sort-of built into a hill, and she ran up the hill, stopping at the top. She looked back at me as if to give me one more chance to take a picture, then bounded off. The picture here is from when I first saw her. If you click on it, you can see the last shot I had of her. I've set that one as the wallpaper of my computer at work.

12/12/16: The nightmare is just about over. After ten months of unemployment, I start a new job today. I'll be in a similar position, but in a completely different industry, so while the job might be the same, the place and the people and the actual work will be all new. The last time I started at a new place where I didn't know anyone was 1991. Wish me luck!


12/08/16: Back when I was a kid, one of my favorite TV shows that I rarely got to see was Thunderbirds. The reason I rarely saw it was that it was on channel 32, and the TV in my room only had VHF channels (yes, they did make 'em like that!) I could only watch Thunderbirds on the family TV, and my pre-teen self was not allowed to touch that one for fear I'd damage it. (One vivid memory of my youth was trying to watch Thunderbirds after my brother found what I recall as the dozen of knobs on the back of the box which controlled the color. Dad was steamed, and was trying to reset the colors to normal while I just wanted to watch my show. I had a flashback to that event when I got to that particular episode on the DVD set.)
     Back then, I had Thunderbirds toys, Thunderbirds model kits, even a Thunderbirds board game that I got one year for St. Nick's day that I couldn't wait to get home from school to play, although I don't remember ever actually playing it. Years later, I got a Thunderbirds game for my Atari ST, the Thunderbirds game for the Game Boy, and, of course, the complete TV series on DVD. I still haven't watched the final episode on the last DVD because once I do, it'll be done and I won't have any more. I even bought the live-action version from 2004, which was not too bad for what it was.
     This all comes to mind because of a YouTube video I saw this morning. I knew of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore well before Moore's Hollywood success, after I picked up a copy of their "comedy" record, Derek and Clive Live, which is one record I made sure I never played when my parents were around. (Probably still wouldn't.) At the time, I was in the market for Monty Python records, and it may have had a sticker on it that indicated that it was more British humor, or I might have heard of Pete and Dud in relation to the other people that the Python guys worked with. In any case it blew my young mind.
     But as funny (and filty) as that record was, I like this clip even more. It seems like some of the best parody sketches on the original Saturday Night Live or SCTV. It looks like there are more Cook and Moore clips on YouTube. I'll have to check them out.


11/29/16: Tonight we watched the last episode of the current season of Longmire on Netflix. I'm just starting to warm up to this streaming model for TV shows (which is hard for me because I have so much content sitting on our DVR) but I still don't like binge-watching. I don't do that when I have a season of a show I like on DVD, either. I always like to enjoy a show for as long as possible because when it's done, it's done, so I rather space out my watching. The episodes were released back in late-September, and it's a miracle that I kept Stephie from watching them all in one shot. (Or maybe she did that when I wasn't around.)
     Overall it was a good season. Maybe not up to the previous ones, as this lawsuit against the sheriff is seeming to drag, but we love the characters and the setting. And is it just me, or does Jacob Nighthorse remind anyone else of the "Mac Tonight" guy from the old McDonald's commercials?


11/13/16: I attended the Chicago Book Expo today with a few members of the Tamale Hut Cafe Writers Group. We had a great time, as we did in previous years, and I even managed to sell a couple of books! Thanks to Sean, Marianne, and Steve for spending the day with me.
     We were again on the first floor with the rest of the vendors (and the crowds) but this year more people showed up, not having to fight through the after-effects of a snow storm like we did last year. I sold more books than I did last weekend in Wisconsin, and handed out lots of flyers about my work and about the Tamale Hut, who again sponsored our table. Owing to my year-long unemployment odyssey, my finances were tight so I didn't buy any books for myself, but I did pick up many flyers and cards and plan to purchase a few e-books to try.
      At one point, I found myself promoting my e-books over the physical books I had on the table. I told the potential customers that while I would love for them to buy a paperback from me, what I would really like is for them to read my work, so while I get less money if they buy an e-book, they get an opportunity to see if they like my work. I'm figuring that If they pick up one of my inexpensive novelettes (or, as with my Sleep Detectives stories, read them for free if you have Amazon Prime) and like it, they might then want to spring for a physical book at some point, either from Amazon or from me in person at a future show.
      I don't buy many e-books, primarily because I have such a huge backlog of physical books to read, but there are two instances when I will buy one. One is if the book is only available as an e-book, as many new authors are choosing to do. The other is if I want to see if I like a new (to me) author. For that, e-books are ideal.


11/12/16: I spent an interesting evening in Tinley today, reconnecting with some people that I hadn't seen in 40 years. It started a few months ago, when someone posted my third grade class picture on Facebook. That started a number of conversations, triggered a group to be set up, many friend requests being passed around, and culminated in one of my former classmates opening up her house to anyone who wanted to meet up and catch up.
     I remember grammar school, but not very fondly, for many reasons I don't want to go into. I originally intended not to go, but I was interested enough to keep an eye on the posts. I noticed that girl happened to be in town for the week and was extending her stay so she could go, and one guy, who I saw a few years back at a high school reunion, was actually flying in from Texas to attend. I figured that if he was willing to travel halfway across the country to go, I could make the short drive there.
     The invitation said to bring whatever we wanted to drink and some food to share. I checked Google maps and found that while it would be too far out of the way to go back to the old neighborhood to get a pizza from the local place there, their other location in Burr Ridge was practically on the way, so I called in an order, picked it up and went.
     And you know what? I had a great time. Everyone seemed happy to see me, and they were thrilled when they saw the pizza (which tasted as good as I remembered.) Turns out a few people just couldn't make it, and one or two who said they were going had other things come up at the last minute, but 12 of us were there and it was nice. We laughed, we joked, we told stories of the old neighborhood, of what happened to each of us in the ensuing years, and what happened to the few who passed away. Of the group that was there, all had married (some more than once) but I was the only one who never had kids. Many of our parents are still around, and the ones who are not were remembered fondly. We wound up sitting around a table swapping stories until someone looked at the clock and it was almost 3 A.M. We quickly cleaned up and said our goodbyes. I thought I had it bad that I was scheduled to to the Book Expo at 10 A.M. but one girl had a 7 A.M. flight! I hope she slept on the plane.
     In hindsight, I don't know why I was hesitant about going. As someone pointed out to me while trying to convince me to go, grammar school was a long time ago. We've presumably grown up some since then, and any emotional wounds that we might have inflicted on each other should by now have healed. And as one of the attendees wrote afterwards on Facebook, most of us spent nine years of our lives together in that class. That's a pretty solid shared experience, regardless of how long ago it was. I had a lot of fun, and if they plan another gathering after the holidays, as it seems they might, I'll probably go.


11/05/16: Stephie and I spent the day in Wisconsin, where I had a table at the Southeast Wisconsin Festival of Books at the University of Wisconsin-Waukesha. I had heard about this event the past few years, but this year I was organized enough to reserve a table. We had a great time, but I didn't sell that many books. I was in the Writers Marketplace, which was organized so that most of the attendees would have to pass by our tables to get to the program rooms, but it seemed that most of the people I saw walking by had name tags as fellow attendees to the event. I didn't see too many people who looked to be there to buy books.
     That was a little disappointing, but the weather was beautiful for the drive, the table was not that expensive, and I got to hang out with Stephie all day. Plus, we stopped at Cracker Barrel on the way home, so the day was not a total waste.


10/18/16: My brother Chris is a celebrity in our house (as all of us boys are to our parents) but he's also a celebrity in the world of video games, due to his time spent as Executive Editor of Tips and Tricks magazine. I've obviously know about that for years, but it was still a pleasant surprise to hear him interviewed on a video game-related podcast about the industry and the time he spent covering it as a journalist. He really sounds like he knows what he's talking about! You can check it out at this link. (Chris comes on at the 4:00 mark) During the interview, he talks about the web site where he shares some of the video-game-related flyers, photos and miscellaneous documents that he's accumulated over the years. His site is www.video-game-ephemera.com.


10/14/16: Another picture from one of my walks through the neighborhood. This one is of some Halloween decorations that I saw in a window. It's obviously some window clings from a package, but I've never seen anything like this in the store of I would have bought it for the sheer genius of it. I mean, Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, and the Wolfman are all common faces you might see in a Haloween display, but Bud Abbott and Lou Costello? (Click on the picture for a closer look.)

10/08/16: Today we celebrated the four year anniversary of the writers group that I run at the Tamale Hut Café. Because I think like this, I calculated a few statistics for the group. In four years, we’ve had 48 monthly meetings. We have 58 people on our mailing list. We’ve had 47 different attendees at our meetings, and we have critiqued 324 pieces! Besides myself, we have three members who have attended more than 22 meetings in a row, and except for a few people who only attended one or two meetings, there is only one attendee who has contributed a story to every meeting he attended.
     There were 11 people at today's meeting, so our fourth year is starting strong. We will also be the feature at the next Reading Series night at the THC on Oct. 22, where we will be presenting the results of a group project that we've been working on for the past several months. If anyone is interested in joining, check out our blog site and get yourself on the mailing list. We're having lots of fun.


10/07/16: Stephie and I were on our daily walk at about 9 A.M., piling up the steps on the ol' Fitbit, when we saw this little guy relaxing on someone's lawn. At first I thought it was someone's dog off his leash, but the more we looked, it seemed to us that it was a coyote. After a bit, he got up and walked away and we could clearly see it was a coyote. It's a little sad to see them in an urban area instead of in the woods somewhere, but I guess they have to rest somewhere.


09/30/16: Kisu would have turned 15 today. At least once a day, something reminds me that she's not with us any more. Watching someone walk their dog. Looking behind the furniture and seeing clumps of dog hair. Sitting quietly at my computer and thinking that I see some movement out of the corner of my eye like when she used to come in to see what I was doing.
     Lying in bed, before I drift off to sleep, I imagine I hear tiny footfalls in the apartment somewhere. She was not a large dog, but her passing has left an enormous hole in our lives. I still think about her every day, but more so today. Happy Birthday, pumpkin.


09/21/16: Today, we went shopping at Target. Stephie had two gift cards (one for $50 and one for $7) so rather than go to our usual grocery store, we thought try the Target food section. We picked out some food items, then grabbed some cleaning supplies, and finally a bottle of wine. We hadn't been tallying up the prices, but on our way to the checkout, Stephie looked at the stuff in the cart, trying to gauge the total. We used to try to keep track, just for fun, but today we just threw stuff in the cart. When the total came up on the screen at check-out, the bill was $57.03. How did she do that?


09/04/16: We've been subscribers to Netflix since 2001. Even when they started the streaming service, we stuck with the DVDs by mail, because so few of the movies that I really want to see were available to stream. I've periodically checked, and never more than around 25% of our queue can be seen via streaming. (As of today, according to http://instantwatcher.com, only 6 of the 58 movies in our queue can be streamed.) Plus, I usually like watching the extras that come on the disks, although that's taken a hit in recent years with the disks manufactured specifically for Netflix that don't contain the extras, even though they menu options are still there. That's maddening.
     A few years ago we switched from 3 disks at a time to 2, to save a couple of bucks. We usually only watch one of the DVDs on any particular day, but today, we watched both we had (one my pick and one Stephie's pick) and both were terrific. My pick was When Marnie Was There, an animated film from Studio Ghibli, the people who brought us Spirited Away and one of my all-time favorites, My Neighbor Totoro. It's a beautifully-told story about a young girl spending a summer at a seaside town, and the friendship which develops between her and another girl, who may or may not be a ghost. It's not as "magical" as other Ghibli productions, but it was a great story.
     As much as I liked Marnie, I liked the other film even more. Stephie said she picked The Magic of Belle Isle simply because because Morgan Freeman was in it. Freeman plays an alcoholic writer who moves into a small town and interacts with its residents, most notably the young girl who lives next door, who wants to become a writer. I started smiling shortly after the movie began, and I don't think I stopped until it was over. It is a little corny in spots, and maybe a little predictable, but we loved it. After it finished, I looked it up on the 'net and found that it went straight to video (never a good sign, especially considering the stars and the director, Rob Reiner) and had lousy reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. I don't understand it, because I thought it was funny and charming, and told a terrific story. We highly recommend it. Oh, and it's available for streaming on Netflix! (Sadly, Marnie isn't.)


08/29/16: I am done with allmusic.com. I used to use the site to see what albums a particular artist had released, or to read the band bios or album reviews hosted there. Some of the reviews were not that good, which I guess you could say about any review site, but absent of anything else, they provided some information on what albums were better or worse in an artist's catalog.
     I guess I hadn't been on there in a while, and when I went there to look up something I was presented with a white box on a black screen notifying me that because of my use of an ad blocker, I would not be able to view their content. I had three choices: install some kind of browser extension, turn off my ad blocker, or pay for a subscription. Since I'm currently unemployed and I rarely use the site, a subscription was out of the question. I refuse to install the suggested browser extension, which I suspect will just open my system up to more advertising, so I figured fine, I'll disable my ad blocker.
     Pardon the all caps, but OH MY GOD! The first thing that happened was that the top half of the screen was replaced by an ad. A full half-page ad! I then went to look up the information that I needed and besides the upper-third ad, there were three identical ads on the same page, all shouting at me that I "didn't need a gun if I had this tactical flashlight." I quickly got the information I was looking for, turned my ad blocker back on and deleted the allmusic link from my bookmarks folder.
     I use an ad blocker (and Flashblock as well) not to deprive any web sites from any revenue they may get from ads, but to prevent the type of ads that interfere with what I'm trying to do, which is learn something or be entertained. In my opinion, ads that jump around the screen, expand to move the text I'm trying to read, play videos automatically, or overlay content on the site have no place in my browsing experience. I also object to the bait-and-switch type ads (like outbrain and taboola) that show the same thing over and over and that appear to be news stories but are actually links to an aggregating site with even more ads and may contain a link to the article I might want to read.
     I apologize to sites that have respectful ads and are just trying to make a buck, but you are too few and far between in my experience. Every so often I click on a link which has content that doesn't work right in my current configuration (Facebook videos don't work for me) but I figure that missing out on another cute dog video is a small price to pay for my piece of mind. By the way, if anyone knows of a NFL news aggregator similar to the one Yahoo used to offer, but doesn't REPEATEDLY prompt me to log into their Fantasy Football game, please let me know because I'm on the lookout for one.


08/28/16: The Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series last night was the release party for my latest book, The Sleep Detectives Go to Washington. I wanted to something special, like I did with the radio show last time, so I adapted a chapter or so of the new book as a script and bookended it with an announcer in the style of Frazier Thomas on Family Classics. Well, it's more than just the style. We recorded it so you can hear what I mean. Click over to my writing web site and listen for yourself. Then you can hop over to Amazon to buy the book! It's available in paperback and for your Kindle. And if you read it, please leave me a review on Amazon. The more reviews I have, the more people can find me there and maybe buy a book or two.


08/17/16: Back when my main music listening time consisted of popping a cassette in my car stereo, there were a few tapes I had that tended to say in the player for more than a few plays. I remember listening to Lou Reed's New Sensations album front to back many times in a row when it first came out. Likewise John Fogerty's Centerfield, Tina Turner's Private Dancer, Simon and Garfunkel's Live in Central Park, Little Feat's Waiting for Columbus, and the soundtrack to Rock 'n' Roll High School all benefited from the auto-reverse feature in the car deck, playing the tape over and over for weeks at a time
     The analog to that in these days of mobile devices and MP3 players are albums (because I still think of music in terms of albums) that stay on my player or phone, even as I rotate other music on and off. The foremost example is a 1999 Poi Dog Pondering concert I recorded off of WXRT. That was the first thing I loaded on my Archos Jukebox, as well as on several Nokia Internet Tablets and smartphones, and is still on my current phone as of today. There are also a couple of Captain Beefheart albums that I can't bring myself to delete.
     Lately I've been listening to a couple albums by a band called Love which seemed to have taken up residence on my phone. One is their classic album Forever Changes, which shows up on a number of "greatest albums of all time" lists. But the other is a greatest hits collection called Revisited. I got my copy of Forever Changes on CD a few years ago, but my copy of Revisited is on vinyl. I remember buying it many, many years ago at Rolling Stones, a huge north-side record store. I picked it up because I wanted to hear the original version of "Alone Again Or", a song I really liked as covered by UFO on their Lights Out album. I listened to the album a few times and while I liked the original take on "Alone Again Or", I was not that excited about the rest, and it soon wound up filed in my record collection.
     After I got a copy of Forever Changes, I thought I'd give the Revisited collection another try and found that I really liked most of the songs on there. There's a little late-'60s vibe to the music, but all of it is a little ... odd, I guess is the best way to describe it. Wikipedia says that the band mixed "psychedelia, folk, hard rock, blues, jazz, flamenco and orchestral pop" and it really has a unique sound. I've always had an affinity to late-'60s psychedelic music, and this is firmly in that vein, but there's other stuff going on, like the trumpet solo on "Alone Again Or". I really like it.
     I was listening to it today and the very first track, "My Little Red Book", got me curious. I looked it up on-line, ostensibly to find some of the lyrics that were a little unclear, and discovered that it was a cover and that the song was written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. I went to YouTube to try to find the original version (oddly, the reason I bought this album in the first place) and discovered lots of versions: Manfred Mann (the original), Burt Bacharach with Tony Middleton, The Standells, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, Elvis Costello, Ted Nugent, and Toni Basil (although I wouldn't recommend clicking on that last one.) How odd that a song would be covered so many times, and by such a range of different performers. Check out a few and see what you think.
     And if you're in the mood for another exercise like this, check out YouTube for all the versions of "Alone Again Or". I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, because it is a great song.


08/16/16: Back when I was working, I did not have speakers for my computer. At home, I rarely have my speakers turned on. Since I essentially don't have audio, I don't watch many videos linked in news stories or blog posts. Part of it is also technical, since I run an ad blocker and Flash blocker to avoid things jumping around my screen when on the 'net and that confuses some pages containing videos. But mostly, it's because when I do try to watch a video I'm interested in, I typically have to sit through an ad or two, then a graphical/music introduction, then the reporter or blogger introduces themselves and welcomes me to their video, telling me what they're about to tell me and asking me to subscribe to their channel, all before giving me some information that I could have read in two paragraphs and moved on. Usually when I click on a link on Google News and it turns out that the link takes me to a video without any accompanying text, I just close the window, figuring that I didn't really need that information.
     Another problem is that the video is usually linked to YouTube, and you don't need me to tell you what a time suck that particular site can be. I frequently go to view a video demonstrating a feature of a program I'm using (something that I could easily learn in a few sentences of plain text) and wind up a half-hour later watching clips of exotic animals or people doing stupid things or music videos from the 1980s.
     But as much as I avoid videos, every once in a while I stumble across something that really catches my eye. For instance, I was directed to this video from a link on BoingBoing.net. I was a Hot Wheels fan when I was a kid, so I think that's why it appeals to me so much. I could put this on a loop and watch it all day: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12Coi4_BVL4

07/28/16:
I'm proud of the fact that since I started this site in 2003, only a few months have passed without at least one post. You can see that at the list of monthly links at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes, though, I'm too busy (or too lazy) to write up what I want to say at the time I want to say it, so I make a note of it and write it up later, backdating the post to when I wanted to say it. But sometimes there are other reasons why I don't want to post something on the day it occurs. I'm writing this almost two months late, because I wasn't able to any earlier.
     We lost our beloved Kisu today, a few months shy of her 15th birthday. She'd been having problems for a while, not so much physically but mentally. Her vet described it as doggy dementia or doggy Alzheimer's. I started to write up the details of recent weeks, but you don't need to know any of that. I'd prefer that everyone remembered her as the sweet, friendly dog that everyone knew and loved. I'll simply say that we had an incident this morning that indicated it was time.
     I'd spoken to the vet a few weeks ago when he put her on some new medicine to try to make her comfortable, and at the time he told me that when we felt it was time, I only needed to call the office. This morning I called and made an appointment for the afternoon. Kisu was fine in the car, and behaved perfectly when we brought her out and to the back of the clinic. I like to think that she knew what was coming and was ready for it. The whole process took surprisingly little time to complete, and we were with her the entire way, talking to her and hugging her and loving her. Dr. Palmer and everyone at the Burr Ridge Veterinary Clinic in Darien was terrific as the always have been. They took great care of her throughout her life, and were wonderful for us at the end.
     I've said that the day Cheyenne passed away was the worst day of my life. This was easily the second, only because Cheyenne's passing was so sudden and Kisu had been in decline for a while. We miss her terribly, and while I'm sure we'll adopt another dog eventually, she'll never be replaced in our hearts. Sleep well, pumpkin.


07/15/16: From the time I set my MythTV DVR up until a few years ago, our local Channel 7 was running a package of old black-and-white movies in the early hours of the weekend. I recorded many of the films, and while not all of them were gems, they were an interesting snapshot into the way Hollywood used to work. Before everyone had a TV in their home, there was a constant need for films to show at local movie theaters, and there were a lot of people who (presumably) made a living making films that never won awards and never were on critic's year-end best-of lists. That's the kind of fare that Channel 7 used to show.
     I just watched one such "programmer," as some called them. You Can't Beat Love (1937) was about a playboy lawyer (Preston Foster) who runs for mayor of his town on a dare from the daughter of the incumbent, played by Joan Fontaine, and it was a hoot. I recognized Paul Guilfoyle (not the CSI guy) from the credits, who I'd seen as the Saint's sidekick in a few 1940s movies, among other roles. But at one point, the current chief of police tries to trap the lawyer in a love nest with what I assume was a local floozie, a round-faced blonde doing a weak Mae West impersonation. For a laugh, I looked her up on IMDB, expecting her to have only a few credits and a bio that says she was pigeonholed into those type of parts. You can imagine my surprise when I looked up Barbara Pepper and the banner photo on IMDB was a scene from Green Acres, a favorite of ours, on which she played Doris Ziffel! At the time of this movie, she was 22 and four years into a career which ultimately spanned 36 years, from a few uncredited chorus girl gigs in 1933-4 to an uncredited appearance in the Jerry Lewis feature Hook, Line and Sinker in 1969. Watching her I never would have guessed. (A side note: her Green Acres husband, Hank Patterson, had a similarly lengthy career, from uncredited appearances in a few 1939 westerns to a long stint on Gunsmoke, ending in 1975. While most of his IMDB credits are westerns, he was in the Beginning of the End (1957) which you all remember as the giant grasshoppers attacking Chicago. I recently saw him in an episode of the 87th Precinct TV show from 1961.)


07/04/16: Today's the fourth of July, not one of our favorite holidays. I've had an aversion to fireworks since I was a kid, when my parents were dead set against my brothers and I playing with explosives, no matter how small. I can't see what the problem would be. As I got older, I just saw anything but the best professional fireworks display as a colossal waste of money, and of time needed to clean up the debris afterward. Don't get me started about how fireworks are supposedly illegal in Illinois, yet the people with the biggest illicit fireworks shows seem to be off-duty cops.
     But the real reason why I don't like the holiday these days is the way pets are affected. Cheyenne never really cared for the local explosions, but Kisu was petrified by the smallest pop from blocks away. We would be walking and hear a firecracker in the distance, and she would immediately turn around and head for home, where she would cower somewhere near us for the rest of the day. Even the Thundershirt, which helps out tremendously for thunderstorms, did nothing to calm her down. The last few years we used tranquilizers from the vet to get us through the day.
     But we don't have to worry about that now, with Kisu having lost her hearing earlier this year. The revelers actually started a few days ago, and she doesn't hear anything. She's happily walking down the block as the lunatics on the next block set off firecracker after bottle rocket after what have you. We're sad that she can't hear us any more, but it's a blessing today. Happy Independence Day!


06/26/16: There's something that Kisu has always done that I don't understand. She would walk across a lawn, and for no apparent reason, she will turn her head and dive shoulder-first to the ground, winding up on her back, where she wiggles back and forth in the grass with her legs in the air. I've seen other dogs do as well, and I understand the rolling around on her back, but the diving part escapes me. I've always wondered what triggers it. Is there a certain spot of the lawn that looks more comfortable?
     Now that Kisu's getting older, she's not as spry as when she was younger, so our walks are much shorter. Sometimes we just go once around the house then back in. But she did something today that I'd not seen before. I was taking the garbage out, so I took her with. We walked into the yard, and she paused, then turned her head and did her shoulder dive into the lawn. Then she just lay there. She didn't wiggle. She didn't flip over. She didn't even seem to fuss to get a comfortable spot. She just lay there.
     I saw this and waited a minute for her to get up. When she didn't, I figured she would be good where she was, so I dropped the leash and walked around the garage to put the trash in the can. When I got back, she was still in the exact same position I left her. I got a little worried, so I bent over her, and saw that she was laying there with her eyes open, breathing lightly. She didn't look like she was in any distress. She just wasn't moving.
     I figured she was comfortable, and I really didn't have much to do, so I sat down next to her. I sat and watched her for around ten minutes. She didn't move the whole time. I finally got up and picked up the leash, and when I did she got up as if nothing was wrong. And maybe nothing was. It was just odd.


06/12/16: Last weekend, we hauled out the new tent and set Stephie up at the Graue Mill Fine Art Festival. This weekend, I packed a bunch of my books and flyers in a plastic tote and drove downtown to the Printer's Row Lit Fest. This was the first time I had done this show (we had attended one many years ago) and I have to say it was great fun.
     I'd never really considered going to one of these as an author, mostly because of the cost of getting a table, but I got an e-mail from the Illinois Woman's Press Association, offering a share of a table for much less than an individual table would cost. Stephie and I discussed it and she convinced me to do it. I booked a place under the group's tent, found parking through Spothero and stocked up on books and handouts.
     The weekend was a big success in my mind. I didn't sell as many books as I'd liked, but I sold more than I'd hoped to. I handed out all of the flyers for the two e-book-only novellas, and most of the flyers advertising my novels, and I spoke to a bunch of people.
     My favorite story was from Saturday afternoon. I was set up across from a Mexican restaurant that had outdoor seating. I was just finishing my pitch to a group of people when a man and woman came over and told me they were sitting there sipping their margaritas, listening to my spiel. I apologized for disrupting their meal, but they said they were entertained by me. The woman said, "I told my husband: There's a guy who loves what he does." We chatted for a bit and they bought two books!
     That was exactly the type of response I was going for. I remember several times at recent Windy City Pulp and Paper Conventions when I stopped to talk to one of the authors at their table and wound up buying a book from them, simply because they were so enthusiastic about their works. I'm glad I was able to do the same.


06/05/16: We had problems with our canopy at the last few art shows that Stephie did last year, so even though I'm still looking for a job, we decided to put a little money into the art business and get a professional tent. This year's Graue Mill show was the first event with the new tent, and it's a beauty. Although the new one has the same footprint as the old one, the new one is taller, squarer, and has four walls, so that at the end of the day on Saturday, we just removed all the art and zipped it up! That made it so much easier to set up for Sunday business.
     She also bought mesh side walls which allows her to hang artwork on the sides. With her old standing panels in the back, it makes for a much better display, as you can see in the picture here. My contribution, beyond the physical labor, was to give Stephie a template in Microsoft Publisher (because she's comfortable with that program) which included squares to simulate the two side walls and the back panel, and scaled images of all her artwork. She used it to decide which picture should go where. Then we just printed the layout and used it as a plan to hand the artwork.
     After all these years, I think we're finally getting pretty good at this!


05/31/16: This was an strange Memorial Day. We went to my parent's house to spend the day with family. We started by getting a little take-out, some Chinese food from a place they had never ordered from before. Food was not too bad, but not real good, either. It seemed bland to me, which was a shame because I got the combo chow mein and there was a lot of meat in it, some nice big chunks of chicken, pork, and shrimp. I thought it just needed some spices.
     Afterwards, we hauled out the Scrabble board and sat around the table to play. My family loves Scrabble, but I usually don't play because there are enough other people who seem to enjoy it more than I do. This time, though, I did play, and I couldn't believe my luck when I discovered that when my turn came, I was able to put down "minister" as my first word, using all seven of my tiles and one letter off of Stephie's first word. That gave me such a huge lead that I basically cruised to victory, even though my brother commented (rightly so) that I didn't really have any major words the rest of the game.
     After the game, Stephie and I went home and planned to watch a little TV. We were sitting on the couch when I began to notice my breathing. That may sound odd, but if you think about it, how often do you really notice your breathing? After a while, I seemed that it was becoming a little hard to breathe, like someone was sitting on my chest. I tried to take a few deep breaths, hoping the feeling would pass, but when it didn't, I told Stephie about it and we decided to go to the emergency room. I didn't feel that I couldn't breathe, but I thought that if it got worse, I would rather it happen where I could have someone take a look at me.
     Stephie dropped me off at the ER entrance and went to park the car, which is the opposite of what usually happened when we went there. I used to joke that I took Stephie to the ER so many times that we had our own parking spot. After waiting for a little bit, we got in to see the doctor. After checking my blood work, EKG, and the other vital signs they recorded, he determined that he didn't know what was wrong. His best guess was that it was an allergic reaction to something. We assumed that it was the Chinese food, since that was the only thing new I had eaten all day.
     I started to feel better after he gave me some medicine, and they let me go after another EKG showed my heart was fine. The doctor told me that they used to automatically admit anyone who had symptoms like mine, but the new procedure was to do two EKGs a few hours apart, and as long as they were both normal, they felt it was safe to send the patient home. That meant I didn't have to spend the night, but it did mean that I had to wait a couple of hours for the second EKG to show I was okay, even though I was feeling fine by that point.
     It was well after two A.M. before we got home. We immediately threw out the leftovers that we had brought home. Better safe than sorry.


05/22/16: Back when I was working, I would usually take the same train home. Over that time, I struck up a casual friendship with a guy who lives a couple of blocks from me. We'd talk about whatever to kill time on the ride home. One day, we looked out the window at a stop a couple before ours and saw a bar there, and the bar had a Hamm's sign in the window. It was one of the newer, plastic signs, not one of the cool neon ones, and it was flickering like there was a short in it or the bulb needed to be changed. I wondered out loud if the bar really still had Hamm's on tap, and suggested that the sign was blinking as code to beckon us in. We laughed about it and I suggested that one day, we were going to get off the train and walk in there, and there would be two drafts sitting on the bar, waiting for us. We would then have to call one of our wives to come pick us up. We would occasionally laugh about that when the train stopped at that stop. Then I was laid off, and now they took the Hamm's sign out of the window after the bar changed its name, so that'll probably never happen.
     I only mention this because I went next door to the Tamale Hut to get some beer to drink while attending this month's Reading Series night, and I bought some Hamm's as a goof. Turns out, it was pretty good. I had a couple during the event, and now I'm having another at home. I typically drink something a little more full-flavored, but for something light and refreshing, Hamm's was not bad.


05/20/16: We watch a lot of TV. New stuff, old stuff, old movies I'd DVR'd. And I'm always looking up what we are watching on IMDB to find out who plays a certain character and where we'd seen that actor/actress before. It's particularly bad with the BBC stuff that PBS shows, because it seems that we'd have seen a particular actor on nine or ten other shows that were imported to our shores.
     But today we were watching the season finale of NCIS, and when they showed the little girl on the episode who might be Tony's daughter, Stephie pointed to the screen and said, "That looks like Edie from Grandfathered." I checked IMDB on my phone and sure enough, the same little actress played both roles. I think it's interesting that I can watch one of the old black-and-white films that are cluttering up our DVR and recognize some actor who has hundreds of movie credits across decades of work, but what are the odds that Stephie would correctly identify a two-year old (actually a pair of twins) who has only two IMDB credits?

05/08/16: So I guess the rumors are true that Axl Rose will be filling in for Brian Johnson on the remaining dates of the current AC/DC tour. If I had tickets to an upcoming show, I'd be selling them. But after seeing a clip on YouTube, I realized that it was my dislike for Axl that made me object to this pairing. The clip I saw had him sitting in a chair, since apparently he recently broke his foot, and that didn't seem to exciting, at least not after having seen Brian Johnson work the entire stage when we saw them a few weeks ago. But I have to say that Axl was more believable on Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap than Brian Johnson was. They did that song when we saw them, and Johnson just seemed like too nice a guy to be offering to do such nasty things.


04/28/16: I know Kisu's hearing has been failing for a while, so I don't expect her to greet me any more like she used to when she heard the key in the door, but this was ridiculous. When I came home from the Job Search Work Team today, I unlocked the door to see these two sleepy-heads. I stepped back, closed the door, then opened it again and neither of them moved. I put my bag down, got out my phone and took this picture and still nothing. Only after I started to burgle the place did either of them notice I was home!


04/25/16: As usual, I had a fantastic time at the Windy City Pulp and Paper Convention in Lombard last weekend. I spent less money then I usually do (owing to the current job situation) but I think I spoke to more people then I ever had. This was because I took my second copy of Legends of New Pulp Fiction with me. This was the benefit book that came out last year, and had a boatload of new stories from many of the top current writers in the New Pulp field.
     I briefly considered submitting a Sleep Detectives story when they announced the volume was being assembled, but I ultimately decided it was not 'pulp' enough. I did, however, buy two copies when it was published: one to read and one to bring to the Windy City show to collect autographs. Over the course of the weekend, I spoke to and got a signature of a couple dozen of the contributors to the massive tome. A few of them said that I was the first person to ask them to sign one of the books, but by the end of the weekend, I saw several people chasing down signatures. It was lots of fun.
     I didn't stick around for much of the auctions, and I saw only one movie this year, Nightfall, which was adapted from an Isaac Asimov story. It was not very good, and I immediately downloaded an episode of Escape Pod containing the same story so I can compare. One thing new this year was I went back on Sunday and sat in on may of the New Pulp panels, as well as picking up a few bargains before calling it a weekend. I can't wait until next year!


04/16/16: Stephanie has a new web site! True, it's at the same artbystephie.com link that the old one was at, but we've upgraded to the new version of Squarespace, the all-in-one hosting/content-management service she's had for a few years, so we took this as an opportunity to re-do how the site looked and, more importantly, operated so that now it looks great no matter if you're looking at it on your computer or on your phone, which is apparently now the most popular way to find stuff on the web. I don't understand that, but as you can tell from the links below which point to content going back to June of 2003, I'm old.


04/02/16: It's April, and we got snow. Kisu's tired of the snow.


03/28/16: A few weeks ago, I was at Jewel doing a little light grocery shopping. As I wandered through the Produce section, my eye was caught by a small display next to one of the refrigerated cases. They were selling small tins marked "Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper Nuts." I like the Salt & Pepper potato chips from Trader Joe's and I like peanuts, so I figured it was worth two bucks to try. Little did I know...
     The next week I went back and bought five tins. I can't stop eatin' them! The problem now is that all those are gone, and Jewel doesn't have any more! They were closeout items, apparently.
     Fortunately, I found that they can be ordered on line from Amazon or from the manufacturer, The Peanut Shop of Williamsburg. The picture here is of the two one pound tins I just received from there. I plan to keep the smaller one on my desk and just refill it from the larger, because I know if I open the big one and put it within arm's reach, they'll be gone in no time.


03/10/16: When I was maybe in seventh grade, we started seeing stickers with a distinctive black and white image (like the picture here) show up in our neighborhood. I remember seeing them on light poles and on local newspaperboxes, but my friends and I didn't know what it was for nor, really, did we care. But for some reason, that image stuck with me.
     A few years later I found out what the stickers were for, and the likely reason they were all over our neighborhood. I mentioned on this site back in 2015 that I had developed a fascination with a small record label named Billingsgate Records, which specialized in a form of prog rock known as Kraut Rock. Epitaph was one of the few bands who had a release on that label, so the stickers were promoting the album, which I discovered was recorded in Chicago, despite the band being based in Germany. In the process of finding the rest of the Billingsgate catalog (7 LPs, 2 45s, and at least 3 8-tracks) I found that according to the back cover of the first Neu! album, the Billingsgate offices were located on Archer Avenue, mere blocks from where we grew up. I imagined hordes of enthusiastic Krautrock fans (with long hair) roaming the neighborhood of my childhood, slapping stickers on any surface that didn't move.
     Beyond the albums themselves (bought mostly at Kroozin' Music, sort of a spiritual successor to the Billingsgate operation) there really wasn't much information available until the Internet became the vast repository of our collective memory that it is today. I found out a few years ago that Epitaph is still together and playing shows in Germany and throughout Europe. They even had a web site, which does have some English content. I was poking around late one night, wandered to their site and found that they were selling, among other things, t-shirts with the "Outside the Law" cover image (no stickers, alas.) I decided I had to have one, but the store part of the site was purely German-language, no translation.
     I some friends who are conversational in German, so I briefly thought that if Google translate couldn't get me to place an order, I might ask them, but I didn't know if the site would ship to me here in the US. On a whim, I went to the "Kontakt" page and wrote the band (or at least the webmaster) a note. I apologized for writing in English, explained the significance of the album cover from my youth, and asked if they could ship some merch to me. I hit Send (actually Senden) and crossed my fingers.
     A few weeks later, I checked my e-mail and found a very nice letter from Cliff Jackson, guitarist from Epitaph! He wrote that since he was actually English, my message was actually no problem for him. He would indeed be able to ship to the US, and I only needed to tell him what I wanted to order and he would get back to me with a shipping cost. Since I didn't want to have him go through all the trouble of shipping for just one t-shirt, I had him send two (one as a backup) and a couple of their more recent CDs, one which was just about to be released. When he wrote that he calculated the price, I quickly Paypal'd him the money. I also mentioned that "if I could get an autograph on the new CD, that would be great!" He replied that he was meeting the band the next day to practice, and would send the package off once the CD was signed.
     A few weeks later, I was going out the door when I found a package there from Germany. Inside was the two shirts and two CDs, one signed by the entire band! The t-shirts are good quality, and the CDs are fantastic. The new one, Fire From The Soul, is available on Amazon (as is a recent CD release of Outside the Law) and I recommend it highly. When I initially wrote them, I told them that I was happy to see that the band reunited and is still together. I said I doubt that I would ever get a chance to see them play, because I don't expect to be in Germany any time soon, but I wish them continued success in the future. That goes double now after the positive experience I had corresponding with them. This is how you treat your fans!


03/02/16: This week has been designated as Will Eisner Week, to celebrate and promote graphic novels, literacy, and free speech awareness. Will Eisner was always one of my favorites, going back to grammar school when my buddy Wesley smuggled some of his brother's issues of The Spirit into St. Pancratius, and I took it hard when he passed away. I've read much of his work (sometimes over and over) and can heartily recommend any of it to anyone.
     Coincidentally, I recently received the copy of PS Magazine: The Best of The Preventive Maintenance Monthly that I ordered when I saw that Bud Plant had it on sale. Between the time Eisner stopped doing The Spirit newspaper strip and all the fantastic graphic novels he became known for later in life, his studio worked with the Army to produce a magazine "to teach the common soldier how best to use, maintain, repair, and requisition their equipment." I'd always heard about that work but had neer seen more than a few pages, so I jumped at the chance to have another hardcover collection of his work, at a sale price on top of it. That also means that I can finally read The Plot, which was the last thing he did before he passed away. I'd been hesitant to read it because I thought that once I did, I would never again read another new Will Eisner work. While it's still true that no new Eisner work is forthcoming, this goes to show that there is stuff that's new to me, so that comforts me a bit.


03/01/16: This year, I'm trying to take my writing a little more seriously, at least in terms of treating it like a business. Sure, I have a web site set up strictly for details of my writing endeavors, but I've never really promoted my work to try to reach a wider audience. I've been listening to a few podcasts (The Self-Publishing Podcast, The Creative Penn) for a while that are geared towards us 'creatives' and the marketing of our work. I've taken many of their suggestions to heart and I think they have improved my productivity and my creative process, but I think it's time I thought about their marketing suggestions.
     One thing that the hosts of both podcasts (and many of their guests) encourage is to have a mailing list as a way of communicating with the readers. I had a rudimentary list going back when I was working, as a way of letting my co-workers know when I had something new coming out, or when I would be reading again at the Tamale Hut Cafe. I would also sometimes include Stephie's art shows and other things, but it was primarily for my writing. When I left the job, I took that mailing list with me, and have used it to start a monthly e-mail using the Mail Chimp service. The first e-mail went out today, and I plan to send out updates once a month. At this point, it's not costing me anything but my time to compose and schedule the message, so I think it's a good starting point. If you'd like to be on my list, you can sign up here.


02/22/16: Today was the 30th anniversary of our first date. The fact that I remember the date on which I first took Stephie out surprises some people, but I lucked out on that. Back in 1986, a bunch of us from the Dominick's we worked at went down to Division Street to celebrate a couple birthdays, one of which was Stephie's. I took her home that night and wound up talking to her in front of her place for a long time before she went in. I asked her to go out with me the following Saturday, so as long as I can remember her birthday, I add seven days to that and it's our first date anniversary!
     Since we were celebrating thirty years, we planned something nice, but not too nice because I'm currently not working. We went to the Chew-Chew restaurant in Riverside. We had a great meal, then went home afterwards, where I noted that thirty years ago on our first date, we went to the show, then to dinner, then out dancing. This year, we went to dinner then went back home where I couldn't stop yawning because I was tired, and Stephie immediately put on her pajamas. It's good to know the magic is still there.

02/18/16: One of the benefits of not having a job is that I can stay out as late as I like since I don't have to get up early the next day to go to work, and that really worked in my favor last night when Stephie and I went to the United Center to see and hear AC/DC. Stephie always wanted to see them play, and I was "working from home" a few months ago when the tickets went on sale so I was able to get two.
     I saw the band play once, back in 1979, when they opened for Cheap Trick at the Winnebago County Fairgrounds on the 4th of July. That show was right before the Highway to Hell album was released, and Bon Scott was still lead singer. (Funny side note: I remember that show being Cheap Trick, AC/DC, Molly Hatchet, and Steve Dahl and Teenage Radiation. When I looked that show up on the 'net, I was surprised that there was another band listed. Apparently The Babys played after AC/DC and I don't remember them at all! It took me a while to remember, but I think I took a nap at one point during the day-long event. We left home early that day and everyone in the car but me slept the whole way there, so I caught some ZZZs at what I thought would be a low point in the show. I think I picked the right time.)
     AC/DC was in fine form yesterday, although I was not too impressed by the venue. This was the first time either of us were at an event at the United Center, and I thought the seats were uncomfortable, there was very little leg room, and on top of the expensive tickets, the parking fees were outrageous. (Granted the other show was over 35 years ago, but it cost more just to park last night than it did for me and my date to get into that show in Rockford!) We tried to buy two bottles of water and they wouldn't sell it to us in the plastic bottles. They insisted in pouring the water into a plastic cup. Still can't figure out the logic of that.

     As we walked across the lot to the building, there were a few people standing around with something blinking on their heads. As we got closer, I could see that they were devil horns like Angus wore on the cover of Highway to Hell. I don't recall how much they were at the concession stand, but they obviously sold a lot, as you can see from this brief clip from the show. Almost every song ended with the stage going dark, and all we could see was the hundreds of pairs of blinking horns in the audience.
     AC/DC put on a great show, and I'm glad we got to see them. Since Stephie and I've been together, I've tried to take her to see all the bands she "always wanted to see", and AC/DC is one of the few who are still touring. But as we left, we agreed it would take someone very, very special to get us to go to the United Center again. I'd really like to see Iron Maiden again, since I like their new album and I don't know how many tours they have left in them, but while I had been on the fence about going to their upcoming show, the fact that it's at the UC means that I'll miss them this year.

02/15/16: Today is a good day and a bad day. We spent yesterday at my parent's house, celebrating today's dual birthdays of Stephie and my Dad. As is the case whenever we get together with family, we had a great time. But it's also a bad day because today is my last official day at work. I've actually been home since the first of the year, only going in the office on my WITS days. (I'd volunteered a couple of years ago for that program, where they would bring third-graders into the office for an hour on Tuesdays so that we could read with them. It's a great program and I'll really treasured the time I spent with the students I tutored.)
     So thanks to the Saudi's, who sunk oil prices over a year ago, I'm one of the latest victims of corporate restructuring in the wake of falling profits. Wish me luck on the job market.


02/05/16: Lately I've been in the mood to watch some serials that I'd picked up over the years and hadn't got 'round to viewing. I recently finished Drums of Fu Manchu and The Hope Diamond Mystery, both of which I got from The Serial Squadron and both of which were excellent. The Hope Diamond Mystery was silent, and was one of Boris Karloff's first major roles. Fun stuff.
     A few years ago, The Serial Squadron tried something a little different when they put out a DVD "magazine" which contained individual episodes of lesser-known serials. The idea was that it was like one of the old pulp anthologies, where each issue would contain a few stand-alone stories and portions of other, longer pieces. The DVD experiment was apparently a failure, as only four "issues" were released (although their site lists issue 5 as "scheduled for future release.") One of the bits they included was chapter 1 of Adventures of the Flying Cadets, a Universal serial from 1943 starring some of the Bowery Boys/Dead End Kids, along with Eduardo Ciannelli (a favorite of mine) and the seemingly-ubiquitous (for his time) Robert Armstrong. They only restored chapter 1, but I liked it and when I noticed that someone posted the complete thing on Usenet, I downloaded it.
     The serials of the day were done quickly and cheaply and aimed primarily at adolescent males, so they don't usually feature top-notch dialogue, but there was one bit in the Flying Cadets episode I watched today that I thought was great. The kids are in Africa, and are caught in the middle of a dispute between some sterotypical arabs and some stereotypical Nazis, when one kid takes off and comes running back with armfuls of arabian robes. One kid asks him where he got them, and he replies, "I took 'em off some good Nazis." "What d'you mean, good Nazis?" his friend asks. "Dead ones!" is his triumphant reply. I laughed so hard I had to rewind it and watch the scene again. They don't write movies like that any more.


01/29/16: Much as we hate to admit it, Kisu's getting up there in age. She's still in pretty good shape, but she's starting to have some health issues, and although she still loves to look out the window when she can, she doesn't get up on the bed much anymore like she used to. I was walking by the bedroom today and found that she was on her old spot, watching the world go by. I had to get a picture.


01/28/16: I've mentioned here before that my first job was McDonald's, and I have fond memories of the time I spent there, as well as more than a few funny stories. A buddy of mine said that I should use some of the characters from there as fodder for a short story or two. I may do that, but I saw something today that reminded me of one of the sillier things that happened there.

     Having skipped supper, I was on my way to a writer's group meeting when I decided to swing through a McDonald's on the way to pick up something to eat before the meeting. As I was waiting to pull through, I saw the scene in the picture here -- the Clearance warning sign was crunched.

     When I started working at McDonald's, no fast-food places had drive-thru pick-up windows. Everyone had to walk into the store to buy their food. The store I worked at was one of the first in our neighborhood to add a drive-thru and it was a great success. But it was not without problems. I was working in the grill area one afternoon when we heard a big BOOM, and the building shook. We didn't know what had happened, but we ran out the back to find a tall panel truck in the drive-thru, the guys from the truck standing outside, looking up at the front of the vehicle. The top was dented, and so was the fascia of the part of the roof which covered the drive-thru. They obviously didn't pay any attention to the signs warning of the height restrictions and tried to go through, only to find that their truck was too tall.

     We all went back to work, laughing about how ridiculous the situation was, but Ken, the manager, had a different reaction. He was swearing up a storm about the guys in the truck. I asked him what the problem was, and he said those same guys in the same truck hit the same spot in the drive-thru the week before, and the damage from that was just fixed the day before this incident, and a larger sign was put up, which is what the guys hit this time. I wonder if those same guys were trying to get some food in Lyons tonight.


01/17/16: Before tonight's Tamale Hut Cafe Reading Series event, I went next door to pick up some beer to enjoy while listening to all the fine stories being read. I wasn't sure what to get, because the store has a rather large selection, but I decided on Dale's Pale Ale from Oskar Blues Brewery. I'd never had it before, but I read a news story about how the brewery was canning drinking water to send to the people of Flint, MI, to help out with the water crisis they are having. I thought that it was great of them to help out, so I wanted to support them with my purchase. The beer was pretty good, too.



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