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!

12/26/15: We hope everyone had a great Christmas. We did, and it inadvertently became a John Leguizamo Christmas. We first sat down to watch Die Hard 2, our second favorite Christmas movie after the original, and since it had been a while since we watched it, I spent some time looking for actors that we now recognize in bit parts (I think I saw Larry Miller in a quick reaction shot in the terminal restaurant), and I saw John Leguizamo as one of the military goons.
     Afterwards, Stephie said she wanted to watch something funny, and since we got a Roku this year to watch the new season of Longmire, I thought we'd see if we could find something there, and we spotted a movie called Chef that neither of us remember hearing about, but it had a five star rating on Netflix, so we took a chance, and not only was it a sensational movie, John Legizamo plays the sidekick of the main character!
     Today, we went to the LaGrange Theater and saw another terrific movie, The Martian. It was a great film, but alas, no John Leguizamo.

PBS has been running a number of shows in the last few weeks commemorating the 100th birthday of Frank Sinatra. Well, I've been scouring the listings and see nothing to commemorate today being the 75th birthday of my favorite musician, Frank Zappa. Seems like a missed opportunity to me. Good thing there's plenty to find on YouTube!

12/19/15: Just a quick note to let you know that I completed my NaNoWriMo novel this morning. I thought I had it done yesterday, but Stephie didn't like one part of the ending, so I added an epilogue to close one of the loops I left open. Final word count is 59,036. I'll be going back over it after the first of the year, but I think I'm going to take some time to read something for pleasure, which I've not done much of since November started.

12/13/15: It's 10:15 on a Sunday morning. I'm making breakfast when the phone rings. Since I'm closest to the phone, I answer it.
"Hello" I say. There is a second or two of silence, and a cheerful man with a faint Indian accent says "Hi, this is James from Windows technical support calling. How are you today?"
"I'm fine," I say in an equally cheery tone, "but I don't use Windows."
"Well, that makes me sleepy," he says, and the phone line goes dead.

     I had one of these calls earlier this year, before I read about what was going on. That time, I was caught a little off-guard so wound up talking to the person for a couple of minutes. He started out by telling me that he was from Microsoft and they had a report that my computer was infected with lots of viruses. He tried to prove to me that he was legit by reading a long number to me that was supposed to be some kind of unique identifier for my system. I told him that I had security software installed and that I had not seein any indication of problems. He insisted they were there.

     Then he asked if the computer was turned on, and I told him no. He wanted me to log on and let him take control. When I told him I would not let him do that, he insisted on speaking to "the person in the house who maintains the computers." I told him that was me, and he insisted that was not possible "because then I would know how serious this was." By this time, I had had enough, so I told him his services were not needed and hung up.

     I felt odd after that, as if someone had tried to break into my house, which I guess is what happened. I told Stephie and my parents about it, and suggested that if anyone from Windows Technical Support calls, just hang up.

11/30/15: Success! This afternoon I hit the elusive 50,000 word goal for my novel. Unfortunately, as was the case last time I did this, the story is not done yet, so I'm pressing on. Stephie's been enjoying it, and I've sent most of it to a guy at work, who had only two words for me: "Write faster."

11/28/15: I'm on a roll! On Monday morning, I was 6600 words behind on my daily word count, but after writing 4300 words Tuesday, and 3000 Wednesday and today, I am only 145 words behind where I should be. At this rate, I might hit my goal a day early, which I believe is what I've done the other three times I tried. Still no idea how long the book is actually going to be, but Stephie is enjoying it so far, so I must be doing something right!

11/24/15: The Chicago Book Expo was lots of fun (details are on the THC Writers Group blog) but I got no writing done on Saturday, then I took Sunday off as well, which on top of last weeks deficit put me in a pretty big hole. But since I had two killer days in a row, and I'm closer to plan than I've been in over a week. Another day like today and I'll be above the line for the first time since day 1. And on top of that, I think I know where the story is going now!

11/21/15: Things are looking up a bit. Stephie and Kisu are feeling better, and I'm finally starting to catch up on my word count. (The story is coming along fine, too.)
     I'll have a little setback tomorrow as I'm spending all day at the Chicago Book Expo at Columbia College, and I'll only be home in time to pick Stephie up to go to the last THC Reading Series night of the year, so I don't expect to get much, if anything, written tomorrow. That just means that Sunday I'll be digging out of a bigger hole again. Oh, well...

11/15/15: Had a rough week. Stephie's sick, Kisu's sick, the THC Writers Group met today, and I had some reading to do ahead of that. It seemed that for the past few days, everything was plotting against me getting my word count done.
     But I'm not worried. I'm only halfway through the month. I'm off work Monday and Tuesday, and besides a little pre-Thanksgiving house cleaning, I hope to spend a significant amount of time writing. And the story is really getting good!

11/09/15: I looked back at my stats from the three other times I'd done this, and it seems that I fall behind a little a the end of the first week, so with that in mind, I'm right on track.

11/08/15: I had a little setback today as I broke one of the cardinal rules of NaNoWriMo and went back to rewrite something I wrote yesterday. I had a scene in which my main character was being chased by a car driven by the bad guys, but I kept thinking of the car chase I had in The Hidden Message, which I think worked so well because I had the entire route mapped out, to where I actually walked the route downtown where the chase ended. The chapter I wrote yesterday was just a bunch or random left and right turns, ending up on Lake Shore Drive, and as I went to bed, I wasn't satisfied. I got up this morning and had two thoughts. One: I need to plot out the route, and drop a few street names in, to make it more realistic to me (and hopefully to the reader.) and two: why are the bad guys chasing my hero? They already know where he lives. I should have him chase them. SO I threw away around 600 words and the story is much better for it!

11/05/15: As my old boss used to say, things are progressing along smartly with NaNoWriMo. Something new this year: one of my buddies from the THC Writers Group has also taken up the challenge, and I have him as my Writing Buddy. I don't consider myself a competitive person, but watching his word count go up makes me want to keep going, since I don't want him to be that far ahead of me. This is not a competition in the strictest sense, since it doesn't matter what the final count is (as long as it's over 50,000 words) but I'll be ticked if we get to the end of the month and he hits the 50K and I don't. I won't be able to live with myself!

11/01/15: Call me crazy, but I'm trying NaNoWriMo again this year. If you don't know (and how can you not know since you're in the Internet), that's the National Novel Writing Month challenge, in which a whole bunch of people all over the world try to crank out a first draft of a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. I actually took the challenge and "won" in 2010, 2011 and 2012. I didn't try the last two years because I was busy with other things, but I somehow felt I was missing out on something, so this year, I'm going for it. I'll post semi-regular updates here, but you'll have to excuse me if I miss a few days because, you know, I'm writing!

10/27/15: We went to visit my parents this weekend, as we usually do. They said that for the last few nights, they've heard what sounded like critters on their roof, maybe a raccoon or possum, both of which they've seen wandering in their yard at one time or another. They also told us that a neighbor warned them that he saw a hole in their roof. Dad called the guy who fixed their roof last time to come out and see what was going on up there, but he wanted to know ahead of time what they were in for. They didn't know if w were coming so they called my brother, and he and I brainstormed a bit to decide what to do.
     Dad wanted to go up on the roof and walk around, but that was quickly nixed by Mom. They have a wooden ladder which would reach the spot, but neither if us is as young (or as light) as we used to be, and Mom was insistent that we don't do that either. I joked that we needed one of those goofy selfie-sticks that we could hold up there, and I could see a lightbulb go off over my brother's head.
     Fortunately, he brought his wife's iPad with him, so we taped his phone to the end of a broomstick and connected a Facetime session with the iPad. I went up a short way on the ladder and held the camera up high. It didn't work at first, but after a tense couple of moments, we figured out that we had the camera pointed the wrong way. Once we turned it around, it worked like a champ. Click the picture of me to see what the camera saw.

10/03/15: I used to think that summer was over after the double header of my birthday and Labor Day, which when I was younger meant that it was time to go back to school. The calendar says that summer is over somewhere around September 21, give or take a day, but there's really nothing other than that piece of paper on the wall saying that.
     Nowadays, there's only one thing that signals the end of summer, and that's the day we take the air conditioner out of the window. That day is today. Welcome to Fall!

09/26/15: We finished up our little vacation in Madison. We've been there a few times before and really enjoyed it. Being the state capitol, it's a good size city, but it also contains the UofW campus, so it's got the feel of a small college town. We just spent a couple of days looking in the book stores, coffee shops, and restaurants, and just bumming around in general. We finished the trip by attending the fabulous Farmers Market which rings the capitol building every weekend. The web site claims it's the largest in the US, and I believe it. It took us several hours to walk the entire thing, and by the time we were done, my arm was falling off from carrying all the bags! The only bad thing about it is that it's very crowded, and they have a peculiar rule there that dogs are not allowed in city parks, which the capitol square is designated. It was not a problem this time, because Kisu was at the spa, but if we had her with us, one of us would have to stay across the street at all times. We did that once and it wasn't fun. We did have fun this time, and came home with lots of good, fresh produce, and even some meat and cheese.

09/25/15: One stop on our mini-vacation was the Blaum Brothers Distilling Co. in Galena. We took the tour, and it was certainly worth the time and the small charge. It was very entertaining and informative, and since the guys are movie fans, we got to see the flux capacitor that powers the whole place (no, not really).
     This is a really neat business, started by two brothers who were craft whiskey aficionados. They've only been in business a little over a year, but they've become popular in the area, making gin and vodka. They have a novel way of getting the community involved, as they throw "labeling parties," when local volunteers spend an evening at their facility sticking labels on their bottles. They turn it into a big pizza party, and there seems to be some product tasting going on as well, if you catch my drift. All the volunteers mark the labels, so they might be in a liquor store later and see a bottle that they helped get to market!
     I'm not a big fan of vodka or gin, but I was interested in their bourbon. Unfortunately, they have not been open long enough to have any of their personal bourbon properly aged. They have bought aged bourbon from a reputable distillery and have blended it to approximate what they feel their end product will taste like.
     One of the samples at the end of the tour was the bourbon, and it was pretty good. I planned to buy a bottle, but I saw they also carry a special Galena Reserve, a one-off batch of something interesting, and this time it was their Knotter Bourbon Madeira Cask Finish bourbon. I went back an asked for a sample. She gave it to me in a little tiny plastic cup, and when I tried it, it made my toes tingle! I promptly bought a bottle.

09/24/15: We took a little vacation to celebrate our anniversary, and our first stop was Galena. We'd been there a few times before, and always had a good time, but this was the first time we were there when the weather was warm, so we walked around more and saw much that we didn't see previously. One thing we saw was a message written in chalk on a curb directing us to the Galena Clay Works, only three blocks away. Well, they must use a different yardstick in that part of the country because it seemed like we walked a mile before seeing the building, which was this rickety shack you see here. It was wide open, shelves full of pottery, and no one was around. In the corner was a locked box marked "Pay Here" and a sign which said "Hi, thanks for shopping... I am not here right now. Leave cash, check or IOU here. Thanks for your honesty." I was somewhat astonished that in this day and age, someone is able to run a business on the honor system. We didn't buy anything that night, but went back the next day, hoping to meet the artist in person. He wasn't there at that time, either, so we bought Kisu a new water bowl, stuck the money in the box and left him a note that we appreciated his business model.
     After the long trek back from the Clay Works, we headed to over to take in the P.T. Murphy Magic Show, and I have to say that I was greatly impressed. He has a little 24-seat theater just off the main street in town, and when we showed up to buy tickets at the box office, the magician himself greeted us and took our money. We had a nice conversation with him as more people showed up, and once he got started, we knew we were in for something special. Most magic I've seen has been either simple card tricks table-side at a restaurant, or one of the big mega-shows on TV or in a concert-like setting, but there we were, in a crowd of little more than a dozen people, watching a real magic show right in front of us. It was fantastic! I would highly recommend that if you're going to Galena, or are anywhere in the area, you should make it a point to get tickets for that show. You won't be disappointed.

09/23/15: Can it really have been 25 years since my sweetie and me swapped our "I do's" in front of family, friends, and the world? Apparently it has, because that's what we celebrated today. If you want to read my observations of that wonderful day, click here. Happy Anniversary, my love.

09/19/15: I got this fortune out of a cookie when I visited Panda Express for lunch. They know me too well.

08/31/15: I usually celebrate either R. Crumb's birthday, or Kankakee's own Fred MacMurray's birthday, but I just found out that yesterday would have been the 101st birthday of Willard Waterman, best known as one of the actors portraying The Great Gildersleeve on radio. He also played the Great Man on the short-lived TV version. A native of Madison, Wisconsin, Waterman took over the character when its originator, Harold Peary, left the show to move to another network. They sound so much alike, though, that it was a seamless transition.

08/15/15: For the second year in a row, we took a short drive up to Milwaukee to see an exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and to take in some of the Milwaukee Irish Fest. We did this last year, but tried to plan it a little better this time. We intended to drive up on Friday, go to the museum and the Irish Fest, then stay the night and come home on Saturday, but that plan went out the window when Kisu's favorite spa was booked, and while my parents said they would watch her Friday, we didn't feel comfortable leaving her there all night.
     Last year, the museum had a Kandinsky exhibit, but this year it was Modern Rebels, with the work of multiple artists, including some of Stephie's favorites. We liked it so much that we became members, so maybe we'll get up there more than once a year.
     the Irish Fest was mostly a good time as well, with a few hitches. Again, we got in on the cheap, taking advantage of the early-bird Friday tickets, but it was so hot that we spent most of the time looking for shade. Stephie was so warm that she bought a dress from one of the vendors, then went and changed into it! We walked around, enjoying the food and the music (and the beer!) but then the skies began to look threatening, and everyone checking their phones saw that a line of bad thunderstorms were moving into the area. We finished watching the band at the tent we were under (Ten Strings and a Goat Skin - really good!) and headed back to the car. We never did catch more than a sprinkle, but I kept checking the rear-view mirror all the way home, and it looked like the clouds were following us!

08/06/15: Nothing in any of the local papers about our early-morning excitement last weekend. I'd feel funny calling the police station, so maybe we'll never know what the full story was. All I know is that if there was a shot after that guy was yelling, we'd be looking to move out at the first opportunity. Not sure where we'd move to, though.

08/01/15: A strange thing happened this morning. We shut off the AC and opened the windows before going to bed, since the temperature dropped to comfortable for the first time this week. At 4:15am, Stephie and I were woken up by a male voice shouting, "Sir! Ma'am! Can you please help me? Please?" He said that several times, at which time we were both wide awake. I tried to look out the window without being seen, but I never got a glimpse of him, and I was not sure where he was at. I could hear Stephie calling 911, so I went back to the bedroom. After he hung up, we heard the man say, "NO! Please don't shoot me! Don't shoot!" We looked at each other as we heard the man say something else that we couldn't understand because it sounded like he was running away. Then we saw the lights in the alley as three police cars arrived.
     I wasn't sure what to do, but Kisu decided she wanted to go out, since we were already up. I put her on the leash and took her out front. We saw a policemen in our side yard, looking along the bushes. He came over and I told him what we heard, including when the man said not to shoot. As I was talking to him, there was chatter on his radio, and we heard another policeman call for an ambulance for a suspect that was "disoriented". I asked the policemen if he thought that was the guy, and he said "they said it was related." Kisu and I went back in and we tried to go back to sleep.
     While we were walking Kisu this afternoon, we discussed this with several of our neighbors, and nobody heard a thing. Everyone said they had their AC on and windows closed, so they didn't even know that three squad cars had been in our alley overnight. I checked on-line if there was anything in the local police blotters, but saw nothing. I guess we'll have to wait for the local paper to find out what happened.

07/31/15: I took a little staycation this week, but we didn't have a chance to go away because of other things scheduled this week, like Stephie's art class or the Berwyn Library Writer's Group. We did take a ride today to check out The 606, the new park in Chicago that has been in the paper lately. The idea of a park built on an abandoned rail line just seemed like something that we should see. So we tossed Kisu in the Escape and drove to Wicker Park, where we found parking near one of the access points.
     It's an interesting idea, a long, narrow park that runs for almost three miles through several neighborhoods. The web site calls it a "recreational trail and park", which makes me think of following a trail through the woods. It's actually a long cement ribbon with some nice landscaping along both sides. We walked maybe a half-mile or so of it, and it was a little harrowing with a dog, because of the frequent bicyclists travelling along the path. Kisu is fairly well-behaved on leash, but we do allow her to explore a but, and I was more than a little nervous to let her do that, for fear a passing cyclist would get tangled in her leash. We didn't see too many places to stop and sit, and there was very little shade, a problem which will resolve itself as the trees along the path grow in.
     We walked roughly from Damen to the eastern end of the trail at Ashland. There we found a nice, shady park to sit and relax, once we navigated the construction fences at that end. Since it was a hot, sunny day, we decided to walk at street-level back to the car, and I'm glad we did, because we stumbled on a nice neighborhood restaurant, Club Lucky in Bucktown, with an outdoor patio where we could have lunch with Kisu. Well, we almost had lunch with her, because she had to sit outside the fence around the seating area, but she behaved and we had a nice time, and the food was great. I'd definitely go back if we were in the neighborhood. And the 606 was pretty nice, too, but maybe not on a hot, sunny day with an elderly dog.

07/08/15: I went to the Brookfield Library today for a special event, and on my way out, I stopped at the New Books shelf, and look what I found. I had donated one copy of each of my four books to the library several weeks ago, but they were in the process of changing the database used to track books. They couldn't put the books in the system until the conversion was complete, and they couldn't put them on the shelf until they were in the system. The conversion is done, the books are in the system, and as of today, the only on on the shelf is The Hidden Message. I guess that means that the other three were taken out! If your library subscribes to the Swan system, as I believe most Illinois libraries do, you should be able to reserve one of my books and read it for free. How cool is that?

07/04/15: I have conflicted feelings about the Fourth of July holiday. While I enjoy having a day off from work, and I love waking up in the morning to see flags posted on everyone's lawn, courtesy of our neighbor, the illegal (in Illinois, anyway) fireworks continue to bother Kisu. She never was fond of loud noises, but as she's getting older, they bother her more and more. As we did last year, we got some tranquilizers from the vet and doped her to get her through the evening.
     I know I'm a curmudgeon about this, but consumer-grade fireworks never interested me. We were never allowed to have them when we were kids, so they've never been a part of our holiday celebration, and now that Kisu is so sensitive that she's freaking out a week before the day, when the casual idiot usually starts making noise. I just wish there was some place we could take her so that we'd be away from them.

07/03/15: We're back to being a one car family. I had to take my beloved Focus in for a brake issue, and the estimate was more than I was willing to spend, at least for a "band-aid" fix. Oddly enough, the estimate was roughly what I spent last week, and we spent a few weeks ago on the Beetle. So we said that enough was enough. We did some Internet research and checked a few dealerships, and wound up with a brand new Escape. I've always been against owning an SUV, but as we traded in both cars, we needed something that would hold all of Stephie's art setup for when she does shows, so an SUV just made sense.
     And as SUVs go, it's pretty nice. It rides more like a car, it handles well, and it has the amenities we need. We didn't get the one with the powered lift gate and keyless start. Just the basic model, and so far it's working for us. The one issue is that the back seat is too high for Kisu to jump into. We went on Amazon and bought a ramp, and she's getting used to that.
     Stephie misses her Beetle, I miss my Focus, and we don't like having a car payment again, but so far, I think we made the right move.

06/29/15: I've been taking the train to work for five years now, and I really like it. It gives me a chance to read or listen to music on the way to and from work, and I don't have to fight traffic. It's a little inconvenient in terms of the times the train stops hear home or leaves Union Station, but overall it's a great way to commute to work.
     I'm not usually looking out the window, but every so often I do, and sometimes I see something interesting. The other day, I glanced out the window and saw this food truck parked in the lot behind a big building. If you're not a Chicago Fire (the TV series) fan, this might look like another food truck to you, but this is the food truck that was used on the TV series. The building this is parked behind is the old Ryerson Steel facility, part of which is now home to Cinespace, and some of Chicago Fire is filmed there. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to see that, because when they were filming one of the Transformers movies here in Chicago, I saw crushed cars and a Tokyo bus and other props from that movie in that same lot. But it was surprising to see something from the fantasy world of TV parked along the commuter tracks that I take to and from work every day.

06/18/15: All work stopped this morning around 9AM as everyone started lining up at the windows to catch a glimpse of the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup parade, which was to pass right in front of the building I work in. I had some work to do, so I stayed at my desk for a while longer. At work, I have a program I can use to watch certain TV channels right on my desktop, so I launched that and connected to channel 9, since I knew they were going to be covering the parade live. I just kept working, watching the coverage until I could see the parade turn down the street by my building, then I just walked over to the window and took some pictures. They are from eight floors up, but if you click on the picture to get a larger version then zoom in, you can clearly see the cup on the back of the bus.

     It's too hard to tell from the overhead view, so check this other shot to see who is actually holding the Cup. After they won the final game, Stephie and I discussed trying to see the Cup in person as it makes its way around Chicago. I don't know if I'll get a chance for an up-close look, but I was at least as close as eight floors away!

06/04/15: I was heading back from lunch yesterday at a couple of minutes before 1PM, since I had to attend a meeting at 1. As I was turning to walk to my desk, I glanced out the window and stopped, because I saw what you are seeing here. Yes, it's the Wienermobile parked in front of the Willis Tower. I took this picture, then went to try to convince my boss to postpone the meeting so we could go down and see it up close. She wasn't buying it, and when the meeting ended, the Wienermobile was gone.

     Today I had some errands to run, and one of them took me down LaGrange Road. There's a resale/antiques store there that usually has a row of bicycles lined up out front. I saw this out of the corner of my eye, and had to go around to see and get a picture. It was miniature Wienermobile! I didn't have time to stop to find out how much they were asking for it. Stephie would have killed me if I bought it, but I was thinking it would be a perfect gift for my pal Randy Scuffle.
     Two Wienermobile sightings (sort-of) in two days. What does that mean? We used to see one regularly when I worked in Downers Grove. We figured it was using a local hotel as a base of some kind. It made me want to have a hot dog or two, although I haven't really liked Oscar Meyer hot dogs since I was a kid. I did Google it when I got back to my desk yesterday, and found a job listing to be a Wienermobile driver. How cool would that be?

05/24/15: We spent the first day of my three-day weekend cleaning the apartment as if we had company coming over. Sweeping, dusting, vacuuming (even moving the furniture first!) and other fun activities. When we were done, Stephie suggested that I go for pizza, which was a perfect way to end the day. I ran over to one of our local pizza places, and as I was getting out of the car, I looked up at the house to see this.
     We rarely get to see Billy, the cat who lives upstairs, and I think he likes it that way. They had him out in the yard one day last summer, trying to walk him around a little on a leash, but he was not having any of it. He lay in the grass and kept meowing, as if to say, "I'm done. Take me in!" But we do hear him above us from time to time. Before I saw him in person, I asked my neighbor how big he is, because when he runs across the floor, it sounds like they're rolling a bowling ball!
     I'm a little sad, though, because I was looking forward to seeing him regularly this summer, now that he has such a terrific spot, but Stephie and I found out this week that our neighbors will be moving soon, having found an apartment in an area where there's more night life and excitement. They were great neighbors and we're going to miss them. I hope Billy has as good a spot in the new place to sit and watch the world go by.

05/03/15: As if my recent purchase of the entire Der Ring Des Nibelungen on Laserdisc (11 discs!) was not proof enough that I am the king of obsolete media, I was walking through the lobby of the local library when an item on the cart there caught my eye. I was a videotape of The Best Of Ernie Kovacs. I first learned of Ernie Kovacs (before the '80s retrospective on PBS) when I was a teenager by watching a tape that my dad had brought home from work of an hour-long special from the early '60s. The problem was that it was on a Umatic tape, which was never a format used for home viewing. Fortunately for me, the McDonald's I worked at had just such a system in the break room that they used for watching training tapes, so I was able to take it in there and watch it on my break. But I digress...
     I stopped and looked through the tapes on the rack and found all kinds of treasures there. I picked up the two Ernie Kovacs tapes, two Buster Keaton collections, two Laurel & Hardy volumes, one of which has Flying Elephants, a silent that I always wanted to buy on super-8 from the Blackhawk Films catalogs we got in the mail. The tapes were twenty-five cents each, so I also grabbed The Wind, a 1928 Lillian Gish film, and The Miracle Rider, a 15 chapter Mascot serial starring Tom Mix. Not a bad haul for two bucks. Good thing my VCR is still hooked up!

04/20/15: The Windy City Pulp and Paperback Convention is a wrap for 2015. The picture here is my booty from three days at the convention. You can click the picture for a different view, in which you can read all the titles on the books.
     It's not as big a pile as I've had in the past, but there's some really good stuff. I bought a few vintage pulps, some old paperbacks, some new collections, a couple of new stories, and two hardcover comics collections.
     I started on Friday, as I usually do, by just quickly going through the dealer room to get an idea of the where I wanted to spend my time. Oddly enough, I bought several books in that first hour and a half, and all were on my want list! That rarely happens, as sometimes things sit on that list for years. I also picked up the first Steve Ditko Omnibus for a third of the cover price. I thought that was going to be the bargain of the weekend, but that prize was at the next table.
     I've been a fan of the original Captain Marvel ever since we were small and Dad would tell us about this character he used to read who was a kid who could become a superhero by shouting the word "Shazam!" We finally got to read stories with this character when DC got the rights in the '70s and started a monthly comic, which sometimes would reprint stories from the '40s and early '50s. I've read many stories since then, in reprints and in a few golden age comics I'd been able to afford. But one thing always eluded me. It was a hardcover book, part of a series that DC put out just before we were discovering comics in the '70s. There were four volumes, one each for Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and what they were already calling Shazam, because in the interim, Marvel Comics had trademarked the name. I have the Superman and Batman volumes, but had never actually seen a copy of the Shazam book. On that Friday, there was a copy on one of the tables, with a $75 price tag.
     I stopped and looked, then moved on. I had what was actually for me a substantial budget for the weekend, but $75 would take a big chunk out of it, and since it was only Friday, I figured the guy would not be open to haggling. Over the next two days, I would walk by the table, gazing longingly at the book, but just thinking it was out of my price range. But Saturday night I thought about it, about how I'd never seen a copy in person, let alone one in such great condition, and how Stephie so kindly said "that doesn't seem that expensive" when I told her about it. So on Sunday morning, I stopped at the cash station, got a couple of extra bucks, and walked right up to the table an bought it. And I'm glad I did.
     Overall it was a great weekend. I got to talk to some of the writers I regularly chat with. I gave two of them copies of The Sleep Detectives last year. Ron Fortier said that he still has it on his to-be-read pile and plans to review it on his site, and Tommy Hancock said that he had reviewed it (favorably, I might add) but it seems that in his change from one hosting company to another, his site lost most of his reviews. He said he'd repost it and let me know when the review was up. I saw two movies based on H.P. Lovecraft stories, looked at some fascinating original art, set in on a couple of interesting panels, watched but did not bid on anything at the Saturday auction, and just had a great time, as I have every year. I'm already looking forward to next year!

03/29/15: Several years ago, I made a couple of mix CDs of songs that I recognize as having been played on WXRT, a local radio station I would listen to religiously. That station has been around since 1972, largely playing the same style of what's now known as "adult-oriented rock", so they have an extensive catalog of songs that they choose from. Probably because of this, there is a large number of tunes that I've heard on XRT that I rarely have heard anyplace else, songs like 'Belly of the Whale' by Burning Sensations and 'Home of the Brave' by The Nails. I always thought it would be neat to have a CD (or previously, a cassette) full of these songs. Several years ago I compiled two mix CD sets, and even burned a few copies for family and friends. I have MP3s of these compilations on my phone, and I periodically listen to them.
     This week, the song I can't get out of my head is from one of these collections, 'I Think She Likes Me' by Treat Her Right. It's a story of a musician who is talking to a woman in a bar, only to be confronted by the woman's husband, who is brandishing a handgun. I've listened to it several times in the past few days, and it occurs to me that this is much the same story as another song, 'Gimme Three Steps' by Lynyrd Skynyrd, but I see a big difference between the two.
     I'd always considered Lynyrd Skynyrd to be this long-haired, hard-partyin' band of southern hell-raisers, but in 'Gimme Three Steps,', the singer, when confronted by the pistol-wielding spouse of the girl he's trying to score with, begs the man for the eponymous three steps head start:

I was scared and fearing for my life.
I was shakin' like a leaf on a tree.
'Cause he was lean, mean,
Big and bad, Lord,
Pointin' that gun at me.
I said, "Wait a minute, mister,
I didn't even kiss her.
Don't want no trouble with you.
And I know you don't owe me
But I wish you'd let me
Ask one favor from you."
"Won't you give me three steps,
Gimme three steps mister,
Gimme three steps towards the door?
Gimme three steps
Gimme three steps mister,
And you'll never see me no more."

     Yet the character in the Treat Her Right song, who I somehow pictured as a somewhat clean-cut guy from Boston, is confronted with a similar situation, but his response is more than a little different:

Some guy comes over, what does he think
Intruding on our private thing
The man is looking quite upset
Wavin' 'round with his gun like that

She'd told me things about her life
She'd never told me she was someone's wife
The man with the gun says "Why'd you buy her a drink?"
I said "I think she likes me that's what I think"

     Notice the tense of the reply. It's not an apology, like "Oh, I thought she liked me, but I'll quietly leave now." The response, even with the imminent threat of violence, is a defiant "F--- you! I think she likes me, so I'm going for it."
     Suddenly, Lynyrd Skynyrd doesn't seem so bad-ass any more.

03/27/15: I have several bookmarks in my browser to pages that list upcoming concerts of bands that I'd like to see, or in some cases see again. I check them periodically to see if any shows are scheduled anywhere close. I had some time today so I went throught the list and was dismayed to see that Edgar Froese, the main guy behind Tangerine Dream, passed away this past January at the age of 70.
     I don't remember how I first learned of Tangerine Dream, but it was probably during my first interest in the genre known as Krautrock, which itself was fostered by my fascination in the output of Billingsgate Records, a small local label which had its offices mere blocks away from where I grew up. I never really thought that Tangerine Dream fit in with the rest of the bands of that type, but being primarily instrumental, primarily electronic, and being from Germany, it was natural that they wound up lumped with Kraftwerk, Neu!, and other bands of that time.
     I do remember my first Tangerine Dream record was Stratosfear, and I bought it from the cutout bin at Kroozin' Music, a local record store with a putative connection to Billingsgate. A couple of spuns on the old turntable and I was soon hunting all the record stores I frequented in search of the band's back catalog, much of which I found in no time. I soon had a dozen albums to choose from.
     I stopped buying new Tangerine Dream music in the mid-'80s, around the time most of their output consisted of movie soundtracks. I think my tastes were just changing, and my interest in krautrock waned a bit, but I would still go back to my Tangerine Dream albums when I wanted some music to just relax to. Back when I was buying components of my first stereo, my dad had given me a reel-to-reel tape deck, and I would look at those tape spools, which if you slowed them down could fit several hours on one spool. I always wanted to record a bunch of Tangerine Dream on one of those tapes, so I could listen to many hours without having get up and flip the record or change the cassette. This is something that we can do now with digital files. I sometimes load up my MP3 Jukebox with three or four Tangerine Dream albums and listen uninterrupted for hours.
     I only saw Tangerine Dream play live once. It was on the Optical Race tour in 1988, but the show was outdoors at Poplar Creek in late September of that year, and it was cold. The place was less than half-full, and they even announced that the people on the lawn should just come down to the pavilion, since there were so many empty seats. I remember being physically uncomfortable, but the music was great. Last year, I saw that the latest incarnation of the band, up to six members now, was playing some live shows in Europe, so I'd been checking the page occasionally to see if they would be coming to the US. Edgar Froese was the only constant in the band since it was formed in 1967, and with him gone, I assume the band is as well. At least there music still lives on.

03/08/15: I've been wrong all along. People are always complaining that the Daylight Savings Time change affected them somehow, especially in the spring, when they complain that their missing an hour of sleep threw them off for a couple of days afterwards. I never thought that it had any effect on me. Until today.
     Yesterday, we had a full day of activity. I puttered on the computer all morning, carefully avoiding any attempt to do any writing. We went to visit my parents, where we played two full games of Scrabble. When we got home, we watched a movie on TV, during which I had a few small cocktails, so right around 11 PM, I could barely keep my eyes open. I turned on my alarm, crawled under the covers and was soon fast asleep.
     Kisu woke me up this morning, just before 8, when the alarm was set to go off. I got up and took her for a long walk, then came back in and started a pot of coffee before turning the computer on. I checked my e-mails, got a cup of coffee and a couple of cookies, and sat back down at the keyboard to browse the news sites. After a little while, I happened to glance at the clock and noticed that it was almost 10:30. I briefly thought that I must have taken Kisu out for a longer walk than I thought, and that Stephie was sleeping really late, when I remembered about the time change and realized that the computer had adjusted its time, but I had forgotten to change the rest of the clocks.
     Usually what I do is to change my alarm clock before going to bed, then I change all the rest of the clocks in the apartment on Sunday morning, but I was so tired last night that I forgot. I quickly changed the clocks, and by this time Stephie was up, and I went about my day. All day, though, I kept thinking that it was earlier than it really was, or at least as the clocks say it is. It was then that I realized that for once, Daylight Savings Time actually has affected me, but not like most people say. They tell me that they are off because they missed an hour of sleep, but by not changing my alarm before going to sleep yesterday, I feel like I lost an hour of my waking day! It's a lousy feeling.
     You can be sure that I'm not going to do that again. Although now that I think about it, if I don't change the clock before I got to bed on the night we go back to standard time, will I feel like I get an extra hour of Sunday? Might be worth a try.

02/07/15: February is shaping up to be a bad month for my already overloaded MythTV DVR system. Not only are all our regular broadcast shows back after the Christmas holiday hiatus, and Stephie's favorite show, Perception, is back for what looks to be its final five episodes, but WYCC, the PBS station out of Daily College, is showing Poirot and Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries on its Tuesday night mystery block. We've long enjoyed Poirot on Masterpiece Mystery, and have the DVR set to record any Poirot episode, regardless if we've seen it or not.
     Miss Fisher was a recent discovery, as episodes started appearing on WYCC's holiday Mystery Marathons last year. It's a show about a female detective in Australia in the 1920s. The show features interesting stories, great music, cool cars, men with hats, and a liberated lady detective who solves crimes and looks great doing it. I highly recommend it.
     Also this week, the Hallmark Movie Channel is rerunning all of the Hallmark Mystery Movies from a few years ago. This won't beat up the DVR too badly, because we already have all the McBride and Jane Doe episodes, and it doesn't seem like they have the Mystery Woman pilot, which is the only one we don't have recorded. They are, however, also showing Jesse Stone reruns, and I'm not sure we've even seen all of them.
     The big thing, though, and the one that had me doing a happy dance in the apartment this morning, is that the MHz network, which is the International channel for WYCC here, is bringing back Tatort: Cologne starting today. Years ago, I found a program on MHz called International Mystery, and have since seen many subtitled movies featuring Inspector Montalbano, Maigret, Commissario Brunetti, Annika Bengtzon, the Swedish Wallander, and other foreign-language mystery series. But one of our favorites was a German-language series shown as Scene of the Crime featuring a pair of cops named Freddy and Max. MHz stopped showing Scene of the Crime several years ago, and since then, I discovered that it was only one part of a rotating-cast series called Tatort, which has been running in Germany since 1970, only I could never find any way or buying or watching subtitled episodes. When I was going through the DVR listing to see if there was anything else interesting that I want to record this week, I clicked on the MHz web site and found they will be showing new (to us) Max and Freddy episodes every Saturday night in February. The DVR is now set!
     I should probably also mention that February is Jack Benny month on Those Were The Days, on Saturday afternoons on WDCB. IT's not TV, so it's not going to impact the DVR, but that's more content for us to enjoy. I may need to take some time off of work this month!

02/01/15: The snow storm we just had is officially the fifth heaviest snowfall on record for Chicago. It's got me thinking, though, that I don't know how I'll remember it. After all, I now have lived through the five biggest snow storms that the city has seen.
As I wrote back in 2011, I have unique memories of each of the top four storms. From walking down Kedzie Ave. to my grandmother's wake in 1967, to forgetting my laptop at work and having to head back downtown after having made it safely home in 2011, I have a funny story for the other dates. But this one happened mostly on the weekend, and we had plenty of provisions at home, so there was no necessary travel needed. We had nothing planned that had to be cancelled.
     Many people said they were inconvenienced because they had Super Bowl-related plans, but as we didn't care at all about the two teams involved, we never planned to even watch the game (we watched "The Towering Inferno" off our DVR instead), so that was not an issue. I guess this year's storm will be remembered, at least by us, as "just another snow." At least Kisu go to go out and play in it.

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