900 Miles Later . . .

As I wrote about in my last post, my hubs and I had to go to St. Louis this past weekend so that his band could play a gig behind the famous Bill Cherry. The drive took 7.5 hours to get down there, which is quickly becoming ho-hum to us the more that we drive around the country together. Each drive nets us more laughter and more memories, so I try to keep that in my head as the ultimate payoff for the seemingly endless miles of highway driving. It’s not so bad once we get past the flatness of Iowa, but the flatness of Iowa is immense, and it can be relentless. I kind of dread the last 2 hours getting home because the drive is so. freaking. boring.

The gig was held at the Casa Loma Ballroom in St. Louis – a charming little place built in 1927. We were told several times that famous icons such as Frank Sinatra had sung there, and it did indeed have that “look” that suggested that many decades of dancing and music had taken place there. I am very much a total nerd when it comes to old buildings; I spend a lot of time skulking around, geeking out at architectural elements and imagining the history that had taken place there. However, there is one not-so-good element about playing in old buildings: THE STAIRS. My husband is a drummer, and the pieces to his drum kit are immense (they fill up the entire back of my Dodge Durango – with all of the seats folded down!), and the box with all the chrome stands in it (we call it “the coffin”) is ungodly heavy. So when we arrived at the Casa Loma and realized that the historic building had no elevator and we had to go up two flights of stairs to get the equipment in, it was a little disheartening. It was hot down there in St. Louis, and hauling all those pieces of equipment up stairs just to set up was not our idea of fun. However, with several other people helping to carry things, it went fairly quickly. The building also wasn’t air conditioned, so it was a warm night. I stood most of the night and took pictures and was dripping sweat just doing that; I can’t imagine how hot it was on stage with the lights.

The show, however, was fantastic. If you are an Elvis fan, then seeing Bill Cherry is a must. You will forget it’s not Elvis up there on the stage, and I do not say that lightly. He looks like him, he sings like him, he talks like him, and his jumpsuits are spot-on. He is one of my favorite people to photograph simply because the illusion is so striking. Here are a few of the pics I snapped from the show:

The pics probably do not do the performance justice, but let me tell you – a Bill Cherry show is great entertainment.

On our way out of St. Louis, we stopped by a record store called The Record Exchange that my husband had been wanting to go to for years. The store is owned by Bill’s manager and her husband, and my husband is always loving all the posts she makes on Facebook about her business. Since we were FINALLY in St. Louis, we decided to go there on our way home.

O . . . M . . . G.

This store is IMMENSE! The building used to be a city library, so there’s lots of floor space to work with.

The place is almost overwhelming once you step into it because every inch of the store is crammed with goodies – records, CDs, DVDs, tapes, stereo equipment, and lots of posters and historic material. The records are organized meticulously – which is not the norm in vinyl stores, we have found – and it is easy to find what you want. We had a long drive ahead of us, so we were only able to spend 1.5 hours there, but it was so much fun to peruse the store, and we would definitely love to come back and spend more time browsing.

I have been on an Otis Redding kick lately, and I was able to score one of his records here. That isn’t an easy feat, I have discovered, for Otis Redding vinyl is hard to find. But the owner of the store knew he had some Otis in stock and found it for me.

If you’re in the St. Louis area, be sure to visit The Record Exchange. It is a great store with something for everyone.

That’s all the news from my little corner of Iowa. This weekend we head to the Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque!

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Stormy Monday

As per my usual routine these days, I awakened about 3 a.m. and my mind started reeling. It’s funny – I thought that once summer hit that I’d be sleeping in or at least not awakening before 8. My routine, however, has been that I often awake in the middle of the night. If I can’t get back to sleep, I read for a while, or I get up and start poking around on the ‘net. It is obvious which one I chose to do this morning, although the book I’m currently reading, a biography about Laura Ingalls Wilder, is beckoning me as well.

During my daily walks, I often go by a little farm that has been nestled against a hillside since, well, forever. In fact, the farm has been there so long that the road that goes by the farm is named after the people who live there. It’s a picturesque little place, with a huge garden and a wide variety of farm animals, including pigs, birds, goats, horses, and – at least in the past – a couple of peacocks. The farm has a wonderful variety of flowers growing around the house and along the ditch, and I love to walk by and see all the colors every day. This was my view yesterday. It just screams summer.

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And now, a sense of calm

Finally – I feel relaxed. No more school email, no more last-minute grade fixing, no more worrying that I forgot to do something. Now it is time to get stuff done – although the weather and general luck (or should I personify that – “General Luck”?) seem to be standing in my way lately.

Last week I pressure-washed my desk, needing to give it a fresh coat of stain. That was on Wednesday. Thursday, it rained, so I couldn’t get much done. Friday it rained in the afternoon, so by the time I was ready to tackle the deck, Mother Nature thwarted me again. The weather was supposed to be perfect on Sunday – mid 70s and partly cloudly. When I got up on Saturday morning, I realized that someone at The Weather Channel did not do their job very well, for it was horribly humid and rainy on and off all day.

Today feels like 85% humidity and is going to be hot. Here’s our forecast for the next few days:

If I remember correctly, stain should not be applied in extreme heat, so there go the next two days. So here my little can of stain sits, waiting to be used.

So . . . back to that stellar forecast I posted above. Last Thursday, I drove down to take my son and his girlfriend out to eat and to do a little shopping. Just as I was backing out of their apartment complex, I heart a loud POP and some smoke emanating from my car. My son, who took auto classes in high school, said that it sounded like my A/C like burst. And guess what? He was right. We all went to the back of the car and saw a huge green pool of refrigerant on the ground. The car goes in tomorrow to be looked at, but I just had the A/C line repaired LAST SUMMER, and it was not a cheap job. Needless to say, I am not a happy camper. Of course the A/C breaks when it is going to be almost 100 degrees!

Next weekend, my husband’s band is traveling to St. Louis to play behind one of the best Elvis tribute artists in the country, Bill Cherry. If you do not know who he is, look him up. I will have plenty of pictures to post, I’m sure, but every time I photograph that man, I am in awe of what a great performer he is. Not only does he look like 70’s Elvis, but he SOUNDS like him – even when he talks. I know many people brush off Elvis tribute artists as being stupid or silly or “not the real thing” (um, duh?!), but I do enjoy getting lost in the moment sometimes while watching some of these guys.

Oh, and I really, REALLY hope my A/C is fixed by the time we have to go to St. Louis, otherwise we will have to take a gas-guzzling Tahoe down there, and then we will have to sell our house and all of our possessions to pay for that fuel bill.

It’s getting insane out there, y’all.

I have dubbed this summer “the summer of calm.” I have gotten into routines that not only help my physical health, but they help my mental health. Every morning I get up pretty early, drink some dandelion tea, then head out on a walk, weather permitting. If I can’t take a walk in the morning, then I take one in the afternoon, but I try to go for at least one, if not two, walks a day. In addition, I’ve been making a conscious effort to cook more healthily for my husband and me. My latest obsession has come from the Weber line of marinade seasoning packets. They are so yummy and easy and make it seem like I did something a lot more impressive than just a marinade. This is in no way a paid advertisement; they’re just really, really good. And of course, since I like them, I cannot find them in my favorite grocery store anymore. Happens every time.

I don’t know how much antique shopping I will get in this summer, as rising prices of everything has made it necessary to cut back elsewhere. I’m sure, however, that I’ll be able to pop in to some shops here and there. In the meantime, I hope your summer is wonderful so far and that you are also able to find a way to enjoy a “summer of calm.”

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I’m here, just limping

Ok, I’m not literally limping, but I am most definitely limping in a figurative way. This school year was hard. I don’t remember having a year where the ending was so chaotic, and then even when everything should have ended, it still didn’t. I am still dealing with outstanding assignments (as in, not handed in – not wonderful) and last-minute panic that should have happened a month ago.

But I digress . . . y’know – from the point I wasn’t even making yet.

Two weeks after school has ended, I am finally getting some downtime. My back would like to tell you that my carrying 5-gallon buckets full of black dirt and bags of mulch yesterday was a bad idea. A very bad idea. However, I spent a good chunk of yesterday trying to finish up the planting and preening of the perennial garden, so such deeds must be done.

I took this picture soon after getting the pond filled and operational for the season. Flowers were bought, mulch was put down, and I still had not moved away all my leaf piles, as evidenced from the background.

The pond has been operational for a little over a month, although I was frustrated with how long it took to get it up and going again. This spring was cold and wet for far too long and it delayed everything. As a result, the toads took a while to start their singing and laying eggs, and the frogs never showed at all to lay theirs. It was definitely a weird year. Even without the frogs’ additions, though, the pond is full of little squiggly tadpoles. Up until three days ago, the water was crystal clear, and then I noticed it started to turn murky. Part of this problem involves the copious amount of leaves at the bottom of the pond, blown in during one of our many windy days. I’d fish them out, but doing so would also scoop up hundreds of tadpoles, and I do not have enough hours in the day to sit there and pick them all out of there. The other issue is a lovey cloud of green algae that has very quickly grown throughout the pond. The tadpoles love to hide in there, too, so removing it can be tricky.

I know – it’s just a tadpole. But the animal lover in me just cannot bring myself to knowingly fling a living thing into the grass and then walk away. It may be stupid, but that’s the way I’ve always been.

I had to do a little replanting of some plants that didn’t make it last year, such as 4 out of my six rosebushes that the deer could not leave alone last year. Having never grown roses before, I was unprepared for them being a favorite snack of the pesky deer, who have been mowing down my flowers relentlessly this year, thanks to the late spring. For whatever reason, the unique grass that I had planted on either side of the waterfall decided to die over the winter as well after surviving the past 5 winters, so I had to decide what other kind of grass to plant there. (I wish I was good about remembering plant names, but I most certainly am not!) This past weekend I was in the Chicago ‘burbs and stopped by the wonderfully amazing Alsip nursery in Frankfort. What a plant lover’s dream that store is! I looked around for a replacement for the waterfall grass and decided on maiden grass. I hope it ends up looking nice.

Also found at Alsip Nursery: these goofy looking items. I am a sucker for things that are a good mix between funky and cute, so these had to come home with me. My husband has named the two in the back George and Lennie (Of Mice and Men reference), and the English teacher in me loves that.

I haven’t gotten a chance to do any antique store hunting lately, but I was pleasantly surprised to see this piece of retro design in our local grocery store. The pic is a little fuzzy since I took it quickly, not wanting to be that weirdo who is taking pics in the grocery store, but you get the idea. I was tempted to buy it just for the design, but given the fact that it was about $6 for four cans, and given the fact that I do not drink regular soda anymore, it was a pass for me.

I have been trying to take a walk in the early mornings – even when I am out of town – to keep myself accountable for exercising. When I walked yesterday, I noticed two different does with fairly new fawns. It may say something about my frustration with trying to grow flowers that keep mowing down that all I could think about is how much destruction these two little squirts were going to do to my landscaping.

Good thing they’re cute.

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Lord Calvert’s Infinite Wisdom

I belong to an atomic living-themed group on the book of faces. A couple weeks ago, a lady posted a booklet that she had gotten handed down from her mother, published in 1960. If the cover alone doesn’t make a retro-junkie shiver, then I don’t know what will:

The lady who had this gem in her possession initially was just going to give it to whoever wanted it, but when the the post blew up and hundreds of people started clamoring for it, she decided that the most fair way to get this book to someone who would appreciate it would be to do a random drawing.

Guess who won?

I seldom win anything – in fact, I think the last cool thing I won was in 1988 when I was the 13th caller to a local radio station, winning a Kenny Loggins cassette (yes – CASSETTE) that I never picked up because that would require social interaction. Plus, I really couldn’t drive yet, so that was also a damper on collecting the winning goods.

Anyway, I was more than thrilled to receive this book and I knew that I wanted to share it with others who loved this stuff as much as I do. This book is an absolute gem – lots of drink recipes, party ideas, and goofy illustrations.

Just to make yourself feel REALLY old, turn to page 84 and see what Lord Calvert recommends to stock a $25, $50, and $100 bar. Let’s just say inflation has run rampant just a tad since 1960.

Click on the image below to view the book. Enjoy!

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Hindsight is 20/20 on Future Plans

A picture of my coffee this morning . . . because why not?

Eight weeks from today, my youngest son turns 18. The very next day, he graduates from high school. The day after that, I will officially be an empty nester; I already have plans to pack up all his stuff in extra large Hefty bags and leave them outside the door, along with a McDonald’s coupon for a small Shamrock Shake as an extra special treat.

Of course, it will be May and Mickie D’s will no longer offer the Shamrock Shake, but it is the thought that counts, and he’ll understand that.

I’m kidding, of course. My plans with Youngest Son are still evolving, as his ideas of what to do for college and a long-term outlook have been rather murky. If he had to take a quiz over his future plans, I have a feeling that a lot of answers would be the famous “IDK” (I don’t know). My only hope is that none of those answers would be the irritating “IDC” (I don’t care). As a teacher, I see plenty of both those answers.

Honestly, I know very few people who knew exactly what they wanted to do out of high school. I mean, we thought we knew, but we really didn’t. When I had to take an interest survey at 15, I was obsessed with Elvis. I loved playing music on my keyboard and dreamed of being a singer someday. Y’know – just like Elvis.

There was one problem: I was an introvert, and the thought of standing on a stage, singing and being vulnerable, made me want to vomit. (I did it once as a senior, as all seniors who got a superior rating on their vocal solo had to. I sang the shortest solo out of anyone and got the heck off the stage before I passed out. Here is the proof.)

However, having that idea in the back of my head, I answered all the questions correctly so that my #1 field ended up being in “entertainment and the performing arts.” It soon dawned on me that my reluctance to perform in front of other people might be problematic for a career such as this.

Back to the drawing board.

I wrote for the student newspaper throughout my high school years. I don’t think I wrote well — for most of my pieces were dashed off in the last few moments before a deadline — but I wrote something to fill the space anyway. I received good feedback from my advisor and relished in the compliments. This, of course, made me start leaning toward my next chosen career. I was going to be a journalist!

There was a problem with this career, too – part of which involved my reluctance as an introvert for talking to people I didn’t know. Apparently, journalists sometimes have to do that every now and then.

However, I had inspiration. I read a lot of Bob Greene back then, the since-disgraced Chicago journalist who liked to wax nostalgic about his adolescence. I had stumbled across his book in my father’s library called Be True to Your School, where he published his journals from his high school days, and I was intrigued. I loved how by the time I was done with the book, I felt I knew the people he had written about. By the time I had discovered the book, Greene was writing daily for the Chicago Tribune, and once the Internet became a “thang,” I made a habit of looking up his columns and keeping up with them.

In 2002, his life came crashing down around him, but those details can be easily found in a Google search and don’t need to be hashed out here. The fact remains that I was intrigued at the prospect of being a journalist with my own column and possibly a book deal or two.

One month into my freshman year of college with a media professor who was dour, gruff, and wholly unpleasant, I started rethinking my journalism plan. It really wasn’t the professor per se who turned me off from journalism; it was the stark reality that the chances of my being a columnist were almost null and void, unless I wanted to write for the local rinky dink newspaper with an audience of 12. I would most likely be writing obituaries and police reports for who knows how many years.

During a college break, I remember riding in my car with my mom as I shared my confusion about my career options. She suggested that I look into teaching English. I loved language, I loved to read, I loved to write, and who wouldn’t want those summers off?

Ah, yes. Those lovely summers off – where we teachers do not think of school at all. I laugh to think about that now, for I have spent many a summer re-designing curriculum, taking classes for recertification, or whatever other demands my job made of me. I also didn’t realize at the time that teaching in general was a 24/7 job; I find it impossible to go home and NOT think about school or things I need to do or units I need to plan or students who are struggling. It is ALWAYS on my mind.

Anyway, that was the turning point. It only took me until midway through my freshman year in college to figure it out, but I did eventually figure it out.

So when my son tells me that he really doesn’t know what he wants to do, I certainly am not panicking on his account. He’ll figure it out.

I’ll only start to worry if he tells me he wants to be the next Elvis.

Because that role has been taken.

By me. In secret.

Have a great Saturday!

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Hating March — and a tale of three books

I’ve been writing on this blog since 2008. I think there are probably a handful of posts where I talk about how much I loathe this month, so I debated whether I wanted to rehash that terribly ancient subject yet again. However, today’s weather just underscores one of the many reason why I dislike this month. Today was 70. Tomorrow will be 44 and rainy. Today we got a brief, beautiful taste of spring, and then my mood goes sour when I see what lay ahead. There isn’t another 70-degree day in the extended forecast. This was it.

Adding to my pessimism is the fact that it seems to be Murphy’s Law that the most beautiful weather we’ve had yet will coincide with the end of the quarter. It never fails! This means I can be found sitting inside, staring at a computer, while the forest animals dance underneath the brilliant sun, teasing me. I did manage to get out a bit this weekend, but I dislike having that “dark cloud” always on my mind, poking my brain, whispering, “Ya gotta get your grades done!” My grades are due by midnight tonight and I just finished them. Of course, there isn’t an actual “being done” with grades anymore. Current education trends demand that students get until infinity to turn stuff in, so I will have to redo these grades again and again until all who want to pass do so.

I wish I were joking. That’s another loooooooong post for another time.

I’ve been trying to get back into a reading routine. I’ve always been a reader, but sometimes I do not prioritize it during school because, well, I get tired of reading stuff all day long. My husband and I love to visit Half Price Books when we are in the Chicago area, and I usually add 10 more books to be TBR pile each time we go. My tastes have evolved in the last twenty years from romance novels (yes, I knooooooow) to biographies and history-based books. For Christmas, my husband bought me two books about two of my favorite movies: The Godfather and The Shawshank Redemption. I finished those not too long ago, and both were quite fascinating. I never realized how absolutely fraught with chaos and conflict the making of The Godfather entailed. I see there’s a new show coming out about this called The Offer, and I am stoked to see it. Poor Coppola – he had such a great vision, yet he had to claw his way through all the corporate bullcrap and naysayers in order to bring his vision to light. I mean, Jack Nicholson was considered for the role at one time, and Robert Redford was a favorite among the corporate bigwigs to play Michael.

No. Just no.

Luckily, Coppola got his way in the end and the cast was mostly of his choosing.

Sometimes it’s scary to think about what might have happened had the people with a vision not been able to carry out that vision.

The Shawshank Redemption has always fascinated me because A) Stephen King is a genius and B) Frank Darabont was the perfect person to channel King’s novella into a superb film and C) This film had the unfortunate timing to be pretty much overlooked at the Academy Awards, due to the existence of a few other blockbusters coming out at the same time: Forrest Gump, Pulp Fiction, Legends of the Fall, and Interview with the Vampire. I teach a cinema class, and Shawshank is one of the last movies that we get to by the end of the semester. It never fails that a good portion of the class not only has never seen the movie before but they unfailingly point to Shawshank as one of their favorite movies in their final reflections.

This book provided some interesting insight into the making of the movie, including how the interior prison block shown in the movie is actually a set built inside an old warehouse. As much of a fan of that movie as I am, I did not realize that they did not actually film inside the massive, gothic reformatory that the movie made famous and saved from demolition. It is also interesting to see the impact that one movie can have on a small town. I learned that there’s a “Shawshank Trail” where tourists can visit some of the filming locations, and I’m putting that trip on my bucket list.

Everything in that movie is perfect to me: the cinematography is beautiful, the music is perfect, and who can ever complain about Morgan Freeman’s silky voice narrating? The underlying message is endearing, and the actors are top-notch. What’s not to love?

The last book I finished recently was, well, kind of a let-down. I am a huge Elvis fan, and anyone who has followed the blog lately knows that my life has started to revolve around the “Elvis world” in a big way since meeting my husband. I devour Elvis books. In particular, I am intrigued by Elvis’ comeback with his ’68 special, then taking over the Vegas scene like a boss. For a few years, he was at the top of his game. Those were great years and fun to read about and watch. If you have ever seen the documentary That’s the Way It Is, you see that tanned, golden specimen of a man who laughs and jokes with the guys one minute but is serious as a monk the next moment when it comes to perfecting his music. It’s mesmerizing to watch.

When I saw this book, I had to have it.

If you read it, be prepared to read very little about Elvis at all until about page 171. I wish I were kidding. I got in depth information about Sinatra, Dean Martin, and every other Vegas staple – a portion of the book meant to provide background about why Elvis succeeded in Vegas, except that it doesn’t provide any of that background. Sinatra has little to do with Elvis. Elvis came along at the right time bringing entertainment that people wanted and needed at the time. Sure, one could argue that there’s an old guard/new guard component to all of it, but the connection between the two seemed weak. I couldn’t believe that it took 2/3 of the book to even get to Elvis’ stint at the International. I mean, if you’re going to name the book “Elvis in Vegas,” one expects the book to be mostly about Elvis in Vegas. The book was well-researched; it was just misnamed.

Well, that’s all the news from Iowa, land of corn and critters. If you made it this far reading this drivel, then you are the real MVP. Thanks for stopping by.

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Snow day!

My school really hasn’t had a lot of snow days, so now I have some time to make a new post. The last six months have been a blur – not only because of my husband’s health issues that I wrote about previously, but also because the school year seems a little more chaotic than usual. Part of this is due to having to plan for a lot of subs, which is now not as much, but part of it was also having a little mish-mash with classes and having to share sections with two other teachers. When there’s no common planning time built into the school day for this, it makes everything more chaotic.

Ok, end of rant.

I haven’t had a lot of time to go shopping for fun vintage stuff; the last trip we took was kind of a bust. My husband found some vinyl, but I found zero tablecloths or anything else that I really liked. However, in typical “me” fashion, I started to get the Kitchen-Klatter bug again after reading a visitor comment and remembering how much I enjoyed reading about that program. While I was very young when the program was aired, it is ingrained in my memories. I have distinct recollections of the ladies’ voices on the air as my mom sat at the kitchen table and wrote down the recipes being read over the air. There was something comforting about the sound of their voices, and for whatever reason, that memory has stayed with me over the years.

In modern times, eBay is there to rescue us from longing scraps from the past. I will admit going on eBay soon after I read the reader’s comment and looking for Kitchen-Klatter material. Although I don’t have a lot of room in my house to collect all the magazines, I did want to have a few from the 1950s, so I purchased those. Not sure if there’s any interest in having me scan those in, but if anyone would like me to do so, leave a comment and let me know.

Another little tidbit I purchased was a little cookbook for “Oven Dishes / One Dish Meals / Meat Cookery.” It is Volume 5, so it’s an isolated sample of this sort of publication, but I thought I would scan it in anyway for any Kitchen-Klatter fans out there. Here it is.

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An extended absence – with an excuse

This past year was cray-cray. I cannot express that enough. In particular, the last six months have had me running around like a crazy person as I try to keep the lid on the pot.

I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say that a multitude of health issues have made 2021 a nightmare – the health issues belonging to my husband. It has been a domino effect from July on, and we’re still not out of the woods. Once your health is in jeopardy, it seems like everything stops. In a way, it does, but also in a way, it doesn’t. I still had to go to work, pay the bills, take care of life’s little responsibilities, and keep on top of my teaching and schoolwork. I can honestly say that this year I feel like a truly horrible teacher. I am barely keeping up with my responsibilities and am certainly not being very creative or fun. I feel like I am shortchanging my students because my attention is always being pulled by this “other stuff.”

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Back to it

I haven’t written on here in a while because, well, I think I joined lots of other people who were like bulls behind the gate at a rodeo. Last summer was Covid summer. This summer was our chance to get out there and travel.

And travel, we did! We made several trips to Chicago, one to Memphis for Elvis Week, and a couple little ones in between to attend concerts – Foreigner and Styx. (Those concerts were fantastic, by the way!) We saw friends we haven’t seen in a couple of years, and that was more than good for the soul. Yes, I know Covid is still out there. I had a personal experience with it this summer. However, I would not trade the time I spent with friends and family for anything.

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