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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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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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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Winding down, winding up

School let out May 25th, and it’s hard to believe that I’ve been on summer break for one week – probably because the end of the school year was a chaotic mess, as usual. I wasn’t able to check out on the 25th due to a bunch of late work being thrown at me, but I was able to get it wrapped up the following day. And now it’s time for a much-needed break. I am freaking tired.

My hubby and I left for a quick trip to Chicago soon after school let out so that we could celebrate his birthday and visit friends. We took in a Sox game (which was FREEZING thanks to a weird cold snap), walked around downtown Naperville, bought way too many books at Half Price Books (to add to my pile of unread books from the last time I went there), and had a good time with everyone we visited with. It was the perfect start to the summer and a great stress relief. I needed to laugh and be a little carefree for a while. Well . . . almost carefree.

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Eternally annoyed by fake spring

I am sure I have said it a few thousand times on this blog, but I really, really loathe March in the Midwest. The snow takes forever to melt – IF it melts – and when it does, everything is a muddy freaking mess. I dread letting the dog outside because it means the inevitable muddly dog prints all over the kitchen when she comes prancing back in. Sometimes winter forgets that it’s supposed to leave quickly and quietly and instead hangs around like a drunk party guest, making messes in the form of winter storm after winter storm.

I feel like the den mother for a riotous frat party who, while cleaning up the chaos of the latest party, picks up a blanket to find a sleeping Old Man Winter. After a couple weeks of having above-average temperatures and quickly melting snow, we are now under a Winter Storm Watch for Monday.

<sigh> Whatevs. It goes with the territory of living here, I guess. I should know that once that glimmer of hope sparks that maybe — just maybe — I could get my pond up and going in record time that it awakens the Snow Giant. So we’ll hunker back in for the storm, look forward with dreary eyes for the Big Melt, and then repeat the process all over again.

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The Covid blues . . .

I’m not going to lie; I’m so freaking tired of events being canceled. Everything that my hubby and I have gotten tickets to and have looked forward to has been canceled; all of his band gigs have been canceled or postponed to a later date. We keep setting our sights on the next thing to look forward to, and then it just vanishes.

It’s my pity party and I’ll cry if I want to. Please do not lecture me about how selfish this sounds because I have news for you: I KNOW. Back in March, when my husband and I returned from a band gig in Georgia, the Covid thing was just starting to get serious; my school ended up going online the week that I returned. I remember thinking at the time that we’d have a few months of this and then be back to normal.

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And now, FOUR months later . . .

My last post before this one started off “Two weeks later,” drawing attention to the fact that I had been steadily writing up until the two weeks prior. Imagine my surprise when I looked to see that my last post was four months ago. Yikes!

In my defense, Covid has brought a whole new element of chaos to my job – as it has most jobs. In addition, I have found that block scheduling requires a whole new set of planning magic, and doing that planning has kept me on my toes. Writing, of course, fell to the wayside.

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Two weeks later . . .

I thought it was a mistake when I saw that my last post was from two weeks ago. I mean, that went by like a lightning bolt.

I still haven’t gotten around to taking pictures of the last batch of tablecloths I got during our last antique store run, so all of you who hate that sort of stuff can breathe a sight of relief. For those of you who love that sort of stuff, I promise that the pics are coming. Someday.

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