Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Holiday Breakfast Suggestion

As served by JoAnna on Christmas morning.

From the "complimentary" cookbook, In the Kitchen the Costco Way.

Ingredients (per serving)
1 large croissant
4 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread)
1/2 banana, sliced into rounds
3 tablespoons granulated brown sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar
Fresh fruit

Slice croissant lengthwise almost all the way through. Spread cream cheese on both sides. Spread Nutella on top of cream cheese.

Toss banana slices with brown sugar and place in an ovenproof pan. Put under a hot broiler for about 30 seconds, or until the sugar melts. Place banana slices on top of Nutella and close the croissant.

In a bowl, combine eggs, milk, sugar, rum and vanilla; mix until well blended. Dunk the croissant into the batter, soaking well.

Heat a saute pan over medium heat and coat with a little butter. Add the croissant and cook like French toast, turning once. Top with confectioners' sugar and fresh fruit.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Retirement Does Have Its Rewards

Here I am again, ready to solve one of the world’s greatest problems.

Every time I open the door of the refrigerator, I’m unhappy with what I see. At least that’s been my reaction for most of this year. And it’s not the contents – I think our dietary habits are just fine – but the arrangement.

“I don’t think we’re getting the best storage capacity out of our refrigerator,” I announced to JoAnna last night. “I think I just found myself an end-of-year project.”

“Good for you,” she said, in a wifely, disinterested tone.

What else should I have expected? It’s not the type of project for which one is pressed for details.

“Will the peanut butter be next to the jellies?” she asked breathlessly.

The refrigerator’s interior was due for a thorough cleaning and clearing out anyway. In the latter category, for example, I tossed out the contents of glass jars of olives, capers, and tapenade purchased for Bastille Day 2008. (Note to guests: we always use the freshest ingredients available.)

After recreating a sparkling interior, I replaced contents that had survived the cut by like or related items, though sadly, due to a mismatch in container sizes, the peanut butter did not end up with the jellies.

My first determination, which occurred to me in a daydream in Sunday, was to store the beverages – milk, pitcher of water, and fruit juices – on the lowest door shelf, as these are the items most frequently accessed. Then I placed individual containers of yogurt and applesauce, Eddie’s favorite snacks, on the right-hand side of the top interior shelf. These items had previously been stored on a jellyroll pan on a lower shelf, an improvisation I was never all that happy with. Now they are nicely stacked, in full view, easily retrievable. (Check back with me in a month or so to learn if this is still the case.)

After these two clusters had been reshelved, the rest of the reorganization almost took care of itself.

Retirement does have its rewards.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Freddie Hubbard, 1938-2008

Sirius/XM Real Jazz (channel 72) played the title cut of this 1972 Grammy-winning album this afternoon, shortly after the announcement of Hubbard's death. A stunning piece of music! (Every once in awhile, the Grammys get it right.)

But this October 1972 release, Sky Dive, is my all-time favorite of his. I never tire of listening to it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Separated At Birth

Edith Macefield’s tiny house in the old fishing village of Ballard, now a part of Seattle. (Photo taken by Stuart Isett for the New York Times.)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

An Alternate Route to the Tree

When I was 5 years old, we lived in a house (first street view) with no fireplace. Although I still believed in Santa Claus, I began to have some concerns at this time about the mechanics of his operation.

"How will Santa give us our presents?" I asked my parents on Christmas Eve. "We don't have a chimney."

"We'll keep the front door unlocked," Mom replied, as though anticipating the question.

That's all I needed to hear. In 1954, I fully subscribed to the belief that he knows when you've been sleeping, he knows when you're awake. So he'd certainly be able to get into our house -- even if the door was locked.

Santa Sends Out His Scout

Uh-oh! This doesn't look good.

They kiddin' me?! How do they expect the Big Guy to slide down this skinny straw? I hope these folks didn't ask for anything other than gift cards.

And these trees are going to cause some approach problems.

I just hope Rudy's got his radar workin' tonight. Otherwise, this tree could end up decorated. And it won't be a pretty sight.

Well, at least folks around here got their wish.

In a Sentimental Christmas Mood

This treetop Santa has adorned our trees since JoAnna's and my first Christmas together. (I should have taken a picture with Santa's hat off. It looks like we're celebrating the season WWF-style.)

And then there are those truly special ornaments, which the boys would prefer we keep off the tree, actually. Although the frame says 1996, this pictures features Andy in his football uniform from the fall of 1998, when he played for St. Francis Xavier in Cross Plains. A group of parents took turns providing taxi service to the from the practices for the 14-mile round trip. It was probably one of those memories I relived when Andy first got his driver's license.

This picture is from the fall of 1997, when Eddie was in first grade. His soccer team chose the name Sailfish. Marine names seemed to be the trend then. When Andy started out in socccer, dinosaur names were de rigueur. His team was the T-Rex's.

Bonus round for Eddie!

Monday, December 22, 2008

At the Zoo

On the weekend before last, JoAnna and I walked around Madison's Vilas Park Zoo while Eddie waited for the start of the annual Jingle Bell Run fundraiser for the Arthritis Foundation. I brought my camera along and took pictures of whatever moved. It wasn't much: 2 polar bears, a buffalo, a grizzly bear, and a group of penguins.

As you can see, I was particularly entranced with a rather hammy polar pear.

According to the Zoo's website, [o]n June 30, 1904, Col. William F. and Anna M. Vilas gave a large tract of land to the Madison Park and Pleasure Drive Association "for the uses and purposes of a public park and pleasure ground." From 1905 through 1910, the Vilas family donated an additional $42,000 for improvements, and public donations of $10,000 were raised for the enlargement and improvement of the park. The park was named in memory of the Vilas' son, Henry, who died at a young age due to complications from diabetes. In 1911, the first animal exhibits were created, representing the start of the Henry Vilas Zoo. More history here.

In a Philadelphia Zoo online activity, the polar bear currently ranks 6th in popularity, well behind the pygmy marmoset and vampire bat, I'm sorry to report.

Children should not click on this site unsupervised.

The oldest polar bear, certified by World Records Academy, lived in the Winnepeg Zoo. "Debby" died last month at the age of 42.

Sarah Palin has opinions on polar bears. Perhaps you'd be interested in reading them.

Yeah, guy, I'm relieved she's not the incoming VP, too.

It is estimated that there was once 60 million buffalos in North America. According to the National Bison Association, there are only 350,000 buffalos in North America today. You can read about the decline here.

A grizzly bear does the Buffalo Stance. (And a chance for me to share my favorite Nenah Cherry song.)

Penguins use their beaks for many purposes.
  • Catching food.
  • Holding onto the slippery fish they catch under water.
  • Carrying materials for nest building.
  • Feeding their young.
  • Preening their feathers and spreading the oil to keep them waterproof. (Looks like that's what's being done in the picture above.)
  • Protecting themselves and their young.
Penguins are social animals. They travel, feed, breed, nest, and winter in large groups. (These guys, unfortunately, won't be doing much traveling.)

Penguins are serial monogamists.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Survey Says

72% agree that Richard Nixon is a man of "high integrity".
71% parents would forbid their teenager from going to a hippie "be-in".

Link to December 21 New York Times op-ed piece, "The Way We Were, 1968."

And just coincidentally, Great Big Radio is playing the hits and misses of 1968, including "La-La Means I Love Your" by the Delfonics (currently playing) and, just previous to this great song, the nearly forgotten (and justifiably so) "Brown-Eyed Woman" by Bill Medley (of the Righteous Brothers). The former song reach #4 on Billboard's Hot 100. The latter reached #43.

The music continues until New Year's Day.

Snow Falling on Cedars....

.... Middleton style

Holiday Greetings
from our house to your house.
(There are colored lights strung on junipers
buried beneath the pile of snow.)

Let It Snow!

(Taken shortly after we had
shoveled for the 4th time in 1 day.)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Have a Retro Christmas

Last Thursday I attended the last of offering this year’s “History Sandwiched In” program series. John Shimon and Julie Lindemann, professional photographers and assistant professors of art at Lawrence University, presented a talk and slide show, with dual Carousel projectors, on what many people would consider the kitchiest – or worse – of Christmas artifacts: the aluminum tree.

They even wrote a book about it. Season’s Gleamings: the Art of the Aluminum Christmas Tree. (With 12 pages of general text and 60 pages of photographs with the emphasis on “Art”.)

The aluminum tree was manufactured by the Aluminum Specialty Company, which was located in America’s other tinsel town, Manitowoc, Wisconsin. They first went on sale in time for the 1959 Christmas season, predating The Jetsons by three years. Sales peaked during the years 1961-1963, and production stopped six years later, no doubt to the great relief of some Christmas purists.

Shimon’s and Lindemann’s interest in this short-lived phenomenon led them to collect as many trees as they could get their hands on, although I think they said they stopped at 50. Their best sources were Manitowoc-area estate sales, where they purchased the trees at give-away prices. For five years running, they set up the trees, complete with rotating color wheels, rotating bases, and tinkling musical accompaniment, in their storefront gallery in Manitowoc. (Sorry I missed it, especially since we usually visit JoAnna’s parents in nearby Two Rivers on or around Christmas.)

Season’s Gleamings, published in 2004, contains 60 color photographs that show a variety of the aluminum trees to best effect. The authors’ training in commercial product photography is clearly obvious. They use their considerable skills to tell a narrative using as few props as possible. The frame of “Foot Message Christmas” (page 23), a study in red and white, includes a 7-foot tree against a solid red background with a fake fireplace, a pair of high-heeled shoes, and an electric foot massager -- the last two items "casually tossed aside" on the floor. Not exactly your all-American Christmas scene, but a very striking composition. Shimon and Lindemann are more interested in the aluminum tree as art object as opposed to historical artifact, although they show obvious appreciation for both aspects.

During their back-and-forth presentation, Lindemann speculated on why the aluminum tree was such a short-lived phenomenon. First of all, its gleaming, space-age design probably lost whatever charm it had in the years immediately following John F. Kennedy’s assassination. She then pinpointed what she felt was the beginning of its end: the influence of the phenomenally popular “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (not quite the way you remember it), originally broadcast by CBS on December 9, 1965. (It was the Peanuts gang first TV special.) The storyline includes Charlie Brown’s quest, with Linus joining him, to find the perfect Christmas tree to decorate for the play the kids are putting on. Lucy insists they have a “big shiny aluminum tree…maybe painted pink”, but Charlie Brown selects a small, nondescript tree, the only real one available.

(The irony, of course, is Charles Schulz taking anyone to task for commercialism rurn amok. Anyone who really remembers the 1960s and 1970s will recall that the Peanuts brand was relentlessly and ubiquitously hawked.)

As a result of their keen interest in aluminum trees, the City of Manitowoc is no longer embarrassed by its central role in their manufacture. In fact, it is now heartily embraced.

Collection development note: This afternoon I checked out the only copy of Season’s Gleamings in LINKcat.

Other links:
CA Modern Magazine, "Shimmering Nostalgia".
Metropolis Magazine, "al tannenbaum, al tannenbaum".


Now that Caroline Kennedy has declared her intent to seek Hillary Clinton's Senate seat, as the New York Times trumpeted today on its front page (note the headline!), the discussions of her "qualifications" have already intensified.

Has anyone bothered to check what these qualifications are?

Here's what is stated in Article I, Section 3, Clause 3 (Qualifications of Senators) of the U.S Constitution:

(1) No Person shall be a Senator who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty Years,
(2) and been nine Years a Citizen of the United States,
(3) and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.

That's it, folks.

Note to the chattering classes -- left, right and center. Tell us what you really think. (Dump all that baggage you're carrying.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

The T'rivers C'nnection

That's Two Rivers, for those of you who don't take verbal shortcuts.

Students from elementary schools throughout the state of Wisconsin contributed ornaments to this year's "State Capitol Tree". What caught my eye during my recent visit to the Capitol rotunda were the construction-paper ice-cream-sundae ornaments created by students in Two Rivers, my wife's hometown.

A Wisconsin historical marker commemorates Two Rivers as "The Birthplace of the Ice Cream Sundae". In 1881, George Hallauer asked Edward C. Berner, the owner of a soda fountain at 1404 - 15th Street, to top a dish of ice cream with chocolate sauce, hitherto used only for ice cream sodas. The concoction cost a nickel and soon became very popular, but was sold only on Sundays. One day a ten year old girl insisted she have a dish of ice cream "with that stuff on top," saying they could "pretend it was Sunday." After that, the confection was sold every day in many flavors. It lost its Sunday only association, to be called ICE CREAM SUNDAE when a glassware salesman placed an order with his company for the long canoe-shaped dishes in which it was served, as "Sundae dishes."

As the spouse of a Two Rivers native, it's heretical for me to note that the origin of the ice cream sundae is a subject of great controversy.

Two Rivers is not the only community to make this claim to fame.

Residents of Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University, feel this honor should go to their community. (It should be noted that Michael Turback, the author of "The Official Website of the Ice Cream Sundae", lives in the 607 area code. And what community do you think it includes?)

It doesn't appear to be a blood feud. Folks in Cornell seem to be having fun with battle for ice-cream-sundae supremacy.

On the Wisconsin side, Madison's Doug Moe has volunteered to be a judge. "Let's have a contest and decide which city makes the better ice cream sundae," he suggests.

Retiring Guy is also happy to offer his services.

Oh, no! I just stumbled this little tidbit. Evanston, Illinois, is horning in on things.

Documentation? We got documentation.

My favorite sundae? Vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and peanuts.

Retiring Guy Goes to the Capitol

To check out the Christmas tree in the rotunda.

Oops! I guess I misspoke. It's officially referred to as the State Capitol Tree. (Coal in the stocking to whomever thought up this stilted phrase. )

Enjoy the pics and links to background information.

Wisconsin State Capitol time line

Wisconsin State Capitol Historic Structure Report

The place of origin of this year's tree.

News release from the

Check out this great photo on Flickr.
(Event that just took place:
Swearing in of new members of the

A view of State Street from the west entrance to the Capitol. As I walked to the Lake Street ramp, the researcher in me wondered how many current business along State Street were in operation when I moved to Wisconsin in 1978 -- or even when JoAnna and I moved to Middleton in 1986. I feel another photography excursion coming on.