Reading: The Bartender’s Tale by Ivan Doig

The Bartender’s Tale
Author: Ivan Doig
Type: Fiction
Finished: December 29, 2018
Rating: ★★★★


When the book begins young Rusty is living with his aunt and two tormenting cousins. Before long his father, Tom, comes to take him back to Gros Ventre, Montana. Tom is the owner and bartender of The Medicine Lodge. Rusty and Tom – a single parent – get to know one another. The novel sometimes reads as a set of stories but as we get deeper into it see how it all hangs together. Rusty is curious about his mother,  who Tom never talks about.

Before long, a new family comes to town to run the local diner and Rusty meets Zoe. Wary at first they became fast friends and have adventures and secrets together. Other characters are introduced that help us learn more about Tom’s interesting past life.

Ivan Doig tells a good story and uses wonderfully describes The West:

Beneath the bare cottonwood trees, English Creek was frozen over, an icy pond that went on for miles. The entire town of Gros Ventre looked like something that had been left in the freezer too long. [p 57]

It’s a very fun book and a quick read. The characters are individuals and the story telling is fast paced and moves towards the conclusion.  

My biggest – and it’s not that big – issue is that at times Rusty and Zoe seem much older than their school age. Here is a conversation they have when they are attending an event at which Tom is feted; Zoe starts out:

“So? He doesn’t have stage fright, does he?”

“He doesn’t have a speech.”

“Ooh, that’s not good.” She thought for a moment. “Maybe he can tell them it fell out of his pocket back at the brewery and went into one of those big vats, and so the next time they have a beer, they’ll have a taste of what he meant to say” [p 140]

Said no 12 year-old ever.

Unfortunately, Doig passed away in 2015. Thankfully he left a rich treasure trove behind. The Bartender’s Tale is part of the Two Medicine Country series, which I plan to read more of. The Whistling Season (not part of the series)  is on my virtual bookshelf.

A couple of my yoga group friends recommended Ivan Doig to me; I’ll be paying close attention to their recommendations in the future. Good stuff

Posted in Reading | Leave a comment

MattK Fresh Start Course

Post Date: January 19, 2019

I don’t usually make big resolutions for the New Year. Why wait for January to start on something new? I worked this summer to improve my train pictures and was happy with the results.

That being said, there are a couple of areas that I’d like to improve and the New Year does provide an opportunity to start something I’ve been putting off. First, I really need to make my reading reports shorter – I am sooo wordy. Second, every time I take pictures of my cooking I think to myself that I’ve gotten kind of stale in my shots: opening picture of packaged ingredients followed by mis en place. Looking at it one way, it’s a style. Nevertheless I’d like to figure a way to spice things up.

Enter Matt Kloskowski’s on-line Fresh Start photography course. My friend Tomas M. introduced me to Matt’s videos a few years ago and I’ve followed him closely since then. Tom and I took time off work a few years ago to attend Matt’s full day course on Adobe Lightroom at the Portland Convention Center; I became even a bigger fan. Matt is personable and demonstrates complicated topics in an understandable way. Recently Matt has started his own training business and I’ve also taken a few of his on-line Lightroom and Photoshop courses.

This January Matt started a six week “Fresh Start”program to help improve our photography. Unlike most of his courses in that it is more photography focused – rather than editing – and is spread out over the six weeks with a different subject introduced each Monday.

The first week we were challenged to take pictures of food in the house. Part of the challenge was to use natural light and use some colored paper as props. I bought a few large sheets of colored paper at the local art store and a a bunch of sheets of colored 8.5×11 paper at the local drug store.

His sample was candy and lots of the students followed suit. Candy makes a great subject – it is so colorful; but – in another New Year’s Resolution – I’m cutting out sugar. I decided to use spices as my subject and to make use of my tripod. Working with the colored paper I realized that contrast was going to be a big part of the picture. I threw down various sheets of paper and worked on arranging the spices.

Mattk Fresh Start Week 1 – Spices

I asked for Carla’s input and she wasn’t a fan of the the green paper I had so I tried a colored T-shirt. I like the texture it provides. But I can’t see using that during real cooking shots.

Mattk Fresh Start Week 1 – Spices. Green T-shirt background

Extending the idea of a textured background, I thought it would be fun to spread some kosher salt on the paper.

Mattk Fresh Start Week 1 – Spices

I was a fan of using the white salt on black paper.

Mattk Fresh Start Week 1 – Spices. Black and White background

Part of the course is to upload your best picture(s) of the week. Buying into the idea of contrast, I used this one.

Mattk Fresh Start Week 1 – Spices

I liked this background a lot. Looking back on it, I’m not a fan of the two bay leaves looking like wings. And the chili powder is too dark. I like this one with the stray leaf adding some balance.

Spices for MattK Fresh Start Week 1

Matt suggested we print them and hang them somewhere in the house to get used to the idea. I cropped all the pictures to a 1×1 ratio and thought it would be nice to print three of them and mount side by side. But I just couldn’t bring myself to use all that black ink. Plus printing from LightRoom is a whole subject all by itself. Publishing on the blog and Flickr will have to suffice

I’m enjoying the course; this exercise really helped me look at my shots differently. I’m looking forward to next week’s challenge.

Posted in Photography | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

2018 Christmas in Riverside – Chicago

Chicago Visit Dates: December 27 & 28, 2018

Our Illinois visit was starting to wind down: Santa had come and we had played every card and board game and read every new book. We wanted to spice things up. So, we made a hotel reservation in downtown for the night of December 27. The hotel was on Wacker Drive just across the the Chicago River from the Marina Towers. These pair of cylindrical buildings look like corn cobs with the balcony roofs comprising the corn kernels. Although the buildings were smack dab across the river from us I neglected to take a picture. You can see a number of images on this link.

We had more people than would fit in the car and we wanted to take the grandkids on the train back to Riverside the next day. So Henriët, Carla and the boys drove down to the Shedd Aquarium while Andrew and I would meet them after an errand he had to run. We planned to walk about 1/2 mile to the nearest EL Blue Line from his appointment.

We did not plan well. The temperature was in the mid 30’s with a stiff wind and heavy rain. Add to that Chicago Land is not pedestrian friendly. My umbrella broke and we got plenty wet. The El platform has heated spaces between October and March so that was nice. After arriving downtown we caught an Uber to the Shedd Aquarium. When we arrived we realized – “oh school is out and the weather is terrible; everyone and their kid brother will be at the Aquarium”. After standing in line for over 30 minutes we bought tickets and headed inside.

The little kids were terrific; the crowds didn’t bother them; they loved looking at the exhibits which include sharks and Beluga whales. The cafeteria was crowded but we found a table and replenished our energy. I totally expected a meltdown or two but the kids were busy enjoying the excitement. I started to realize that I had finally caught Cornelius’ cold – I had a scratchy throat and runny nose. I took a lesson from the kids and carried on.

Later in the afternoon we all headed to the hotel. The kids and grandkids drove over while Carla and I took a Lyft. Oh my did the kids love the hotel. They jumped up on the wide window sill and looked down at the buildings, river, boats, cars, and people. Our rooms were adjacent so we could wave to each other from our bay windows. Then the kids heard the magic word “swim” and jumped into their swim suits and headed to the hotel pool.

After their frolic in the pool it was getting close to dinner time so we headed out. The weather had improved – colder but drier – so we walked to Vapiano – a nice Chicago chain of Italian restaurants. Their ordering method is different from any I’d seen before. As you walk in, each diner gets a card that looks like a credit card. You then go to various stations to order and swipe your card. At the end you hand the cashier the card(s) and settle the bill. I had a nice Italian meat sauce. Very good.

Pasta with meat sauce at Vapiano. Chicago

Hungry, tired, and napless the kids continued to be champs throughout dinner and on the walk back to the hotel. Carla and I slept well but apparently the kids are restless sleepers so Andrew and Henriët didn’t fare as well. That was a bummer; I totally thought they’d get a good rest.

After breakfast the next morning we decided to head back to Riverside. Carla and I strolled along the Chicago River Walk in a light breeze and a hint of snow while the others drove to Union Station. We saw some great architecture along the way. With that “V” shaped foundation I have no idea how this building stands up. I’d be nervous if my office was there.

Constructing buildings along the Chicago River is a challenge. We saw a barge-mounted crane at a building site.

Barge mounted crane on the Chicago River

After dropping Andrew and the kids off at Union Station Henriët drove back home.

The train station was still decked out for Christmas. The big Christmas tree was decorated with the emblems of past and current railroads that stopped in Chicago.

Howard in front of the Union Station Christmas Tree in Chicago

See that emblem I’m standing in front of? Yep, the Santa Fe railroad.

Old Santa Fe logo on the Christmas tree at Chcago’s Union Station.

The kids enjoyed the train trip home. Henriët picked them up while Carla and I walked back.

We had a great time but were glad to be going back home. Carla and I packed up and got ready for our early morning flight home. Andrew was sweet enough to take us to O’Hare. It was an early flight. We got home before 10:00. Even with a time change it was early.

I figured I’d catch a cold on this trip but seeing Jurgen and Cornelius take in the wonders of Christmas made it all worth while. It was the most magical Christmas we’ve had since our kids were that age.

Posted in Family, Trains, Travel | Leave a comment

2018 Christmas in Riverside – Neighborhood

Date: December 22, 2018

After Santa came through the neighborhood with the North Riverside Fire Department we had a quiet morning and lunch. We played the card game “Oh Snap” with Jurgen and then Chutes and Ladders with Jurgen and Cornelius.

After lunch Cornelius went down for his nap and Carla and I decided to take a walk. Usually we walk separately with one of us staying back to play with the grandkids so Andrew and Henriët can catch up on sleep, rehearse, do chores or whatever. But Carla and I wanted some quiet time together so we headed out. As you know I usually stop at the Riverside depot for train pictures; but today I followed Carla on one of her routes roughly paralleling the Des Plaines River.

Riverside Garage is tucked into a cul de sac just north of the train tracks. I’ve always liked the look of this building. It seems to do good business; there are always cars inside and out.

Riverside Garage. Riverside, IL

Riverside has plenty of big, stately homes and it’s fun to take them in. By big I mean houses with statues outside.

Big house with horse statues. Riverside, IL

I liked this sculpture a bit more.

Lawn sculpture. Riverside, IL

Frank Lloyd Wright lived and worked around Chicago; as a result there are houses and building scattered around. A few years ago (a few? Try 2011) we toured Wright’s home in Oak Park and some of his other buildings. The church Andrew and Henriët are members of was designed by FLW; it underwent a huge renovation which finished a couple of years ago. So, it’s not surprising to find a Frank Lloyd Wright house here and there throughout the villages. Sure enough, Riverside boasts at least one.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed building in Riverside, IL

Some of the characteristics of Frank Lloyd Wright houses are large central chimneys, hidden entrances, very horizontal lines, and large screens of windows. As objects to look at they are nice; but they seem cold and impersonal to me.

In 2014 we toured the Gordon House in Silverton, Oregon. As with the Riverside house I appreciated the lines but it didn’t seem like a practical place to live. Wright certainly wasn’t a user friendly architect. He told people what the house was going to look like, how it would be built, and how it should be decorated. It rains on the west side of the Cascade Mountains in Oregon; the owners wanted a garage. Nope. That would disrupt the flow. Rain gutters? Again, Nope. The interiors just seemed so sterile. Not my thing.

The Riverside house has a garage; I think – not sure – it was added later. You can see the driveway doesn’t line up perfectly. Here’s a shot without the garage.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed building. Riverside, IL

We enjoyed the Christmas decorations on our walk. We saw a unique take on Santa. The big tree in the front yard muddies up the picture a bit.

As we finished the loop we got to a path along the Des Plaines River. Although they aren’t evident in this photo, there were quite a few people out on this cold but clear day.

Walking Path Along the Des Plaines River – Riverside, IL

As we got back to downtown the sun lit up the old water tower beautifully.

Riverside’s Water Tower in the Winter Sun
Posted in Travel, Walking | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

2018 Christmas in Riverside – Santa

Santa’s Visit Date: December 22, 2018

The Village of North Riverside has some pull with important people. On the Saturday before Christmas, Santa was escorted through the neighborhoods by the North Riverside Fire Department. One stop was the corner near Andrew and Henriët’s home. Exactly on schedule a fleet of fire trucks and ambulances arrived with lights flashing and sirens blowing. There were the Chief’s SUV, at least three fire trucks and two EMT/Ambulances. It was exciting to see them come in.

Santa Visits North Riverside

Santa escorted through North Riverside by the NRFD
Santa’s escort through North Riverside
Another of the NRFD Fire Trucks escorting Santa

Santa stepped out of the fire truck with the help of NRFD he passed out a few gifts and talked with the boys and girls.

Jurgen checked in and found out he was definitely on the “nice” list.

Jurgen talks with Santa

Cornelius was brave enough to stand next to Jurgen as long as dad was there. But he didn’t want to sit with Santa on his own. I think next year will be the year for him.

Jurgen ran over to show me what was in his gift backpack. Cornelius got a back pack too.

Cornelius, Ouma, Jurgen, and Papa after Santa’s visit to their neighborhood.

Cornelius was catching a bit of a cold and was glad Mama was around

Cornelius with Mama during Santa’s visit to the neighborhood.

While the neighborhood kids were taking their turns with Santa I went over to one of the fire trucks to grab pictures. One of the fire men asked if I’d like to see inside. Oh YEAH! I’m really just a big kid at heart. One of the small rewards of grand children is the opportunity to hang out around big equipment stuff.

Back seat of a NRFD Fire Truck. Note the air tanks fit into the seats.

After Santa visited all the kids on the block, he got back in the fire truck and headed out for his next stop.

I’ve never seen anything like this out in the west where we live. It was a fun community event. It was a great winter day providing ample opportunity for grownups and kids to visit.

The neighborhood celebrating the Christmas spirit

This was one of my best Christmas Vacations ever. I got to see 5 of my 6 favorite people/things.

  • Andrew and Henriët
  • Grandkids
  • Santa Claus
  • Fire Trucks
  • Trains

If Sarah and Jeff had been there it would have been perfect.

Posted in Family, Travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

2018 Christmas in Riverside – Trains

Dates of Visit: December 19 – 29, 2018

Our two grand sons live near Chicago; they are at the prime Christmas ages so we knew where we would be on Christmas morning. We arrived in the afternoon of Wednesday December 19 and had a beautiful dinner with our son, daughter-in-law, Jurgen, and Cornelius.

Both of the adult kids had work. Andrew is a high school math and music teacher and his school wasn’t on break yet. Henriët had rehearsals and performances every afternoon and evening. She sang solos in the Messiah at a large Catholic church where she works occasionally. She is also in the Chicago Symphony Chorus and they were performing the same piece. At 2:30 in length, that is a lot of singing. That meant we were on duty to take the four-year-old to pre-school and attend the Christmas show early Thursday morning. What a kick!

Jurgen stayed for his afternoon session; after giving Cornelius his lunch he was down for his nap. So, it was quiet and the weather was good. Carla stayed home while I walked the mile to the Riverside train depot to catch some action.

The weather was surprisingly pleasant – mostly cold, crisp, and clear – during our trip so I was able to get to the platform a few times on our trip. I’m posting my train photos from all the days to keep them together thematically.

No sooner had I reached the east-bound Metra platform than I saw a headlight approaching. I leisurely turned on my camera and adjust the settings when I realized it was coming faster than most trains do. It was the Chicago-bound Zephyr running right on time and it didn’t want to be late this far along. I put the camera up and pushed the shutter release.

I was well behind the yellow line but it was a rush to have it roar by at close to its 70 MPH speed limit. All that work I did this summer on perfecting my settings paid off. I now have my train settings saved in a memory preset. If not for that I never would have got the shot.

A while later a west-bound Amtrak rolled through. I think it was the west-bound Zephyr – or maybe the Southwest Chief.

California Zephyr? Accelerating past Riverside, IL

Don’t tell the La Posada Hotel in Winslow, Arizona – which I love – but I think this is my favorite train catching site on the BNSF Transcon. There are two nice platforms – stretching 1/4 of a mile from east to west. This allows good positioning and a better chance for good light. Except for early mornings, the photo spot in Winslow is shooting into the sun. Later in the week I got my favorite shot of the trip. It was cold but clear and the low sun lit up this BNSF freight beautifully.

Train picture of the trip: Westbound BNSF on a Bright Winter Afternoon in Riverside, IL

One of the great things about my Sony RX10M4 is its 600mm equivalent zoom. When I saw headlights down the track I could to see what was on the way. You can also see the line up of traffic lights every mile or so. I think that tall building in the background is Willis (nee Sears) Tower. Looking on the map it’s a pretty straight line along the tracks.

Downtown Chicago in the distance

Of course there is plenty of Metra traffic on this line. We went with the kids to downtown Chicago on Thursday and Friday after Christmas and took Metra back home. Well, Henriët had to drive the car back. More on that in a later post.

Outbound BNSF Metra on a Sunny and Cold Sunday Afternoon in Riverside, IL

The old water tower is the distinctive feature of Riverside; I think it’s a Riverside misdemeanor if you don’t include it at least 1 photo of it. I have another picture for an upcoming post.

Inbound Metra Passing by the Old Riverside Water Tower

On my last day on the platform, just before my favorite shot I realized there was another rail-fan on the other side of the tracks.

A bush tailed squirrel trackside in Riverside, IL

I learned my lesson about having the camera ready on the first day. On Saturday as Carla and I headed out for a walk – I thought I ought to look at some things in Riverside that aren’t near the train tracks – I heard the low rumble of an accelerating heavy freight train. The zoom came in handy as I snapped this BNSF heading through the intersection.

Kids and grandkids are the real draw but it’s not like I’m going to skip looking at trains if the opportunity arises. I’ll have more on our trip soon.

Posted in Trains, Travel, Wildlife | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reading: Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less
Author: Andrew Sean Greer
Type: Fiction
Finished: December 16, 2018
Rating: ★★★

Arthur Less travels around the world to avoid attending his impending 50th birthday and his old lover’s wedding. He has some interesting adventures along the way. Although he seems on the edge of despair, nice things keep happening to him. Here he is talking with one of his frenemies.

“Carlos.” He doesn’t feed victorious; he feels defeated. “My life, my life over the past year – “

“Arthur Less,” Carlos interrupts, shaking his head. “You have the best life on anyone I know.”

This is nonsense to Less.

Page 225

Which is the truth; your life as you see it or as others see it?

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2018. I’ve read 8 of the 9 winners going back to 2009 but I found this one the least compelling. While it was interesting, it wasn’t can’t-put-it-down interesting. My oldest son read the book and loved it and when we talked about it he pointed out a few things I had missed. Things that if I had paid better attention might have pulled me in more.

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2018. I’ve read 8 of the 9 winners going back to 2009 but I found this one the least compelling. While it was interesting, it wasn’t can’t-put-it-down interesting. My oldest son read the book and loved it and when we talked about it he pointed out a few things I had missed. Things that if I had paid better attention might have pulled me in more.

Posted in Reading | Leave a comment