Storm Watch

We’ve had a series of strong storms here over the past week that have had some tangible impacts on our days, e.g. we were in our seats at Steppenwolf Theater on Saturday night for a performance that was cancelled due to backstage flooding, we had to flee an outdoor show at Pritzker Pavilion on Thursday night when the lightning began striking too close to comfort, and we got to watch an aquatic rescue after seeing a sailboat struck by lightning in Monroe Harbor later that same night.

On the upside, the view of these big storms from our apartment is awe-inspiring, especially when two of them occurred just as Coldplay were about the take the stage at Soldier Field during their sold-out, two-night stand. I mean, yeah, I totally understand the universe’s wrath about that sort of thing. I’ve been snapping the storms somewhat randomly trying to get some shots worth preserving, and share a half dozen of them with you below (in the sixth one, you can actually see the Jumbotron at Soldier Field telling the Coldplay fans that the cosmos disapproves of them). I’ve also set up a second 2016 Chicago Scenes folder in my Flickr account and posted these there, with others, if you want to keep up with the ongoing adventures hereabouts, or at least the visual representations thereof.

2016-07-24 19.40.47

2016-07-24 19.42.16

2016-07-24 19.39.29

2016-07-24 20.26.01

2016-07-24 20.28.19

2016-07-24 19.56.10

2016-07-13 20.20.43


1. I accepted my current position as President and Chief Executive Officer of  TREE Fund on July 9, 2015, receiving the offer by phone as Marcia and I were driving back to Des Moines from Chicago during our final pre-move-in trip. I actually started the job on August 24, 2015, so this time last year was a period of high churn, as we closed out one household and opened another. It’s been an eventful year since then, with a lot of unexpected twists and turns and challenges and opportunities along the way. At bottom line, though, I can say that I feel more of a sense of place in Chicago after twelve months than I ever did in Iowa — even though both Marcia and I spend far more time traveling away from our home here than we ever have in prior jobs. As much as we’ve done here over the past year, I still feel that we’ve just scratched the surface of what our home base city has to offer, so I look forward to many more years of exploring it with Marcia and the various family members and guests who come to visit us.

2. Speaking of TREE Fund, and as a reminder for (or invite to) those readers here who are generously inclined to support the causes that I support: in three months, I will be riding my (new!) bike about 600 miles around my native Carolinas to raise funds for urban forestry and arboriculture research as part of the STIHL Tour des Trees. You can help support the good cause (and me!) by donating at my rider page. And if you choose to do so, and you put “Restricted to UARF” in your comment field to me, then we will get a 50% match on top of your gift from Pacific Gas & Electric Company to support utility arboriculture research. Go ahead. Click the link. I’ll stay here and wait for you, while showing you this nice book as inpiration . . .


3. And also speaking of Chicago, I’d done a couple of photo summaries inline here in the blog during our first six months here, and recently set up an album of my favorite snaps from the second six months, here. I continue to be perpetually pleased and surprised at the vistas and vignettes that the city sets before me. It feels like home, at bottom line. And that feels good!

Short Story of the Month #8: Ubulembu

Another month, another short story . . . eight down, five to go as I work to create a baker’s dozen sized collection of new works in 2016. This month’s edition, entitled “Ubulembu,” arose from a conversation Marcia, Katelin and I had while hanging out in Des Moines last weekend. I did not seed it with random words as I usually do, since the concept itself arose somewhat organically, and I didn’t see the need to force those extraneous elements into it.

As always, you can catch up on the prior months’ installments at the links below:

December 2015: The Research Assistant

January 2016: Eadwig Espinosa, Ealdorman of Daud

February 2016: Fleming And The Food Fluffers

March 2016: Veronica Bugdoctor

April 2016: Blackthorn

May 2016: How Do You Know?

June 2016: I Lie On My Back In The Grass And I Look At The Sun

And then you can click below to read this month’s new story. Enjoy!


Short Story Of the Month #7: I Lie On My Back In The Grass And I Look At The Sun

Three days left in a heavy-travel month, and I have still reached the halfway point in my 2016 writing project with this month’s short story, “I Lie On My Back In The Grass And I Look At The Sun.” Phew!

The story was inspired by the actual act of lying on my back in the grass and looking at the sun, which feels good, of course, until it doesn’t. I did deploy the random word generator this month to seed the story, and it gave me “pavement, decontamination, greatest, armor.” Okay, I could work with those, and they took me in odd directions from the initial kernel idea. In the end, this story has an interesting mood and tone for me. I like what it evokes, even if I don’t quite know what it is. Hopefully you will too!

As always, if you want to catch up on prior installments, here are the links:

December 2015: The Research Assistant

January 2016: Eadwig Espinosa, Ealdorman of Daud

February 2016: Fleming And The Food Fluffers

March 2016: Veronica Bugdoctor

April 2016: Blackthorn

May 2016: How Do You Know?

Click the link below for the PDF of this month’s installment . . . seven down, six to go!


Best Albums of 2016 (First Half)

It’s only a couple of weeks until the mid-point of 2016, and that means there’s only six months left before I compile and publish my 25th annual Albums of the Year list. Time flies when you’re having fun and listening to good music, apparently. As has been my June practice in recent years, I offer the following interim list of the 15 releases of 2016 that have most rocked my world since January. The list is in alphabetical order by artist, more or less, and album titles link to sample songs to help you explore.

David Bowie — Blackstar

Che Guevara T-Shirt — Tsarkoye Selo

dälekAsphalt for Eden

Death Grips — Bottomless Pit

Ihsahn — Arktis.

Mind Spiders — Prosthesis

The Monkees — Good Times!

Mortiis — The Great Deceiver

Gregory Porter — Take Me To The Alley

Quilt — Plaza

Santigold — 99 Cents

School of Seven Bells —SVIIB

Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld — Nerissimo

Teleman — Brilliant Sanity

Wire — Nocturnal Koreans

Normally, I’d note that any number of these might be contenders for Album of the Year, but I can tell you that the quality of and circumstances surrounding the release of David Bowie’s final album certainly make it the disc to dethrone for the title at this point. I have high hopes for Chance the Rapper’s new disc (I refuse to join Apple Music to stream it, and don’t want to download it illegally, so waiting ’til it is available for general release), but I’m not sure it or any of the rest of these are going to be up to the task.

In closing, I also want to cite a few albums from last year that I nabbed too late to include in my Tournament-style 2015 Album of the Year series last November; they weren’t included, but they would have been, had I had them in time. Good stuff, all of it, above and below. Enjoy!

Action Bronson — Mr. Wonderful

Camp Lo — Ragtime Hightimes

Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experiment — Surf

Snog — Compliance

Snoop Dogg — BUSH



A Tuscan Treat

Marcia and I returned have just returned from a ten day trip to Italy, booked and built around the “Tuscan Treat” package offered by Back-Roads Touring, a London-based company specializing in small group tours. Here’s the itinerary, and we added an extra night at the front and back ends in Florence. We had done a similar small group tour last year to Spain and Portugal with a different provider, and had a great experience, so came into this trip with high expectations.

I’m delighted to report that the actual experience was even better than what we had hoped for. We had an utterly delightful group of travel companions, all of them from Australia or New Zealand, so it was a wonderful extra cultural exchange bonus to be able to spend time and break bread and experience Tuscany with all of them. Thank you Beth, Alison, Judith, Sue, Bill, Kerrie, Greg, Max, Robin, Karen,Di, Glen and all three Johns for your delightful warmth and companionship and perspective. We enjoyed our time together very much, and hope that our paths will cross again.

Our guide, Luis Cardoso, is a native of Portugal and long-time resident of the United Kingdom, and he was also a wonderful traveling companion and facilitator of group cohesion and spirit, with good humor and great tales and perspective about what we experienced. “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” he noted several times, and as a writer and storyteller myself, I couldn’t be more fond of that philosophy. I would be very, very happy to tour with Luis again, so I’ll be monitoring the Back Roads Touring schedule next summer to see what he’s up to, and whether we might be able to go along for the ride. So thanks to you too, Luis: you are a gentleman and a scholar and jolly good guide.

As is often the case on trips like this one, the things that we like the most are unseen and unexpected in advance of the journey. My favorite stops were Pienza, Lucca and Volterra, none of which I’d known anything about before we booked this trip; we saw a wonderful, intimate opera performance in Lucca, had one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten in Volterra, and just relaxed and absorbed the beauty of Pienza. We had a great time in Siena learning about their legendary historic Palio, and I have decided to root for the Bruco (Caterpillar) contrade in future runnings of this spectacle. We stayed for a couple of days at a wonderful villa next door (the term is relative) to Sting and Trudie Styler’s place in Chianti, and we visited the Cinque Terre, which my sister cites as her favorite place in the world. I could see why.

As always, I merrily snapped photos along the way, and you can click the sample photo below to see the rest of them. I was going to cull and sort and organize and order and explain them all, but I am actually just enjoying experiencing them as a big bloc of imagery jumbled all together, aptly capturing the overwhelming sensory experience of spending time in this magical, historic, alluring part of the world.