Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I work on a beautiful campus

I've several times blogged about the beauty of the University of Chicago campus. For an urban place, it's remarkably green, conscientiously a botanical garden, in fact. It also has some striking architecture, new and old, or old designed to look even older than it is.

This is a photo of the cathedral-sized Rockefeller Chapel, iconic landmark of the campus, from my office window in the cold evening light. Zoomed all the way out to 4X optical,  whatever that is, on my handy new Canon point-n-shoot.

 This morning's vision of the rising sun viewed through the steam plant effluvia also caught my eye. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Teddy says

"Why would you go through a door 
if you can go under it?"

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Bah, humbug! Except...

I'm a skeptic and a cynic (some people might say, a grump) when it comes to Christmas, though I'm willing to go along with KLK's and other peoples' traditions and usually am not too unhappy when I do.
But one thing that I do love is the exchange of Christmas cards. My parents were big-time Christmas carders in the days before e-mail and e-cards (though one friend sends me the most lovely e-cards imaginable) and when long distance calls seemed foolishly expensive, and I've staunchly carried on the tradition. It is the one time of the year when I can let friends and family who have drifted away a little but about whom I still care know that I'm thinking of them, and even better, receive their cards and their family newsletters that I immensely enjoy.
The cards drift in slowly, starting early in the month of December and sometimes not fully stopping until January. (Or February. One year, I got one with hearts on it!)

I don't know if fine glitter shows up on scans, but here are my favorites so far this year:

Oh, and I do love Bach's Advent and Christmas cantatas, too!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Two peregrine falcons

I just happened to be gazing out one of my living room windows that overlooks Lake Michigan right around noon today when I saw two peregrine falcons fly by. It's been a long time since I saw one, much less two together, in this neighborhood (though they are still very much here, just not nesting successfully any more). It is sheer joy to see them, it's even possible that they already pairing up. Mating season in Chicago is usually around February, let's hope they try again this year. The University of Chicago some years ago mounted nest boxes on two campus buildings the birds seemed to favor, but they've not yet quite got the idea of how to use the boxes. Last year one of the campus peregrine-spotters saw one standing on a nest box. Maybe it was checking out its suitability for raising a brood. Stay tuned for updates as courting/nesting season approaches.

From my new office I will have a new view of one of their flight paths to the corner of campus where they hang out these days. The photo above was from one of their alternative sites (in 2005), which apparently the birds found ideal for laying eggs. Until, that is, the first hard rain of late spring. Beauty? Brawn? Yes. Brains? Maybe not so much.

Aging, but no longer gracefully

KLK's far-and-away family favorites have always been his maternal Grandpa (who died in 1992) and his Grandma, alive but suffering the indignities of nursing home life. Grandma, now 94, has handicapping memory problems in addition to her physical frailties. Although she recognizes KLK as the one who loves and cares for her, I'm not sure she could pinpoint their exact relationship. Yes, I said the ONE because her youngest daughter, KLK's mother, died in 2002, and her oldest daughter, his aunt, is perfectly happy to hand her nephew full responsibility for her mother. To abuse Tolstoy a little, "all families are dysfunctional in their own way."

All of that aside, KLK at last finished the overwhelming tasks of emptying the big house Grandma and Grandpa shared and raised their daughters in since the early 1950's, and getting it sold (nicely enough, to someone who benefited from the first-time buyer's tax credit).

But he brought home a few things of real value, premier among them photographs dating back to about 1920; I'm busily scanning them to assure preservation of the very precious memories.

I have been so very touched by how beautiful and visibly happy Grandma (and her husband and daughters) once were, and how life takes all that, and everything else, away so cruelly at the end.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Poor Teddy!

I'm beginning to understand why women with young children blog mostly about...their children. Teddy the Tubby Tabby is likewise fodder for more than one report, especially as he is still very much a baby and subject to kitten maladies. Some weeks ago, when I was observing his symptoms of teething I noticed his gums were bright red, but as he was losing and gaining teeth just about daily, I attributed the inflammation to the normal process. 

Not long ago he went to the vet for his booster shots, and the doc took the opportunity to check him from top to toe. Dr. Williams too noted the bright redness of his little gums, but agreed it might be associated with the business of teething. But, he also mentioned that it is sometimes caused by infection by the Bartonella bacterium. So we left it at that, since he's due back in a couple of weeks for his "little operation."  

All I've known about Bartonella up to this point is that people with HIV can experience terrible infections of organs such as the brain from it, but that generally it's not a vicious agent among non-immune compromised humans.
Then last Wednesday morning, I noticed the skin over Teddy's nasal septum was bright red. I suspected he'd bashed himself somehow in all his rough and tumble play. It was still red, maybe more so, when I got home from work that night, and the next morning. Even though Teddy didn't appear to be the least bit bothered by his nose, he was also occasionally blasting off a sneeze. So I called the vet, and spoke to Dr. Williams's partner.  Dr. Wake said that it's very likely Bartonella, and to start Teddy on 250 mg. of the amino acid, L-lysine, mixed in his food morning and evening for 10 days. 

Well, I'm game to try anything that works, especially when it comes to avoiding a trip to the vet and stuffing antibiotic pills down a cat's gullet. KLK stopped by Walgreens on the way home and picked up a pricey bottle of 500 mg L-lysine tablets, and the coolest Deluxe Cut N' Crush pill doohickey ever seen. 

I'm here to tell you, L-lysine is either flavorless/undetectable when mixed with canned kitten food, or it's actually appealing; Teddy was most interested when I set up the shot of the amazing pill-splitter/crusher. 

In spite of the soaring triumph of getting Teddy to willingly take his medicine I'm not sure now that after four doses things are any better.  OKAY, so Dr. Wake said 10 days. It's been less than 48 hours since his first dose. (I am not entirely calm about this, and won't be until the redness starts to clearly subside.)

 But this pill tool thing, it's a wonder of modern engineering (photo courtesy of Walgreens's Web site). Not only does it have a splitter that works perfectly, the crusher also unfailingly turns pills to powder. In the bottom there's a little four-way compartment to store the day's pills in, and the top pulls off to reveal--TA-DA--a teensy vessel for drinking water with which to swallow whatever the result of your re-engineering using the other features is. Why, it's the very SWISS ARMY KNIFE of pill-taking!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Sarah's new book

Well, it sure didn't take long for it to make the bargain bin, did it!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Web-cam mania returns

It' been a while since I posted Web cam captures from my favorite place on earth, the greater Yellowstone area. But this is "shoulder season" again, after the interior roads close to traffic, snowmobile and snow-coach season haven't yet started, and the village at Old Faithful is inhabited only by a small maintenance crew, the crowds of summer and winter not in evidence.

In this morning's pretty frosty light we had a few bison come by to nibble where the hot ground around Old Faithful geyser is laid bare by the heat just under the surface.

 In this Thanksgiving's fading light, a little coyote trotted in front of the Web cam.

I myself will be in Yellowstone again in just exactly two months from now. I won't be going to Old Faithful, which can only be accessed by snow-mobile or snow-coach, though I will take a trip to the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone by snow-coach, a new winter experience for me.  There will be lots of wildlife to see--bison, elk, snow shoe hares, foxes, eagles, swans, bighorn sheep, and the extraordinary scenery transformed by winter. I can hardly wait!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Makah

Among the most rewarding of the excursions on KLK's and my recent trip to the national parks (and forests, wilderness areas, and visitor centers of several Native American tribes) surrounding Seattle was our brief visit to the tribal holdings (reservation) of the Makah Indians at the farthest northwest point in the lower 48 States, Neah Bay on Washington's Olympic Peninsula. I can't do a better job than InfoPlease's  succinct brief on the Makahs' linguistic/cultural heritage and post-contact history:

"Makah (mäkô') [key], Native North Americans who in the early 19th cent. inhabited Cape Flattery, NW Wash. According to Lewis and Clark they then numbered some 2,000. The Makah are the southernmost of the Wakashan branch of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock, being the only member of the Wakashan group within the United States (see Native American languages). Makah culture was fundamentally that of the Pacific Northwest Coast area. In 1855 they ceded all their lands to the United States except a small area on Cape Flattery that was set aside as a reservation. Today most of the 1,600 Makah in the United States live on the Makah Reservation; their main tribal income is from forestry."

One set of pivotal events is not described, however. As a people whose economy was  dependent upon the sea--they were, and still are, consumate whalers, sealers, and fishermen--their villages have always verged the stormy Pacific coast. An estimated 400 years ago, one of these villages (at what is now known as Lake Ozette) was inundated by a mudslide, and disappeared from memory until its extent was rediscovered in the 1970s, thanks to freak wave action from the Pacific that began to uncover tantalizing clues. The tribe found expert partners at the University of Washington and other academic institutions, and organized the methodical unearthing, cataloging, cleaning, and preservation of literally tens of thousands of artifacts, from the smallest utensils and toys to six cedar long houses (large communal structures typical of the Native American cultures of the Pacific coastal region). 

The wet mud was extraordinarily effective at preserving the treasures of daily and ceremonial life, but when exposed to air, many fragile items--to wit, woven cedar-bark baskets and clothing--began to deteriorate. Modern archaeological methods were employed to stabilize the precious treasure trove of cultural and physical history that is now properly stored at the well-executed Makah Cultural and Research Center, where my photos were taken.  

The totem poles I believe are more or less contemporary. Unfortunately their origin is not labeled (or I didn't find the label).  A  well-labeled selection of exemplary objects from the dig are also on public display, but elsewhere in the museum where photography isn't permitted (flash can certainly damage such fragile objects). Nonetheless, a good sense of the Makah's aesthetic is visible in the totem poles and other wood carvings.  The only staff member on duty was the young lady tending the till at the gift shop. I asked her if this was an eagle, and she said, "No, that's a thunder bird."  So I give you a contemporary Makah thunder bird:

This small pole shows what I think is a sea bird, perhaps a cormorant, on top, a man holding a stylized seal, and at the bottom, a foundational human:

And these:

Please visit the Makah Research and Cultural Center's web site; much additional historic and current visual information is also available at the University of Washington's digital image library, where this c. 1900 portrait of Makah carver Frank Allabush (by photographer Samuel G. Morse) and many more like it can be enjoyed and studied.

Used by permission

And in conclusion:

To appreciate the photos' details click to enlarge them.
Makah is pronounced mah-KAH. 
I welcome corrections and additions to the above narrative, which, as a certified non-expert, I've only pieced together from what we learned at the Makah center and bits and pieces from scholarly and non-scholarly information available on the Web. Please post a comment or write to me at vcwald @ yahoo dot com.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Little milestones

    • I completed my first full week on my new job at NORC. I feel hopelessly incompetent. Everybody is forgiving (for the moment). 
    • I will put in my first weekend hours on the new job this afternoon
    • The odometer on my car, a VW Jetta purchased new in 2003, hit 20,000 miles yesterday evening.
    In other news, Teddy is doing perfectly. My fingers, arms, and legs are peppered with puncture wounds, mostly from his claws, not so much from his shiny new big kitty teeth, which he generally applies to human flesh remarkably gently. 

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    Teething's a bitch

     Whaah! My gums hurt!

     No wonder they hurt, even though my baby teeth are really tiny!

     I'm still a happy kitty and a very pretty boy, though!

    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    Something nice in my in-box today


    "May we use your photos?
    I work for Washington Wilderness Coalition, a non-profit based in Seattle that works to push legislation through to protect more of the state's wilderness. We are hosting an annual dinner and auction later this week and will be showing a video of our history.  There is a part where we talk about the Salvage Rider bill introduced during the Clinton era and I need some images of clear cut areas. Would you mind if we used your pictures?   We're happy to give you credit.
    Thank you! Amber B."

    I was flattered to receive the message from Amber through Flickr Mail this morning. My concerns about clear cutting the precious and magnificent forests of the Olympic Peninsula, expressed in my choice of photographic subjects, are obviously shared by many. The Washington Wilderness Coalition looks like the kind of organization that is taking the most effective approach in counteracting the unending push for development and/or destructive extraction that looms just beyond (and sometimes even within) the borders of our "protected" lands: our national parks, national forests, and designated wilderness areas. Keep it up, WWC, I'm glad to be of help!

    Which is not to say I'm not part of the problem.  I confess, I'm a willful consumer of wood and wood-based products.  My printer, copier, and my lifestyle conspire to waste massive amounts of paper (alright, much of it is unbidden; don't you hate sitting down to a meeting with handouts, printed on one side only, that you will toss - preferably in recycling, but then who knows what becomes of it - the minute no one is looking?)  Meantime, I am in the process of plotting the replacement of my unsalvageably beat-up cheap parquet floor. I'm thinking of  "engineered wood." Is that any more eco-friendly than explicitly hardwood flooring?  What about all the old, scarred, dirty, cat-puked parquet that was here when I moved in? Will it degrade in a reasonable amount of time when it goes, at last, to land fill? How many old oak trees is it worth, really?  

    And speaking of clear cutting; in most places the lumber industry has the decency to leave a deep, dense swath of trees between the devastation of clear cut land and the road so most of us can pretend - except for what we can see on distant mountainsides, which is bad enough - it isn't happening. Not so on the Olympic Peninsula, where, though it is almost all national park, wilderness, and national forest,  we saw truck after truck after truckful of logs flying by. Where are they all coming from? Is anything left? 

    Photos from:
    1. The Hoh Rain Forest of Olympic National Park, along the magnificent Hall of Mosses trail, fungus growing on the end of a cut log . The only reason logs are cut, rather than allowed to moulder where they fall, is if they fall across a trail, or threaten to do so where they might squash a person or structure
    2.. Right along route 101, which is surrounded by the Olympic National Forest; you can see two methods of extracting trees: clear cutting, and thinning. Neither is less harmful than the other.
    3. The Forks Timber Museum display, tools of the trade
    4. and 5. Also on route 101

    Saturday, November 7, 2009

    Lots going on

    Well, readers, there is much news on the home front. After 35 years on the staff at the University of Chicago (and four years before that as a college student there, with just two years in between for grad school in Arizona) I have accepted a new position at NORC. NORC (or more properly, "NORC at the University of Chicago" though it is a separate entity and a dot org, not a dot edu) originally stood for National Opinion Research Center, but for many years they have supported social, behavioral, and bio-social research using formats well beyond that of the opinion survey, and now use the acronym only. As it happens, my new office is a couple of short blocks from my old office, and my main clients will be University of Chicago faculty who use NORC's research resources, though changing employers means the gulf is likely to be wider than it appears. My wonderful co-workers at the Center for Population Economics at the Booth School of Business sent me off with affection (and a little anxiety on the parts of some) and I will indeed miss them, though at NORC I will also be working among friends, old and new. 
    However, to buffer this mighty sea change, I've taken a week of stay-cation before I launch my new career. I don't think I've ever had a week off in which I stayed put before. Of course, the to-do list includes many exciting tasks, such as: dusting the mini-blinds; vacuuming the inside of the car; getting my teeth cleaned. And last (though it should probably be first) but not least, I've charged myself with putting back in their places the remnants of KLK's and my recent sojourn in the magnificent Great Northwest and Seattle. The good news is, I've finally, just tonight, finished sorting through the 540-plus photos I so heedlessly took. Given how gloomy and dark the weather was most of the time (yes, mid-October is the beginning of the notorious rainy season in the Pacific northwest), I was surprised at how well the photos turned out. Perhaps between keeping Teddy out of the way so I can do that overdue dusting and cramming the empty suitcases back into the little storage cage I will have time to post some mini-trip reports here. Given what a good time we had, and what interesting things we did, I think you might find them interesting. 

    The photo is of KLK trying to absorb the warmth of the sun at the stunningly beautiful Washington Pass, in Okanogan National Forest, just to the east of North Cascades National Park. It was 23 degrees Fahrenheit. 

    Saturday, October 31, 2009

    In honor of the date

    And don't forget to turn your clocks back tonight.

    Photo taken at the Pike Place Market in Seattle, just about two weeks ago.

    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Came across an old funny today


    This struck me as hilarious the first time I saw it (in 2005). Now it's widely available around the internet (nobody in particular to credit for it, sorry). Now that I have a new kitten I am reminded all over again of the truisms it contains.  With the exception of "Left to themselves, [cats] are relatively harmless."  As anyone who has had a new kitten they had to leave by itself all day knows...left to their own devices, all the houseplants will be tipped over and their soil spread far and wide around the house.

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    This grandest performance of this grandest work

    If this doesn't lift your spirits and make your heart sing, nothing will.
    My thanks to silvertoadzzz for letting me know it is posted on You Tube.
    As noted by silvertoadzzz:

    "Jesu, der du meine Seele" ("Jesus, who hast wrested my soul")
    BWV 78, J.S. Bach
    Choir and Orchestra of the Bach Guild conducted by Felix Prohaska, Vienna, 1954

    This is the wonderful duet from the pictured, and unfortunately now out of print, Vanguard Classics CD.* 
    Soprano, the amazing Teresa Stitch-Randall, who was born to sing Bach (almost mezzo here), alto Dagmar Hermann
    (*By some great accident of good fortune I have the original CD.)

    Do yourself a favor and crank up your sound.

    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    Out of cell range

    Life's been pretty busy, not to mention tumultuous, these last six weeks or so, but much was also healing and glorious.  In the midst of all of thisfour days after I found Teddy, to be exactKLK and I flew off to the Great Northwest for a restorative 10-day sojourn.  During this time Teddy continued to enjoy life as a charming boarder at the vet clinic where the staff and doctors doted on him. Teddy has made himself at home with us now (detailed updates to follow, of course) and his fat, joyful presence fills house and hearts amply.
    I've been focusing, to the extent Teddy lets me, on going through the 542 (you heard that right) pictures taken in what I thought were hopeless conditions. The Great Northwest autumnal gloom and rains were well underway for most of our trip. It turns out most of the photos are worthy of attention (e.g., horizon-straightening, and, given the clouds and rain, a fair bit of brightening, thank you PhotoShop). Once I make it through I'll post some reports of one of the most interesting and beautiful journeys in recent memory. 

    My sanity is coming back, too...

    (Photo taken at the Hoh Rain Forest of Olympic National Park, at the Hall of Mosses trail head.)

    Friday, October 9, 2009

    Funny how things happen

    Very early Tuesday morning, while taking my constitutional along Lake Michigan, my friend Karen and I heard an odd sound in the dark...I said, "hmm, sounds like some kind of bird" and she said, "no, I'm sure it's a cat!" So I looked around, and about 30 feet to our right, there, at the base of a skinny little tree just another 30 feet from cars speeding northbound along Lake Shore Drive, was a little kitty. I leaned over and called to it, and it came running to my arms. I nearly started crying, "I don't want this now!" But as Karen has three grown cats, and I have none, Teddy is now mine. Isn't he spectacular? He's perfectly healthy, except for some scrapes on his chin, the vet says he's about 3 months old (no grown-up kitty teeth just yet), and quite fat compared to Winston at that age.

    What a wonderful balm for the nagging pain of Winston's death.

    Thursday, October 1, 2009

    Get Smart About Antibiotics Week! Yay!

    It's a good idea, no doubt, for the CDC to celebrate official Get Smart About Antibiotics Week (sure to blossom into an annual event)  but the one thing I couldn't find that would be truly helpful is instructions on how to dispose of unused antibiotics (and other medications, for that matter) in ways that prevent them from streaming into the environment. 

    Saturday, September 26, 2009

    May I recommend...

    Check your own Public Television station for the schedule so you don't miss a minute!

    Wednesday, September 23, 2009


    The heart asks pleasure first,
    And then, excuse from pain;
    And then, those little anodynes

    That deaden suffering, And then, to go to sleep;
    And then, if it should be
    The will of its Inquisitor,
    The liberty to die.

    • Emily Dickinson

    Today, after 21 very good and happy years followed by a few very difficult weeks of decline, my love, my heart, Winston, was finally given the liberty to die. We grieve, we grieve. 

    My deepest thanks to Dr. Charron Bryant, who carefully eased Winston's final minutes and gave us comfort the best he could.  

    Rest in peace my old beloved friend.

    Saturday, September 19, 2009


    The Booth School's Harper Center viewed from the southwest; my office is among those atop
    the large horizontal limestone elements in the foreground, with the atrium tower rising behind.

    The interior of the atrium viewed from the third floor mezzanine.

    A casualty-to-be-collected on the mezzanine roof viewed from the inside.

    It’s bird migration season again, this time from northern summer nesting regions southward to warmer wintering grounds with good food supplies. The glass tower of the otherwise brilliantly designed Harper Center, Hyde Park home and global headquarters of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, has been from the beginning a wall of treachery to migrating and resident bird life. The floor on which I work has a mezzanine lidded with a glass ceiling collaring the atrium’s tall tower. This is where the birds, flying full speed into what to all appearances is air and sky, smack down when they bounce off the glass. Some are merely stunned, and squat on top of the nearly horizontal glass, trembling, panting, and blinking until they catch their breath and fly away. But most hit with fatal force; from below, passersby see their colorful, stiff bodies, impossibly skinny legs in the air. Some, like the pair of monk parakeets that died there last week, are big and impossible to miss; at a glance, the hummingbirds, exquisitely tiny, could be beetles.

    The Booth School has been doing whatever is reasonably possible to remediate the carnage. The window-walls have retractable blinds that are lowered to cut reflections in the day and the illusion of transparency when the interior is lit at night, thus much better creating the look of a solid surface. When the blinds are down, the collision rate drops. But there are still a few casualties, spring, fall, and in between.

    Mary Hennen with a handful of
    frozen birds at the Harper Center's freezer.

    To make the best of the situation, the bodies are collected, bagged, dated, and frozen for study by the Field Museum of Natural History, a scientifically very active place behind the exhibits. My friend, Bird Collections Assistant Mary Hennen, retrieved a several months-worth of birds a couple of weeks ago. Here’s what the Harper Center tower sampled:

    Tennessee Warbler (3)
    American Redstart ( 2)
    Magnolia Warbler (2)
    Ruby-throated Hummingbird (2)
    Willow/Alder Flycatcher (1)
    Chimney Swift (1)
    House Sparrow (1)
    Starling (1)
    Indigo Bunting (1)

    The Harper Center is by no means the only structure in Chicago that provides birds for study. The problem is severe enough in our forest of skyscrapers that the City itself has provided an explanatory Web site with suggestions for remediation, and the well-organized volunteer Chicago Bird Collision Monitors (CBCM) valiantly aim to increase the survival chances of the injured.

    The Field Museum uses these specimens in several ways, including to learn what species and which sexes are traveling through the Chicago area at what times; how weather affects migration and the number of “kills” (certain wind directions make some storms significantly more deadly than others), and body fat and condition at different time-points throughout the years.

    One of the great surprises for me has been the vast variety of birds we have around us unnoticed. In the city we all know there are robins, sparrows, and, in the Colorful Department, cardinals. I would bet most people never appreciated the animated indigo buntings and bright yellow-and-black magnolia warblers when they were in the air and trees around them.

    A magnolia warbler