Thursday, July 27, 2006

Musings on Jon

So far, this is my favorite picture of Jon and I. It was taken July 23 in my parent's back yard. Esther recently gave me a disc with all the pictures of Jon from her camera. Here's a direct link to them:

These pictures chronicle just how much Jon has grown since birth. He went to the doctor Monday and weighs 20 pounds, 5 ounces. He's 27 inches long.

Some notes about Jon at six months:

He has the strength now to crawl, but doesn't want to. He prefers to roll over, but cannot yet control where he goes. He likes to sit or stand, and complains if you lay him down. When he stands he likes to rock back and forth on his feet. He loves his exersaucer, a swivel sit/stand seat with an array of doo-dads to knock around. He rocks that so hard sometimes I think he might tip it over.

I think he's stopped spitting up. He's also discovered object permanence, and is no longer fooled if you replace his favorite toy with something else. He loves a little stufffed dalmation, a yellow and blue knit blanket, and, in the car, his sock monkey. Of course, everything he grabs goes directly to his mouth.

He's an eager eater. Often he eats so fast his eyes water and he coughs. He is slowly getting introduced to solid foods. So far he's eaten rice cereal, carrots, pears, banana, sweet potatoes, and apple sauce. He's easy to feed when he's not grabbing at the spoon, and opens his mouth if you run the spoon on his lower lip.

Jon likes to bang on things. If he isn't trying to eat it he's flailing it. He is a talker, but no words yet. He smiles at every new person and doesn't seem afraid of anybody. Sometimes, when he meets someone he will smile at them and then burrow his face into his chest. At first I thought he wasn't ticklish (like his old man), but now I can tickle him by rubbing under his chin or ribs. He doesn't seem bothered when you tickle the bottoms of his feet.

Jon looks a lot like his mother. Esther has a picture from when she was five months old. When you hold the picture up next to Jonny the resemblance is amazing. Jon, like Esther at that age, has very little hair. He has fuzzy little whorls of wispy blonde hair on his scalp. His hairline comes to a V on is forehead like his namesake Uncle John Larson. But he has my lips, ears, and, I think, nose. The wrinkles on his hands and feet look a lot like mine, as does the shape of his fingernails.

I can tell already Jon is going to explore his world. He wants to check out new things and will focus on new objects for a long time. He has good vision and recognizes familiar faces from across the room.

Jon is a pretty laid back baby. He doesn't mind getting moved around and adapts well to new situations. Esther says, as babies go, Jon is pretty easy to take care of. When he wants something he lets you know, and doesn't fuss or complain for no reason. His moods and cycles are predictable. Often, he wakes up cranky from his afternoon nap and has to be eased into consciousness slowly, cooingly.

He loves and is entranced by music. Esther and I both have "Jonny songs" we sing to either get him to stop crying ot to lull him to sleep. When I play my guitar for him, it absorbs his attention entirely. If we beat out a rhythm he almost always bangs along as best as he can. Esther and I are both musical, so it would be no surprise if Jonny is too.

Esther and I are also both lefthanded. Jon seems to favor his left hand as well.

The cloth diapers have worked out well. Jon has only had diaper rash a couple times, but never that bad. He poops more frequently now that he's eating solid foods, and it smells worse too. Esther uses a diaper service based in Madison, WI, and picks up new diapers at my parent's every couple of weeks.

Jon is a very healthy, happy baby. Esther is a great mother. I see Jon enough that I feel like a significant part of his life. Esther and I get along and are both devoted to Jon's happiness. Life hasn't worked out as planned, but, considering all we've been through, things are going pretty good.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Chicago III

Okay, this is the last I'll write about the recent Chicago trip.

On July 17, Monday morning at the Ogilvie Transportation Center, I stood in line at Dunkin Donuts in the lower level with my bike at my side. I was next in line to order when a tall black man in a dark green suit jacket with badge and identification, came over and told me I have to leave with the bike. I told him I was taking it on the train. He said you either have to wait for it on the second floor or leave with your bike. I told him that's where I was headed and that if he let me buy my donuts I'd be on my way. Mind you, I spoke in a calm, relaxed tone, smiling. He said no, you have to leave.

So I left the line just as my turn came to order and walked the bike outside, locked it to the nearest post, and came back inside. My 150-foot journey outside and back -- both times -- was flanked by four uniformed personages. One, a middle-aged woman with a walkie talkie on her shoulder, the original tall, skinny black guy who confronted me in line, a frizzy-haired 70s throwback white guy, and, at the door the baddest of them all, Ving Rhames done up taller and fatter, giving me a death glare, all cue ball head and flared nostrils.

Damn Homeland Security, Orange Alerts, Al Qaeda, the attempted shoe bomber, Littleton, Oklahoma City, Unabomber, Waco nuttiness of the world everyone tries to shield themselves from. Police state bureaucratic rules make it a hassle to buy a donut. But I got to the train on time and left Ving and his cronies to keep the food court safe from donut-munching bicyclistas.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Locascio reunion

Yesrerday my family got everyone together for the first time in about a year, as we gathered at my parent's house to visit my sister Carol, who flew up from Houston for a friend's wedding.

Here's a link to more photos:

It was great to see everybody. Jon introduced himself to Carol by crapping on her. Besides that, he was well-behaved and in good spirits the rest of the time. I think I got pictures of everyone who visited.

Chicago tales II

I have more to add about the recent Chicago trip.

On Saturday, July 15, after visiting the Chicago Botanic Gardens, I was beginning to feel a bit worn out from the heat. I left the crowds at the Gardens behind and sought out the North Branch Bicycle Trail, which was listed as an icon on my map, but didn't show its route. I thought it may run east of the gardens, so I left and headed on the nearest road east. Alas, after about a half hour of searching, I could not find the trail. I was really hot and flustered when I saw Turnbull Forest Preserve, an oak grove with a picnic shelter and life-saving water fountain.

I parked my bike at the shelter and cooled off at the fountain. I hung out at the shelter for over an hour, looked at the maps for any further clue to the location of this bike trail, and listened to the Cubs game on my radio headphones. Around 6, an hour before the Ravinia concert, I pushed my bike on an overgrown trail through thick woods behind the shelter. I navigated around log blowdowns and slapped at mosquitoes. And then I discovered a profusion of orange and yellow snapdragon flowers in a small clearing. I took pictures and paused... as long as the bloodsuckers would allow. I thought, here I am, again, away from it all. Even in the heart of suburbia beauty is found at a remove. Compared to all the cultivated, planned gorgeousness of the gardens, the snapdragons seem more beautiful because they caught me by surprise, and they're wild.

The trail snaked around a hillside. I worried. Should I turn around and go back? If I continue, where will I end up? I could be late for the concert. Five minutes later I came to a small clearing, overgrown, non-descript, opening to a busy two-lane road. I saw another road and a person walking with a lawn chair. I followed that person and not only found the bike trail, but rode it to the gate at Ravinia Park.

The concert ended at 9. The next train back didn't leave until 11. Downtown is 20 miles away. I took the North Branch Trail and figured if I got lost I would just go left, to Lake Michigan, and follow it as closely as possible all the way back to my brother's place in Lincoln Park. I followed this older fellow who had a flashing red light and caught up with him at an intersection. I asked him if, indeed, this trail goes all the way back to Chicago. He said it does, but it would be really easy to get lost in Kenilworth, his final destination, so he offered to show me the way once we were there. But he was slow, and insisted on stopping and getting off his bike to cross on foot at each intersection, which follows the letter of the law of bicycle safety. I lost patience and wished the guy well as I continued ahead. Sure enough, at Kenilworth I lost my way. But I followed my plan and continued south on side streets. I went down a boulevard lined with mansions. Wilmette, Ken later told me, is one of the richest communities in the United States.

I came around a corner and saw a steel bridge, the white masts of what seemed like hundreds of ships in a harbor, and the foreign-looking, domed Bahai Temple. I followed a ramp next to the bridge, below, beside the Wilmette Canal, to check my maps under the lights. As soon as I found the location I heard a low moan, then a yell. Then I noticed the garbage bag and dirty knapsack at the end of the lot. A trail went off beyond these belongings, but tonight was not the night to explore it.

My ride took me past Northwestern University, where I watched a scrum football game in the commons past the main gate, and Loyola University's Lake Shore campus. I was surprised to see so many run-down buildings and general squalor just south of Evanston because everything I'd seen since Ravinia were upscale communities. You would think the closer you get to the city, the pricier the homes. But there's this stretch, far enough away from downtown, but not far enough away to be a suburb, this bubble of poverty. I also checked out the many public beaches and at one of them watched fireworks off Navy Pier.

At the Ravinia Concert I lamented being alone. This would be a lovely place to go for a date. But I realized, once I got back to my brother's place, that the adventure afterwards would have been less enjoyable with company. I don't get the least bit put off about getting lost because I know, at least in urban areas, that I will find my way eventually. Even if a companion also has no problems with getting lost, I still worry about their welfare. Getting lost alone is much more fun.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Metra North Shore trip

Yes, I went to Chicago last weekend and spent two nights in the city and another in Geneva, where I helped my friend Chris on the expansion project for his family's bar/restaurant. It was good to get away from the squalor, to get out and explore, to take a mini-vacation on the cheap. Of course, I took a bunch of pictures. Here's a link to all of them:

Here's a few of my favorites:
This is the first time I got to take my bike on the train. The last two times I rode Metra were during big events, the Chicago Blues Festival in early June and the Taste of Chicago from June 29 - July 9. Metra doesn't allow bikes on trains during peak travel times.

The Chicago Botanic Gardens would have been more enjoyable without a withering, nearly 100-degree heat. Still, I enjoyed the Japanese and English gardens. One for its semblance of wildness, the other its nature-inspired order.

On Sunday, en route to Illinois Beach State Park, I was dropped off in Waukegan because the train only goes further north to Zion, Winthrop Harbor and Kenosha, WI in the morning and evening. As I rode through Waukegan's historic district I remembered science fiction writer Ray Bradbury grew up here. He wrote a semi-autobiographical book about his childhood, Dandelion Wine, that I read the summer after I graduated from high school. In the book, Waukegan is called Green Town, IL. I remember a ravine is mentioned in the story. The main character, Douglas Spalding, finds a dead body there. Just as I remembered this, I rode past a ravine. There's a few of them right off Sheridan Road, and they are dark, forbidding, primeval, forgotten places surrounded by houses and suburbia.

I rode around the state park until I couldn't stand the heat anymore, then hung out for a couple of hours near the water. My method for staying cool: stay in the lake until I'm shivering cold, then go back and lie down. Lie down until I'm too hot and/or the bugs start biting, then repeat step one.

Monday and Tuesday I worked for my friend Chris Arbizzani. His family is expanding their bar/restaurant into the building next door, and Chris asked me to help out doing manual labor tasks either too dirty or tedious for he and his brother John to handle. Monday I dug a six-inch deep hole beneath the floorboards in a 6-by-3 foot area. I had a huge pile of rocks and dirt to show for my efforts. Tuesday I also dug a trench for the tap lines running from a keg fridge to the location of the soon-to-be bar.

Luckily, the space we worked in was air-conditioned, and Chris treated me to good food from the restaurant for lunch both days.

Rhapsody in Blue

Last weekend I went to Ravinia Park and saw the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform music by George Gershwin, including Cuban Overture, selections from Porgy and Bess, and Rhapsody in Blue. I didn't actually see the CSO, but heard them through the park's sound system on the lawn.

I went to Ravinia on a whim because it is a stop on the Metra North Shore Line, and not far from the Chicago Botanic Gardens, which I planned to go to. The week before I heard Rhapsody in Bluu on WNIU, and wrote in my journal what the announcer said about how Gershwin, like DeBussy, found inspiration in the paintings of James McNeill Whistler (of Whistler's Mother fame).

A little net research reveals that Gershwin's compostion of Rhapsody in Blue was inspired by the sounds of a train ride he took from Connecticut to New York during the hasty five weeks he had to write the piece. According to a Wikipedia article about the piece, the title was originally called "American Rhapsody." "The title Rhapsody in Blue was suggested by Ira Gershwin after his visit to a gallery exhibition of James McNeill Whistler paintings, which bear titles such as Nocturne in Black and Gold and Arrangement in Gray and Black (better known as Whistler's Mother).[23] "

Whistler's paintings are ethereal. Impressionist art is like that. It hits you at gut level. The beauty is not in detail, but in shading, the interplay of light and shadow. And, in Whistler's case, reflection. Rhapsody in Blue is also like that. From the clarinet glissando that opens the piece, Rhapsody in Blue doesn't ask you to contemplate the mathematical symmetry of the notes, but to roll along with the trill and bustle of its accessible themes. Its moods are simple. Its melodies hummable. It is high art that can be appreciated by a mass audience.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

backpacker news

I heard this story on NPR today about Roman Dial, a backpacker who hiked 600 miles without any food resupply. The piece hailed Dial's achievement as the "longest unsupported backpacking trip ever in North America."

Here's a link to the story:

The longest unsupported distance I've gone is close to 300 miles over 11 days through the High Sierras in 2004 -- over 30 pounds of food! Dial said he could have gone about 70 miles more if he did not carry 3 pounds of camera gear. He said he cheated (sort of) near the end and bartered some of his food for a double cheeseburger during a stop at a village, where his other buddy left the hike, and Dial alone.

For more information about this hike, including a blog and pictures, follow this link:

Jon at the laundromat

I just got my Canon Powershot A620 in the mail today and am like a kid in a candy store trying to figure out the dizzying array of features. Luckily, for dummies, like I'll be for a while, the camera has an automatic feature that should cover most photo opportunities. It's just nice to know I own a point and shoot where I can control the f-stop and shutter speed, something I've always missed that I had with my Pentax SLR film camera.

Wednesday is laundry day, so I did a photo essay of Jon at the laundry. Yes, I'm a proud parent, and I promised myself I'd never subject anyone to so many baby photos. Well, I lied. Get over it.

Here's a link to the pictures:

Monday, July 03, 2006

Rider on the Storm

I left my brother Ken's place in Lincoln Park at a quarter to midnight. I was a little drunk on beer and wine. A little. No stagger. A pleasant buggy buzz. Okay, I did run into the side of a very stationary newspaper box. A glancing blow. No harm, no foul.

Red line to Washington. Ask a street cleaner where Ogilvie Transportation Center is and he directs me. Chicago never fails to live up to its reputation as one of the world's friendliest cities.

Took the last Metra train to Elburn, set to arrive after 2 a.m. In Geneva the conductor called out to me to make sure I was awake. One other guy got off with me. By this time, I'm no longer even buzzing, just tired, dozey. I'm in no mood to ride the 22 miles back to DeKalb, but figure I can do it half asleep if I just pedal and don't think about it.

The ride started out under star cover as I rode through a quiet neighborhood to Keslinger Road. But by the time I got to Kaneland High School, about 5 miles in, I noticed lightning flashes off in the distance ahead of me. I looked up and saw the fast-moving fingerlings of approaching clouds.
I love summer storms. And to see a storm at night amongst rolling, seemingly endless vistas of corn, from so far a distance, is a real treat.

The light show came closer. A dank, humid wind swirled towards the storm. Another batch of lightning sprang forth from the south, closer than the western advance. Bolts flashed horizontal cataracts across the horizon. Thunder was a distant rumble, a dog growling under the porch. One one thousand two one thousand three...

I picked up my pace and thought I might make it home dry, but right after I turned north on Hwy. 23 rain, heavy rain, fell with surprising immediacy. No warning drizzle. Just whoomph. I stopped, dripping, under the I-88 overpass and put my cell phone in my rain jacket pocket. The rain jacket made obsolete by sudden precipitation.

Back at Country Acres, changed and dried, I stood in the hallway and listened to the storm for awhile before going to bed.