God’s Memo to the Detroit Tigers

For background on this issue, check out the Detroit Free Press:

For all the times you’ve prayed to me,
Beseeching for a victory–
“Let him strike out,” “We need this hit” –
And clogged my in-box with this stuff,

You choose to hold Opening Day—
Praise be to me—on Good Friday?
People, watch you don’t make me mad,
Or I’ll give the Tiges what the Lions had.

More Spelling Bee Vocab Words

Work these into your conversations this weekend. IT PAYS TO INCREASE YOUR WORD POWER!!

turgescent – becoming swollen, distended or inflated

sesquipedalian – characterized by the use of long words

percipience – capacity to sense or come to know or recognize mentally, esp. something that is hidden or obscure

insurrecto – a person who rises in revolt against civil authority or an established government

pecksniffian – hypocritically devout; displaying high-mindedness with intent to impress

nugacious – trifling, trivial

sanguivorous – feeding on blood

exaugural – occuring at the close of a term of office

deglutition – the act or process of swallowing

ramage – the boughs or branches of a tree

(And out of all those words, the only one that was accepted by the WordPress spell checker was percipience. Go figure. If you have percipience, you probably already have.)

R.I.P., George Kell

Growing up in the Detroit area and following Tiger baseball, fans were blessed with the announcing skills of two fine Southern gentlemen, Ernie Harwell and George Kell. And while Ernie might have been the soundtrack of our summers from 1960 to 2002, that shouldn’t take away from the skills of George Kell. Thoughtful, knowledgeable, and of seemingly infinite good humor (especially when the team was losing, as it often was), George Kell never let himself get in the way of the game. Teamed with Al Kaline, their low-key demeanor belied skills learned on ballfields for decades.

It’s a tribute to George (and to Ernie a little) that a vast majority of us Michiganders will put on a southern drawl when we ask, “How ’bout them Tahgers?” This might make the state seem more southern than it really is (and it’s still pretty southern, with all the transplanted Tennesseans and Kentuckians who came to work in the plants after WWII). When games got exciting, his baritone voice got a curl in it that raised the hairs on the back of your neck, seemingly out of nowhere.

You don’t appreciate the great ones until they move on and are replaced. And George Kell was one of the great ones.

The Detroit Free Press tribute to him is here.

Spelling Bee: It Pays To Increase Your Word Power!

Last Friday I was back at it, serving as a judge in the citywide Scripps Spelling Bee. I served as a judge last year, and remember sitting in the audience when my son competed four years ago. Also on my panel was newshound extraordinaire Carol Marin, who is a neighbor of the school–St. James Lutheran–that hosted the bee. Oh, it was a time for five-day deodorant pads. The tension was so thick in that room we had to take extra time to tell the kids to get up and shake their arms.

My hardest job up at the table was holding my emotions in check. When a kid has been trying very hard for a couple of rounds, and succeeded in spelling all the ridiculous words that have been thrown at him, it breaks your heart to watch him or her stumble over a word for a hard German cheese (Backstein), or a mountain village in the Caucasus (aul). I recognized one girl from another year when she competed. A dead-ringer for Drew Barrymore, she was probably a fourth grader when I first saw her, and was now a poised sixth grader. She lost in the later rounds, and kept a stiff upper lip, even with her whole family right there in the front row. Almost all the kids tried really hard (some were completely expressionless), and it was wrenching to watch them go down, but there has to be a winner. WBEZ was there covering it, and they’ve posted a slideshow of the day. Click here if you want to see that.

This year I was struck by the timeliness, or lack thereof, of some of the words. For someone who grew up in the 1960s like me, a muumuu is not an exotic item (a faux-exotic one, sure, but hell, Totie Fields used to wear them). Whether that would make it easier to spell or not, I don’t know, but certain words I feel familiar with (struedel, parfait, lariat, wampum) were probably very foreign to these kids. And while I shouldn’t make generalizations, I wonder if city kids have any idea what a paddock, a wiseacre, a cadenza, or a babushka is. The kids showed us that familiarity isn’t crucial for spelling, but I think it would have to help at least a little bit.

Eventually we were down to two kids, a fifth grader and a sixth grader who went back and forth with correct spellings, obviously having memorized the list of 250 words that everyone had been given. As a judge’s prerogative, we turned to another list of 250 words that the contestants had never seen before.
We got through about a dozen more words, back and forth, but eventually the champion spelled two words correctly in a row. (One more word trapped in time that a late contestant didn’t know: McCoy, as in “the real McCoy.”) This second list had some terrific words that I intend to use in my everyday conversation, just to keep people on their toes. As the Reader’s Digest used to say, It Pays To Increase Your Word Power!

graphospasm — a hand or finger cramp brought on by excessive writing.

flurriment — a state of being agitated

spilth — something that has been allowed to pour, splash, or fall out (as of a container) and be wasted, lost or scattered

frigorific — causing cold (not “Friggerrific!”, though that might become a favorite expletive)

Yiddishkeit — Jewish way of life

rantipole — characterized by a wild unruly manner or attitude

succivorous — feeding on the sap of plants

fanfaronade — empty boasting, bluster

quodlibet — a subtle or debatable point, often a question posed for argument or disputation

breviloquence — shortness of duration of speaking.

And with that, I will save the rest of the list for another day.

“Marooned” with North Park Elementary

When we switched my daughter’s grade schools last year, one of the enticements we held out to her was that the new school would, like the old one, put on a student play every year. This little lure, along with the help of some new kindhearted friends, helped her transition from a little place she’d been attending since pre-school to a much larger and more demanding grade school.

Anyway, I thought the schoolwork was demanding until I saw the school play this past weekend! It was a huge production, all on the stage of the rented Portage Theater in Portage Park. There were 104 kids in the production, but that number counts the K-first graders and second and third graders, who came out in separate groups and sang “You Gotta Have Heart” and “Consider Yourself at Home”, respectively. Still, it was a HUGE cast to put on a stage.

Liesel played the co-host of a game show called “Marooned,” which suspiciously resembled “Survivor,” where groups of favorite childhood characters–from fairy tales, classic stories and video games–had signed up to compete. Apparently, everyone needed the publicity to keep their personal franchises profitable. Man, are we raising a bunch of market-savvy, world-weary kids around here!

Anyway, it was a terrific time, with seven original songs, plus choreography. The kids rehearsed long and hard, and it showed in some very spot-on performances. That’s Liesel in the front in white.

And this year, as in years past, I accepted the assignment to create or locate the props needed for this tropical showdown. (Thankfully there were a lot of other people working on the set itself.) The job ended up being a lot of banners and picket signs–no giant food like other years, drat the luck–but it was still fun. The pictures below show some papier mache skulls I made to top some flagpoles, plus large pieces of a puzzle emblazoned with the tiki icon for the winning team. I didn’t strictly freehand the puzzle pieces, but I was still pretty impressed with myself for getting them to look good.

Used to Be a Sin — Now, It’s a Win !!

I haven’t been on the intertoobs much today, but I can’t believe I’m the only person who read this headline in the morning Tribune and found it funny:

Just proves that, sometime or other, we’ve ALL been winners!

Like Father , Like Son: Media Whore

A busy day is about to get crazy-busy, so I thought I would post this link to an article in this morning’s Chicago Sun-Times discussing the strenuous process of getting accepted in one of Chicago’s selective enrollment high schools. (For my earlier post on this topic, click here.)

Out of the blue yesterday, a reporter calls me up to talk about the process. We chatted for a while, then he asked if it would be possible to get a photograph of the prospective high schooler in question. By coincidence, Liam would be at Northside College Prep later in the evening for orchestra class. So we met the (is it redundant to say “harried”?) S-T photographer, snapped a few pics of Liam with his axe, and Boom! Liam gets to take his first dive into the news hole. I hope he doesn’t become addicted to fame.

And I hope everyone who reads the article is aware that an ellipsis is a device for showing that other parts of a quote had been cut. It might look like I’m offering St. Ignatius faint praise, but really, the two halves of that quote were separated by a lot of other verbiage. I was very excited Liam was accepted at St. Ignatius. In fact, I’m sorry I won’t have excuses for shopping and eating often in Little Italy (near the school), but now I’ll get to sample all the middle Eastern and Korean places near Northside Prep.

(I’m having trouble uploading the picture that accompanied the Sun-Times article. Do you think there is an embedded code to keep me from using it? I was able to download it to my laptop fine. Oh well. Check the article for the original picture.)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

To celebrate the wearin’ of the green, I present here a video of me nephew’s band, Grand Rapids’ most popular Irish band, The Waxies! Give em hell, me boyos, and one fer Uncle Jamie!

Branden blames me for getting him hooked on Irish music and history, because one night I went on too long with snippets I remembered from college history class. Didn’t know I had the rabble rouser in me, but maybe it just takes the right audience. I can take the blame for the black cap as well. I lent it to him once, and have given up hope it will ever make it back (not that I’d want it at this point).

For more on the Waxies, check out their Facebook page and their MySpace page.


Have Your Book and Eat It, Too

The reading for Mark Caro’s book The Foie Gras Wars went very well last night. He sold a lot of books, and his girls were very cute in their demand for the spotlight and the microphone. But the biggest surprise was the cake below, which his parents had made and brought to his reception after. This should be the standard, I think, for what all book signing cakes should be held to. This picture might not show it, but the cake was about 4 inches high, layered with chocolate, fudge and bananas (and thankfully no meat or organ products). Congrats to Mark, and our waistlines.

Book Signing: Mark Caro

A couple of years ago, my friend and Trib writer Mark Caro found himself covering an odd spat among Chicago celebrity chefs. One chef (high-strung, combative, perfectionist, and a sucker for publicity) made it known through Mark that he had decided not to serve foie gras at his eponymous groggery. He stated further (okay, no need to be coy, it was Charlie Trotter) that he would like to eat the prepared liver of chef Rick Tramonto “as a little treat.”

A year later, through some silly aldermanic shenanigans, Chicago had the distinction of being the first city in the world to ban the sale of foie gras in restaurants. Restauranteurs dared city health inspectors to prevent them from serving it. The city’s top hot dog chef (and no fool about publicity, either) managed to become the first chef to be fined for serving his foie gras “dog”. Suddenly, Mark had a front row seat to the emotional battle over the fattened goose liver. And so, he decided to write a book about it.

“Foie Gras Wars” is now in the stores. Mark will be signing some Thursday night at 7 pm at the Borders at Clark and Diversey. Come on out and support him. (For a good article on the book, check out this from the New York Post.)

I’ve had the chance to read some chapters over the past two years. It’s a very entertaining and even-handed story, one that presents many facts and viewpoints but avoids easy answers. Mark even threw himself into the coverage by attending a goose liver weekend at a farm in France, where he learned the issue from the “inside out”, as it were. Once he had his research done, he told me he’d really learned a lot about food choices and this little delicacy, and that his cholesterol had gone through the roof.

In these economic times, macaroni and cheese might be on more people’s minds than foie gras, but keep an eye out for this book and pick up a copy. It’s a fascinating look into politics, money, class, the artisanal food movement, and our relationship to nature and what we put in our bodies.

UPDATE: Here’s a good article about Mark in the Chicago Reader. He’ll also be signing at the B&N in Old Orchard in Skokie next Thursday.

Dept. of Cheap Irony

Was just listening to WXRT this morning when an ad came on for AmeriStar. It had something to do with money, and how knowing your “Mystery Points” will multiply your winnings for the day. Know your Mystery Points, and you’ll find out how to exponentially increase your money.

The name “Ameristar” sounded familiar, and will all the talk about points and money, I thought it was a bank. Sounds like a generic bank name, right?

It ain’t.

It’s really a chain of casinos.

Saturday Morning “Watchmen”

For weeks, I’ve been promising to take Liam and some of his buddies to the opening weekend of “The Watchmen” for his 14th birthday. Had some reservations about it, especially as the reviews started coming in, mentioning the violence and nudity.

But then I saw this and feel much better about it all. Absolute genius.

Book Signing: Bryan Gruley

Next week mystery lovers in Chicago will get two chances to meet and greet Bryan Gruley, who has penned a marvelous new book, Starvation Lake, out now from Simon & Schuster. I urge everyone to come out and support Bryan, the Chicago bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal and an altogether mensch-y type of guy.

On Sunday, March 8 at 2 pm, he’ll be at Centuries and Sleuths, the redoubtable independent mystery bookstore in Forest Park. On Tuesday, March 10 at 7, he’ll be at the Borders at Clark and Diversey in the city. You can find other dates on his tour, plus interviews and all that stuff, at Bryan’s webpage here.

For an even more awesome experience, go to Bryan’s website, StarvationLake.com. It will give you a good feel for the setting of the book, a northern Michigan town where hockey is a religion and a murdered high school rink coach is a sign of deep rot among the people. It’s a really slick site, the kind of web marketing that writers need to do now to get attention. So please do pay attention, and support this book. It will free Bryan up for more daytime drinking with the rest of us professionals.