The Lake Shore View: Gracie The Cat Can Do Ennui, Too

Since I don’t have much time to write, so I’ll let the camera do the talking. First, here’s a spectacular shot of the retired space shuttle Columbia not flying over Chicago today.

I kid. I’m glad my friends in D.C. got a nice treat today, and my Facebook feed suggests this might be NASA’s biggest publicity coup since they first landed men on the moon in 1969.

As you can see, it was a beautiful day here on the Third Coast, if a little cool for mid-April. The weather so far this spring is a reminder that it’s unwise to jump to conclusions about the year’s weather based on freak weather events. We had a beach-weather heat wave that lasted a couple of weeks in March, and April’s temperatures have been at or below their chilly early spring averages. Go figure.

I’ll catch up on the Chicago vs. D.C. Weather Smackdown below, but first, some big news. Gracie the Cat has relented a bit on her contract demands to participate in this blog.

Over the past week or so, the YouTube videos of Henri the Cat have gotten wide distribution on the Web. If you haven’t seen them, they are two black-and-white shorts (about two minutes long each), with subtitles, that are takeoffs on the introspective filmmaking of France’s New Wave. In the videos, a narrator in the voice of Henri bemoans his tedious life as a pampered house cat.

Gracie, however, may have been watching over my shoulder and noticed that there is more than a passing resemblance between Henri (seen here looking in the mirror, with one of the best lines from Henri 2, Paw de Deux)…

… and Gracie herself.

Not separated at birth, perhaps, but definitely from the same family cat tree.

So, in pursuit of her own elusive 15 minutes of fame, Gracie agreed to a photo shoot. This one is for her fans out there.

And back to the Smackdown… according to Weather Underground…

Last Sunday, Chicago Midway reported a high of 76, a low of 59, but lots of rain (.82 of an inch). Washington Reagan National reported a high of 83, a low of 60 and no rain. Point for D.C.

On Monday, Chicago Midway reported a high of 66, a low of 43 and .02 of an inch of rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 89, a low of 63 and no rain. I’ve experienced a lot of 89 degrees in Chicago. Feels like 109. Point Chicago. That brings the overall score to D.C. 140, Chicago 116.

Gracie the Cat’s Audience Awaits

Fans of the Cooler on the Lake Shore blog might have noticed that I’ve gone out of my way in recent weeks to protect the privacy of our household’s biggest star, Gracie the Cat. It really is hard for her to get the requisite 18 hours of sleep each day when she is being plagued by paparazzi.

But I understand that the embargo may be a bit excessive. In this business of personal blogging, you have to give the people what they want. Some people want to read my wide-ranging thoughts on sports, food, drink, the weather, living in Chicago or whatever. And some people wish I’d just shut up and publish more photos of Gracie the Cat.

This one’s for you folks. Since we’re doing nature photography, I’ll throw in a few waterbirds from a walk by the lake yesterday. And I’ll wrap with a little catchup on the Cooler on the Lake Shore Chicago vs. D.C. Weather Smackdown.

There was still a bit of ice on the surface in Belmont Harbor yesterday morning. It’s gone now. I suspect the birds are pretty happy about that.

Not going in that cold water… hey, we’re not dumb!

And in the Smackdown… according to Weather Underground…

On Sunday, Chicago O’Hare reported a high of 37, a low of 26 and no precipitation. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 45, a low of 35 and .08 of an inch of precipitation. Although this looks like an edge for D.C., that was the day the city dodged predicted snow, and it sounds like it was a pretty crummy day.

On Monday, Chicago O’Hare reported a high of 43, a low of 25 and no precipitation. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 50, a low of 34 and no precipitation. Oh, well, harder to put a thumb on the scale for Chicago here. We’ll call it a split, bringing the overall score to 109-92 in favor of D.C.

The Lake Shore View: Wish I Didn’t Know Now What I Didn’t Know Then

First, I need to apologize for the brief, unannounced hiatus that Cooler on the Lake Shore has been on. All good. This was deadline week for a freelance writing project on which I’ve been working for the past few weeks. Yes, I still write for money. Ask me how! (Because I need to write for money more often if I’m going to reduce the burn rate on our retirement savings.)

Anyway, this piece for an academic-oriented publication called CQ Researcher (which was formerly owned by the place where I formerly worked) is an opus of more than 10,000 words with several moving parts. Not only was that the only writing that I had time to do this week, but I’m just now caught up through Tuesday on my daily newspapers.

I also had to put aside my guitar and only started to practice yesterday for my lesson Sunday. Fortunately, Carlos, the instructor for my class at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music, has tastes in rock music that are very similar to mine — mainly ’60s and ’70s — even though he’s a good several years younger than me. Which means that, even on those rare weeks when I fall a bit behind on practice, I tend to play catch-up with a bit of zeal.

To wit, one of the songs we were assigned for homework this week is Against The Wind by Bob Seger. I became a Seger fan while attending Michigan State in the mid-1970s. He was becoming a big national star at that time but the Dearborn-born (and, um, Ann Arbor-raised) performer already was a big effin’ deal in his home state.

So I’m really getting into learning how to play this song. How could I not, with lyrics like, “I’m  older now, but still running against the wind.” And, “Wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.”

It fits me so well.

Since this is a catchup day on the old blog, I figure I should provide photographic proof that nothing much has changed in Chicago over the past week…

Gracie the Cat is still facing up nicely to her challenges…

… and we’re still getting those beautiful sunsets.

Finally, I’ve got a whole lot catching up on the Cooler on the Lake Shore Chicago vs. D.C. Weather Smackdown, too much for one sitting. So I’m going to do three days’ worth here, and we’ll get there eventually.

According to Weather Underground…

Last Saturday (that was January 21), Chicago O’Hare reported a high of 26, a low of 16 and a trace of precipitation. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 34, a low of 28 and .23 of an inch of precipitation. Pretty darn cold here, but having lived in D.C. for 30 years, there are few phrases that terrorize hearts there more than “wintry mix.” I’ma give this point to Chicago.

On Sunday, Chicago O’Hare reported a high of 43, a low of 16 and .44 of an inch of precipitation (this was the night when it poured and we had a January thunder-and-lightning storm). Washington Reagan National reported a high of 32, a low of 30 and a trace of precipitation. Nothing to write home about for D.C., but I can’t put my thumb on the scale when we had a rain storm.

On Monday, Chicago O’Hare reported a high of 46, a low of 30 and .25 of an inch of precipitation. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 44, a low of 32 and  .03  of an inch of precipitation. OK, this is nuanced because the extra rain that Chicago got was part of that same storm and it ended in the early morning hours, with the rest of day turning out pretty nice (and the high temp about 15 degrees above normal).

That 2-1 split brings the overall score to 89-84 in favor of D.C.

The Lake Shore View: Lose and Learn

When a team you root for like it’s life or death loses a game by one point, it leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. When your team loses by one point on the road to a hated rival, it’s  like poison. So my goal for the remainder of the evening is to pour a strong, refreshing beverage to erase the aftertaste of Michigan State’s 60-59 loss to Michigan.

I have no interest in dwelling on the details. The summary is this: Playing a second consecutive road game against a tough opponent, MSU played flat for most of the first half, trailed by seven at the break, and fell behind by 11 in the second half. Then they dominated for a long stretch and staged a comeback that made Spartan fans proud, even edging out to a lead late in the game. But then their shooters went cold, and the potential game-clinching shots wouldn’t fall.

The final score tells you that this was a game that MSU coulda-shoulda won. But it maybe got lost in that 15-game winning streak, which stoked our Final Four hopes early, that this is for the most part a very young team, still trying to figure out how to max out and mesh its talent. I am sure that the players who missed their shots down the stretch wanted to make them even more than we wanted them to. One of these times, that buzzer-beating shot will fall.

This team already learned from adversity, bouncing back smartly from those season-opening losses against North Carolina and Duke. We’ll be rooting for them as they try to get back on track at home Saturday against Purdue. And we’re already champing at the bit for the Feb. 5 rematch against Michigan. At our house.

Now, I need to cheer me up, so here’s some cute picture of Gracie, the queen of own household, taken yesterday. At the end, I’ll catch up with the Cooler on the Lake Shore Chicago vs. D.C. Weather Smackdown.

In the Smackdown… according to Weather Underground…

On Saturday, Chicago O’Hare reported a high of 21, a low of 14, and a trace of precipitation. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 39, a low of 27, and no precipitation. Point for D.C., obviously.

On Sunday, Chicago O’Hare reported a high of 31, a low of 13, and a trace of precipitation. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 36, a low of 27, and no precipitation. Closer, but still a point for D.C.

On Monday, Chicago O’Hare reported a high of 44, a low of 30, and .04 of an inch of precipitation. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 42, a low of 25, and .03 of an inch of precipitation. Since that’s actually 13 degrees above normal for the date in Chicago, and one degree below normal for D.C., we’ll call that a win for Chicago. That nudges D.C.’s overall lead to 84-82.

The Lake Shore View: Today’s Weather – Happy New Year… Same As The Old Year

Every new year brings with it the promise of a clean slate and new beginnings. But there was something very familiar in Chicago’s quirky weather on January 1, 2012. It looked like this on the Lake Shore …

… but a photo doesn’t capture how biting cold and windy it was out there today.

The same thing happened last year, though the dropoff then was more dramatic. The temperature last New Year’s Eve spiked to 55, then plunged to the mid-teens overnight, accompanied by something approaching a gale. This time, it only got up to 40 on the eve (defying a warmer prediction) and hung out in the 30s today.

Nonetheless, another window-rattling wind has the wind chill hovering around 20. And that’s where the high temperature is forecast to be tomorrow.

Winter gives Chicago a punch. Go figure.

Another good day to be Gracie the Indoor Cat…

Not that there really is a bad day to be Gracie.

One of my New Year’s resolution is to keep up a bit better with the Cooler on the Lake Shore Chicago vs. D.C. Weather Smackdown. The readings from the last day of 2011, from Weather Underground….  Chicago O’Hare reported a high of 40, a low of 29 and no precip, while Washington Reagan National had an early May-like high of 62 (18 degrees above normal!), a low of 46 and a trace of rain (which we have no choice but to ignore). A win for D.C.? Duh! That trims Chicago’s overall lead to 76-74.


The Lake Shore View: Gotta Admit, It’s Kind Of Ballsy

A rainy, chilly day like this one in Chicago…

… can put a fellow in a snarky mood. So I couldn’t help smirking this morning about a story published by the New York Post, which suggests New York Yankees star Derek Jeter provides rather unique parting gifts to his overnight female guests.

Granted, I have been trained through many years as a journalist to have an aversion to gossip and rumor, and I find our culture’s obsession with celebrity to be extremely tiresome.

But this has to do with the Yankees, and if you’ve known me for any length of time and don’t know how I feel about baseball’s Evil Empire, you haven’t been paying attention.

So, quoting the Post, here’s the story:

Yankees star Derek Jeter, one of New York’s most eligible hunks since his split with longtime gal pal Minka Kelly, is bedding a bevy of beauties in his Trump World Tower bachelor pad — and then coldly sending them home alone with gift baskets of autographed memorabilia.

The Yankees captain’s wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am kiss-offs came to light when he mistakenly pulled the stunt twice on the same woman — forgetting she had been an earlier conquest, a pal told The Post.

“Derek has girls stay with him at his apartment in New York, and then he gets them a car to take them home the next day. Waiting in his car is a gift basket containing signed Jeter memorabilia, usually a signed baseball,” the friend dished.

“This summer, he ended up hooking up with a girl who he had hooked up with once before, but Jeter seemed to have forgotten about the first time and gave her the same identical parting gift, a gift basket with a signed Derek Jeter baseball,” the pal said.

The story goes on to quote friends of Jeter who says the 37-year-old shortstop is really quite shy, only goes out on off-nights (presumably meaning when places are less crowded) and tend to favor establishments that are “a hole in the wall” or owned by friends.

It also includes this gem: “And while the parting gift may seem cold, signed Jeter memorabilia sell like hotcakes on the Internet, with an autographed baseball fetching hundreds and even thousands of dollars.”

Ponder that the next time you’re on eBay.

To be fair, I have to admit that I’ve always respected Jeter as an athlete, despite my antipathy toward the team for whom he’s played his whole 17-year major league career. He has always hustled and conducted himself on the baseball field with dignity and professionalism. He has never been accused of using steroids or of substance abuse or any other violation of the law.

This has helped him wear a pretty thick coat of Teflon against the kind of controversies that have beset some of his teammates, such as Alex Rodriguez.

Yet there have been previous indications that Jeter is just a bit quieter about the big ego that comes with being a young man who has made many many millions of dollars for his skill playing a game for a little more than half of each year. Last off-season brought news of the completion of a 31,000 square foot waterfront mansion that Jeter spent close to $8 million having built on the waterfront in Tampa, Florida.

The only thing I can add is that if you are a woman having a drink in New York City and a handsome man walks up and asks if you want to go to his apartment to see his Derek Jeter-autographed balls, it may be more than a lame pick-up line. If this story is true, it may actually be Derek Jeter.

All right, back to real life, which includes our family’s biggest celebrity pretending she’s a jungle cat and using a leafy potted plant for cover.

And in the weather… According to Weather Underground, Chicago O’Hare yesterday reported a high of 45, a low of 38 and .09 of an inch of rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 52, a low of 30 and no rain. So that big lead Chicago built this summer in the Cooler on the Lake Shore Chicago vs. D.C. Weather Smackdown has dwindled to 68-64 (and listening to the rain hosing our windows right now, today doesn’t look too promising either).

The Lake Shore View: Hazy Shade of Winter

As Simon and Garfunkel sang, look around, leaves are brown, there’s a patch of snow on the ground.

As snows go, the showers we got overnight wouldn’t be anything to write home (or blog) about — a half-inch at O’Hare Airport, probably less here on the Lake Shore — if it weren’t for the fact that it was the very first measurable snowfall that Chicago has had this season.

That is really behind schedule: According to WGN’s weather website, it is the fifth-latest first snow in Chicago since 1948.

The temperatures, too, are quite a contrast to those just a year ago: 16 degrees warmer, on average, than during the first week of December 2010. This followed upon a November that was one of the warmest (okay, to be honest, least cold) on record, and the most beautiful August weather I’ve ever experienced anywhere.

So it now indisputable that my moving to Chicago has had a positive influence on the weather here. Now I’m going to see what I can do about getting the Chicago Cubs to the World Series.

I’ll update the Cooler on the Lake Shore Chicago vs. D.C. Weather Smackdown below, but first, some bonus photos of Gracie the Cat, by popular demand. No, seriously, one of my former colleagues in Washington, D.C., sent me a special request for “more Gracie pics, please.” And you’ve got to give the people what they want.

Yesterday, all in all, was yet another good day to be an indoor cat. According to Weather Underground, O’Hare had a high of 36, a low of 24 and no precip Thursday (the snow came after midnight). Washington Reagan National had a high of 45, a low of 35 and no rain. We’ll give that point to D.C., bringing the overall score to 68 for Chicago to 59 for Washington.

The Lake Shore View: Bloomin’ Beautiful

Another gorgeous Chicago sunset. Ho-hum…

But lest you’re tiring of these bright orange palettes, here’s a new feature: We’re going to track the flowering of Barb’s beautiful Christmas cactus…

… and we’re going to get a little artistic with our efforts to make a star out of Gracie. Hence, these still lifes of cat and guitar.

Updating the Cooler on the Lake Shore Chicago vs. D.C. Weather Smackdown…

According to Weather Underground, Chicago O’Hare on Wednesday reported a high of 43, a low of 25 and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 51, a low of 40 and no rain. A bit milder in D.C., so it gets the point.

Chicago O’Hare on Thursday reported a high of 46, a low of 30 and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 52, a low of 38 and no rain. Same thing. That brings Chicago ever-shrinking lead to 66-54.

Another Good Day To Be An Indoor Cat

It is, to say the least, a blustery day in Chicago, with temps in the low 40s and winds gusting over 40 miles per hour. I’ll separately post some cool photos of the lake in turmoil and a pretty amazing “God sky.”

But first… I know that Gracie the Cat’s fan club is much bigger than mine, and I figured I’d share the benefits she enjoys in her life as an indoor cat in a world that can be cold and cruel.

It should be obvious that Gracie, as a member of the family, has table privileges as long as she minds her manners.

Still, it’s never a good idea to leave food unattended, even if you are standing about five feet away with a camera.

Here, Gracie attempts to assert her place at the top of a food chain in which a fried egg sandwich is down near the bottom.

Naturally, after such an adventure, it’s time for a nap of several hours duration.

More about the stormy weather later. I’ve got to get at a freelance project, so I can keep being an indoor cat, too.

The Lake Shore View: Izzo Knows Best

I guess I don’t know as much about Michigan State basketball as I thought. I figured that the 69-47 victory by the Spartan men over Arkansas-Little Rock was pretty satisfactory.

Not a thing of beauty, mind you: too many turnovers and a little short on the rebounding advantage against a team from college hoops’ second tier, and too many missed free throws. But I’d expected that this year’s team, which has a whole lot of freshmen and sophomores playing prominent roles, would have some growing pains, and a 22-point victory margin isn’t exactly a close game.

Yet it turns out that someone doesn’t think MSU played a good game at all. Some guy named Tom Izzo. Which provides as good an explanation as any of why I am writing about Spartan basketball on a blog read by a few dozen friends, and Izzo is making millions of dollars as head coach and has taken Michigan State teams to the NCAA Final Four six times since 1999.

According to a story in the Detroit News, Izzo laced into his team for what he saw as a lack of sufficient effort and determination in last night’s game. ”I said we’d have our ups and downs with this team,” Izzo said. “And definitely after taking a couple of major steps forward, we took a major step backward, looking at our performance.”

Citing a “complete lack of energy by a lot of our young guys,” Izzo added, “I’m learning some things about it, but I was really disappointed in my team, if you want the truth.”

Actually, you could tell watching the game on television that Izzo wasn’t a happy camper. He seemed to be scowling about something every time the cameras focused on him.

For Izzo, these early-season games are when his players learn how to win — not only working on their jump shots and free throw shooting and defensive positioning, but hustling, crashing for rebounds and following up missed shots for 40 minutes a game, every game. It’s easy for an armchair coach like me to say that the team is very young and they’re going to make mistakes. That obviously sounds like a lazy excuse to Izzo, and he’s not hesitant to call out players he thinks are falling short on the effort he expects.

We won’t have to wait long to find out if the message has gotten across. MSU’s next game is Wednesday, Thanksgiving eve, at home at University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, a team that is off to a 3-0 start this season.

I was close to the mark when I suggested that MSU might crack the Top 25 rankings this week despite a 2-2 record resulting from season-opening losses to highly ranked North Carolina and Duke. The Spartans received the 27th most points in the AP poll.

So, how was the weather in Chicago today? So far, we continue to avoid any early onset of winter. Though I just looked up at the Weather Channel on TV and saw rain and snow showers in the forecast for Sunday. Better then than a day earlier: I’m going to see Michigan State play football at Northwestern on Saturday.

It is beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the Benenson abode, as Barb has already decorated the tree and apartment to add a little festive cheer for her sister, who is coming over Thursday for Thanksgiving dinner. And it didn’t take long for us to find a little gift under the tree.

We did have any of those interesting morning skies in the Lake Shore view today…

And yesterday, according to Weather Underground, Chicago O’Hare reported a high of 55, a low of 39 and no rain. Washington Reagan National reported a high of 65, a low of 50 and .02 of an inch of rain. D.C. gets the point for a milder late November day, trimming Chicago’s overall lead to 64-45.