Monday, May 23, 2016

Troutman Vineyards and Winery

So I'm just driving down Route 30 across Ohio - you know, like you do - minding my own business and listening to NPR talk about who should be using which public restroom, when I come across a sign along the side of the road that states "Troutman Vineyards - 3 Miles" with an arrow pointing to take the next right turn.  Naturally, I slammed on the brakes.

First of all, it's rare to see my last name printed on anything other than my checks and utility bills.  Second, the mere thought that my last name is associated with a vineyard is just too good to be true.  And C) the actual fact that such a place exists and that it is within meet yards from where I am,  traveling on an unplanned route across one of the most non-scenic states in the country was . . . well, just short of a miracle.

So I made the next right turn and drove down some back country roads to Route 3, hung a left, and lo and behold a few miles down on the left sat Troutman Vineyards and Winery.  And they closed 15 minutes ago.  So I continued on my journey, but chose to drive the same route back to Chicago for the sole purpose of stopping at the Winery when it was open - which I did and it was exactly one week later.

You can review their website for all the information, but suffice is to say that it's an interesting place with a colorful past.  The store of the Winery is located in the farms old chicken coop, which I thought was pretty fun.  Their website doesn't have a store, but they do sell items.  I bought a bottle of wine, a tee shirt, and 4 glasses.  And they gave me a bag of corks, perhaps because of my surname.  I kept a glass and shipped one to my 3 siblings, along with a few corks to give to their kids.  I probably should have purchased at least two bottles of wine because I'm not sure if I want to open the one that I did buy.  And since the Winery does not ship out of state, its hard to say when I will acquire another bottle, if ever.

And now for the big question:  Are the Troutmans from the Vineyard any relation to me?  The short answer is Probably Yes, but very distantly.  I didn't actually get to meet any Troutmans during my visit, but I looked on their website for some history and the only information they provide is about a "Johannes Trautmann who immigrated to the colonies in 1748" from Schriesheim, Germany.

So two things here:
1)  No Trautmanns came to America in 1748.  Trust me when I say this.  I have spent the past 16 years researching the Trautmann/Troutman lineage in America and I know exactly when they all came over.  There was a Johannes Trautmann born in 1713 is Schriesheim who came to America in 1738 aboard the ship Robert and Oliver (Alice) (see the ship's passenger list).  Five years later, his brother, Hyronimus, came to America aboard the St. Andrew.  This is according to research done on this family and presented in The Trautman/Troutman Family History, Volume II, by editor Steve E. Troutman who mostly concludes that all Troutmans in the United States today are related, however distantly.
Fifteen years Johannes arrived, 4 more Trautmanns came from Reichelsheim to America. Wilhelm Trautmann - my ancestor - was among them.  Based on ages, we could surmise that Johannes and Hyronimus were perhaps uncles or older cousins of the 4.  All 6 of these men started out in America as farmers. 
2)  Schriesheim is only about 20 miles from Reichelsheim so its very probable that the Trautmanns from those two small towns were related.
 So in any event, this was a fun bit of happenstance.  This is the kind of roadside attraction that we love to come upon; the wonderful stuff you find when you choose to not drive on the interstates.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

My Case Against Recruiting And Staffing Agencies

Perhaps I just don't get it.

Let me start off by stating that I this blog is a reaction to the culmination of the past 10 months in which I remained unemployed (until recently, thank the universe) as well as the year we lived in Miami.  I've been noticing a trend during that almost-2-year period that I truly feel hindered my job search efforts and, I suspect, the efforts of millions of others.  And that trend is this:  it seems these days that one cannot get a job interview without first going through a recruiter in a staffing agency - a 3rd party person who does not work for the company, but is tasked with finding candidates for open positions. Let me be clear here, I'm not talking about corporate recruiters who actually hire for the companies at which they work.  They are a completely different sub-sect.  I'm talking about those people, recruiters, who work for staffing agencies - agencies like Ajilon and Manpower and Robert Half.

Make no mistakes, my job-seeking friends, despite what they tell you, these recruiters are not on your side. Most recruiters are neither educated in HR disciplines nor do they have the breadth of experience of an HR professional.  They know nothing about employee relations, engagement, or even diversity and inclusion; they do not handle performance issues, coach managers or tackle the many other day-to-day nightmare matters surrounding workplace regulations like the ACA, FMLA, ADA and FLSA.  Recruiting and staffing are inherently not functions of human resources.  However, in many companies, the job of talent acquisition falls to the HR department because it seems to make sense.

Ultimately, recruiting talent is a sales job, not an HR function.  Recruiters are motivated by the sale; the first person to make the sale wins.  Recruiters spend six seconds evaluating online resumes/CV's.  That's it: 6 SECONDS.  They report that they spend approximately 4 to 5 minutes, but reality has disproved that statement with eye-tracking techniques.  So to sum up so far, your future is being decided upon in a 6-second timeframe by someone who most likely has no experience or background in human resources.

So what are they looking for on your resume (and very quickly, I might add)?  Boxes to check in order to put you in front of the actual hiring team.  They serve their client - the one who is paying.  And despite their reassurances to the job-seeker that you have great experience and are a marketable candidate, you may never hear from them again after your initial (and most times, only) visit with them to get started.  They might like you, but will you make them guaranteed bank?

To combat this, recruiters request that job-seekers take control of their own destiny by being a "pro-active partner" to the recruiter in their endeavor.  This means, recruiters have created a double language, RecruiterSpeak if you will, so that they can say what they want while still telling you what you want to hear.  Example:
"Visit our website often and let us know about the jobs that interest you.  And also, let us know about any other jobs out there that you might be interested in. You never know, we might have a relationship there"
 which in RecruiterSpeak means
 "Stay in touch with me to remind me that you still exist and tell me about other jobs that are listed because I don't have time to just sit and scour job boards all day long like you do."
Until recently, I spent 10 months constantly job-searching and speaking to at least 50 recruiters along the way.  At the end of that time, I was at a loss as to what I was supposed to do to strengthen those "partnerships":

  • I'd redesigned my resume at least 7 times based on their different requests. 
  • I'd registered with 11 recruiting and staffing agencies - 2 of which I heard from now and then; the other 9 I'd never heard from beyond our initial meeting. 
  • They'd tell me to go through them first before applying for jobs I'd find because they might have an "inside connection" to help me out.  I'd see jobs that interest me and send emails to the recruiters, most of which were neither acknowledged nor answered.  The few times my communication was acknowledged (no less that 5 DAYS LATER), I learned that the recruiter didn't know anyone at that company.  So then I ended up applying for the job 5 days after everyone else.  I'm sure my resume wasn't even seen. 

I realized that the 10 jobs I might see on LinkedIn or Indeed were most likely the same job registered with as many staffing agencies.  So what might have looked like a booming job market was actually just a few jobs multiplied by however many staffing agencies were working on it.  That is, IF the job exists at all.  Many agencies list bogus jobs just to build their "stable" of eligible talent.  So that job that sounds perfect that you found online?  Might not even be real.

What REALLY baffles me is that recruiters aren't bending over backwards to help any HR professional in his/her job search.  The HR connection in any company will be the one who reaches back out to the recruiters in order to help find future staff.  So why the recruiting agencies have not picked up on the "You scratch my back/I'll scratch yours" mantra, I can guarantee that job-seeking HR professionals are remembering the recruiting and staffing agencies who have helped them along the way.

I've already talked about how recruiters are extremely poor at communicating and building relationships ... at least with job hunters ... at least in my experience.  My overall concern is the trend of relying on someone we most often don't even know to help us with the biggest decision of our lives.  And research has shows that recruiters are disinterested and mostly uneducated when it comes to the actual world of human resources.  If companies continue to go the route of 3rd party acquisition, they will run the risk of missing out on candidates who have more to offer than a few buzzwords in their resumes that may or may not capture the attention of the software that's scanning it.

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Total Resumes Sent: 307

As you may be aware, I was laid off from my last job on July 17, 2015.  It's been a humbling experience, to say the least.  Back in 2013 when we moved to Miami, I blamed that city for my inability to get a job, screaming loudly to anyone within ear shot that the city is inefficient and unable to function as anything other than a tourist destination.

I was unemployed the entire year we lived in Miami. I sent out 130 resumes - a number I thought was astronomical - and from those received just 2 interviews.  To give you some frame of reference, there are exactly 130 colored balls in the picture at right, each one representing 1 resume that was sent from April 2013 to February 2014.

I vowed that this would NEVER happen to me if we were still living in Chicago.  I was confident that my vast professional connections would help me find employment easily.  And while I stand by my original observations that Miami is wholly a disaster of a city, I can no longer fully place the blame of my unemployment on the way that city and its inhabitants operate.  When I was laid off in July, I remember thinking that I will most likely have a job within two weeks.  All I needed was to update my LinkedIn profile and spread the word to my network that I was back on the market.

Or so I thought.

It's been a long, arduous journey to get here that involved sending out a total of 307 resumes since July 2015.  Read that number again:  THREE HUNDRED AND SEVEN.  For reference and comparison, the image to the right contains exactly 307 balls.  If that still doesn't seem like a ridiculous number, consider that each ball is more than just sending out a resume: it's filling in the required data on the application despite uploading the parsed resume that already contains all the data being requested; it's rewriting the cover letter to tailor it to the job requirements and the specific organization; it's doing research to learn the name of the appropriate individual at each company to whom the cover letter will be addressed; it's scouring many websites daily, even several times a day, to find those jobs that are appropriate; it's comparing job postings to each other to ensure I am not simply applying for the same job multiple times through different agencies; it's sending out the resume with the fervent hope that this is "the one" and that this entire process can end just so I can get back to doing what I love and what I've trained my entire career to do.

And then there's the waiting.  Throughout this most recent process, I was struck by the number of times I was NOT considered for a job.  Of course, my vanity forces me to think I am the perfect candidate for every job, but it wasn't as if I was applying for jobs that were outside of my experience.  I was extremely realistic in my search.  Out of the 307 resumes I submitted, I heard back from exactly 80 of them.  That's a paltry 26% response rate.  How do I know this?  I kept a spreadsheet!

Mostly so that I wouldn't keep applying to the same jobs over and over, I started keeping track.  The spreadsheet listed the name of the company, the title, any contact information, the date I applied, and any updates after that (phone interviews, in person interviews, responses or passes).  In Chicago, I didn't expect a response on every resume I sent, especially from the smaller companies.  But I was surprised by those companies with high profiles that provided no type of confirmation of receipt or other type of follow-up; companies that I expect to have advanced technology to help recruiters stay in touch with applicants.  Companies like Groupon, Aetna, Expedia, Heinz, Potbelly, United Airlines,  and Canon,

Moreover, I was shocked by the number of recruiting and staffing agencies that didn't respond at all.  I mean, that's the gig!  These people are supposed to be expert relationship builders, yet there were MANY high-level recruiting agencies that either didn't respond to my resume, or return a communication (phone call or email) or both.  Agencies like Ajilon, Office Team, Robert Half, and Manpower.

Companies need to do better.  Recruiting agencies must do better.  I don't understand why the people in my profession seem to forget the human part of human resources.  That's why we all get into this business in the first place.

The good news here is that it's all over, at least for me.  I am no longer "off the market" and am excited about some new opportunities.  The bad news is that there are still about 8 million people who are unemployed in the U.S., most of whom are experiencing exactly what I've gone through.  Imagine the frustration this is causing across the country?

Monday, May 02, 2016


Most friends who know me these days don't necessarily know that I am a fairly good artist.  In my teens and early 20's, I was constantly drawing portraits and caricatures of family and friends.  A tribute to my teachers won a blue ribbon in my high school annual art show, as did an acrylic painting that my mom still has hanging in her house.

Kevin is always urging me to get back to it, to buy paint supplies or colored pencils.  But the truth is, being artistic has always been something I take for granted.  It's handy to have the ability in life, but creating art has never been something I've wanted to pursue, much to my parents' exasperation.  To be honest, I am rarely confident enough in my style or taste to know if I am truly any good or not.  So it's just something that I like having in my back pocket.

After high school, I dabbled in projects - doing things like creating pieces for my friend, Judy's class room bulletin boards  She brought me a doll that she asked me to draw for her and it turned out pretty good when you figure I did it all with crayola markers on posterboard:

and painting Santa Claus faces on my parents' front door every Christmas:

and after moving from home and not being able to paint the door every year, painting a wooden Santa Claus that Mom still hangs outside her front door at Christmastime:

In college, I created caricatures of all my friends, some who used them for different reasons:

So you can imagine how appalled I was when Kevin and I went to an art show in Ft. Lauderdale the year we lived in Miami and allowed a local artist to create our caricatures.  Below is what the artist drew of Kevin:

(I'll spare you the Baby Huey portrait he drew of me.)

Now, I understand that we all see things differently, but the idea behind creating a caricature is to take a person's most noticeable features and accentuate them.  On Kevin, it would be his eyes and smile which, ironically, are the two features that are played down on the caricature.  So one night sitting in a restaurant a few days later, I took a crayon at the table and quickly drew Kevin's caricature on the brown paper tablecloth.  I'll admit it's not perfect, but I ask you to compare them:

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Lincoln Bed

For many people, whether or not said people are fans of Abraham Lincoln, the term "the Lincoln Bed" refers to the bed that has taken up residence in what is now called The Lincoln Bedroom in The White House.  Two things one should know:

First, Lincoln never slept in the Lincoln Bed.  It is a rosewood bed nearly 8 feet long and 6 feet wide, with an enormous headboard and large footboard decorated with carved grapes, grapevines, and birds.  It was purchased by First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln during her extensive redecorating efforts around 1861.  It was originally put in the Prince of Wales Guest Room, which is now the First Families' Private Dining Room.  Young Willie Lincoln died in the White House at age 11 in the bed on February 20, 1862.  But Lincoln himself never used it.

And second, Abraham Lincoln never slept in the Lincoln Bedroom.  It is a room on the second floor of the Executive Mansion that Lincoln used as an office (it is the most often seen room in Steven Spielberg's Lincoln).

The Lincoln (Death) Bed
Chicago History Museum
With that said, the term "the Lincoln Bed" means something completely different to me: it is the bed in which Abraham Lincoln died on April 15, 1865 inside the Petersen House on 10th Street in NW Washington, DC.  If you visit The Petersen House, across from Ford's Theater, you will see a well-made replica of the bed in the back bedroom where Lincoln drew his last breath at 7:22AM.  But it's not the actual bed in which he died.  THAT bed is currently on display at The Chicago History Museum.

And I recently just stood and stared at it for a long time!

The bed is part of the museum's "Lincoln's Undying Words" exhibit.  I had seen the bed once before when it was on display at Chicago History Museum many years ago.  Back then, Kevin and I were still a new couple and we were visiting the Museum when we came across the bed.  The display at that time was fairly rudimentary and I could have easily reached out to touch the bed.  But Kevin was nervous about me trying it, so I didn't do it (I was still trying to make a good impression).  I totally blame him for that missed opportunity and I have carried a heavy grudge about it ever since.  I almost didn't marry him because of it.  And I am totally lying.

The Chicago History Museum (one of my faves in the city) is also in possession of the sheets and bloody pillowcases (they had to be changed every time Mary visited her husband's bedside so that she wouldn't freak out any further due to Lincoln's substantial blood loss).  Someday I will get to see those, I'm sure of it.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Can I Get A Witness?

On a recent trip back home to visit my folks, I was working out in the yard raking up leaves from last fall when I heard a car door in my parents' driveway.  I walked around the house to see two very well-dressed women getting out of a minivan and walking to the front door.  I yelled a hello and one of the women responded with, "Is she home?"

They seemed to know my Mother and her daily routine of visiting Dad at the nursing facility.  The more talkative of the two women introduced herself as Rose and wanted to leave literature for Mom.  I wasn't sure if Mom actually knew these women or if perhaps she had met them just once during a visit with Dad.  In any event, I knew they were peddling something about God and Jesus and wouldn't have let them near Mom in the first place, even if she actually had been home at the time.

But again, Rose seemed to know Mom.  She talked about how impressed she was with the amount of time Mom spends visiting Dad.  The second woman asked how long my parents have been married and I told them that it would be 55 years in August.  I went on to say that Mom took her marriage vows very seriously and is sticking by him through this ordeal.

And then something interesting happened...

Lady #2 smiled at me and said, "So I can see by your hand that you are married too!"  I replied simply, "yes I am."  Rose went on to elaborate about how important the ring is as a symbol of marriage and how people out in the world need to learn to respect the ring more as a promise of devotion - which is why she doesn't do things like have lunch with male co-workers or go out with male friends because it could make her husband uncomfortable.  Seems a bit strict, but whatever works for Rose and her insecure husband.

Rose asked me how long I've been married.  I said that we got married a year and a half ago.  There was a pause, I think because they expected me to have been married longer based on my age.  Or perhaps they were silently surmising that I was probably on my 2nd or 3rd marriage.  I went on to explain that we had been together for almost 11 years but decided to actually get married a year and a half ago.

And then Lady #2 asked the question I'd been giddily waiting for...   "And what's your wife's name?"  My immediate response was, "Well, I'm married to a man and his name is Kevin."

{insert sound of crickets chirping}

I'm confident they were not expecting that response - not only what I said but the ease with which I said it.  It took a few seconds for them to process the information, after which, Rose asked, "And how does your mother feel about that?"  Again, I was unsure of their relationship to Mom so I didn't want to be, well, ME.  In any other circumstance, I would have retorted back with something like, "well, how should she feel?"  Instead, I simply replied, "My family loves Kevin.  I actually think they love him more than they love me."

And then the REALLY interesting thing happened...

Rose simply invited me to go on their website,, to read all the advice they have for married couples, things like how to discuss problems with each other, how to compromise, how to deal with the "silent treatment".  To their credit, whatever these two women might have been thinking, they chose to accept me right there and then as just another married person, and preached to me just as they would any other married person.  In a rural place like Frostburg where exposure to a married gay person is about as rare as seeing an albino penguin, I give Rose and her cohort a lot of credit for choosing to accept me and not preach THEIR beliefs to me.  I wasn't impressed enough to convert, but was still pleasantly surprised.

The conversation ended somewhat quickly after that and they politely excused themselves, asking me to be sure Mom received the literature they were leaving and to tell her they stopped by.  They pleasantly said their goodbyes and climbed back into the minivan and drove away.  I chuckled to myself as I walked back to the yard, "I bet they weren't expecting THAT today."

And I picked up the rake and went back to my boring yard work.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Alzheimer's + Pneumonia = Heavy Toll

For those who are following the story of my parents and my dad's Alzheimer's, I wanted to provide an update.

As you know, Dad's been living in a nursing facility for the past 18 months or so.  During that time, it seems that he has come to accept that it is now his home.  The staff is very kind to Dad and he has his obvious favorites.  They treat him well for two reasons:  1) Everyone has always liked my Dad.  He was always friendly, gregarious, and ready for a party.  He mellowed some as he aged, but for the most part, Dad was the person you could easily share a beer with, who would yell to you when he saw you, who people recognized throughout our part of the state partly because of who he is and partly because of the job he had.  And 2) because when we cannot advocate for ourselves, we all hope that we have someone to fight for us, just like the way my Mom does for him every day.  The staff at the nursing facility know that if they slip up just once, Mom is there to call them on it.  Nothing slips by her.  She continues to be (as she always has been) Dad's wife/mother/best friend in sickness and in health.

And Dad's health continues to steadily decline.  Three weeks ago, Dad contracted double pneumonia, an illness from which even the healthiest people have difficulty recovering.  As the paramedics were placing Dad in the ambulance to transport him to the hospital, the nursing staff prepared Mom for the probability that Dad would not recover from it.

But recover he did.  The scrappiest man I've ever known defeated double pneumonia for the 2nd time within a year, both times with greatly reduced faculties.  His tenacity to survive continues to amaze me on a daily basis.  It's not without a paid price, however.  Last week, I traveled home to see Mom and Dad and he is quite different now than when I saw him at Christmas.  His verbal communication has almost ceased.  He now will either fuss with something small in his hands or simply just sit and stare.  Mom continues to talk to him as she always has, but her words may be falling on deaf ears, or at least ears that are run by a brain that refuses to allow Dad's mouth to engage in the conversation.

Mom continues to visit Dad twice a day, every day.  She feeds him both lunch and dinner.  When we counsel Mom that she doesn't need to spend that much time with him, she simply replies that she "just can't see him sitting (up there) all by himself all day".  That's an amazingly supportive and loving thought.  However we aren't completely sure if Dad understands the passing of time.  During a recent evening visit, Mom got up from the chair in which she had been sitting for a few hours and walked to Dad's closet to organize his clothes.  When she came back to the chair, Dad reacted with a weak, "Oh hi" as if he was seeing her for the first time that day.

At this point, Mom visits Dad for her sake, not his.  And until she decides that it's okay for her to spend less time living his life and more time living her own, there's nothing her family can do to change her pattern.  Still, this continued regimen of just sitting for 4-hour increments not communicating with anyone is aging Mom at a rapid rate.  It's not fair to her and not fair to us as, in many ways, my siblings and I have two parents essentially living in a nursing facility.  She KNOWS she needs to take better care of herself and she KNOWS that things should change for her, but until she accepts those ideas as OK, she will continue living his life, not hers.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Happy 11 Year Blog-iversary!

Me in 2005 -
The night before I started this blog
Today, April 11th, marks the 11th Anniversary of this blog.  

Interestingly (to some I guess), April 11, 2005 was also on a Monday  I was still living in DC with my roommate, Ashley, and was in a rather confused place in my life.  And much like when I had previously found myself without a sense of direction, or at least in a situation under which I felt or believed I had no control, I chose to put my feelings and emotions in writing, with the hopes of providing myself with some clarity.

That day, Monday, April 11, 2005, I had taken the day off from work (extending my birthday-weekend celebration) and spent it sitting outside in the sun at Lauriol Plaza consuming what ended up becoming many pitchers of margaritas with Kelly, Eric, Ryan, and Carlos.  And it was there, then, and they who encouraged me to create this outlet.  came home from that amazing day, sat down at my laptop (albeit it heavily buzzed) and decided to give this thing a whirl.   My first post was all about trying something new which, even today, is often difficult for me to do.

At the time, I had no idea about what I would be writing.  Initially, I was "followed" by a small handful of people, mostly friends also in DC; some of them also had blogs and supported other writers, some were just supportive friends.  It wasn't until my posts about my heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery that my following jumped to a few thousand people per post, thanks to a then-popular blog linking to mine.  After that, my blog was pretty successful.  And then it wasn't.  And now it's modest.

Since the start, I've posted 679 blog entries (this makes 680), which averages to a little over one post per week for 11 years.  It's both surprising and not-that-shocking that I have had that much to say.  And there is no end in sight.

My big hope was that someday, some editor would find my blog and ask me to come write for his/her magazine, whether print or online.  But that's never happened.  Still, this is something that not many people have - a fairly deep account of one's life and thoughts for more than a decade.  Even I can look back and see how I've grown as a person and how my opinions may have changed, if at all.  I certainly haven't posted EVERYTHING I've thought about.  I still have about 100 drafts that I have either not completed or feel that I just cannot or should not post for various reasons.  But probably someday.

Ten years ago, I celebrated the 1-Year Anniversary of this blog with eyes-wide wonder of what would happen in the coming years.  I never would have thought that my life would have turned out as complete and wonderful as it has.  I'd call myself lucky, but Kevin always says "you make your own luck".  Somehow in some way, I guess I just managed to do everything exactly right in order for my life to have turned out this well.  And you reap the benefit of reading about it, at least on a weekly basis.

More to come, and thanks for reading...

Monday, April 04, 2016


On what would have been her 32nd birthday this year, I want to honor Suzy.

Suzy was my family's toy poodle.  I named her after my favorite aunt.  Suzy's full AKC name was Mademoiselle Suzette Cherie.  She came to us in May 1984 and provided us with almost 13 years of love, dedication, fun, and bitchiness.  She was a very tiny presence in a house filled with people, but her personality, grit and pluck made you think she was every bit the same size as the people with whom she lived.

My dad randomly brought her home one afternoon.  He had friends whose pure bred poodle had a litter of toy apricots and they gave one to Dad.  At first, Mom wouldn't let Dad in the house with her.  But slowly Mom warmed up to Suzy, despite telling anyone who would listen for 12+ years that she hated the dog.  And also despite this, Suzy would follow my Mom around incessantly.  If we were all sitting out on the deck and Mom walked into the house, Suzy would get up and follow.  If there was every any doubt that Mom was our alpha, Suzy confirmed it.

"The Tooz" was spunky - most likely because she had to be.  My family is full of big people who also tend to be loud, especially when we get together.  It's a lot of girth accompanied with a lot of noise.  So to compensate, or perhaps just to compete, Suzy's personality was every bit as large as ours.  Fair warning: she'd bite.  Not hard enough to draw blood or anything, but now and then we would all get a peck from her (except Mom, of course).  Tooz loved to cuddle.  When I'd lay on the couch she would jump up and curl up on my chest and lay there as long as I did.  But when I would move to put her down, I'd get a little bite from her.  Oddly enough, none of us was bothered by it.  It was just Tooz being Tooz.  She'd growl when she was unhappy and we just learned to let her be when she didn't want to be bothered.  It's probably the only way she could keep her sanity.

When Suzy was about 2, I took her outside on what was the first nice day of the year.  She was running around the yard and playing with me.  As we were chasing each other in circles, we accidentally went in the same direction and I stepped on her front right leg.  She yelped so loud that people came running out of the house, yelling at me for hurting her.  We took her to the vet and she wore a cast (hot pink, of course) for a few weeks.

She didn't seem to hold a grudge against me.

Suzy was always happy to see us when we came home.  After I moved away, I would leave a tee shirt or something behind that she'd keep in her bed. She loved her bed, but she mostly would lay on the landing between the first two levels of my parents' home - I think because she could better see what was going on in the house from that place.  Starting around 6:00 every night though, she would sit near the door and wait for Dad to come home.  She'd just sit and stare at the door and nothing would make her move from her spot.  She'd greet him anxiously and then mostly retire back to her spot because now everyone was where they belonged and she could relax.

She was a great dog in the regard that we could leave her in the house all day by herself and she never made any kind of mess.  She most likely enjoyed the solitude.  Letting her out was as simple as opening the door and allowing her to go about her business in the yard.  She'd bark when she was ready to come back in.  This worked well for the first 9 or 10 years, but as Suzy got older she began to wander off.  She was returned to us at least 2 times that I know of by people who found her several yards away.

She almost made it to 13 when we realized that she was fading.  The vet suggested that now was the time to put her down.  My dad simply couldn't do it.  So on January 25, 1997, he and Mom and my sister took the day and went shopping about 100 miles away while my youngest brother had to take Suzy to be put to sleep.  He said Suzy sat and watched him as he dug the hole in the yard where she would be placed, almost as if she knew what would happen.  He took her to McDonald's drive-thru for some ice cream, then took her to the vet.

For awhile, I was upset with him that he didn't go back with Suzy when they put her down, that he allowed her to go through it alone.  But when the vet came out and asked him to come back and identify her before he could release her, Mike almost couldn't do it.  He told the vet, "I don't care what you give me in the bag.  I don't care if it's a squirrel.  Just give me something to take home and bury.  Don't make me look at her."  But alas, the law is the law and he had to see her.  Then, he went to pieces.  He brought her home, placed her in the grave she had watched him dig, and placed a stone on top of the spot that is still there today in my parents' yard.  Mom said that Dad cried like he had lost a child.  I'm sure Mom did too, but she would never admit it.

Me and Suzy, 1985
We didn't get another dog after that because Mom refused - still exclaiming that she hated the first one and didn't want another.  But I think the loss of Suzy was simply too great for my parents to go through again.  Suzy was great company to them as one by one their children moved out of the house.

So today, I wish Suzy a happy birthday and thank her for all the love (and love bites) she bestowed on all of us.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Happy Maryland Day!

March 25th celebrates Maryland Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the March 25, 1634, landing of the first European settlers in the Province of Maryland, the third English colony to be settled in British North America. On this day settlers from "The Ark" and the smaller "The Dove" first stepped foot onto Maryland soil, at St. Clement's Island in the Potomac RiverLater the colonists and their two ships sailed further back down river to the southeast to settle a capital at St. Mary's City near the point where the Potomac flows into the Chesapeake Bay.

The settlers were about 150 in number, departed from Gravesend on the Thames River downstream from London. Three Jesuit priests were collected from Cowes on the Isle of Wight in England where they avoided having to give the oath of allegiance and supremacy to British King Charles I.


As many of us learned in 7th Grade Maryland State History class (thank you, Mr. Davis), Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, founded the colony under a charter that the King granted on June 20, 1632. They wanted to establish a colony where Roman Catholics, as well as everyone else, could practice their religion.  

The King gave the colony to the Calvert family as a gift, on the conditions that the King was paid an annual rent of two arrowheads and that the colony must be named after his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria. It was called “Mary-Land” or Maryland, as it is known today. The celebration to commemorate this event began in Maryland schools in 1903 and it was made an official state holiday in 1916.


Maryland has various state symbols, such as:


Maryland's flag bears the arms of the Calvert and Crossland families. Calvert was the family name of the Lords Baltimore, and their colors of gold and black appear in the first and fourth quarters of the flag. Crossland was the family of the mother of George Calvert, first Lord Baltimore. The red and white Crossland colors, with a cross bottony (symbol having a bud, button or a kind of trefoil), appear in the second and third quarters.

Monday, March 21, 2016

One Year House-iversay!

Having bought our cute little house in the north section of the Lincoln Square neighborhood a year ago on March 16th, our One-Year House-iversary of the day we moved in and started living here is March 21st.  It's been a great year in our home and we absolutely love it! With not many exceptions, our weekends have been spent both inside and/or outside the house, adding our touches and making our already-cute house even cuter, in ways that only WE can do.

It was exciting to initially walk through the house with our realtor, Susie Kanter from Dream Town, who was amazing at giving us tips and suggestions about what we could do, and really helped us see the potential in the house.  She helped increase our excitement and interest.  PS - we love Susie!

On a late-afternoon walk around the neighborhood a few Sundays ago, Kevin and I  tallied up what we have actually done to the house in the past 366 days (considering we are in a Leap Year), and we were impressed by how much we've accomplished.  While the house has caused us to be a bit less social, the work we continue to do on the weekends is paying off in both short- and long-term ways:


A lot of time was spent upgrading a space we've never had before - the garage!  When we first moved in, just about everything we had to store went into our rather large 10'x10' laundry room which only housed a washer and dryer (more on that later).  Admittedly, the garage needed some love.  The structure is sound, but the original non-automatic wooden bi-fold garage doors had seen better days.  So we spent a few weekends scraping the old paint off the doors, then Kevin wood-puttied the hell out of them, doing the same to the side entrance door.  I contacted the Historic Pullman Foundation to find out the names of the three paint colors they require homeowners to use (a dark olive green, a lighter green, and a brick red.  Interestingly, they don't have names for them, but they did send me paint chips in order to buy matching colors).  Since our house is red brick, we chose to use the two shades of green on our garage doors, the window trim, and the front porch and steps.  Then we added fascia and gutters to the garage and moved all of our storage into it, which still left room for the car and for Kevin to create a workbench and tool storage area.

We removed a few trees, pruned the rest, and then pulled out a fugly holly bush in the backyard.  We put in new edging pavers around the flower beds and the sidewalk, and replanted flowers in one section of the garden and vegetables in the other.  We reseeded portions of the yard and managed to get grass to grow where there had been none.  After we stained the wooden deck, the backyard was basically complete . . . for now.


In the front yard, we painted the porch, ceiling and steps in the Pullman green colors, secured a flower box on the porch railing, pulled out another fugly holly bush and replaced it with azaleas, mulched the shrubs and the Crabapple tree, and power-washed the front sidewalk.  We scrubbed the rust off and repainted the mailbox and Kevin made a new faceplate for our house numbers.  The glass-block window on the porch had a closed-off vent window in the center, and we replaced it with a piece of clear, textured stained glass.


Our main floor is "upstairs" which contains our open-concept living room, dining room, kitchen, and small office space.  There's also a full bath and pantry/closet.  We didn't have to do too much to this level except paint.  The previous owners had painted the entire space in flat sage green which made it look dingey.  So we whitened it up and brightened up the kitchen.


We decided to install a water meter which meant moving the water main access, which just so happened to be under the bed in the guestroom.  The previous pipes, we discovered, were PVC that had been artistically painted to look like copper; this fooled us, our realtor, our home inspector, and even the plumbers at first.  To bring it up to code, all the PVC had to be replaced.  Bigger project than we anticipated, but everything needed to be re-routed and the 2-feet thick concrete in the downstairs made it impossible for the new pipes to run underground.  So we ended up with a bit of a steam punk look in the guestroom.  The pic on the left below is from the original listing; OUR guest room is on the right.

Most of the inside work we've done has been on the downstairs level.  First thing, of course, was painting.  Again, the previous owners had used the same flat sage green in the den and a flat light blue in the two bedrooms.  Flat paint - why?  Why, why, why?  So we chose a light shade of grey and freshened up the white for both rooms.  Kevin sewed curtains for our bedroom windows.  And after that, we carpeted the entire concrete downstairs with charcoal carpet tiles.


Our plan is to embark on the most aggressive project to date; switching out the tiny full bath on the lower level with the larger laundry room next to it.  Along the lines of "you don't really know someone until you live with them" in this case would be "you don't really know your house until you open up the walls".  It's going to be interesting, and it's going to require A LOT of jack-hammering since the downstairs floor is solid, and I do mean solid, concrete. In order to move the plumbing for the new bathroom, we will need to bust up the concrete in order to plumb the new space. I'm not particularly thrilled about the mess this will make, but you gotta crack a few eggs to make an omelet, right?  Someday...

It's been a really fun year, working on the house and making it what we want it to be.  We've done just about all the work ourselves, but I need to take a minute and thank Kevin's parents, Pat and Dianne, for driving out and pitching in a few weekends.  They've helped with the yard, the garage, and have offered to pitch in on the eventual bathroom renovation.  It's always great to see them, but when they show up with tools and workclothes, it's even more appreciated.  It's been great having them helping us out now and then.

Reflecting on what we've done this past year excites us as to what we will accomplish next year.  Oh, and there are still MORE projects, like new concrete sidewalks in the backyard, new fencing in the front yard, and a slight renovation in the downstairs den.  And I think Kevin wants to spend more time creating his work space in the garage.  I'll update on those projects too.

For now, we will keep plugging away, learning more about our little 120-year old house, ourselves and each other.  When we chose this house, we chose "wisely", and it's fun to see what we can turn it into.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Farewell, Judy

When someone dies, it's not uncommon to hear friends and loved ones talk about how kind and special the person was.  It's so not uncommon that one has to wonder how genuine those reminisces are.  Is it possible that there are that many kind and special people in the world?  I personally can count on one hand the number of people in my life who would and have been considered kind and special.  And one of them lost her fight to pancreatic cancer today.

Judy Carter was my mother's best friend.  She, her husband, and three sons lived across the street from us for about 40 years.  They are family, really.  We even went on vacations together.  It was nothing for them to cross the street and just walk into our house or come over to sit on the deck.  Judy would frequently come over to the house in the mornings in her robe with her tea and sit and talk to Mom for a few hours.  They exchanged gifts every Christmas.

To say Judy was kind and special is an understatement.  She volunteered for her church, her kids' schools, her community, and did it all with a constant smile on her face and a cheery disposition.  I can't recall every seeing her in a bad mood, although I'm sure she had them.  When I would drive home to visit Mom and Dad while living in DC, or drive a rental car from the airport since moving to Chicago, Judy would greet me in the street with a hug, almost always being the first person I would see when I arrived home.

She was devoted to my mother's happiness and sanity, and worried about her as Dad's health declined.  I know Judy did everything in her power to support Mom, even if it was just to talk.  Judy was that kind of person.  She did things for you without provocation.  Every Christmas, she would send over her special candy cane cookies that my sister loves.  Judy constantly had a compliment for you.  She used to ask me to make her bulletin boards for her classrooms.  She was always telling me how talented I am and what a good artist I am and what a lovely voice I have.  She didn't have to tell me any of these things.  On paper, Judy was just our neighbor.  But in many ways, she was another aunt or cousin or older sister to me.  And despite not seeing her over the past year since she was diagnosed, I can't help but feel a great loss in my world.  I can't imagine the loss my mother feels today.

It is a rare occasion when someone can be described truly as kind and special.  And Judy is that rare exception.  Whatever happens to us when we die or wherever we go after we leave Earth, that place has been made better by Judy's arrival, and we who remain will have to find a way to deal with the loss of her.  St Patrick's Day will be forever changed for us, because it will now reflect another saint in our eyes as well as be the day we all obtained the kindest and most special guardian angel.

Monday, March 14, 2016

More Irish Ancestors!

Last year, I introduced you to my mother's ancestors from Ireland, John and Jean Anderson. While my dad's lineage is mostly German, Mom's is a bit more diverse with some German, English, Scottish, and Irish.  The Andersons are not Mom's (and thereby, my) only Irish ancestors.  And while The Andersons came to America in 1722, there are still a few others who came to this country from Ireland more recently.

Mom's paternal great-grandmother, Elizabeth Delaney, is the child of two Irish immigrants, Patrick William Delaney (born in 1815) and Mary Cain (born in 1823). Both were from County Kildare in Ireland, which is located just west/southwest of Dublin city, and came to this country during the mass Irish migration, ostensibly to escape the Irish Famine, the dire economic conditions that destituted families, and social and religious persecutions.  

Most of the ships carrying Irish immigrants to America were well-built and adequately supplied.  And although sailing across the Atlantic in the 19th century presented many challenges, most Irish ships brought immigrants safely to America to begin their new lives.  Irish immigrants typically began their long journey from Irish ports in Dublin, Newery, Cobh (Queenstown), Limerick, Belfast, Londonderry, Galway, Waterford, Liverpool and Silgo, and typically arrived in the North American ports of New York, New Orleans, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Newfoundland.

Patrick and Mary wed in Ireland about 1841.  It is believed that Patrick and Mary arrived together in New York Harbor in 1849 aboard the ship, the Stephen Whitney (predating Ellis Island which wasn't created until the early 1890s).  He was 34; she was 26. By the time of the 1850 Census, they were living in Essex County, NJ, in the Newark East Ward.  If Mary had given birth to any children by now, they had not survived in Ireland or the voyage.

I've found no record (yet) of Patrick having any other family that came to America.  Two of Mary's siblings, Peter Cain and Margaret Cain, had also come over (not sure if before or after Patrick and Mary's journey) and landed in either Philadelphia or Baltimore, most likely the latter.  Mary's parents stayed behind in Ireland, but when her mother, Catherine Cain, died in 1848, her father, Thomas Cain, left his Irish village of Ballysax Little and came to America later that same year at the age of 44.  He arrived in Baltimore and connected with Peter and Margaret, both of whom had eventually settled very near where my parents currently live in Maryland.

In 1855, with two children and pregnant with Mom's great-grandmother Elizabeth, Mary and Patrick would leave the northern New Jersey area where they had settled and move to the Cain homestead in Cokeyard, Vale Summit, Maryland.   Neither Mary nor Patrick could either read or write.  Patrick was a laborer according to the 1850 Census, and after moving to Maryland he would work the rest of his life as a coal miner, a profession shared by so many of my ancestors.  Mary would be a home-maker and baby machine her entire adult life.  She would go on to give birth to 10 children in total, 6 of whom lived past childhood:  Mary, Thomas, Elizabeth, Margaret, William, and Patrick, Jr.  The latter would live with his parents until they died.  All the children were literate and educated.

By the time of the 1900 Census, Patrick and Mary had been married a long time; so long, in fact, that they couldn't remember the year they got married.  Under the question of "How long married", the census-taker's response was simply "Don't Know".  They died just over 1 week apart in 1902:  Patrick on February 28th and Mary on March 9th.  If they married the year before they came to America, they would have been married for 61 years.  They would leave their 6 children and 42 grandchildren.  Patrick, Mary and Thomas (Mary's father) are all buried in St. Michael's Cemetery in Frostburg, MD.

Thomas P. Carter (1874 - 1948)
Their daughter, Elizabeth Delaney, would go on to marry John Harrison Carter in 1874 when she was 19 and he was 23.  Elizabeth would give birth to 13 children, only 9 of whom would survive.  Their oldest child, Thomas Patrick Carter, clearly named after his father and maternal grandfather, is my mother's maternal grandfather.  He was born the same year Elizabeth and John were married.  I can clearly see Granny's face in Thomas' photo.

Elizabeth and John would continue to live in the Vale Summit area until their somewhat premature deaths.  Sadly, neither of them would enjoy the same long lives of her parents: Elizabeth would die at the age of 62 and John would die at the age of 59.

 Erin go Braugh!   

Thursday, March 10, 2016

A Trip To The Theatre

Kevin and I have been pretty good about "getting our culture on".  We have access to some of the best museums in the country (hell, Kevin even lived in one of them for a month), and we go regularly to see exhibits, some new and some not.  We go to art shows, photography exhibits, wine tastings, and occasionally to a dance concert.  But what we're really good at doing is going to see plays, musicals, and concerts in all kinds of venues.  We aren't fanatics by any means, but we enjoy seeing something that strikes our fancy that ranges between Broadway shows to local productions.

In the 10 years I lived in DC, I saw 5 shows.  One of the reasons I moved to Chicago in 2005 was to get back to doing what I enjoyed doing, and going to the theatre was on that list.  So while sitting in the theatre this week waiting for "42nd Street" to begin, I started mentally counting up all the shows we've seen over our 10+ years together.  The first theatre I saw in Chicago was the day I landed in Chicago in September 2005 - to see Kevin perform in the Tangerine Family Circus at the Actors Gymnasium in Evanston.

I'm not completely certain that I've remembered all of them.  But, regardless, looking at the list below I am clearly achieving my original goal:

Troubadors (Chicago)
Blue Man Group (Chicago)
On The Town (Evanston)
Forever Plaid  (Beverly Arts Center)
Wicked (Broadway in Chicago)
Ka (Cirque du Soleil, Las Vegas)
La Reve (The Wynn, Las Vegas)
Corteo (Cirque du Soleil, Chicago)
Midnight Circus (Daley Plaza, Chicago)
Scissor Sisters Concert (The Riv, Chicago)
Two Elderly British Detectives (Chicago)
Sparrow (Chicago)
A Christmas Carol (The Goodman, Chicago)
Hephaestus, A Greek Tale (Lookingglass, Chicago)
Kooza (Cirque du Soleil, Chicago)
Million Dollare Quartet (Pre-Broadway, Chicago))
Macbeth (Chicago Shakespeare)
Keane Concert (The Aragon, Chicago)
Cousins Grimm (Center on Halsted, Chicago)
Schoolhouse Rock Live! (Mary's Attic, Chicago)
Addams Family (Pre-Broadway, Chicago)
Private Lives (Chicago Shakespeare)
Women’s Club of Evanston Revue
Avenue Q (Broadway in Chicago)
Robyn Concert (The Riv, Chicago)
Black Watch (Chicago)
The Madness of George III (Chicago Shakespeare)
Middletown (Chicago Shakespeare)
OVO (Cirque du Soleil, Chicago)
Murder For Two (Chicago Shakespeare Studio Theater)
Cirque Shanghai (Navy Pier, Chicago)
Billy Elliot (Broadway in Chicago)
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart (Chicago Shakespeare)
Jersey Boys (Broadway in Chicago)
School for Lies (Chicago Shakespeare)
Evita (Broadway)
Characters Welcome (Upright Citizens' Brigade in NYC)
Jekyll & Hyde (Broadway in Chicago)
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Broadway in Chicago)
Barnum (Chicago)
Big Fish (Pre-Broadway)
Catch Me If You Can (Broadway in Chicago)
Anything Goes (Broadway in Chicago)
Yo-Yo Ma (Alternatives Inc., Chicago)
Pilobolus (Arscht Center, Miami)
Once (Arscht Center, Miami)
Seussical (Chicago Shakespeare)
Newsies (Broadway in Chicago)
1970’s Revue (Fireside Theater, Wisconsin)
First Wives Club (Broadway in Chicago)
The Book of Mormon (Broadway in Chicago)
Bad Jews (Chicago)
Kurios (Cirque du Soleil, Chicago)
Memphis (London)
The Tempest (Chicago Shakespeare)
Gotta Dance (Pre-Broadway)
School of Rock (Broadway)
42nd Street (Broadway in Chicago)

and counting...