visons of orange street lights dancing in my head, part II

Soundtrack in my head:  Mistle Thrush, “Bloom”

I’m back in Madison after a week in Chicago.  Twenty-four hours ago, at this time, I was a Christmas party at the house of my cousins in Lemont.  Then I boarded a Van Galder bus back for Madison at 10 p.m., had to wait for a connecting bus at midngiht in Rockford, and got home at 2 a.m.  I supplemented the few winks I got on the bus with four hours of sleep at home, then I had to get up at 6 a.m. and greet a foot-tall stack of papers on my desk at work.  So, I’m tired, grumpy, and need to catch up on sleep. 

It’s kind of significant that today is the fifth anniversary of the day I first moved to Madison.  Actually there are two anniversaries–December 26th is when I first started living in Madison, and January 26th is the day I pulled up all my Illinois stakes and fully relocated myself to Madison.  That’s another long story which I’ll tell in another month.  But I promised ye gentle readers that I was going to write a little bit more about my visit to Chicago.  Luckily, for both your sake and mine, I started writing about this days ago, so I can post some of it now.   Like I said before, it was an interesting trip backwards in time, which, now that I think about it, seems perfect for me to talk about given the occasion.

I took the Van Galder Bus to O’Hare Airport, and arrived at about 8:15 p.m., forty-five minutes earlier than expected.  The bus dropped me off at the terminal, and from there I walked to the Bus/Shuttle Center since that was the only place I could grab a bite to eat.  I’ve never really been a fan of O’Hare.  I always feel like I’m in a bad science fiction movie for some reason when I’m there. 

The Bus/Shuttle Center is one of the…um…least decorative parts of the airport.  Recently, they tried to spruce it up with some photographic displays showcasing Our Great City of Chicago.  While waiting for my ride, I decided to browse through the displays.  There were a couple of destinations featured that I hadn’t been to before.  One of them was Millenium Park, which opened after I moved to Madison, and the other was a picture of a concert venue at Northerly Island, which was still Meigs Field Airport when I left the city five years ago.

My father picked me up and drove me to my sister’s, which is in the neighborhood I lived for six years.  The next morning, my father, sister and I took the Brown Line train downtown.  We walked to Millenium Park and I saw Crown Fountain, with the photos of faces that digitally morph into different faces, which then occasionally spit out water.   I was hoping to see them spit out ice cubes in winter, but alas, that wasn’t part of the design.  Actually, the faces morph very slowly in winter.  Then we saw the music shell and the big giant silver Bean, and looked down upon the outdoor skating rink and watched the Zamboni do its thing on the ice.. 

Downtown Chicago has never been my favorite part of the city.  It’s the part of the city that showcases itself for the tourists and tells the world, “Hey, we’re a big city.  We’re awesome, awesome, awesome!”  Lively swing music is piped in at a lot of different places.  At every alley and dark corner I expect a Frank Sinatra impersonator to jump out and burst into an energetic rendition of “My Kind of Town.”

We went to the Billy Goat Tavern for lunch on Lower Michigan Avenue.  We were greeted at the counter by a short middle-aged man that said, “Can I help you?  Double Cheezborger best. Want Coke Diet Coke?  Move along, move along.”  Ah yes…Chicago efficiency.

Actually, one characteristic of many downtown Chicago restaurants is that they like to put lots and lots of pictures up on the walls.  The pictures often feature the owner posing with a famous celebrity or politican who visited the restaurant, or an autographed photo of the celebrity with a personal note to the owner.  I think the goal is to have as many such pictures as possible.  It’s like a pre-Internet version of Friendster, MySpace or Facebook.

Hot Doug’s has a Chicago-style efficiency similar to the Billy Goat, but it’s more polite and pleasant.  I think this hot dog place opened after I moved to Madison, but  it is so popular that a line streams out the door and for about fifty feet down the block.  Amazingly, seats are almost always available in the place.  The owner is this guy with close-clipped hair and thick framed  glasses who is probably in his thirties. (Actually, in scanning the crowd at in the line, I was reminded that thick-framed glasses are an essential accessory for a hip thirty-something on the North Side of Chicago.)  He is very friendly but still efficient and moves the line quickly, and another employee seems very adept at crowd control and finding seats for people there.  I ordered an Italian sausage with a side of duck-fat fries (yes, duck fat, I’m serious), and yummmmm…I get hungry just thinking about it.  Definitely worth the wait in line.

In going around the city on the Brown Line, I really felt like it was a different me in a different life that used to walk these streets.  In many ways, it probably was.  At one point, the train stopped at Montrose on the Brown Line, and I said, “Oh yeah, I used to board the train at this stop a lot.  I once had a girlfriend who lived at Montrose and Greenview,” and in talking about it, it almost felt like I was talking about someone else’s girlfriend.

My life did change quite radically when I moved to Madison–this is more clear to me now than when I was actually going through the transition.  Not only did I leave my old city behind, but I also quickly realized when I got to Madison that the fundraising career I’d had for the previous twelve years was no longer something I wanted to continue.  So while these streets I was walking no longer felt like home, it felt like memories and feelings from my past were drifting around me. 

On Saturday, after eating at Hot Doug’s, I took the Blue Line downtown and went back to my old haunts there.  I looked at the building that used to house the small not-for-profit that I ran for five years.  It was funny–walking by the alley I was reminded of many dark nights behind the building loading boxes of brochures into my car.  I walked into the Music Mart building where I used to go for lunch.  Sadly, the Crow’s Nest CD store was gone and replaced by a Barnes & Noble bookstore.  Too bad–the Crow’s Nest was a good retailer of a broad range of music, and I spent a number of lunchtimes in the store’s listening booths. 

I sat at one of the tables at the mezzanine level like I’d done years before, and wrote.  More of the feelings I had when I ran that small not-for-profit–both enjoyable and stressful–came back to me.  But it was different this time because nearly five years had elapsed since I’d been in that space.  I was both inside my mind and body from five years ago and standing outside it at the same time, observing.

I did the same thing a couple of days later when I went to Oak Park, where I’d grown up.  I walked to the old house I’d lived in between the ages of one and a half and five years, over by Harvey Ave & Roosevelt Rd.  Surprisingly, I could actually recognize which houses most of my playmates lived in.  I barely recognized my house–I think that the porch, which had previously been opened, was now enclosed. 

Then I walked over to the house I lived in between the ages of five and eighteen over at Elmwood Ave and Madison St.  (Yes, I grew up near Madison Street–isn’t that funny now that I live in Madison, WI?)   I was surprised to discover that this neighborhood was now part of something called the “Gunderson Historic District” listed on the National Register of Historical Places.  I stopped and looked at my old house–it looked more or less the same from the front as it always had.  As I walked through that neighborhood, I had this image of children running about–there were a significant number of kids on my block when I was growing up.

But beyond the tourist stops and the memories,  the thing that I still like most about Chicago are the little things along the street that one just won’t find in many other places.  For example,  along Lawrence Avenue just a few blocks east of my sister’s apartment,  there is a produce store that caters effectively to the diverse constituencies in the neighborhood–it has fresh produce, gourmet natural foods, German spoil-me comfort foods, and the familiar smell of a carniceria (Mexican butcher shop) in the back of the store and at least one entire row of Goya Mexican food products.  Across the street there is a place where, apparently, you can buy a live chicken and have it slaughtered for you. (Okay, maybe some of you might not find that to be so great, but my point is that Chicago is rarely boring.)  A few block west down Lawrence Avenue, there is a store that has signs in English, Spanish and Arabic.  Apparently you can buy hats, bags and phone cards there.

This concludes Part II of my narrative about my old hometown of Chicago.  There is a Part III, but like I said, I need to catch up on my sleep… 

it’s almost christmas day

Soundtrack in my head:  unknown artist, “Almost Christmas Day”

On this Christmas Eve, I want to post the lyrics to a song that has deep meaning for me.  I wish I knew who wrote and sang it.  I guess it’s probably called “Almost Christmas Day,” though I don’t know for sure.  I tried to Google key lyrics to see if they were published online, but could not find it anywhere.

To me the song is about feeling lost and being found again due to God’s grace.  I soooooo identify with that.  My first few years in Madison were very difficult for me.  This year I feel like I’ve been through the wringer again, too,  but I also feel like I’ve been showered with the grace of God.  So I would like to reprint these lyrics for anyone who has felt or feels lost.  If anyone knows who wrote the song, please tell me.  I want to shake the person’s hand, and of course give credit where credit is due.  Because as the years have gone by, this song has grown so meaningful to me that it literally brings a tear to my eye.  Miracles happen and have happened to me many times in my life.  I’m sure a time will come when light will shine clearly on your path and blessings will await you. 

“Almost Christmas Day” (correct title?)

 
Twenty-fourth of December as a stranger I walked
Like I just lost the keys to the city
As a sailor I’d sent postcards ‘round the world
But the picture tonight wasn’t pretty
I walked in the shadows of haunted hotels
Like a miner trapped in a cavern
Well I looked to the east and a star it shone down
And it led me right to Molly’s Tavern

So I followed the footprints made in the snow
By Salvation Army musicians
l got in line and I stood right behind
A tap dancer and two blind magicians
You would’ve thought I had been there before
As Molly stood there to greet me
Eighty years old and with a gleam in her eye
Said “You’re expected,” and proceeded to seat me.

Come all ye lowdown rounders
Lift up your lowdown ways
Pass the malt and the mistletoe
It’s almost Christmas Day.

I walked around and the harp player asked
If I would like to request a selection
I smiled and I asked for “God Bless the Child”
And for him I took up a collection.
I spotted a man with a white beard in red
From a distance looked just like Kris Kringle
As he went to the roof well I thought I heard hoofs
And I swear I heard sleigh bells a-jingle

We waltzed on the dance floor made out of glass
Between dances we sang Christmas carols
Then we lit candles, had a moment of silence
The bartender was F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Molly said “First we must give to receive”
We put our trinkets into a kitty
In went my compass and my grandfather’s watch
And I pulled out the key to the city.

Come all ye lowdown rounders
Lift up your lowdown ways
Pass the malt and the mistletoe
It’s almost Christmas Day.

And so I guess if there’s a lesson I’ve learned
It is one that will keep me from danger
Sometimes you get lost just so you will be found
And return the kindness of strangers.
I explained how I felt as I kissed Molly’s hand
Like a miner freed from a cavern
“Merry Christmas baby,” is what she said to me
“But it’s like this each night in my tavern.”

So I sail on the oceans and stare at the sky
And it seems like the whole world’s on fire.
And I just want to make angel wings in the snow
And sing this song in that midnight choir.

Come all ye lowdown rounders
Lift up your lowdown ways
Pass the malt and the mistletoe
It’s almost Christmas Day.
It’s almost Christmas Day.
It’s almost Christmas Day.
It’s almost Christmas Day.

visions of orange street lights dancing in my head, part I

Soundtrack in my head:  Charlie Byrd, “Angels We Have Heard On High”

At the end of 1989 I was fresh out of college, living in Los Angeles working for the Global Walk.  When I flew home from Los Angeles to Chicago for Christmas, I called ahead of time and reminded my parents to bring my winter coat with them when they picked me up, because I’d had no reason to bring it to Los Angeles with me.  That was a good call–it was 86 degrees when I took off from LAX and -3 when I arrived at Midway. 

The Walk was only going to be a temporary project that would conclude at the end of the following year, and so I was beginning to think about where I might live after the Walk ended.  I did not think it would be Chicago.  Between eighteen years in the Chicago suburb of Oak Park and four years in Champaign-Urbana, I felt like I’d done my time in Illinois and it was time for me to move on.  

To my surprise, I found within myself a longing to return to Chicago as my parents were driving me home.  Now, on the outset, it did not seem like there was a good reason for me to react that way.  The route between Midway, and Oak Park is more than non-descript.  Cicero Avenue goes through some of the grittiest, ugliest industrial areas of Chicago. 

What got to me was the orange street lights.  Seriously.  Chicago’s street lights are a weird, incandescent orange, and that made it very, well, Chicago.  I have many memories of various adventures under those street lights–excursions to different parts of the city to visit family, hang out with friends, celebrate the Fourth of July or New Year’s.  And it was all coming back to me, even among the gritty parts of the city near the Stevenson Expressway. 

The other thing that I found affecting me was the radio show “The Midnight Special” on WFMT, which my father was playing on the radio in the mini-van.  (I mentioned this radio show in a previous post.)  In addition to providing awesome Christmas music, it also feature mostly folk music, but often with a Chicago flavor, and sometimes interspersed with brief comedy sketches and even the occasional literary reading. 

So, as we were passing not too far from the largest wastewater treatment plant in the world, I found myself getting soft-hearted, sentimental and almost teary-eyed.  Eleven months later, I moved back for good, or at least the next twelve years. 

Why I left Chicago for Madison later on is another story, too long to post right now, but let me just say for now that Madison did and still does feel more like home to me.  Actually one thing that probably helped me decide to move northwest to Madison was the discovery that Madison, too, has orange street lights. 

Chicago was the center of the universe as far as my family was concerned.  Perhaps 80% of my family and close cousins lived here.  But with my grandparents and my mom having passed away, an uncle, aunt and cousins having moved elsewhere and my dad now living in Albuquerque, only my sister remains here in the Chicago area, along with some third cousins.

I’m in my sister’s apartment right now.  My dad’s visiting here, too.  We actually exchanged Christmas gifts last night because she and her boyfriend headed out this morning to see her boyfriend’s parents in Michigan.  We saw some cousins on the South Side a couple of nights ago and my dad and I will be seeing some other cousins on Christmas  Day. 

I’m back in the neighborhood on Chicago’s North Side where I used to live and where my sister still lives.  It’s funny.  After nearly five years in Wisconsin, I don’t get the same feeling about Chicago being home for me like I once did.  I feel like I have returned to Chicago, but I haven’t returned home.  I’m not being immersed in my past, but it’s an interesting and illuminating visit to my past.  The details of which I will save for another post…

baha’i humbug? no, christmas still has meaning to me. um…can you tell?

Soundtrack:  David Bowie and Bing Crosby, “The Little Drummer Boy”

I have a funny relationship with Christmas.  It’s been over two decades since I stopped being exclusively a Christian.  At the age of 18, I loosely considered myself to be Unitarian, though found myself exploring many different paths at the same time.  At 23 I considered myself to be a Pagan.  At age 29 I joined the Mahikari spiritual organization and this year, at the age of 40, I declared myself to be a Baha’i.  

With all these changes over the decades, my relationship with Christmas has changed and evolved.  As a child, it meant Santa Claus, Christmas presents, Christmas trees and all the other trimmings of modern day Christmas in America.  As I got older, I gradually became more aware of the Christmas story, and became moved by the notion of rebirth and renewal that the birth of Jesus represented.  Christmas Eve church services became deeply moving for me.  

At the same time, I was raised in a fairly mixed area.  Many of my best friends in grade school and high school were Jewish and I was exposed to the notion of other religions at an early age.  In high school, I was hearing a lot about the Moral Majority, which was creating controversy at that time, and between that and the other religious conflicts I saw around me, I concluded at a fairly early age that all religions must be valid, not just Christianity.  That belief is still a core belief for me today.  

Accepting the validity of other faiths did not really change my view towards Christmas, but it took sort of an interesting twist when I began to consider myself a Pagan.  Many Pagans celebrate the Winter Solstice—Yule–just a few days before Christmas, and many aspects of modern Christmas such as the Christmas tree, holly, mistletoe are adaptations of old Pagan traditions.  So just as early Christian missionaries reportedly found it convenient to superimpose Christian themes on Pagan tradition, I found it convenient to simply superimpose my own Pagan beliefs on the Christian traditions I grew up with.

Now that I’m a Baha’i, things have changed a little bit.  Baha’is have no holidays that easily overlap with or complement Christmas.  Within the Baha’i Faith, there are no holidays between November and February, so there is nothing occurring during this time that can be considered parallel or similar.  I went to a celebration of the Birth of Baha’u’llah on November 12th, and that did feel a lot like Christmas in some ways.

Baha’u’llah, the founder of the Baha’i Faith, said “Know thou assuredly that the essence of all the Prophets of God is one and the same. Their unity is absolute. God, the Creator, saith: There is no distinction whatsoever among the Bearers of My Message. They all have but one purpose; their secret is the same secret. To prefer one in honor to another, to exalt certain ones above the rest, is in no wise to be permitted.”  (Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 78)

So, in a sense, there really is nothing wrong with Baha’is celebrating Christmas, or Passover, or Eid.  I’ve always believed this to be true, but it’s nice to be in a faith that firmly beliefs this as part of its core beliefs.  

Yeah, the holidays can be crazy and stressful.  Crowded malls, traffic, rush-rush craziness, and bills, bills, bills.  And sometimes people over-do it–it’s easy to get tired of Santa hats, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.  A friend of mine said it best when she responded to a display of excessive decorating zeal by saying, “It looks like Christmas kind of threw up down there.”  

But there are the feelings of warmth, joy and celebration, and hope for the future and spiritual renewal.   If that kind of energy is there, of course I will bask in it.  And, if in the process of doing so, I connect with fond childhood memories, that’s even better.

*        *       *

By the way, on my Different Drummer Soundtrack blog on Madison.com,  I’ve re-posted a blog posting that I made two years ago that is also related to Christmas and the Christmas spirit.  It is entited “Christmas Decorations and Deck The Stalls.” 

cutting, splicing, and digitizing a piece of christmas past into the present

Soundtrack in my head:  The Roches “Unto Us A Child Is Born”

When I was growing up, we had a tradition of playing certain music when decorating the Christmas tree.  There was a reel-to-reel tape that we always listened to and it became the soundtrack to our tree decorating efforts.  The tape started with four songs that  my parents recorded in 1969 off “The Midnight Special,” a folk music show on WFMT, the classical music station in Chicago.   These four songs are very much etched in my memory and inseparable from the experience of Christmas itself.  

The tape would open with the deep sound of an electric bass followed by a subdued strum of an electric guitar and a voice of uncertain gender singing in German.  I’d learn years later that this was Marlene Dietrich’s version of the “The Little Drummer Boy.” A song by an artist unknown followed this–I think the song is called “Three Little Drummers.” The remaining songs were “Come Let Us Sing,” by the Armstrong Family, and Odetta’s soulful rendition of “Children, Go Where I Send Thee.”  Listening to them now is an interesting retro journey—not only because they take me back to my childhood, but also because a lot of music of my early, early childhood (that is, the late 60’s) used the same musical styles and recording techniques.
 
The four initial songs on the tape were followed by chorale music from several LP’s my parents had.  While that music was enjoyable, that music didn’t make quite the impression on me like those first songs did.  When my parents were on the verge of getting rid of their reel-to-reel tape recorder, I made a copy of those four songs onto a cassette tape.

I learned years later that these songs were recorded from “The Midnight Special.”  In 1999, I decided to listen to the show’s Christmas special with the tape recorder running.  I filled about three cassettes with music.  Then I transferred the songs from 1969 onto a newer tape and added to it selections from my 1999 recordings.  Under “Date Recorded” on the cassette label, I wrote down “1969 and 1999.”

The “Midnight Special” started in 1953 and continues today. I was surprised to discover that the music I was recording in 1999 didn’t sound all that much different from what had been recorded in 1969.  Yet it didn’t sound dated.  The sound quality of the older stuff I’d saved had been diminished due to being transferred from an older tape, but beyond that, those songs—those same first songs etched into my memory from that reel-to-reel tape—blended seamlessly with the other music.  

In 2004, I got a computer program that could convert the analog signal on a cassette or a vinyl record into a digital copy.  So I set about transferring this music onto a CD and for the first time, I could hear the music I’d heard on my parents’ reel-to-reel tape record on my CD player.  Then I gave a copies of the CD to family members as a gift.

I now play the CDs I made every Christmas.  To what extent they will become a family tradition is hard to say—it’ll depend on what kind of family or community I ultimately settle in.  But I find it neat that I was able to use technology—which didn’t exist when the reel-to-reel tape was first recorded—to transport a special facet of my childhood from the past into the present.

a co-op holiday pageant starring Charlie Brown, Andy Williams, and a gefilte fish

Soundtrack in my head:  Marlene Dietrich, “The Little Drummer Boy”

I’m a sentimental fool that still gets misty-eyed over chestnuts roasting over an open fire and who lets his head resemble that of a bobble-head doll when hearing the tune to “Carol of the Bells.”  The smell of fireplaces and burning wood in the cold night and the moonlight over the snow covered hills of Wisconsin, and the Christmas displays in Olin Park. I just want to roll around in it all of it like a dog rolling in…um…holly berries.  Yeah, holly berries.

But it’s kind of tough to get into the holiday spirit in my co-op house—and I’m sure this is true of most co-op houses in Madison.  Most people in our co-op house go elsewhere for the holidays, and I’m no exception—I’ll be at my sister’s in Chicago for almost a week.  So basically, the fireplace and the hanging stockings thing happens elsewhere for just about everybody.  If it even happens.  

Also, we have to be a bit careful when it comes to holiday decorations, since we have a diversity of religious beliefs in the co-op house.  At least three people in the house, including myself, identify with a religion other than Christianity, and many others are agnostic and atheist.  Co-op people tend to be more aware of the darker sides of religious history and the over-commercialization of Christmas, and are understandably a bit reluctant to bring it into their homes. I can see people having images of a Christmas tree serving as a Trojan horse to sneak in religious zealots and Macy’s gift certificates.

One housemate expressed a few initial misgivings about decorating, but realized later that this could be an opportunity for multiple religious expressions.  I asked another housemate who was Jewish, and she said she had no objections to holiday decorations.  I raised the idea about religious expressions from multiple faiths, and suggested that maybe we could include a menorah, even though I understood we’re already well into Hanukkah.  She replied, “Or I could hang a gefilte fish on the tree.”  

Another housemate is somewhat of a Christmas sentimental fool like me, so we both went through the holiday decorations that I’ve collected over the years and did a little planning for how we’d decorate.  

We decided we would get a small tree this year. I forgot that most people assume that this means a live tree.  I assume the opposite because I grew with fake Christmas trees due to my mother being allergic to real ones.  (The first time I saw a decorated live tree in someone’s living room.  I thought it was creepy.)  But my housemate told me the week before that she saw trees being sold someplace along East Washington.  I began to get excited about the idea of actually picking out a live tree, since I’ve never done it before, and I said that this could be a real adventure.  She looked at me kind of strangely and said, “Um, it’s just on East Wash.”  She explained that when she was a child, her family would actually go out into the woods and chop down a tree.  A very different childhood from mine–us city kids were definitely deprived.

On Saturday morning I volunteered to put in some overtime at work, and my supervisor was kind enough to give me a ride home.  I told her about our planned tree excursion.  But as I thought about it a little later, I realized that a live tree might create problems for our house.  Most of us will be gone for at least part of the holidays, and that would mean at some points few people available to keep the tree watered and the pine needles swept.  So my housemate and I agreed that a fake tree would be best, and we decided to go to Target to pick up the tree and extra decorations.  

We walked around and found the section of fake Christmas trees.  There were a whole bunch on display, and walking through that section, you could, for a split second, imagine that you were in the northwoods of Wisconsin—that is, if you squinted your eyes hard enough and pretended that the fluorescent lights and rows of shelves weren’t there.  

My housemate found a humble looking but pretty little three foot fake tree that could fit neatly on a coffee table and be unlikely to offend housemates.  “Look, it’s a Charlie Brown tree,” she said.  

To my surprise, we ran into my supervisor on our way to the check-out line.  After introducing my housemate to her, I showed her the tree that I yanked Paul Bunyan-style out of the ground—er, I mean the skinny cardboard box I picked up from the stack of skinny boxes below the displays.  

In the car on the way back, we were talking about Christmas music.  I told her a little bit about the Christmas reel-to-reel tape that my family played every Christmas when I was a child, and I asked her if she liked folk music.  She said, “I think we all listen to stuff that we listened to as a kid.  I myself like old, old school Christmas music.”

Old, old school?  I see. That’s right—she’s a hip-hop fan. I’m still learning this old school/new school hip-hop stuff.  So if “old school” is Run DMC and Kurtis Blow, what is “old, old school?”  Jazz?

“You know, like Andy Williams.”

I see.  And Bing Crosby, too?

“Yeah, stuff like that.”

Gotcha.  

Unfortunately, we couldn’t do the decorating together as planned.  My collaborator in this project is a student, and this is crunch time for students.  I didn’t want to do the decorating by myself, but I had to be realistic. We agreed to split the decorating, with her doing the tree and me doing the other decorations.  So a few nights ago, I went downstairs armed with garlands, thumbtacks, and two Christmas CD’s.

A housemate has his stereo unit downstairs temporarily.  It looks like a boombox, but about three times as big, and it looks like it’s aerodynamically designed to leave Porsches in the dust.  In addition to the tweeter, woofer, subwoofer, and other things that go woof, each speaker has what looks like a torpedo tube capable of launching ordnance all the way into Lake Mendota several blocks away.  Peter, Paul and Mary seemed wholly inadequate for this machine, but I gingerly approached it and slipped in my Christmas CD.  

I balanced on chairs as I strung the garlands.  Each garland is 20 feet long, which makes it a bit big for individual windows—even the big ones in our dining room.  So I draped it over the top of several windows and across ledges and doorways.  I like how it turned out.  It adds just enough of a splash of color for the room, without it being too tacky.

When I think about it, December is a strange month when you live near a college campus.  Up almost all the way to December 25th, students are crazy-busy with papers and exams.  This is true here and was also true when I was a student a number of years ago.

It kind of takes the enchantment away from the season in some ways, but I think enchantment exists anywhere you choose to look for it.  So, as I told my housemate, even going out shopping for the decorations was special for me.  Squinting one’s eyes in the northwoods of Target—who could ask for more?