Saturday, December 31, 2005

Chicagoist: Berghoff Closes Its Doors

Berghoff Closes Its Doors

Ach. This is hard to believe. When I was in high school and early college, my father's office was just a few blocks from this establishment. We went there for lunch sometimes when I was on a break from school. There's just something about that place that transformed me back to a different time in Chicago: it probably felt more like my father's childhood version Chicago than my own. I'll miss this place.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Thoughts on 2006

I am a planner. We have at least three wall calendars around the house, and I carry a PDA that is always synchronized with my Outlook calendar which is shared with my work colleagues. I love to plan, strategize, and get things down in my calendar. I find that people rely on me to have important events stored in my calendar, along with an up-to-date address book and stuff like that. "Rob, when's the last day of classes?" or "Do you have so-&so's phone number?" I suppose that's the more "type A" side of my personality.

What's funny, though, is that if a plan does not worked out as I, um, planned it (my word-choice creativity level is ZERO today), I typically just move on and develop a new plan. For example, if you've been reading this for a while then you may have noticed that I changed my dissertation writing plan about three times in the past year. That "relaxed" attitude usually is limited to planning things for myself. With things I plan for others, those must be kept on schedule. I'm pretty conscientious about that. This tells me that I can plan well as long as it involves something external to myself. So, am I putting myself on the back burner?

I bring this up because it's starting to hit me that 2006 is no longer the year in which I will finish my Ph.D. There's simply no way: I've not started to write anything officially for my dissertation, and I still have to write, edit, and defend the proposal let alone conduct the research itself. It's been in my mind for a long time that this will all be said and done during the 2006 year, while I'm 35 years old and about 10 years out from my master's degree. And now that ain't gonna happen.

OK, OK, so I'll be 36 and 11 years out from the Master's (said as keeping my fingers crossed and lighting a candle). Big deal. However, when I reflect on it I find it hard to fathom that there have been only seven years of my adult life when I have not been in school: one year prior to my master's and six full-time before coming to LMU. Where has the time gone?? My practical friends would slap me around and remind me that I am gaining work experience while I'm in school. OK, whew. So that means I've been in the higher education field for almost twelve years, if you count the time while I was in my master's program (which most employers do count). That makes me feel a little better. And the main difference now is that I truly enjoy what I'm doing, which isn't something I could say as confidently just a few years ago.

Perhaps I should stop planning so much and focus more on living in the present and DOING. Now there's a novel idea. Perhaps that's my New Year's resolution? Plan less and do more. It has a good ring to it.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Music & Technology

I just walked into Wife's office area of our house, and I heard this great jazz coming out of her computer's speakers. Then I realize that she has downloaded hours of our CD collection into "realplayer," so now she can listen to music she likes whenever she wants. A good idea, this is.

And then it hit me: How is it that I have a degree in music and I'm a better-than-average computer user, and yet I know absolutely nothing about combining these two interests? I'm CLUELESS about newer musical technologies like doing CD downloads, using iPods, iTunes, and all of that stuff. How did I miss this boat?

I had a good chuckle to myself, and then I went back up to my office/prison to prepare for the online course I help to teach while working in utter CD, record & tape collections gather dust behind me on the shelf.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


What the f-ck is up with this weather? It was like 58 degrees here today, December 28. I thought I left the Southeast and moved to the Midwest? Huh? I saw a bug outside, alive. ALIVE?? In December??? Our Christmas tree is still up, it's still Hanukkah, and I'm starting to do spring cleaning because it's so damn warm!

OK. Rant over. Hoo boy that was a close one. I feel better now.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Post-Holiday Plans

The Christmas weekend was indeed a festive and fun time, and the "family invasion" was very nice, actually. So much of the stress was reduced by not traveling ANYWHERE, except for a day trip to "a nice town" to do some shopping the day after Christmas. Moose is really in his best element here in the confines of Chesterley, and I think the rest of the family understands that now. We're already planning on doing this again here at our place next year, which is good.

So, time to put it all away, pack up the decorations, and realize that Santa is dead, etc. At least, that's my opinion. Wife, however, is more of the opinion of following the twelve days of Christmas, of which this is day 3 (I'd like my French hens now, please). OK, fine. While the Christmas tree is not going to be put away tomorrow, we have agreed to start organizing, and even throwing away, some of the holiday decorations we have stored. I guess after hosting one's first Christmas weekend in one's own home, one realizes what can be kept and what can be chucked. I'm a minimalist in my holiday decoration style, but I usually lose that negotiation. Oh's not really a huge deal.

Now I need to focus back on school and remember that just because I do not work at my Assistantship this week, that does not mean I can just take the week off from The Diss. I'd like to, but I shouldn't. I should take advantage of the time to get stuff done. However, I could justify a vacation pretty easily, though. Hmm...I could use some time off right now.

Yeah, nice job with the positive self-talk there bud. You go on. Dig the hole deeper, that's it.

Hee hee.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Friends & Family

In my calendar, I have marked off the next five days starting with tomorrow with the words "family invasion." This is a tongue-in-cheek phrase: I actually really do like my extended family. Wife's family will descend upon our home for Christmas this weekend, and I'm sure we'll have a great time with lots of food, drink, and probably a few presents hither & yon. And yes, we'll light Chanukah candles, too. It's going to be a big slumber party here at Chesterley for the next several nights, and I'm really looking forward to it. We have the tree all set up, and decorations appear in most rooms in the house. This photo is a more festive corner of our living room/dining room/music room.

Note the cards hanging over the glass doors. One of the things I look forward to this time of year is sending and receiving holiday cards. I like the opportunity to get caught up with friends and family from all over the place. We typically send cards only to friends who do not live here in SCT, since the goal is to update those we rarely see on our lives. Years ago when I lived alone, I started decorating my windows with holiday cards I'd receive, just by tying a piece of string between my perpetually unused curtain rods and hanging pictures along it. It's really the only holiday decoration I'd bother with at that time in my life, but I'm glad we're continuing that tradition here at Chesterley. For me it serves as a reminder of the friends we've gathered in the various places we've lived. The cards are always colorful and festive, and we seem to get more and more each year as our circle of friends grows. So, many thanks to our friends for helping us decorate our house! For me, that's the "meaning" of this holiday: a reflection on the good relationships we have as being one of the better gifts of the season.

And that's probably as sentimental as I'm going to get about Christmas. I'm not a Scrooge or anything, but for me this has always been more a time to reflect on good friends and family than it is a religious thing.

Happy winter solstice to you!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I am a composer.

This post’s title is a difficult sentence for me to write out publicly for two reasons. First, it may come across as snooty or haughty. Second, I feel it presents a high bar that I now need to meet: If people find out I’m a composer, then they are going to expect me to write like Mozart or Handel. At least, that’s the type of discussion going on in my head. That’s probably why I’ve not yet written about it here.

I also never mentioned it when I was seeking my bachelor’s degree in music from a well-known conservatory. Stupid, really. A missed opportunity. I know: this is very self-denigrating behavior, and it is not something I like to do unless I’m just kidding around. But in my head, discussing my composition experiences involves putting a very near and dear part of my brain and heart “out there” for all to see. At that point in my life, I’m not sure that I would have handled criticism of my work, as constructive as it might have been, when I was in college. Still, in retrospect I regret not pursuing that line of my music career more at that time. Who knows what could have happened had I opened up that part of my brain to the rest of the world?

The fact is, I’ve been writing piano music ever since I can remember. While I did not solidify much of it till I was in high school, several melodies were floating around my head, and in my fingers (fellow pianists will understand about a melody being in one’s fingers), all the time. I continue to write a little bit today, and I still play several songs today that I wrote in high school. During my junior year, one of the pieces I wrote was choreographed for an annual spring modern dance concert. That experience still remains as one of the better performing arts experiences of my life: I played the piece solo in the orchestra pit while about 15 people danced to the music in costume, with full lighting design and the whole nine yards. I was 17 years old, and it felt like a pretty big deal at the time.

My reason for bringing all this up is that I’m making all sorts of connections between this notion of embracing my composition tendencies and coming into my own as a researcher, a writer, and therefore (dare I say it) a scholar. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah, if you will, to be able to promote my area of academic expertise and not feel (or sound) like I’m being snobbish or haughty. I’m really just expressing facts. I am a composer. I am developing an area of academic expertise. So why, then, do I have difficulty with self-promotion? Well, it’s probably because of that bar I feel I’ll need to meet when bringing up all of this stuff.

I suppose there is a balance between self-promotion of factual information on the one hand and blowing oneself up to be the best thing since the wheel or the printing press on the other. While I’m all for people being aware of their strengths and their career directions, I admit I get a bit skeptical when others present themselves as The Expert in an Area. I want to say, “Get real. Sure you study that stuff, but so do others and many of them are pretty good at it too.” Again, it’s in the balance. And I suppose it’s in the delivery of information as well.

What’s interesting about these thoughts is how closely related this sort of discussion is to my dissertation research. I guess doctoral students do bring a bit of themselves into their dissertations. After seriously considering about four different topics, it’s this fourth one that is cutting it pretty close to my heart. Part of me thinks I’m treading on some fragile ground here, that I may never deal with my own issues and find a way to muddle through this process. And yet a stronger part of me knows that without my heart right smack dab in the middle of the project, I’d probably never start writing the darn book in the first place.

I have a feeling the composition metaphor is going to be a frequent visitor to this blog from here on out. More and more I realize that my interest in writing this dissertation grows right out of my passion for creating music. It’s funny how life takes us in a big circle sometimes.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

We saw reindeer downtown

originally uploaded by chesterley.
A longtime friend of mine and Wife is working temporarily in our state's capital, so we decided to drive over and meet him for breakfast. Then we spent a little time doing holiday shopping. I do enjoy larger cities during the winter holidays. I like seeing the different types of people walking around and the festive decorations and such. Feel free to browse a few of our pictures by clicking on this one. We even ran into a couple of reindeer joke!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Office/Prison Work Attempt

I was sick yesterday. Had to leave work early, and realized I had a slight fever and a stomach bug. Yum. I'll spare any readers the gory details. I'm fortunately feeling better today.

Am working from home today. So far I've done nothing, as Wife's car needed to go into the shop this morning (why do we BOTH experience car problems within a week of each other, always?), and then I've been on the phone with relatives for a family debriefing of sorts (long story). I've had lunch, and suddenly it's 1:45 PM. Time flies more quickly when trying to work from home.

I have a 5:30 appointment, so I'm determined to focus now for a couple of hours and get something done on this publication I want to submit next month. I'm meeting with Pink tomorrow morning, so I need to have something to show her.

Don't ya wish time could just freeze for about an hour each day?

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Almost there...

A while back I mentioned I met with PaW KiTS, or the Person Who Knows This Stuff about all of the administrivia it takes to officially become a doctoral 'candidate,' as opposed to the lowly 'student' as I'm classified today. Last Monday I literally chased my program advisor from his classroom to his office (no joke!) to get him to sign my final paperwork. To make a long story short, I turned in said paperwork to PaW KiTS immediately after making copies of everything. I'm pleased to report that already I see the five courses I'm transferring in from my master's degree appearing on my unofficial LMU transcript. Glad that part is complete! Now I just need to wait to hear from The Graduate School to make sure they accept my program of study, nomination to 'candidacy,' and so forth. As soon as one lingering grade flips over from an incomplete to a "real" grade, then I'm technically all good to go. But I'll feel a sigh of relief only when I see the official word on this stuff. I can't imagine any other barriers, but ya never know.

Blog Page Renovation

This is sort of a geeky post, so disregard if you don't care. If I had categories or tags in this blog (which I really wish I had, actually!), then this would be marked "Geeky."

Yesterday I did two things to the site. First, I put up Chester's winter picture. I'm probably going to start changing that on a regular basis, just for variety's sake. It's similar to my annual rearrangement of the furniture in my office/prison.

Next, there's a Flickr badge appearing to the right that has a mix of several photos from our trip last summer to Cape Cod. I set up a Flickr site in preparation for a digital camera that we're getting in the next week or so. This purchase was inspired by the fact that we tried and tried to find a decent family picture of us from sometime in 2005 to send around as our holiday greeting card. Nope. Nothing. Nada. Rien. Nichts. Tons of pictures in general, but nothing of all three humans and one particular canine. Ergo, the digital camera purchase will perhaps offer more photo opportunities. Perhaps more photos will appear here on Chesterley, therefore? Flickr seems pretty cool for both posting to the blog and sharing with friends and fam.

That's about it.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


If anyone heard a really loud sucking sound last night around 9:30 PM, that was the sound of my car because it SUCKS.

I had finished a meeting, and it was COLD outside. I turned on the car, cranked up the heat, and released the parking brake. With a shiver of both coldness and trepidation, I noticed there was no tension in the lever, where usually it quickly falls to the floor of that compartment in between the front seats. I took my foot off the brake pedal, and the car didn't roll backward. "Hmm...maybe it's just too cold to roll," thought I, quizzically, and perhaps hopefully. Then I took up the clutch, accelerated backward just a bit to exit the parking space, put the clutch back in to shift into first gear, and then I realized something was weird: The car was at a dead stop, and yet, I was on a slight decline and my foot was NOT on the brake pedal. CRAP, the emergency brake is at it again!

Yes, again.

Last year at right about this time (last week of classes and first whopping cold snap), the parking brake cables froze. At the time I didn't know what it was, and like an idiot I DROVE HOME smelling brake dust. This idiot had to pay far too much money because he (I?) wore the brake pads down to the rotors. They replaced the rear brake pads and BOTH rotors, even though only one was damaged, because one does not replace only one rotor at a time, so I hath learnt. They got the parking brake cable to release its Vulcan grip on my brakes, but they did not replace the cables themselves. A different handy mechanic informed me last summer that those cables need to be replaced. The cheap graduate student in me realized that I was lucky to have it working at all, and decided not to bother spending the $ fixing it till next winter.

It is winter now. I was not all that surprised when I came to a dead stop in middle of the sloped parking lot with neither of my two feet on any of the three pedals. Augh.

This year, this idiot got smarter. I pulled right back into the parking space and turned off the car. Fortunately an acquaintance was leaving the building at that very moment, and she agreed to drive me home. This morning it was AAA to the rescue, God bless them: they came and towed the car to a fine establishment specializing in brakes and other things. By the end of the day the car was fixed for a mere fraction of what this former idiot self paid last year.

Just in time for 7 inches of snow to accumulate in about 5 five hours! Glad I have a car. They also noticed corrosion on the battery, so they fixed that, fortunately for me. That battery was replaced last year too.

NOW do you hear the sucking sound??

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

You're sitting at my table.

I arrived at the cafe this morning for my weekly meeting with Pink. I was running late, and she had already scoped out one of the "good" tables with an electric outlet and a good overhead lamp. But it wasn't our usual table: there were other people sitting where we normally sit. There are telltale signs that it's the last week of classes: the cafe has even more people studying and camping out here all day. I was tempted to approach "our" table, stare at the current occupants with a confused look, and then say, "It's Tuesday. This is our table. What are you doing here?" I decided to take the higher road and just move over to the spot Pink scoped out, and here I sit after about three hours. And so does the other couple, the impostors, sit at "my" space.

OK, maybe I really need to get out of here?

Things are going OK today: I'm focused. I'm editing the paper I received feedback on the other day. DC is going to help me find a spot to get the thing published, so it's well-worth the extra time. Afterward I'll create Dissertation Schedule 3 and see if it's one I can maintain this time around. No other academic hurdles in my way now (as far as I know, at least...ugh!), so I don't see any way around not sticking to it this time.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Calm First Week in December?

Tomorrow starts the last week of fall classes, and I have nothing pressing for the first time since I can remember. Even when I was working full-time prior to my move to SCT, this time of year would be busy with arranging the final details for running January new student orientation, so I was anything but relaxed. As I'm looking at my schedule for the upcoming week, I'm not feeling stressed. Certainly I have plenty of work ahead of me, but no deadlines looming overhead like vultures in a tree awaiting its next innocent prey. So, what I'm missing?

Wife and I decorated our Christmas tree this evening, and I pulled out my Menorah as well. I grew up with both Christian and Jewish traditions in my home. I've not celebrated Chanukah during the 8 years of my marriage, but this year I decided we'll start doing it. It's a simple holiday and it reminds me of my dad, so I figured it's high time. This holiday season brings about another first for our marriage: we are not slated to travel anywhere the entire month. Wife's family will join us here in SCT this year, and it should be a nice, relaxed time.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Status Report

I am pleased to report that Wife came home to a home with three well-fed, well-groomed men (yes, Chester is a "man" in this little scene, OK?), staying in a house that was not only still standing but was particularly well-kept (I vacuumed and dusted: Martha would be proud) and anxious for her return. I then went out and hunted, killed, and prepared our evening feast of Chinese food from the place around the corner, as this is traditional end-of-road-trip fare for the residents of Chesterley.

Moose and I had a good time together, even with Chester herding us around every which way. Wife was greeted Moose's big smile, Chester's loud bark and need to play fetch, and my sigh of relief that I'm not doing this all alone anymore. I handled the three solo days just fine, I'd say, but I'm sure glad Wife and I have each other.