Thursday, March 25, 2010

Asparagus and art

I recently discovered that there are actually people who make a living painting pictures of asparagus, so publishing an article about art right after publishing one about asparagus is actually a logical step.

I met Mary Berg at an after hours event that she hosted for the Evanston Chamber of Commerce on St. Patrick’s Day. Mary owns and operates an art gallery on the south side of Evanston called Simply Chicago Art.

Naturally, there were lots of corned beef sandwiches and green cookies at the event, and a local merchant (and Chamber member) WineStyles provided Malbec and Petite Shirah instead of the traditional green beer.

Mary worked a 9 to 5 job in the commodities business in downtown Chicago from 1983 until 2009. Although she enjoyed her work, and was good at it, she kept having recurring dreams about opening an art gallery. Mary is not an artist herself, and has absolutely no background or training in the field, but the dream just wouldn’t go away.

I’ve long been a believer in following your dream (which is why I tried to ride to Hell on my bicycle in the summer of 2007), so people like Mary always bring a smile to my face. It’s also why my wife and I encouraged our daughter to move to China to teach English when she was 22 years old.

On November 1, 2008, she opened up her gallery in a small location that is less then three blocks from where she lives. In order to keep the overhead to a manageable level, her husband Tim (an insurance agent for Farmers Insurance) moved his office into the same location. Since she was still employed at the commodities firm on a full time basis, the gallery was initially open only on weekends, but she has now begun to expand her hours.

In order to generate “foot traffic” for the location, she has hosted classes, workshops, and book signings at the gallery, and has also benefited from a “grassroots movement“ of her neighbors, who appreciate having a gallery nearby instead of in downtown Evanston.

Just as WineStyles advertises itself as a Neighborhood Wine Shop, Mary has taken great pains to make her location a “neighborhood art gallery”, where everyone knows your name

What sets Mary’s place apart from other art galleries is that she invites artists to her gallery before exhibiting their works, so that they become more comfortable with how their art is being displayed.

When she first opened the gallery, she had a grand total of ONE artist on display, who was a woman that she worked with in the commodities business.Strictly by word of mouth, the gallery became known to the broader art community, and she is now fully booked through the balance of this year and all of 2011.

Since she feels that the Chicago area has an enormous amount of art talent, she limits posting opportunities to artists who live in the Chicago area, which is how the name of the business came into being.

She will display as many as six artists during the course of the month, but limits their “time on the wall” to 4 weeks in order to always have a fresh inventory for her customers. In the vast majority of cases, the artists have never had any of their work on display in a gallery before, so Mary’s gallery is an important step in attaining legitimacy in the art field.

Although there are currently some artists who have jewelry on display at the upper level, the current “artist on the wall” is a woman named Chris Heisinger, who uses recycled glass in order to create her art. Her work is currently featured on Mary's website.

I attended the ribbon cutting ceremony at the gallery last night. Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl cut the ribbon, and Evanston Photographic Studios took pictures to commemorate the event. The Malbec was still available on a table at the rear, but the corned beef sandwiches got replaced by a delicious selection of desserts provided by Gourmet Garden Catering.

Mary and her husband Tim have three children, ranging in age from 32 to 38, as well as five grandchildren, but none of them are involved in the art industry. Her younger son comes closest, since he works for a graphic design firm. Her daughter and oldest son both “followed her footsteps” in a different direction, since they work in the commodities business.

I’m generally the only person from our dealership who attends the events of the local Chamber of Commerce, and I’d be the first to admit that I haven’t sold hundreds of cars because I attend the events on a regular basis.

However, the reason that I go as often as I can is because it’s an opportunity to meet people like Mary, who are simply following a dream.

After all, isn’t that what life is all about?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

This is the dawning of the age of asparagus

In 1969, I was in my last year of college, Richard Daley was mayor of Chicago, and the United States was mired in a long and unpopular war.1969 was also the year that a group called The Fifth Dimension released the song shown below:

Age of Aquarius

The single held the number one position on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks and was certified Platinum. The recording also won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year and Best Contemporary Vocal Performance by a Group at the Grammy Awards of 1970.

An awful lot of things have changed in the last 40 years, but some things haven’t.

Both of my children are in their last year of college, Richard Daley is still mayor of Chicago, and it looks like the United States will be stuck in Iraq and/or Afghanistan for another six years or so.

What brought to mind the song was a request that I received from a former co-worker (his nickname is Igor) to explore the health benefits of a particular vegetable.

Ken (his real name) had received an email that claimed that asparagus would cure cancer.

The first place I usually turn to for information is the Urban Legends website ( Although there aren’t ANY foods that will cure cancer, asparagus DOES have a number of health benefits, including the fact that it is an anti-oxidant. As a result, it can REDUCE the chance of getting cancer in the first place.

Besides functioning as a cancer preventive, asparagus also provides the additional benefits listed below:

Asparagus is rich in soluble fiber, which protects against degenerative heart disease. It also has high levels of potassium, which control blood pressure, and it is low in fat and sodium.

Asparagus also contains both rutin and iron, both of which fortify the body’s immune system.

The folic acid in asparagus also stimulates the production of histamines, which improve the ability of both men and women to achieve orgasm.

If THAT’S not enough for you, the fact that it is low in calories can help with weight loss, and the pro-biotics it contains can aid digestion.

Finally, it contains vitamins C and E, which are beneficial for skin, nails and hair.

Asparagus has been used from early times as a vegetable and medicine, owing to its delicate flavor and diuretic properties. There is a recipe for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius’s third century AD De re coquinaria, Book III. It was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, who ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter. It lost its popularity in the Middle Ages but returned to favor in the seventeenth century.

I have to admit that I don’t eat as many vegetables as I should, but I’ve always enjoyed the taste of asparagus.

Last night, I picked up some fresh asparagus for dinner. Sharon steamed it in the microwave, and it made a nice side dish to go with our shrimp scampi.

If you haven’t had any asparagus for a while, I’d recommend buying some and having it with a meal sometime this week.

Let the sun shine in!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

This story will self destruct

Five seconds after you finish reading this story, it will self destruct.

If that phrase sounds familiar (and it will to a lot of people) it’s because it’s a reminder of what once was one of the most popular shows on television.

The series aired on the CBS network from September 1966 to March 1973.

It returned to television, as a revival, for two seasons on ABC, from 1988 to 1990, and later inspired a popular trio of theatrical motion pictures starring Tom Cruise and Ving Rhames in the 1990s and 2000s, with the role of Phelps played by Jon Voight.

The original series earned 4 Emmys, 3 Golden Globes, and one Edgar.

It wasn’t until 1971 that the main actor in the series, Peter Graves, earned a Golden Globe as an actor in a television series for his portrayal of fictional character Jim Phelps.

He passed away earlier this week, and it wasn’t until I read his obituary that I realized that we had a few things in common.

For starters, we were both born in the Twin Cities.

His birth name was Peter Aurness, but he later changed his last name to Graves, which was a maternal family name. His brother is James Arness, who played Marshall Matt Dillon on the long-running television series Gunsmoke.

Like me, Mr. Graves attended the University of Minnesota (where he studied drama), and he also has a daughter named Kelly Jean.

Like my father-in-law, he had three daughters.

He was born on this date in 1926, and he died just last Sunday, which made him 4 days shy of being 84 years old when he started his new life in the hereafter.

His role as Captain Clarence Oveur on the 1980 comedy film Airplane! eventually led to a recent series of commercials for AirTran Airways:

On October 30, 2009, Mr.Graves was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. As a result, he is living proof that for a boy from Minnesota, no mission is impossible.

Incidentally, if you’re computer starts smoking after you finish reading this story, don’t panic.

It’s just an optical illusion.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Happy Lá Fhéile Pádraig

Ar an 17 Márta an tseachtain seo, beidh líon mór daoine ar fud an domhain a bheith ag ceiliúradh an breithlá Naomh Pádraig, an naomh pátrún na hÉireann.

Cad é nach bhfuil an chuid is mó acu realize é go bhfuil ionadh líon mór daoine in Éirinn a labhairt i gcónaí ar an teanga Gaeilge, a théann thar BHEALACH bartender, ", beidh mé ag eile Guinness"

Is é an Irish language(Gaeilge) ar cheann de na DÓ teangacha oifigiúla na hÉireann (an duine eile a Béarla), agus a thionscnamh Téann siar chomh fada leis an 4ú haois. Go dtí an 19ú haois, bhí sé ar an teanga is coitianta a labhraítear in Éirinn.

Nuair a chuaigh muid an chósta thiar na hÉireann i 1999, faoi deara agam leor comharthaí bóthair i roinnt nach Gaeilge, Béarla, agus an Béarla go bhfuil labhartha ar an leithinis an Daingin agus tá an ceantar máguaird ar brogue an-sainiúil.

Tá an míthuiscint é go bhfuil an Béarla teanga oifigiúil na Stáit Aontaithe, ach é an ní fíor simplí. Tá an United States, d'fhoghlaim fiú níos mó ná 80% de dhaonra an Béarla mar chéad teanga. Meiriceá curtha i gcónaí ar thalamh na n-imirceach, agus ní raibh sé neamhchoitianta a chloisteáil 20 teangacha éagsúla a labhraítear ar bhonn laethúil in amanna colonial. Inniu, tá an 322 astounding teangacha a labhraítear sa tír, agus 24 de iad a labhraítear i gach stát agus an Dúiche Columbia.

Ní gá duit a thuiscint Gaeilge a thuiscint a áilleacht, mar atá arna léiriú ag na mBan Cheiltigh:

Tú nach gá do labhairt na teanga a thuiscint é.

Tríd an draíocht ar Google Translate, is féidir leat an scéal a thiontú do dteanga dúchais, agus tuiscint beagán níos mó a dhéanamh as é.

I deiridh, ba mhaith liom a blessing na Gaeilge a leanas a thairiscint duit:

Bealtaine deontas Dia duit ..

Tá Scoil Chónaithe Naomh Muire do te tú,
Agus moonbeam a charm tú,
A aingeal sheltering
Mar sin, is féidir aon ní dochar duit,
Laughter a cheer tú,
Cairde dílis tú gar -
Agus whenver pray tú,
Heaven chun éisteacht leat.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The sliced raw fish shoes it wishes.

Most of the people that I know are regular users of both Google and Facebook. Because they are very familiar parts of American and world culture, it’s easy to forget that both of them are recent additions to our lives.

Google started as a college project called BackRub at Standford in 1996.

Two years later, the company was founded, and six years later (in August of 2004) it was listed on the NASDAQ. The initial public offering generated $1.67 billion, and gave Google a market capitalization of more than $23 billion. The vast majority of Google's 271 million shares remained under Google's control, and many of Google's employees became instant paper millionaires. Its current market capitalization is $149 billion.

Facebook also started as a college project.

Mark Zuckerberg created Facemash when he was a sophomore at Harvard in the fall of 2003. A few months later, he changed the name to Thefacebook. The company known as Facebook was founded in September of 2006. Less than two years later, it was worth close to $5 billion, and Mark Zuckerberg was a billionaire before he turned 25

In a meeting at Google in 2004, the discussion turned to an e-mail message that the company had received from a fan in South Korea. Sergey Brin, a Google founder, ran the message through an automatic translation service that the company had licensed. The message said Google was a favorite search engine, but the result read: “The sliced raw fish shoes it wishes. Google green onion thing!”

Mr. Brin said Google ought to be able to do better.

Six years later, its free Google Translate service handles 52 languages, more than any similar system, and people use it hundreds of millions of times a week to translate Web pages and other text. Unless you’re a fan of sushi, the phrase “sliced raw fish” really doesn’t make a lot of sense, but the creation of Google Translate has opened up a world (literally) of opportunity for all of us.

(the picture of sashimi shown above popped up when I typed “sliced raw fish” into Bing, which is Microsoft’s competitor to Google)

My favorite 2010 Super Bowl ad was the one Google did about searching for things in Paris, which brings up an interesting possibility.

One of the 25 goals that I wrote down about 5 years ago was to someday stand on the observation deck at the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris with my favorite daughter. If I won Saturday’s $200,000,000 Powerball drawing, I absolutely guarantee you that the Parisian dream would become a reality. It’s also a dead certainty that some of the pictures from the trip would wind up on my Facebook profile page.

Although there are LOTS of interesting things to do in Paris, one of the “must stops” on our journey would be Le Grand Vefour, the very first grand restaurant in Paris. It was opened in the arcades of the Palais-Royal in 1784 by Antoine Aubertot, as the Café de Chartres.

Using my new I-phone, I could download their menu , paste all the French names into Google Translate, and read them in English. I could then point to the item on the menu, and say to my server, “Je voudrais, afin que, s'il vous plait” (I’d like to order that, please)

Although it would be prudent to do a little practice with French pronunciation before making the journey, having Google Translate as a backup would make Paris more enjoyable.

Since I started this story with a fish, it’s appropriate that it should also end with a phish, as well as a question:

How would YOU spend $200,000,000 ?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Amazing Grace

My mother’s oldest sister, Grace, passed away at the age of 95 on July 2, 2007. She was truly a remarkable person, and her obituary referred to her as “amazing Grace”.

.She was still in her teens when the Great Depression started, which caused her and most of the other members of her generation to be frugal. Like her mother, she married a farmer, and raised a large family on the family farm in Minnesota.

She became a school teacher, and with her modest teacher’s salary, she bought her parents their first car, a Model T Ford.

This morning’s Chicago Tribune carried a story about ANOTHER woman who deserves the accolade of “amazing Grace”.

Grace Groner, a Lake Forest resident, passed away last month at the age of 100. Like my aunt, she was a farmer’s daughter, but both of her parents had died by the time that she was 12.

She was taken in by the George Anderson family, one of the leading families of Lake Forest, who raised both her and her sister. The Anderson family paid for Grace and her sister to attend Lake Forest College, When Grace graduated in 1931, she went to work at Abbott Laboratories, where she worked as a secretary for 43 years.

Although she shared her generation’s distrust of the stock market, she bought three shares of company stock (at a cost of $180) in 1935, and never sold it. Over the years, she reinvested the dividends, which caused her modest investment to grow considerably.

She never married, and lived in an apartment for many years until a friend willed her a tiny house in a part of town once reserved for the servants. Its single bedroom could barely accommodate a twin bed and dresser. Its living room was undoubtedly smaller than many Lake Forest closets.

The town where she lived her entire life is one of the wealthiest towns in America.

Median family income is in excess of $200,000. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, The Great Gatsby, was patterned after Lake Forest, where median house prices are still around $850,000, considerably higher than the national average. Like many towns,
Lake Forest has suffered
during the current recession. As of this week, there were 97 homes in foreclosure, with a median value of just under $700,000.

Grace got her clothes from rummage sales, and she walked everywhere rather than buy a car. Her one-bedroom house in Lake Forest held little more than a few plain pieces of furniture, some mismatched dishes and a hulking TV set that appeared left over from the Johnson administration.

Though she was frugal, Ms. Groner was not a miser. She traveled extensively after her retirement from Abbott, and on occasion sent anonymous donations to needy local residents through her attorney.

Two years ago, she decided to splurge, and set up a scholarship program for the benefit of her alma mater, Lake Forest College. After her death, her attorney met with the President of the college, and told him that the value of Grace’s estate was now worth $7,000,000, and ALL if was going to Lake Forest College.

The economic boom that followed the end of World War II was a direct result of our country’s investment in education. Although our current budget deficit is scary enough that I wouldn’t advocate diverting more money to education (as Thomas Friedman does), the example set by BOTH Graces can serve as a reminder what all of US can do personally to improve our world.

My aunt raised seven children, all of whom graduated from college. One of them married a college professor. Another married a lawyer, and another one married a doctor. There’s some social workers in the mix – and there’s also a farmer.

The legacy of the Lake Forest Grace is that the majority of the 1300 students at Lake Forest College will benefit from her magnanimous gift, and the legacy of my aunt Grace is that her knowledge and spirit live on today in her children and grandchildren.

Amazing Grace, indeed.