Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day Seventy-One - 6.29.10 - The Cup Runneth Over

Today, The Stanley Cup made its way to Daley Plaza, and after an hour wait in line with my friend Paulie, we got up close and personal with the greatest prize in all of professional sports. It is more glorious than I ever could have imagined and well worth the wait...

Day Seventy - 6.28.10 - Too Knackered To Unpack

I've returned to Chicago, went straight from Midway to work, and now my bags are home, but not unpacked. For me, there is nothing worse than unpacking, and I'll put it off as long as possible...

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day Sixty-Nine - 6.27.10 - Mark Twain Golf Course

Having been ousted from the ECC Invitational Best Ball Tournament, Uncle Mike and I decided we would have a go at one more round, this time at the Mark Twain Golf Course. Elmira is rife with history relating to Mark Twain, as the celebrated American lecturer and author spent a number of summers in Elmira writing (he also married his wife, Olivia, in Elmira). My uncle even told me that my great grandfather used to watch Twain's donkey after the author would ride the donkey into town from his farm up on a hill above town. My great grandpa's fee in the 1870s, 1 penny.

The Mark Twain Golf Course is an original Donald Ross design. Mr. Ross is probably the most accomplished and famous designer of golf courses. The layout was challenging and utilized the natural terrain with an expert's touch. The greens were even more undulating than ECC, but much slower and thus easier to manage. It was a great way to end the week of golf, even if we would have rather been competing for the championship of the tourney for which this trip was made...

Day Sixty-Eight - 6.26.10 - Dew Swept Out Of Contention

Day Three of the Tournament - The Final Day - Yesterday, Uncle Mike and I teed it up early in the morning and squared off against a seventy-something Elmira lifer named Tommy Hamilton and his partner, Buddy. Tommy is what you would call, "sneaky-good." He's old, he does not hit the ball very far, but he is deadly straight and he can putt with the best of them. Plus he has the benefit of probably nearly a thousand trips around the ECC course. This guy was a par machine. He made par after par after par... except for the birdie he made after Mike and I missed 2 short birdie putts on the par three seventh.

It all came down to the 18th hole, a nasty little, uphill, 115 yard par three known as The "Jewett" Hole. This tester has a tiny green that slopes severely from back to front and from right to left. Wedges hit to the front half of the green spin off the front with regularity. Shots to the back of the green and to the right side (AKA "jail") set up chips or putts that are 80% likely to roll right off of the green. The pin was cut in the most lethal of locations, the front-left. If you want to have an uphill put, there is about a 5 feet by 5 feet section of the green where that could happen. And can you guess where Tommy hit it? Mike and I missed the green and made 4s. Tommy 2 putted for par, and won the match.

After a couple of beers, one bought by Tommy and one bought by Buck (who beat us on Thursday), we made our way back to the hotel and passed Harris Hill, the soaring capitol of the world. Soaring is flight in a glider like plane, only the "sailplane" does not have a motor and uses natural updrafts in the atmosphere to maintain altitude. While this sounds fun, and maybe I'll put it on the "to do" list for my next visit, for now I'll remember my drives soaring into the Elmira pines, and my putts soaring past tough cup placements. You win this one Buck, Tommy, and ECC, but I hope to back to compete again...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day Sixty-Seven - 6.25.10 - Elmira Sunset

The sun sets over an Appalachian hill in Elmira... Earlier in the day, the figurative sun set on our first round match on the 17th green when Buck, a massive, Wilford Brimley-like local (with a bristly fu-manchu mustache and a snaggle tooth) and his wiry partner Mike made par to halve the hole and defeat Uncle Mike and I, 2 and 1. Experience is everything on this golf course, and Buck and Mike used their knowledge of the course and a steady approach to best Mike and I who were... erratic. Better shots tomorrow...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day Sixty-Six - 6.24.10 - Elmira, New York

Day One of the Tournament - Qualifying - Kicking off the weekend, all 2 man teams played a best ball qualifying round. It was an educational go, my first trip around all 18 holes of this lush, woodsy, undulating, elevation changing course. Tee shots are challenging, but not unfair, and the par threes are all reasonable. It is the greens, the smallish and lightning quick greens, where strokes build up and build up quickly. The rolling Appalachian mountains that surround the course played tricks on this flat-lander's mind while reading putts. Putts that look uphill, are actually of a devious downhill variety. Putts that look downhill can stop short if directed up toward the mountains. Subtle breaks lie in wait and carry short puts away from the center of the cup... We fired a 78 as a team, good enough to place us in the second flight for the remainder of the weekend. Match play starts tomorrow at 9 AM...

Following the round, Uncle Mike drove me around the various Elmira neighborhoods including the houses he and my father lived in growing up, along with Grandpa Thom, Grandma Marg, Uncle David, and Aunt Annie Pie. Elmira is the epitome of a working class town, with a rich history dating back to the Revolutionary War. Like many old blue collar towns, Elmira has seen better days... As we made our way through Elmira's east side, we passed an old steel foundry, now boarded up, that pre-dates the Civil War.

Day Sixty-Five - 6.23.10 - Delays

On Wednesday, I began my trip to Elmira, New York to play in the Elmira Country Club Annual Invitational Tournament with my Uncle Mike. Due to inclement weather in Chicago and Detroit (where I was making my connection to Elmira), my first flight was delayed five hours. The flight was supposed to leave at 7 am, and we actually boarded on time, got to the runway, where we sat and sat, for an hour, waiting for clearance from Detroit to take off and secure a flight pattern. While we waited, storm clouds drew nearer and nearer... before clearance was secured, the storms hit Midway causing a ground stop. Taxi, jetway, deplane, terminal, gate, more waiting... As I sat in the gate, I heard all sorts of disgruntled travelers take their frustrations out on the hapless Delta employees. While I empathsized with the travelers, I felt sympathy for the workers. Despite the wishes of JoDean Willoughby from South Detroit, who was "just so pissed, my word," the Midway Airport Delta Airlines workers do not control the weather.

I commandeered an electrical outlet, powered my MacBook, and was able to watch, in its entirety, the thrilling World Cup Match between Algeria and the USA. I let out a yelp as Landon Dononvan's extra time goal found the back of the net, drawing crotchety looks from the elderly travelers also waiting on their delayed flights, and prompting assuring nods from other sports fans in the terminal who clearly also new what had just happened.

Eventually, I made it to Detroit at about 2 p.m. local time where I had a guaranteed seat on a 9:30 flight to Elmira. I got to the gate, and attempted my best to charm a Delta representative to the top of the standby list for a 3:20 flight. Electrical outlet, MacBook, ESPN3, Germany vs. Ghana... halftime... 3:20 flight boarding... passenger Grady to the Gate 22 kiosk... "Sir, we have a seat for you on this flight. It is in the emergency exit row, I sure hope that is OK with you." Indeed it was...

Straight from the airport to the first tee to meet Uncle Mike... We managed to play nine holes before hunger took over and the sunlight escaped the skies. I saw nine of the most difficult greens I have ever played in my 20 years fiddling with this ever frustrating and rewarding sport. It is going to be a challenging weekend...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day Sixty-Four - 6.22.10 - Just Do It Right, Make it Perfect And Real

Another week brings another stop at the condo. Paint is on the walls, and we have a dining room light fixture and a ceiling fan. We've been promised great progress in the next eight days as we push to close and unit completion this month. Tonight's visit was encouraging, but there are still many tasks to be checked off of many lists. The end is well neigh, and the closing is finally within reach. Excitement is brewing, expectations are high. Home is taking shape, and it is looking good...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day Sixty-Three - 6.21.10 - Pie? Cake? Ice Cream? Popsicle? Italian Ice?

In what is actually my second post in a row featuring dessert foods, here you have a piece of hot apple pie with two scoops of ice cream. I just finished eating this very dish. It was superb. It represents a love / hate relationship I have with the Bransen's freezer. The thing is jam packed with amazing treats, and multiple flavors of ice cream are stacked like bricks. The variety is astounding, I've never seen anything like it. I no longer have the will to resist the siren song of dessert. The freezer has defeated me....

Day Sixty-Two - 6.20.10 - 1 Year

On Sunday, Lauren and I celebrated our 1 Year Wedding Anniversary. Well, we celebrated on Friday, but the actual day was Sunday. Anyway, it has been an incredible year. A memorable one, to say the least. Here's to at least seventy more Lo, I love you...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day Sixty-One - 6.19.10 - MCA Hour

Prior to our return to Park Ridge, Lauren and I took an hour or so and visited the MCA. Long one of my favorite spots in Chicago, the MCA always has some interesting, entertaining, and thought-stimulating works of modern art. While we just missed the opening of the Alexander Calder exhibit, there was still plenty to look at, and I was glad to capture a couple of photos of my beautiful wife, soaking up some culture. Readers, this is Lauren. Lauren, say hi to the readers.

Day Sixty - 6.18.10 - A Stormy First Anniversary (Weather Only)

On Friday, Lauren and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary, and the evening literally got off to a stormy start. At about 5 PM, a major line of thunderstorms swept through downtown moments after arrival at the Affinia Hotel. The young trees fronting the lobby bent in the gusty winds, rain zipped horizontally down Superior Ave., lightning bolts illuminated the ominous skies, and thunder claps frightened the children of tourists. The worst of the storm passed, and we made our way to Table 52, the restaurant of Chicago chef Art Smith (former personal chef for Ms. Oprah Winfrey). The food was delicious, but a bit heavy, amplified perhaps by our order as we skipped the starters and opted for three of Mr. Smith's southern style sides. Accompanying our plates of short rib and a nicely roasted pork chop were fried pickles, onion ring beignets, and some of the finest mac and cheese you'll ever get in a Blue state (pictured with a glass of malbec). Sorry arteries...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Day Fifty-Nine - 6.17.10 - Vine Line

These vines meander along the walls that separate the Main Street businesses from the Metra tracks in Uptown Park Ridge. I thought they looked photogenic... with or without leaves.

Day Fifty-Eight - 6.16.10 - Toyota Don't Stop

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day Fifty-Six - 6.14.10 - Scooter

This is Scooter, the Bransen family cat. She likes being scratched near the base of her tail, and, from what I can gather, not much else.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day Fifty-Five - 6.13.10 - Golf & Family

Today the rains held of long enough for me to walk 18 holes at a local golf course with some friends. It was an enjoyable round, and mentally I did my best to focus as if I were in full on competition mode. In ten days, I'll depart for Elmira, New York, to play in a 4 day golf tournament with my Uncle Mike. Elmira is the town in which my Uncles Mike and David, Aunt Annie Pie, and my father grew up. This tournament, which takes place at the Elmira Country Club, has a distinct place in the history of my family. For years, my late father and my Uncle Mike competed on the sloped fairways and fast greens of this beautiful and challenging track.

As for Elmira itself, I unfortunately recall very little of my past visits, most of which occurred as a young boy. My most recent visits, and consequently the most vivid in my memory, were for the funerals of my grandmother and my Uncle David. As much as I am looking forward to four days of golf, I'm looking forward to reconnecting with the Grady side of my family (Aunt Annie Pie still lives there) and to exploring and forming fond new memories of the city where my father, his brothers, and his sister were raised by Grandpa Thom and Grandma Marg.

Day Fifty-Four - 6.12.10 - The Land of OZ

The Ozzie man... lounging.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Day Fifty-Three - 6.11.10 - The Parade

The Blackhawks organization (including the front office, Hawks legends, friends, family, trainers, coaches, and the players themselves) was proudly on display this morning and afternoon in downtown Chicago. An estimated 2 million fans flooded the loop to see a championship celebration, the caliber of which this city has not seen in a very long time, if ever. I was lucky enough to for the championship caravan to travel right past my office, and I was able to scurry down to street level and secure a good vantage point near the northeast corner of Michigan & Randolph. I'm not normally one for parades, on account of the clowns that usually linger about... but this one, this championship parade, it was just fine with me.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Day Fifty-Two - 6.10.10 - Daley Plaza Red

Continuing Chicago's tradition of coloring water for special occasions, the water in the Daley Plaza Pool & Fountains has been dyed (Stanley Cup Champion) Blackhawk Red for the playoff weeks. I walked to the plaza to take some photos, and wouldn't you know it, a black hawk flew right in to my shot... Ok, so it's a pigeon... Blackhwaks parade photos tomorrow...

Day Fifty-One - 6.9.10 - There Are No Words...