Thursday, December 31, 2009

My Favorite Things I Did in the '00s

Well here we are on the last day of the decade, one that Time magazine has labeled as the worst ever. But while a lot of bad things did happen, and I sit here on December 31, 2010, unemployed with no imminent prospects, unmarried likewise, overweight, diabetic, in debt and with pretty much nothing to do on New Year's Eve, I really feel pretty happy, pleased about my decade past and upbeat about the one to come.

As I wish you a Happy New Year and hope the year and decade ahead hold nothing but good things for you, those you know and everyone, I will recap My Favorite Things I Did in the '00s, not in an acute, specific-event sort of way, but with a more overall perspective.

I apologize in advance if much of this comes off as self-indulgent and self-aggrandizing, but I am really writing this list for my own sense of pride and accomplishment, and even a bit of self-actualization. So indulge me, and then make a list of your own. It'll make you feel good.

During the '00s, I...

1. Maintained and made great friendships - Never one with tons of friends, I am proud that during the '00s I have continued wonderful friendships dating back to kindergarten, high school, college, various jobs, etc. I also made a solid handful of new friends whom I consider among my closest and, through the magic of Facebook, have rekindled a number of long-lost friendships. I'm also grateful that my Mom and sisters remain so prominent in my life.

2. Traveled the world - Thanks in large part to a past job in which I was able to accumulate hundreds of thousands of airline miles, during this decade I was able to visit Ireland (for my best friend's wedding), London (6x), Paris, Brussels, Australia, Italy, Amsterdam, Prague, Spain, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Helsinki, St. Petersburg, Israel and Egypt (where the camel I rode still recalls me fondly). I also went to New York City ten times, as well as Philadelphia, LA, Seattle, New Orleans and many other places in the U.S. Despite the many free flights, all my traveling cost quite a bit of money, at the expense of other things, but undoubtedly has made me a richer man.

3. Appreciated the arts - Developing a deep love of theater, I attended of hundreds of musicals and plays, as well as numerous rock concerts, operas, jazz, classical, blues and comedy performances. I even saw a ballet or two. I also visited over a hundred art museums and tried to see & appreciate many examples of great architecture, and saw many great movies including a number of foreign films from various countries. Altogether, this has provided infinite enjoyment and awareness I lacked 10 years ago.

3a. ...and Athletics - Though a few ballparks were hit before the '00s, I am now just 4 shy from having seen a game in every current major league stadium (new Yankee, the two in Florida and the new Twins park, opening in 2010). I went to three Cubs playoff games in 2003 (including the clincher in Atlanta and the dreaded Game 6), attended an All-Star Game and no-hitter (Buerhle's first), saw some of the world's greatest soccer players play in Chicago, went to a few Bulls, Bears, Hawks, Fire and Northwestern games and watched hundreds more. While more so a Cubs fan, I was truly ecstatic to see the White Sox win it all in 2005 (although not in person).

4. Was a good uncle - Although I don't know the joy of having my own children, I have greatly enjoyed seeing my almost 12-year-old nephew and twin 10-year-old niece & nephew grow up, while participating in their lives. You'd have to ask them, but I think I've been a pretty good uncle, and certainly have treasured trying to be.

5. Did good work - Though two extended unemployment stints may suggest otherwise, when I did work, I regularly received high praise for my efforts, creativity and results. I earned several excellent reviews and generous raises, was credited for helping my employers land large amounts of new business, and even in doing freelance and volunteer work, frequently heard fulfilling accolades. So hopefully someone will hire me again, not too far into the new decade.

6. Shared my passions - In the '00s, I didn't quite match the '90s in terms self-creations such as pun cartoon calendars, poetry books and paintings, but was glad to have shared self-made greeting cards, extensive photography and numerous musical compilations with family & friends. Through conversations, blogs, websites and emails, I was proud to interact about my travels and my various passions, such as music, theater, movies, sports, art and more. I also played thousands of Scrabble games.

7. Got political - Although I have voted in every general election and most primaries since I was 18, it wasn't until 2006 that I "got involved." Since then I have done volunteer and paid marketing work for several candidate & causes, served as marketing director and website administrator for a grass roots organization called Operation: Turn DuPage Blue, and through its success, have been labeled (their words, not mine) the "Patron Saint" of the Democratic Party of DuPage County, for whom I still do occasional marketing work, despite no longer living in DuPage. I will also always treasure having been in Grant Park the night Obama was elected.

8. Handled unemployment with aplomb - Without the pressures faced by those with families to support, and with the help of unemployment benefits, occasional freelance work and the financial & emotional assistance from loved ones, I survived an 18-month unemployment stint a few years back and am 6-1/2 months in this go-round. Certainly I have had down days, several moments of frustration and am quite concerned about what the future holds, but I have never said "Why me?," looked backwards, suffered severe depression, sought therapy or turned to alcohol, drugs or other vices, except for a few too many hot dogs. I do not say this to be boastful, nor comparative to what others go through, but am grateful I have been able to maintain a positive outlook and keep things in proper perspective.

9. Bought a condo - Because of my traveling and other spending habits, I remained a renter until I was 38, but in 2007 was able to purchase my first home of my own: a one-bedroom condo in Skokie, 2 minutes from where I grew up and where my Mom still lives. Though it's always cluttered, could use a good cleaning, isn't that big and is devoid of immediate guest parking, I really like it and invite you to come over and check it out sometime. Just give me a little advance warning.

10. Worshiped the Boss - As today's topic--and this whole month-long exercise--will attest, I believe it is vital to have passions and pursuits, not only for entertainment and enjoyment, but to provide intellectual and emotional nourishment that can sustain you through tough times and bouts of boredom. While I have gained abundant sustenance from many performers, authors and creators, in this regard, far foremost is Bruce Springsteen. During the '00s, I saw Bruce perform live 30 times in many venues and locales, while getting countless more hours of enjoyment through his music--both old and new--and concert DVDs. I also admire that he has become an ardent public voice for what he believes in--largely, common dignity--and I greatly relished what Jon Stewart had to say about him on the Kennedy Center Honors the other night, including that Bruce always "empties the tank" for his art, his audience and his country. May you all have Bosses that elevate your existence and lift you through the...

Badlands, you gotta live it every day
Let the broken hearts stand
As the price you've gotta pay
We'll keep pushin' till it's understood
and these badlands start treating us good

Clearly, I am need of considerable improvement, so these are some things I hope to do in the '10s:

1. Lose weight, by eating better and exercising more
2. Read more, especially more non-fiction, biographies and weightier novels
3. Write more, including movie scripts, plays, short stories, essays, published reviews and even books
4. Date more, and ideally, perhaps even one day get married
5. Broaden my travels - South America, Japan, China and India are now on my bucket list
6. Do more to help others, by volunteering and donating more
7. Cook more and with greater variety
8. Be better with my personal finances (balance transfers have been my Beelzebub)
9. Be more kempt (or whatever the opposite of unkempt is) in my home and car
10. Learn new languages - I'm starting with Spanish

So there you have it; I guess that's it for 2009 and all the '00s. Have a safe and Happy New Year and see you in the '10s.


Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My List of Things I Wouldn't Miss If They Didn't Exist in the '10s

So there are some things I either used to like and now don't, never cared much for, or simply have had enough of. In most cases, I don't really think these things/people, etc. will go away, and I'm not wishing to deprive others of enjoyment, but if I never heard from or about these folks/things in the decade to come, I wouldn't care or would be better off for it.

I will off leave the really obvious (cancer, terrorism, gang violence, natural catastrophes, etc.) and keep this more pithy. Please note that in regards to specific people, I am only hoping for their inconsequence, not their demise (so if I'm on your list, I hope you will feel likewise;)

1. Reality TV
2. SUVs
3. Fox News Channel
4. Twitter
5. Sports Talk by anyone currently doing it
6. ESPN's Chris Berman (I used to like him, but enough already)
7. People chanting "USA! USA!"
8. Beauty Pageants
9. Ryan Secrest
10. Mixed Martial Arts/Ultimate Fighting
11. Professional Wrestling
12. Celebrity Magazines and Websites
13. Paris Hilton and Perez Hilton
14. Shopping Malls
15. Cheerleaders at professional sporting events
16. New Year's Eve celebrations
17. Black Friday "Doorbuster" Sales
18. New Musicals using Old Songs
19. Britney Spears
20. Bowl Games played before January 1

A few things I will miss if they cease to exist:

Print Newspapers
Music CDs with Artwork, Liner Notes, etc.
Customer Service Reps, particularly at the Airlines
Baseball tickets for under $40

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

My Favorite Sights Seen in the '00s

With just 2 remaining, there are have been 3,651 days this decade on which to have seen wonderful things. While I have previously posted My Favorite Cities Visited, My Favorite Museums and My Favorite Photographs Taken, as well as various categories saluting favorite performers I saw onstage, this list is much narrower in scope.

Listed below are the most singularly spectacular sights I saw during the decade, limited to those I saw for the first time in the '00s (thus no Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, nor much of the U.S.). I will also exclude performances, events, special occasions and people altogether. And while sentiment may co-mingle with aesthetics in terms of the sights most indelibly etched into my memory, these are My Favorite Sights Seen in the '00s, thus I'll elect to omit unforgettable yet harrowing sights such as Ground Zero, abandoned New Orleans neighborhoods, the Texas Book Depository and the like.

Simply put, of many amazing things that I saw in many places, these are the ones that I remember most fondly:

(All photos are mine, except of paintings and where indicated. Click to enlarge)

1. The Treasury in Petra, Jordan

2. The Sistine Chapel Ceiling

3. The Great Pyramids and Sphinx

4. Leaning Tower of Pisa

5. Roman Coliseum

6. Sydney Opera House

7. Fallingwater

8. The Raphael Stanzas at the Vatican

9. Sagrada Familia (Barcelona)

10. Church on Spilled Blood (St. Petersburg)

Honorable Mention:

Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

The Alamo

Michaelangelo's David

The Duomo in Florence

Roman Forum

Kilkenny Castle (Ireland)

Botticelli's Birth of Venus

The Western Wall and Dome on the Rock

The Hermitage Interior

The French Quarter

St. Mark's Basillica (Venice) - (Interior photo not mine)

Fenway Park - Yes, the Red Sox really lost to the Yankees 22-1 on June 19, 2000

Loch Ard Gorge (Australia)

Cliffs of Moher (Ireland)

Vasa Warship from 1628 (Stockholm)

Special Mention:

These were my favorite sights that didn't exist before the '00s (see also: My Favorite New Architecture of the '00s):

Cloud Gate (The Bean) in Chicago

Milwaukee Art Museum Addition

Monday, December 28, 2009

Your Favorite Lost Art Practitioners of the '00s

While admittedly a bit of a dilettante, and certainly not a scholar of any art form, hopefully My Favorite...of the '00s exercise covering many topics indicates that I am at least interested in a wide variety of art forms.

Therefore, it somewhat disturbs me that I can name very few--and in many cases, zero--people who came to prominence in any of the Lost Art Forms listed below. And while I would like to hear from you about artists I should be paying attention to, it isn't so much that I doubt that there are fine practitioners of each art known to aficionados--in fact, I'm pretty sure it's the opposite--but in decades past, I would think a large portion of the population knew names like Miles Davis, Beverly Sills, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Harry Chapin, Robert Frost and more (though it's possible they only became "famous" in retrospect).

So for those of you playing along, please tell me the names of people who I should explore, but also, as best you can gauge, anybody who you believe has reached the mainstream from these fields. If there are people that I am aware of in these fields who came to renown, if not mass prominence, in this decade I will cite them, but I believe very few are well-known to the masses.

Fine Art Painter


Classical Composer

Opera Composer

Broadway Composer - Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx, Marc Shaiman, Laurence O'Keefe and Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music for some of the biggest & best musicals this decade, but does anyone know their names except me and their mothers?

Jazz Musician - I really liked a saxophonist named Miguel Zenon, who I saw this year at Jazz Showcase


Short Story Writer



Opera Singer - I have seen dozens of "renowned opera stars" at the Lyric, including Renee Fleming, but perhaps only Andrea Bocelli has achieved mass fame on a Pavarotti or Domingo level

Playwright - See My Favorite Plays of the '00s for some names worth knowing, but does anybody else know who these authors are? Even Pulitzer Prize Winner Tracy Letts probably has a Q rating below the Kardashian sisters.

Movie Director - Christopher Nolan, Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, David Fincher or Darren Aronofsky, anyone? Many have done good work and made blockbuster films, but perhaps only Peter Jackson entered the Spielberg, Lucas, Scorsese & Coppola strata this decade (Tarantino's fame preceded it)

Folk Singer - Does Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes count? Is he famous?

Newspaper Columnist or Print/Online Journalist

Architect - I think Frank Gehry is pretty famous, but is he really?

Ballet Dancer

Chess Player - You might laugh at this category, but everybody knew who Bobby Fischer was. I haven't heard of anyone since Garry Kasparov

Boxer - Name a great fighter other than Mayweather or Pacquiao

Politician - Other than Obama and Hillary Clinton, name someone first elected to a major office in this decade outside of the state in which you live

Any other art forms missing in action?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My Favorite Cards That I Made in the '00s

Most of My Favorite....of the '00s lists have, directly or indirectly, celebrated the creativity of others. But as someone who enjoys being creative myself, I have posted my favorite photographs, professional creations and now, greeting cards. Yes, greeting cards.

I cannot remember the last time I gave someone a store-bought card, save for a condolence card or two. Since my early 20s, I have made annual holiday cards, as well as cards to celebrate birthdays, births, weddings, Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and more.

While I have tried to save a copy of each card I made, I haven't always done so (especially of birthday/going away cards for work colleagues over the years). So what's below really represents My Favorite Cards That I Made in the '00s Which I Remember and Have Available to Show. (I've never tried to sell my cards, as most are either one-of-a-kind or violate copyright laws. Still I maintain the copyright on all concepts and wording shown.)

Click on each image to enlarge it.

1. This and the next one are what I'll call Topical Stream of Puns cards. I have several more similar ones, which I'll put below the Honorable Mention rather than fill up the top 10 with one theme. I'm not sure who I originally gave this Art Card to; perhaps my friend Wendy.

2. Beatles Card - This was a birthday card for a huge Beatles fan I used to work with

3. My best friend Jordan has probably been the recipient of more of my cards than anyone else over the years. My all-time favorite for him precedes the '00s--I replicated the Sgt. Pepper's album cover with images of him--but I think this was my favorite for him this decade.

4. This was a pretty simple concept for Mother's Day one year, but I think I did a fairly good job with the Photoshopping, even if the punch line wasn't all that great.

5. I could really only find about 5 of 10 year-end Holiday Cards, but I think this one was my favorite. From 2002, after a trip to Italy that year.

6. Also created for Jordan, this was from 2006, when a whole lot of stupid things seemed to be happening.

7. Most of my cards for my nephews and niece have featured a big, funny photo of them, without much Photoshopping. This one of Jacob from 2004, when he turned 6, is one of my favorites.

8. A birthday card for a friend who was constantly too busy.

9. A birthday card for my Mom, who is a pretty active theatergoer.

10. A simple concept for my brother-in-law Howard, but the photo made it work.

Honorable Mention:

Be sure to notice my sister Allison on this one:

Additional Topical Stream of Puns Cards: