Mar 24, 2012

Lake effect

As I said earlier I'm not turning GABROEN into a political blog. Even though Aristotle famously said that "man by nature is a political animal", after two millenniums I would argue it's time for an overhaul. We only occasionally talk about politics, but always chat about the weather. Case in point: what's the number one trait that the British say defines being British? Not a stiff upper lip, not being experts in polite queuing, not being drunk - although all of these traits ended up in the top 5. No, the number one trait that defines the Brits is talking about the weather. Very moist, humid weather, like we had for the last two days in Northern Illinois. So yes, this blog post is again about the weather.

Weather is a much more grateful subject than politics anyway. Both for photography and for writing blog posts. The English language has dozens of words to describe different forms of rain, the Finns use over 50 words for frozen precipitation and the indigenous Sami people in Northern Scandinavia even have over 150 words for different kinds of snow. So the richness of language is endless for describing the weather, and a blogger's dream topic. Even something as dreary and dull as the automated voice giving the local forecast on The Weather Channel's 'Local on the 8s' can turn into a poetry recital with descriptions like 'considerable cloudiness'.

So how to describe yesterday's weather around here?

Patches of dense fog
The lake spills airily
Moisturizing the budding spring
Lining cherry flowers
With drops of Swarovski

Mar 21, 2012

More craziness

It has been quite a week in Northern Illinois, with continued record breaking weather, exploding spring colors, a primary election, the birth of a chain whisperer and a new way of commuting. All these things are related somehow, so I'll go through them one by one to indicate the connections.
Starting with the weather, the most pleasant surprise of 2012 around here. Today's temperatures shot up to 88oF (31oC), shattering the 1938 record of 77oF (25oC), and the eigth straight day of record temperatures. Still some local differences due to that huge lake at the end of our street; the surface area of Lake Michigan is about twice that of the Netherlands, and the water still is friggin' cold. So this afternoon it was 20oF (10oC) cooler at our front door compared to just 3 miles inland, but still very, very pleasant.

The warm weather has woken up both flora and fauna, with splendid white blooming magnolias, mellow yellow strings swinging casually from willow trees and splashes of bright yellow forsythias and daffodils. Birds are enjoying this unusual surprise as well, and are singing their lungs out. To provide some idea of this craziness, take a look at the peony buds shooting up over 20 centimeters just five days after the last posted picture (see Macro Spring). No need for a macro lens anymore........

To make better use of the great weather, GABROEN bought a nice Cannondale commuter bike last weekend. Gabri's is on order and will come in in a few weeks, but the great family-owned local bike shop Alberto's actually delivered mine on Saturday. So we checked out the ride to the office on Saturday, and I have been riding the 8.5 mile route both on Monday and Tuesday. Over 6 miles is on a separate bike path - thank you, Illinois Department of Transportation - and it sure is a nice path.

So far none of these rides have been uneventful. On Saturday, Saint Patrick's Day, we found a drunk celebrator shouting things at Gabri that are not fit for repeating here - we believe he wanted to make a point that she was not wearing the traditional Irish green. Coming back from work on Monday afternoon I took a wrong turn and found out that "NO OUTLET" signs are there for a reason. And Tuesday I was the hero of three 11-year olds out on the bike path as well, with one of the them having her bike chain come off. To their credit, they were far from shy asking for my help, and far from getting their hands dirty. So two very greasy hands did get the chain back on, but the only thing they missed was that the bike was set in a different gear than where she had replaced the chain. I looked at the bike for 3 seconds, switched to the correct gear and she was good to go. "Omigoh, omigoh. How did you do that? Omigoh, you're like a bike magician!" 

So there you have it: the connection between continued record breaking weather, exploding spring colors, a new way of commuting and the birth of a chain whisperer. Now how do the Illinois primary elections yesterday fit in? Well, I don't want to make GABROEN a ranting blog about politics, but I would have much preferred to say that the Republican presidential candidates had the Illinois heat going up to their heads and were only temporarily blurting out idiocies. Unfortunately that doesn't seem to be the case - they are outperforming the eight days of warm weather with months of campaigning with bizarre quotes. Suffice it to sum up all that craziness with Rick Sanatorium getting the Dutch up in arms when he claimed that seniors are en masse fleeing The Netherlands  because they are afraid of being euthanized in hospitals for budgetary reasons and the ones that stay wear "don't euthanize me" wristbands. I would never think i would say this, but it sounds to me like Sarah Palin indeed knew more about foreign policy than the good ol' boys running for this year's Republican nomination because she could "see Russia" when she was out in Alaska shooting moose from a helicopter.

I'll just keep my fingers crossed that today's beautiful sunset over Obama's home state Illinois is not a symbol for an end of his era.......... 

GABROEN on behalf of a ranting Jeroen

Mar 18, 2012

Macro Spring

So Spring has decided to arrive early in the Midwest. After the record high temperatures earlier this week, we are now enjoying perfect Spring weather over the weekend. The Chicago Northshore is shaking off the winter like a sleepy animal that loosens its muscles and stretches its joints after months of hibernation. Overactive neighbors are challenging weather statistics by potting tiny plants months before the chances of night frost are truly over, whereas others are finally getting around to cleaning up the sad remnants of last year's gardens. And all of this activity occurs with the backdrop of Sunday sports, with people's excited chattering about the March Madness basketball they are following on TV, radio, laptop or smartphone. 

We had a couple of perennial plants in pots out on our deck last year, but it looks like both the lavender and chive have succumbed to even this mild winter weather. Perhaps this is related to the small planters each was in. The verbena however spent the last 5 months behind our kitchen window soaking up some winter sun while rooting in comfortable inside temperatures and food odors. It sprung back to life about two weeks ago and is promising many splendid glasses of fresh brewed tea for upcoming cool summer nights. One larger planter clearly was equipped to survive the winter, with both peony and african lily buds peeking through the barren soil since Friday. They're still tiny, but I did decide to use money received for my birthday to get another lens - a macro. Or actually a pop-up lens that acts like a magnifying glass when you can attach it to your existing camera lenses. Remember the salt crystals (see the earlier post Winter also has its perks)? Now I can really introduce you to the intriguing world of macro photography, starting with peony buds that are not even an inch across. Just look at how the tiny leaves are neatly lined up.

I still need some more practice with the difficult focusing when your lens plus macro pop-up is only inches away from the object you're taking pictures off, but there's promise for fascinating macro-subjects and for flaming red peonies this summer!

GABROEN on behalf of macro-fan Jeroen

Mar 15, 2012

Stop fiddling with the thermostat

What's happening the last couple of days in Northern Illinois is completely unclear and utterly bizarre. I'm not talking about the behavior of our downstairs neighbor, because that has been strange and annoying for over a year now, not just the last few days. This morning he responded to Gabri's "Good morning! How are you today?" with "Going to earn money". Strange fella, but reasonably average for this neighborhood. There's a post forming in my head about that simple "how are you" question defining so many things American, so stay tuned for a down-to-earth Dutchman's perspective on this, soon posted on GABROEN.

Anyway, I'm talking about the weather. The weather gods are clearly fiddling with the thermostat, or perhaps just got themselves a fancy computerized one and can't figure out how to program it to daylight saving time. Whatever. Yesterday was a record high ever of 81oF (27oC), and temperatures at 11PM still lingered around 77oF (20oC). Very odd to be walking outside mid March in just a T-shirt, or nothing at all if you are a hairless dog. Today was another record high, but also a display of more extreme bizarreness: at 5PM Chicago topped at 80oF (27oC), but at the same time only 20 miles north, temperatures in our neighborhood were 35oF (20oC) lower!

Makes you quickly long for sun filled days strolling along a beach.

Today we apparently did not have to go all the way to Florida; 20 miles south along Lake Michigan would have worked just fine. I guess that also identifies the culprit: the impressive body of water of Lake Michigan is the thermostat of the weather gods. Depending on how the wind blows, we have bizarre things happening. But apparently it has little effect on the behavior of our neighbor - he's a strange fella no matter what.

Mar 8, 2012

Busy beading pentagons.
And see how beautiful Kate's new seamonster clasps are. These are specially made for the mermaid and sea mistress kits. She might still have some kits available. Go see Kate's blog at!

Mar 5, 2012

Living in Tucson...

.....for 10 days is no punishment when it's snowing back home. Today Kate, Jean and I walked to the Double Tree hotel for lunch.

Walking through Kate's neighborhood is a treat in itself. Beautiful historic houses and gorgeous plants everywhere.

We saw a bee.......

and then some more......

We picked some oranges......

It was just a beautiful day. And of course I got some beading done. To tease you a bit; I finished this piece. You will find it in "Contemporary Geometric Beadwork", the new book Kate McKinnon, Jean Power and Dustin Wedekind are writing.

I say goodbye with this picture of a beautiful evening sky.

Gabri on behalf of Gabroen

Mar 4, 2012

Make my day

Ever stared down the barrel of a gun? Like when you can make Clint Eastwood's day? I haven't, but already in my second month in this land of limitless promise and gun lobbyists (not in the least the late great NRA chairman Omega Man a.k.a. Ben Hur a.k.a. Moses) I did have a gun encounter. Location: Atlanta. Also involved: a glam redneck, ass-whooping pickup truck like they only have in Georgia. The gun was shown to me, innocent alien immigrant motorist happening to be waiting for a traffic light next to this metallic fiery red Ford truck, as an indicator signal. In other words, the guy wanted to merge onto my lane, and rather than using his no doubt flashy indicator light, he just nodded vaguely to some empty piece of road in front on me, picked up a handgun that would have made Clint's day for sure, and held it up for 2 seconds for me to see before stacking it on top of his dash and out of my sight.
To understand the South, I thought it was good to start with understanding the Georgia gun laws. So my gun encounter was perfectly lawful - one does not even need a license or registration to "transport a loaded firearm in a private motor vehicle, provided it is carried in an open manner fully exposed to view, or is in the vehicle's glove compartment, console, or similar compartment". In other words, please keep it close by and loaded (!). And even more astounding, the city of Kennesaw in the northwestern suburbs of Atlanta earned the nickname "USA Guntown" when it unanimously passed a law in 1982 requiring every head of household to maintain a firearm together with ammunition. Working in an office only 2 miles from the Kennesaw city limits, this immigrant alien started asking for his co-workers' opinion of this law. You'd be surprised to hear some of the answers, but suffice it to say it's no surprise that this is Newt Gingrich's neck of the woods.

Growing up and watching movies like Dirty Harry and TV shows like Hill Street Blues, Starsky and Hutch, Miami Vice, I got a certain impression of the U.S. and its attitude towards guns. My hope that this was only fictional and dramatized for the big screen had already been shattered by watching the daily local news in my first month here. But I must admit that this gun encounter enlightened me, and it got engraved in some neurons stacked away deep in my brain for six years. Until yesterday that is, when I was putting the finishing touches on my very first beading project. I started beading a gun at last year's Kate&Dustin Beading Summit in Tucson, a plastic gun that I picked up at the local Party City on Tucson's Broadway. The idea behind beading a gun was to contrast the blunt aggression and ugliness of a weapon with the innocent beauty and glamour of shiny beads. Yesterday I was selecting a color for the inside of the barrel, and picked metallic fiery red. A color of love, but now that I think of it - also the exact same color of the Georgia pickup truck that welcomed me to this land of intriguing contrast. It makes my day.......

So even though the local daily news still is horrific, and the race for the Republican presidential candidate is mind-boggling, I do believe in the good of mankind

GABROEN on behalf of Jeroen

Mar 2, 2012

Purring in the sun

Gabri is back to Tucson to help with the final (?!?) stretch of the beading book in the making by Kate, Jean and Dustin. The book is most definitely going to be worth every penny, delica bead, peyote stitch and air-mile traveled; if those Fabulous Four put their minds in sync or in synergy, spectacular things happen. Also, I have seen some of the projects and some of the pictures (so can you in the earlier posts Another marvelous day in the desert and The 'no name will do it justice' experience), and these are even before Kyle Cassidy added his signature spin on them. So trust me, the book is going to be beadalicious.

What better place to be than Tucson, when the Chicago winter is dreading on. Although the 2012 winter is overall still pretty mild, there's another storm coming tomorrow afternoon with up to 6 inches of snow in the forecast. Much better to be purring in the Arizona sunshine. Enjoy, bead magicians, and take in that vitamin D. As in delica with a capital D, or as in a big smiley :D

GABROEN on behalf of Jeroen