Mar 27, 2014


The good news is: several people have inquired when the next GABROEN blog will be posted, meaning that there are people who not only read, but who are actually looking forward to these linguistic concoctions. The bad news is: it has been a challenge to find time to concoct, at least linguistically. GABROEN did spend time concocting cocktails, a newly found hobby as well as an outlet for a chemist who's last lab experiment was over a decade ago. Last weekend was the most intriguing mixology experiment yet, boiling resin from the Boswellia tree into an intense syrup, and mixing that with aromatic bitters, citrus juices and gin into something reminiscent of walking into a Roman Catholic church service.

Besides that mass in a glass, not much else came to fruition last weekend. In the past, only the better half of GABROEN used to devour magazines as a pleasant leisure pastime, but lately the men's periodicals have been equally piling up around our house. So last weekend was devoted to catching up on some of those piles, in front of the fireplace. I believe I have read through at least a dozen issues, some current but some more than a year old. The good news is that it feels pretty good to be all Esquired, Detailed, Dwelled, Afarred and Mentally Flossed, and equally good to carry a full bag out of the house and into the paper recycling bins. The bad news is that it made just a small dent in the piles, smaller than the dent in my self awareness that weekends are really too short and leisure time is too valuable to be spent reading articles about the 2012 Summer Olympics after the 2014 Winter Games have concluded.

A friend recently mentioned that as a 22-year old in her first job, she was tasked to create a bucket list of 100 items she wanted to do/see/accomplish in her lifetime. A pretty interesting assignment to get paid for, but also food for thought in between ploughing through the magazines. Regardless, I'm sure there's merit well beyond pay, as such a list provides perspective on how to spend, and prioritize one's time. Mixing in the final ingredient for this concoction, one magazine article I read over the weekend was about a 4800 year old bristlecone pine in California called Methusalem, possibly the oldest living organism on our planet. Not sure if the picture that came with the article was of that very pine tree (see below), because the 'living' part is somewhat questionable.

But the tree got me thinking about the relativity of a lifetime, the relativity of how we experience time, and life time experiences. While I am writing this I am actually in flight to Athens, and it's mentally flossing and humbling to realize that this Methusalem is twice as old as the famous Parthenon on the Acropolis.

The bad news is: all this magazine reading and pondering about time management has kept me from blogging the next GABROEN post. The good news is that writing a few lines about magazine reading and time management pondering just turned into a blog post nonetheless. More to follow, hopefully at a higher pace than in the past few months, because I sure ain't Methusalem.

Mar 2, 2014

Spring is in the head

Okay, it's official. This Chicago winter, with its polar vortices, arctic surges and Alberta clippers was one for the books. Meteorologically it is over, as the local weathermen and -girls (for some reason unbeknownst to me, the local weathermen are typically past their 50s, but the -women are under 30) count the months of December, January and February as their 'official' winter. Over the last 3 months we got 67.4 inches of snow, which makes the 2013/14 winter the third snowiest since record keeping begun. What made it more cabin-feverish was the average temperature of 18.8 degrees F (-7 degrees C), or the third coldest winter on record. Put a lot of snow and butt freezing temperatures together and even die-hard Chicagoans turn into a complaining bunch.

It started to feel somewhat heroic to deal with this weather, although GABROEN must admit that the cabin fever was becoming a little stifling. But rather than joining the growing army of complainers, we did a couple of things to break the mold and lift our spirits.

We moved furniture and paintings around, installed better lighting, and traded in Gabri's Mazda 3 with its fun-in-the-sun, but dangerously snow-sliding front wheel drive, for another all wheel drive Subaru. This trade-in equals Gabri not being able to safely leave home for at least one out of every three days lately, to Gabri excited when the roads are not yet plowed as the Subaru is built for this gruesome weather.

Another great way to lift our spirits was during the last 5 days of this long winter - we were happy to leave for Arizona where the temperatures were actually higher than average. Stay tuned for details of this trip in other posts in the coming days, but suffice it to say that it replenished our pitiful vitamin D levels and warmed our bone marrow. We returned yesterday, March 1, the official start of Spring, at least in the minds of our weathermen. It looks like we're gonna need all the vitamin D we've got, as we landed in the middle of winter-storm Titan with another 6 inches of snow, crews plowing landing strips and de-icing planes, and only a handful of taxis braving the roads.

Luckily for us, our pre-arranged ride was an all wheel drive, and the driver was willing to chip in a few extra hours - of the regular 200 cars this company has riding around for airport pickups, only he and one other guy were showing up.

So let's see what March has in store for us; I'm sure it's going to take at least another 10 weeks and 2 jars of multivitamin pills before the crocuses we spotted in Arizona will show up in Illinois. All wheel drive makes it much easier to bear, it's just too bad that that doesn't solve the precarious process of digestive emissions of a mexican hairless dog in this record-breaking weather. Ruba is the true heroine of this story, complaining just a little and just happy to see us return to the feverish cabin..........

Jan 13, 2014

Alberta Clipper

After last week's polar vortex caused butt-freezingly low temperatures (see the post Polar vortex), GABROEN will be treated to another weather phenomenon. The National Weather Service issued a special weather statement for our area for tomorrow, warning for a so-called 'Alberta Clipper'. Not to be confused with a 'Manitoban Mauler' or 'Saskatchewan Screamer' - I'm not making this up, believe me. All three terms are related, describing a low pressure winter storm that originates in Canada and moves rapidly across the Midwest and Great Lakes. The difference between the three is where the storm originates, most commonly in the Canadian Province of Alberta, and rarely in the other two.

So we'll get ready for another clipper rolling over us tomorrow, which should come with rapidly dropping temperatures and strong winds. Wind chills, ahoy!
The area got beaten up hard last week, first from a foot of snow and then from subzero temperatures. Chicago's already spent 60% of its Winter 2014 snow removal budget, just in the first week of the year. Most of it went to salting and plowing the roads, but a good chunk also got poured into filling potholes. The roads got seriously wrecked in just one week. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel even declared a 'war on potholes', ordering crews to work 7 days a week till April to fill up as many of those tire-popping, axle-wrecking babies in the city's roadways. Supposedly they already filled 20,000 since the temperatures returned to more asphalt-friendly levels last Thursday.

The mayor of our small neighbor town of Highwood seems to be less militaristic in his approach than Rahm E., or perhaps he's more budget-savvy, or more indifferent to the whole pothole thing. At least that's what it looked like when GABROEN drove through town on Saturday. Kind of like a cluster bomb impact, as if the potholes had declared a war on Highwood instead. Or maybe it's the Canadians with their arctic cyclones, clippers and screamers.

The potholes are filled with melted snow water by now, and I'm sure tomorrow's Alberta Clipper will do wonders in rapidly freezing them and turning Highwood's roads in a concrete Emmenthaler cheese. An old Dutch cheese commercial boasted: "the holes is where the flavor is". Not a particularly convincing slogan, and no particular analogy with the condition of our roads.

Jan 7, 2014

Record cracking?

So the polar vortex (see the post of 2 days ago by clicking on: Polar vortex) indeed came to pay us a visit. Was it cold around here? Hell yes, it sure was. Is it still cold around here? Hell yes, it sure is, still. Was it record-breaking cold? Uhm, that's a more complicated question to answer. Yes and no. Yesterday's low temperature of -16ºF (-27ºC) at 8 a.m. was the lowest ever measured on a January 6th, but still some ways off the all-time low of -27ºF (-33ºC). Yesterday's high was measured just after midnight, and was not even close to the all time lowest high temperature of -11ºF (-23ºC). That said, we never got warmer than -13ºF (-24ºC) during the day yesterday, and that is cold. That was colder than Anchorage Alaska, colder even than the Amundsen Weather Station on the South Pole. Hell yes, that was as cold as in the crater on Mars where NASA's Curiosity is nosing around, 200 million kilometers further away from the sun!
I'm sure it does make a difference to be 200 million kilometers closer; we had beautiful brisk blue skies and plenty of sunshine yesterday, which looked quite appealing from the comfort of our heated home. But wind chills of -40 (the only temperature that is the same in either ºF or ºC) are no cat pee - that's Dutch for pretty darn serious. The warnings for frostbite of exposed skin were no cat pee either, but how does one deal with a hairless dog's pee in this weather? Although this seems like a recipe for an inevitable Ruba Crisis, the solution is twofold. Number one, these temperatures - as well as GABROEN's persistence - turn out to be sufficiently frigid to overcome Ruba's initial stubborn reluctance to do number 1 on a pad in our bathroom. Second, all dressed up in a slim fit thermal suit + fleece body suit + padded wind jacket + snow booties, but by default with private parts exposed, she needs 45 seconds tops to do number 2 and hurry back in. It still is a little challenging for a 16 year old with diminishing bladder control to go through the 5 minutes of dressing up, but GABROEN has the routine down by now and she takes it like a grumpy diva.

Albeit far from balmy, today was a little warmer: we got to +1ºF (-17ºC). The heaps of snow from clearing the entry way to our parking garage create a nice barrier for the frigid winds, at least at Ruba's height, so she spent a luxurious full minute out this afternoon. I still have to take Ms. Diva out once more tonight, and the forecast calls for snow and -6ºF (-21ºC) tomorrow, before warming up to just above freezing over the weekend. Wish her luck and expeditious bowels, and wish GABROEN expeditious dressing skills.

Jan 5, 2014

Polar vortex

As several blog followers correctly noted, GABROEN has been off the airwaves (or, to be more precise, off the glass optic fiber waves, but that doesn't sound as catchy) for a few months. But with the new year come new opportunities, so we're back on as of today. This is not so much a new year's resolution, as that term should be reserved for things that are a major challenge or a major bore, or both. This is a renewed attempt to connect with family and friends, existing or in the future, using a little more substance than the snippet captions of Facebook and Instagram.

And what better substance for the first blog post of 2014 than what has all social media buzzing already: winter storm Hercules that is plummeting a large part of the US into a deep freeze. The climate in Illinois creates all kinds of new experiences for GABROEN.

We were getting used to severe weather after living for 4 years in Georgia, as well as to the sometimes strangely poetic descriptions of the local weather that the Weather Channel comes up with, but the weather in Illinois comes with a whole new vocabulary. And the Weather Channel now came up with something else: in this Twitter-frenzy era, they started last year with naming snow storms hitting the US, similar to the decades old tradition of naming tropical hurricanes. They seem to have been thinking that a name like this week's 'Hercules' creates more buzz and tweets than having to spend too many of the valuable 140 tweet characters to say 'the snow storm hitting Midwest early Jan 2014'.

Apparently the passing of Hercules not only dumped over a foot of snow on us (currently at 14" or about 40cm since new year's eve), but it opened up the door for a polar vortex. This is a large arctic cyclone that persist year round at close to the North Pole, and occasionally dips down to pay a visit to the US, sort of like a frigid Santa Claus. This time the vortex is forecast to dip down pretty extensively, all the way to the Deep South, with temperatures in Atlanta below those in Alaska. Temperatures in Northern Illinois currently are dropping with about 2 degrees F each hour, and are bound to end up at -17 degrees F (-26 degrees C) tonight. It's still several degrees away from the all-time low of -27 degrees F, but combined with cyclone winds gusting at 30 mph you get a crisis situation for a Mexican Hairless trained for 17 years to do her thing outside. By tomorrow, we are not getting much warmer, and will likely not top the lowest daytime high temperature of -11 degrees F (-23 degrees C). GABROEN will report out in a next post whether that record will indeed be crashed, like when the 5 feet long icicles decorating our gutters will inevitably come crashing down at some point. We may even venture out for a minute, just to experience what such frigidness feels like.

Wishing all a happy New Year with many new experiences, and may the polar vortex not be on your side of the globe.