Illinois

Coming Home

Hey, it’s good to be back home again.

                             Sometimes this old farm feels like a long lost friend.

               Yes, and hey, it’s good to be back home again.

                               John Denver, refrain from “Back Home Again”



November 3, 2016: The Odyssey is finished, and Odysseus has returned to Ithaca. This was not the 10-year journey that Homer wrote of so many, many years ago, but it was a grand trip for Laura and me, nonetheless. In pursuing this endeavor, we heeded Mark Twain’s advice to, “…throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.” It had been almost two and a half years since we left Chicago, having sold our downtown condominium and placing everything in storage. We moved into our motorhome that we named Charley, after the Steinbeck novel, Travels With Charley: In Search of America, hooked up our small Subaru that we called Toad, and hit the open road in search of America ourselves. Actually, our primary objective in undertaking this trip was to see and experience all 59 of our country’s national parks, which we accomplished when we visited our last park, National Park of American Samoa, in October 2016. In addition to the 59 national parks, we also visited another 126 national park units such as, monuments, memorials, battlefields and historic sites. But as it turned out, visiting the parks was just one element of our own, incredible, 30-month odyssey.

When we were Out There I liked to say that we tried to allow life to just wash over us, and we certainly did our best to immerse ourselves in it. We lifted off with 400 other balloons during opening ceremonies at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta; attended Garrison Keillor’s last A Prairie Home Companion show at the Hollywood Bowl; marveled at the Milky Way sweeping across the night sky above us; were there for Games 4, 5, 6 and 7 of the World Series and saw the Cubs finally win it all; watched a Little League World Series championship game in PA; walked the route of Pickett’s Charge at Gettysburg with a young man in a Confederate Army uniform at sunrise; whitewater rafted down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon; hiked rim to rim across the same canyon to commemorate my 60th; attended a festival of nothing but twins and other multiples; strolled around Thoreau’s Walden Pond; kayaked and camped in pristine wilderness above the Arctic Circle; celebrated New Year’s Eve with former Navy shipmates whom I had not seen in 35 years; stood where Washington crossed the Delaware; watched a lunar eclipse from a mountain top away from the rest of the world; snorkeled in water that was so full of life that it was like swimming in an aquarium; watched stock car races at a dirt track on a Saturday evening in small-town Colorado; met folks who will be lifelong friends; walked our daughter down the aisle; and through Charley’s picture-window windshield watched our awe-inspiring country sweep past us as we drove around this great nation. In truth, there was all of this, and so much more.

Continue reading

Finally!



Any team can have a bad century.

Jack Brickhouse, former Chicago Cubs WGN radio announcer




It had been a long dry spell, a very, very long dry spell. One hundred and eight years to be exact. One hundred and eight years since the Chicago Cubs last won a World Series. One hundred and eight years of many really bad teams. One hundred and eight years of good teams that never quite made it. One hundred and eight years of “just wait until next year.” One hundred and eight years of disappointment with moments of profound heartbreak thrown in for good measure. But as former Cubs WGN radio announcer Jack Brickhouse famously commented, “Any team can have a bad century.”

Just during my lifetime alone, there is the 1969 team which counted four future hall-of-famers on its roster and lost an 8-1/2 game lead in August to the Miracle Mets. As a 13-year-old who worshiped the team’s third baseman Ron Santo and loved the Cubs, them collapsing at the end of the season was devastating. Even today, some 47 years later, I still cannot read or watch anything about that team and their monumental breakdown.

The next moment of extreme disappointment came in 1984 when, Continue reading

A Daughter’s Marriage

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Claire and Kyle – The Happy Couple


When you’re happy you smile. When you’re really happy, your eyes smile.                                 

Unknown

 

October 23, 1954: The wedding service was held at a modest wooden church in the country a few miles outside of Chenoa. It was a simple, tasteful ceremony that was attended by friends of the couple and many family members from the area. There was no elaborate reception at a large hotel or event center, but rather a gathering at the family homestead. After the wedding reception, the young couple said their goodbyes, received a long hug from their parents, and climbed into their car. With one last wave Russell Jolly shifted the car into gear and he and his new wife, Gwendolyn, began to move down the gravel drive toward a new life together. They had their entire lives ahead of them and a little over a year later, their first child, a son they would name Frederick after his Grandfather Jacobs was born. His birth was followed by the birth of three other sons, and their lives would all flow forward, as described by Carl Sandburg, like “a river on which we all drift down, through an unexplored country.”  

February 22, 1990: It is a Thursday afternoon and my wife, Elaine, and I are headed north on US 294 toward Lutheran General Hospital in a driving snowstorm. I try to recall what the weather forecast was for today and hope that whatever is coming holds off just a bit longer. I glance at Elaine and see that she is breathing slowly in and out…in and out…. We pull up to the hospital and direct ourselves to the emergency room entrance, where I drop Elaine off and then look for a parking spot. After parking the car I walk into the emergency room and see that Elaine is sitting in a wheel chair in front of an admission station. A nurse comes up to us and asks why we are there. “My wife is having a baby.” I respond.

The delivery was not a particularly easy one. Pain medication was administered too late, and it became apparent that the baby was in some distress. We both watched as the baby’s heart rate dipped with each contraction. The doctor said that they needed to move the delivery along and asked Elaine to push harder and longer. Finally, our new baby was delivered and we could see the cause of the distress: a knot in the umbilical cord. We did not know the sex of the baby before this moment, but were so pleased to learn from the doctor that it was a girl and that she was in perfect health. We would name her Claire Fleming Jolly and she was absolutely beautiful.    

June 3, 2016: The two of us stand at the end of the aisle and watch as those in attendance rise as one. My daughter, Claire, is holding my left arm and we just pause here a moment as the first notes of Edelweiss begin. Claire has chosen this song for her wedding march as this was a song that I would sing to comfort her when she was a baby. We can see her future husband, Kyle, standing at the informal altar looking very serious and then he smiles. I know that Claire is nervous (glad to have her as part of the club) so I look at her and quote a funny line from one of our favorite films, The Princess Bride: “Mawwiage…ohhh mawwiage, is what brings us together today.” Claire laughs and then I say, “Let’s light this candle.” She smiles and replies, “Let’s do this.” And takes the first steps into her new future.

The planning for this shindig began well in advance of this day. It had been almost 18 months since Claire and Kyle became engaged and started planning for the wedding. Finding just the right venue was the first priority and after much research and many visits to prospective locations, they landed on a very unique place called Salvage One, which is an antique complex in Chicago by day, and a beautiful event setting at night. However, there was a bit of a complication when it came to securing hotel rooms for those traveling from out of town like ourselves, as the wedding was the same weekend as the international oncology conference which filled up almost every hotel in the city. But Claire’s mother and her husband came to the rescue and found rooms out by O’Hare near the CTA Blue Line and arranged to have buses shuttle guests to and from the wedding site.

Since we are on the road, we were not able to participate as much in the planning, but the kids did a great job of fully analyzing each aspect of the wedding, keeping us apprised of their progress, and providing a running tally on the cost. Ouch. Laura volunteered to coordinate one of the most important elements associated with the evening, the bar offerings. She also arranged for us to have 100 tickets at the Cubs game the day after the wedding and a message welcoming the wedding group put up on the scoreboard during the game. I was very proud of how much noise the group made when our greeting flashed up on the board. And to top things off, the Cubs came from behind to beat the Arizona Diamondbacks 5-3.

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The wonderful rehearsal dinner hosted by Kyle’s parents at a Mexican restaurant really set the tone for the weekend of activities – marguerites and a fun wedding party and family certainly did not hurt any. All of this was preceded by two lovely showers that we were able to attend when we came back for my birthday in March. With every occasion and event I had the same reaction: I could not believe that all of this, everything, was for my daughter and her future husband. It seemed somewhat surreal that they were at the center of this and everything was revolving around them. I know that Claire felt the same way as I asked her many times about it. Not to check her level of gratitude, but rather because all of this was happening to the little girl to whom I had sung Edelweiss so many years ago.

Finally, we come to the wedding celebration and it was everything that we hoped it would be: a beautiful and heartfelt wedding ceremony that was written by Claire and Kyle and officiated by Kyle’s identical twin brother, Andy; a joyous reception party with family and friends dancing until we were kicked out of the place at midnight; plenty of wonderful food and drink; delicious assorted pies instead of the traditional cake because the bride does not like cake; and love, much, much love. My role in all of this was really pretty straight forward: get my daughter safely down the aisle, and later that evening, deliver a father-of-the-bride toast.

The former responsibility was fairly easy as all I had to do was keep us between the pews on either side of the aisle as we made our way to the altar. On the other hand, I did fret a bit about my toast as I wanted to do it as well as I could given the importance of the occasion. I did research on suggested approaches to my comments and toast, and managed to pull together something that did not drone on too long, and conveyed my thanks to all who joined us on the blessed occasion and my heartfelt feelings about the bride and groom. I also thought about how proud my mother and father would have been of the wonderful person that Claire had become. I concluded my toast with a quote I had once heard, “When you’re happy you smile. When you’re really happy, your eyes smile.” And on this day, in this place, both Claire’s and Kyle’s eyes were beaming from ear to ear.

From this day on their lives will flow forward guided by past generations just as they will guide future generations. So it is with families, those who come after us are in many ways simply a collective being of those who came before.

  …To be continued by future generations…


A New Life Together: Russell and Gwendolyn (1954) and Claire and Kyle (2016)

A wedding and an anniversary

Something really big happened to us this past weekend — our daughter got married!  Our hearts were overflowing with pride, joy, and love as Claire married Kyle.  From the moment we met him we could see the sparkle in her eyes and knew that he was special.  He’s truly the man of her dreams.

I’ve elaborated on Facebook for our friends so I’m not going to share much more about this family event here on our travel blog, but suffice it to say that our weekend back in Chicago was dreamy!  The ceremony was short, sweet, funny, and meaningful, and the reception was one for the decades!  And now Kyle and Claire are Mr. & Mrs.!
Claire's Wedding Collage
That shared, we had another big event this past week but our time commitments with the above-mentioned wedding prevented me from posting about it.  But now we are back from the wedding festivities and almost fully recovered from all of the hullabaloo, so now it’s time to go back and mark our big anniversary — WE HAVE BEEN ON THE ROAD FOR TWO YEARS!!  My next post will share some reflections and photos from these past two years….

Returning to Mecca

It had been over two years since I visited one of my favorite places. The last two years have certainly taken us to many extraordinary destinations: exciting events like balloon festivals, film festivals and other wonderful festivals, visits at the homes of numerous family and friends, historic and hallowed battlefields, and beautiful national parks. But my memories of the place that I recently visited go back, way, way back, some 47 years. And this special place: The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.

My first visit to Wrigley was in 1969 at the age of 13 when the Chenoa Little League made a trip to Chicago to see the Cubs play the Atlanta Braves. A couple busloads of kids and coaches made the trip to the big city to watch the game on a warm Tuesday afternoon in August. The Cubs were in the middle of a pennant drive and every game was important. As a young Cubs fan it was incredibly exciting to see a game in their home ballpark, a place that up until this time I had only seen on television. A Cubs pitcher by the name of Ken Holtzman was on the mound that afternoon in front of a capacity crowd of over 37,000 fans and he did something that you rarely see in baseball, he pitched a no-hitter. My all-time sports hero Ron Santo, the Cubs third baseman, hit a three-run homer that were the only runs that either team would score that day. Before the game I bought a scorecard and pencil and my friend, Wes Wiles, showed me how to record the various events in the game using the scorecard and special symbols. I still have that scored score card recording the monumental event that we witnessed that day.

Last Saturday I returned to Wrigley to catch a game with Laura, Claire and soon-to-be son-in-law, Kyle, and see for the first time the changes that have occurred to the old ballpark over the past two years. And while we did not see a no-hitter on this occasion, the Cubs ace Jake Arrieta pitched a gem and the Cubs soundly defeated the Colorado Rockies. (As an aside, in his next start, against the Reds in Cincinnati, Arrieta would indeed pitch a no-hitter, the second of his career.) The ballpark now has two very large video boards in addition to the manual scoreboard in center field, as well as other “improvements.” It was a complete sellout and it appeared that the rooftops that rim the outfield walls were filled to capacity as well. I would also say that the excitement level throughout the game was as high as I have ever seen it. This is one special place and one special team. It was a wonderful afternoon of baseball and in addition to the game, we also had the opportunity to revisit a number of family traditions associated with the ballpark.

For as long as I can remember, I have been practicing certain rituals when I take in a game at Wrigley. If I am meeting someone, we will often rendezvous at a bar near the park and I will have an Old Style beer while we talk about the Cubs prospects for the season. Well in advance of the first pitch, I will head to the park and swing by the Ron Santo statue at the corner of Addison and Sheffield to pay my respects. While in the past, I would now enter the park, I now have another stop to make before heading in. As part of the renovation project, the sidewalks along Sheffield and Waveland are constructed of individual, personalized bricks, with the names of Cubs greats on large granite pavers inserted into the sidewalks every 20 feet or so. In addition to the statue, Ron Santo is also memorialized along Sheffield with one of these pavers, and for my 60th birthday Claire and Kyle had a brick inserted right above the paver for Mr. Santo that reads: F.R. JOLLY – OUR FAVORITE FAN, MUCH LOVE, C&K (A photo of the Santo paver and my brick is below.). One of the best birthday gifts ever. So going forward this will be a stop as well before walking around to the park to the main entrance at Clark and Addison where I always enter under the red Wrigley Field marquee that was installed in 1934. I then walk straight through the narrow concourse to the set of stairs right behind home plate and ascend them as the most beautiful vista in all of sports opens up: ivy-covered brick walls, vibrant green grass, the reddish dirt of the perfectly sculpted infield, the iconic scoreboard in center field and the rooftops beyond. I always pause for a few moments on that top step to take it all in.

So on this sunny and cool day I watched the game I love in one of my favorite places on this green earth, and saw the team from my youth win, something that is not always the case, but pure bliss when it does occur. But there was a moment that afternoon when I just sat in my seat down the left field line surrounded by the hum of the crowd, and thought back to that magical day in August, 47 years in the past when Wes Wiles and I snuck down into the box seating area behind the Cubs dugout to watch the last inning…Felipe Alou, the Braves first batter, hits a popup towards short that Don Kessinger catches for the first out of the top half of the ninth. Everyone is on their feet clapping and cheering and waiting for the next batter. The next hitter, Felix Millan, hits a sharp ground ball to Santo at third that he cleanly fields and throws to first for out number two. Only one to go as we watch Henry Aaron step into the batter’s box and smoothly take a couple of practice swings. Holtzman looks in for the sign. The sound of the crowd is deafening as he begins his windup and then strides toward the plate. The great home run hitter swings, but instead of driving the ball over the ivy-covered walls, he hits a sharp grounder to the right side of the infield that second baseman Glenn Beckert catches and smoothly throws to Ernie Banks at first for the final out. I throw my arms into the air and scream at the top of my lungs, but my screams of pure, unadulterated excitement are lost in an enormous black hole of collective sound. 

Images from our afternoon at Wrigley Field are below. The last photo is of Claire and me taken back in 1990 on the occasion of Claire’s first Cubs game. She is three-months old.    

If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in a photo set.  The sets are arranged to be viewed from the upper left corner across. To close a photo set, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.


A DAY AT THE PARK





April Showers

Claire & Kyle
Claire & Kyle… soon to be Mr. & Mrs.

We’ve been in and out of Chicago for the last three weeks to, among other things, attend a couple of showers given for our favorite bride and groom, Claire and Kyle.  With the nuptials just seven weeks away and nearly all of the planning and details taken care of, we are all now just enjoying the countdown.

Don & Tracy M., long-time friends of Claire and her mom Elaine, hosted a couples shower where guests rallied around the Stock the Bar theme and helped the happy couple build out their bar.  Glassware, plenty of liquor and some other fun presents — it was a great shower with a great theme, and a great time was had by all!

Aunt Cathy and Aunt Laura, Elaine’s sister and sister-in-law, and cousin Beth, hosted another shower for the ladies only that included the women in Claire’s big, extended family as well as her seven bridesmaids.  Set at the elegant Omni Hotel in downtown Chicago, we all enjoyed a very nice luncheon during which we pampered Claire with gift certificates and girly girl items to get her ready for her big day.

 If you click on a photo, you can see a larger version of it.  You can also use the arrows at the bottom (click on the photo if they disappear on you) to scroll through all the photos in the photo series.  To close the series, click on the ‘X’ in the top right corner.

There will be one more shower later in the month where Claire, Elaine, and their very artistic friends are going to work on some decor to be featured at the wedding venue on the big day, then it’s just four more weeks until we all shower the happy couple with our love and best wishes on their big day — 06-03-16 — it’s almost here!

The Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field

Fred with his brickToday is Opening Day for the Cubs!  Actually the game is this evening, but that’s just getting technical now, isn’t it…?  The Cubs are back at Wrigley after a very successful spring training season out in Arizona [we went to opening day out there; see my Spring Training post] and today begins what is going to finally, after more than a century(!!), be our big run to take it all and become the World Series Champions of 2016!  For the time being, let’s just leave aside the fact that our best power slugger is out for the season; the rest of the team is surely going to rally behind him and tally the hits and runs we were expecting from Schwarber this season.

Going to opening day is a tradition of ours, but due to terrible planning on the part of this CLO, we flew down to North Carolina to visit Daddy and Joan and Kelsey one day before opening day back up in Chicago where we have been spending time on and off for the last three weekends — how could I have been so sloppy in my planning?!?  Surely I should have paid more attention to the Cubs schedule, planned to join our friends for the game tonight at Wrigley, then flown down here tomorrow.  But alas, I didn’t, and so we’ll hopefully be watching on TV tonight and then look forward to attending a game when we get back to Chicago.

Fred's brick from Claire & KyleBut alas, all is not so terrible.  We were up in the Wrigleyville neighborhood on Friday and found the paver that Claire & Kyle had created for Fred in celebration of his recent birthday.  And with a little help from a friend, they were able to have it placed right next to the memorial brick of his all-time favorite baseball hero, the legendary Ron Santo.  Ron was the third baseman for the Cubs back when little Freddie was third baseman for his Little League team in Chenoa.  How special is that…?!?  

As of yesterday, we have decided to stick around Chicago for another weekend, our fourth now, so we can take in the Cubs vs. Diamondbacks game on Saturday afternoon before heading back west to meet back up with Charley and continue our Out There journey….

Fred with his hero
Fred with his baseball hero, the late, great Ron Santo, who played third base for the Cubs from 1960 – 1973.  Ask Fred about his Ron Santo memorabilia collection sometime…!

Hoop Dreams

Monday, April 4th — After another fabulous long weekend in Chicago and lots more celebrating and partying which I’ll write about soon, we are now at Mom’s up here in Appleton where we’ll spend a few days visiting with her and my sister and her family.

It’s basketball weekend, and as I write this post we are watching the NCAA Championship game.  It’s clear who Daddy & Joan are cheering for down in North Carolina.  On the other side of the court and on another coast, nephew Kyle in Galveston is all in with Villanova as he picked them to win it all in his work pool.  Since my Badgers lost in the Sweet 16, I’m not as interested in the outcome as I was last year, but if I’m forced to choose, I’ll side with Fred and go with ‘anyone but NC.’  [I may have just shot myself in the foot as we’re visiting our NC family next week — sorry guys, I really don’t mean it!]

Matthew Wade & the Skills - tournament champions!
Skills First Team — Champions of the NY2LA Swish & Dish 14 & under AAU Bronze Championship.  My nephew, Matthew, is second from the left; the player next to the coach — handsome, smart, and a great baller!

On the subject of basketball, our drive to Wisconsin from Chicago yesterday found us hooking up with one of my best buddies, Will, and his family up in Milwaukee.  Will & Lizzette’s son, Matthew, was playing in an AAU 14 & Under basketball tournament, so we joined them at one of the local high schools to watch Matt and his team make up a 20-point deficit and win by a couple to put them into the finals of their division.  Unfortunately we couldn’t stay for the final game as we were due up at Mom’s for dinner, but the team went on to win the championship game by 15 points!  Taking after his dad who was a high school and college basketball stud himself back in his day, Matthew soared with 18 points, 8 rebounds, and 7 assists.  Way to go Matthew!  And congratulations to your entire team!  It was fun watching you play.  Your Auntie Laura and Uncle Fred look forward to watching you continue to develop your skills and play in high school and then at the college level.

And speaking yet some more of basketball, Villanova just won.  Congrats on winning your pool, Kyle!

So many park units… so little time to write about them!

We are on a tear — ten national park units in nine days!  We’ve seen so many wonderful park units on our drive from Salt Lake City to Chicago!!  We were very excited to travel through Colorado where we visited the Colorado Monument, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Curecanti National Recreation Area, Old Bent’s Fort National Historic Site and Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site.  And then there was Kansas where we visited Fort Larned National Historic Site and the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site.  Next came Missouri where we visited the Harry S. Truman National Historic Site.  And finally we made it to Illinois where we visited the Lincoln Home National Historic Site, Lincoln Museum, and the Old State Capital State Historic Site.  Although not a national park property, we also visited the Dwight D. Eisenhower National Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene, Kansas.  And finally, we traveled on or over several national historic trails including the Santa Fe Trail, the Lewis & Clark Trail, the California National Historic Trail, the Oregon National Historic Trail and the Underground Railroad Freedom Network.  Yes, that’s a lot of places to visit — I hope I remembered them all!


It’s killing me, but I’m not going to have the time to write specifically about each of these fabulous park units, but they do each deserve attention.  The forts were wonderfully re-constructed and we loved seeing how they were appointed with period-appropriate pieces, props, and supplies.  We had dinner with NPS ranger friends April and Cris when we visited Curecanti NRA — such a treat to see them again in a different park from when we first met each of them last August!  We spoke with and learned from several other incredibly knowledgeable and helpful interpretive NPS rangers at several of the other sites who made their pieces of history come much more to life — too many to name and thank, but we know you and remember you and thank you!  [Dexter A. at Brown v. Board — we look forward to seeing you up in Denali in July!]

Alas, we are in Chicago now and there’s so much going on here as we prepare to celebrate Fred’s big birthday, see friends and family members, and celebrate the upcoming wedding of daughter Claire and almost-son-in-law Kyle at two bridal showers in the coming couple of weeks.  These incredible park units are now in our rear view mirror but we loved visiting all of them and we would recommend each and every one of them for making our country’s history come alive.