my Mom and Dad's getaway place - Oxford, WI - 11-26-16

It’s day nine of a 12-day Thanksgiving break and I say hello from Oxford, Wisconsin where my parents have a getaway place on a small lake.

We came up Friday midday and will spend four nights here before I return to New York.

My folks have enlisted a real estate guy to sell their Wisconsin “cabin” which is actually a three-bedroom home that sits in splendid isolation.

I’ve only visited here perhaps ten times since they had the place built some sixteen years ago. It’s an hour north of Madison. Since I don’t drive except in a rare non-highway pinch, it would be impractical to reach alone, so I’ve always been shuttled here either by my parents or my brothers.

This post-Turkey day visit to Oxford will likely be my farewell to the cabin. My parents are unsure how quick it will sell. They’re not at all in a rush to unload it but have reached a life stage that includes initiation of a retreat from responsibilities that may infringe on what could eventually be a more challenging core day-to-day mission.

My personal takeaway memory of the “cabin” will be its quietness and the legitimate feeling while you’re here that you’ve gotten away from it all.

If I wrote novels or had some kind of affliction that would be soothed by fleeing the bustle, it would be a great place to run off to for an extended hiatus.

The lake this place sits on prohibits watercraft with motors and there’s no vehicular traffic to speak of.

Funny now because the silence I spoke of has been broken at the moment by my Dad’s leaf-blower.

We did Thanksgiving day at my brother Tim’s house in Park Ridge. Two 12-pound turkeys served 24 guests. Tim used Weber smokers to cook the birds slathered in a herb/butter rub. Sitting above the coal/wood heat for a little more than three and a half hours, the trick was to maintain a pretty steady 275 F temp throughout. Manipulation of the air vents and a rustling of the coals served that goal and the meat came out pretty tasty. Smoky but not overbearing. Moist.

The other highlight was Cub Fan Dan’s cherry pie. Made the day before, it was bursting with flavor. The filling had vibrant color and perfect texture. The crust was delish.

Ninety minutes after this big extended family gathering had consumed its last piece of pie and last glass of wine, nobody was leaving. It’s as if we were all so full, we couldn’t move. At some point, it felt as if everybody was waiting for someone else to be the first to exit.

Earlier in the week, I saw Julia Steiner’s Ratboys at the Hungry Brain on Belmont near Western. Playing as just a duo (Dave Sagan on electric and Steiner on acoustic), the audience got several new Ratboys songs during the 40 or so minute set. Steiner said the band will return to four-piece status on yet-to-be-announced dates early next year. Steiner’s voice is great in story-telling mode. Happy, whimsical.

My favorite Ratboys number is a Steiner ode to her letter carrier. Named “Postman Song,” it failed to make the playlist on Monday night.

On Thanksgiving eve, I went downtown and had a couple of Detroit-style pizza slices at Union Squared inside the Revival food hall on Clark. Very good.

I also made my maiden visit to Half Acre’s tap room on Lincoln Avenue. Packed with beer fans, I lucked into a seat at the bar and started with a small glass of the Navaja. One of Half Acre’s permanent brews, Navaja is a stiff double IPA, a full 10 on the richter. The description of Navaja in the Half Acre menu is accurate: “Aggressive in nature but soft on the eyes, this bully will befriend you and attack your decision making sectors.”

An adjoining but separate Half Acre space sells merch and take-away brew. I got a big jug of the Space (super tasty IPA with alternating sniffs of caramel and fruitiness) for the turkey day gathering. My brother and I polished off most of it before the guests arrived. We had a rare and enjoyable sipping session while keeping an eye on the smokers.

On Sunday, my parents and I take a ride down to Madison to see the men’s Badgers hoops team.

-A couple things on the Michigan/Ohio State game. First: Francesa said the day Harbaugh was hired that we would get games like this sooner rather than later. Mike guaranteed the rivalry’s rejuvenation the moment Harbaugh was welcomed in Ann Arbor. It’s so nice to have this annual game with the early kickoff mean so much yet again. It was indeed a classic. Both rosters are loaded with future NFL stars. Peppers is a genuine throwback. The Michigan QB Wilton Speight had a bad game but is a talented signal caller/passer with a skill set that would seem to guarantee success at the next level. Shout out of course to Erasmus Hall High in Brooklyn which was the school Curtis Samuel went to before getting the unlikely pitch from Urban Meyer to come to Columbus. The incredible 3rd and long run in double OT by Samuel will be remembered for a long time. What’s disappointing in the wake of how this battle turned out is the fact the Big 10 Conference now insists on an extra game to settle the league’s title. It was silly from the start and this year, especially so. Neither Michigan nor Ohio State will play for the conference championship – and yet both can make a claim for a spot in the four-team national title playoff. Let’s say Wisconsin blows out Penn State in a week, shouldn’t the Badgers get in ahead of Michigan given its distinction as Big 10 champ? Will the league’s alignment and revenue-motivated extra game end up tarnishing its own excellence? Ohio State is safe and in some ways likely happy it can sit out the extra game without harming its drive for the big prize. Michigan may be on the outside looking in although the performance Saturday convinced me they’re worthy of a top-four-in-the-land distinction. We’ll see. But Harbaugh has Michigan back to stay long-term it appears.

Glenbard West/Loyola - Duchon Field - Glen Ellyn, IL - 11-19-16

In suburban Chicago for an extended Thanksgiving break.

I flew in just ahead of the strong cold front that passed through here late Friday morning.

My brother Chris is a big supporter of his town’s high school football team and so he was really pumped up for Saturday’s 8A state playoff semifinal game between Glenbard West and Loyola Academy.   We visited Duchon Field Friday afternoon as school was letting out to inspect the condition of the grass playing surface after the rain and it appeared in fine shape.

My Dad and Cub fan Dan joined us Saturday morning for the short walk from my brother’s home over to the football field.  A guy named Joe and his son sell hot dogs from a cart set up in the park near Duchon.  Three bucks.  A Vienna Beef frank with all the trimmings.

About an hour before kickoff, West’s squad warmed up on their practice field atop a hill near the gymnasium.  A long freight train passed by as the players stretched out.  It was 37 degrees with a stiff wind out of the northwest.  We could hear the head coach’s pep talk and then got to witness the great Glenbard West football tradition my brother has talked about a lot in recent years.

With the percussion section of the school’s marching band leading the way, the team walked hand-in-hand down the hill to the football field.  It’s a great scene.  Supporters yelled out words of encouragement.

It was clear from the outset of this game that Glenbard West was badly outsized in the trenches.  Loyola’s linemen were of the 240 and up variety whereas Glenbard’s guys were a good 40 pounds smaller on average.

It was 7-7 with 90 seconds left in the first half and it appeared Glenbard’s game management and bend/not break defense would keep it interesting.  But the tide turned just before halftime when Loyola’s versatile and brawny pass catcher Jake Marwede got away with a push-off and a big gainer on a reception down the left side.   He caught a jump ball in the end zone a few plays later and Loyola walked into halftime up a TD.

Marwede is 6-5 and headed to Duke.  He reeled off a couple runs out of Wildcat formation to start the second half.  The utter physical dominance unfurled on those two up-the-gut carries by Marwede effectively demoralized West.  The game felt over at that point.

Loyola used Marwede sparingly enough to make all of their other offensive weapons extra-dangerous given the distracting concern and focus on the big guy’s game-changing ability.

42-13 was the final.  The Catholic school on suburban Chicago’s north shore is the undefeated 8A champ and will be favored to win another title next Saturday.

There is much to debate about the way Illinois arranges its high school football postseason.  The Catholic schools who put an emphasis on athletics can assemble squads without the  geographical constraints imposed on the public schools.  There can also be controversy associated with the seeding and classification of schools via a formula that includes enrollment and other factors.  The bottom line for me is that it’s an inclusive competition with very healthy community support.  The governing body of high school sports here has a reputation for responsiveness with an evolving management approach.  To box out the parochial schools would make it less interesting.  In fact, Loyola and Glenbard West had never met in football before Saturday.  Two great programs came together via the inclusive ISHA system and that’s cool.  I’d estimate the crowd at 5000.  Members of Glen Ellyn’s fire department presented the flags during the band’s rendition of the national anthem.

We’ve had some good beer the last few days.  A beer shop near my brother’s house sells all of Chicago’s good stuff.  The “Ninja vs. Unicorn” made by Pipeworks is a super tasty double.  We visited Alter’s tap room on Sunday and really enjoyed their “Alterior Motive” IPA.