unPHILtered – Phil Ponce's Blog

Regaining Paradise

I’ve heard it said that gardening and religion are the obsessions of middle-age. I won’t burden you with my fragmented thoughts on religion, but I will ‘fess up to an obsession with gardening. When I look at an empty lot, my imagination brims with images of grasses, hostas, cone flowers, sedum, ferns and all the plants that do well in our area.

And I can’t help it. I stare longingly when I pass a garden center. And if I’m not in a rush (and alone), I will probably stop to see what’s available and seldom leave empty-handed. My wife indulges my passion for plants; I assume she thinks it’s relatively benign.

Actually, I think gardening and religion may be connected. I’ve often wondered if the interest in creating a beautiful garden stems from a deep-seated desire to re-create paradise–the one that was lost when the First Gardeners were banished from theirs. Poor Adam and Eve. Unlike us, they didn’t have drive-up garden centers where they could seek solace…or to stress out about what kind of mulch to buy.

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A Summer Miracle

A lot of people don’t realize that cactus grows in the midwest and will survive the winters. I have some prickly pear cactus growing in a sunny corner of the yard and they do really well.

One of the miracles of the summer is when the cactus gives a flower. The picture below–taken on a cell phone — doesn’t do the flower justice. The petals have a thick, translucent quality, almost like stained glass. I suppose if you’ve lived close to a desert in the southwest, you’ve seen them a hundred times. But for me, it’s a brief window to celebrate the flower’s appearance.

cactus flower

And brief it is. It blooms in full for about a day and then quickly expires. What a metaphor!

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The New Unmarked Rebel?

I saw a hip-looking young man walking down the street with a couple of friends and realized there was something different about him. He was wearing a sleeveless T-shirt and shorts and his friends were also dressed in summer clothing. But unlike his friends, he had no visible tattoos. Next to them, he looked like a blank canvas.

Recently there was a story in the paper about a grandmother who is heavily tattooed and who draws gasps from her fellow seniors. It reminded me of what others have said — that if tattoos have crept onto the bodies of the middle-class mainstream and of the elderly, the tattoo party is over. I mean, how edgy are tattoos if your minister has one? “Oooh, the company comptroller has a tattoo on her neck? Wow, ain’t she a corporate rebel???”

Looking at the young man sans tats made me wonder: will an unmarked body be the new sign of rebellion and are the ink-stained masses hopelessly passé? What do you think?

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When Two Hours is a Lifetime

(Written before the Blagojevich verdict was announced)

At about 11:00 am today came word that the jury had reached a verdict on 18 counts in the Blagojevich retrial and that its decision would be announced at 1:00 pm. Regardless of what you think of the former governor, can you imagine what those two hours of waiting would be like? Unimaginable, I would think.

Think about the times when you’ve been expecting important news–a medical diagnosis, a test result, an important letter or phone call. If you can recall what the moments were like just before the news was revealed, try multiplying that moment by two excruciating hours! My stress level would be so high, I would probably vomit–for starters.

His critics say he is narcissistic and self-delusional. But even a self-deluding narcissist isn’t immune to fear and anxiety. And when you consider the potential prison time, whose stress level wouldn’t be spiking through the roof during what would be two of the most difficult hours of anyone’s life?

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Listen to the Music!

Alert viewers of Chicago Tonight will find their viewing experience enhanced if they pay attention to some of the segue music we use from time to time. Once — as we were about to do a segment on criminal charges against then-alderman Arenda Troutman, we played a selection from “The Trout” quintet by Schubert. Some alert viewers wrote us asking if the selection had been a coincidence or if we had done it on purpose. What do you think???!!!

So pay attention, dear viewer. The payoff may be worth it. In the meantime, here’s an encore presentation of “The Trout.”
YouTube Preview Image

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Important Advice About Summer

I first posted this blog entry last summer and I’m posting it again–largely as a reminder to myself! Here it is:

Some time ago, I had an epiphany about summer. That’s why this may be the most important piece about summer you’ll ever read! Here goes.

Summer in Chicago is the time I live for. It’s when the city is in its full glory. I think about it all winter; it’s my compass point the umpteenth time I am shoveling snow in February. But like all treasures, summer is finite. And quantifiable.

Photograph of gold coins

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/myklroventine (CC: BY 2.0)

There are 14 weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Just 14 precious weekends. Think of each weekend as a gold coin, because that’s what is, something of value that should be treasured. And once it’s gone, it’s gone. It should be spent wisely and not squandered.

How do you squander a gold coin? There are lots of ways to be a wastrel of summer weekends, but one way of misusing this treasure is to spend it on something you don’t really want to do–a social event you feel obligated to attend, a weekend with people about whom you’re indifferent, or doing something that just doesn’t speak to you. Sounds a little cold-hearted, I know, but parting with a treasure is not to be done lightly.

Use the gold coins on the people you truly care about, on the activities you really love and that are meaningful. Sure, some summer weekends have to be used for chores and drudgery, but that’s all the more reason to spend the balance wisely!

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Grading the Teacher, Part Two

Recently I heard a prominent Chicago lawyer –whose name you would probably recognize– tell a story about a student evaluation he once received after teaching a course at Northwestern University. The evaluation said, “If I knew I had just two hours to live, I would want to spend it in Professor X’s classroom.”

When he read this evaluation, he said his heart soared with joy and pride. What a compliment! What a tribute! What an affirmation of the lawyer’s prowess in the classroom! But then he noticed an asterisk at the end of the sentence which led to the instruction, “Please turn over.” When he turned the page over, the evaluation continued: “It would seem like an eternity!”

I can’t imagine this lawyer getting an evaluation like that and assume that it’s just a great story that he wanted to pass on to his audience. But it does serve to remind those of us who are called upon to pass judgment on others that one day the same thing will happen to us!

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Grading the Teacher, Part One

I am a part-time faculty member in the journalism program at Loyola University Chicago. Usually about 15 students sign up for the interviewing course I teach. Part of the end-of-semester ritual is the evaluation students give their professor. Faculty are given careful instructions about how to administer the evaluations to ensure student confidentiality and candor. So, for example, the faculty member has to leave the room and then a student distributes the evaluation forms to his/her classmates. After they’re filled out, the anonymous forms are then collected by the same student who seals them in a large envelope and personally delivers them to the dean’s administrative staff.

Later — after the dean reads them first — the faculty member gets copies of these anonymous forms so he/she can get student feedback. I assume every faculty member would love to get a flat-out rave review from every single student. And I further assume that I’m not the only faculty member who doesn’t!

All of us want to do a good job for the people we serve and to have our bosses hear them say good things about us. Professors are no different. But this is certainly a case of the shoe being on the other foot. Tomorrow–the story of the most memorable faculty evaluation I’ve ever heard of.

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An Easy Way to Take Off Your Old City Sticker

This is the time of year when Chicagoans have to put on new city stickers on their cars. In the past, removing the old sticker from the window was always a big chore for me. I used WD40 spray and a razor to get the old one off and it was a real pain: spray-scrape-spray-scrape. Then I would use window cleaner and clean off the oily residue from the window before affixing the new sticker. It was hard and messy.

Recently I heard someone say all they did was apply a hot, wet rag against the old sticker and that it practically slid off the window. So I thought I’d try it this morning and, voila! It worked. No fuss and little mess. I can’t believe how easy it was. So I want to pass the tip on to you.

Simply take a hot wet rag (I took a small bucket of hot water with me to keep the rag wet and hot) and hold it against the old sticker for about a minute. The old sticker should pretty much come off. After that, simply scrub the remaining gummy residue with the wet rag and it should come right off, too. I hardly had to use the razor blade at all. And to think of all the years when I over-engineered this annual chore! Who knew that all along, all I had to do was just add water?

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Hi Ho, Hi Ho

I mentioned yesterday when I came back from vacation that it had been some time since I’d taken two weeks off in a row–probably several years. It’s a luxury to be able to do that, I know. There are some clear upsides to being gone from the workplace that long, but also some downsides. I once worked with a television reporter (whose name would be known to many of you) who said there was no way he could ever take more than a week off at a time. He said if he were to do that, he would not be able to come back to work at all!

As for me, I was ready to come back and missing the people I work with.

The downside, though, is that yesterday I felt really, really sluggish, as if I was walking in molasses. Today I’m a little better. It occurred to me, though, that it’s good to feel sluggish at work after a vacation because that means you’ve been able to get into a true vacation rhythm–one which you have to pull out of once you’re back on the job. It would be worse to come back to work and not miss a beat. That would mean you had never truly “vacated” at all. That’s my rationale and I’m sticking with it, if my boss says anything about the host of the program being slightly off his game.

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