Childhood: A Journey of Growing Up

We have recently moved and so I have been going through a lot of stuff stored in our old house, including photos I took of my son, Jayme, when he was a child (he is now 34). I am sharing some of my favorites of the ones I have scanned, for this week’s VJ’s Weekly Challenge #62: Child/Childhood.


Jayme with neighbor

Playing in a kiddie pool with a neighbor, on a hot summer day in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 1986


Jayme Villa Alvarez - in Janesville wagon

Fall 1986 – in a Janesville Wagon, at his Granny’s house in Janesville, Wisconsin

Jayme Villa-Alvarez - on the pier at the cottage

Faux pout on the pier (wearing an oversized Brewers cap!) – at our cottage on Upper Kaubashine Lake, Hazelhurst, Wisconsin, c. 1988

With his cousins

Julia Waeffler & Jayme Villa-Alvarez

Jayme with his cousin Julia, at our cottage in northern Wisconsin, c.1989. These two were very best friends for years, and only drifted apart when we moved to Illinois and both of them grew older. Julia was just under 2 years older than Jayme.


Leslie, Jayme, Allie & Katy - at Native Village in Lac du Flambeau

Visiting a native village with cousins Leslie and Allie (that’s me as a much younger mom on the right!) – Lac du Flambeau, Wisconsin, c. 1992

Eric Nesvold & Jayme Villa-Alvarez

Jayme with cousin Eric, feeding a deer at Jim Peck’s Wildlife, Minocqua, Wisconsin, c. 1993

With his stepdad, my husband, Dale, who is teaching him how to check the tires of his bike, Des Plaines, Illinois, 1996 or 1997.
Jayme Villa-Alvarez, Dale Berman



Jayme now, taken at his stepsister’s wedding in January 2019.




Open House Chicago-Part 4: The American Toby Jug Museum

In Evanston is a small museum that most residents don’t even know exists. We didn’t either, until Open House Chicago listed it in the sites to tour in Evanston. In fact, I didn’t know what a Toby jug was. Nevertheless, located at 910 Chicago Ave. in Evanston, IL, the museum hosts thousands of visitors per year and has a collection of about 8300 jugs.  Once you enter the front door, you then go down a flight of stairs to enter the museum.
The Toby jug and its derivative, the Character jug, is an art form of pottery that dates back to 1760.
These jugs were made in various European countries and in the United States.

Some are beautiful, some are whimsical, some have the faces of famous persons while others are painted in the style of Delft pottery.

There are very large jugs which stand on the floor and tiny ones no larger than a thimble. There are jugs representing people in various occupations as well as many in the shape of animals.


Why the name Toby? There are a few theories, but the most plausible one is that it comes from a 1761 drinking song composed by Rev. Francis Fawkes, The Brown Jug. The song tells the story of an expert boozer named Toby Fillpot.

After Toby Fillpot dies from excess drinking, his body turns to clay and is found by a potter. So the potter formed a brown jug from a fat Toby!

Some Toby jugs have been put to other uses, such as an umbrella stand, lamp bases, and decorative spoon handles.


These photos represent only a fraction of the jugs on display. (Since most are in glass cases, it wasn’t always possible to capture the displays without reflections from the overhead lights.)

Before we left, I had to use the restroom, which was decorated with a Toby jug theme!
How about a shirt with Toby jug designs?
After spending about half an hour here, we vowed to return at a later date when we have more time.


RDP: My Nickname

The Ragtag Daily Prompt today is sobriquet, a fancy word for nickname.

I have always had the nickname Katy – not so unusual today, there being a number of famous young adult Katys. But when I was a kid, it was a rather unusual nickname. Most people whose “real” name was Katharine (or any of the many other ways of spelling it) were nicknamed Kathy in those days. There were a few named Katie (not spelled the way mine was) and even fewer Kates at that time. I was named after my maternal grandmother, whose nickname was Kate.

Because my nickname was unusual and because people who didn’t know me well would automatically call me “Kathy” (which I hated), I didn’t like either my real name or my nickname very much. This probably had something to do with my low self-esteem in general. At the time, I tried to come up with a better name for people to call me.  I decided I liked the name Karen – a much better name than Katharine/Katy! I tried to get people to call me Karen, but no one would, and soon it became embarrassing, so I went back to Katy.

Now I like my name – although I wish my parents had decided to nickname me Kate – like my grandmother and like Katharine Hepburn. If someone calls me Kate, I’m fine with that. Just please don’t call me Kathy!!

Here I am in my namesake town, Katy, Texas, in 2013.
Old train station and museum

My name was everywhere in this town, even on magazine covers!

Photos taken by my husband, Dale, with my camera.

CFFC: Music & Coffee

Cee’s Fun Photo Challenge is 4th in a series of photos, in which we are to find themes.
Here is her photo for this week:
Looking through my archives, I found the themes 2 guys, guitarmusicians, instruments, coffee, coffee house, sofa, messy stack of magazines on a coffee table.


2015-02-13 19.21.30

Dale (my husband) enjoys a cup of coffee on his Valentine’s Day birthday, 2015

Guitar, musicians


90 Miles Cuban Café, Lincolnwood Town Center, IL

2 guys, guitar, musicians


Size of Sadness band members Liam (left – my future son-in-law!) and Brian,  performing at Breaking Records, Chicago

musicians, 2 guys, instruments, guitar

Tom on sax & Alicia's dad on guitar for Amazing Grace

My nephew Tom (on sax) and his father-in-law (on guitar) play at Tom’s sister’s wedding, Jan. 2014


coffee house, musicians, guitar, instruments, sofa, 2 guys


David (my nephew-in-law) and Nicholas (my grand-nephew) jam at Curt’s Café, Evanston, IL, while David’s son Benjamin plays on the sofa.


messy stack of magazines on a coffee table


Our cat, Hazel, sits on a stack of magazines on the coffee table.






Getting Our Kicks in the Texas Panhandle-Part 2 (Route 66, Day 7)

June 13, 2018                Amarillo, TX

We woke up to a much cooler morning. It had rained quite a bit and puddles were everywhere. After checking out of the hotel, we loaded the car and headed back to Cadillac Ranch. 10 vintage Cadillac models from 1949 to 1963 are lined up, nose down, facing west, supposedly at the same angle as the Great Pyramids of Giza!

When we got there, I realized we would have been better off coming yesterday – the entrance gate stood directly over a trail of mud puddles, 20180613_094015and the Cadillacs were no longer half-buried in the ground – they were now in the middle of a lake! DSC_0759The cars are covered in graffiti and visitors arrive with spray cans to add their own over the layers of graffiti from those who came before them. 20180613_094415As we walked toward the cars, we heard the rattling of spray paint cans behind us, being shaken by a group of young people. Discarded spray cans littered the ground, which was disheartening, since there are garbage cans just outside the gate, and a few people had sprayed graffiti on the ground as well as on the cars!20180613_094306
Cadillac Ranch was created in 1974 by Chip Lord, Hudson Marquez and Doug Michels, who were a part of the art group Ant Farm, according to Wikipedia. The cars are arranged in order by model year, to show the evolution of their tailfins.
The installation was originally located in a wheat field, but in 1997, it was relocated by a local contractor to a cow pasture two miles (3 km) west so it would be farther away from the expansion of Amarillo.
Cadillac Ranch can be seen from I-40, but to get to it, you get off on a frontage road (the historic Route 66). Visitors are encouraged, although it is located on private land.
In addition, spraying the cars with spray can graffiti is also encouraged and the Cadillacs have thus lost their original colors, but they are now much more colorful! If the installation had been placed in a remote location, the cars could have maintained their original state, but that was not the artists’ intention – they wanted people to interact with it.
Periodically the cars are painted in various solid colors – once all white to film a TV commercial, once pink to celebrate the birthday of the wife of one of the millionaires who funded the project, and once black for the death of Doug Michels.
Occasionally they are painted solid colors to provide a “fresh canvas” for visitors.
In 2012, they were painted rainbow colors to commemorate Gay Pride Day.
The last time they were painted over, they lasted less than 24 hours in their fresh coat of paint before being attacked by spray paint again!20180613_094836
Well, no one was going to get near them the day we were there, although Dale did walk around farther than he should have in order to take photos at a different angle. DSC_0761
When he lifted one of his feet out of the mud, his shoe got stuck and he realized both of his shoes had sunk into the muddy quagmire so that they were mostly covered with the brown sticky stuff! He traipsed back to the car and removed his shoes and socks (also covered with mud) and threw them into the back of the car. The picture below was taken later, when he took them out at our hotel in Oklahoma City to clean them off!20180613_183445d
I was not happy with all the dirty smudges made in the back seat of my (new) car as a result!

We headed through Amarillo again on I-40. Once out in the country again, we saw alongside the road a shuttered business which had tried to capitalize on Cadillac Ranch – and the cars (Volkswagen “Beetles”) as well as the building itself were covered in graffiti!
The next attraction was the Leaning Water Tower of Texas (1.5 miles east of Groom, via I-40 take exit 114, go north to Frontage Road – which is what they renamed Route 66 after building the freeway). This was a tourist trap – standing in the middle of a farm field, the old-style water tower was built at a tilt to lure drivers off the road and into the town’s commercial businesses.

After that, we continued on the frontage road (historic Route 66) to our next stop – Shamrock, Texas. The U-Drop Inn and Tower Service Station (101 E. 12th St. – Route 66) is an example of art deco design from the 1930s. The Conoco gas station gained more recent fame as the inspiration for “Ramone’s paint shop” in the Disney movie Cars.


In contrast to the old-fashioned gas pumps, there were also these ultra modern Tesla electric car charging stations!

That was all we expected to see in Shamrock, but we ended up taking pictures of several businesses with murals painted on their facades.


Even a garbage can was painted with a Route 66 theme!
Besides the colorful signs of life in this town, as on much of Route 66, we saw plenty of shuttered buildings, which also made me a little sad to see.
20180613_121026.jpgDale speeded up as we reached the edge of town, but then I yelled, “STOP!” I had to take a picture of a typical Texas motel in which each of the guest room doors were painted blue with a white star in the middle. This, I could see, was a surviving (perhaps not thriving) business which seemed to be well maintained.
I took the photo above while Dale waited in our car, the Prius seen in the picture. I saw a half-dressed man looking out the door of one of the rooms and was going back to the car when he emerged from his room, having thrown on a shirt. He, as it turns out, was the proprietor of the motel, curious about who I was, and he told me the story about how the doors came to be painted with the stars and other local lore.
Our last photo opp in Shamrock:
Leaving Shamrock, we were only a few miles from the Oklahoma border. We got back on I-40 and sped on.

Getting Our Kicks in the Texas Panhandle-Part 1 (Route 66, Day 6)

June 12,  2018

Route 66 cuts across the Texas Panhandle, a part of the state I had never been in before. It’s only about 170 miles, so there are fewer Route 66 attractions. But these attractions were pretty cool!

Leaving New Mexico, we headed toward Amarillo, Texas, where we planned to stay overnight at a Best Western hotel.

We had been experienced temperatures in the upper 90s across most of the southwest, but on June 12, the thermometer soared to 104°F (40°C)!

20180612_165618We got off I-40 at Exit 18 and took about a 5-mile stretch of road (the original 66) through Adrian. When you get there, you will find a sign and a café marking the halfway point of Route 66 between Santa Monica and Chicago!

There are signs marking this midpoint. To take a photo of this sign, we pulled over and I got out of the car to cross the road, so that I would get a better shot. Due to the heat, the asphalt on the road was actually melting! Consequently a little asphalt got stuck on the bottom of my sandals.


There is also a store…
…the Midpoint Café…

…and a (defunct) motel that had seen better days!
Fortunately, Amarillo was only about 50 miles down the road, because it was already 6:00 pm and we were getting hungry. We hoped there would be a place to eat within walking distance of the hotel. We passed the most interesting Route 66 attraction in Texas – Cadillac Ranch – because it was so hot, planning to go back and see it the next morning when it would be cooler.

We checked into our Best Western hotel, and found out that they offered free shuttle service to a famous steakhouse called The Big Texan. Actually, it was just a driver in a big black car, and we only waited a short time for him to return from shuttling someone else over to the restaurant a few miles away.

The Big Texan is not exaggerating – it’s huge!!
It would be hard to miss, driving by – there is an enormous steer in the parking lot. This is me standing next to the big guy.
We met this quintessential Texan in the parking lot who agreed to pose for a picture with his longhorn adorned automobile.20180612_202037d.jpg
Past the giant steer is a Wild-West-style row of store fronts. Actually, it is a hotel apparently owned by the Lee brothers who own the restaurant.20180612_202320d
A somewhat battered sign told the history of the place:  Bob Lee opened the Big Texan steakhouse in 1960 along the historic Route 66.  However, 10 years later, I-40 was built, bypassing Route 66 and Mr. Lee suffered a dramatic loss of business. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – he rebuilt the Big Texan next to the freeway where cars whizzing by at high speeds would have a full view of the place. Needless to say, the Big Texan has enjoyed huge success since then and has become an “international icon.” 20180612_202233d


Danny and Bob Lee Jr. hold a deep appreciation for Route 66, without which there would be no Big Texan today. The cowboy-dressed dinosaur in the parking lot represents fond memories of giant dinosaurs the boys saw when their family took a Route 66 road trip.

Another sign advertises the Big Texan as the “home of the free 72-oz. steak.” What was that about??

It was past 8:00 pm and still the huge interior was filled with hungry people. It was quite noisy, but we were seated at the end of a long table, far from the center of things.

The interior is lined with the heads of various large game animals – probably someone’s hunting trophies at one time, with longhorns attached underneath. The waiters wear cowboy hats (of course)!

There are digital clocks on the wall, which periodically count down from 60 – and when it gets to 10 seconds, voices join in, like a countdown to the beginning of a new year.
This countdown is to see if someone will win the free 72-oz. (a little over 2.04 kgs) steak. Those who have strong (and large) stomachs that are up to the challenge can pay $72 for a 4 1/2 lb. steak, which is served to them along with the usual accompaniments of potato and vegetable. That person has exactly one hour to eat the entire steak and the vegetable and potato. If he (or she – the “winners” are not always men!) succeeds, the restaurant refunds their $72. We asked the waitress about this. She says that a few people try each day, but only one or two a month actually succeed. There is a display case showing the world record, which went to a woman – Molly Schuyler, who (normally) weighs only 125 lbs. (57 kgs.)!

Here is a prime example of why so many Americans are obese, we thought as we ate our $15 beef dishes. I cannot imagine stuffing that much food into my digestive system in one day, let alone one hour! People must get sick afterward! Dale and I calculated how many meals a 72 oz. steak would make for a normal meal – figuring about 4 oz. (113 grams) per person, that would be enough for 18 meals!

Besides the busy restaurant, there is a store and a game room, and they also have fudge for sale, so I bought some (not the best I’ve had, but good).

At about 10 pm, the chauffer came to pick us up and take us back to the hotel. (I gave him a tip although I had been told it wasn’t necessary.) As we were on our way back, the sky had filled with dark clouds and thunder announced a storm coming. It was raining hard by the time we got back to the hotel.



RDP #70: Contact – Good Samaritans

Posted for RDP #70: CONTACT.

About a month ago, I made direct contact with the pavement of a sidewalk about a mile from home. The pictures that were taken of me are gruesome and so I am posting another photo of pavement, with a wee caterpillar crossing it, taken just a few days ago!20180803_113246
Anyway, here’s what happened: My husband plays golf on Mondays, and I was proud of myself for getting up and dressed and out of the house by 10:00 am for a walk! I wanted to get to my Fitbit step goal and was very motivated. It was a beautiful early July morning, still not too hot to take a long walk.

About half an hour into the walk, I was on a street about a mile from home. It wasn’t my usual route, but I wanted to go to someplace different, perhaps find different flowers to photograph. I didn’t stop to take pictures of anything, though, and was not paying particular attention to where I was walking. Suddenly, I realized I had tripped on the sidewalk where one of the blocks was raised a little due possibly to tree roots underneath.  Usually, I can regain my balance before making contact with the hard ground but this time I didn’t. I fell flat on my face and felt my right knee take the brunt of the fall.

Photos of a couple of Des Plaines sidewalks:

I said the s-word to myself, wondering how on earth was I going to get home, over a mile away? My knee was scraped and bleeding and I had a bump already rising on my forehead. I felt certain I had broken my nose and my glasses had gotten scratched and all bent out of shape. But then I was vaguely aware of two men who were asking me if I was all right.

“No, not really,” I said as they helped me up, each lifting me up under my arms. Why lie?

One of the men was driving a truck, and he had apparently arrived just then to take the other man to a work site. The second man had gone out into the street toward the truck when they heard and saw me fall.

They asked me if I wanted to go to the ER. “No,” I managed to say through a paper towel one of the men had given me and that I was pressing to my scraped nose. “I just want to go home.”  I had my cellphone with me and certainly would have called my husband while lying on the ground but he usually doesn’t keep his phone on when he’s on the golf course.

So the second man helped me to his car, which was parked next to the curb. I limped over and very gingerly pulled my right leg into the car without bending my knee. It hurt to bend it. I was not even aware at the time that I had also sprained my ankle!

When I tell this story, people ask me if I wasn’t worried about getting into a strange man’s car. I never even thought about it. These were both middle aged men, very friendly, and we live in Des Plaines, Illinois! Bad things like what could happen never happen in Des Plaines! (Although I’m sure they do, sometimes. It’s just that most people feel safe in this friendly community.)

I directed the man as best as I could toward my house, still holding the paper towel over my nose and at the same time looking through one lens of my glasses which I held in my other hand.

It wasn’t until we arrived in front of my house that I realized that the man in the truck had followed behind us. They both saw that there are several steps up to my front porch so they once again supported me, one on each side, and I hopped to the stairway and up it on my one good leg. The man with the truck advised me to have that bump looked at, because I could have a concussion.

20170822_154840 (2)

The steps up to my front door

“If you start feeling dizzy or disoriented, that’s an early warning sign of a concussion.”

I thanked the men and made sure I had my hat (which had mostly fallen off, but was still clinging to the hairband of my ponytail) and my water bottle – still over my shoulder, and my phone and keys. They waited until they were sure I was in the house before they left.

I limped over to the recline and practically fell into it, lifting the lever to bring up the piece in front. Who could I call? My sister – no, I think she plays bridge on Mondays; one of my two friends named Marcia? Good idea – I called one, no answer; I called the other one, who did answer, but she was sick. She was very sympathetic and told me to call her back if I needed help and she’d get her daughter to come over after work.

I suddenly thought of my son! He doesn’t have a fixed work schedule and it was past 11 am so there was a good chance he’d be up by now. To my surprise, he answered!

He immediately freaked out when he heard my muffled voice (I still had the paper towel over my nose) say that I was badly hurt and needed his help. So then I had to calm him down, and ask him to come over right away.

He did. He got me wet washcloths and put large bandages on my knee and a small band-aid over the bridge of my nose. He got me frozen vegetables from the freezer to ice my knee, with a dish towel wrapped around the package. He even went to the eye doctor to have my glasses fixed! He stayed until the other Marcia came over. I then found out he’d missed a doctor’s appointment because of me!

Anyway, my husband came home eventually, took me to the ER, where they (five hours later) took X-rays of my knee and femur and a CAT scan of my head. No broken bones, thank God! I returned home with a splint for my left wrist (which hurt because I’d used it to try to break the fall) and a cane, which I used for the next couple of weeks.


Entrance to the ER at Lutheran General Hospital, Park Ridge, IL

Below I am posting a photo of what my knee looks like now, a month later – I went to an orthopedic doctor who diagnosed a hematoma and a sprained ankle, the best possible outcome! He told me it could take up to six months to heal completely! But fortunately, I can now walk normally and have resumed my walking exercise….20180725_183923….but now I walk “mindfully” because I’m still afraid of falling again, and have taken to walking on a solid, continuous bike/walking path instead of neighborhood sidewalks!


Walking/biking path at Lake Opeka Park, Des Plaines.  It’s in better shape than it looks here!








Getting Our Kicks in Santa Fe (Route 66 Day 6, Pt. 1): Cathedral and Burro Alley

June 12, 2018

We spent the morning in Santa Fe before hitting the road toward Amarillo. First, we went back to the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi to see the interior.

The cathedral was built by Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy between 1869 and 1886. There had  been two previous churches on the same site, the oldest in 1626, which was destroyed in a revolt, and an adobe church built 1714-1717. The new cathedral was built around the adobe church, which was dismantled when the construction was complete, only a small chapel remaining from that previous church. (Information from Wikipedia.)

The altar
SONY DSCbaptismal font20180612_094517
The cathedral was built in Romantic Romanesque style, which featured high round arches supported by columns and square towers.

The stained glass windows of the apostles (along the side walls) and the rose window in back were imported from France.


religious relics and art

A side chapel, possibly the one saved from the previous church
Stations or “Way” of the Cross – every Roman Catholic church has 14 of these, depicting Christ’s passion and crucifixion.

View looking toward the back of the church
Rose window and organ pipes

Outer doors
The simplicity of the décor and design is what made the church beautiful for me. Below, stained glass window with candle, “Receive the Light of Christ.”
The basilica is the mother church of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe. It was officially elevated to a basilica by Pope Benedict in 2005.

Leaving the cathedral, we walked toward the Georgia O’Keefe museum, passing Burro Alley.


This mosaic on a building wall may have been in Burro Alley, but I can’t remember.
I will write separate posts about the Georgia O’Keefe Museum and the state capitol.
Stay tuned!