April 21, 2021

Mellody Hobson, Chicago Corporate Trailblazer

A few years back, friends invited me to a luncheon benefiting a Chicago science and math school for girls. Chicago-born Mellody Hobson, the president and co-CEO of Ariel Investments, was the impressive keynote speaker. Not only was she a charismatic communicator, but she was whip smart and a terrific role model for girls interested in math and science.

This past week, Hobson was made chair of the board of directors for Starbucks, making her the only black board chairwoman of an S&P 500 company.

As side notes, Hobson and “Star Wars” filmmaker George Lucas have been married since 2013. On the tv show “The Good Wife,” Vanessa L. Williams based her character, Courtney Paige on Hobson’s TED talks presentations. Hobson is also a financial contributor to “Good Morning America.”

Founded in 1983, Ariel is the first and oldest minority-run mutual fund firm in the country. Although I am focusing on Hobson, I would be remiss in not mentioning John Rogers, Jr., founder and current CEO of Ariel, philanthropist and former board chairman of Chicago’s Park District.

Kudos to you, Mellody. We need more women like you to prove to young girls that careers in science and finance are indeed possible.

Warren Park in Chicago’s West Rogers Park Area

If West Rogers Park residents had not persisted, the 88 acres of Warren Park would have been developed into residential buildings and high rises. Instead, the neighborhood benefits from one of the most active parks in the city.

Besides a fieldhouse, there are outdoor facilities for baseball, basketball and soccer, plus the Robert A. Black 8-hole golf course and putting practice area. (Black was the Park District’s chief engineer for over 30 years.)

A jogging, walking and biking path around the park perimeter accommodates people of all ages, with exercise stations for cross-trainers. Dogs are another common sight on the paved trail.

The Blackhawk Skating Rink operates from Thanksgiving to February. The day I visited, people were socially-distanced in line, waiting to be admitted to the popular rink.

Warren Park also boasts one of the best hills in Chicago for sledding. No snow was present as of yet, but I saw daredevil kids on skateboards and bikes descending the steep hill at breakneck speed. I can’t wait to see sleds and toboggans swoosh down the incline.

We have Laurence C. Warren, an attorney and community leader, to thank for keeping this parcel as park land. The State of Illinois, north side community groups and the Chicago Park District also banded together to keep West Rogers Park green. Every season has its charms at Warren Park.

6601 N. Western Avenue, Chicago, IL 60645

Oprah’s “O Magazine” Print Version Calling It Quits After 20 Years

It was with sadness I learned of “O Magazine’s” decision to end its 20-year regular print run. The December 2020 issue will be its last featuring its beloved holiday tradition of choosing Oprah’s “Favorite Things.”

I have enjoyed “O’s” articles on food, fashion, health, psychology and impressive women, but the magazine was also a compendium of great books, clothing, make-up and services. In short, the publication encouraged women to “live your best life.”

Oprah has been on every single cover of the magazine, albeit sometimes sharing a photo with other humans or animals. This final issue has Oprah in a Volkswagen Beetle festooned with red wrapped presents.

Oprah assures readers they will still be able to get recommendations for all good things under the sun from OprahMag.com
Let me remind you that Harpo Studios and Discovery Inc. co-own the TV service, OWN (Oprah Winfrey’s Network) so you can commune with the Oprah brand via tv and streaming. You can also expect Oprah to print special magazine issues. Let’s hope she continues “Favorite Things” in some form for years to come. The December 2020 “O Magazine” issue is still available at newsstands.

Winnemac Park in Lincoln Square

I needed a nature visit, but did not have much time to drive someplace. Winnemac Park, which shares a parcel of land with Amundson High School and Chappell Grade School, sprang to mind.

Technically considered part of Lincoln Square, the park’s boundaries are Damen, Foster, Leavitt and Argyle. The Winnemac parking lot entrance is south of Amundsen H. S. on Damen Avenue.

At just over 22 acres, the park has a children’s playground and several open meadow areas for sports activities. There are prairie plantings in the interior of the park which feature footpaths amid the grasses and foliage.

Spring, summer and fall are the better times to visit this urban nature oasis, but there is a stark beauty to the now brown prairie garden areas. Winter snow will offer yet another lovely character to the park.

Look for the giant willow trees in the south side meadow bordered by Argyle.

Adults, children and dogs can be seen throughout Winnemac Park. This is not a dramatic recreational area, but a wonderful addition to the neighborhood for those needing a quick nature fix.

https://www.chicagoparkdistrict.com/parks-facilities/winnemac-park

“Pod Save America” and “The Daily” Podcasts

Podcasts continue to proliferate and gain popularity with people world-wide. Friends suggested I check out the progressive political podcast, “Pod Save America.” The twice-weekly podcasts feature former Obama Administration staffers, Jon Favreau, Tommy Vietor and Jon Lovett on Mondays, and Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer on Thursdays.

I liken the shows to listening to very smart political insiders discuss the news of the week, with a decidedly left-of-center bent. Be forewarned that four letter words abound.

The show averages 1.5 million listeners per episode and the podcast app has been downloaded 120 million times so that is a lot of ears tuned in to this irreverent and sometimes hilarious audio show.

Their umbrella company, Crooked Media, films their podcasts and releases them on YouTube, but I like listening to the show while cooking, cleaning or driving. It remains to be seen if the show will be as amusing in the post-Trump era.

Let me add a brief note about another podcast show I wrote about in February 2018, the New York Times’ show, “The Daily” with Michael Barbaro. This October 2020, the New York Times newspaper said 4 million people were subscribers of “The Daily,” which surpasses its number of print subscribers. Think about that! “The Daily” is number two on the Spotify most popular podcast list, and number three on Apple’s podcast line-up.

Instead of emphasizing political irregularities, “The Daily” has consistently featured a broad array of topics on its episodes, so they may have the easier transition in the months to come.

If you want to see what the “Pod Save America” hosts look like, here is a video link. Both “The Daily” and “Pod Save America” podcast apps are downloadable in your chosen app store.

Dec. 3, 2020 Pod Save America episode on YouTube:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSD40GvBPbA&list=PLOOwEPgFWm_NHcQd9aCi5JXWASHO_n5uR&index=1

I also add this “Daily” audio link about Covid from February 2020. You might find this 24-minute podcast thought-provoking as the alarm was sounded at this very early stage.

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/27/podcasts/the-daily/coronavirus.html

Watermelon Seed Butter from 88 Acres

Suddenly my Whole Foods grocery shelf has started featuring more than just peanut and almond butters. Cashew, walnut, sunflower seed and tahini have been some of the fat and protein sources I have tried, but some new additions took me by surprise.

Did you know the black seeds we discard from our whole watermelons can be made into a nutritious and delicious butter? I purchased a tub of 88 Acres’ Roasted Watermelon Seed Butter at Whole Foods. I was not happy to see both powdered and cane sugar in the ingredients, but I was still curious about its taste. In short, watermelon seed butter tastes like tahini (which is toasted and ground sesame seeds.) It was delicious on toast, but I may go for the unsweetened version next time so I can use it to make hummus or other dips.

You may want to check out the 88 Acres site because they feature other products featuring sunflower, pumpkin and watermelon seeds, sweetened and unsweetened, with added flavors like chocolate, maple and vanilla-spiced.

They also carry granolas, protein bars and dressings using these powerhouse nutrition seeds.

One final note: the tub’s label makes for amusing reading. Some of the phrases include “Making More From Less,” and “Just Good Nutrition” – and that subtly sweet roasted watermelon seed – to sprout a more in with the new kinda day. “Naturally, Nicole & the 88 Acres Family.”

I am getting my shopping list ready to purchase more organic products from 88 Acres, The Seed Company.

https://88acres.com/collections/seed-butters

“Away” with Hilary Swank on Netflix

You can add “Away,” the Netflix tv series about a manned mission to Mars, to the list of passably entertaining shows about space travel. Hilary Swank plays Emma Green, the NASA commander of a five-person international team on space ship Atlas headed for the red planet. A freak accident at the beginning of the journey makes the other four astronauts doubt Green’s ability to be an effective leader.

Josh Charles (“The Good Wife”), Green’s husband back on earth, is a failed astronaut due to a hereditary and life-threatening illness. He continues to advise NASA however, trouble-shooting engineering problems on the space craft containing his wife. Emma Green has also left her teenage daughter, Alexis, behind to deal with hormones and her husband’s health issues during this three-year voyage.

The program also delves into the back stories of other astronauts and staff. Lu Wang (Vivian Wu) is a Chinese astronaut and chemist who has a clandestine affair with a female Chinese NASA translator. Misha Popov (Mark Ivanir) is a veteran Russian cosmonaut and engineer who has sacrificed his family life for space travel. Kwesi Weisberg-Abban (Ato Essandoh) is a botanist from Ghana who was raised by Jewish-British adoptive parents. Second-in- command, Ram Arya (Ray Panthaki) is a medical officer estranged from his family in India. It is a bit of a soap opera plot with all the characters, but the episodes are engaging and Swank is fantastic.

The series was cancelled after one ten-episode season, but I would have liked to see how the story played out on Mars and whether they would make it back to earth. Some reviews took the series to task for putting too much emphasis on the personal lives of the people back on earth, but I liked this fresh take on how astronauts put their personal lives on hold while they are “Away.”

“Twelve Angry Men” in a restored TV Production

If you can convince your friends or family to watch an hour show together this holiday weekend, you might consider the restored version of “Twelve Angry Men” on YouTube.

The black and white television play by Reginald Rose was later developed into a stage play and movie, but this initial Westinghouse Studio One version broadcast has fantastic dialogue and acting.

Robert Cummings won the Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Single Performance that year, but the whole cast, including Franchot Tone and Edward Arnold, impress the viewer with their acting skills. I finally figured out that the jury foreman was a younger Norman Fell who later became the landlord on the tv show, “Three’s Company.”

The play is interspersed with 1954 commercials featuring Betty Furness and Westinghouse appliances and they are a hoot, especially the one featuring a turkey in a “new-fangled” Westinghouse refrigerator at the program’s 38-minute mark.

Several thoughts came to mind while watching this mid-20th century creation. Television shows were in black and white and broadcast live in those days so there is definitely a stage set feel to the show. Juries were predominantly male and white. Ironing, cooking and cleaning were the exclusive domain of women. People who have entrenched views of the world are always present. Some will resort to bullying and even violence to get their way.

After you have had your fill of turkey this weekend, perhaps you will also need some food for thought. “Twelve Angry Men” just may be that mental meal.

youtube.com.watch?v=HlaXebUi72A

Fairy Tales Are Not Just for Children

Die drei kleinen Schweinchen or Three Little Pigs

Have you ever read a fairy tale to a child? Did someone read them to you when you were young?

Cinderella or Cendrillon by Perrault

There are usually five elements to fairy tales; a moral lesson, a hero and a villain as stock characters, an element of magic, obstacles or tasks for the main character to overcome, and a happy ending. Fairy tales teach children what it is to be human and how they may fit into the world.

Let me point out two other great uses for fairy tales.

Language-learning can be greatly enhanced by reading and listening to these familiar stories. Pinterest has dozens of posts on fairy tales in French, Spanish, Italian, German and other languages. Some posts take you to paid services, but many allow you to use the material for free. There are even slow audio versions so you can really train your ear to hear the new language.

The Fable Cottage allows you to read fairy tales in five different languages for free; access to video and audio material does require becoming a member, however.

YouTube is another excellent source for fairy tales in other languages, but there is another use for English speakers: sleep enhancement. There are videos using readers with soothing voices to lull both children and adults to sleep. Some of the videos bill themselves as “Truly Boring Fairy Tales,” “Bedtime Story Fairy Tales to Fall Asleep,” or “Softly Told Tales.”

Then again, perhaps we should avoid some of the more gruesome tales by the Brothers Grimm if we want sweet dreams.

Buona notte! Bonne nuit! Buenas Noches! Gute Nacht! Good night and sleep tight!

The Fable Cottage web site which has selected fairy tales in five different languages:

https://www.thefablecottage.com/

“Truly Boring Fairy Tales” on the Casper Sleep Channel:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7p0B2MD11QI

“Bedtime Stories for Adults – More Viking Myths”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNUbZtbi_HY

“Her Honor Jane Byrne” presented by Lookingglass Theatre and WBEZ Radio

“Her Honor Jane Byrne” is an original play by J. Nicole Brooks, presented by Lookingglass Theatre Company and WBEZ, Chicago’s NPR affiliate.

On March 26, 1981, Mayor Jane Byrne moved into Cabrini Green, a notorious housing project on Chicago’s near west side. Did she do this as a publicity stunt or to see firsthand how people lived in this rundown complex that contained 14,000 plus residents?

The dialogue is witty and the story will be of interest even to non-Chicago residents. Listeners hear about the travails of Chicago’s first female mayor. Residents, police personnel, activists, aldermen and a crime capo all make appearances in this fascinating theater piece.

Initially a stage presentation at Lookingglass Theatre in March 2020, the production was shut down by the pandemic. In collaboration with WBEZ, the historical production was presented as a radio play on Thanksgiving Day. A live re-broadcast will occur on Saturday, Nov. 28 from 2 pm to 4 pm (91.5 FM).

You can also access the two-hour drama from the WBEZ web site. Go to wbez.org. Click on the SEARCH button and type in HER HONOR JANE BYRNE. Scroll down to a WBEZ logo with the play title and click the LISTEN button. A player bar will appear at the bottom of your screen page with the play. (I am giving you step by step directions since the site would not give me a direct link to the radio play.)

J. Nicole Brooks

Thank you WBEZ for making this engaging radio play available. I surely hope Lookingglass re-stages this fascinating work by J. Nicole Brooks in the post-pandemic era.

https://www.wbez.org/