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The Rhinns of Galloway: picturesque now, but scene of a hard-won existence a century or more ago.
The Rhinns of Galloway: picturesque now, but scene of a hard-won existence a century or more ago. (Photo: Colin McDonald, Wikimedia Commons)

10 great books ... off the top of my head

In a "they told two friends and they told two friends" kind of a deal on Facebook, Molly Snyder posted 10 books, off the top of her head, no hesitation, which led Katharina Hren to do the same, which led me to do the same.

I usually just look past these things on Facebook, because I'm not very good at lists like this. I read far too many books and listen to far too much music – and too much of it affects me in some way – to ever successfully narrow things down to 10. But the key is to name them without thinking too hard about it.

The books that pop up are by definition ones that stick with you, because they spring right to the front of your consciousness from somewhere down deep.

Here is my list, which I feel like is a pretty good nutshell of who I am and who I've been as a reader – and beyond – since high school, which is when I read two of these...

  • "The Land of the Leal" by James Barke – Scottish author Barke was best known for his five-volume series of novels about Robert Burns, but I adored his epic novel of life across nearly a century in the poverty-stricken agricultural communities of Scotland's Rhinns of Galloway. Like Elsa Morante's wartime epic below, it was an emotional rollercoaster.
  • "The Butcher Boy" by Patrick McCabe – McCabe's book is dark and funny (and tragic) at the same time and if you can find the book on tape, you can hear the author himself read the book. That's pretty unbeatable.
  • "The Stranger/The Outsider" by Albert Camus – The book that (along with "The Fall" and "The Plague") made me think, as a high-schooler, that it'd be cool to go to Algeria. I still think it, now and again.
  • "La Storia/History" by Elsa Morante – This has never been considered Morante's masterwork, but it sucked me in, held me tight and hit me hard when I read it in English. My attempts at reading in Italian haven't gotten far.
  • "The Moon and the Bonfires" by Cesare Pavese – This one I've read in English and Italian and adored it in both for its p…
Milwaukee band Direct Hit lost its gear when its van was stolen in Detroit this weekend.
Milwaukee band Direct Hit lost its gear when its van was stolen in Detroit this weekend.

Thieves steal Milwaukee band Direct Hit's van and gear; how you can help

The holiday season may be a time when a charitable spirit swirls around, but not for everyone. Witness this Facebook post by Nick Woods, frontman of Milwaukee punk band Direct Hit, on Saturday night:

"Direct Hit's van was stolen in Detroit a block from Slow's BBQ about 2 hours ago w/ all our equipment, tour money, and personal sh*t inside (laptop, Kindle, passports, clothes, luggage). Someone alert Santa that my list is null and void, and that a gun with one bullet will do just fine."

The band was on tour, on the road back from Toronto, when the theft occurred.

Having a car stolen is a blow to anyone, but to a band on the road – now stranded and with all its gear gone – well, frankly, it completely sucks.

Woods posted a long statement yesterday explaining the incident in more detail and sharing some ways the band is hoping to raise a little cash to replace the estimated $20,000-$25,000 in losses.

"We're not the first band who's had their shit jacked, and we're not gonna be the last. Other groups have had it way worse. So we're not gonna sit around and bawl our eyes out like a bunch of twangs," the statement read.

Woods also noted that the band had car insurance and homeowners' insurance and expected that some portion of the loss will be covered.

In the meantime, the band heads into Shane Olivo's studio today to record a track that it will sell online.

"Our pals from Charlotte, Dollar Signs, have been cool enough to let us record a cover of one of their Christmas tunes, which our friend Shane is letting us do in his studio tomorrow for free. If you want a copy delivered to your inbox on Christmas Morning, all you gotta do is PayPal $2 (or more if you feel like it) to Just make sure you include your email somewhere so it gets sent right. 

"If novelty Christmas music isn't your bag, you can also consider nabbing a shirt or hoodie at our store. And if stylish apparel ain't your thang neither, then you're always welcome to head over…

Sassy Cow Egg Nog is the foundation for a yummy, if a little sinful, holiday quaff.
Sassy Cow Egg Nog is the foundation for a yummy, if a little sinful, holiday quaff.

A holiday black and tan

I think I may have invented a new holiday quaff a couple years ago. While I can't guarantee someone hadn't already come up with this, I discovered it for myself two years ago and just had to share. I reprise my 2011 post here in case you've got a container of egg nog sitting in the fridge right now.

Finding myself armed with a wee jug of Sassy Cow egg nog and a small bottle of the Columbus dairy's chocolate milk, I couldn't resist my urge to experiment.

What I think I invented is a holiday black and tan, or more accurately, brown and yellow. But that name just doesn't have the same panache, does it?

I filled a tall glass about two-thirds full of egg nog and then added the chocolate milk. I found that although it doesn't sit on top or float to the bottom, the chocolate milk sort of hides itself in the egg nog and you almost can't even tell it's there except for the dot at the center of the surface of the nog.

Further experiments showed that some very light stirring makes a streaked version and more vigorous mixing incorporates the milk creating a light brown mix.

But I preferred to leave the chocolate hidden inside, creating almost a reverse – and liquid – filled chocolate.

Though I didn't try it, certainly adding a little, ahem, juice would make it a more festive drink for adults only.

Sure, a tall glass full of egg nog and chocolate milk is a little sinful, but, hey, the holidays come but once a year.

I-794 changes may affect your commute.
I-794 changes may affect your commute.

Closures, ahem, ramp up on I-794 project

Perhaps you've noticed that sometimes the Lincoln Memorial Drive ramp to head west on I-794 is open and sometimes it's closed, leading you to enter just to the west at Jackson Street.

Well, that Jackson Street entrance is closing now and there are other changes kicking in as part of the work on the Hoan and 794. Here's the full text of a message I just got from Rep. Jon Richards detailing the changes.

Happy motoring, Milwaukee.

(UPDATE: Michael Pyritz of the Wisconsin Dept. of Transportation called to say that due to weather, the lane shifts and two ramp closures discussed below will now take place Friday night and into Saturday morning.)

"Road construction crews have started ramping up their work on the I-794 Lake Freeway and the Hoan Bridge reconstruction project. As a result, some ramps are closing down.

"Starting today, the I-794 Westbound exit ramp to Milwaukee Street is closed through late 2015. Use the Lincoln Memorial Drive exit ramp northbound as a detour route.

"Also today, traffic driving north on the Hoan Bridge will be moved to a new temporary roadway that connects to I-794 Westbound. Speed on the new roadway will be reduced.

"Tomorrow, the Jackson Street entrance ramp to I-794 Westbound will be closed until late 2014.

"As an alternate route, the Department of Transportation advises using the Lincoln Memorial Drive entrance ramp to I-794, or continue west on Clybourn Street to the 6th Street entrance ramp to I-794 West.

"Drivers can also continue west on Clybourn Street to the 2nd Street entrance ramp to I-43 north or south.

"I have asked the DOT to do all they can to minimize the traffic impacts of road construction in Milwaukee. Please contact my office with your ideas on how to improve traffic safety during construction.

"For more information about the I-794 Lake Freeway/Hoan Bridge Project, including maps of the lane and ramp closures, go here:"