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Big Tiny World

61639440-17114339Personal blog of WGN-TV Reporter Nancy Loo. She’s short. She blogs. Many call her “Big Tiny”.

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Maria worked at WMAQ for over six years.
(Instagram by aleli_pictures)


Maria and her mommy.
(Instagram by aleli_pictures

When journalists make it to one of the nation’s top television markets (Chicago is right behind NYC and LA), few ever leave by choice. Photojournalist Maria Ruiz is leaving NBC5 Chicago to move home to Orlando next week to work for WFTV. She’s an only child and her mother’s health has not been great. So she’s moving in with her parents. We can all understand why Maria is making such a drastic career move. Wait… Orlando is a top 20 market with a very competitive news scene and the weather is far better than Chicago’s. Can we all come along with you, Maria?

Though we work at competing stations, I’ll miss seeing her out on the streets. The morning news crews are always looking out for each other when covering stories, especially while working in high crime areas and traipsing through gang territories. Maria always looked cheerful and efficient in her work. I’m disappointed I’ve never had a chance to work with her directly.


Big Tiny, NBC5′s Lauren Petty, Maria Ruiz and Kim Vatis and WGN’s Marcella Raymond. (Photo by Patrick Parmenter)

I’m hardly the only one who will miss Maria, AKA “The Cuban Missile”. Many tears were shed at NBC5 after her final shift. And her farewell party on Saturday drew colleagues from WGN, ABC7 and FOX – a fun chance to hang out and swap stories. One of my favorite Maria memories is our live truck race. We were on a developing story last year that required a location change. We had a lot of fun seeing which crew could break down the live shot, move to another scene and set up to get on the air first. We won, giving WGN photojournalist Pat Parmenter new ammunition for endless trash talking. I’m sure Maria won’t miss that.


With Sandy at the Chicago Ducks Spring game watch party.

I said goodbye to Maria just hours after bidding farewell to another friend who’s leaving Chicago. Sandy Rice and I lived in the same dorm at the University of Oregon during my freshman year. I only recently reconnected with her even though we’ve both been in Chicago for twelve years. She is moving back to Oregon to also be near her aging parents. Thanks to Sandy, I am now in touch with other Oregon Ducks in Chicago. (Soon that will include offensive tackle Kyle Long, the newest Chicago Bear!)

While it’s sad to see good people leaving Chicago, I know technology will keep them close. And Chicago will never leave them.


Joel Aldrich Matteson served as IL Governor from 1853 to 1857.

There are viewer complaints every time the town of Matteson is in the news. If we pronounce it “MAT-ti-sin”, viewers will call to complain that it should be “MATT-sin”. Yet if we pronounce it that way on the air, other viewers will complain that it should be three syllables. There has seemingly been controversy and confusion over the proper pronunciation of Matteson for about a century. I wonder what late Illinois Governor Joel Aldrich Matteson would think of all this bickering.

I got to thinking about this because the WGN assignment desk sent out a staff email today to set everyone straight for the umpteenth time:

“A call to the village hall and to the police both yielded this pronunciation of the town’s name: Mat’-ti-sin.”

I’m sure assignment editors are tired of answering viewer calls and emails about Matteson. Many people cite the two syllable pronunciation in the commercial and jingle for the Matteson Auto Mall a few years ago. A quick Google search brought up this Chicago Tribune story from 1993 which mentioned that “descendants of Joel Matteson visited the southwest suburb recently and confirmed, “once and for all,” that the proper pronunciation is “Matt-e-son.”

While in Matteson on assignment last year, I was told by one resident to just say “MATT-sin” because that’s what everyone is used to hearing even though it’s wrong. I’ve used both pronunciations on the air. But I will stick with three syllables from now on. It’s what Governor Matteson would have wanted to hear. Though in his final years after leaving office, he would have made news for — I bet you can guess — corruption.


St. Therese Chinese Catholic School, 247 W. 23rd Street. PHOTO: Fabie de Silva

Perhaps you’ve heard about the upswing in enrollment in Chicago’s Catholic school system. It may be most evident at St. Therese Chinese Catholic School in Chinatown. This national Blue Ribbon School is bursting at the seams with about 300 students. And the wait list for potential students is now well over 400. That means parents who want their kids to attend St. Therese need to sign them up at least four years in advance.


My pal MJ Tam designs the programs and posters for the benefit every year.

Over the past few years I’ve had the pleasure of emceeing the annual benefit dinner for St. Therese. I leave more impressed by their high-achieving students and faculty every year. While the bulk of the student population is Asian, St. Therese fosters a great mix of children from all walks of life. The fundraiser always features performances by the students. There are impressive pieces played on violin and piano, traditional Chinese dances and Taiko drumming. I especially enjoyed this year’s choir songs in Swahili and Mandarin.

IMG_8126Principal Phyllis Cavallone-Jurek and her staff have had such success running St. Therese, there is a desperate need to expand. The current campus is outfitted with the latest in technology. The classrooms are packed to capacity for advanced instruction in English, Mandarin and Spanish. But there is no playground. So the small basement auditorium also serves as the gym and lunchroom.

After saving the school from near closure just a few years ago, administrators are now eager to expand in order to meet the demand for a St. Therese education. There are hopes for a second St. Therese campus within an Archdiocese building in nearby Bridgeport. But just getting the place up to code will cost millions.


Silent auction “biddaholic” Adam Pry.


I love my gifts from St. Therese: a beautiful Year of the Snake plate, a lucky charm, chocolates and gummy candy!

I’m sure the benefit dinner didn’t raise nearly enough money. But a lot of people will keep working hard to churn up the funds. I’d like to thank guest Adam Pry for having the winning bid on my silent auction donations of a studio tour and dinner for a second straight year. He is an awesome person with a big heart. Adam has no affiliation with St. Therese. He and his girlfriend attend the benefit because of mutual friends and a love for the cause.

According to the Chinese zodiac, the sign of the Snake represents wisdom and self-control. It’s supposedly a year to burrow and prepare in order to advance and succeed. St. Therese School seems to be doing just that.


PHOTO by Gerard Rodriguez, my CFD pal in Chinatown.

Serving as the Grand Marshall of Chicago’s Chinese New Year Parade this year was not only a great honor, it was great fun. The millions of you who weren’t there to join more than 30,000 of us on and along both sides of Wentworth Avenue missed out on a festive celebration of the Year of the Snake.

My friends with the Chicago Chinatown Special Events Committee have selected me before for leading this annual party. But this year was especially memorable because the weather was stellar and I got more of a chance to visit with my Chinatown friends. I also got to meet quite a few WGN viewers including John K. who greeted me as “Big Tiny”. Love that!

Of course, our Chinese New Year Parade always has a Chicago flair. I enjoy watching the kids, teachers and parents marching by from the various schools in Chinatown and Bridgeport. There are always politicians and marching bands. But there’s something truly special about hearing beautiful bagpipe music from Chicago’s famous Shannon Rovers celebrating the Year of the Snake, too.


The Tong Liang Dragon Dance team also performed during the Opening Ceremonies at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The biggest treat this year was a gift from China. The new Consul General, Zhao Weiping, arranged for a special performance from the Tong Liang Dragon Dance team from Sichuan Province. The choreography and stunting within their performance was stunning and beautiful to watch. Seeing the appreciation on the faces of the spectators along Wentworth was just as nice to see.


A lot of firecrackers were set off during the parade. A lot more than usual. In fact, Chicago Police had to be alerted every time the parade crew set off a new batch.

I always tell Chicago friends that if they haven’t been to Chinatown lately, they haven’t been to Chinatown. The community is marking its 101st year. A lot has changed there in the past decade alone. There are all kinds of new shops and restaurants, some of which have attracted top chefs from China. Yes, some areas are in desperate need of updating. But it is still unmatched for bringing Chicagoans a genuine taste of Asia right here in the Midwest. Perhaps I’ll see you there soon. And feel free to call me “Big Tiny”. Gung Hei Fat Choi!


WGN courtroom artist Tom Gianni

It’s always nice to work with Tom Gianni whenever I cover a major court case. Tom is currently our principle courtroom artist. But he’s a freelancer so we all see him sporadically. In the future, we may not see artists like him at all.

I’ve worked with Tom in recent years on a number of cases including the Rod Blagojevich and Drew Peterson trials. We worked together last Thursday while covering the sentencing of terrorist David Headley at the Dirksen Federal Building. Headley was arrested at O’Hare after helping to plot the terrorist attacks that killed over 160 people in Mumbai, India. With a number of news outlets from India covering the case last week, Tom made extra money by also selling his sketches to them.

Covering court cases for TV can be cumbersome because cameras are still largely prohibited in IL courtrooms. So the images provided by artists like Tom are helpful in telling a story on TV and across all digital spaces. Judges are usually pretty accommodating, allowing court artists to sit in the front row or in the jury box when it’s available.


Finished sketches are usually taped onto a wall or pillar and then recorded by WGN camera crews.

I think Tom does a nice job of boiling the essence of many moments within a courtroom into just a few images. Angles may be changed and the composition of key players are obviously different from what courtroom observers got to see. But sketches are usually effective in conveying how things played out in court. According to Tom, “There’s standard shots like the judge and defendant. Then key players and judge with lawyers. You learn how to arrange it so it makes for a good image for TV.”

Despite deadlines and very limited time, court artists view their work as art. Tom is often still drawing and shading right up until we are recording his work for air. The finished product is always an interesting snapshot. I have seen lawyers and newsmakers buy sketches from courtroom artists to frame and keep for themselves.

I’m sure Tom appreciates those who appreciate his work. He was guided to his career by his brother. Gary Gianni worked through the 70′s and 80′s. He was the principle courtroom artist during the trial of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Tom says, “Gary didn’t want to do it anymore so he passed it down to me. I get to do what I love and that’s drawing.” But Tom doesn’t recommend his career path to anyone. “They are introducing cameras to Illinois courtrooms so it might be the twilight of this job.”

424042_553027544709783_1729291520_nI work with a bunch of sickos. Luckily, they’re using their sick days. The flu outbreak has not spared WGN News. It’s hard to keep track of who’s working and who’s not. And that seems to be the situation in newsrooms all over town and just about every workplace and school in the past few weeks.

Sports anchor Pat Tomasulo has been out for over a week. Meteorologist Paul Konrad and Entertainment reporter Dean Richards were back on Friday. But neither of them sounded like they were 100% healthy. Paul was out again today. Those are just a few of the on air sickos. There are even more behind the scenes. Keeping our newsroom staffed is surely a challenge for WGN managers these days.

IMG_7893I got a flu shot for the first time a few weeks ago. But I am still worried since this season has been so severe. Also because there are people coughing and blowing their noses everywhere you turn. The super-sized hand sanitizer on a counter at our assignment desk is not a a solid line of defense. Neither are the hand warmers and foot warmers I bought by the case ahead of winter. Although those will be helpful during this week’s deep freeze.

I wonder how many employees will need more than their allotted number of sick days this year. We’re not even through January yet. The dilemma is probably why some are reluctant to take a sick day even if they are exhibiting cold and flu symptoms. It’s hard to know where, when and if you might run into the virus. I am always on guard while out covering stories or attending events.

Fortunately, Chicago and state health officials say the number of people needing hospitalization due to influenza is now on the decline. But we shouldn’t let our guards down. Pass the hand sanitizer. But be sure to sanitize the bottle and dispensing top before and after each use. And as one co-worker advised when near feature reporter Ana Belaval, “Don’t even breathe on the pregnant lady!”

IMG_9950Is college graduation and a real job the parental finish line? Is there a parental finish line? My family is entering a new phase with my son moving out to LA this week. Connor just graduated from Mizzou with dual degrees in International Business and French. Next week, he’ll enter the Management Training Program at the corporate headquarters of Toyota of North America.

It was bittersweet to see him tweeting about his flight to LA as he left O’Hare with the hashtags #onewayticket, #cityofangels and #cya. Now I know how my parents felt when I left for my first real TV news job on a one-way ticket to Hong Kong. My husband and I could not be prouder of Connor. He can speak French, play the piano and he’s quick to respond in all categories when we watch Jeopardy! (In the form of a question, of course.) I especially love that he’s a formidable opponent in Scrabble and Words With Friends.


Connor actually earned his first paycheck and even paid taxes as a baby. We got him into modeling when we lived in NYC and he worked pretty steadily for a few years. But he has never cared for a career on camera or in journalism. I’m glad he found a field to be excited and passionate about. It’s how I still feel about new media and covering the news.

If there is a parental finish line, my husband and I have yet to clear it. We still have a teenage daughter in high school to remind us we have more college tuition and bills in our future. As for our number one son, he will have lived in New York, Chicago and LA at the age of 22. What a cool hat trick.

After covering a fire in Bridgeport on Christmas Day, I spent the day after Christmas covering a shooting in West Englewood. Newscasts are on 365 days a year. There are few people who can count on having every holiday off. Over the years, I’ve worked more holidays than I’ve had off. And people who are serious about covering the news would want to be at work if a major story broke.

I am guilty of griping over weather conditions and locations. But I would never complain about working. It’s irksome to hear expressions of sympathy while working during the holiday season. Few people need reminders about the dismal job market and the millions who are unemployed or underemployed. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. My Facebook connection Jeff Leoni was spot on in commenting on my page, “The only thing to do is think of our troops over in Afghanistan and what conditions they deal with every day. Then maybe a couple of hours in West Englewood in the cold doesn’t seem so bad.”

IMG_7855My kids are older now and no longer leave cookies or stir too early in the morning to see what “Santa” brought. Working the early shift allowed me to be home just as they were ready to open presents on Christmas Day around the “One Direction” tree my teenage daughter decorated while I was away in Mexico (long story). Then my family had a nice outing to see the debut of “Les Miserables” (loved it). I am thankful my husband and children understand the demands of the news business. It can be quite hard on marriages and families.

I’ll be away from work and off the air next week. Unless there’s major breaking news in Chicago.


(NOTE: A big bummer of moving “Big Tiny World” onto this new platform is the loss of most of my blogs from the past two years. I’ve migrated a few posts. But the majority are goners. My earliest posts are still alive at


It’s time for another forced re-start of Big Tiny World. Once again, WGN-TV has changed web platforms. The system I moved my blog onto when I joined WGN in 2010 has gone away. So once again, I am re-starting with a re-start. I can only hope this will be the last time I add a new update to the post below. To those who’ve been reading my blog posts since I started writing them in 2009, thank you.


Posted May 2011

Anyone who has ever moved anywhere knows what a pain moving can be.  Moving a blog is equally as painful.  While I’ve been blogging for quite some time, having launched nearly three years ago, blog platforms can differ greatly.

I learned to post under a different blog platform when joined the Tribune’s ChicagoNow network and became “Big Tiny World”.  Now, I’m learning yet another platform because WGN-TV has decided to move a number of blogs off of ChicagoNow and “home” to the station’s website.

Since this is my first entry in this new space, I thought I’d just do a re-start.  My first blog from the start of Big Tiny World explains why I’m known as “Big Tiny”.


Posted 2009
photoBack in 2001, when I first started working in Chicago television, I was sent to Chicago Police headquarters to cover a press conference.  Investigators were proudly showing off what they confiscated during a big drug bust.  Along a wall, there were a number of mugshots of the suspects and under each guy’s name was their street name.  These guys looked tough, and I mean BAD!  But they had street names like “Fat Mike” and “Slim Tim”.  Cameraman Ed Flynn turned to me and proclaimed, “Man, if you’re gonna work in this town, we need to give you a street name.”  Within minutes he declared, “Your street name will be ‘Big Tiny’.” I have no idea what ever happened to Fat Mike and Slim Tim after that day but Big Tiny’s been kicking it ever since!  Some of my colleagues, and even reporters and camera crews from other stations, now refer to me as “Big Tiny”.  A few just call me “B.T.”
Yes, I am short.  I’m 5’1″… on a good day.  Not too many Asians are especially tall.  Yao Ming got it all.  It’s hard to tell how tall newscasters are when we’re sitting behind a desk. Whenever I meet viewers, they often say things like, “Wow, you look so much bigger on TV!”  I’ve never known quite how to respond to that.  I used to say, “Yeah, you’ve gotta be pretty small to fit inside the TV.” These days, I could add, “Now that TV’s are all flat screens, you’ve gotta be really skinny, too!”
Okay, fire away with your jokes and comments about short people.  Yes, I AM standing up!


These cookies are amazing! I proudly brought them to a Holiday Cookie Exchange party this weekend. However, I did not make them. I had such a crazy week, I had to outsource my baking duties.  I was quite honest about it at the party. These Brandy Cream Sugar Cookies were made by Shelly Di Bella, a friend of a friend. She has kindly provided her recipe so we can all try to make them ourselves. Enjoy!


1 cup (2 sticks butter)               unsalted butter, softened

½ cup                                           sugar

1 large                                         egg yolk

1 teaspoon                                 vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon                               freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon                              salt

2 cups                                           flour

coarse sugar for sprinkling

Freshly grated nutmeg (for garnish)

Brandy Cream Filling

3 tablespoons                                     unsalted butter, softened

1 cup + 2 tablespoons                        confectioner’s sugar

1 tablespoon                                        brandy

1 teaspoon                                           vanilla extract

To make the dough, in the bowl of an electric mixer using the paddle attachment beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until combined, about 1 minute. Add the egg yolk, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt and mix until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl. At low speed, add the flour and mix until combined. Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, pat it into a rectangle, and wrap it up. Refrigerate for at least an hour, until firm (or up to 3 days).

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets.

Place the chilled dough on a lightly floured work surface and sprinkle it lightly with flour. Roll out the dough to 1/8 of an inch thick. Using a 1½ inch fluted square or round cookie cutter, cut out as many cookies as possible from the dough. Using a ½ inch pastry tip, cut out the centers of half the cookies (these will be the tops) Stack and press together the scraps and chill for 15 min before re-rolling, carefully transfer the cookies to the lined baking sheets, placing the tops and bottoms on separate sheets (the tops will take a minute less than the bottoms).Sprinkle the cookies with coarse sugar. Bake the cookies one sheet at a time for 9 to 11 minutes or until lightly brown on the bottom (not the tops) transfer the cookies to wire racks to cool completely.

To make filling, in the bowl of an electric mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter at medium speed until creamy, about 30 seconds .Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar, brandy and vanilla and beat until blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to high and beat until the filling is creamy about 2 minutes.

Assemble the cookies spread about ¾ teaspoon of the filling onto the bottom of the whole cookies. Top with cut-out cookies, right side up, and press the cookie tightly together. Repeat with remaining cookie and filling. Grate a bit of nutmeg on top of cookie.

It makes about 30 sandwich cookies.