Photo Friday

When I was looking for a new desktop photo I found myself looking at my pictures from Chicago two years ago.  I only used a few in posts back then so I thought I would share some of the more interesting architectural photos.

This is the one I chose for my desktop.  I love the way the buildings reflect on each other.


Can’t go wrong looking up.


It’s like a road map going up the side of the building.


I like the way the center building is framed and the light near the bottom.

Keep Your Focus!

Dyngus Day


Dyngus Day is a real holiday I learned about while living in Buffalo, NY.  It is of Polish heritage and takes place on Easter Monday.  Polka music, pierogis and a parade.  The three P’s of fun! Want to learn more?

Growing up in Baltimore we were always off school Good Friday and Easter Monday.  Then I joined the Air Force and nobody had ever heard of Easter Monday.

I like the idea of the day after Easter being a holiday.  Who doesn’t need a day to work off (sleep off) all that sugar consumed on Sunday?

It’s not too late to make travel plans to go to Buffalo, NY and celebrate in the Dyngus Day capital. Sure it may or may not still be snowing in mid-April there but trust me, no one can handle snow removal the way the city of Buffalo can!

Dingus Day is April 17th this year.

(AKA Easter Monday!)

My Trader Joe’s Daffodil buds. How one is forced to do spring in the desert!

Chicago: The train ride home

Taken out the window of our family sleeper room

We had been talking about taking the train somewhere for a few years now and a little research revealed taking the train from Chicago to Tucson was doable. So we did it. Fifty -two hours. But we had a family sleeper car which made all the difference.

We really had no idea what to expect so I was excited but also had a little of that fear of the unknown going on.

Turns out there was nothing to fear, though we almost didn’t get on the train.  As we waited in the special lounge for those on the sleeper cars we were surprised at how crowded it was.  We heard our train being announced for “pre-boarding” and gathered up our stuff in anticipation of “our” boarding call.  We saw people lining up and they made the announcement several times.  My husband and I looked at each other and decided maybe we should get in line, if we were wrong they would let us know.  Turns out pre-boarding for a train is not the same as pre-boarding for an airplane, just so you know.

An Amtrak agent led us a long ways and then we went through a doorway of sorts and were left on our own, told to walk all the way to the front of the train.  Which the whole crowd of us did right down to the engine.  We had walked right past all the sleeper cars!  So the whole gaggle of us turned around and started peering at car numbers in the gloom.  Turns out our sleeping car attendant, while pleasant, wasn’t exactly the hardest worker.  I am pretty sure he was supposed to be outside the car looking for us.

But the rest of the trip was very relaxing.  Our family bedroom was spacious and I enjoyed some much needed bits of solitude while small child and spouse sat in the observation car or meandered through the train.  I spent a lot of time just gazing out the window at the passing country which I thoroughly enjoyed.

My view from where I typically sat.

Meals were included with our sleeper car which was a good thing as the meals were pricey.  While the menu was limited the food wasn’t bad at all. I had a very good steak the first night and everything I ate was actually quite tasty.

The first leg of our trip was from Chicago to San Antonio.  The train wasn’t very crowded and our car was next to the observation car and the next car was the dining car, very convenient.

The second leg of our trip had our car being added to the Texas Eagle that came from Louisiana and continued on to Los Angeles.  Now our car was at the back of the train (hey, we were the caboose!) and we had to walk through all the coach cars to get to the observation car and the dining car.  It was a slow go with people’s legs sticking out in the aisle and others just standing in the way.  We learned after the first trek to go up a bit early and wait in the observation car for our seating time for meals to be called.

Hanging out in the observation car

The train was much more crowded now but since we had our own private compartment it didn’t really bother me.  We shared our dining table with seasoned train travelers and learned some good tricks. (You can get a roll with your meal if you just ask and “the tamale lady” meets the train at Alpine, Tx.)

Our sleeping car attendant, Steve, did an excellent job of keeping things tidy (specifically the bathrooms) and being around if we needed him (we didn’t) and offering to make up the beds etc.  He really kept on top of things and that was how we realized what a poor job the first sleeping car attendant did.  Live and learn, at least we learned how to set up and put away the beds on a train.

I was surprised at how well I slept.  The first night I had the top bunk which seemed a bit narrow but was okay.  The second night my husband and I swapped and I slept on the more spacious and better padded bottom bunk.  I didn’t hear a thing and didn’t notice when we were swapped from one train to the other in San Antonio in the middle of the night.

When we left the train in Tucson there was quite the line of people waiting to get on.  Apparently the coach cars would be completely full going to LA, an overnight trip. Yikes!

I say if you are thinking of taking the train, do it!  And if you are going to be on overnight splurge and get some kind of sleeping car.  There are little rooms (roomettes), slightly bigger rooms with a private bath and one or two family sleeper rooms.  The family sleepers do not have their own bathrooms but facilities were just a few steps up the hallway.   It took me a day but I eventually learned there is a little light on the ceiling in front of the bathrooms and shower room that lights up when it is occupied.  I never had to wait for the facilities though I did get up early to shower.  Look into making reservations pretty far in advance as the sleeper cars fill up on some of the routes.  Our train only had one family sleeper car and we reserved it eight months in advance.

Our room ran the width of the train so we had a window on each side.                                                                        

I would love to take the train again.  It was a very positive experience.  Happy Rails!

Chicago: Random Observations

Ladybug cow walking up a building. Who wouldn’t take a picture of that?

* One of the first things I noticed in downtown Chicago was all the horn blowing. The first day we ate a late lunch and sat at the outdoor patio and I was rather surprised. The streets were narrow, there were cars parked on both sides and there were a ton of pedestrians. I thought drivers would be used to crappy driving conditions.
Over the next few days I observed the honking. Some of the honking was done by taxis. A quick beep letting people know they were available. Buses honked to get cars out of the bus stops. And everyone honked at pedestrians crossing against the light. (Me, I would have ran them over.) I didn’t really see any angry driver to driver honking. All that honking really did seem to have a purpose.

* By far most of the women were wearing flats, but nice flats or sandals. Only tourists seem to wear sneakers or flip flops. (I alternated between my sketchers and ll bean mary janes.)

* Several hotels had bowls of water for dogs near their doors. One even had a bowl of milk bones. (Don’t tell my dog.)

* Pretty much everyone we had dealings with was very friendly. Waitresses, bus drivers, cashiers at Walgreens, all were not just friendly but really helpful. It helped Chicago leave a wonderful impression.


* All the green space was such a surprise. In a city of skyscrapers there were not just parks scattered around but most streets had a little green belt. The sidewalks were wide and on the curb side there were trees, small stretches of grass and flowerbeds. Many buildings had flower boxes too that were just gorgeous.


Taken during the architectural boat tour.


It’s off center on purpose to show the DBacks flag.

* I cannot say how much I loved Wrigley Field.  Old school ballparks are the best.  And the fans were lovely.  They stayed until the end even though the Cubs lost 3-2.  The woman sitting behind us told us we were on tv for the seventh inning stretch.  Her husband (she was there with a girlfriend, I think a season ticket holder) was watching the game from home and sent her a picture of us! And this is a little weird but I got a chopped salad and it had the best Italian dressing I have ever tasted.  (I also ate a hot dog and some Cubs popcorn from Nuts on Clark so I wasn’t being crazy healthy, I just needed some greens.)

*At the end of the trip we realized we had used quite a few modes of transportation over the week.  Our truck  -> airplane -> shuttle bus -> boat -> the ‘L’  -> bus -> taxi -> train and of course our own two feet.

Next Chicago post:  The train trip home.

Chicago: No Worries, Was Happy

Look, a flying penguin!

So, everything I worried about before the trip turned out to be non-issues.

Security at the airport,  a breeze.  We had the TSA pre-check because of my husband’s job so we got to skip the insanely long (despite it being 4:00am) regular security line and go through the no line at all pre-check.  We didn’t even have to take off our shoes and I did not set off the metal detector.

Getting from the airport to our condo, easy-peasy.  I wanted to arrange transportation beforehand but my husband wanted to wing it.  We ended up finding a shuttle at the airport and it was a reasonable $54 for the three of us. (It was almost 20 miles from the airport to the condo we rented.)

Using public transit, a piece of cake.  We rode the bus to the Museum of Science and Industry, easily arriving in time for our 10:00 a.m. Imax National Parks film and used the “L” to get to and from Wrigley Field with no issues.

I am a terrible packer.  I always want to bring some of everything “just in case”.  With flying that wasn’t practical and even though I checked the forecast I had no idea if I would have what I wanted to wear.  Turns out I packed perfectly, wore everything I brought and I was perfectly outfitted for the weather, the activity and my mood!  (We did laundry while we were there so I brought five outfits for eight days with mix and match possibilities,)

My biggest worry was about getting over tired or “over peopled”.  A lack of any solitude for eight straight days could be a real stressor for me, as well as being in many crowded situations.  Because I was smart enough (for once in my life) to monitor my own needs I was aware of how I felt and avoided any meltdowns.  For instance at Wrigley Field we opted to walk around the neighborhood instead of waiting with the crush of people for the gates to open.  We got to see some really interesting architecture and gardens and even popped into an open house just to see what the inside was like.

Our condo, fantastic!  Not fancy but better than a hotel and a perfect location just one block from the lake and two or three blocks from Michigan Ave.  Most mornings I got up first and used the shower and then  I could sit alone in the kitchen of our studio condo with my book and journal while everyone else got ready.  (Maybe I pretended a little bit that I was living there.)


The kitchen in the condo


The view out the kitchen window, love the ivy.

I ended up enjoying the trip much more than I thought I would.  Right before we left I had this sort of sucking it up for the family kind of mentality but once there, well, I have to admit I fell in love with Chicago!


Next Chicago Post:  Random Observations

Chicago: Prologue



Last fall my husband mentioned going to Chicago to see a baseball game. I gave him my “are you crazy?” look and said we are not driving 2000 miles all the way to Chicago to see a baseball game. Then he gave me his “are you crazy?” look and said we would fly. Oh. And from there our second trip for this summer developed.

Here’s the thing, the last time I flew was 2007. It was a miserable experience starting with security making me throw away my yogurt and then spending many long minutes with some woman feeling around my back where my bra hooks because the barrette in my hair set off the metal detector. And when I started to get obviously annoyed about it and the woman asked if I was annoyed I answered yes. Then she asked if I was annoyed with her. Uh-oh. So I lied and said no of course not.

And then I threw up all the way across the country. I was three months pregnant. When we got back to Montana I said I was done flying and I haven’t flown since.

The reasons why I don’t fly:

1. Ever changing and inconsistently applied security rules and the rudeness of many TSA employees.

2. The cost. When you think about how airline tickets are priced it feels fraudulent. How would you like it if every time you went to the grocery store the price of a can of peas was different depending on the time and day of the week you were purchasing it? Same peas a woman bought the day before but she paid ten cents less. Ridiculous right?

3. Delays. Flying may or may not be convenient. Used to be you mainly had to worry about weather and the occasional maintenance delay. Now you have to add in computer glitches, security lines and an unattended bag. And not just at your airport but any number of airports could affect your flight depending on where your plane and your crew are coming from.

But I agreed to bite the bullet and fly to Chicago.  We were only flying one way and it was a direct flight. And our flight was in the morning so I was hoping we could get out of Dodge before things went awry.

And thus our amazing Chicago adventure was born.  There is more to come!

Ahhh Summer

My son got out of school last Wednesday and on Thursday we hit the beach. We camped on Coronado Island at Fiddler’s Cove (part of a Navy facility).  I think the pictures are better than words so here is a summary of our first (of two) summer trips.


Day One:  We quickly amassed quite the shell collection, most of which we returned to the bay on our last day. 


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy morning walk along the San Diego Bay.  


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADay Two:  The USS Midway Museum.  (Buy your tixs on-line and save some money!)


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALots of stuff to climb on, sit in or touch, very kid friendly!


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFull moon rising over the mountains on the other side of the bay. 


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADay Three: A walk on the ocean side.  Another military only beach accessed through North Island Naval Air Station.    


Some relaxing….


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd enjoying the view. 




OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast s’more.  We went rogue and bought a bag of assorted miniatures, s’more special dark, extra yum!


Good-bye Coronado Island.


Lunch stop in Yuma, AZ.  We always eat at Penny’s Diner and get a milkshake to fortify us against the long desert drive.


Are we home yet?



For Spring break this year my husband and I decided to take our 7 year old for his second trip to Disneyland. I wasn’t real excited about going and not sure why. Our first trip 2 years ago was great and I surprised myself by what I good time I had.

One should listen to that little voice though.

The first potential problem was Ethan getting sent home from school on Thursday with 102 temperature. Okay, we weren’t leaving until Sunday so he had time to get well.  Yes,  it was hard getting everything done and taking care of a sick child, but we made it happen.
The second piece of bad news: while checking the park hours I discovered ‘The Matterhorn’ and ‘Peter Pan’ (among others) were closed for refurbishment. The first two rides we had planned to ride, ‘ The Matterhorn’ and ‘Peter Pan’. Seriously?  Seriously. I kid you not.
The final straw: Standing in line to enter the park I am studying my ticket. The ticket my husband had bought 4 days previously on-base. Black-out dates?  “Uh, husband, what is today’s date?”  I ask in a panic. Yup, the tickets could not be used the 2 weeks around Easter or the two weeks after Christmas. Oh crap.

There is no way one can take a 7 year old to the entrance of Disneyland and then not actually go in.  I wanted to be mad at someone.  Yes, it would have been helpful  when Ken bought the tickets if the seller had mentioned they couldn’t be used the next two weeks.  It would have been nice if Ken had actually looked at the tickets when he bought them.  I wish I had looked at the lower two-thirds of the tickets when I was taking pictures of the bar codes in case we lost them.  I had to admit there really wasn’t anyone to be mad at.

After talking over our options we decided to save the tickets for another trip (they are good for six months) and bought one day passes to Disneyland.  The whole morning felt a little hollow though and when our wait for a table for lunch stretched from 30 minutes to over an hour I decided to give in.  This was not going to be the happiest place on earth for me today.  I was having a crappy day at Disneyland.  So be it.

Then we finally got seated for lunch.  And things started to get better!  I had grilled sea bass and roasted vegetables which were really tasty.  Right after lunch we had a fastpass for Indiana Jones.  This was our first time riding it as E wasn’t tall enough last trip.  Maybe going right after lunch wasn’t the best choice but we both decided it was our new favorite ride.

At the end of the day I realized I had had a pretty good day after all.  Six happy things about the day:

1.  My son had a GREAT day!

2.  I had a good hair day, that sea air added a little something to my curls.

3.  I didn’t get sunburned, something I had been quite worried about.  Most of the rides have lots of shade for the wait in line.

4.  I had grilled sea bass and roasted veggies for lunch, tasty and healthy!

5.  I got to ride 3 rides that I didn’t go on during the first trip:  ‘Dumbo’, ‘Indiana Jones’ and ‘Astroblaster’ and loved them all.

6.  I found these really cute salt and pepper shakers:



The rest of the week went okay too.  We spent time in Disney Downtown having a nice lunch at the Rainforest Cafe,  Ethan built “Disney” the elephant at Build-A-Bear and made race cars at the Lego store.  We bought souvenirs and I scored this really cool Minnie Mouse lunch box at CVS for $5.



The next day we went to the beach and had lunch at a park with a playground.  The last day we hung out at the campground playing games and swimming in the heated pool.

While it wasn’t the Spring break we had planned it turned out to be a nice vacation.  The most important part still happened:  we spent lots of family time together.  And a bonus?  We get to plan another trip to Disneyland for later this year!

Best smile of the trip!