Photo Friday

This week the photos are from Center Islands, Toronto Canada.

We start with boats… because islands need boats.

I was worried we were going to be attacked by pirates ūüôā
Where there are boats there must be a lighthouse.

Switching gears, I learned something new:

Babe Ruth his his first professional home run here (albeit in the minor leagues).
I thought this looked rather like a jigsaw puzzle picture.

 

Keep Your Focus!

 

Photo Friday

How about some flower pictures taken in Toronto?  Why not, they make me happy and I hope they make you happy too.

A field of yellow flowers and my current desktop photo. (Center Islands)

 

“I am ready for my closeup…”

 

Me too! From the garden at Casa Loma.

 

Irises from Casa Loma.

 

Keep Your Focus!

Photo Friday

Since I took over 300 photos in Toronto I figure I am set for the summer photo posts. I took only my little Olympus Stylus SH-50 Camera, I knew I wasn’t going to feel like lugging around my DSLR everywhere. I missed having my “real camera” a few times but for the most part my Olympus takes pretty good pictures. ¬†I mostly use the auto setting or some of the scene settings. ¬†Super macro is good for flowers. ¬†I did have some issues with the auto focus but shutting the camera off and back on fixed the problem.

Since Ripley’s Aquarium was my my favorite and where I took the most cool photos I have decided to start there.

Fishes at an aquarium!
Any guesses?  Jellyfish lit with a special light.
Yikes!
A frog fish. Ripley did not make this up. 
So many sharks they were coming out of the ground ūüôā

 

Keep Your Focus!

The Week in Review 6/13/18

I am back from our vacation in Toronto, Canada and I am exhausted. Now I am surrounded by stacks of laundry and keeping an eye on Hurricane Bud.  How exactly does one prepare for a hurricane in the desert?  Anyway here are some of the highlights of the trip.

Favorite Food: Tim Horton’s maple glazed donut. I always thought people were crazy being all excited about how we have In-n-Out Burgers but now I get it. ¬†That is how I feel about Tim Horton’s!

Favorite Place: ¬†Ripley’s Aquarium. ¬†We did a lot in Toronto (CN Tower, Bluejays game, Casa Loma (the castle), Center Islands, Hockey Hall of Fame, St. Lawrence Market as well as a trip to Niagara Falls) and the aquarium was the most impressive. ¬†When I saw the name “Ripley’s” ¬†I was afraid it was going to be full of three headed fish but even though it was “that Ripley” it was a normal aquarium. ¬†A really cool, large, fantastic aquarium.

Yup, sharks swim right by your head!

The stereotype is true:  Everyone in Canada was very friendly, crazy polite and super helpful.  Not one surly waitress or impatient cashier. People held doors, cars waited to make right hand turns while we were in the crosswalk and every time my husband screwed up the credit card reader (which was every time he used it) they just laughed and reset it and helped him out. Our condo had this weird (to us) key fob thing that you used to get in the outer lobby door and to use the elevator.  We had an access code to get us in the first time (the key was in the unlocked condo) and that was supposed to magically work the elevator to our floor.  Only a bunch of people were going in and they held the door for us so when we got in the elevator we could not get to our floor.  But a guy in the elevator was going to the floor beneath ours and took us up the one flight of stairs and unlocked the fire door for us.  How nice was that?

The Journey To and From:  Surprisingly smooth.  No delays, no turbulence, no lost luggage.  The only issues we had were with technology.  Passport readers never worked easily for us and when we checked in for our return trip our luggage tags printed but not our boarding passes.  But in typical Canadian style an agent was right there and whisked us over to a computer terminal and got us all set.  I was surprised at how computerized the Customs and Immigration process was and breathed a sigh of relief when we passed through after all the problems we had with the machine reading our passport barcodes (coming and going, sheesh).

The Kindness of Neighbors: ¬†As bad luck will happen our hot water heater had a valve fail from corrosion (we have very hard water here) and spewed three inches of water into the garage. ¬†Our neighbor leaving for work at 6:15a.m. noticed the water coming out under the garage door and shut the water off at the main valve. ¬†He then called his friend who he knew worked with my husband. ¬†From there three of my husband’s co-workers/friends (including the guy who was checking on the pool for us while we were gone) came over and cleared out the garage, set up some floor driers, contacted the hot water heater guy and sent him a picture of the corroded valve so he could order a new one. ¬†We still don’t have hot water but the garage dried out nicely (it helped that is has been 105¬į everyday) and there is no sign of mildew or even a smell. ¬†Whew!

I miss you my friend.

 

And how is your summer going?

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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Beautiful!

* 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.

 

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Taken during the architectural boat tour.

 

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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

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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.)

 

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The kitchen in the condo

 

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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

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Last fall¬†my husband mentioned going to Chicago to see a baseball game. I gave him my ‚Äúare you crazy?‚ÄĚ look and said we are not driving 2000 miles all the way to Chicago to see a baseball game. Then he gave me his ‚Äúare you crazy?‚ÄĚ 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!