Monday, August 31, 2009

Move It Mama Monday! Sidewalks?!

For a long while now, I have bemoaned the lack of sidewalks in our area. We have a bit of sidewalk in our own little patch of suburbia, as well as a bit of running trail, but those only run intermittently through the neighborhood, and fail to connect us to any other patch of suburbia, which is kind of a problem.

Our neighborhood sits right off a very busy four-lane highway. Very busy. This road has no sidewalks along it, and the shoulders are rather narrow. The traffic along the highway is constant, and deadly fast, and I don't often seen anyone dumb enough to walk along the side of the road to get anywhere. It's just too dangerous.

If it were not for the lack of sidewalks along this stretch of highway, though, I'd be able to walk to the nearest grocery store (about 2 miles away). I'd also be able to walk to our local library and our YMCA (about 3 miles away). This would be great, in my opinion. If I walked to the grocery store once a week to get dinner for Friday, and walked to the Y 2-3 times a week to work out, I'd never have to worry about those 5-10 extra pounds I can't seem to lose. They'd melt away! Plus I'd almost never need to drive, since those are the three places I go most often during the week. I could just walk there, and save money on gas! Imagine that.

I mention all of this because Hubster just recently read that our local government is looking at putting in a stretch of sidewalk along that very busy highway. What they're looking at doing won't stretch as far as the library and Y, unfortunately, but it would stretch past the local grocery store. Also unfortunate, that prophesied sidewalk will only be on one side of the road, the side opposite where my little patch of suburbia is, so I'll have to figure out how to cross a four-lane highway to reach it, because I'm betting no one is smart enough to figure out we'll also need cross walks and signals too.

But still, it's progress, and it looks like there will be more sidewalks going up through our county, and I can't see that as a bad thing. Maybe some day, before I day, I'll have all the sidewalk I'll need to get around this area.

In other news, I do finally seem to be losing weight. It's a combination of water weight and fat, but still, my assets do appear to be shrinking. As I mentioned last Monday, I am taking a month off of EA Sports Active, since my weight gain and knee problems started about the time I started using that game. Instead, I'm going with a combination of Wii Fit, karate, walking, a bit of running, the elliptical machine, and Dance Dance Revolution. In the last three weeks, I've lost four pounds. When school starts up next week and both kids head off for the day, I'll be back to swiming and lifting on a regular basis again, and that should really help kill those extra pounds, I hope.

So how are you all doing with your waist lines? And what would you do if you had sidewalks in your neighborhood? Would you take advantage of them and walk everywhere? Or do you already have them and use them?

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sunday Afternoon Contentments

I had a lousy day yesterday, filled with temper tantrums and howling and pouting. All on my part, that is, not the kids. I think three weeks of travel and visiting family and having no time for myself finally got to me, and like an over-tired tot, I finally had a melt-down.

But that was yesterday, and this is today. It's Sunday, the Hubster has headed out with the girls, and I have the house to myself. It's my first time alone, truly alone, in over three weeks. Let's think about what's got me feeling all warm and fuzzy today.

Early morning writing - I've been busting ass on a story the last two weeks, churning out 1-2K words at a sitting. This morning, I finally wrote the last words and finished the tale. It's a good story, a funny story, and a good feeling to be done. Now I can get on with that horror story I need to finish by next Saturday.

Squirrel baffles and bird feeders - we finally got a squirrel baffle while my parents were here (they came to visit for two weeks, showed up right as we pulled into our driveway after getting back from Chicago!). This was a necessity, because one of the local squirrels, whom I have dubbed Lardo the Big-Butted Squirrel, has been wiping out the bird feeder every time we fill it. Since I also noticed a couple of humming birds buzzing around the rosemary bush in our backyard, I bought a humming bird feeder too. Since setting up these items in our backyard, we've seen gold finches, purple finches, cardinals, and what may be a Smith's Longspur, although this isn't the right range for it, so I'm probably wrong. We've also seen both a male and female ruby-throated humming bird. The girls get very excited seeing these birds, and I have a feeling we may end up buying a bird watching book before too long.

Spiders, cicadas and other creepy crawlies - yes, I am all about the Nature thing today! Earlier this week, while I was weeding the backyard, the girls found 16 cicada skins, plus bits of broken butterfly wings. I've saved them all, in hopes of photographing them, and maybe preserving them somehow. As for the spider, we've got a gorgeous yellow and black one that's woven a giant web along our covered porch. We call her Shelob, and everyday I go out to see what she's caught in her web. Again, the girls are fascinated (though Pixie is a bit creeped out by the sheer size of Shelob). The more interested the girls get in nature, the happier I am.

Shelob, with dinner

Tomatoes from my garden - I haven't got a lot of tomatoes growing, but I do have a few. Today, I made a sandwich with sliced tomato from my garden. It was GOOD.

Homemade bread - let's hear it for bread machines!! I've got a loaf of honey mustard wheat bread going in the machine downstairs right this minute. It's going to be good!

Home made soup - also cooking downstairs, in the crockpot. It's vegetable, with a few things thrown in from the garden. I love it.

Irish Breakfast tea - my mom picked me up a cannister in Busch Gardens, of all places, in the Irish section of the park. I can't recall the brand, but it's very good, and has been the kick in the pants I've needed the last few days or so.

Knitting - Mich got me started on knitting, saying that if I could teach Princess, she might learn to concentrate better at school. Princess has done some knitting, and enjoys it, but I've since become addicted. How addicted, you ask? On Thursday evening, I started work on a pair of wrist warmers for myself. By Saturday evening they were done. Damn that was fast! What can I make next?

My fancy new wrist warmers!

Tamarind soda - I don't know where Hubster got it from, but it's "Hecho en Mexico!" so you know it's good.

Books - thanks to my mom, I am stocked up on books for the next couple of months. I've got "Age of Wonder," a look at the time of scientific discovery and exploration prior to the Industrial Revolution. I've also got "Of Bees and Mist" and a few other choice goodies. The girls got a number of non-fiction books, including some of the Eye Witness books, which I love. We have plenty to read this fall.

E-books - to add to my joy, Barnes and Noble is selling e-books at prices competitive to, and their e-books don't require you to buy a proprietary device! I have a netbook. I love my netbook. I can type on it, blog with it, write with it, handle e-mail with it, surf the net with it, and now I can read the latest best sellers with it at a price I can afford ( is also a good place to buy e-books, if you're interested). Between Barnes and Noble and my mom, I've done more reading in the past month than I've done all year! WIN!!

Egyptology - Princess was fascinated with the Egyptian mummies we saw at the Field Museum in Chicago, so we bought her an excavation kit in the museum's gift shop. She started work on it last Monday, and have so far gotten a small plastic sarcophagus, various trinkets, and a Bast figurine. Some of the books my mom bought for her included an Eye Witness book of Egypt, and Princess spent an entire afternoon sitting with her grandfather, listening to him tell stories of when he lived in Egypt as a boy. We've also been recording shows about Egypt on the Discovery Channel, which Princess watched with rapt attention. And now I discover that one of our local museums will be hosting a traveling exhibit on Egyptian mummies and other treasures later this fall. I cannot tell you how happy I am to see my girl take such an interest in something like this, something that has nothing to do with Hannah Montana, makeup, Disney Princess, or other contemporary girl things that drive me nuts.

The archaeologist hard at work with her loyal assistant.

Naps - I've had a long couple of weeks, and a few times, I've just had to lay down and doze. I love that pleasant, sleepy feeling I get when I pull my favorite afghan over me in the middle of the day and drift off. In fact, I think I ought to take a nap right now...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Move It Mama Monday! Dear EA Sports Active

Dear EA Sports Active,

I want you to know, we've had a lovely couple of months together. Really, I've had such a great time with your 30 day challenge and daily journal. But I think it's time we take a break. Now before you panic, this is a break, not a break-up. It's just that I need some time away from you to figure things out, like why my knees have been feeling like crap ever since we've been together, or why I've done nothing but gain weight since you came into my life. I know, these are difficult questions, and you're not necessarily at fault. In fact, I don't want to blame you, but I need to start looking for solutions to these two very troubling problems, and that means cutting back on possible contributors. Again, notice I say possible, not definite. I'm not blaming you. Really, it's not you at all, it's me, me and my bum knees.

I expect you won't see me for about a month. While we're apart, I want you to know I will be revisiting old friends, and yes, that includes Wii Fit and Dance Dance Revolution. I know you may not be comfortable with this, but I want to be upfront and about what I'm doing. And you are certainly free to hang out with whomever you choose. I don't want you to be jealous, but I've always felt close to Wii Fit, and my knees are certainly more comfortable with the balance board than they are with your lunges and jumping, so I think maybe this is the right thing to do.

Again, we've had a wonderful couple of months together. All those training exercises, the upper body workouts, the volley ball and the tennis and other games... All that will remain very precious to me, and I'm certain that at the end of a month you and I will be seeing each other again, although maybe not as much as we had been seeing each other before. After all, Fall is coming up, and with the kids going back to school I'll be hitting the Y more often to swim and lift real weights...

Oh, I'm sorry! Your weight training program is great, really! You should be proud of it!

Anyway, I have to go. I've got a weigh in at the balance board coming up, and I don't want to miss that. Wii Fit gets so prissy if I miss a weigh in. I'll see you in a month, I promise.

Yours truly,


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Chicago, day 06 - Artsy Fartsy and a Fear of Heights

Day 06 of our trip, Hubster decided to take off from his very important convention. Apparently they weren't doing any talks in his area of rocket scientist expertise that day, and he really wanted to hang with us girls. He did manage to see a bit of the Adler Planetarium and Shedd Aquarium (hey, that kinda rhymes!) on his own, in the afternoons after his conference was over, but apparently he missed his WO-man and kids.

After all the other stuff we'd done, I was dying to see an art museum. I mean, it's Chicago, right? There are TONS of art museums and galleries in that city. But a mom on her own with two kids has no chance in hell of getting through an art museum with any enjoyment, so I traded sex convinced Hubster to take me to the Museum of Contemporary Art. It's a nice museum. Very interesting art. I understand NONE of it.

Well, almost none of it. I did like the installations by Olafur Elliasson. These were rooms that had weird light effects and walk-in sculptures and such. One hallway had these overpowering yellow lights that leached all the color out of everything, so that when you went through it, you turned black and white. Freaky! Another room had a series of glass or plexi-glass hoops spinning on a string with a spot light shining through them. The light cast on the far wall broke into prismatic colors and did all sorts of swoops and swirls. Neat! Then there was the room with a free swinging fan hanging from the ceiling, you know, the sort of fan that you prop in the window when it gets really hot and your AC goes kaput? I sort of got that one (it reminded me of summer at my grandmother's house), but Hubster didn't care for it. He did like the room where one wall was covered entirely in reindeer moss. Yeah, I have no idea why that would be art.

The kids had no idea what they were looking at though, and things only got stranger as we moved through the painting gallery. Why some of those paintings are hanging in a museum is beyond me. I've seen more evocative images appear in Pixie's diapers after a meal of blueberries and pureed squash. Yet someone things they're art and must be preserved. I did get to see a real live Rene Magritte up close and personal. Loved it. Plus there was an Andy Warhol and a few names in there I recognized. Sadly, no photography was alllowed in the MCA, otherwise I'd show you some nifty pics with snarky commentary on the state of contemporary art.

Then we hit the gift shop, and I have to say, that's the first time I've seen a gift shop that was a better museum than the museum it was attached to. The MCA gift shop had some amazing stuff in there, including all sorts of books on pop art and comics, manga, etc. They had a slew of Japanese toys, especially the little collectible trinkets that have become so popular these days. I desperately wanted to get a blank Munny doll so I could doodle it up all my own, but then I found a book on plushy art and that was that. I can't wait to start making freaky little toys with my new-found knowledge };)

After the MCA, Hubster took us to the Hancock Observatory, where we took an elevator to the very tippy top floor so we could all look out a bunch of big plate glass windows and contemplate our deaths. Seriously, I am not a fan of heights, and I really don't like standing at the top of a very tall building with nothing but a plate of glass between me and a leap to my death. Hubster swears he did not know about my phobia, and then proceeded to ignore it as he took the kids right up to the glass to peer out the windows! I sort of clung to the walls in the center of the floor, praying we would leave soon.

When we did finally descend (in what is probably the world's fastest elevator - and no, the speed of our plunge did not make me feel better about heights), we headed over to lunch at the same food court/cafeteria/grocery store place Julie had taken us to a few days earlier (was it called Fresh Foods? I can't recall). We got a huge picnic lunch and headed over to the Lincoln Park Zoo. After devouring everything (I have no idea why I felt starved, but I was), we toured the zoo. It's a nice zoo, with a carousel and kiddie train, and an ape house and lots of other displays. Unfortunately, some of the animals were out for vet visits and the like. Other animals were hiding from the summer sun. I'd like to go back again sometime, maybe hit it in the morning before the heat sets in and the animals decide to take to the shade.

After a loooooooooong trek around the zoo, we finally headed back to the hotel, where we met up with Hubster's brother Pat, who foolishly kindly volunteered to take the kids for the night. We sent him off with a smile and a wave, and then set about trying to find some adult entertainment for the evening. I think Hubster was hoping for Blue Man Group, but I nixxed that, opting instead for Harry Potter at the local IMAX theater. Yeah, I know, sounds lame. But you have no idea how infrequently we can get a sitter, and how badly I wanted to see Harry Potter.

The movie was grand. Dinner before hand was an adventure. We tried a Mexican place at the Navy pier, only to find ourselves seated in a wait staff dead zone. After 15 minutes of hoping someone would come take our order, we watched a trio of women get seated right next to us and promptly have their order taken. Their waiter didn't even look at us as he hurried off to get their drinks, and me feeling snarky, I said, "Let's leave this dump and go get some food!"

So we hit the Hagen Daaz cafe nearby and got some nice sandwiches. End of dinner adventure. (I know, some adventure, huh?)

After the movie, Hubster and I walked back to the hotel. It was near midnight by now and I'd been on my feet several hours, but since the kids were with their aunt and uncle, and we had a hotel room to ourselves, we did what any husband and wife would do - quickie sex and then off to lala land! Seriously, I wasn't up to much. I did manage to wake up for sex the next morning, but I made Hubster go get me coffee first.

So that was day 06. Here are a few pics.

Hubster and kids, at the top of the Hancock Observatory, creeping me out by standing so close to the window.

One of the views from the Hancock Observatory. I think our hotel is in there somewhere.

They think they're being so funny. We actually did see a window washer working outside the Observatory, and I nearly died of a heart attack.

Pixie discovering how big the great apes truly are.

Princess on the Lincoln Park Zoo carousel.

The hottie who is the Hubster. Yeah, I know I'm a lucky girl.

And the train ride at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

I know, I should have had more pictures from the day, but with the no photo policy at the MCA and so many animals out at the zoo, I only got a few good snaps. Tomorrow will be even more sparse, since the big exhibit at the museum we saw then was a no photos deal too! But then, I'm pretty sure everyone's tired of seeing my vacation photos, right?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Chicago, day 05 - Adler Planetarium, and Pixie's Surprise

Day 05 of our trip to Chicago, I was back on my own with the kids again. Not a problem though. One bus stop took us to three different museums, each of which would have taken more than a day to get through. So once again, we hopped the 146 bus and headed out to Soldier Field. This time, we bypassed the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium for the Adler Planetarium. This was probably the nicest planetarium I've ever seen, with a display on historical astronomical instruments, among other things. Unfortunately, Princess and Pixie weren't exactly enraptured with the planetarium. The shows scared the bejeezus out of Pixie, and most of the displays went right over a six-year-old's head. We spent a couple of hours there, and then retired to the Field Museum, where we promptly got lost in an exhibit on Ancient Americas.

Several thousands of years of American history that you never saw in any school book blended right into an exhibit on Pacific Northwest and Arctic peoples, with side exhibits on costumes of Native American tribes. We spent HOURS going through all this, and it amazed me how much Princess took an interest in the displays. But then, she likes "Indians," as she tells me.

After several hours lost in ancient history, we finally found our way out of the museum and headed back to the hotel, where we collapsed. I can't even recall what restaurant we went to that evening, I was so tired. Oh wait, yes I can.

We went to Gino's East to get deep dish pizza. Gino's East is very dark inside. Patrons are encouraged to color all over the walls and such, so the place kind of looks like a pit, covered in graffiti and all. But the food was supposed to be good, so we sat down to wait for our deep dish pizza. Deep dish pizza takes a long time to make, so we were prepared for quite a wait.

While we were sitting there, Hubster looked over at Pixie, who was sitting next to me, and said, "Sweetie, what's in your hand?"

Now it was very dark in Gino's East, remember, so I had no idea what I was getting when I turned around and said, "Pixie, hand it over."

Nope, no way to tell my child was about to hand me a turd. Which she had just pulled from her own shorts.

I dropped it immediately, not quite shrieking, and Hubster wanted to know what was wrong. I made him crawl under the table to retrieve what I had dropped. Then I carted Pixie and the turd, wrapped in a napkin, to the ladies' room. I had no diaper bag with me. Pixie is supposed to be potty trained, right? Anyway, no change of clothing, no baby wipes. All I had was paper towels and a small bottle of hand sanitizer. So I sanitized my baby's butt. Used up half my bottle of sanitizer in the process.

The underpants Pixie was wearing went into the trash. After repeatedly washing her hands and mine, we finally went back to the table. When we got there, the pizza was ready.

Hubster said, "See, you had something interesting to do while we waited for our pizza."

Gee, wonderful.

Anyway, here are the pictures from day 05 (but no pictures of the turd, I promise):

Adler Planetarium

Lots of nifty astronomical intruments, including sun dials and astrolabes.

The only thing in the Adler Planetarium that held my kids' attention, the fun house mirrors.

One of the many statues in the Ancient Americas display at the Field Museum.

I felt like this after so many days running around and seeing the sights.

And that's day 05!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Chicago, day 04 - OMG! American Girl!!

Day 04 of our trip was divided between laundry and sightseeing with my sister-in-law Julie. I love Julie. I hate doing laundry in a hotel. The Embassy's idea of laundry is to put one tiny washer and dryer on the 10th and 14th floor. The set up on the 10th was busy, so we had to make several trips back and forth between our hotel room on the 6th floor and the washing machine on the 14th. The kids were naturally bored. Meanwhile, I slaved over the last three days' worth of dirty undies.

Fortunately, Julie came to save us at noon. She whisked us away to the Disney store and then to the freakiest place on Earth, the American Girl Store. You know yours truly is not American Girl material, not by a long shot. I don't do the girlie girl thing, and I sure as hell don't get into dolls and kids wearing matching outfits. American Girl is just too mundane and too commercialized for me. I saw a lot of families walking through that store, Moms chasing after daughters who brought their dolls with them so they could get just the right accessories, Dads dragging behind, arms loaded with doll stuff. Someone should have put those guys out of their misery. Someone should have put me out of my misery. I was just freaked by the whole Stepford atmosphere. But Princess and Pixie were in seventh heaven, running from one display to the next, oohing and ahhing over the dolls and their overpriced stuff. All along, Julie just kept laughing at me. Remember how I said I loved my sister-in-law? Maybe not so much in the American Girl Store.

We ended up getting two small (6 inch) dolls. I insisted on the historical dolls, so we got Josephina for Princess and Kaya for Pixie. We also got books on each doll. Then Julie got us out of there before my stomach turned itself completely inside out. We hopped on a bus and headed back to the hotel where we deposited our loot, then headed back out for the Millenium Park.

Millenium Park was cool. We started off with the big Bean, which is a giant bean shaped chrome sculpture that reflects everything at weird angles. It's HUGE! And outside the Bean there were a group of kids doing a re-enactment of the big fight scene from Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince. Then there was a display of modern sculptures by Chinese artists, as well as the fountain area. In the fountain area there are two tall pillars that display video images of faces. After these giant faces smile for a while, they purse their lips and spit, and a stream of water comes shooting out, soaking everyone. The girls loved it. After a while in there, we caught a rehearsal session of a local symphony (they were damned good!), and then Julie guided us back to our hotel.

Hubster came back a little later and took us out to dinner at a place called Big Bowl. They serve Thai, Chinese, etc., there, and all of it is good. But Pixie was a little too tired to enjoy. She fell asleep at the table, almost nodding off into her plate. Fortnately for Hubster, Big Bowl wasn't too far from our hotel, because I nominated him to carry our sleeping offspring back.

And that was day 04! Here are the pics:

Julie discusses the joys of American Girl with Princess (I didn't dare take a picture inside the store, for fear their security would break my arm).

Our loot after a day of shopping. Hubster is so broke now.

Fans re-enact the ending to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at the Bean.

More Harry Potter. Their MacGonigal was very good.

Julie (foreground) and the Bean (who's proper name escapes me, but I think it's called Cloud Reflection Sculpture or something like that).

Inside the Bean, looking up. Look for the bright flash. That's me with my camera, reflected in the celing (and Julie's ponytail is in the foreground).

Escher Princess...

...and Escher Pixie.

Giant Toy Dinosaur in the Millenium Park! Made in China.

Rinse and spit! Faces pillar in the Millenium Park.

At the symphony rehearsal, I asked Julie if Chicago was always like this. She said, "Like what? Awesome? Yeah, pretty much."

Dinner at Big Bowl. Pixie was worn out!

And that's pretty much day 04!

Chicago, day 03 - Shedd Aquarium

Day 03 of Chicago, I was on my own with the kids. Hubster headed off very early that morning for his conference. I got up as he left, somehow pulled myself together (the day before had been very long) and then had to pry two cranky children out of bed. Once I got everybody up, dressed, and fed, I hustled the three of us out of the hotel and down the few blocks to the bus stop where we hopped onto the 146 again and headed back out to the vicinity of the wonderous Field Museum.

In the same area as the Field, there is also the Adler Observatory and the Shedd Aquarium. Princess and Pixie were determined to see fish this day, so the aquarium was our goal. Prior to that, we took a detour into the Children's Garden nearby the Field Museum. It's a small garden with some interesting sculptures and a giant spider web jungle gym thing that kept the kids entertained for an hour or so. I actually had to drag them from the jungle gym to the Shedd Aquarium, but the whining stopped once we got inside and caught our first glimpse of fish.

Princess desperately wants an aquarium of her own, so she was enraptured with the Coral Reef display in the center of the Shedd. We got there in time to see one of the feedings. A diver hand fed all the rays, sharks and fish while a woman stood outside the tank and explained what was going on. The diver had a mic set-up, so he was able to help narrate and answer questions. I told Princess and Pixie that when they were old enough, we'd take them scuba diving. Hubster and I have been diving once, off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. I'm dying to go again someday.

After the feeding was over, we saw the display on the Rising Amazon, which looks at the annual flooding of the Amazon River and how it affects the people, plants and animals that live on the banks. Then we hit the Wild Reef display, which looks at the reefs in the Philipines, and the conservations efforts going on in that area to protect the wild life while still letting the local population survive off of fishing the reefs.

Then it was lunch time. I have to say, as much as I like the Shedd Aquarium, it's dining facilities leave something to be desired. The upper cafe is apparently dine-in. They had a side bar where I tried to order a small meal for myself and the kids, but apparently yours truly is too blind to see the sign (in white letters on a beige sign board) that says the side bar doesn't serve food until 2PM. So we headed downstairs to eat in the self-serve cafe, which turned out to be a zoo, and not the good kind. We finally got food, two bowls of macaroni and one bowl of chili, with drinks for the bargain price of $35, and escaped outside to eat on the terrace. The food was good, but for $35, I would have expected something gourmet.

After that, the kids claimed they were too tired to do any more and wanted to go back to the hotel and swim in the pool. I relented, and we magically made it back to the bus and then back to the hotel. I say magically because I know jack squat about public transportation, and because in spite of our best efforts, we have yet to be able to find a map of the bus routes in this part of Chicago. Our hotel doesn't carry such a map, which I think is an absolute disgrace, right up there with the $15 a day price for internet connection.

Anyway, we made it back to the hotel, got into our swim suits, and spent an hour in the pool. Then we waited for Hubster to return to the hotel. He decided to hit the Adler Observatory after his day at the conference, thinking we might be there, but he got there half an hour after we left to go back to the hotel. Still, he had a nice afternoon, and when he joined us back at the hotel, he took us to Portelli's, a place that serves some very good hot dogs. I had my first hot dog Chicago style, loaded with peppers, onions, mustard and a pickle spear. Once again, I was thankful for the walk to and back from the restaurant. Our meal wasn't huge (though the cost for four of us at Portelli's was cheaper than the cost for three of us at the Shedd cafeteria). But it was enough that I wanted the time and activity to help me digest. Along the way back, we stopped at Argo Tea for a quick cup. They have the world's best Darjeeling there!

And that was pretty much day 03. Here are the pics from that day:

Princess and Pixie at the entrance to the Children's Garden at Soldier Field.

They're over the moon about Chicago.

The spider-web jungle gym!

It's a loooooooong way down!

Each sculpture in the garden is a variation of the Earth...

Like this one, the Water Earth!

Feeding time at the Shedd Aquarium!

Crown of Thorns Sea Stars.

Is it a rock, or a fish?

I think we found Nemo...

You think this turtle can get us all the way back to our hotel?

And that's pretty much day 03!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Chicago, day 02 - Pirates and Evolution!

Our second day in Chicago turned out to be fantastic. For starters, the Embassy hotel gives out a nice free hot breakfast (though they're frikkin' misers with their internet connection; $15 a day!). After filling up on eggs and bacon, we headed out to the Field Museum. First we had to walk to the nearest stop, which was rather nice. I like walking around in Chicago, seeing the sights. For some reason, Chicago doesn't weird me out the way DC does. Maybe it's because of the part of Chicago I'm walking in; it's very nice here. But we had a few blocks walk to the bus stop, then we hopped on the 146 and rode to the Field Museum. We met my brother-in-law Pat and his wife Julie there. The girls love Uncle Pat and Aunt Julie (or Uncle Julie and Aunt Pat, as Pixie sometimes calls them), and I always appreciate having extra adults around to ride herd on the kids.

The Field Museum is HUGE! We spent all day there, at least 8 hours, and still only went through a couple of the exhibits. We saw their special exhibit on the slave ship Whydah (sp?) and the pirate Sam Bellamy. Then we hit the Underground exhibit, where the kids got a look at giant earth worms and other cool creepy crawlies that live underground. After that we saw the Egyptian exhibit, where we saw plenty mummies, wrapped and unwrapped. I saw a few things there that sparked some story ideas and Julie laughed every time I pulled out my notebook to write something down. It can't be helped. That's the nature of being a writer. I hate to let a go idea go.

After the Egyptians, we saw the exhibit on "This Evolving Earth." I don't think I've ever seen a better exhibit on biology and the development of life on this planet. I was pleasantly surprised to realize how much I actually knew about evolution, and at a few points I was lecturing to Julie on things like the advantages of sexual reproduction vs. asexual reproduction (and no, the word orgasm never once entered that discussion). Then as soon as I'd wrap up my little lecture, we'd turn around and discover a display on whatever it was I'd just talked about. Weird! It was like I was channeling my dad.

We stayed in the Field Museum until closing. On our way out, we hit the gift shop, where I was able to pick up a book based on the evolution exhibit. It has everything from the exhibit in it, so it's like taking that whole part of the museum home with me, right down to the fun little animated movies on "How to Become a Fossil" (step one: die!) and the pictures of hominid skulls and dinosaur bones. Can you tell how thrilled I am to have picked up that book?

After the museum, we took a quick break at the hotel room and then hooked up with Pat and Julie again at the Rain Forrest Cafe. Thankfully, we walked there and back, and thankfully I didn't eat anything too fattening. I usually put on a few pounds during vacations, but I'm hoping that with all the walking around, that won't happen this time. I need to be able to fit in my jeans when I get on the plane to come home (since I hear they don't usually let pantless people fly).

Here are a few pics from day 02:

The Field Museum!

Pat and Julie with our insect babies.

"Daddy, can I have a sarcophagus?" (BTW, Pixie says the sarcophaguses were her favorite part of the museum, and yes, she actually pronounced the word sarcophagus, much to the amazement of the woman sitting next to us on the bus back to our hotel.)

Pirates like to hang around the Field Museum. Apparently so do pterodactyls.

That's Dinosaur Sue in the foreground, one of the most complete T. Rex skeletons ever found, on display in the main hall of the Field Museum.

Princess and Aunt Julie meet Lucy, one of the earliest hominids.

What makes us human? Our ability to create tools and works of art...

Dinosaur Sue, from head on.

Of course we're evolved! Pat, Princess, Julie and Pixie sit with a close relative at the Rain Forrest Cafe.

And that was pretty much day 02!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Chicago, Day 01 - Arrival and Navy Pier

Hubster signed up to present a paper at the AIAA conference in Chicago this month, and he signed us all up to go along. We do this sort of thing on a regular basis. He takes us to some far away place, drops us in a strange city, and runs off to play scientist while I have to figure out what to do with the kids. I was a little intimidated by the thought of hitting Chicago with a 3 year-old and a 6 year-old in tow, but so far this trip we've survived. Oh, and thanks to the fact that our hotel charges an arm and a leg for wireless access, I have no idea when these posts will get up. I'm writing this one in Chicago, but will probably not be able to post until I get back to good ol' Virginnie.

Having said that, here's a brief run down of day 01 of our trip, with photos.

Made it to the airport barely in time, and found our flight was delayed. Took a puddle jumper to Chicago airport. Lots of turbulence. Joy!

Rode a shuttle van to our hotel, and got a good look at traffic along the way. So damned glad we opted not to get a rental car. We barely survive the trip from the airport to the hotel, and our driver knew how to drive in Chicago.

After unloading our bags, we headed out to the Navy Pier, where there are tons of rides, games, and other attractions to enjoy. We played miniature golf. Well, three of us played mini golf. Pixie was too intent on clubbing the rest of us to death to pay attention to her ball. Not that Princess didn't try to kill us as well. She doesn't understand yet that mini golf is a putting game, not a full swing game of golf. Oy!

We also rode the carosel, and Princess and Hubster rode the big swings.

Look for the two-seater swing on the right side, the one with the guy in the big white sneakers. That's Hubster, with Princess beside him.

We managed to snag a table at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. due to the fact that half their kitchen broke, so they were only serving a limited menu that evening. Half the menu was good enough for us. I was pleasantly surprised to see they served normal sized portions, as opposed to the giganto-sized proportions I'm used to seeing in most restaurants these days. I like being able to eat an entire meal without feeling like I'm going to recreate the final scene from Monty Python's "The Meaning Of Life."

After that, we returned to the hotel for the evening and slept hard.

Fabulous quote from day 01 of the trip - "If you hit your sister in the head, the game is over!" (Said to Princess during mini golf.)

Second fabulous quote from day 01 - "Quit horsing around!" (Said to both girls while riding the carousel.)