Slumber Party

 

I love traveling with my husband, but sometimes I need something different. Travel with my women friends feeds a different aspect of my soul. Friday, I drove to Sawyer, Michigan, where three of my friends and I spent a night drinking wine, talking, and creating soul collages. As much as I love Steven, I don’t think he would spend a day losing track of time as he hunted through magazines for the perfect picture to complete his collage (So right on so many levels). In fact, I got the quizzical look I expected when I told him what we had done.

20191109_145315There wasn’t really anything to do: no WiFi, no TV (horrors of horrors! No TV or Internet! – I am so happy I wasn’t invited), no real town to go to. It was fabulous! We were surrounded by woods, apple trees, and quiet. I am blessed with amazing friends around whom I feel both supported and loved. I feel like I can be my true self around them. In fact, I am at an age where if I can’t be my true self around someone, I don’t bother, but these are women I feel at peace around.

As you already know, when I travel, I want to be on the go: doing, seeing, exploring. I didn’t understand the power of stillness. I’m not saying I want to do this every weekend, or even once a month, but the restorative nature of it was amazing. Plus, I got to pretend I can create artwork without words.

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Soul-collage table

We are lucky that one of us has generous friends who lent us their beautiful home. While I don’t want to own a second home, I now understand the appeal.

Update: We have decided to put off our grand adventure to Southeast Asia for a year. We are in the midst of too much uncertainty and upheaval. I am sad, but I am also sure we will not give up on it.

Happy Birthday

 

It is my mother’s 82nd birthday next week. Ever since she turned 80, we (my brother, sister and I) have been working extra hard to give her special birthdays. This year, we decided that it would be good fun for all of us to pay her a surprise visit in Florida, where she lives during the winter.

My brother lives in Dallas, my sister in Pennsylvania and I live in Chicago, so the first step was finding a weekend near her birthday that would work. We settled on the week before, as both of them were traveling for work the following weekend and my daughter is coming to Chicago the one after that. OK. Step one was completed⁠—we knew when we were going⁠—Thursday, Oct. 31 to Sunday, Nov. 3.

Move to step 2. Arrange travel. We all hopped on to our favorite travel sites and looked for flights that would all arrive around the same time. One quick round of confirmation texts and we all booked our tickets. My sister and brother were set to arrive at 2:00 and 2:30, my flight is scheduled for 3. My mother lives about 30 minutes from the airport, so all in we figured we get to her at about 4.

Move to step 3. Figure out how to ensure that my mother was at home when we arrived. Time to call in the co-conspirators. I called my Aunt Es and Uncle Albert who live about 20 minutes from my mother. After quickly letting them know that nothing was wrong (seems like anytime anyone calls these days, the first thought is what is wrong), I explained our plan. They were more than happy to help. To quote (or at lease paraphrase) my uncle: “Not to worry, we will tell her (my mother) that we are going to be up there and want to take her to dinner, then we will arrive, have a glass of wine and, you know, stall until you all arrive.”

The plans were set, all we needed to do was wait for the day. My brother and sister had uneventful flights and arrived right on time. However, Chicago weather is never your friend, and once again it did not disappoint. Snow. Yes, snow on Wednesday (just about an inch at the airport) and then then snow again on Halloween. My flight was delayed. Not too much, about 45 minutes, but then I had to check my carry on bag, which would have to be collected at baggage claim, not on the jet bridge. Oh dear, now we are arriving around 5.

My brother and sister texted my aunt and uncle to let them know. Luckily for us, they have concocted a story for my mother that involved waiting for my cousin to arrive. They quite admirably stretched out the stall for another hour while we got my luggage, piled into an Uber and headed to my mother’s condo.

20191102_112119We are planners. My brother, sister and I all thought through the approach as my mother’s living room faces the building entrance way.  We asked our Uber driver to drop us off at the next building and we circled around to entrance at that back of the building.

We snuck up to the door.

Knocked.

My mother yelled come in.

We yelled, “Trick or Treat,” and walked in.

To say she looked confused would be an understatement. We burst into a very very very very off key (and for me out of time) rendition of Happy Birthday.

My mother clutched her chest (a heart attack looked possible!!!!), tears streaming down her cheeks and great big smile on her face. Isn’t my husband the sweetest?!?!?!

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After a few minutes of hugs and kisses, everything settled down. We knew my mother was fine when she looked at my aunt and uncle and promptly declared. “You knew this! I will never speak to you again. Now let’s figure out where to have dinner.”

We are spending the weekend doing what we do best together.  Sitting around, eating, talking about our respective families and basking in the glow of a really great surprise.

…and in case you were concerned.  Aunt Es and Uncle Albert were forgiven by the time we got to the Thai restaurant for dinner.

Dreaming Again

Southeast Asia.jpgIt seems as though we will be stuck in Chicago for another winter. Not our first choice, to be sure, but given that our desire to move is simply a desire and not a necessity, not the end of the world either. However, since I am now a full-time freelancer and Steven’s job is somewhat flexible, we have begun to dream of far-flung destinations once more.

Southeast Asia fills the top spot at the moment. We can go in semi-shoulder season, maybe February, when there aren’t as many school vacations, and it will be warm! We had been thinking in that direction anyway, but this dream was reinvigorated by Travels with My Father, a show about 28-yar-olds comedian Jack Whitehall’s “gap year” travels with his decidedly stuffy 77-year-old British dad. Guess where they went in season 1? You are so smart! Yes, it was Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.

Steven has had this notion about seeing the oldest recorded zero in Cambodia, and I am about to disappoint him because I think the real oldest zero is iImage result for son doong caven India. (Hmmm, maybe that’s a way to get him there!) Then he decided we should go on a four-day Vietnamese trip into Son Doong, the world’s largest cave. Hmm, he hates camping, can barely sleep in a comfy bed, and is afraid of heights. There is a 90-meter rope climb to begin the tour. I give him credit for advance bravery, that’s for sure. Image result for son doong cave

Now that I am looking at these pictures, I am thinking this may be totally worth it!

Reality bites, as we all know, because if we spend five days getting to and being on this tour, that takes a real bite out of the rest of our trip. Our style is to get overly grandiose in our vacation dreams and then scale back as we add up the costs in money and time. How can we go to Thailand and not hit the beach and explore Bangkok? How can we fly all the way to Southeast Asia and not see Angkor Wat or the Silver Palace in Phnom Penh? Or go scuba diving? Then, a friend said, “Oh, you have to go to Laos.” Sure, we’ll add that to the list. Why? I’m not sure yet, but it’s right there.

I am so relieved. A few months have gone by without a crazy, exciting trip to plan and now we have one again! Life is much more fun when you don’t have both feet firmly planted in daily reality.

Car & Reader

I know, we have not been very good at writing posts the last few weeks.  We have been a bit distracted with the sale of the house, work, and all the decisions/options/thoughts around the move. We will be going to the D.C. area later this month to poke around and I am sure we will write about that next week.

After last week’s musings about cars and transmissions, I was reading a moderately interesting book, The Ghosts of Eden Park by Karen Abbott, about George Remus, a bootlegger during prohibition. (I haven’t finished it yet, so I can’t tell you if it is worth reading, but I will try to remember to mention it once I am done.) There are numerous mentions of the cars he owned and drove. It made me think about my favorite books about cars  and driving and figured this was a good forum to list a few of my favorites.

First, of course On The Road by Jack Kerouac.  It is a brilliant book about road trips and living the beatnik lifestyle. There is something about his writing style that defined a generation and introduced me (and maybe others) to the brilliance of  Alan Ginsberg, Ken Kesey (who is forgiven for Bonfire of the Vanities—I guess he needed the money) and William S. Burroughs. I long to go back to the time before I was born, to live a life that didn’t really exist, and to do things which I never would really have done. Oh, I am wearing only the best of rose-colored glasses

Next on my favorites list is Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent. My first contact with this book was hearing the author read a capture of  it live on BBC. I was, appropriately enough, in my car (A metallic blue Citroën  BX19 GTI) driving to work.  It was so funny and so enjoyable, that I sat in my car in the parking lot waiting for him to finish before going into work. I went out that afternoon and bought the book and read it all that day.  It is fabulous. Please do me a favor, follow the link and read the first paragraph of the book, it is that good. Full disclosure—I have read everything Bill Bryson has written and I love all his books.

Third is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig.  It is a deeply personal and disturbing account of a man and his son riding a motorcycle across the country. I read it a long time ago and still think about it. It is one of those books that just stays with you—at least it did for me. Mark Richardson wrote  Zen and Now in 2008, which followed the same route as Pirsig and tracked down many of the people from the book. It is worth reading too, but I would classify it as an homage rather than a critique or covering new ground.

I would welcome you comments and any suggestions on good road trip books.

 

 

 

Cars, Cars, Cars

Today’s post is a homage to my nephew Michael and his severely damaged Subaru—Charles.  Michael, this too shall pass, and I hope Charles gets a new engine and is back on the road soon.

I love to drive. The joy of the open road, especially in a convertible is one of my favorite ford fusionfeelings. My trusty Saab is a 2006, so it lacks many of the toys that newer cars have. So when we travel and rent cars, I really enjoy the modern conveniences. I was in Boston last week for work (I know, way too much business travel) and I rented a Ford Fusion. It was a hybrid with a video screen showing all sorts of interesting stuff (mostly the music I was playing and the navigation). But what I found most interesting was the gear selector. It was a round knob on the console. For some reason, I found that every time I shifted out of reverse, I would accidentally put it inpPark.  No idea why, it just seemed that was the natural movement for my hand.  Anyway, that got me thinking about the various types of gear shifters I have used over the years.

vw1I learned to drive on an old Volkswagen Beetle that had what they called a semi-automatic transmission. It had one of the old style, long-handled, 3-speed stick shifts, but without the clutch. The driver still had to shift the gears, but did not have to deal with the pesky clutch. Good training wheels for when I bought the Duster.

 

duster1My first car was a 1970 Plymouth Duster. (Boy, I bet that car was a chick magnet.)  I loved that car in part because it was a manual transmission with a three-on-the-tree shifter. I bought it without knowing how to drive a manual transmission. My friend Michael gave me a 30-second lesson, drove the car to my house, and parked it outside.  I spent the next week or so practicing using the clutch and learning how to drive a manual. I was so proud of myself the first time I took it out for a real drive. There was a hill near my house that had a stop light at the top and I would always try to go on that street so that I could practice the rolling start. Scary, but good fun.

Knowing how to drive a manual transmission came in handy when I moved to the U.K. The interesting thing about that is while the steering wheel is on the other (wrong?) side of the car, you still use your left foot to operate the clutch.  The gear pattern is the same as a left-hand drive car, but you use your left hand to manipulate the stick.  I cannot tell you how any times I would put the clutch in, and bang my right arm into the door, forgetting that the gear stick was on the left side. Not the most comforting thing for my passengers, I am sure.

olds 88I have also driven any number of automatic transmission cars with all their various shifting mechanisms. The column shifters (I especially remember the one on my Dad’s Delta 88 which could comfortably sleep the entire population of Boston), the console shifters of various cars (my Saab included) and of course the modern paddle shifters which mimic the semi-automatic from the Volkswagen.

Things come full circle.

One thing that I forgot about driving on the East Coast (especially in New England) is that no road is straight. In the Midwest, there are only three types of streets.  North/South, East/West and a few diagonals, just to keep you on your toes.  The streets in Boston seem to have been designed by a committee of drunken, blind, stock market analysts who believe that the random walk theory of the markets should be extended to the streets.  Straight, at least for roads, seems to be a curse word.

Another funny thing about Boston is that streets are often named for where they take you. For instance, Newton Street in Brookline, takes you to Newton, where it, of course, turns into Brookline Street, so you know how to get to Brookline from Newton.  I remember this same “logic” when I lived in the U.K., but I thought the U.S. had successfully avoided that foolishness.

At some point, I will try to convince Sue to go on a road trip where we rent a super car,  for a week and drive really fast, just for the fun of it. Perhaps something like this. I am thinking that, you my dear readers, should fund this as part of the the Doing It on The Road research plan  😉 (I will definitely get on this bandwagon if I don’t have to pay for it.)

Sorry.  None of the images are our cars, just examples of what we had.

 

 

 

Next Stop: Somewhere Near Baltimore

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A reminder of why we don’t want to stay in Chicago

We didn’t take a big trip this summer for many life reasons. Don’t you hate it when reality gets in the way of travel? We’re dreaming of Vietnam and Cambodia, but our next jaunt is to the Baltimore area to see Steven’s son and daughter-in-law (and my stepson and stepdaughter-in-law). While we’re there, we’re going to look around and think about permanence. This whole time of life is a little bit travel, a little bit leap into the unknown. One thing I know for sure, though, Steven does not want to live through another Chicago winter and if Farmer’s Almanac is right, it’s going to be a bad one.

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Desert beats snowstorm any day

That’s why the trip to Utah; it was a fact-finding mission. Do we want to temporarily live in St. George? Would it be possible? Do we like it? Is the the right semi-long-term trip for us? The jury is out. For sure the winter would be easy. Plus, it is a wonderful vacation spot: Beautiful, warm, sunny, plenty of hiking and we did get in a beautiful hike, so no complaints there. But….vacation! travel! Someplace new and crazy. Not happening.

I wish at least we had time to drive East. The shorter the flight, the less I see the need to get on a plane, but, again, reality. Plane=quicker, at least if there’s a pilot, no weather, no random delays, no mechanical problems, no luggage that doesn’t match a passenger. I love to travel and see planes as a necessary evil. If I am flying over an ocean I can’t think about how I would rather be driving and then I get a free checked bag and maybe some food.

 

 

 

Random Thoughts From Utah (and Vegas)

This is a bit of a rant, but so be it. If there’s one thing that really bugs me, and I am a pretty laid-back guy, it is the old bait-and-switch. Tell me up front and I’m fine; sneak in different conditions after I’ve bought, and I’m not fine. This happened when we checked into New York New York. I had booked what I thought was a room with a king bed. When we arrived, the woman at the reception desk said, “Oh no, you get whatever we have and we only have rooms with two queen beds.” We could have upgraded for $30, but why should we have to. Then I looked online and saw that they list the king room and the queen room separately and you can book either one. Frustrating.NYNYrooms

We also had an issue with our AirBnB. Again, tell me the rules up front and I can decide if I want to follow them or go elsewhere. The day we were checking into the place, Sue got an email asking us to strip the bed, put all the dishes in the dishwasher and turn it on, put the towels in the hamper, and take out the garbage. OK, but you’re charging us a $52 cleaning fee. The silliest was that in the rules of the house, it said, “No shoes in the house.” Fine, but we had to walk into the condo in our shoes in order to see the rule book. Later, we asked our real estate agent, the Marvelous Mrs. Megan Ahleen, and she gave us a reasonable explanation: The soil is a very fine, red sand and it gets on everything. Somehow, it managed to get under my shoes and socks during our hike. The place itself was perfectly comfortable, with a few nitpicks I won’t bother to enumerate here.

IMG_20190819_203941447.jpgThe best feature of the condo was that we could walk to the end of the road where there was open land and watch a gorgeous sunset.

One thing we were looking forward to was a visit to Hash House A Go Go. The Chicago outpost of this Indiana chain closed. They say they serve “twisted farm food.” I don’t know about that, but I do know they serve is enormous portions. Sue had a vegetable skillet plate that came with two eggs and tons of veggies smothering crispy fried potatoes and just in case that wasn’t enough food, a biscuit. I had the “downsized” burger , so named because it only has one patty the size of my forearm. My favorite part was getting to use the 55+ (he means old man–next step, early bird special) discount. Woo hoo!

 

St. George Overview

img_20190820_094404190_burst000_cover_topWe arrived in St. George on Sunday. Hmmm, that’s a problem. Maybe five percent of restaurants (of which there isn’t a great selection) are open. We did find a  good sandwich shop, Even Steven‘s, a chain which we later found out just went bankrupt. Bummer. The sandwiches were good and it had a hipstery vibe. Although I never thought that I would look forward to that, in Utah it’s a good sign.

No doubt, it is hot here, but we don’t care. It’s gorgeous. It’s also growing like crazy. There’s new construction everywhere. Maybe that will lead to better restaurants. We were assuming we would have to do a lot of our own cooking, so that wasn’t a surprise. We were pleasantly surprised by the range of grocery options and the selection. Our real estate agent, the Marvelous Mrs. Megan of Elevated Properties Group, told us about Harmons, a fancy schmancy store that was about akin to Mariano’s (for you Chicago area folks). The produce was expensive, but we breathed a sigh of relief that we could get most of the products we are used to. Steven might have to forgo his favorite sour pickles, but brave man that he is, he seems willing to do so. (I am hoping that I can order them online – or perhaps arrange a business trip to Brooklyn and I will hand carry them back.)

Megan showed us around town and graciously tried to figure out what we were looking for in a house while we changed our minds about priorities. (My priorities never changed, all I want it a perfect house with perfect views and no close neighbors – pretty straight forward!) We saw some potential, but we didn’t fall in love with anything. Luckily, because we still have a house in Skokie.

The highlight of the trip after Megan was our short hike in Snow Canyon State Park. The park has a combination of red rocks, lava, and sandstone. Hiking, biking and rock climbing are all within easy reach. We started out on Hidden Pinyon trail and decided to head up the Petrified Dunes. Someone became a little petrified when the rocks got too steep, so once I investigated and realized that it wasn’t for him, we headed back down. Still, views you can’t believe unless you’ve seen them, perfectly still air, and silence. The comparison to Zion National Park is stark. Zion is crammed full and to see the splendor, you must do some serious, long hiking. Parking is a challenge, too. Snow Canyon is beautiful, empty of visitors and easy to access.  It borders St. George and you can even drive through it and see majestic views.

Steven here – a small extra point.  As many of you know, I lived in Leeds England for a number of years, so when we saw Leeds on the map near St. George, there was no way we were not going for a drive by.  It is a tiny cross roads.

If It Is Saturday, This Must Be Las Vegas

On Saturday, we started our St. George trip by flying into Las Vegas. We took an afternoon flight and arrived in Las Vegas late in the afternoon. The flight was bumpy and Sue had technical issues with her computer and her phone, but other than that, the flight was uneventful. By the time we deplaned, got to the rental car company and checked into the hotel it was 6ish. The temps were still in the low 100’s, but it is a dry heat…

We stayed at New York New York because we are both from the real New York (only I am from the real New York; Steven grew up in what I consider Canada–that is, north of the Bronx) and what says real New York than one weirdly constructed casino in the middle of the desert? We survived the usual up sell on the room size and paid the mandatory “resort fee” and were assigned room 813.

Sue and I are planning on doing some hiking, and it was a good thing we were ready because it was a significant walk to get to the elevators. Once off the elevators on the 8th floor, it was another 132 steps to get to our room. The distance to the elevators is a double-edged sword; sure we needed to plan for a snack midway, but on the bright side, we were so far a the end of the maze that they called a hallway, we had virtually no one making noise.

Sue noodles with egg & vegetables and broth

We settled in for a few minutes and then headed out for dinner. We had decided to go to Chinatown and found a great noodle place called Mian. Sue had warm noodles with egg, vegetables and broth, which she ordered medium spicy. I had cold noodles with beef, which I ordered a little more spicy than mild. They were both delicious. Sue’s was a bit too spicy for me, and mine was as spicy as I get in Chicago when I order medium spicy. They served a delicious drink which was cold sweetened mung bean soup. It had a very mild sweet flavor and really worked to dampen down the spiciness of our food.

After dinner we wandered over a block or so to the Golden Tiki. It was just what you would expect in a tiki bar. The DJ was playing ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s hits. The TV on the bar was playing clips from old Hawaiian movies and the atmosphere was a cross between pirate nautical and advanced kitsch. What more could you ask?

Sue’s Dragon’s breath

Sue had a flaming rum drink called a Dragon’s Breath; I had what is normally called a Singapore sling, but they called it something else. We had a perfectly enjoyable time and after a couple of hours we headed back to the hotel for the night.

A great start to our vacation and tomorrow we will head to St. George.

Graduation Trip #2: The Early Stages

Image result for europe
Yes, we will be going somewhere here 🙂

Yesterday was the first day of my niece’s senior year of high school, so we are definitely overdue for planning her graduation trip. There’s something amazingly special about traveling with my niece and nephew. You may remember my trip to London with my nephew for his graduation. It was fabulous, and not just because the weather was great, but also because I get to see the world through the eyes of smart, young people who are grateful and enjoying every minute.

My niece and nephew are very different. He had a definite plan and settled on London rather quickly. My niece has also narrowed down her hot spots … to Europe. To be fair, I think she is mostly talking about Spain, France, Italy, and maybe Croatia. She mentioned Copenhagen, but then decided that it was very expensive, but she’s open to ideas. There’s always Iceland, everybody’s favorite these days it seems. The only thing she knows for sure is that she doesn’t want to go to Greece, with me. She has a Greek friend and they are planning a trip someday.

We have more than enough time, but still, part of the fun is letting your imagination go wild and entertaining all the options. Here are a few of the items we still need to narrow down:

  • Are we going to one place? Two? A sampler plate?
  • If we decide on the sampler, what type of transportation?
  • How about a cruise? Yes, we both get seasick, but we can get patches. (I don’t believe anyone who says I won’t feel the boat; I get seasick looking at boats. I’m still game, though.) (when she refers to “anyone” that means me…I have never felt the boat when I have been on cruises).
  • How long is the trip? (will they even bother to come home?)
  • City? Country? Beach? Mountains? All of the above?
  • On our own or package tour? 
  • Mediterranean? Scandinavian? East? West?

I could go on, and the truth is that it is entirely up to my niece. There are tons of places I want to go and even if we end up somewhere I have already been, it will be a completely different experience with her. Ultimately, I don’t care. You only get one graduation trip with your niece, so wherever we end up, it’ll be the best.