Seeing Family

Happy July 4th to all our American readers.

As Sue said in the last post, we wrapped up our eating fest in Chicago and headed down to Houston to visit Sue’s middle brother. Our three-hour flight to Houston took us a couple of hours longer than expected because we sat on the runway in Chicago waiting for American Airlines to get updated paperwork into the pilot’s hands for some cargo that was in the hold. (Number 1 worst airline, according to me.) We taxied out the runway, sat for an hour, then taxied back to the gate, waited, got the paperwork and then headed south after a two-hour delay. The joys of travel. Once in Houston, Brian (Sue’s brother) met us at the airport and we headed to his house for a fun-filled weekend visiting with him, his wife Chelsey and our adorable niece (Lexi) and nephew (Ethan aka Jett).

On Saturday, Sue, Brian, Jett (and a friend of Jetty’s which meant the entire trip became a gigglefest, so cute) and I took a quick ride over to Austin for a baseball tournament (afternoon temps in low 100s Fahrenheit – high 30s in Celsius because Sue and I are trying to get used to the using Celsius). It is about a three-hour ride, and along the way we stopped at a perfect bit of Americana. It is a glorified–and I mean really glorified gas station and convenience store called Buc-ee’s.

It is enormous, something like 100 gas pumps and a store that sells everything from coffee to all types of travel food (including home made BBQ sandwiches) to kitschy Americana to a store’s worth of Buc-ee branded clothes (including Buc-ee bathing suits!) and things like portable ice machines, tents and meat smokers. It is fabulous. Only in America and only in Texas would there be a convenience store so large that it takes 5 minutes to walk the length of it. I LOVED IT! When we arrived at the ball field we found out that Jett’s game was delayed by an hour or so. We settled in to sweat and wait, but Brian was kind enough to lend us his (Chelsey’s) SUV for the afternoon and we went into Austin. More accurately we headed to a couple of breweries in South Austin. We visited St. Elmo Brewing Company and Vacancy Brewing Company. Both are recently opened in a very cool little area that has breweries, wineries, (a sake brewer? OK) and a distillery along with a bunch of hip businesses like design and marketing companies. They both were very good and we had a great afternoon out.

We stopped for dinner at an excellent little Thai restaurant called Ros Niyom Thai in Round Rock, where our hotel was. Sue ordered her food hot, and the waiter said that she could have it one, two or three in heat, where three was the hottest. Sue ordered three, I ordered two. The food came and it was great, just the right amount of heat for both of us. After we were done the waiter asked how it was and Sue said perfect. He then said that hers was level 2. That their food is medium, hot and Damn Hot and even he couldn’t eat the damn hot.

On Sunday morning we watched another of Jett’s baseball games (9 a.m. temp 34C) and then headed back to Houston for one more day with the family.

Our flight home was uneventful. We flew Spirit airlines, booked the upgraded seats and checked our luggage. (Spirit better than American? Who knew?) The entire process was a little less smooth than other airlines, you had to check in at the airport first, the line to check our bags was a bit long, the boarding was a little more chaotic than usual, nothing–not even water is free on the flight. But, all in, the seats were comfortable, the flight was on time, and our luggage came out fairly quickly, so it was not a bad flight. I’d rather that that a two-hour incompetence delay and a bag of pretzels.

Once home, Sue went into packing monster mode and has packed up much of the house and arranged for our movers. I mostly did work and spent about 6 hours in a dentist’s chair getting three same day crowns. Yes, I have terrible teeth.

For the July Fourth weekend, we made our last real road trip. We went to my sister’s house (about 2 hours away near Harrisburg, PA). Much of my side of the family was there, including my sister (well it was her house), my brother-in-law Mario (it’s also his house), all four of their adult kids, my mother, my son Josh, my daughter-in-law Liz and Hannah, the most amazing granddaughter any grandparents could hope for. For July 4th my sister had a BBQ and invited another dozen or so people including our brother-in-law Karl and his wife Helen. It was wonderful to see them as it has been about 2 years. I had never met them and they are wonderful. They don’t live far from us so maybe if/when we get back we will see them again. The temp was about 30 C, so, of course, Mario lit a fire in the fire pit at about 2 p.m. and kept it going all night as the temps dipped into the high 20s (yes, Celsius again). As always, they had enough food to keep a small army fed for a month, so most of it was gone by the end of the evening. Mario, Karl and my nephew Michael put on a small firework display and everyone survived with all their fingers. An excellent day was had by all.

Monday we returned home to our partially packed house, and prepared for the week ahead. So much to do, so many things still to be organized and what seems like so little time.

Eating Our Way Through Evanston

What happens when you go home after a year of COVID in a new state whose cuisine doesn’t exactly excite (if you could go get it anyway?) Foodganza!

Map of Evanston, IL

Here’s a rundown of the restaurants we hit. Not all in Evanston, but pretty close. It’s been a whirlwind, so I may have them out of order, but you’ll never know 🙂

Libanais: Lebanese (well, duh!). Delicious and sorely lacking in Edgewater, MD. You really can’t go wrong here and the pastries are YUM (hence the 4 extra pounds on my belly).

Ovo Frito: I love breakfast out. Steven does not (just not my thing). This place is great because they have a wide range of veggie breakfasts with a Mexican slant and lunch, too.

Union Pizza: Good cocktails, food that’s not all pizza and a great place for friends to meet and catch up. Also, fronts Space, a music venue that is scheduling shows again!

Dave’s New Kitchen: We call this place Little Dave’s because he used to have a bigger space. Red-checked tablecloth Italian. If you look at the website, you will see that they are closed for Passover and Easter weekend. Hmmm.

Grilling at my brother’s: No website here, just relaxing with family.

Taco Diablo: The first time I went here, I was on the Blue Horse Tavern side of the adjoining space BUT the Blue Horse Tavern menu wasn’t available. The kitchen cooks Taco Diablo and Lulu‘s (which is the space where the tavern is now) menu, so I had tacos. Then, I was there again with my brother and his family. Can’t go wrong with tacos and margaritas, but I would have ordered Lulu’s if I had known I’d be back at Taco Diablo a few days later.

NaKorn: High-end Thai. So, yes, they have pad Thai, but expect a somewhat more gourmet version in a fancier setting. Also, pretty, flowered drinks (with or without alcohol).

Kanela Breakfast Club: This is a small Chicago chain of deliciously sweet and savory breakfasts. We walked from Evanston to the Andersonville site (6 miles! and still we did not walk enough to offset the high sugar and carb-loaded food that we ordered – it was fabulous!), so give us props for at least trying to balance the eating with some exercise.

Bar Roma: We got our hair cut and then went to dinner with our hairdresser, Charlotte. Fancy Italian. Yum.

El Carrito: Bills itself as Mexican street food. I’d call it a taqueria. Either way, good, fresh tacos and burritos and a pretty wide variety of meats and veggies to go in them. I do appreciate a veggie burrito that is not just rice and beans, but includes fresh veggies! (The mole fries seemed like a good choice at the time.)

Ravinia Brewing Company: Yes, more tacos. It just worked out that way, but the food is secondary to the people in all of these instances, so it’s fine with me.

Cara Mio: This is our last night’s dinner. Italian again! Steven is looking forward to the baked ziti with chicken parm on top if it. No wonder we’re gaining weight!

We complete promise to eat only salad for the entire month of July. And to run and do yoga. Right, Steven? (umm…sure??)

Here are few observations:

  • Service is still wacky as restaurants try to staff up and figure out how many diners to expect.
  • Mask-wearing has mostly fallen by the wayside fo (r diners, but not for staff.
  • QR code menus are probably here to stay. That’s fine with me. Easier to change, nobody spills on them and no awkward handing back and forth of giant books or laminated pages.
  • I missed eating out, but I will be happy to eat my own cooking when we get back to Maryland. (Me too. I like a good dinner out, but after 10 days of only eating out, and especially eating only at places that we really like, it will be good to have a few lighter home cooked meals.)
  • I now remember why I don’t want to live here: I shouldn’t have to wear pants on the first day of summer! (It was so cold that I needed a jacket last night; wish I had brought one.)

From here, we fly to Houston to see my middle brother and his family. I bet it will be a little warmer there.

Life Messes With My Vacation Plans

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Early November to May weather in Chicago. No, really, it snowed on Halloween and last April.

I already mentioned that we are passing on our latest dream vacation: Southeast Asia. Instead, we have decided to jet off somewhere warm the first weeks of February, March, and April. I know what you are thinking: Isn’t it warm in April. NO! April is the beginning of the last third of winter here in Chicagoland. That week, we are planning a trip to Houston to see family and then on to Mechanicsburg, PA, for Passover seder with the other side of the family.

Did you ever notice that places you don’t consider tourist destinations are expensive to fly to? Four hundred dollars to fly to Harrisburg, PA?!?!?!?!? Four-fifty to get to El Paso!?!?!? And I don’t get to check a bag and I have to sit in the back of the tiny plane? Yuck. I really want to go to Big Bend, but we may end up folding it into a roadtrip.

OK, that leads me to the toughest decision. I really want to go to Big Bend, but I really don’t want to spend $450 a person flying to El Paso. I think that’s off the table, but then where to? Somewhere warm, but not expensive. San Diego? Tucson? We need a place with reliable, fast WiFi so Steven can “work.” We’re still pondering that one. Steven has to work during the week, so we want to go somewhere that I will have things to do, unless I manage to find some work. Anyone looking for freelance writing or editing? I’m your woman!

We did get the February trip solidified. We are headed back to Costa Rica courtesy of our friends Karl and Guiselle, who have moved to Playa Flamingo from Arenal.  Can’t go wrong with sun, surf, and friends. I don’t know if it will work out, but I may have to try scuba again. Plus, I have been Duolingoing for a while, so maybe I will even be able to speak to someone in Spanish. This time, I want to see turtles.

I am excited to go to Houston, not because I like Houston, but it’s been more than a year since I have seen my brother, sis-in-law, niece, and nephew. Way too long. It’s more fun to spoil them in person and it will almost be our niece’s birthday. Crazy aunt and uncle fun time!

 

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?!?!?!

ma

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.

Getting through the Winter

Major Winter Storm Pounds Chicago Area
Chicago

I hate the winter.  Chicago is cold, windy, gray, and snowy. I am miserable from the beginning of November until the spring comes…in July. This year, I have been particularly miserable; I am not really sure why, it hasn’t been very cold, there has been almost no snow and while it has been very gray, the wind doesn’t seem so bad.  But I am still miserable (and I suspect the other one will tell you that I am also insufferable—I don’t have to say it, because he already did).

la
Los Angeles

So, my plan is this —go no more than 4 weeks between leaving town—even if just for a weekend. We were in Florida over winter break.  I soaked up some sun and my misery lifted. However, it is now mid-January and I can feel the pull of warm weather. Last weekend, I took the plunge and booked flights to LA for early February. My daughter lives out there, which seems like a good excuse to visit. I figure 4 days of California sunshine will see me through February.

We have a trip to Costa Rica booked for the end of March, but that will

costa rica
Costa Rica

be seven—long, dark, cold, and windy weeks after I get back from LA. I think I might need to find somewhere else to go for a weekend. Sue doesn’t have any time off, so it will be hard for the two of us to go anywhere during that time, but I will see what I can come up with. Maybe wrangle a work trip to Charlotte for a few days?  In April, I have two trips. My feelings about this man are darkening.

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Arizona

First, Arizona for opening weekend of the Diamondbacks with my son as we continue our tour of baseball stadiums. I love going to the opening weekend of baseball season. It is absolute confirmation that winter may end sometime in the next four months. Then, we are heading east to PA for a family visit.  While it doesn’t seem like it should be much warmer, I always think it is (and I am sticking with that story —don’t confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up).

That should hold me over to May.

And…hopefully…May will bring warm weather!

“Vacation” or Not, Florida Will Be Great

Now that I am down to one week before winter break, I am letting myself focus on Florida.

It’s sad to say that I don’t really consider visiting family “a vacation,” and it’s not because I don’t love family–especially my new, very lovely family. It’s just that we’re not exploring a new place, and I always crave new adventures, so it’s a different kind of travel and nourishes a different aspect of me.

This is comfort travel. There will be sunshine (I assume), a welcoming guest room, and plenty of food in the fridge. (Thanks, Ma!) What’s not to like? One of the best parts of marrying Steven is that his family came with the deal. (Yes, this is the sound of me sucking up. No wonder they all like you better than me!) But really, it’s true, plus it’s nice to have family in a warm place when you

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OK, it doesn’t look like this yet, but it will soon.

live in Chicago. Who wouldn’t want to stroll on the beach and smell the salt air instead of bustling again the cold wind and spreading salt on the ice?

 

So while I don’t think of Florida as a real “vacation,” (boy, am I spoiled!!) even if I get to see alligators in the Everglades or eat Cuban food in Miami, I am very happy to be going. We are also lucky, because we have the luxury of picking our dates of travel since, surprisingly, it is not cheap to get to Florida from here during winter break. When I get to the $500+ airfare mark (I will not fly basic economy–again, spoiled), I just start to think, “I could go to Paris!” We did manage to find only somewhat inflated airfares, so off we will go to fabulous Ft. Lauderdale!

 

 

 

We Have a Plan

This will be us when we visit Steven’s mom.

We got three inches or so of snow on Sunday night/Monday morning and the temps have stayed in the mid-20s. Oh boy, I love Chicago. Despite our best efforts, we just couldn’t figure where to go abroad for winter break. Everything was very expensive and the trips just didn’t grab us and say, “Come here now!” We decided not to force it, so we used our get out of Chicago free-ish card and are going to spend a few days visiting my mother in Florida.

To say she is excited is a mild understatement. Sue texted her to check on availability on Monday afternoon. I received 2 texts, 3 calls, a few telegrams, and a carrier pigeon…all before dinner. Apparently she has cleaned the apartment, changed the bed linens, gone to the grocery store and started cooking. After she calmed down a bit we confirmed our flight times and transport. Whew..

I know what you are thinking: “What about the dog?!”  Hey Mom! Surprise, we are bringing the dog!!! Only kidding. One of friends has quite generously offered to come and dog/house sit. This is the first time we have left the dog with anyone other than Jack, Sue’s son. Let’s hope it works for both our friends and the dog.

Today’s high temperature was 27 degrees. I am counting the days …

Oh yeah. We booked something for spring break, but I will leave Sue to tell you about that on Saturday….stay tuned!

September Baseball

MLB-vector-logosYup. Another post about the best game in the world.  Baseball. For those of you who missed the last installment of as the baseball spins, I will bring you up to date. Our intrepid baseball stadium travelers (Josh & Steven) visited Pittsburgh’s PNC Park in August to get to the midway mark in the stadium tour(*). This weekend we are doing a two-fer by visiting Miller Park in Milwaukee and the southern of the two Chicago stadiums.

Now, I know what you are thinking.  You live in Chicago, how is it that you haven’t visited those stadiums already? The answer, my friends, is in the arcane rules of stadium visits as compiled and administered by Chief Rules Officer Josh. Apparently, any stadium visited prior to the official start of the stadium tour in 2013 does not count. So, while we have been to both these stadiums before, because those trips were before the start of the tour, they do not count. Rules are rules and must be followed.

miller parkFriday night we are going to Miller Park in Milwaukee. It is about a 90-minute drive and knowing Josh, we will need to be there 2 hours early in order to wander the stadium. It was 90 degrees here today, but by Friday, the high is expected to be about 70. Since it is a night game…we might be wearing jackets…Oh the winter is upon us! Miller Park is cool. It was one of the first retractable-roof baseball stadiums and the roof is a fan shape, so both sides open/close at the same time. Hopefully it will start out open and then at some point during the game they will close it. They used to open and close it after every game just because it is is cool to watch. We will see if they still do that.

grfieldSaturday night we are going to the stadium currently known as Guarantee Rate field. It used be called US Cellular Park, but everyone in Chicago still calls it Comiskey Park. It is an underwhelming stadium, build in the early 1990s.  The original Comiskey Park was built in 1910, and in the late 1980s the owner of the White Sox convinced Tampa/St. Pete that he would move the team there if they built him a stadium. They built the incredibly awful Tropicana Field, but while they were building it, Chicago agreed to build the new Comiskey and the team stayed here. This led directly to the expansion of baseball with the Tampa Rays (at the time they were called the Devil Rays, but now it is just the Rays).  Either way, the White Sox managed to move into a slightly less awful stadium in Chicago which seems to change names every 10 years.

(*) There is some dispute as to whether we have reached the halfway mark.  There are 30 baseball teams and we have visited 15 stadiums.  However, the stadium in Atlanta was torn down last year, and by a unanimous vote the rules committee (Josh) it was decreed that we must visit the New Atlanta stadium in order to complete the tour. The rules committee is also considering the question of whether the visit to the Nationals stadium for the All Star Game counted as the game played there was only an exhibition and therefore not a real game.  When we have a decision from the committee I will let you know.

All in all, should be a great weekend.  Two baseball games in 24 hours, what more could a person ask for?

 

Does Time Travel Count?

No, we are not time lords (Susan should speak for herself; I am not willing to concede this point…yet), but we did go back in time last week. Anyone who lives in Chicago or who has ever been in Chicago in the summer knows that every weekend brings a new neighborhood festival. They are all pretty much the same (sorry fans of a specific one), some have more art, some more crafts, some a theme, but mostly they have street food, beer and wine, random stuff to buy, and music.

The Real Deal

Close enough

Last Saturday we headed to Taste of Lincoln and the 1970s. We were informed that we had to get there by 4:30 or we would miss the highlight … Dancing Queen–an Abba tribute band. Spandex and sequins and a little Fernando on the streets of Chicago. The scene was classic Chicago: all kinds of people coming together in the name of (bad) music. Not that the band was bad, but would my life be complete without ever having heard B sides of Swedish Abba hits sung by others? YES!

img_20180804_200856948_burst000_cover_topYesterday (yes, I know I am a day late with the post), we went back to a time that I don’t remember: the ’60s (1969 to be exact!). We headed up the North Shore to 210 Live in Highwood. Steven says the place used to be a bowling alley, but now it is a restaurant and music venue. A friend of a friend was playing trumpet in a Woodstock and Joe Cocker tribute band. I’m all for the summer of love, but I hope these talented musicians aren’t stuck back there and that this is just a chill side gig. The funniest thing to me was that we heard a substitute Joe Cocker substitute. Chicago’s own Joe Cocker sub was unavailable, so Detroit’s Joe Cocker filled in. The whole thing reminded me of John Belushi (which I realize plants me firmly in the oldster demographic, too, just not quite as oldster. If I were young, I would have bee at Lolla.