Friday, April 20, 2018

Chicago Adventure: Trying New Things Together

Whether eating real ramen for the first time or riding the elevated train, the best thing about our Chicago adventures was sharing them together.

Chicago Adventure: Walking From D (Dinosaurs) to W (Centennial Wheel)

We explored farther afield our second day in Chicago, walking two miles south from our hotel to the Field Museum and 1.7 miles north and east from our hotel to Navy Pier. Our 13-year-old, who has no problem running 13 miles in a half-marathon -- complained about these distances most of the way. Thankfully, he found distraction in photographing the Chicago skyline, railyards and Trump Tower, watching skateboarders in Grant Park, tipping a street musician who was playing his saxophone in a Museum Campus tunnel, and avoiding goose poop on the lake walk along Du Sable Harbor.

At the Field Museum, we were captivated by the Evolving Planet exhibit. Different this time to our visit five years ago was Sam explaining to me the parts and work of human cells, genes and DNA. We spent the majority of our time looking at the trilobites, fossils, dinosaurs, giant ground sloth and Neanderthals. We were disappointed that Sue was away but happy to learn she is receiving some scientific updates like the addition of her gastralia (breathing ribs) and re-positioning of her arms and wishbone along with a new display space.

Tom was able to join us for our Navy Pier adventure, which included viewing the Chicago Skyline from atop the Centennial Wheel and winding our way back to our hotel via a route that took us past the Chicago Tribune and -- to Sam's happy surprise -- Trump Tower. (We aren't sure why he wanted this photo, but he was able to secure it.)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Chicago Adventure: Art and More Art

Over the past 13 years, my family has explored children's museums, toy and Legos museums, science museums, air and space museums, natural history museums and zoos. We've visited a mint, an open-pit iron mine, an underground iron mine, the National Mall and even that goofy Mystery Spot in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

But we had never taken in an art museum beyond seeing the Mounties at the Tweed. So I was surprised on this trip to Chicago that one of the first things our recently turned teen wanted to see was art. Specifically, he wanted to visit Cloud Gate, aka The Bean, and Crown Fountain at Millennium Park, which he had learned about in 6th grade art class with Mrs. Hannu. But he also didn't balk, much, when I suggested, well maybe insisted, we visit the Art Institute.

We had fun interacting with and photographing the reflective bean and the enormous wall of glass bricks that projects faces of native Chicagoans. It was good to be outside. Being hearty Duluthians, the brisk wind off Lake Michigan didn't deter us. But it did keep the crowds away and make it easier to slip inside the Art Institute on the pretense of getting warm.

One hour or two? A compromise. Four exhibits or six, and a trip to the gift shop? Another compromise. Instead of standing on the stairs while I use the restroom, go look at the glass paperweights. I was beginning to think this would be a trying experience. But when I entered the hall, my son was eager to show me the paperweights he liked best.

We both were in awe of the Hall of Miniatures, European and American rooms crafted on a scale of one inch to one foot. And he was absorbed in photographing exhibits in the Hall of Medieval and Renaissance arms and armor. I sensed reluctance when we moved on to paintings, but then we happened upon some Van Goghs. We had recently watched the Dr. Who episode of "Vincent Meets the Doctor," so we had to explore that room and a few more.

I was looking forward to examining some architectural works by Frank Lloyd Wright, but I could tell he really wanted to head to the hotel for a late afternoon nap. And who wouldn't after boarding a plane at 6:30 a.m.?

We made a quick stop in the gift shop. Realizing we had missed Andy Warhol, Edward Munch, Edward Hopper's Nighthawks, the Chagall windows and more, I almost headed back into the museum. But common sense prevailed. He had visited his first art museum and, for the most part, enjoyed it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Chicago Adventure: Navigating the Big City

Navigating a big city in itself can be a grand adventure, and our first tag-along on Tom's annual MBAA International Conference was just that.

Since Tom had stayed at the hotel several times before, we relied on him to get us from Chicago O'Hare to downtown Chicago, er, The Loop. We took the L, boarding an empty train car that filled to capacity with morning commuters on the 45-minute ride.

We exited the Monroe Blue Line station on Dearborn Street, momentarily turned around, until a fellow passenger pointed us around the corner and in the right direction to our hotel. We walked down Monroe Street quickly, our bags rolling and bumping along behind us.

Hopeful the elegant and historic Palmer House Hotel would accommodate an early check-in, we passed through the glass entrance doors and made our way to the marble registration desk. They were happy to assist, and we were in our room and unpacking by 10 a.m.

After a quick brunch in an eatery linked to the hotel, Tom walked us in the direction of Michigan Avenue and the Chicago Art Institute. A brisk wind made us return to the hotel for Sam's winter coat and the address of a nearby comic book store before we set off on our own. Tom needed to prepare for his first of two presentations that afternoon.

L train cars rumbled on the tracks overhead and we caught sight of a kippah-clad jeweler behind a case of uncut diamonds on the few blocks walk to Graham Cracker Comics on Madison Street. I filed a mental note of the location of nearby Pizano's Pizza, its signs touting deep-dish Chicago-style pizza. After a half-hour perusing Graham Cracker's impressive inventory, Sam selected several comic books and most likely lost his room key when pulling out his wallet to pay for them.

At Madison and Michigan, we found ourselves across from  Millennium Park. Sam wanted to see The Bean and the wall of faces, you know, where the projected faces of Chicagoans spit water out their mouths, creating a fountain people can walk through. How did he know about these public works of art? Sixth grade art class with Mrs. Hannu. We had fun taking photos from outside and underneath the reflective bean-shaped Cloud Gate as named by the artist. Crown Fountain, however, doesn't start flowing until May, but we had its massive glass brick walls all to ourselves to explore.

The cold made it easy to convince Sam to accompany me to the Chicago Art Institute. In fact, he suggested we hurry there. We discovered many treasures unknown to us (see Chicago Adventure: Art and More Art post). On our way back to the hotel, he spied a sign for Friends Ramen, an eatery we would try the next day.

But what and where for dinner? Deep-dish Chicago pizza, was on our list. We wandered into an  Italian warehouse style restaurant across from the hotel and decided it wasn't for us. We had something a bit more homey and traditional in mind. So, onward those few blocks again to Pizano's. Our waiter, "The Chach," was a true character, calling Sam either Samuel or Minnesota and referring to Tom as Dad, and he brought us an unsolicited deep-dish cookie sundae for Samuel's "birthday" and our "anniversary." The restaurant, too, is part of a colorful history that involves step-brothers vying for claims to the best, if not original, deep-dish Chicago pizza.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Best Passover seder yet

As the first night of Passover approached, we found ourselves stuck in urgent care waiting to learn if our son had broken his toe when his foot connected with a metal door instead of a soccer ball earlier that day in gym. We realized he was in too much pain even if we did get free in time to make it to a friend's seder.

Arriving home around 6 p.m., my husband and I kicked preparations for our own mini-seder into high gear.
Fortunately, I had made matzoh ball soup, charoset and almond macaroons the night before. And I had most, though no chicken or lamb bone, of the ritual foods for the seder plate.

While my husband carved and charred a wooden bone (it's the symbolism that counts) for the plate and copied off a "two-minute" haggadah from The Jew in You, I heated the soup, set up the seder plate and pulled together the saltwater, parsley, horseradish, charoset, matzah and four cups of wine we would eat and drink during the ritual blessings and readings.

Our "festive meal" that followed consisted of the soup, matzah pizza and macaroons. Hey! I can't be expected to pull off a miracle.

Our seder and meal were completed in about an hour's time, and we retired to the living room in pajamas to play "Exodus: The Game of Passover." From my son's laughter at some of his Dad's trivia question answers, despite the pain, I knew that this Passover will be one we always remember.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Growing up fast

Between a scavenger hunt at Hartley Park and a video game night sleepover this Saturday, my 13-year-old son and two of his buddies took time to participate in the local March for Our Lives rally. They made signs in the car on the way. They gathered with hundreds of others at the Central Administration Building. They marched eight blocks to the Civic Center, holding their signs and chanting "We call BS" and "Protect our kids, not our guns." Despite the wind and cold, they respectfully listened to the rally's speakers and stood in silence while the names of the 17 students who were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were read. Then, with frozen fingers and toes, they ran back to the car and turned the heater and fans up full blast.

I am so proud of these youths -- and all the others here and across the nation -- for standing up and speaking out. We must listen to them.

Sharing some heart-breaking moments for this mother this past week:
  • In one of our discussions, my son said that the federal government needs to provide money so his school can have more police officers -- "because the one officer his school already has isn't enough to keep him and his schoolmates safe." 
  • I realized that having a SWAT team and their bomb-sniffing dogs come into your school during a lock-down drill is common enough that my son didn't even mention it when asked, "What happened at school today?" When prodded, I learned: No, he didn't get to see the police officers or their dogs because he was hiding in a corner of his classroom behind some desks. Eye roll, here. "Mom, we've been having lock-downs since kindergarten."
  • My son tearfully looked over at me while a grieving mother spoke during Saturday's rally about her 17-year-old son being shot to death by his college roommate.
I am sick of the smugness and the audacity the politicians and gun rights advocates show anyone and everyone who speaks out. I am sick of the NRA and gun industry whose greed has taken away all commonsense and any responsibility on this issue. And I am sick of the rest of us (myself at times included) who remain silent. #Enough. #NeverAgain.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Bit by the Cougar: A Boy Develops a Passion

My son and his running buddy, both 12, have been training many weeks now to run Grandma's half-marathon later this month. They have completed short runs and long runs, including two 10-milers, and cross-trained diligently.

This weekend, Sam returned to his running roots: the Congdon Cougar Chase, held annually at Lester River Park.
Sam ran the 1K in kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grades. In later elementary grades he joined the school's running club, trained and ran the 5K. 

On Friday, Sam ran the Congdon Cougar Chase's 10K. He finished in 50 minutes and 40 seconds, placing 2nd in the male 12-17 age group and 10th overall. His running buddy placed first in their division, 9 seconds ahead of Sam. Their mile times were 8:32 and 8:33.