Sunday, July 27, 2008

some random observations about the windy city

H did such a bang up job blogging about the rest of our time downtown I'm going to save myself some time and suggest you go read it here. We totally didn't pay that much attention to detail when we were there - our handy dandy Go Chicago! books filled in some details I think. Instead of paraphrasing I'll take some time to share some of the quirky things we noticed while in Chicago.

The first thing I noticed were the French people everywhere! Les francais, les quebecois, they all seem to have been visiting at the same time as us. I'm not sure what exactly makes Chicago such a hot spot for the French inclined, but it was sort of fun hearing them everywhere we went.

Also, and I'm sure I was supposed to know this and not be surprised by it at all, was the number of black people in Chicago. Yes, this is probably like me being surprised by the number of Asians in Vancouver, or Ukrainians in Saskatchewan but sometimes I forget things while I'm busy living under my little rock.  Visually seen, about 50% of Chicago's population is black.  Nifty.  

People of all races are stupid over Apple stuff. I am a lover of almost everything Apple makes. I own a nano, a macbook, and if my budget allowed I would likely own many more toys from the Apple family. I however, cannot understand how every single time we walked past the Apple store there was a huge lineup just to get in the store. I understand why Apple would want to limit the number of people in their store (hello Vegas Apple Store, you could take a hint here) but I don't understand why you would stand in line to look at stuff you can buy at any larger chain store. Unless of course they give out cookies while you shop, then I would totally understand (and be a little sad I didn't stand in line.)

Marketing has really been taken to the next level in the States.  Wednesday morning before we got started we were too full for breakfast but were looking for a coffee before we headed to the museum.  There was an ING cafe right across the street from our hotel so it seemed easiest.  This cafe totally did its job of making me want to bank with ING.  The baristas and *insert name of male equivalent of barista here* were actually all bankers in disguise.  Friendly  - and one French - bankers.  They cut their schpeel on ING rather short when they realized we couldn't become customers, but they were still super nice and even offered to let us use the free internet.  As we were doctoring up our coffees a regular customer came in for coffee and they knew her name and what she wanted to order.  If my bank wanted to buy me coffee everyday I think I could get behind that!

So I think I should wrap this up here as it's taken me two weeks to finish this post...  I'm definitely looking forward to returning to Chicago and would highly recommend it as an American holiday.  Ok, done now.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

downtown - day 1

Tuesday morning we awoke fairly early to catch the 930 train into the city. I knew we had started our trip off right when the train showed up on the opposite platform we were standing on - we had to book it with our luggage over to the other side Amazing Race style. To be fair we were in better shape than the several families with young kids and strollers and the elderly couple to be making such a dash. The train has (likely several) "conductors" on it to sell you your tickets - he was fabulously cliche as he hollered "ALL ABOARD" and patrolled his cars reprimanding teenagers and punching tickets in his conductors cap.

We arrived without other incident at Ogilvie Station and took a cab to our hotel not wanting to deal with walking or public transit and our luggage. We stayed at the Sofitel Water Tower Hotel and were very pleasantly surprised to find our rooms ready for us way before check in time. Our room was pretty crazy - the bathroom was about the same size as the room itself and was 80% marble. The bathtub and shower were separate and there was a speakerphone by the toilet. No saving the planet here by reusing your towels either - they didn't just replace them daily, but twice daily! Once in the am and then as needed at turndown. Seemed a little excessive, but it was fun that they cleaned up the bathroom so often.

As soon as we had ditched our bags and found a restaurant to have a reasonable lunch at (not our hotel!) it was time for our sightseeing extravaganza to commence. We underestimated distances a bit while planning - my guess at a 30min walk turned out to be much closer to 45. Tired of searching for the planetarium, we stopped to take in the Shedd Aquarium. Chicago only appears to do one size - huge. The sheer size of the place was likely the most impressive part, maybe I'm getting cynical, but between Marine Land and the Biodome there wasn't really anything new to see in terms of species or display. We also missed the dolphin show not realizing that they only block off the majority of the entrances to the viewing area but not all. We did run into the people sitting in front of us on the train on the way in to town proving that no matter where you go it's bound you run into someone.

After the Aquarium, we were up for continuing our walk to the Adler Planetarium. It didn't hurt that we clearly saw the planetarium from the inside of the aquarium and were much more confident that we could finish up the last 5 minutes of the walk. The Adler Planetarium was also gianormous with several theatres (two with domes) and all sorts of exhibits and things to see. We rested our feet and took in two shows - one on the seasonal stars above Chicago and one on cosmic collisions. We didn't spend a tonne of time looking at the exhibits as we closed the museum down and they didn't seem too keen on extending their hours for us. The planetarium boasts the best view of the downtown, so we hung out appreciating the skyline and just how far we had walked before hopping on a bus back to the Water Tower area.

This was really the only day we figured we'd have any time to do any shopping, so we started by hitting up Michigan Ave - The Magnificent Mile as they call it. Neither of us had much luck, so we headed over to Macy's since Jeff raved about it on their trip to NY. I've always thought I hated department stores, Macy's solidified my hatred for the gigantic monsters. Unless you're looking for homestuff or make-up, finding anything amongst the 8 floors is just way too frustrating for me. Macy's organises everything by brand instead of by type of clothes. Seriously? You want me to peruse 6 floors of women's apparel for a dress without even sort of grouping like styles of clothes together? As if. H had a little more luck in the adjoining mall and picked up some shirts at Abercrombie and Hollister. I have no idea what they make their shirts out of, but the fabric feels like heaven.

Our last mission of the day was to find someplace to eat. This seemed like it would be a pretty simple task since we were staying in a very busy area. Oh right, simple things rarely are while on vacation. We walked for ages, stopping at every restaurant we saw to look at the menu - it all looked delicious and was priced accordingly. It also all seemed to follow the HUGE rule. The size of the steaks on people's plates as we walked by? About the same size as my head. We also saw a couple with a quarter of a carrot cake, not a short one either, one of those totally ridiculous 4 full layer cakes. Not really what we were looking for... I finally convinced H that the Cheesecake Factory we saw right at the beginning of our trek would have something reasonable and delicious for supper. Not wanting cheesecake for supper he was pretty skeptical, but happily it didn't disappoint. It was huge, but reasonably priced, and H even said it was the best burger he's ever eaten. Point - me. Of course our waiter convinced us to share a dessert and we left to pack it in for the night feeling uncomfortably full.

suburbia here we come!

So we've had an awesome time so far during our trip. H has really been showing me up in the blog department - no real surprise, but he likely has the nanny to thank for finding him some spare moments to update and to edit his photos.

We have been staying in the picturesque town of St. Charles - a suburb of Chicago which boasts rather large, very gorgeous houses that have small parks as backyards. It helps that no one here has fences, and there seem to be pretty strict rules about yard upkeep. Even the houses that are empty and for sale only have weeds in the flower beds and the lawns are still mowed. I'm pretty sure I'd fail the test that lets you into the neighbourhood based on my gardening skills alone.

It's been a bit of a shock to the system to be staying in a house with three kids under the age of 6 - they never stop! To their credit they are insanely cute and aren't nearly as devilish as their mother makes out. This likely half due to the fact that we're new faces and they just LOVE playing with us and half due to the fact that this is temporary so it's okay to have three kids using us as human jungle gyms for a couple days. Since none of the kids have met me before, they seem to be especially smitten with having a girl to play with - you know, between getting scared by their uncle and watching Mickey's Christmas. Until today the youngest (just turned 2) was calling us both "mit-chel" when asked who we were. Tonight when going to bed he did say goodnight to his "Uncle Month" - secretly I hope "mit-chel" sticks.

Since we arrived on Friday, we got a chance to do some family friendly tourist things on the weekend. Saturday everyone but the youngest packed up to go to the Museum of Science and Industry. The Museum is so massive there's an entire airplane and the captured German U boat, among other things, right in the museum. The girls' favourite part by far was the kitchen galley in the sub.  After the museum we drove around downtown a little bit - past Obama's house, through the hood, and to Oprah's studio.

On Sunday we packed the whole family up and headed to the Kane County Fair. The weather was a little intense - these crazy brown people seem to forget that us fairer folk get a little crispy when out in the 30 degree heat for several hours! We started off looking at the animals and taking the kids to the petting zoo where we almost had a casualty when one of the girls got taken out by a couple of goats. After we had an awesome time taking the kids on the rides. I think I'd forgotten how lame most of the little little kids rides are - different vehicles moving either in a circular or oval pattern. Watching them try out some of the more "grown up" rides was hilarious - mostly because of how concerned H and his sister were while the girls were having a total blast screaming and waving their arms around.

Monday everyone was back to work, including the nanny so H and I had a relaxed morning and then went to a nearby box mall to try and find some sandals since I had failed in this mission before leaving home. We went several places, and were eventually successful - I managed to find a pair of flip flops at DSW that I thought would be comfortable enough to make it through our trip into the city. I also might have developed a little crush on a store called Crate and Barrel which sells all sorts of things I don't actually need but sure do think are pretty (and sometimes practical, you know, for those occasions in my life I need a punch bowl). Monday evening we just hung out and visited. H also pulled out his "big camera" (I'm not the only who complains he's always got that thing in my face!) and got some fabulous pics of his nieces and nephew before we headed off.

All in all a very successful visit to Suburbia!

Friday, July 18, 2008

chicago bound!

Well we're in the Saskatoon airport (welcome to the year 2008 Saskatoon, it's about time you got the internet) and so far our trip is going swimmingly.  We're flying AirCanada, always a real treat...  I miss you WestJet, I know you're rapidly expanding could you read my mind and please fly to my next unknown travel destination please?

Customs was super - I was selected for every random security check possible.  Which totally means I got asked if I'd prefer a private room for my groping.  Not wanting H to get the wrong idea, I declined, preferring to get my groping done out in public.  They're thorough!  I can say my chest has never been fondled in such a manner by another female before today.  My ankles either for that matter.  Little known fact - they also check your hair to make sure you're not hiding anything in there either.

H says he will be updating his blog on a daily basis while we're gone.  I plan on keeping us busy enough that there won't be time for such things, but I guess we shall see.  We will be updating our twitter accounts for the duration.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

frustration, i am living it

So, among the many things I would like to get done this summer holiday season, close to top of the list actually, is to stain the deck.  Our deck is not huge, it's looking rather worse for wear, and we are having our housewarming this weekend so it seemed a reasonable goal - at the time - to get said staining done before Saturday.  Before Saturday really means before Thursday as that's when the Sidewalk Sale starts and I have agreed to work all day everyday with the promise of pretty underwear dangling over my head.

Not being a fan of manual labour (and an avid watcher of lame commercials) I decided using a pressure washer would be the best way to strip the old paint from the deck.  Borrowing a pressure washer was no problem.  Getting it to work...  For some reason this particular brand of pressure washer has a "male" piece where the garden hose should be attached.  Problem being, the garden hose, on it's free end is also a male bit.  No problem! says boyfriend, just go buy a coupler - turn the garden hose female and voila!  Actually purchasing a functioning coupler?  Two day adventure involving many stores.  Finally, thanks to Canadian Tire, problem solved.  

The pressure washing itself worked almost as good as I hoped.  I was hoping for a slightly higher paint removal ratio, but all the loose ugly stuff did come off.  Now I am totally ready to get my stain on.

Cue rain.  And more rain.  But, there's the sun!  Oh, no more sun, it's summer, what would the sun want to hang around outside drying off my deck for?  How bout grey and cloudy?  Things still dry when it's not rainy so I suppose it's acceptable.

Distraction - make a cheesecake!  (It looks SO good)

Finally, after waiting an entire half a day in the gloom, decide that if you start with the railing it's probably okay to start staining.  Hopefully by the time you get there those not quite dry floorboards and stairs will be ready for you.

The staining, it's easy!  So much better than anticipated.  Sure I'm banging my hand trying to get the sides of the rails, but the stain is covering really well, maybe even one coat well for this part.  Hey, it's the sun!  This isn't so bad, it's nice, it's sunny 50% of the time...

What?  Is that rain?  Serious?  I'm about 6 rails in, you have got to be kidding me.  It is rain.  Frick.

Does anyone know how to create a bubble, with hot air dryer over my deck?  Just til tomorrow...