Sunday, August 17, 2014

Logging In The Travel!

Madame:

Your post about fearful parenting, and society’s punishment of those who aren’t irrationally fearful, would normally incense me to much comment.  But I will move that to the edge of the hibachi grill for now.  Btw, that picture is terrific.  On to more travel journaling!

7/26

Breakfast was good, made fresh on the spot at this Bed & Breakfast: turkey and cheese croissants, blueberries and grapes, cinnamon rolls, cranberry juice, pineapple, and green tea.  Took some oat bars and an apple for later.

Today we went to the Field Museum of Natural History.  It had a great 3D film about Waking the T Rex, an examination and CDI projection of the T Rex skeleton found by archaeologists and in display at that very museum. They also had an exhibit on Ancient Egypt, ancient Egyptian culture, market life, etc., as well as, of course, mummies.  

It had a below ground mockup that was interesting:


The boys enjoyed the Biomechanics exhibit quite a lot.  The sustainable, local area food at the cafĂ© was very good.  There was also a hall of gems which was visually very appealing.  I enjoyed most, however, the Pawnee Earth Lodge.  As I sat on the buffalo blanket bed and contemplated the quite big and airy lodge, I was reminded of how much we hurt ourselves when we don’t try to learn from other cultures.  While the European settlers in the Americas were breaking their backs working year round, trying to impose their foreign plants, foreign animals, foreign practices and wills on a land, all the while disdaining the practices of the natives, the Native Americans would have three or more months a year where they would take TIME to:

Rest.

Renew.

Learn.

Contemplate.

Discuss.

Enrich relationships.

Respect.

Revere.

We would have invested more hours at the Field Museum, but we hustled out to go to the Shedd Aquarium, only to be quite disappointed that the aquarium was going to close early for some unexplained reason.  Always wanting to have a Plan B for such vacation snags, we caught the L back to Evanston (technically, north of there, in Wilmette), where we walked to the Baha’i Temple.  A quiet and serene place, it is the Baha’i House of Worship for North America, and one of only seven such in the world (one on each continent, soon to be more).  



It is a faith that stresses oneness of humanity and belief that different faiths worship or aspire in different ways the same one God.  They have been persecuted in many intolerant places, primarily Islamic dominated countries, and hundreds have been killed, some by execution, even though practitioners are typically non-violent and even pacifist.

The temple, built under the same principles at the Pantheon in Rome (remember?), is quite simple and conducive to contemplation.  It has sayings engraved in the walls or on mountings:



We tried to go to the beach, but were frustrated at how much had been privatized and was off limits.  So we came back to Evanston and ate Chicago deep dish pizza at Lou Malanati’s, a Chicago chain.  It was good stuff, and being outdoors eating was even better!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Free the Kids



Professor J,

Really am enjoying these summer travel posts of yours. You reference to being spoiled by German bakeries reminded me of being in one in Wismar and seeing several honeybees in the case. No one seemed to mind, least of all me! :)

I turned on the news and remembered why I haven't done that in a while. It looks as though the world has gone mad. But then thinking back over history it would have always looked like that if CNN was, say, 4.000 years old. I heard a sermon recently where the pastor said the world was "unraveling." I wondered if he'd read a history book.

Bringing things closer to home, this summer there has been a rash of parents being arrested for their parenting style. Namely, allowing children to walk to the park alone, or leaving a 4 year old in a car while a parent does a super quick errand, like dashing in and out of a small business. In other words, parents are now in danger of being reported (and worse) for the way everyone our age was brought up. Since it's summer when kids are supposed to be experiencing freedom, here's  a list of things I was allowed to do as a child.

Go into a store and buy cigarettes for my mother (my kids think I'm making that up). Get up at dawn, get dressed, and leave the house without telling anyone where I was going. Go into the houses of neighborhood kids I met even if my parents didn't know them. Drink from the garden hose. Play outside from dawn to dusk, unsupervised. Play games without uniforms and where no adult was calling the shots. Explore woods and fields on my own without a phone. Ride a bike and skateboard without a helmet. Go trick-or-treating on Halloween without adults to ruin it. Meet other kids and play without parent scheduling. Run around barefooted and dirty as long as my mother didn't have to take us anywhere.

It was awesome.

There's a movement to stem some of the nonsensical hyper fearful parenting that is going on today. There's even a blog called Free Range Kids . If you visit it you can even see video from a Japanese television show called, “My First Errand/ Hajimete no otsukai.”   where parents send children as young as TWO (!) into the world to perform small errands. Watch the video. It's charming and delightful.

 The 24 hour news cycle has made it seem as though the moment you take your eyes off your child they'll be abducted or molested. So much damage is being done to the psyches of parents and we are robbing children of self reliance in the process. Then we wonder why they seem so dependent for so long.

Over scheduling the little darlings in another issue I have with modern parenting, but you could probably refer to last week"s post to figure out why.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Chicago, Not the Musical

Madame,

I enjoyed greatly your finely spun recounting! :)  And the reflection process as well! 


The travel diary continues:

7/25

Today we changed hotels, so after breakfast we drove to Evanston IL, just north of Chicago, and checked into the European style bed and breakfast there.  Both the boys and girls were tickled at the place, from its door that you open to get to the  sliding cage elevator, to its large drawing room, to its quaint library, to its patio, and the very spacious suite-like rooms. 

Once there, we walked to the subway station and caught a train to Chinatown.  I’d scouted out electronically a popular authentic restaurant, MinHin, that served things Cantonese style, that appeared to augment its basic fare with a few other suitable Asian foods, and was reasonable.  It didn’t disappoint.  While crowded, it was a huge place, and they found us a large round table.  Potted green tea came complimentary, as much as you wanted, which was a big hit with me.  We ordered fifteen dishes, all served in shallow bamboo mini-baskets.  Home made fish balls, dumplings, stuffed lotus leaf with sticky rice, pan fried water chestnut cake (very gelatin like), Malay sponge cake, sweet custard rolls, crab meat and seaweed rolls, pan fried green chive cake, vegetable crepes, lotus seed paste buns, fish paste congee (a type of soup), puffy egg custard tart, mango pudding, and coconut pudding (both in jello type configurations), were some of the more notable dishes. 

My daughter, who is taking Mandarin in high school, loved walking around and going into the stores at Chinatown.  Cash only at a lot of places! Some liked to demonstrate that the fish were fresh:



I did not find the bakeries we sampled very remarkable, but once you’ve been spoiled by German bakeries, perhaps the comparison is unfair!  Two guys got into a picture I was taking of the Chinatown entryway:



The girls were keen to go shopping at the famous areas we’d heard about, so we went to State Street and began the process.  I went into the 9 story Macy’s building (former Marshall Field building, I believe) and took a picture where I was told a lot of movies have filmed parts.  



Of all the famous stores along that area, the girls seemed to like the three story Target store (also located in a historical structure) and The Body Shop the best.  The boys and I had tea and soup outside at some plush hotel and watched the crowds go by.  With the high concentration of single women, the boys had no shortage of eye candy.  The chronicler is silent on whether the older gentleman with them enjoyed things as well. :)

From there, we headed up to the Magnificent Mile of more shops (including the Apple Store and Microsoft stores, both popular with the boys), and the Water Tower Mall, a busy place, with some good architecture along the way:







The boys discussed the merits of living in a big metropolis, with my son espousing all the benefits, from not having a car (he dislikes driving), to all the cultural offerings and excitement, plus all the people.  His friend was a little more torn: he wanted all the culturalities and excitement of the big city, but also liked the feel of a medium-sized town.  They did not resolve the dilemma. :)

After a bite at the gourmet food court at the mall, we then went to Oak Beach, where the girls put their feet in Lake Michigan.  They were a little saddened, however, by how much trash and pollution there was. 

It was well dark by the time the L subway train took us back to Evanston.  Made for a great picture of the bed and breakfast with its hanging flags signifying all its international visitors:




I went to the front desk to get the key to the second room which hadn’t quite been ready that morning.  While I was waiting in line, there was a guy several inches taller than me waiting to see if he and his family could get a room.  It is rare that I run into someone with bigger feet than me, so our feet took a picture together:




My son’s friend was exhausted and went to sleep.  My son and I watched a James Bond documentary which was quite interesting.  Had a lot on Ian Fleming, the actors, the directors, the producers, etc.  One of those things that is so interesting that you stay up watching it when you know you shouldn’t because you have an early day the next day.  A particularly bad habit of mine, squeezing the marrow out of life just a little too often.  We’ll see if I can avoid getting sleepy during the day tomorrow… :)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Web of Summer Musing



Professor J,

I always enjoy it, as I'm sure our readers do, when you do the unusual and share pictures. Looks like you and your crew had a fun and enlightening trip. I wanted to stand on that staircase in the miniature fairy castle! So glad the predicted foul weather never showed up. I'm looking forward to hearing (and seeing!)  more about it this week.

Beekeeping has taught me to be observant of tiny creatures and details I've overlooked in the past. Just this afternoon I spotted a pair of American goldfinches in the sunflower patch. We've never seen them here and I couldn't stop looking long enough to make sure my camera had a memory card. Which, sadly, it did not. So instead of beautiful birds you just get the stocky spider. But they were so lovely, bending the sunflower heads low with their weight while they gorged themselves on the seeds, bees darting in and out of the hives making the last frantic trips of evening.

Good grief. I'm channeling Annie Dillard in this post. 

Every morning for several weeks a spider (that's his picture above) built a huge web over the patio from the cedar tree, where he lives, to another point, the Adirondack chairs, for instance. One morning I was drying the chairs off while watching him on his web and accidentally swept across his anchor thread and the entire masterpiece collapsed like a doomed hot air balloon. Deflated in a wisp of a moment just as I had been admiring it from the side, I destroyed it.I'd always assumed this was why webs disappeared, because a bird flew into them, or a careless animal (in this case me) came in contact with them. I began to be more careful not to disturb him.

Last week I sat watching this good sized, though sturdy and unattractive, spider sit patiently in the center of his glistening marvel. He tilted his head when I approached and looked at me. Instantly he dropped to the bottom edge, disconnected something and collapsed the entire bottom section himself toward the center where he collected the now single line as he made his way to the top where he repeated the process. He made short work of it in just a few seconds and collected every bit of the web as he went. For all the spiders I'd seen over a lifetime, I'd never witnessed this particular moment before.

I imagined him packing it into his tiny briefcase. The night's work over. 

My first impulse was to google how arachnids both spin and collect their webs along with every other fascinating detail. I do however, enjoy taking some time to wonder. Have you noticed that wondering is something done rarely now that everyone at the table can instantly fact check every single topic for discussion? We seldom tilt our heads up anymore and say "I wonder..." Instead we look down at our phones and say "Let me google that." All without even giving ourselves quiet moments of observation or thought. In some ways it is marvelously satisfying to have every question answered (though that generally leads to more questions) but don't you think something has been lost in the process?

Speculation. Ideas about what might be. Wonderment. Room for the mysterious. Anticipation of answers.

Given a little time and thought, sometimes a thing can be figured out.  There's a great satisfaction in that. I've occasionally come to some conclusion while trying to puzzle something together. Which feels amazing until I'm made aware that there have been volumes written about the thought I considered my own.  The first reaction there is a feeling of disappointment that the thinking isn't new or original to me. Often wondering if everyone knew this but me. But in that, there is also confirmation. That the thinking is sound, that the reasoning isn't faulty. And then a tiny bit of joy that while, yes, it may be common knowledge, that my conclusions were my own. That no one told me. To think a thing through to the correct conclusion is a tiny bit of bliss.

Spiders with briefcases notwithstanding. ;)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Chi Talking

Madame:

Good chronicle, good examination, good advice. 

As promised, here is the travel chronicle!

7/23/14 (Wednesday)

My son, daughter, and their two friends drive to Chicago.  Tight fit, but my daughter, the smallest, fits into the jump seat in the very back of my Chevy Traverse.  The two boys are both studying computer science, and my son's friends teaches the girls a little about computers and programming while my son and I do the driving.

Get there to Lombard IL.  Our hotel is right next to one of the two “Greek Islands”  (authentic) restaurants in Chicago.  We eat there.  My son and I have a Hillas beer (a Greek beer).  Pretty smooth and good.  We five have a cod caviar which they all loved on the fresh bread, plus we also had spinach pie and flaming (flambe) saganaki cheese for other appetizers.  I have cod and spinach rice and chicken soup for the main meal, my son has gyro meat, and his friend has an unknown fish.  All were good.  For dessert, there’s yogurt and honey/nuts parfait, apple cinnamon ice cream, and almond torte.

7/24

The next morning, we drive (yes, we’re that far out of Chicago) to the nearest “L” (subway) station and get three day passes for everyone.  This “train” thing is a new experience for the boys.  We take the L downtown, then catch a bus south.  We walk to the University of Chicago and see some very nice architecture on the “chapel” (a cathedral, really) and other buildings.  We tour the Oriental Institute, which houses ancient Mideast displays.  We walk through the college neighborhoods, but don’t go into any of the local shops due to time.  As we have to get to…

The Museum of Science and Technology, where we see and interact with awesomely cool scientific displays of lightning, tornadoes, waves, sunlight, robots, the future, etc.  The sayings of modern inventors and scientists were often on display as well:



A miniature fairy castle is also on display, where I found the detail so fascinating. 


There’s also hanging above us in one section a Stuka and a Spitfire (made the day for this historian, especially when I got to go to the upper floor and see them at eye level). 


Rounding out things for me as a WW2 buff was the great U-boat display of an actual German submarine. 



Of course, it would like better if I had any picture taking skills, lol. 

There were a dozen or so mounted engravings, which my daughter noticed just before we were getting ready to leave the museum.  It's not often one sees something dedicated to Erechtheus, even for mythology afficionados!



My daughter is a better picture taker, and she said I looked like I needed a picture, tennis elbow or not:



From the museum, we went on to the Navy Pier, which was heavily commercialized, but pleasant nonetheless.  We had some crepes, churros, and some Italian food, all while sitting outside in the great weather we had the whole time. Poor weather, which was predicted frequently, never materialized the whole trip.

Well, Madame, this little travel diary has gotten longer than I thought.  Will save more for next week!


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

File Under First World Problems

Professor J,

I am having a busy week getting ready for a yard sale this weekend so I'm re-posting something here from my personal blog.  Fittingly enough it's a post about having too much stuff.

How Other People's Stuff is Making a Minimalist of Me:


In the past 5 years I have been responsible for cleaning out the homes of elderly relatives 6 times. I have moved my mother three times, a cousin with dementia once and then single handedly managed her estate sale, and am about to tackle the mother in law wing of our house after her passing in May. This is in addition to delivering and retrieving things from hospital rooms and rehab facilities on countless occasions.

I am over things. Everyone's things, even mine. Of course if you are a regular reader you know that.

Here are the 3 personality types that I've dealt with in this process:

Child of the Depression: This mind set is really common among people who grew up during the Depression when there wasn't enough of anything. You'll often hear them say "But you might need it someday." The problem is that when they need it they can't find it amid the clutter.

The Collector: They have 3 complete 12 place settings of china and every serving piece ever made. Everything is in a set. Everything matches. Everything is really dated. They can't get rid of anything because they remember how hard it was to find it all.

The Materialist: The opposite of the Minimalist, this person seeks self worth and identity in material things. They spend lots of money on brands and labels. If this person is homebound QVC is their crack.

It is depressing to see how it all ends. Perhaps not a big deal if you have to do it once, liquidating other people's things repeatedly however makes the lesson stick. It is all too much. We often hear older people say that they don't want to be a burden to their children but few imagine the weight that cleaning out a lifetime of possessions will be.  And it all comes with guilt. That's the real burden. However you choose to do it, discarding another person's treasures feels wrong.  You agonize over every thing you touch-- Should I save it?

While cleaning out drawers, closets, and attics I've become immune to shopping. Going to stores and browsing as entertainment isn't the fun it once was. That thing you are so excited about taking home must be cleaned, cared for, moved, and eventually gotten rid of, if not by you then by someone else. I wish I had all the money back I've ever spent on items that a few years later ended up in my driveway for sale at a fraction of the price I paid. I've become much more interested in taking care of what I do have, or updating it instead of replacing it.

The other big shift in thinking came from traveling to Scandinavia, where minimalism is a way of life. Homes are uncluttered. Experiences and relationships are valued above things. The environment is treasured. Far from being stark and cold interior design feels well planned and orderly. Serene.  Less is more is more than a catch phrase. It's an attitude. And it's true.

Having sold or given away entire households of things has also revealed something else: The things you are keeping in a back room or attic are actually needed by someone else. I've given things away that were clutter to me, and had people literally jump up and down because for them it was a need.  We all need to be practicing better stewardship of what we own. That means that when it is no longer useful to us we pass it along to someone who needs it. Even if we have need of something we ought to be more realistic about how much of it is necessary. I found 4 funnels in my mother's kitchen and could not imagine why she needed even one.

If you haven't had the first hand experience of dealing with someone's estate then I would advise you to stop by a few estate sales this weekend. Walking through homes and watching strangers going through someone else's linen closet and kitchen drawers is sobering.

Here's the take away:

No one gets out alive and you can't take it with you. Plan now to leave your children a few things that are actually valuable or hold some real meaning (to them, not you). Beyond that leave them with wonderful memories, stories, and life lessons.

You might want one of those lessons to be living simply.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Post Haste?

Gentle Readers:

Having just returned, at this late (early) hour from a family vacation, I have nothing prepared.  Plus, I did not give Madame notice to fill in, as I did not anticipate this delay.  I will therefore have to forego a posting this week.  I will make it up next week by including pictures on the travel blog post I'll write!  And I'll make it a little longer than usual.  Which won't, as you know, be a problem for me! :)

Professor J
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