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The L to Wrigley

May 20, 2021

Feeling all Chicagoey!

First, we went to a wonderful breakfast place (another great find of Jim’s). It was called Sunny Side Up, on Superior.. and it’s always a good sign when it’s where the police hang out.

And then it was time for baseball!

The Red Line runs from our part of downtown right to Wrigley Field, so that was easy. Our station was at an underground part of the line..

It wasn’t many stops… 5 or 6? Can’t remember. I think tickets were about $3 apiece.

And here we are! Got off the train and we were mere steps from the stadium.

The game was sold out, but the stadium was not at capacity. Attendance that day was in the 11,000s. They zip-tied great gobs of seats together so you couldn’t pull them down.

We sat way up near the top and at the far end of right field. And still paid $400 for three seats. I’m not sure if they’re always that high. Those were Stubhub tickets, too.. usually pretty good prices. That said, they were wonderful seats… shaded, breezy (it was a hot day), protected in case it had rained (which had been predicted up until the day of) and a perfectly fine view. No complaints whatsoever. And I loved all the space around us. These were shot well before the game; it filled in a little before game time.. but again, it never got more than about a quarter filled, due to zip-tied seats.

The scoreboard was right there and we were on the warning tracks. 🙂 You can also see a couple of the nearby rooftops, which sell bleacher seats on their roofs. They surrounded the entire outfield.. it was pretty neat, sure they’re much cheaper.

It was a notable day.. another MLB stadium (we counted: Giants, As, Angels, Dodgers, Padres, Mariners, Yankees, Red Sox, and now Cubs — nine of thirty). And, of course, first baseball game post pandemic. But another notable: we got to see a young player — Nico Hoerner — from Oakland who’d been on the Lamorinda travel team (Lafayette, Moraga, Orinda, loosely) and had played against Davis kids. Peter’s travel team had never played Lamorinda, but other regional teams had. Peter knew him right away and he became our player to watch.

(The center field bleachers were for those who identified as vaccinated (and proved it) and that section was not required to observe any covid precautions.)

As usual, the highlight of the game was the ballpark food (ha!). We went for it all: Chicago Dogs, beer, peanuts, Cracker Jacks and Cotton Candy. All fabulous.

The Cubs beat the Washington Nationals 5-2 and it was a pretty good game! Lots of great energy following, and lots of singing.

We took a walk around the stadium after the game to get a feel for the neighborhood.. it was a fun crowd to be among. Just a couple pics from the walk:

This was clever:

We returned to the Acme so Peter could get some work done on a paper he was writing (his first scientific paper they hope to get published). Then headed out for another late dinner.. this time deep dish pizza at Giordano’s on Rush and Superior.

It was starting to get extremely busy and lively in the evenings in that part of town.. streets packed, very noisy. While we waited for our table to be ready, we explored a little to the north, around the area of the Water Tower.. very pretty at night:

We were also in the vicinity, apparently, of some parts or departments of both Loyola University and Northwestern campus. There is a lot going on in Chicago.

Vaccication (*)

May 19, 2021

(*) The vacation you take after you’re vaccinated (I wish I came up with this, but I did not.)

~~

First flight in 15 months.

Y’all? This is a good day. It even felt glorious (and so familiar) to stand in that stupid Peet’s line:

No fights on our plane, just cooperative masked folks (hard to be sneaky). Masks, but no distancing.

I was even excited to be test driving my new pink canvas backpack that Staci made for me. Everything about traveling seemed fun.. even cramped seats, no legroom, masks (cold stares)….

Okay, enough about that. This was about seeing Peter for the first time since July 27, 2020.

We landed a little early (like about 1:00ish), we got our bags, headed outside, got a call from Peter that he was in jammed traffic entering the airport… but he swept in to the United passenger pickup zone, we climbed in and hit the I-90 bound for downtown Chicago and the Acme Hotel on Ohio.

And it was just great to see that boy.

We checked in, stashed the car for the next three days , dumped our bags, and headed out to see Chicago.. Peter leading the way. We walked and sightsaw for hours.

Here are some first day Chicago shots:

We walked east on Ohio, crossed Michigan Ave, walked along Lakeshore…

Stopped here along Lake Michigan for a (crazy expensive) repast (a place called Cafe Michelle)… I think Jim said it was $100 for a couple glasses of wine, three sandwiches and some hot shishito peppers. It’s worth noting the QR code on the table. Not common in Davis, but used, it seems, everywhere else. I think it started as a Covid thing (avoiding paper menus), but may remain forever. We got extremely used to them on this trip for everything.

… continued along Lakeshore, then cut up by a dried-up (for now) Buckingham Fountain and into Grant park and Millennium Park… and took all that in.

A walled-off Bean (Cloud Gate)… you don’t see such an empty plaza, normally:

The Lurie botanical gardens, by the Art Institute. You can see the top of the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker bandshell and bunches of buildings I can’t identify.

More interesting buildings and gardens:

Wandering through the botanical garden, looking west.. that is possibly the Willis Tower in the background, the one with all the antennas. For almost twenty five years, it was the tallest building in the world, until 1998.. but now it’s not even in the top 20. Used to be the Sears Tower (when I went to the top, long ago).

This is a cool pedestrian bridge that goes from Millennium Park to that newish Maggie Daley park..

Then we ambled up to the River Walk, along the Chicago River.. which is so scenic. This is the Michigan Avenue bridge and in the background the Wrigley Building, whose clock tower I cut off.

I’ve followed these two through some wonderful cities in the world… I’m not sure how much they see.. they’re always talking through some math problem (or something).

We stopped for more refreshment… cocktails (and iced tea) along the river at the Chicago Brewhouse, adjacent to the Vietnam Veteran’s Fountain. So happy!!

A few of Peter:

This is a shot looking back at the brewhouse (on right), after crossing the bridge at State St. I had to blur the name on the tower on the left.. a true eyesore on the Chicago skyline. I’m surprised the City allows it. And now you can see the clock tower on the Wrigley Building. Also note the color of the water.. truly teal.

We started back to our place at this point… to hang out a little in the hotel before going back out for dinner. Passed a cool sculpture on the way… probably along State Street, north of the river.

Here are a couple shots of our room at the Acme… it’s got kind of a seedy-chic, arty, kitschy vibe…

We got a suite, so this is our sitting room:

This is the view out the window (ninth floor) into the light well…

Funny, huh?

Jim picked some great restaurants this visit… this was first-night dinner, late, at an Italian place called Quartino, just a couple blocks away. Sat on the second-floor balcony on busy State St, enjoying the Wednesday night action and some wonderful food. Casual, Italian tapas-style. Really enjoyed it. J&P are studying the menu… via QR code.

(Here’s a shot of the restaurant that I took the following day:)

And that’s a wrap on day one.

(Okay, that was an embarrassing choice for a title.)

Mary came over today to help me start the garden. She had some great suggestions (including buying a lot more starts and seeds because there is a lot of room in those beds!). So.. here’s how my garden grows:

No silver bells and cockleshells, but tomatoes, zucs, pepps, eggplant, chard, chives, basil…. all in a row.

And here is another great development.. Jim removed all the stuff that was temporarily stored in the former play structure, soon to be an garden observation tower (with a coupla chairs and a table for relaxin’ with a view). You can see the ladder one will have to climb… fun huh? Next: power wash it, stain the whole thing, add attractive wood screens on three sides around the lower part to enclose space for storage… and voila!

And, one day, I imagine grandkids will enter the picture and Jim’s and my ladder climbing days will be over and we’ll add back a slide, a swing, some sand for the sand box and it’ll be, once again, a play structure.

More California Love

May 16, 2021

I’m struggling to find a title for this post…. no way to describe how overwhelming — in a good way — it is to walk among the massive redwoods at Calaveras Big Trees. They are startlingly massive. Giant sequoias really are, no exaggeration, the biggest trees on earth. That’s just an incredible fact right there.

There may be specimens that are slightly bigger than the ones at CBT — like a tree here or there in Sequoia or Kings Canyon — but as a species, these are the biggest growths on our planet. It’s kinda crazy to stand next to one.

It’s almost eerie if it’s super quiet (like it was) and you’re the only one around (which I also was). I saw a good number of people early in my stroll through the North Grove but, for some reason, the visitors dwindled after about a half a mile. A person here or there, but mostly I was alone. (Thank you, pandemic, it was quite a treat.)

At one point, I was walking around a tree, crunching through some dry twigs and pine cones. The sound of that, the smell of the forest, the warmth of the weak sun confirmed I was in my most favorite place on earth. Rushes of memories were triggered with those smells, sounds, and the dry mountain air. It was pure Sierra Mountains and I started to well up. I kept walking, staring up and down towering trunks, smelling that smell, and surprising myself with tears. It just moves me. A little sappy but.. ya know.. it’s real. Awesome in the truest sense.

Anyway, after a lovely Sunday morning in Bear Valley, Sally and I headed out — she back to Mountain Ranch to tend to her dad, me to Davis (obvs). I was driving down Hwy 4 and was so surprised to see the sign (a sign I hadn’t noticed before) for Calaveras Big Trees. I had no idea that’s where the State Park was. I pulled a big u-ey and am so glad I did!

Here are some pics:

The first thing I noticed, besides a lot of big trees, were the dogwoods. So pretty, so lacy, so delicate among the giants.

This is considered the most massive tree in the grove. Not the tallest, but inch for inch more mass than any other. They call it the Empire State. It’s 30 feet in diameter at its base, and it’s still 16 feet in diameter at approximately 50 feet up. It’s thick and chunky, as giant trees go.

I looked up a lot… as you do.

This one is looking up from inside a fallen tree! You can walk nearly the length of this giant sequoia, standing up in some parts. Some of its trunk was split, providing the sky light. It’s very cool.

Mostly, it was just sublime walking through the forest… I think they said there were 150 giants.. but there were also just garden variety redwoods, sugar & ponderosa pines, cedars and firs, too. Ho hum.

Here’s what a lot of the trail looked like and a couple of folks for scale:

An iPhone hardly does it justice.

Did I say I love California?

Celebrating Jeff

May 15, 2021

For reasons having to do with Sally’s dad’s decline and her need to be in or near Mountain Ranch, and given my desire to support her as she was supporting her mom and family, we postponed our SLO/Los Osos meet-up and forwent the Santa Barbara Celebration of Life for Jeff this weekend. But, lucky for us (and 32 others!), they had a couple of cameras there and put the whole memorial up on Zoom.

It was a Zoom reunion that would have been extremely fun and lively, but it was not that fun nor was it lively as we were all still pretty raw over the terribly sad death of our oldest grammar school pal.

And….sad as it was, it was also incredibly great to see so many friends, share stories and catch up a little before the official event began. Here’s us (or, one screen-worth of us):

Certainly not all of the Zoom participants came from our school days, but it was great to connect with David, Mindy, David, Chuck, Sarah, Robert (and others who were either on the second screen or there in Santa Barbara, or, in Lance’s case, stuck in a rental car agency (and missed the bulk of the event, but managed to arrive in time for music and connection with those onsite: Cindy, Carol, Dana, Leslie, Cheryl (Jeff’s sister) and numerous others I’ve overlooked.

Sally and I had headed to the tiny Bear Vally library where wifi was strong and free. We settled first into the back of my car — realized it was too cramped to sustain us for the one-two hour event — then moved to the entryway of the [closed] library, plugged into an exterior AC outlet and were ready for the speeches and music.

Here’s Sally in our comfort seats:

The two of us…

It was actually quite cold and a storm was moving in. We left when the thunder started… but were there for a couple of hours. It was very moving and so worthwhile. Sad not to have been there in person, but this was a more than adequate back up plan.

I think we all agreed, Dana’s comments were the highlight; he touched on the Jeff we all knew and shared memories that were familiar to us all. Sally and I exchanged texts with Dana and Lance as the night wore on which felt warm and loving.

The recurring themes of the afternoon were Jeff’s passion for enjoying, and sharing his love for, music. And the Dodgers. And his friends. What was also lovely to hear was how universal people’s love for him was, their acceptance (begrudgingly) of his lifestyle choices and the kindness and generosity of his spirit. Not a mean bone in his body, not a lick of negative energy. Jeff was well loved.

~~

We were kind of emotionally drained by the time we got back to the cabin. I’d made a croc pot chicken dish (good call on my part) so we had dinner then set up a very cool wooden jigsaw puzzle, put on Sally’s Spotify channel (and rotated between that, Gregg’s Spotify channel and my own!) and puzzled for hours and hours.

I loved this puzzle… less than 500 pieces, but so challenging and clever! Here’s a close up of the pieces. You can see pieces in the shapes of a tulip, a shark, a wolf, a butterfly, birds… just amazing.

We didn’t finish it until the next morning, but I’m including a shot of the finished puzzle here, anyway:

It was so hard! And a great focus.

Sally in the Valley

May 14, 2021

That ^^ means: off to visit Sally in Bear Valley for the weekend.

(Nobody’s hiring me to write headlines anytime soon.)

The drive up was just one glorious view after another.. through the foothills on highways 12, 88, 12, 49, and 4 — orchards, vineyards, barns, sheep and oaks — and then into the Sierra. Ahhhhhhh…

In time to see dogwoods:

Snow at the cabin! Couldn’t even get a car into the driveway (you can see the cabin back in the trees):

However….

This is a satellite shot of what remains of the Sierra snow pack. It’s actually not much (as of May 14, statewide snow-water equivalent is 5% of normal for this date) and California’s in a serious draught again:

Too much snow, too little snow… the daffs are still popping out.

We took a nice walk down to the village then up to the lake… get the heart pumping a little…

This justified a huge plate-o-aps:

Let the weekend begin.

No Mas Masks

May 13, 2021

Huge.

Pretty much 14 months to the day after the mask mandates were issued, we are allowed to wander around without our masks — if we are vaccinated.

I actually cried as I heard the news (driving in my car across the causeway). It’s been a long effing road in a long effing year. Our lives changed. We’ve been living in caves, living narrow lives. We’ve lived with this low grade dread and uncertainty for so, so long. Thankfully, we knew things were moving in the right direction. The vaccine research and development was ahead of expectations. Vaccine roll-outs were quick and relatively effective. I’ve felt at moments a very real and palpable sense that there is, indeed, a light at the end of the tunnel. And, of course, I’ve felt fully liberated for a full two months, with Jim and me having passed the two-week-post-vaccine point in mid March! I underwent a second massive shoulder drop when Peter got his second vaccine and passed his two-weeks-post-vaccine milestone recently. My dearest, deepest loves: all safe.

But this mask news today felt so monumental and so official, and was such the liberating moment we’ve been waiting for. It opens even more doors and brings us closer to community normalcy. Country normalcy.

Not global normalcy, though. It’s devastating what some countries are going through right now. Just yesterday, I sent $400 to two Himalayan guide friends — Homnath and Pradip — because Nepal’s in a very bad way… on its way to India-bad… which is beyond desperate. And here we sit, all rich and privileged, and ripping our masks off so happily. Does not seem just at all.

~~

In other pretty damn great news: I had six pre-cancers frozen off my face today (thus my trip across the causeway). And she could find no other areas of concern after a full body scan. I just can’t tell ya. Skin cancer is my cross to bear (I expect). That’s the one that makes the most sense, given fair skin and years of intense, unprotected sun exposure, not to mentioned countless burns and peels. I mean… So every time I get the all clear, it feels major.

And, I’m just off the phone with Dr. Bingham, my new dentist, who had just landed on the East Coast, and first message that came in on her phone was a close up of my tongue. Yay me and great timing. I’m relieved to hear it’s not a scary thing… just a crazy canker sore thingie from a new rough edge on a tooth. Swish with warm salt water’s all she’s recommending. I have to say, this was also some great news, as the discomfort over the last 30 hours or so’s been immense (and annoying and scary).

Scratching a lot of body parts and other scary conditions off the concern list in the last few weeks: have passed numerous tests, logged some great numbers (reminded of mom who always said, “my numbers are good,”) and gotten the a-ok on everything (so far) from blood work, to a cardiac workup, to my last-ever PAP, a mammogram, an ultrasound to check out a few new bumps, a dental exam, and flu and pneumonia vaccines on top of the vaccine-of-the-century. After the year-long, pandemic-imposed doctor visit moratorium, it’s nice to check back in and be assured all’s reasonably well.. as one turns the corner on 65! Good lord. Next up: eye exam and my first-ever bone density scan.

~~

All in all, a good day in the health liberation category.

I don’t have a pic from today, so how about this cute photo of Mags that Alexis just posted on Instagram… it reflects my mood pretty well!!

Your Basic Tour Group

May 12, 2021

Today Liz Cheney was stripped of her leadership position in the House. She’s not toeing the line and her colleagues don’t like that she’s so far off message. She, of course, isn’t buying into their talking points about stolen elections, voter fraud, party of trump, etc., so even though she’s among the most conservative members of the House, there to further a conservative policy agenda, she’s persona non grata and, today, got the boot.

Stay tuned for some great GOP in-fighting.

Good.

But, even though it’s great sport to see them flail and wail, it also reminds me how fragile our two-party system is, especially as we have one party and one whacko band of nutjobs. These guys have just lost their way and it’s not all that comforting. They are not adhering to a common set of rules, and it’s deeply unsettling. They are making it up as they go, led by an unstable, unpredictable leader. So god, crazy town just continues to be the theme of each and every day.

Like… this morning, for example: Speaker-wanna-be McCarthy, following an Oval Office meeting w/ Pres Biden, came out to the mic and said (among other things) that House republicans don’t dispute the legitimacy of the election, and they accept that Joe Biden is the president. Hell, he just met with said president for 90 minutes (so it must be real) to talk about the infrastructure bill.

Come again? Somebody better tell the others… and maybe their leader guy, too.

Simultaneously, there was a House hearing where a committee was grilling a couple of trump administration officials about what went down on January 6. Several republican guys suggested the January 6 crowd was indistinguishable from any group of tourists visiting the Capitol. Another disputed that the “visitors” were identifiable as trump supporters. Another just called them patriots.

I mean, that is just pure crazy town. With straight faces they say this stuff and, you know, attempt to re-write history. Even trump’s lawyers during his second impeachment trial didn’t dispute that it was a violent insurrection. They started from that obvious point, accepted the violence, death and mayhem shown in the videos, and then just went on to say trump had nothing to do with it. And lost their case. Impeachment #2. Boom!

But these GOP guys… complete denial. So what’re ya gonna do with that?

Well.. throw Liz Cheney out of leadership and make sure she and anyone else getting too close to facts is primaried. And change all the voting laws so dems can’t vote and continue to pledge fealty to the fat guy bloviating nonstop down in Palm Beach.

Weird playbook. And anymore? I have no confidence they won’t win with that strategy.

Anyway. Despite all that.. it wasn’t a bad day. GSD, as they say, but nothing bloggable. So here’s a nice picture from yesterday.. and below that some Prisma goofing around.

Greenish!

(Oooh, which reminds me of a favorite children’s book of Peter’s — Calef Brown’s Polkabats and Octopus Slacks –which featured a passage called, Clementown, and describes a whole town that is green! Which.. funnily enough, I blogged about in 2014 here: lifeofwry.com/2014/05/08/greenish/)

This Prisma’d version is not so green:

Okie Dokie Artichokie

May 11, 2021

Okay, you make a batch of linguine, just shy of al dente. Set it aside and save some pasta water. In same pan, crisp up some pancetta in olive oil. Remove it. In the pancetta grease, brown some artichoke hearts. Put half of those in a blender w/ lemon juice, s/p and pasta water, and puree. Then, put another cup of pasta water into that same pan and break up the brown bits, add the puree, lemon juice, the crispy pancetta, parmesan cheese, chopped parsley and the cooked pasta. Mix it all together and serve with the remaining browned artichoke hearts, and sprinkle with parm.

It might have worked better had I had the full cup of parmesan cheese the recipe called for (I had less than half of that) and if I’d left out the lemon. Otherwise: 3 stars (out of 4).

Here ’tis:

Dinner may have been just okay, but this conversation w/ Peter was fantastic. Love him so.

I know. Zoom pictures getting old? Not for me.

Countdown to Chicago

May 10, 2021

It’s a lot of days (like, nine of them) before I fly to Chicago, but man, am I getting excited. This guy’s going to pick me up at the airport and we’re going to spend a few days hanging out, exploring Chicago, and then driving to Ann Arbor for a couple more days. With any luck, Jim can join for all or at least part of the adventure. But adventure or no, we get to see our son in person.. not just on Zoom (which has been a fantastic stroke of technological marvel this past 10 months).

See? A stroke of technological marvel (is that a thing?):