Monday, August 31, 2015

Last One For August

Tough to end the month on a blah note, but here we are.  

I've been battling the common cold for most of this past week.  Today it's mainly past, just the residual drainage and subsequent cough.  Still better than being Snuffleupagus with a sore throat.  

Outdoors it's as blah as inside the Geohouse.  Smoke from the wildfires in California and Washington caused our normally blue sky to be a creepy shade of white these past few days.  Lack of any precipitation kept the heavens the same color all the way though yesterday.  I'm looking forward to the end of this week when some rain is in the forecast.  We usually don't get squat but even if showers are in the general region that should be enough to break the monotony.  

Still I don't want to get in the mindset that external issues have to rule my mood.  I should enjoy the temperate temps before old man winter settles in for his many-months visit.  

And then I bemoan the constant cold temps and gray skies.  

Maybe some things don't change.  

Monday, August 17, 2015

Branching Out

When it's time to plan the meals at the Geohouse we typically choose from several tried-and-true dishes.  Everything from ground beef-based recipes to entrees featuring fish or flora.  

But after the visit to Chicago I decided to tackle something new.  

Our first eatery in downtown Chi-town was Falafel Heaven.  Given the three of us were nearly famished we all chose pitas filled with beef and lamb mixtures.  We supplemented those with a dish of hummus.  It all was good.  Mighty good.  Better than Subway.  

The astute reader probably noticed we actually didn't partake any of the restaurant's namesake.  

Yet I always wondered what fried chickpeas, properly seasoned, might taste like.  

So I decided to give it a shot.  I enjoy cooking and sometimes like a challenge.  Besides, given dry garbanzo beans are inexpensive, even if I ruin this thing we're not out much $$$.  

Next step is to go online.  I finally glean an idea of my kitchen creation with herbs and spices I already have in the rack.  

Time to execute!  


Young Geoana had seconds.  That's enough of a positive message for me.  It was not only edible, it was somewhat tasty.  Put the fried patties into pita pockets with shredded lettuce and diced tomatoes. Then Geogal had the bright idea to drizzle a bit of ranch dressing in her ensemble.  Perfect!

I pointed out that Geoana could enjoy this in the future with some Greek yogurt.  She likes it, I don't.  

Feedback included me needing to step up the seasoning just a bit, such as adding coriander and using more cardamom.  But for a first try I was happy.  

Vegetarian?  Yes.  Vegan?  No.  

I did use one egg as a binding agent.  

Makes a mess in the kitchen but then this is a food that requires frying on a skillet.  Besides I think often the gustatory pleasure of a meal is directly proportional to the mess made in the kitchen.  

And everything can be cleaned up.  

Monday, August 10, 2015

Other Thoughts

Some things which just didn't make it into my Chicago road trip narrative...

I gave no thought to the historic beginning point of America's most famous highway.  Given I've lived very near it (Albuquerque), been close to the end point (Santa Monica), traveled the modern four-lane version (Interstates 15, 40, 44, 55), appreciated a book in which the road plays a significant role (The Grapes of Wrath) and enjoyed several versions of Bobby Troup's ode I didn't realize the corridor began in Chi-Town.  

(When I say didn't realize I mean this fact did not register in my brain when planning the trip.  I've long since known where the Mother Road started its westward journey.)  

On our first day downtown I saw this:

What about enjoying all Chicago had to offer regarding digital TV?  Fortunately the hotel gods were more kind to me this trip than when I was in northern Virginia and my window faced east.  Right in the direction of Willis Tower.  With a pair of amplified rabbit ears I got nearly every station in the third-largest media market in the nation.  

Several times the offerings were superior to what was available on the hotel's cobbled-together Dish Network system.  

If that wasn't enough I also took opportunity while at a rest area just east of Des Moines.  While waiting for the gals to return to the trusty vehicle I took the MacBook Air out of sleep, set up the antenna, and did well at seeing all of the full-powered signals in the Des Moines-Ames DMA.  I'm glad to have the chance to do this, since I viewed the real-tall sticks with great appetite during two of our Rochester, Minnesota journeys last year.  The reason I didn't get a chance then had to do with my old ancient MacBook and its complete lack of battery power.  (It was only eight years old, after all.)  

And when the ladies returned I happened to be watching The Monkees on Antenna TV.  Geogal even asked if I had the ability to run the system while we were in transit.  Sadly, no.  I told her the reality of needing to be stationary in order to watch digital TV.  She then related how her father used his engineering abilities and knack for buying items well below retail to set up a TV in their conversion van.  Not only could the passengers enjoy TV if in or near a city but also they could play video games on the long trips to Oregon.  It seemed like a happy memory.  

Food?  My only regret was not having a chance to enjoy corned beef.  However I learned I like a different type of food.  

The Chicago Dog.  

I really really like it.  I always meant to try one but didn't think I'd get hooked.  I'm usually not a big fan of pickles and mustard but somehow on the Chicago Dog it just all seems right.  

Who knows?  If I get another opportunity to visit the Windy City I might just try an Italian beef sandwich.  

Did the beginning of Married...with Children including Frank Sinatra singing "love and marriage, love and marriage..." go through my head repeatedly when at Buckingham Fountain?  Of course.

At the close of the vacation did we agree to disband and join other families?  Ha ha, no.  Not even close.  

Next major city destination?  Perhaps the Big Apple is calling...

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Road Trip Vacation, Summer 2015 Version (conclusion)

There comes a time in nearly all of our family journeys where the fun is over.  People begin to look forward to returning home and enjoying the privileges of home-cooked food, sleeping in one’s own bed, and having the ability to separate from each other.  

For me that day was Thursday.  The morning was no real issue since we planned to spend time at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.  (Actually just the museum since we are not scholars or historians and as such have no reason to populate the library.)  We followed that with a visit to Lincoln’s tomb.  

I did remark to Geoana that in the span of a few weeks she and I visited final resting places of three presidents.  Plus we passed very close to a fourth.  

On our first day the I-80 trek through Iowa included an exit for West Branch, the location of Herbert Hoover’s library, museum, and burial site.  However given it was late in the day and we already were suffering fatigue the Geofamily decided a visit would have to wait for another trip.  

Back to Springfield, Illinois.  The museum visit took care of the morning.  Finding a place to eat was more of a chore than necessary.  Again I think this was due to end-of-trip blahs.  The afternoon consisted of the females going shopping and me trying to catch a nap in the hotel room.  

None of us were very successful.  

Wake up on Friday morning, leave town early.  Place our vehicle on U.S. highway 36 and go west.  From interstate, to well-maintained four lane, to two lane once we reenter the Land Of Dorothy.  Ten hours later we are home!  

7 days.  1800 miles.  Many good memories.  

Time to put this one in the books.  

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Road Trip Vacation, Summer 2015 Version (part five)

This Wednesday dawns and the fresh-cut grass and smell of beer and unhealthy food beckons!

Time to close out our Chicago trip with a Cubs game at Wrigley!

We brave the traffic to arrive on the North Side well before gametime.  In fact we are among those early enough to enter the ballpark two hours before the cry of “play ball!”  

No question this is a shrine to baseball fans and while we don’t live and die by the game/scores/standings/World Series it’s still fun to visit a place where plenty of baseball history was made.  

Babe Ruth’s called shot.  

The Steve Bartman incident.  

Is that about it?  No, gotta be more.  It’s just not coming to mind right now.  

Speaking of the Bartman event I did sit in the famous seat and attempted a lame imitation.   Fun takes all sorts of forms.

How about another Chicago Dog?  This time it was a foot-long.  Still delicious.  Still excusable since I am on vacation.  

The game wasn’t exciting but wasn’t a bore, either.  Cubbies pitcher Jon Lester struck out 14 batters.  Besides, where else will you see a manually operated scoreboard?  Or ivy on the outfield walls?  Or seats on top of adjacent buildings?  

The trip was well worth it.  

After leaving it was time to hit the highway.  Goodbye skyscapers and obnoxious downtown drivers!  Hello corn and soybean fields!  

I was ready to be out of the city.  

One thing I noticed about Chicago/Illinois highway signs:  They don’t have qualms about giving states as destinations instead of control cities.  The Dan Ryan Expressway in Chi-Town gives “Wisconsin” and “Indiana” as place names rather than Milwaukee and Gary.  Why?  Who knows?  It is Chicago, after all.  

South of Joliet I see this phenomenon again:

Might be right up there with a sign near Palm Springs, California. 

I drove this for many years thinking “Other Desert Cities” meant adjacent burgs such as Palm Desert, Thousand Palms, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, etc.  

I guess it could be a subtle jab at Phoenix, Tucson, and El Paso.  

But I digress.  We spent the night in Springfield with the intent to visit things Abraham Lincoln the following day.  Me?  The plans are OK but I’m mentally ready to be back home.  

Doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the remainder of our trip.  More about that in the next entry.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Road Trip Vacation, Summer 2015 Version (part four)

Day Four dawns!

We retrace our route into downtown and again “hop on” the Big Bus.  

First stop is Navy Pier.  But we’re not here to shop or ride the ferris wheel.  

No no.  Architectural boat tour!

Confession number one:  I enjoyed this much more than I expected.  Learned a lot about the science of buildings!  

Also a great opportunity to snap some pics. 

What’s next?  I have to conquer my fear of high places as we visit the John Hancock Center.  We took a tip from a local and skipped 360 Chicago (the attraction on the top floor) and instead took the elevator to the 96th story, location of the bar.  Featuring a whole lot of huge windows.  

Confession number two:  For many years I saw the Hancock Tower in pictures or movies and thought it was the Sears Tower.  The black surface and twin white spires threw me off.  Now I know better.

It took me several minutes and one beer to finally get a little close to the edge for picture-taking.  

This is toward the southwest, and Willis Tower.

North, with the beach and Lakeshore Drive.

Finally it was time to head down and put our feet back on terra firma.  

Now, where to eat lunch?  

How about an Irish pub not far from the Hard Rock Cafe?  (Anyone who goes to downtown Chicago and eats at a chain needs a long talking-to.)  

Lunch was great, however they were out of corned beef so I opted for fish and chips instead.  Washed it down with some Guinness Blonde.  Stay true to my (father’s) heritage!  

Plan for the afternoon was some shopping followed by a stop at Willis (Sears) Tower for our second real high visit of the day.  However the shopping went longer than expected and when we arrived at the building that was the tallest in the world through the 70’s, 80’s and most of the 90’s we were told by the staff on the ground floor that Skydeck had an hour to hour-and-a-half wait time.  


If we opted to go up we might cut it just a little too close to catch the Big Bus back to our first stop.  We chose to skip it and instead hit Dunkin Donuts for a little pick-me-up, then journey east many blocks to fetch the car.  Time to rest up and wrap up our penultimate day in the Windy City.  

Monday, August 03, 2015

Road Trip Vacation, Summer 2015 Version (part three)

Day Three is when I have my best idea of the whole trip.

Well really it was day two.  That afternoon I saw the Big Bus go by with plenty of folks in the upper deck enjoying quite the view.  Then I noticed one has the ability to hop-on and hop-off at any of their stops.


Pointed it out to Geogal who thought it was a great idea.  We drive to downtown, leave the car in a garage then hotfoot it to the closest Big Bus stop.  Which in this case was the Field Museum.

We're aboard.  Our guide for this bus is Manny.  He has the gift of gab and isn't afraid to share his views on everything from high-rise condos to restaurants.  Once we get near the Hard Rock Cafe/really big McDonald's location he asks if any of the riders have partaken in Chicago cuisine.  We indicate we ate Chicago dogs at Portillo's, save for the child.  Geoana admitted she just had chicken tenders at that local eatery.

Manny would not let her live that one down.  The next several minutes consisted of barbs regarding going to one of Chi-town's places of local pride and ordering.....chicken tenders.  Not a Chicago dog. Not the Italian roast beef either.

All in good fun.

We got off where we started, at the Field Museum.  Geogal wanted to see Sue, the dinosaur bones found in South Dakota.  After spending the afternoon there all three of us decided we had spent enough time on our feet.  Time to retrieve the vehicle and head back to the hotel.

Tomorrow, more Chicago sights.  I'll leave you with a couple of pics.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

Road Trip Vacation, Summer 2015 Version (part two)

Conjure up the beginning of the Batman TV series from the 1960’s.  When the second episode of the week began the narrator would recap the highlights with each scene going into freeze-frame, accompanied by a tone that got higher as the cliffhanger neared.  

So, with that explanation:

“When we left our traveling family, first there was departure” (tone)

“Lunch in Omaha” (tone)

“Tall cornstalks” (tone)

“University” (higher tone)

“Detour!”  (higher tone)

“A low tire” (even higher tone)

“In search of compressed air” (real high tone)

“Will the air be enough?”  (highest tone so far)

Segue into Neal Hefti’s “Batman” theme….

I woke, showered, went downstairs for coffee, then checked the car.  

Flat tire.  Not just low, flat.  F-L-A-T

Therefore I grab some breakfast in the hotel’s reception area, then go back out to change the tire.  Unfortunately this vehicle, like most in its size/class, comes only with a doughnut for a spare.  Since this is a Sunday morning and we’re in a city with a population of about 27,000 I didn’t think I would be able to get a new tire today.  

But I was wrong.  Turns out their Wal-Mart does do tires and was open even this Sunday a.m.  

About 90 minutes later (and a little lighter in the wallet) I returned to the hotel and the gals were ready to go.  All of us were delighted we would not have to drive on the spare all the way to Chi-town, which would require a lower speed than the 70-75 we’ve averaged so far.  

So then it’s across the Mississippi into Illinois.  Soon we’re on I-88 and hoping to see some Chicago sights this afternoon.  

Originally we hoped to see the Cubs play at Wrigley Field this Sunday afternoon but the tire issue put us behind schedule.  No matter!  We’re on our vacation, on our own time.  No schedule to keep.  

Besides the Cubbies will also play an afternoon game on Wednesday.  (Seems wrong to go to Wrigley at night.)  

Then we see the iconic skyline, visible through some haze.  We’re just about here!!

Stop-and-go traffic doesn’t keep us from finally reaching downtown.  Park the vehicle and start exploring the urban environment.  Grab some Mediterranean food at Falafel Island (great hummus!).  

Now what?  

How about the Art Institute of Chicago?  Remember this?:  

We do see most of the works shown in the clip.  But for me the highlight of the whole place was seeing “American Gothic.”  And I wasn’t the only one who wanted to take a long look at this picture of Americana. 

But back to Ferris Bueller.  Turns out the Institute embraces their appearance in the flick and even has a flyer for visitors with limited time:

I also enjoyed the view of skyscrapers through the slightly opaque and very large windows.  

We finally tire of seeing “priceless works of art” and head outdoors.  We see “The Bean” and the living gargoyles.  And no visit to this section of town would be complete without Buckingham Fountain.  

We’re exhausted.  Time to head out to the ‘burbs and our hotel.  Yet we still want to fully immerse ourselves in Chicago culture so we drive a few blocks to Portillo's and enjoy a Chicago dog.  

Geoana wasn’t so adventurous and just ordered chicken tenders.  This will come back to haunt her.  Stay tuned for the next day’s details.  

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Road Trip Vacation, Summer 2015 Version (part one)

First, some appropriate music:

Most every time I looked at landmarks in the Windy City the beginning chords of the above tune began knocking around my brain.  

Yes, the Geofamily journeyed to Chicagoland this past week.  Geogal’s been here before, both times were business trips back when we lived in Chandler.  Yet despite the nature of her travels she never hesitated to play the “I’ve been there” card when anything downtown-Chicago-related flashed onto a TV or movie screen.  And after her last visit she brought back two posters from The Art Institute of Chicago, they now are framed and grace our living room walls.  

Why Chicago this summer?  Why not?  The sole time Geoana and I were in the vicinity was a layover at Midway Airport on our way to D.C. not that many weeks ago.  

I cannot remember an occasion where I was at an unfamiliar city’s airport then had the chance to make a real visit shortly afterward.  

Even before leaving one acquaintance, upon hearing of our destination, asked out of which airport we planned to fly.  Omaha or Kansas City?  

“Neither,” and I told him we would make this trip by car.  His answer?   “Sounds like National Lampoon’s Vacation.”  

Never mind we were going in the reverse direction than the Griswalds.  

We began our sojourn the same way most of them start, on a 2-lane Kansas highway headed for Interstate.  Once at I-80, turn right.  The route to Omaha is familiar to us.  Then in Iowa the slog eastward to Des Moines isn’t new either (did it twice last year as part of the journey to the Mayo Clinic).  

But after the pig state’s capital city it’s all new.  We chose to take a little side trip and see the campus of the University of Iowa.  Just to be fair, after all.  Last summer we did the same thing in Ames, home of Iowa State University.  Yes, I made the joke that since we have nearly all of the Big 12 schools/cities visited or at least driven through, let’s start on the Big Ten!  

University of Nebraska, Lincoln?  Did that years ago.

Minneapolis, home of the University of Minnesota?  Took care of that last summer.  

Now we have Iowa City covered.  

Shoot, had we really taken this seriously we could add Northwestern and Illinois, but decided instead to just focus on fun activities once we got to the Windy City.  

Since we learned from our experience last summer to not assume hotel rooms will be available, particularly along an Interstate, Geogal reserved us a room at the Clinton, Iowa Hampton Inn, which wound up being not far off the main route.  Not very exciting but then neither is the Quad Cities.  Check-in was routine and we are all familiar with the get-settled-in-hotel-room process.  Upon returning to the vehicle to head out for supper I make an unpleasant discovery.  

The right rear tire is low.  Not just a little low, real low.  Geogal grabs the tire pressure gauge, it doesn’t even register.  

So, even before we can eat we need to air the thing up.  Finding compressed air in an unfamiliar town isn’t the best way to wrap up a day on the road.  However we do locate a place to air up, only set us back a quarter.  

Then return to the hotel after supper and hope the leak is a slow one.  Goodnight!