Saturday, July 31, 2010

hot! wet! ants!

7/18 Chicago's Millennium Park and the big insect puppets

After a long visit with the stuff at the Chicago Art Institute we needed some place to eat our late lunch. Outside it was supper hot and sticky so it came as no surprise that the fountain at Millennium Park was full of people getting soaked. We sat near enough to the fountain to benefit from the cooling spray of the water cascade and gobbled our snack. I was impressed to see a big public fountain where people are not forbidden to get in, in fact they are encouraged to get wet. The insurance implications are astounding. The result is delightful. Watching the action around the big glass block towers is a treat and the squeals of the kids waiting for the big projected heads to squirt water is even better

Just up a few steps from the fountain is this big shiny thing.

It has an official name but out hosts said that most folks call it the jelly bean. It's big. And shiny. People crowd around it all day looking at the crazy reflection of the world. Nifty.

We were delighted to find out that we were right on time for a performance by the Catalan street theater company Sarruga. They put on a show of giant ants, a praying mantis, and a black spider in the park near the jelly bean. The puppeteers peddled their contraptions around through clouds of theatrical smoke and loud electronic music.

The heat and the noise eventually drove us underground back to the train that brought us into the city center, but the big bugs won't stay. They were only in town for a short visit.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

trains overhead and art till you drop

7/18 Chicago and the Art Institute

Chicago! I really liked our visit and hope for another chance to ride the L someday. A big part of what I liked about the city was the CTA, Chicago Transit Authority. I found the public transit in Chicago to be easy to understand and navigate. Far more simple than D.C. and a bargain to boot. I got by just fine with the New York City system when I visited there for the first time ten years ago but it cost me a couple of days of confusion. Maybe that experience was a booster for me but we were on our way on the Chicago trains with no trouble at all.

If you are planning a visit to Chicago I highly recommend using the trains and buses. The three day pass is available for $14 at gobs of locations in the city. We bought ours at one of the "Currency Exchange" shops that are a plague of locusts on the city. The pass will get you on any train or buss for 72 hours after the first use. Some of the places that sell the passes will have free maps too that will give you the basics of the system. Our hosts lived a short block away from a blue line stop so we had no trouble getting started. The trains will get you within a short walk of most attractions in the city. For places a little further from the stops hop on the bus. Have no fear, I found the buses really easy to use too. Most of Chicago is laid out on a grid and almost any bus you catch will go for a long way in a cardinal direction. This makes it super easy to move North, South, East, or West by quadrant. With the pass you don't have to fret about transfers or missing a stop. You can always get back on going the other way.

We spent several hours at the Art Institute next door to Millennium Park in the lake side of downtown Chicago. The Institute is one of those museums that is full chock-a-block with art. Too much to see in a day but don't miss it if you are an art fan and do your best to crawl through every floor.

From modern to classical the Art Institute is rather encyclopedic and has fine examples of all sorts o' art so have a look at the web site for highlights.

One of the special things that we were specifically seeking was the Thorne Rooms.

This collection is downstairs and has a gallery all to itself. Mrs. James Ward Thorne had some money at her disposal and she commissioned a group of gifted craftspeople and artists to fabricate these miniature set pieces based on her study of the history of architecture and design. Many of the rooms are examples of fabulous accommodations in wealthy households of Europe and America of the 18th and 19th century, but there were a few set in the 1930s (very modern) and a couple couple of examples set in the southwest U.S. After seeing room after room (with a few odd looking sculpted cats too) it begins to feel odd. How were these displayed in the Thorne's house, I had to wonder. Did anybody ever get to play house in there? Eh, it was probably more like an adult child with their massive HO scale train layout in the basement (but then maybe not, since those get some millage on the trains at least). Anyhow, it's not to be overlooked if you visit this swell museum. The art will drive you on from gallery to gallery even if your guts are aching for lunch.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

of chickens and things

we loved visiting our friends on their farm in michigan. there was homemade bread, cake, cornbread and yogurt. we ate whipped butter with homemade jam on cracked wheat bread EVERY day.there was the jiffy tour and the chicken broil and a fairy door adventure.we picked blueberries and saw baby deer and got to see photos from a three month journey that happened a long time ago.there was fun and laughter. good eats and new skills attempted. there was also the meeting of the butterfly quilts and a wee bit of tree climbing thrown in.but i have to admit that even with so many cool things, the best part was meeting the chickens.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

urban fairies?

who knew? it seems that with all the building that has been going on in our great big world, there are a lot of fairies out there losing their forest homes and some of them have become city folk...**you can read more about this phenomenon here and here...

**the play dough seems to be an offering from a young group of girls. it seems they are not aware that fairies do NOT eat play dough...duh. the cool part is that there is a fairy theater but the tickets weren't spooled so we could get one and there is a shop as well though i am not sure what kind of fairy sells pennies and happy meal toys. i think ander and zaza can help the fairy awarenss a little...perhaps?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

a hometown chicken broil and a tornado warning.

july 15
a few hours after the nifty jiffy tour, we headed out to Manchester for their annual chicken broil. this would be their 57th broil and they planned on selling a LOT of dinners.the sky looked like rain so the line for take-out was ridiculously long. and from the looks of it, these folk took their chicken broil very seriously. people had wagons, boxes and laundry baskets at the ready to carry their boxed dinners home.we traveled the length of the take out line to the entrance to the field to see what we were in for and got lucky. there was a less than ten minute wait to eat our chicken dinners on the field.yellow tickets in hand. we shuffled along and each got half a chicken, two radishes, one pat of butter, one roll, a hefty helping of (awesome) cole slaw, a bag of chips and a beverage.the numerous picnic tables appeared to be all full up but we found an empty swath and parked ourselves down for a good old traditional meal. everything was quite tasty and i was thoroughly enjoying the cloud coverage that came rolling in as it had been stupid hot and sunshiny-shiny.that is until the cloggers' music suddenly stopped and the silence was filled with the blast of an air-raid siren. with a sinking feeling in my heart i asked what it was and my host nonchalantly answered that it was a tornado siren and then she went back to her chicken. when i asked if it was for real, her son shrugged and said well...since it wasn't such and such day it must be a real one and suddenly a gust of wind rushed past lifting up paper plates and shaking napkins all over the place.

we a-go-gos are west coast folk and while we roll easily with the shaking in our quake happy town, the twisty-twirly winds of a tornado freaked us out. at least, i can say it freaks ME out. and so i checked my host for cues again and she seemed completely at ease and told me it would just blow past and not to worry. her son determined that he would NOT leave until he finished his cole slaw and little P decided it was time to go home. i attempted to finish off a bit more of my dinner but then another gust boogied on past knocking things over all crazy-like. large numbers of folk stood up and started trekking back to their cars, some gnawing on their dinners, some slugging back their beverages as they power walked themselves off the field. at about this time, the sky grew. very VERY. dark. as in doom. as in, holy heck, is that sky black AND green? the wind picked up enough that we all stood up and i impressed upon the lovely lynn that i was completely FREAKING out and she again reassured me and we made our way back to the car. as we were walking, i was surprised to see people still arriving and getting into the long, long take out line. with an arched eyebrow and a shrug, lynn said it must be a really good broil. the moment we got to the car, big fat drops began to drip on top of us and we drove back to town hoping the sounds and sights event would still happen. it didn't. the rain came but nothing fierce and the wind blustered about but in a lazy kind of way so we headed home and i was relieved that not one funnel cloud came into my view...until i fell asleep and dreamt of many many twisters coming to get me. i am SUCH the west coaster.

Friday, July 23, 2010

keep yer hair out of the jiffy

7/15 The Jiffy factory tour, Chelsea, Michigan

Our first full day visiting Chelsea we signed up for the factory tour at the Chelsea Milling Company's Jiffy factory. This facility has been mixing the dry ingredients for millions of pancakes and corn bread muffins and packing them in white boxes with recipes on the sides for many decades. I am no expert on their distribution but if you visit just about any supermarket in the U.S. you will likely find at least Jiffy's most popular corn bread muffin mix on the shelves.

But that ain't all you can whip up with Jiffy mixes. Oh no, there are cookies and pie crust and pizza dough too, 22 varieties of mix magic. Add to all that the free recipe book handed out on the tour (and available on the Jiffy website for free) and the possibilities could fill a mess of bake sales.

The tour begins in a small auditorium where the tourees are treated to an old school slide show with live narration (a delight that no new fangled multi-media presentation could match). we were all given cookies (yes, they were made from a Jiffy mix special recipe) a beverage (tang style "juice", coffee, or water) and... awesome hair nets.... to keep if we wished! You, bet I wished.

We were offered all sorts of stuff to buy; T-shirts with lots of puns on the word "Muffin", cases of assorted Jiffy mixes, and lots of individual mixes in quantity at a discount from what you find in stores.

The tour began and we were admonished to not take photos inside the factory. Sorry folks, no pic of the little boxes scooting on their conveyor belts, but I have to agree with the policy. With all the noise inside the very busy factory it would be easy for someone with their eye stuck to the back of a camera to get under the wheel of a forklift or have a sleeve catch in a packing machine. All those little boxes packed with bits of photographer would defiantly be rejects.

If you go, be sure to sign up ahead of time (the phone number to call is on the website) and you will certainly be joined by a group of school kids eager to see the mad crazy action of paper and cardboard folded by mechanical hands become li'l boxes full of baking magic.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

tourist traps in the mist

7/14 Driving to Chelsea, MI by way of Niagara

We had a full day of driving to get our next destination back in the U.S.A. but Niagara was close enough to our route that we thought we should make the detour. Large scale landscapes are always a challenge to capture with the camera but I think mrs. a-go-go would agree that this one is a particularly tough nut to crack. This is compounded by the piles of hotels and casinos surrounding the river banks.

Approaching Niagara from the Canada side, we had been warned, would be an over load of tourist madness. Too true. I had done some internet research the day before trying to find and easy place to stop close to the falls where we could stop for a bit and satisfy our need to lay eyes on this fabled romantic spot. That seems to be a tall order. There is very little information other than how to book a room at a hotel or where to gamble or where to take the kids for dinner. On a satellite map I spotted what looked like a public park right on the bluff above the falls, perfect.

No so fast, buster... the roads near the falls are more confusing than you might think and we made many wrong turns. There are very few signs other than the ones leading you to the various attractions; "travel BEHIND the falls!" "best odds here!" "helicopter rides!" We found a place to park were it looked like we could walk to the falls and set out on foot.

This turned out to be OK but not what we were after. The path led us to a casino/hotel that had a view of the falls but from some distance. We could see the park I had located earlier on the map just down a steep slope from where we stood. There had to be a way to get there. On our way to the car a couple from Germany with kids stopped us to ask if this was the way to the falls. They were in the same pickle as us. They just wanted to stop by, see the falls and move on. We told them what we had been able to see and wished them luck as they walked to the casino.

There were lots of pretty flowers along the path as we walked back through the mist that teased us from below.

With a little more effort we found our way to the park on the cliff but it was mobbed with people. Not surprising at all but the parking was $20. Gadz. Too rich for our budget. mrs. a-go-go leaped from the car like a green beret on a mission and I steered Rodney to circle back allowing enough time for her to get the photos she wanted. I picked her up on the return trip and we got out'a town. Shoo!

Niagra is really impressive and worth a stop but I don't know what to suggest to those of you wish to make it a quick stop. The tourist megalopolis doesn't make it easy.

It was along day of driving and after making our way through customs at the border and on to Chelsea, Michigan it was time for dinner and a rest. Our hosts in Michigan were ready and made our wish come true.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

AGO a-go-go and a very colorful walk

we spent our second day in Toronto simply hanging out. the boys hit a trail for a wee bit of a hike (longer than i would care to go) while us girls decided to make skirts. actually it was a skirt lesson and i learned how to stitch one up lickety split complete with zipper and biase tape waistband. yes, i know. i now skirtmaking at least. so day two was nice and lazy with good times, good tunes, a movie and nifty three, we donned our fancy-pants new skirts, loaded up the adventure bag, grabbed the cameras and headed back to Toronto for a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario and a wander through Chinatown to Kensington Market.the AGO is pretty nifty. the building itself is a spifferiffic design by Frank Gehry and emulates the lines of an enormous boat with wood the color of amber. it even smells pretty inside. the drama & desire exhibit was surprisingly interesting and pretty. i am not exactly a theater girl but enjoyed the show and the collection of paintings which included some Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. after many hours in the air conditioned museum with a pause here and there for photo ops and beverage breaks, we made our way outside into the sun for a walk to Kensington Market in search of lunch.chinatown in toronto is full of color as most chinatwons are. i think i snapped dozens and dozens of pictures and thought how lucky i was to be somewhere so colorful and then..then my friends we turned a corner near kensington market and i discovered an entirely NEW rainbow of color. talk about happy photo ops. i snapped left, right, up down and all around. it reminded me of venice beach, california what with the vintage shops and incense we got nearer to our food options we were delighted to find a gluten-free cafe and as our awesome hosts were gluten-free we waltzed right in and chow downed on some super tasty crepes. and i mean scarfity-scarfed. good stuff.we wandered a tad bit more but turned back when mr. a-go-go's ankle got the best of him. seems he twisted it or something the day before and was aching in a big way. so we turned ourselves down a new street and headed back to the car.i thought for sure montreal would be the end all, be all for me in canada but it turns out that i quite like toronto as well and am looking forward to planning many more visits to our friends to the north (and northeast) of us. thank you again my most fabulous of hosts, we had a fantabulous time and were sad, sad, sad to return to the states....that is until we hit this lady's place and were greeted with fresh picked blueberries, little red hen bread, homemade chocolate poundcake, raspberry jam and cracked wheat goodness...oh my!

Monday, July 19, 2010

t-t-t-t-time for toronto

7/10 & 7/11we arrived in toronto after a very long drive on a very long stretch of highway. we did not take the pretty route but the sky was blue and the clouds were puffy and rodney, thankfully, is air conditioned.our hosts provided us with excellent beverages, eats and vintage togged beds. after a crash for the night, we were up and on our way for a visit to sunday antique market, art exhibit and tour of a wee portion of the very large Toronto.we walked around the flea checking out vintage aprons, dishes and sunglasses and then moseyed our way to the art festival after a beverage stop where i sugared up on an iced cinnamon latte (thank you stacey for the giftcard)!i got to meet a most scrumdillyumptious ceramicist/potter and wished wished wished we had space (and cash) for trinkets. we walked and checked out the art until the temps grew warmer and we (um, i) were positively tired from the heat. it was time for a mall break and some french fries...or, if you were us, a serving of poutine as our montreal host really, really wanted for us to try it and so we did. and we liked it.stepping back outside we were surprised to find the sky darker than dark and so we decided we should probably head back to the car. we had a bit of a walk ahead of us. we detoured through yonge-dundas square where crowds and crowds were gathered in front of various pubs to catch the final game of the world cup.soon enough, big fat drops began to fall with a flash and a clap. yikes! luckily we weren't too far and so we made it just in time and drove a long way to home for a home cooked dinner and a round of mojito floats. so far, toronto is the awesome!


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