Random Thursday: Random Travels and Battle Sheep

Random Thursday (ˈrandəm ˈTHərzdā): the day on which Sarah plunks down all the odd bits and pieces she’s been sent by friends or has otherwise stumbled upon this week in an effort to avoid writing a real post, the assembly of which usually ends up taking twice as much time as sitting down and creating actual content.

My MIL is doing well (thank you for your kind thoughts and crossed fingers), I made it to the next level of interviews, traveled by train to Chicago all by myself (hush, it’s a Big Thing),  had a marvelous time with two of my favorite people (and one favorite’s teenaged daughter), and made it back home in time for a two hour nap before taking the kids to the annual school Luau and Backpack Dumping.

Been an active week.

The kids’ school stuff was waiting for them when I dropped them off this morning for the first (half) day of the new school year.  The entire household is very excited about this new opportunity for intellectual and social growth—with the sole and unsurprising exception of the kids, who just last week were complaining loudly about how boring summer camp was, until they realized they only had four days left.

I took the day off, so in a little while, I’ll head back pick them up, along with all the forms we forgot to pick up at the Luau.  Oops.

But for now, it’s time to relax, have another cup of coffee, and offer random, illustrated pieces of the last couple days:


The Windy Rainy City

Chicago Tour2

It doesn’t have a thumb in it, but I’m pretty sure I did take this photo. Jane wasn’t with me and it’s on my phone, so unless a pickpocket took pity on me, it’s mine.

My friend thefirstmausi and I (and her daughter) met early Tuesday morning at the Chicago First Lady Boat Dock—and when I say “met”, I mean for the first time in person—to take one of the Chicago Architecture Foundation River Cruises.

‘firstmausi has the best ideas.

If you ever have the chance to take one of these, please do.  The docents are a hoot—they know their stuff and they also know how to make it interesting—and since Chicago is a tall, busy city, it’s easy to miss all the beautiful structures—historical and new—if you stick to the streets.

And also hidden urban folk art.

Graffitti Chicago

Plus, you’re on a boat on a river, so everything is relaxed and lovely and mercy those bridges are low.

I’m going to go again the next time I’m in Chicago, because the city is constantly in flux and I want to see the results of all the construction and restoration efforts that are just getting started. . .  and also because I missed most of the last half of this one due to the rescheduled rainstorm—which was inexplicably moved up from Friday, and whose decision was that?—drove us inside.

There were large windows and we could hear the docent, but we always seemed to be on the wrong side of the boat to see whatever she was describing.

But that gave ‘firstmausi and I time to talk, so I can’t complain.*


In the Pink

One of the only things Sunny likes about going back to school is getting new shoes.

You can’t tell from the photo, but these things are bright, bright pink.  With neon color splashes on them.


She loves them so much, she asked for a second pair, exactly the same, for gym.

And went to school today, wearing them with her new, lacy school dress, which is bright purple.

Clutching her pink, hedgehog-shaped pencil sharpener.  Named Fluffy.

Guess where we had breakfast?

Guess where we had breakfast?

Why not?


Taxi of Shame

Chicago was a seven taxi trip for me—five of them on Tuesday—and totally worth the cost.

I like taxis, especially when I’m alone in a city I don’t know well and won’t be staying in long enough to learn bus routes.

You get in, given them an address, and they take you there. No transfers, no missed stops, no walking.

My only problem with this method of transportation, aside from the environmental impact, is that I’m total crap at flagging them down, and I’ve learned—thank you, Manhattan—that throwing myself on the mercy of the nearest hotel doorman or even random strangers works a lot better than throwing myself in the middle of the street.

I’m not easy to miss, so I assume my body language isn’t confident enough . . . or I have a random secret invisibility superpower that only works on cabbies.

I’m fully aware that this may be two ways of saying the same thing, but having a superpower is way cooler, so we’ll use that one.


In the Pink, Redux

Jane wore some pink today to school, too.


Unlike her sister’s shoes, this image has the intensity juuuuust right.

Not that she didn’t opt for awesomeshoes of her own this year:


That’s my girl.


Psst, Lyra

These are what I think of, when I think gooseberries, which grew wild in our yard when I was a kid:


What we had Tuesday evening** were apparently cultivated Cape gooseberries.

Cape gooseberreis

What else would you serve with memoir bandal cheese and purple heirloom tomatoes?

(The pita chips from the hummus, right)


Battle Sheep!

I can’t take a trip without getting something for the kids, mostly because I love them and also because dear god the puppy dog eyes.

To amplify the incentive, they were supposed to come with me but we couldn’t make it work.

Guilt is a great motivator.

So is shopping at cool toy stores. Like Marbles: The Brain Store.***

A somewhat bewildered ‘first mausi found a Gummi Candy kit that’s perfect for Sunny, my budding Mad Scientist and gummyworm addict.

And for Jane?

Battle Sheep

It’s like Risk.  With SHEEP.



Tuck This in Your Garter . . .

Flask Building

‘firstmausi and I saw this building after the rain chased us below deck, so I have no idea what the docent said about it, if anything, and I haven’t had the chance to track it down, yet.

Until someone can tell me what it’s called or what it’s for, I’m dubbing it “The Flask Building’, because that’s what we thought it looked like from our angle and I persist in the delusion that I’m funny.

So if one of the characters in my wereduck story has his office in the Flask Building—and he will, ’cause I wrote it up on the train—this is why:

Flask Building 2




*I might complain about the photos she took of me—I really should know better than to bother picking up my hairbrush in Chicago—but I’ll wait until I see what she does with them.  If it’s blackmail,  I might have to travel to Germany to retrieve the negatives—darn!

** I was able to meet Lyra for a wondrous hour or so at One North Kitchen, which has good food and fantastic staff. Our  waiter—who made the mistake of joking about writing his memoirs in front of two writers who were more than willing to run with it until he fled—sold us on a plate of bandal cheese with (purple) heirloom tomatoes, crostini, and gooseberries.  She and I had also ordered two other appetizers—herbal flatbread and hummus, YUM—and were holding seven different conversations at once, so by the time we noticed the gooseberries, we’d forgotten what they were.  I figured they were a kind of baby tomatillo, which sounded plausible to Lyra and the passing bartender we asked.  He went to check and it turned out we were both wrong.  And now I’m trying to figure out where I can get gooseberries up here . . .

***Can I just say here how much fun I had trying to explain to two German women the ode to commercialized history and disposable income that is the American Girl Doll Store?  I finally gave up and agreed with ‘firstmausi and her daughter:  “Only in America.”  Such a proud moment.


Post Called on Account of Chi-Town

I’m leaving work early this afternoon and heading for the Amtrak station to catch a train to Chicago, where I will be spending not nearly enough time with friends before heading back way too early Wednesday morning.*

In the morning, I’ll be taking a boat tour with a friend from Germany, whom I met online when she commented on one of my online stories and I commented back—we’ve been e-mailing each other for almost five years and though she’s visited the States before, she’s touching down for a day close enough for us to meet. I can’t wait!

I’ll be meeting Lyra (You all know Lyra, right? Why not?) in the early evening—if she can swing it—for an hour or so somewhere between her office and the last train out to her neighborhood, if she can swing it.  I hope she can—we’ve been talking almost as long and it’s ridiculous that we live this close and haven’t met.

In between?  I’m thinking pizza and shopping but I’m willing to be persuaded into visiting a museum and shopping, or maybe catching a show and shopping.  Or just shopping.

Regardless, the trip should be a lot of fun and absolutely nothing like this:

At all.


*I thought about taking a later train, but there’s a Schlep Your Stuff Back to School Luau that evening that I really shouldn’t miss, because making my kids haul all their school supplies in by themselves on the first morning of school would be as cruel as flipping baby box turtles. If funnier.

Field (Museum) Trip!

On Friday, Watson and I picked up the kids from school a little early and drove the three hours to Chicago in the not-quite-freezing rain in a car that was packed with sleeping bags, pillows, backpacks, and flashlights.

We had a date to sleep with the dinosaurs at the Field Museum—a Christmas gift from my MIL.
Dozin with Dinos

For those of you who haven’t heard of or been to the Chicago Field Museum . . . you’re missing out.  And if you haven’t thought of sleeping there overnight . . . do.

It’s a blast.

My MIL had opted for the premium package, which included a tour of part of the Zoology Section in the lower level of the Collections Resource Center, the place where ninety percent of the collections are kept and the scientists do their things—the Field Museum is an active research facility, emphasis on active.

About fifteen of us, kids and adults, piled into an enormous elevator with our Museum guide and our scientist, Kevin the “Fish Guy”, to visit the underground Fish Lab.

Field CRC

It immediately became clear that ichthyologists have a sense of humor:

Finding Nemo

I looked, but Nemo’s mugshot wasn’t there—probably because they already had him in a jar,  carefully arranged by his geography and Latin name.  Somewhere:

Oceans in Bottles

I’m pretty sure that Kevin, our ichthyologist, picked up a clownfish jar to show the kids, but I was too busy looking around at the other residents.

There were old fish, like this one, which dates back to 1934.  I forgot to write down the name, but Sunny told me this morning that it’s a Gulper fish:


There were flat fish, like this sting ray, whom I could identify without help, thank you:


There were gorgeous blue and silver fish, which didn’t photograph as brilliantly as I’d hoped—this one is a Goby, or so Sunny says:


There were evil-looking fish, like this angler and her parasitic little husband on the tray.  We had quite the discussion about their sex life, in term scientific enough to earn a general audience rating.


There were skeletal fish, too, like this piranha, which had been stripped down by the Museum’s own collection of flesh-eating beetles, that  most of us were glad were housed in another part of the CRC:


And there were brains in boxes.  I didn’t ask why—at that point, my own brain was stuffed so full of fish facts, I had to depend on my kids to carry on as I nodded and snapped pictures (or asked Jane to do it, to cut down on the number of thumbs and blurs).

Fiiiiishhhhh Braaaiiiiins

Luckily, Sunny was on the case.  In fact, you couldn’t take a picture of Kevin without getting a curly-headed, six-year-old pre-ichthyologist somewhere in frame, spouting random  facts about every single fish on the table.


By the end of the tour, I wasn’t sure whether I should research an ichthyology program at a University that offered after-class day care, or send in an application to Junior Jeopardy.  One of the parents suggested we send her on Jeopardy to pay for college.  That works.

Her older sister was the only one who wasn’t impressed:  “She’s getting all this from Octonauts, you know.”

But Jane had her moment, when she asked to see a Humuhumunukunukuapuaʻa—which she’d heard about last year while her class was studying the pacific states—and completely stumped Kevin, whose expertise was in colder waters.  He had her repeat it several times, and even called over a colleague, who had heard of the thing, but wasn’t sure where its jar would be at that time of night.

Jane was very proud.

Kevin managed to stump us, though, or at least knock us back, with the ugliest fish we’ve ever seen.  It’s a rock fish—thanks, Sunny—kept in an old-fashioned brain jar, which I thought was fitting, since that’s what the front end looked like to me:

Ugly Fish

The back end of this thing looked a lot like a turkey.  It jiggled when Kevin shook the jar.  UGH.

Ugly Fish Got Back

There was also a blowfish lurking on a shelf, newly returned from a display upstairs. It was puffed up, but did not seem much impressed with us.


The tour was over way too soon, at least for us visitors, though Kevin, who was an engaging tour guide with unlimited patience, seemed to be having a good time, too . . . at least until Sunny’s parting shot:  “Thank you!  When I come back, I’m taking your job!”*

Watson said he seemed more puzzled than insulted, so she could probably risk an internship application in sixteen years time.

After that, we crawled all over the public areas of the museum, looking at a little bit of everything.  Including a saber-toothed deer:

Vampire Deer

Sure, the sign said it was a musk deer, but who are they trying to kid?

Another highlight was the ladies room—no, really—which won an award in 2011.  It was a very nice ladies room, with a special set of low sinks and commodes for the younger visitors and murals on the ceiling so everyone had something lovely to stare at during the process, as it were.  Sunny especially loved the hairdryers hand dryers.

World's Coolest Hand Dryer

Jane found a scientific artist, who asked her if she would like to try her hand at drawing a clam.

She would, for a solid hour.

Jane Draws

After a flashlight journey through the Egyptian tomb, which was amazing for three of us—Sunny wasn’t pleased with the dark, the mummies, or the boys who were more interested in flashlight fun and screaming than history—we wandered through a few more exhibits and called it very sore feet a day about eleven thirty.

We brushed our teeth, changed into our jammies, claimed a patch of carpeted undersea ground in the Cretaceous period, and rolled out our sleeping bags.


It would have been a peaceful spot, if it hadn’t been for the Parasaurolophus, also known as the trumpeting dinosaur, who, as we all known from Dinosaur Train, hooted through his headpiece.

The museum helpfully provided an interactive version, not fifteen feet away from where Sunny and I were trying to sleep.


This thing was irresistible to every single male human who came into the room, and so delighted were they with this example of bioengineering, that they could not stop at one Hroot!if they’d tried.  And you know they didn’t.

Hroot!  Hroot!  Hroot!  Hroot! “Hey, Jamie, come try this!” Hroot!  Hroot!  Hroot!  Hroot!

At one point, an exhausted Sunny rolled over and said, “Mommy?  Why are boys so mean?”

But the lights went out at midnight and—after the requisite screams and flashlight fun—everyone settled in for a comfortable night’s sleep.  Except for me, because I am not built for sleeping on hard floors without more padding than even Mother Nature, a ground pad, and a thick L.L. Bean comforter provided.  Also, Sunny stole all the covers and the pillow within the first ten minutes.

I ended up dozing upright for a few hours, leaning against the wall with Sunny’s head in my lap and the pillow cushioning my back.  It was peaceful . . . but not particularly REMful.

The next morning, after we were all packed and I’d had an early breakfast of Advil, we adopted two dinosaurs, Hot Dog (who is not a Brontosaurus, Mommy,  possibly for the same reason Pluto isn’t a planet anymore)  and Fluffy (who is still a T-Rex, because no one’s would dare mess with those bad boys).  I don’t have photos of them because I was too tired to find the camera.

But as I was paying their nominal adoption fee, I suggested to the staff that renting out air mattresses  would be a great additional fundraiser for the Museum on these overnights—I myself would have paid anything they asked around 2am, and I know we weren’t the only ones who hadn’t bothered to bring ours.

We then headed out for breakfast and an outlet for my phone, which had died around 1:48 am.  Ask me how I know.**

Recharged in more ways than one, we then headed downtown to Water Tower Place.

First stop: the American Girl Store—Sunny, who had never been to this Mecca of Historically Based Consumerism before, had been promised a Christmas doll and I’d also promised Jane that her beloved Penelope could have a good cleaning and de-thatching spa treatment:

Doll Spa

Penelope is in the chair, Jane is sporting the purple pack, Sunny is holding her own mini-me, and that shopping bag is holding more AG stuff than I had originally anticipated, because I am a sucker. 

We also did the LEGO store for Watson, Godiva—to pick up something for my MIL, as a thank you—and Teavana, where I sort of overbought, because tea.

I amLEGOman

My only regret is that I didn’t plan my vacation for the week after this trip, instead of the week before.  And that I hopped on my new exercise bike Sunday morning, thus turning what was left of my lower body into jello-filled manicotti.

Rookie mistake.

Next time—and there will be one—I’ll be ready.

I’ll have a car charger, an air mattress, noise-cancelling headphones, an eye mask . . . and an Out of Order sign for You-Know-Hroot.

Let’s get a group together!  Who’s with me?


*One of the older kids, who lives in Chicago and clearly knew his stuff from sources other than cartoons, was given some information about volunteering at the Museum.  Jane grabbed my arm and said, “MOM.  WE HAVE TO MOVE.”

**As Watson later said, “See?  I knew we should’ve bunked down under the Giant Tree Sloth—there’s an outlet in there.”

A Burst of Unapologetic Consumerism

Today, I’m taking my seven-year old on a day-trip pilgrimage to  the Mecca of her young existence:  the Chicago American Girls Store.  

By the time this is posted we’ll be well on our way, since it’s a fifty-five minute drive to the nearest Amtrak station and our train leaves at seven-thirty.   My daughter slept—if she slept, I have my doubts—in her clothes,  I got up at five am (an hour ago) and am right at this very second mainlining caffeine.

Ever since she heard rumors about an “entire store full of things that aren’t even in the American Girl catalog, Mom!” I’ve been the target of a relentless campaign.  She worked hard, progressively narrowing the vaguely promised time frame from someday to this summer to this month to all right, okay, next Saturday.

At the same time, her requests became more and more effusive:  “Wonderful mother, beautiful mother, wise and kind mother . . . Pretty, pretty please with extra please on top?”

I always meant to take her before school started* but, frankly, I don’t get enough of that kind of high-level flattery and begging around here, so I  milked the situation for all it’s worth.

I’m also trying my hand at teaching a financial lesson, which isn’t as ironic as some people might think.  You know who you are.

I’m covering the train tickets, lunch, sales tax, and a salon session for Penelope, her doll, who could use a cleaning.  That’s it.  My daughter is responsible for saving up her own spending money, which includes birthday and gift money, extra chore money, yard sale money from selling some of her old toys,** and whatever she could find in the couch and laundry room. 

She can spend that money any way she likes and I won’t interfere.  Even if it kills me.

But—but—this is the way it’s going to play:  we’re going to arrive in Chicago around ten a.m. and taxi over to the store.  We’re going to explore the entire store from top to bottom (or the other way around, not sure) and write down everything she wants to get and how much it costs (unless it’s over the amount she has). 

Then we’ll go to lunch and take a good look at what her money will buy.  She’ll make some decisions, maybe shift a couple things to her Christmas list, have a little ice cream.  Then we’ll go back and she’ll spend her money—I know better than to think she’ll have any left.  She’s seven.

Around four, we’ll go back to Union Station and take the train to our ‘local’ (and really inconvenient) station and drive home, tired and broke, but happy.

That’s the plan.

Have yourselves a great weekend, too!


*Lest one thinks I often take the children into the city solely to spend money on fripperies, a) I don’t; b) she’s read a lot of the American Girl books, especially the history chapters at the end; and c) why the hell not, for once?  ‘Sides, there’s a Godiva Store nearby . . .

**Which was when I realized that this kid really wanted to go.