Thursday, July 28, 2011

Trip to Chicago

This past weekend, we headed to the Chicago area to visit family. We left Friday morning and traveled through a pretty fierce (but much needed) thunderstorm to arrive safely at Lynette's in Crystal Lake. As we were driving through Algonquin's many shopping venues, I noticed something both exciting and horrifying! Borders is going out of business. I guess I should have known it was coming: I've been hearing about their financial woes for quite awhile. But wait, you're thinking, she said "exciting." What's exciting about a bookstore going out of business? I'll tell you what's exciting: books on sale! The signs were prominent: 40% off. Clint took one look at my gleaming eyes and sighed. "Let's get to Lynette's first," he said. "I promise we'll come back."

There is really only one important thing that must be discussed when gathering with Genthners, I have come to realize: food. We talked for I think two whole days about food. In the meanwhile, the girls fit in a nail polishing session and the kids all jumped on the trampoline and played hide and seek. And we ate lots of good food. Like Lynette's homemade green tea gelato. Green tea! Who knew?
You're probably worried about whether I got to Borders. Fret no longer: I did. But here's the sad part, the part I couldn't see as we were driving 55 mph along the road: there were two tiny little words above the 40% off. Guess what they were? That's right: Up To. There wasn't much on sale, really--not much cheaper than Amazon, that is...which is probably why Borders is closing, eh? I got a few things from the bargain books section...
Then we headed over to visit Jeanette and Frederick for a night, eating more delicious food and sharing a great bottle of wine. More thunderstorms and rain...Sunday was a going away party for Annette's family: they're moving back to California. It is sad to see them go, but now we have a place to stay when we finally make the cross-country trip!
Sunday evening we headed over to see Micah and Sarah, who live in Buffalo Grove. Somebody really, really loves her cousin Jonah.

I'd often look into the living room as Sarah and I were talking about...well, food, if you must know--to see Eva settled comfortably on Jonah's lap. And he's a pretty easygoing thirteen year old boy, I think, because he didn't seem to mind. One time as they were walking out the door to get back on the swing set, I heard Eva say, "Jonah, you're my best friend" as she slipped her little hand into his.

Monday evening, we drove a mile or so to a park that boasts having the highest spot in the Chicagoland area. It did have a great view: we could see downtown. The kids were more interested in the small things, though, like grasshoppers.

And it was Micah and Sarah's anniversary! We cooked South African food together before going to the park, and we went out for ice cream afterward at Oberweis. Yummy. (I had Key Lime Pie ice cream!)

Tuesday morning, we took the kids down to the city (Chicago) to walk around and see the sights. Marilyn was new to me. The picture crops out all the loads of tourists (which, of course, we are not) standing below taking closer pictures.

There will be a new Lego store soon in Watertower Place, but for now, they have a temporary location in the mall and some of their sculptures for photo opportunities. Doesn't Jonah look happy?

I wanted to get more shots of the gorgeous architecture, but we were trying to walk quickly so as not to spend too much time downtown (somebody was mentally tallying our parking cost) and we were worried about how long Jared would last.

Lunch was a toss up: Chicago style pizza or Italian beef? By 1:00, we were so hungry and footsore, we didn't care which as long as it was readily available. We decided to just head back in the general direction of our parking garage and hope something caught our eye. We were waiting at a light when I heard a lady say, "Let's stop for pizza; it's right down here." I think she may have been an angel. We followed her and her family to Gino's East where, Lauren was pleased to learn, graffiti is encouraged. The pizza was great, and it was nice to rest our feet.

After lunch we walked east so we could see the lake, but we didn't get close enough to get our feet wet. All in all, it was a nice, relaxing trip. Good times, great food. Wonderful families.

Behemoth by Scott Westerfield

A few years ago, I read Leviathan, a novel by Scott Westerfield that puts an unusual spin on World War I. In the real world, the war started with the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie. It was primarily a war between Germany and its ally, Austria-Hungary, and Britain and its ally, France (and later, the United States). These facts are consistently maintained in the novel.

But the novel is different in that Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie have a young son named Aleksander, who has been sheltered from the public eye and who, when his grand-uncle, the Emperor of Austria-Hungary, dies, should assume the throne. When news of his parents' assassination reaches Austria-Hungary, young prince Alek is spirited away to safety in the middle of the night--in a tank that walks!
Yes, you heard me right: the scientific developments of Westerfield's alternate historical novel are the other thing that sets it apart from fact. In Alek's world, the nations of Eastern Europe (particularly the Germans) have developed machines to wage war. These machines remind me of the AT-AT Walkers in Star Wars, which walk around on long, stilt-like legs. There are other machines as well, ships and planes and tanks that have highly advanced weapons and navigation systems.
While the Clankers (slang word for the machine-loving Germans) were busy building machines, the Brits were busy as well. They are called Darwinists, for they have taken the evolutionary ideas of Charles Darwin to create creatures of war. In Britain, giant whales have been evolved so that they can be filled with helium and survive out of water, creating giant living blimps. There are messenger lizards, frogs that can record (and recite) up to an hour of conversation, and smaller flying/floating beasties that look like jellyfish, among other things.
A girl named Deryn Sharp has pretended to be a boy so that she can join the British Navy and sail on the Leviathan as a crewman. There, under exciting circumstances which I will not describe so as not to give away the plot, she eventually meets Alek, and they become friends.

Behemoth is the sequel to Leviathan, and you really need to read #1 to understand the world of #2. This book is set primarily in the Ottoman Empire, which both Germany and Britain would like to make into an ally. Germany has a stronger foothold already (as the Ottomans are rather upset that Winston Churchill decided to keep the warship and its accompanying top-secret new water beast (it's called a Behemoth, by the way) the Ottomans had commissioned--and paid for), and it is into this atmosphere that the Leviathan sails on a diplomatic mission, hoping to assuage their anger. Meanwhile, the Germans have already promised the Ottomans two ships (one of which has a cannon that creates and then shoots lightning!) and military training. Of course, the adults totally boggle the transaction, and it is up to Alek and Deryn (who has begun to have romantic feelings toward Alek--who still thinks she's a boy) to save the operation.
It's a complicated world and difficult to describe in a few paragraphs, but the idea is intriguiging and the characters are well developed. The story moves along quickly; I think I finished reading this second book in a few days. And whenever the world gets too difficult to imagine, an illustration helps explain it all.

I highly recommend these novels for any reader; I think the target age group is fourth-ninth grades, but I found them entertaining and educational. Plus, I like books with pictures. There is a third book coming out in hardcover on September 20, and it's available for pre-order on Amazon. Hmm...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Discovering Idea-ology

Yesterday I stopped in at Jo-Ann to look for paper. I've been thinking about this last Patera pendant (which I got at the Found Gallery in A2--love that place!) lately, thinking I should finish it up. This spring I drew a mouse sniffing at a delicious wedge of Jarlsberg and painted it with watercolor, but I got too hasty when checking to see whether the Gel du Soleil (epoxy) had dried and I totally burbled the whole thing. I was ready to tearfully give up on the whole project, but Clint shouldered his heat gun and rescued me (and the pendant).
Lately, I've been entranced with the pendants I've seen that use tiny little vintage prints inside. So, I went to Jo-Ann to look for paper.

And of course, whilst in the paper section, what should I find but loads of new products from K&C Company (can you guess why my favorite?) (You're right! Because they have the most beautiful stuff). I dithered awhile between chipboards and mat stacks and stickers and all sorts of delicious products, ending up by being frugal with a small mat pad.
Then I walked through the paper sheets (found nothing interesting--cause all the good stuff is in the bound packs, of course!) and as I was turning to leave, I found craft books. I picked up one about book making (which, as you know, I have tried my hand at) and thought about it for awhile, but I frugally put it down. Then I found this book:

Those of you who have gotten a birthday card from me lately know I couldn't pass this up! And those of you who are thinking about the f-word I've been sprinkling through this post (I mean frugal. What word are you thinking about?) should rest assured: this week is COUPON COMMOTION at Jo-Ann. Yes, that's right. A whole ad full of 40% off coupons, which, you must admit, means things are practically free. Of course I put the book in my cart.
So now, I had not only a lovely pack of paper, but I also had an inspirational book. I was halfway to paper heaven, I assure you. But then I saw a sight that pushed my crafty self the last few feet toward those pearlescent gates. That's right: a new display.

Ignore Casey and the cool tiger which I tossed into the picture for visual appeal. Look at those big paper stacks beneath. Yes, that's right. Tiny writing and birds and distressed prints all in one package? How could I say no? And that delightful Tim Holtz created another pack with big, small, and TINY designs. Yes, that's right. I said tiny designs. (Remember the part about 40% off? I certainly was not forgetting that.) Into the cart!

So now, here I am: hard at work on cards (or ahem blog posts) with my cool new papers close by for decorating assistance and my new book close at hand for creative inspiration. Could a girl be any happier? I don't think so.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

How to Survive a Family Vacation in Mexico

If you are considering traveling out of the country with your family, I would suggest you consider the following items:

1) When in a large airport, keep at least two pairs of eyes--or better, a firm hand--on any child under the age of seven. Airports are busy places and things like escalators and those conveyor belts people walk on are very, very enticing for young children. It does not matter in the least if you are bogged down with your purse, your book-laden carry-on, his book-laden backpack, and five other things. Keep tabs on the kid. Otherwise, you may find him grinning at you from halfway up the escalator. And you know how you hate escalators.

(photo via Caren Explains It All)

2) When you get to the foreign country, say Mexico perhaps, take in a deep breath of air through your pursed lips and thank your lucky stars that Michigan, while it has its negative aspects, also has things like low humidity and temperatures--most of the time. This might be a good time to just give up on your hair, as well. Remember that having fun is more important than maintaining great curls. (Although, of course, these two can often coincide in a way that is both beautiful and gratifying.)

3) Once you leave your gate in the Cancun airport, you'll need to find the baggage claim area and go through immigration with your luggage. At this point, it is perfectly fine to look as though you have been up since 1:30am (which you have because your flight was at 6), and you may well find that the immigration line has been magically shortened for you and your family. This is because the attendant has taken pity on either a) your tired look, or b) the fact that you are traveling with children. He will usher you with a smile into a much shorter line composed of other traveling families. The security guard will wave you through with a wink and a nod, no luggage or bags scanned at all.

(photo via Treva Tribit photography)
4) You can anticipate a very fun experience when you have loaded all of your bags into the van your husband has arranged to take you to the airport. This exercise is called "Take advantage of the silly Americans." When they tell you you must get out of the van, you can certainly refuse, but then you will miss enjoying this activity. Once you have urged all your family members out of the van, go inside and listen as the agents promise reduced admission to various local attractions. Assure them you only are interested in the Mayan ruins at Tulum. When they offer to get you discounted tickets ($100 instead of the $260 you'd likely pay if you book at the resort), continue to act disinterested. Then, when they offer to cut that price in half, perk up a little. (Half! you think. That's the price of just one ticket at the resort! How can anyone say no to that?) Just realize that there are always, always strings attached. This time, the strings involve a van ride that takes nearly 90 minutes, breakfast with a salesman, and six conversations with agents who will try to sell you membership in a vacation club, even though the first man you spoke with told you quite honestly that you are not the sort of travelers they are looking for. You're too cheap. Be grateful upon returning to your resort five hours later that at least you got some very tasty French toast out of the deal. That and cheap tickets to Tulum. Ignore the fact that you are suspicious about the Tulum deal and actually dread leaving the resort another time. Assume Tulum will be wonderful.

5) When you check in at the resort, the lady at the desk will ask you if you want to upgrade your second room since your first room is "Privileged" and your second is "Standard." If you don't upgrade the second, you and your husband will be in a totally separate building from your children. As appealing as this may sound, remember that you are in another country and you're on vacation with them, so distance is not desirable or advisable. If you're penny pinchers like we are, you'll ask if you can downgrade your premium room so that you can get a room close to the standard kids' room. I would advise upgrading their room. You don't stay at resorts often, and what is another $100 or so when you've already saved almost $200 by agreeing to the sales pitch earlier? Besides, the nicer room comes with a stocked mini-bar!

6) Spend all available time at the beach or the pool. Exchange your dollars for pesos because the coins are easier to use at the swim up bar (for tips--drinks are free!) than dollars, which, as you know, are not water resistant. Take lots of books to read and apply sunscreen liberally. Swim to cool off and take plenty of pictures.

7) When preparing to head out to Tulum, talk to someone about what to expect. If you do, then your trip will be much more pleasant. You should know to bring sunscreen and a towel or two, and you should wear your swimsuit, not pack it. If you do these simple things, you will avoid being a feast for bugs and you'll get to cool off instead of looking longingly down at those who knew what to expect whilst sweltering in your shorts. Look around at Tulum at the ruins and see how many iguanas you can spot.

8) Most importantly, enjoy these moments with your family. This is the purpose of your trip. Celebrate the snorkling voyages, observe the rituals of the pelican, eat good food, and let your children swim up to the bar to order drinks. Don't let the bartender give your daughter tequila, though, as much as he seems to want to.

9) Oh, and wait in line for the crepes at breakfast. Eat them with custard and chocolate sauce. Shoo the birds away from your table, and trust your husband when he says to take the long way around on the beach. Jonah doesn't need to see those two ladies who are taking full advantage of the rays of the sun. Neither do you, really.