Saturday, June 27, 2009

Staying in Princeton for the weekend

It's rare that I find myself in Princeton on the weekend, but today I spent the whole day in town. Well, I guess officially I got all the way to West Windsor for the farmer's market, but that's the farthest I've gone. It's been nice to have a day to clean up the house a little and even think about some changes I'd like to make as far as moving furniture or maybe changing the color scheme in my bedroom.

This afternoon John brought the kids down and we had a great day around town. First we went to get ice cream at Thomas Sweet. There is a funhouse mirror there and Emmy had a great time making faces at himself in the mirror:

Here are Sebastian, Nathaniel and Emerson sitting outside on the steps at Thomas Sweet:

Emmy, with his fair skin and reddish hair, has always been sensitive to the sun. When I saw him shading his eyes I asked if he wanted to wear my sunglasses. The answer is obvious:

After Thomas Sweet, we headed to the Cotsen Children's Library, which is on campus at the Firestone Library. They don't allow photography, so we don't have any photos there, but the kiddos had a great time. They had a puppet theatre with tons of fun puppets, a treehouse with cushions on two levels for reading and playing, and plenty of room for fun games of hide and go seek. We didn't do too much reading there, but we still had a great time.

After leaving the library, we walked down to Nassau Street and went to Labyrinth Books were the woman working in the children's section couldn't stop laughing at the boys. Emmy in particular was being quite funny. After the loud announcement of "Daddy, I poop!" and then having a diaper change, he gets back to the little children's section and 2 minutes later announces "Daddy, I poop again!". The evidence was clear that he did not indeed poop again, so he didn't get another diaper change, but kept saying "Daddy, I poop again" and John responding with "No, you didn't" and after a few rounds of this John said "Emmy, you haven't even had time to poop again!" The other thing Emmy said was "Obama Books!". And sure enough I walked over and he had found 2 books about our current president. John said that when Emmy sees him on the news he shouts "Obama!". The woman got a kick out of that and said "I like this kid." It was cute.

We went to dinner at Triumph Brewery and thankfully they gave us a booth in the back. We might have been a little noisy, but with the baseball game on and folks already at the bar enjoying happy hour, no one seemed to notice too much:

Then after dinner we went to an awesome playground around the corner from my house. There is a really cool slide there that's made of rollers and the boys went down it about a hundred times each. Sometimes sitting up, sometimes on their bellies or laying on their backs. There was lots of giggling involved, that's for sure.

The playground is right around the corner from my garden, so when John took Sebastian back to my house to use the bathroom, Emmy and Nathaniel and I went to see and water my garden. Emmy was very happy to help out, and Nathaniel liked being in charge of the hose used to fill the watering cans. Here is Emmy watering my bell peppers (which you can hardly see behind the monster summer squash!):

And here is Nathaniel watering the tomatoes, with the summer squash on the left and some broccoli on the right.

It was a great day with the boys! I'm so happy that they got to spend the day in Princeton and that we had so much fun.

After they headed home, I went out for drinks with Bror and Amy (who I had over for dinner a couple weeks ago). The weather was lovely and it was nice to enjoy the evening with friends.

So it ended up being a lovely day in town. And now my next free weekend isn't until August.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Chicago - Day 4, Blue Line from one end to the other

One of the things I was most excited about this trip was getting to meet my friend Nate's new baby, Caroline! On Tuesday morning I said good-bye to Matthew and took the El downtown and switched to the Blue Line out to Oak Park. It took about an hour to get there, but it was totally worth it. Nate picked me up at the station and then we did a driving tour of downtown Oak Park and saw a bunch of Frank Lloyd Wright homes and the Unity Temple. I had wanted to do this since I just saw the show at the Guggenheim and I'm reading "Loving Frank" which mostly takes place in Oak Park is about one of his affairs. It was a quick little tour, and then we ended up back at his house for a little bit. Then we headed to Buzz Cafe for a quick bite - I had a salad with wonderful grilled tofu and a huge decaf chai. After dropping off lunch for his wife, Lola, who was at work, we headed over to the babysitter's to see Caroline. Oh my goodness she is adorable! She was trying out "swimming" for the first time in a teeny little baby pool in the back yard of the babysitter's house. She is such a happy, sweet baby, and it was great to see Nate as a dad.

After our quick visit, it was off to the airport for me. I took the Blue Line from Oak Park all the way to O'Hare, which took about an hour and a half, but it was all one train and I didn't have to move, so it was pretty stress-free. My flight was delayed about an hour, but when we took off I had a great view flying over the city. The photo doesn't quite do it justice, but it's really a beautiful city to see from the air.

And then, after a sunny, nearly cloudless flight, we crossed into NJ to be greeted by clouds. But with those clouds came a little bit of sun and rainbows! It was so cool to see rainbows from the air, just hanging out in the clouds. It was really a beautiful sight.

So after landing I took NJ Transit back to where my car was parked at Princeton Junction and made it home just in time for some downpours! It wasn't quite the "welcome home" I was hoping for, but it somehow seemed appropriate. I, obviously, was not in Chicago anymore...

But it was an amazing weekend! Can't wait to go back!

Chicago - Day 3, Downtown Fun and Cozy Noodles

On Monday I had most of the day to myself. Matthew and Suz both had to work, but I knew what I wanted to do. The new Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago opened in May and I was looking forward to seeing what it had to offer. It was designed by renowned architect Renzo Piano (who is also doing an addition on Harvard's Fogg Museum).

I actually got there early (I thought it opened at 10, but actually it opens at 10:30) and had a chance to explore the outside a little bit and then get in line with the other folks who were there before it opened. Once I got in I headed to the top floor to work my way down. For about half and hour I was the only person up there besides the guards and it was a great way to see the art. The spaces are really beautiful and well suited to modern art: crisp white walls, tons of natural light, high ceilings. I felt that the flow worked well, too. You kind of knew where you were supposed to go and once people started filling the galleries everyone seemed to be following the same path, which was nice. The one thing I will say is that I was frustrated that not every piece had it's label right next to it. I had to search sometimes to figure out what piece was what. An interesting curatorial choice.

After finishing the Modern Wing I headed into the older part of the Museum and was shocked by how dark it felt after being in the new part. It was also interesting to see how things have shifted in the older parts of the museum. I'm happy with how it's turned out, and there is so much more art to see! The only disappointment is that the Chagall Windows are not on display, but the woman I spoke to at the info desk said they would be up by 2010.

One of the features of the Modern Wing is that there is now a bridge between the Museum and Millennium Park. Here is a little panoramic view of the city from the Museum end of the bridge, which is on the highest floor of the museum. The right side of this photo is looking South, the left is looking North toward the bridge and Millennium Park:

Here is a view of the Modern Wing from the bridge:

And the bridge practically dumps you out at the Pritzker Pavillion where there was live music playing and folks enjoying their lunch on a beautiful, sunny day:

Another popular spot was the Crown Fountain which encourages folks to jump right in and enjoy it. It was hot enough that I took my shoes off and walked through the inches deep water. There were tons of kids cooling off and having fun. Here are my footprints back to the bench to put my shoes on:

After wandering around downtown for a little longer and grabbing a quick bite for lunch, I took the green line out to the Garfield Park Conservatory. This is one of my favorite places in Chicago and it always acted as an oasis for me, if I just needed to get away from the bustle of the city for a little bit. And in the winter it is such a treat to be in a hot, humid greenhouse with blooming flowers!

It was far from feeling wintery when I was there. It was a hot day, but I was looking forward to walking this labyrinth, which is one of my favorites. I like its natural flow and the grass in between and just the peacefulness of the surroundings. I was one of only a few people in the whole park that day, so I walked it twice. It was perfect.

And this is the sign they have posted about walking labyrinths, which I think is a good description. You can click on it to see it larger:

After a day of wandering through the city on my own, I was happy to meet up with Matthew, Suz, my friend Nisara (we went to high school and college together!) and her husband Ryan for a lovely al fresco dinner at Cozy Noodles in Wrigleyville. I got one of my favorite dishes - Rama Tofu!

One of the things I like about Cozy Noodles is the crazy decor. You can kind of see through the window the huge amount of tchochkes they have on the walls. And the walls in the bathroom are covered in Pez dispensers, and robots are an ongoing theme. Here are Nisara and I in front of the restaurant:

After dinner we went to Scooter's for frozen custard and it was amazing! I got Banana's Foster and Vanilla with rainbow sprinkles. I had never been to this place before, but it is on my list to visit again the next time I'm in town.

After gorging ourselves at Scooter's, we decided it would be nice to take a walk, so we headed up to Andersonville to walk around the old neighborhood. Many of the shops were closed, but it was good to see many of my favorite haunts still standing and some new additions to the scene.

After saying goodbye to Nisara and Suz (who are neighbors and never see each other!), Matthew and I walked back to his place and called it a night.

Chicago - Day 2, M. Henry, MCA and Ravinia again

Matthew, Suz and I started Sunday morning out right - with a wonderful brunch at M. Henry, which has doubled in size and added an outdoor patio since the last time I was there. We had the pleasure of eating outside and it was a lovely, partly cloudy morning.

I always have a tough time choosing between sweet and savory as far as brunch goes, but I'm SO happy I went with the Blackberry Bliss Cakes! It's pancakes layered with warm blackberries, vanilla mascarpone sauce and a brown sugar and oat crust on top. It was truly blissful!

After brunch we took the El down to the Museum of Contemporary Art. There was a really interesting Buckminster Fuller exhibit up, which, to me, played well off of the Frank Lloyd Wright show I saw at the Guggenheim a few weeks ago. Both men were geniuses and had huge ideas for how the world should work. It was especially interesting to compare their ideas on housing and architecture.

I wasn't allowed to take photos in the exhibits, but here is a shot of the stairway in the museum:

We also saw Take your time: Olafur Eliasson, which was a fun exhibit that used light and reflective material to create huge, interactive pieces. There are photos and video on the museum's website.

The front steps to the museum were covered with the huge message "Museums are NOW". We had a lot of fun taking photos on the steps. Here's one of me:

After the museum we headed back to the Chicago stop on the Red Line to get back up to Matthew's place so that we could drive out to Ravinia.

At Matthew's we packed up a bunch of rain gear, preparing for the worst case scenario, but thankfully we didn't really need it! It was chillier than expected and Suz had to buy a hoodie. Here she is sporting her new look:

We stopped at Pita Inn in Skokie on the way up to Ravinia and got delicious falafel sandwiches and fresh made pita and dips and grape leaves and baklava and cookies for dessert! It was quite a feast.

That night's show was Pink Martini with Michael Feinstein opening. The Michael Feinstein part was enjoyable in a cheesy sort of way, but Pink Martini was awesome. And between the sets Michael Feinstein and Thomas Lauderdale of Pink Martini did an amazing piano duet of Rhapsody in Blue which was just a special treat. It's such a great tune and they pointed out that Gershwin himself had played the Rhapsody on that very stage.

The big news at Ravinia this year (besides parking being hiked up to $20!) is that they now have screens in the Pavillion. Before, when you sat on the lawn, you couldn't really see anything, but now there are some spots close to the stage where you can watch on the big screens. I think it's a great addition to the Ravinia experience. This is the view from the back of the Pavillion, which used to be only way to see what was happening on stage without paying for a Pavillion seat.

Here are Matthew and Suz and I enjoying yet another beautiful, rainless evening full of friends, food and music. I don't know what could be better!

The end of another jam-packed day in Chicago!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Chicago - Day 1, Ravinia - Take 1

This weekend I took a little vacation to Chicago. I found a cheap ticket online and there happen to be some good things going on in the city, so I decided to go for it. I hadn't been to the Windy City in over a year, so it felt like I was due for a visit. Matthew and Suz picked me up at the airport and we went straight to the train so Suz and I could get up to Ravinia for a live taping of A Prairie Home Companion. We had to take a little detour to actually catch the Metra, but it was all worth it. It was a beautiful evening!

Suz brought some great snacks including cherries, hummus and pita chips and local beer. The fun of Ravinia is that you get to hear a great performance and have a picnic. To me it's the perfect way to spend a summer evening.

Garrison Keillor is the host of A Prairie Home Companion and didn't disappoint. My favorite part of a the show was a small tribute he did to Studs Terkel. This was the first time the show had been recorded at Ravinia without Studs being on the stage.

The musical guest was Sara Watkins, of Nickel Creek fame. She does some really great solo work. Overall it was a really fun show.

One of the unique things about Ravinia is that there is a train that runs right to the entrance of the park. Even though we were told that a train would be there in 15 minutes, it ended up being more like 45 minutes, so we sat on the side of the tracks and opened up the cooler for a little snack while we waited.

After the show we took the train to Evanston and met up with Mariko and Larry who I've known for almost 10 years now! It was great to see such great friends. After grabbing a snack at Panera we walked around downtown Evanston and noticed all of the ways that it's changed since Jerri, Mark, Jocelyn and I lived there in 2000-2001.

Mariko's mom was nice enough to give us a ride back to Matthew's place and we stayed up into the wee hours of the morning catching up and drinking whiskey sours. It was a perfect start to a fun-filled, whirlwind weekend.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Trenton Thunder revisited

On Sunday John, Jill, the kiddos, my parents and I all went to a Trenton Thunder game to celebrate Jill's birthday and enjoy a nice summer day. I love minor league baseball for all of its quirkiness. The Thunder is known for having a Bat Dog named "Chase, that Golden Thunder". In the first couple innings he runs out to retrieve the bats. Here he is in action:

They also have one of the goofiest mascots I've ever seen. I guess it's hard to create a personification of Thunder, but here he is:

And the boys LOVED him! He goes by Boomer and Emmy kept asking "Where's Boomer?" At one point he and I took a walk to try and find him and when he finally came into our section everyone got very excited to see him so close.

We sat in Section E, in the front row and when I asked Emmy "What is E for?" he said "E is for Emerson!" and pointed to himself. It was pretty cute.

We ended up with 4 seats in the front row and 4 seats in the second row and it worked out really well. Here is Jill and Dad and Mom enjoying the game. Dad busted out the Yankees hat since the Thunder is the AA affiliate of the Yankees.

Nathaniel busted out the Yankees hat because he's actually a Yankees fan. Here's me with the boys:

Sebastian, and all the boys, really loved it when the cotton candy vendor came around. This was already after having hot dogs, chips, lemonade, dippin' dots and funnel cake, so we just got one to share with our whole crew.

And the boys had to get some sort of Thunder gear, so they all got these foam hands (and Emmy got a hat because it turned out to be pretty sunny after a cloudy start to the day). You can kind of see John, Jill, and Mom & Dad in the background here.

After the game we went back to my house and enjoyed some pizza and birthday cake at the picnic table in the backyard. It was really a great day! Happy Birthday, Jill!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Birthday in NYC!

Friday was my 31st Birthday and I was lucky enough to be able to see Josh Ritter, one of my favorite musicians, perform with the NY Pops for free in Central Park. Kim, Alex, Mike, Kelly and I all met at Penn Station, got some salads and sandwiches for dinner and then headed up to the park. We waited in a very long line, but actually ended up with good seats. The concert was the first one in the SummerStage concert series.

Here is me, Kim, Mike, Alex and Kelly at the concert. We had to sit on garbage bags that Kim brought because the ground was soaking wet. It was a turf playfield and it apparently didn't drain very well from the week of rain that we had. I was so happy that the weather held out and we had a beautiful night for an outdoor concert!

Josh Ritter is one of the smiliest, sweetest, most gracious performers I have ever seen perform live, and I think this photo just kind of sums that up:

The music was great and he played many of my favorite songs. I had seen him perform a similar set with the Boston Pops, but was so happy to be able to celebrate my birthday with friends and great music. During the encore Josh called out his friend Glen Hansard who is also a great singer/songwriter and starred in the movie Once. And as a side note - Sylvie and I saw Once in the theatre on my 29th birthday! Here's a photo of Glen and Josh, the sun had gone down and everyone was standing up for the encore, so the conditions were much tougher.

After the concert we ended up stopping for dessert at a little cafe called Follow Me Caffe. It was wonderful! We ordered a brownie a la mode with vanilla gelato and crepes with raspberries and Nutella. It was the perfect way to top off an awesome night.

Kelly headed home from there, but everyone else went back to Mike's apartment to spend the night. It was practically a slumber party! This was the first time we had seen Mike's new apartment and it's awesome! I'm sure this isn't the last time I'll be crashing there. Thanks, Mike, for letting us stay!

In the morning we headed out for a nice little bagel breakfast at Connecticut Muffin and then we split up and Kim and Alex headed to the Museum of Natural History and Mike and I headed to the Guggenheim Museum.

We saw a wonderful show of Frank Lloyd Wright models and drawings. It was so cool to see these images displayed in a building that he designed. His attention to detail, creative thinking and commitment to his vision was so obvious throughout the show. I was fascinated by his unbuilt designs, especially those for Point Park in Pittsburgh and a complex in Baghdad. It was both fascinating and almost frustrating to think how things would have changed if some of his unbuilt buildings had see construction.

Overall, it was a wondeful way to spend my birthday! Music, friends, food and art! Some of my favorite things all rolled in one 24-hour time period!