Thursday, August 29, 2013

Arlington Park Family Days

This past weekend we joined my women's group at Arlington Park for Family Days.  Most Sundays through the summer, they have a section of the picnic area set up with stuff for kids.  Pony rides (REALLY long line), petting zoo, bounce house, jugglers, face painting, etc.  There's a little under 30 minutes between each post time, so enough time to wander around in between.  The kids liked feeding the animals at the petting zoo (sheep, goats, llama, donkey) but skipped most of the other attractions.

We got there a bit before the first post time, so took some time to study the day's races while we ate the lunch we had brought with us.  We placed  few bets on each race.  The lowest is a $2 bet, and we each picked a horse for each race, then my husband added a couple of daily doubles and trifectas to make it more interesting.  All in all he and I each picked one winning horse (I picked Sancerre in the first - yes, because it's a kind of wine), he picked Guava Girl in the second cause he liked the sound of the name.  None of the combo bets worked out for us.  Little Hugger wanted 3 Cat Rules and Cat Bells in the 3rd and 4th races (because she loves cats).  The both came in second so no luck on those.  Still the kids had fun.  We watched the horses get saddled up and warmed up in the paddock.

We cheered for our horses as they made it towards the finish line 

And we got to see one of the starts up close when they moved the starting gates

We had to leave before the really big races because Little Reader had a birthday party to go to.  We had fun despite ending the day down (no big surprise given that we picked our horses based on names and not much else).  If we go again, I would probably arrive later in time for the bigger races, but the kids didn't know the difference.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Fort 2 Base

I signed up for this race for two reasons 1) it was the perfect distance in my training for my half and 2) I would finally earn a medal.  So far none of the races I've run have handed out finishers medals.  Tshirts are great and all but I wanted some bling.  It's a really nice medal too with a decent weight.

I'm glad I did it.  It was a great race.  There are two distances 3.5 miles or 11.5 miles.  The 3.5 is around the Great Lakes Naval Station.  The 11.5 is the true Fort to Base.  It starts at Fort Sheridan and finishes at Great Lakes Naval Station.  I did the 11.5 and got up before dawn to drive the (according to my GPS) 26.2 miles ;) to the parking area.  There were shuttle buses from there to take the runners to the start.  I got to the parking a little before 6am (last shuttle was to leave at 615).  There was only one portapotty at the lot, (which caused a few complaints) but I figured there would be more at the start so got on the bus.  There were about 15 portapottys and just under 1000 runners.  There were lines but nothing crazy.  

The starting line was a banner between two army trucks.  There were pacers for this race so I lined up near the one running my pace, but didn't end up running with them.  Overall, it was a nice but tight course.  The first two miles wind through the residential areas of Fort Sheridan so the usual two lane road.  Miles 3-8.5 are on mostly on the bike path which makes it a little tight but is actual great if you're in a group with your same pace.  People were good about staying to the right and passing on the left.  Also most of the bike path was shaded which was nice. There are a few parts where you come off the bike path to run through train station parking lots.

Water stations were run by servicemen and women as well as volunteers.  I think having the service members there was a nice touch.  

Just before mile marker 9 you run through the gates to the base - which for me meant trying to summon the strength for Heroes Hill.  There's a downhill section and then a road that runs along the water on the backside of the base.  At the end of the back side is the Hill.  It's not long, but it is steep.  I made it up 75% before I had to walk.  I think if I hadn't had a cold I would have made it.  I walked a bit but when I saw the banner and the photographer at the top of the hill, I started running again, and did my best to smile. There was a Navy guy at the bottom of the hill spraying people with water if they wanted and a few others cheering us on and giving high-fives.  After leveling off I did need to walk a bit more but managed to run the final straightaway where my husband and kids were cheering me on.  

My goal was to finish under two hours - official time 1:56:32.  Next year I will run the whole thing, and I will conquer Heroes Hill.

I saw some online complaints that there weren't enough servicepeople cheering us on, I disagree.  Water stations were manned by Army, Navy and Marines as well as other volunteers.  Once we got on base Navy people were everywhere, giving high-fives, misting us with water, and cheering us on on Heroes Hill.  

I also thought it was cool that they announced everyone's name as they cross the finish line.  Not sure how they managed that but another nice touch.  

After collecting my medal and other goodies we walked around the main area of the base a bit.  The kids had fun climbing on the deck guns and seeing the one of the old fighter jets.

If you look closely at the jet you'll see that the pilot was LCDR John McCain.  The plaque doesn't mention that but when we looked up the USS Oriskany that is the aircraft carrier he served on.

It was a fun day and I look forward to running this race again next year.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

I had seen this book at bookstores quite a bit and the cover intrigued me, but it was only after a friend recommended it, that I picked it up. It's a story of Bernadette Fox, an architect who moved with her husband to Seattle when he was offered a job with Microsoft.  They have a teenage daughter Bee.  Bernadette was a renowned architect despite only completely one project.  When they moved to Seattle she bought a rundown former girls school and was determined to live in it, while they renovated.  Beyond some work on the house she never designed anything again (and never got very far in renovating the house to her neighbors' dismay).

Bee attends a private school and Bernadette does not fit in with any of the other parents - she refers to the mothers as "gnats" She is agoraphobic and introverted at a school where parent involvement is strongly encouraged.  She farms out all of her mundane tasks to a virtual assistant in India as she can't get herself to do them herself.

As an incentive to Bee to get good grades, her parents tell her that she can have anything she wants if she gets all A's.  Bee succeeds and surprises her parents by asking for a trip to Antarctica (they had thought she would ask for a pony).  Bee's father, Elgin Branch, is game.  At first, Bernadette throws herself into researching the trip and acquiring everything they will need to bring but she gets increasingly distressed about the trip as it gets closer.  Elgin is so concerned about Bernadette's mental state he actually tries to have her committed.

The book is an epistolary novel which can be a little confusing at times as it jumps from character to character quite a bit and not just the three members of the Fox family but also, Soo-Lin - Elgin's admin, Audrey Griffin - the Foxes neighbor, and others.  I enjoyed it and while yes I definitely thought in the beginning that Bernadette was crazy (but extremely entertaining) I could definitely understand her side of the story once it all came out in the end.  She had moved to Seattle to support her husband's new job, but never felt happy there and needed to get away from all that to find peace.

Ironically, it seems to be somewhat similar to what my Mom is going through right now.  No she didn't have a breakdown and disappear, but after a successful hip repair surgery last week she was moved to a rehab facility this week to begin physical therapy.  When I called her the other day she was very positive and when I asked if she was bored and wanted me to send her anything, she said she had been busy, so no need.  I talked to my sister and she said the same thing, Mom is treating this like a retreat.  Dealing with my Dad the past couple of years has been hard on her, especially since she can't easily get around on her own like she used to if and when she wants a break.  She's a very independent person - like Bernadette, but not agoraphobic.  Now that she's finally in a completely different environment and knows that Dad's being taken care of, she can relax and focus on herself.  Different situation in many ways but still enough similarities.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Garfield Park Conservatory

Little Hugger went here with her camp this summer and was eager to take us all.  I had heard about it a few times through the years but had never been so we packed up some lunches and headed out.  I knew the Conservatory was in a not so great area but wasn't really sure what to expect.  Garfield Park is pretty big and at first we parked at the Fieldhouse.  Once I realized we were in the wrong place I checked the map on my phone and realized we were only half a mile from the Conservatory.  Given that it's a big park I figured we'd just walk.  Unfortunately my GPS wasn't cooperating real well and the streets that wind through the park aren't very clearly marked.  After a little wandering and coming across one guy half way through drinking a 40 at 1030 in the morning with a half empty fifth of whiskey by his feet and a couple of other unsavory characters, I took the kids back to the car and drove the half mile to the proper parking lot (which was in the opposite direction from where he had been heading).

The Conservatory is a huge greenhouse with multiple rooms as well as gardens.  Unfortunately one large room is currently closed as the glass roof was ruined in a hailstorm a few years ago and is being replaced.  Admission is free although there is a drop box for donations.  There is a small gift shop that sells snacks and drinks but picnicking is fine and there are a few tables inside and out for that purpose.

At the front desk they give the kids a "Backyard Bingo" card with pictures of things to look for around the Park, and stickers to mark their card.  Little Hugger was convinced that if you got bingo you'd get a prize at the gift shop, but I think that was just something her camp did, as I didn't see it publicized anywhere.

The first room you enter is the Palm House which is as warm and tropical as it sounds, lots of different kinds of palm trees as well as other tropical plants and flowers.  There are a few paths within each room so that you can really get up close to the plants.

Kids are encouraged to touch the plants (with the exception of the carnivorous ones and the cacti), and my kids had fun petting furry moss and soft leaves and flowers along the way.

 Notice the "googly" eyes someone put on this lobster claw plant

The aptly named "Fern Room"

the "Aroid House" including some Chiluly lilypads left from his exhibit some years go
On the back side of the building is terrace which has a path made of tumbled blue glass and pebbles.  Little Hugger LOVES collecting rocks and sea glass and had come home from her field trip with pockets full of the blue glass.  Little Man thought they were cool and picked up a few of his own.  We brought a few more home this time.

There's a large field behind the conservatory which Little Man had fun running back and forth on while my daughters looked at the pretty flowers.  There is a group of little hills that they rolled down over and over.

There is an area of the demonstration garden with smallish tree trunks and large pond fronds and other natural materials that the kids can use to build forts.  My kids spent a lot of time here.

We spent about four hours at the Conservatory wandering around the different rooms and playing outside. Definitely a worthwhile trip.  On the way back to 290 to get home (a straight shot down Pulaski) I got turned around a bit and had to go around a block to get back on track - through another not so great area.  Nothing happened and I never felt unsafe, but I would recommend staying on the main roads.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This is another book I picked because of the summer reading club - I was supposed to pick a graphic novel and this was the only one I could think of.  It's the memoir of an Irani girl during the Islamic Revolution.  It starts when Marjane was 6 and the shah has recently come to power and ends when she is 14.

It was interesting to read about that time through a child's eyes.  Marjane's parents were opposed to the Shah and protested the new regime a few times before it got too dangerous.  Her uncle was imprisoned at one point.  She and her friends went from attending a co-ed French non-religious school to a new school where boys and girls were separated and girls were required to wear veils.  It was scary and sad at times, and other times hopeful and funny. She eventually moved to Vienna and now lives in Paris.  I'm curious to find out what happened to her parents, and plan on reading the second installment at some point to find out.

When I was in middle school the Shah of Iran's daughter, Leila Pahlavi - who is referred to a couple of times in this book - attended my school.  I never knew her - she was in the high school which was a separate building.  She had a bodyguard but otherwise was like any other student.  Still just the fact that she was there piqued my interest in Iran. Similar to my interest with Hilter's rise to power and the way he and the Nazis oppressed many parts of German society in the 30s and 40s.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Seriously...I'm Kidding by Ellen Degeneres

I had to listen to an Audiobook for my summer reading club, and since I was afraid I'd zone out to a regular fiction story decided to go with Ellen's latest book instead. I used to love watching her show, but haven't had the time in a long time.

I love her sense of humor - unlike many comedians these days, she manages to be funny without being vulgar or insulting other people.  She's happy with who she is and where she is in her life but she doesn't gloat.  She jokes a few times about being a Covergirl spokesperson, but I think mostly because it was not anything she ever aspired to or expected.  A few chapters are just plain silly, and I enjoyed those too.

The book is not pure comedy though, it's as much about positive thinking and encouraging you to do whatever makes you happy (unless you're a serial killer).

Because it was an audiobook and I didn't take the time to bookmark any of the funny passages, I can't really relay any of her funny lines. I'd probably mess up the punch lines Suffice it to say, if you like Ellen, definitely give it a shot.  I had planned on listening to it on one of my long runs, but ended up getting a nasty cold thanks to Little Man, so just listened to it in the car and while doing laundry.  I have to say chores and errands are much more fun when you have a comedian talking to you.  

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Beautiful Day by Elin Hilderbrand

I read Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipsetad last year, and this was very similar but much better.

A family is gathering on Nantucket for a daughter's wedding.  Jenna is the bride to be.  Margot is her sister and matron of honor. They grew up in Connecticut and summered on Nantucket.  Mom died about 7 years before of cancer, and before she died wrote a notebook of guidelines for Jenna's wedding.  The Notebook becomes the Bible for the wedding, and Jenna carries it with her wherever she goes and follows it to the letter.  While I always got annoyed by mother's who try to control their daughter's weddings, this one works.  While some of her advice is outdated, most of it works well.  

Jenna's Dad, Doug, is a high profile divorce attorney who against his better judgement married one of his former clients after his wife died.  Margot, Jenna's sister, is divorced.  Stuart, the groom, is from North Carolina.  His Mom is a state senator.  The groom's family has marital issues of their own - Jim and Ann split for a while as he had an affair (and had a child with another woman - Helen) and then remarried.  There are the stereotypical hookups between bridesmaids and groomsmen.  

Despite all of Beth's tips there is a lot of drama before the wedding - nastiness due to step-relationships colliding and cold feet by the bride.

A lot of the side characters are fun as well - Roger the contractor turned wedding planner, Ellie - Margot's hoarding daughter who ends up playing a key part in the pre wedding chaos.

It was a fun read and I will definitely read more of her books.  Even though I lived in Massachusetts for 7 years I never once went to Nantucket so don't get most of the island references, but that's ok.  One mistake did notice though (as I live in Chicago now) that one of the characters grew up in Cabrini Green (which the author incorrectly says is on the South Side of Chicago). I guess most people think of the south side being the bad part of the city ( which it is) so she assumed that Cabrini is there too when it's really right next to the Gold Coast and at this point is getting gentrified.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Camel Club by David Baldacci

I needed to read an ebook for our library summer reading club and I picked this one basically cause it was the first one that showed up that I had any interest in. I had never read anything by Baldacci but had seen his books in stores many times, so figured I'd give one a try.  I don't like ebooks but for the sake of the reading club I figured I'd give it another try.

The story starts with a murder in DC and a plot against the the President of the United States. The murder is seen by members of the Camel Club - 4 guys from different backgrounds who are all conspiracy theorists.  As is sometimes the case, sometimes the truth is so crazy it has to be true.  They are a motley crew - Oliver Stone (obviously a pseudonym) is the leader of the bunch.  He works as the caretaker of a cemetery but spends most of his time protesting in front of the White House.  The other members a former Viet Nam vet, a librarian in the archives of the Library of Congress, and a hacker with severe OCD who used to work in intelligence until his OCD got in the way of job performance. 

Alex Ford and Jackie Simpson are the Secret Service agents assigned to the case.   Alex is the veteran, Jackie is his relatively new partner who has Washington connections.  I'd say it was kind of Tom Clancy Light. Like Clancy there are lots of subplots that don't seem connected at first but of course all come together in the end.  I call it light because when explosives or nuclear submarines are described it's in a fairly brief paragraph not the usual pages and pages intricate details of Clancy.  

I wasn't all that happy with the ending.  While the what, who and how were explained, the why wasn't. I still don't understand the motive of the person behind the plot against the President.  Not sure if that's the fault of the author, the fact that I have a cold and my brain was a little foggy or the fact that I read it as an ebook.  If it were a regular book I would flip back through it and reread parts to try and make sense of it all, but that's harder to do with an ebook.  

I would be willing to try another book by this author at some point but I'm not in any hurry to do so.

Besides I just got a shipment from Amazon and based on recommendations from friends I've got a bunch of new books to read.  Now the trouble is deciding which one to read first.....

Friday, August 16, 2013

Be Careful What You Wish For

You just might get it, but not the way you intended.  We had a great trip to Denmark, which I will write about later.  Everyone who asked me about it received pretty much the same answer.  We had fun, but it was too short and I hope to spend more time there next time.  

Well last week, my Mom fell and broke her hip.  She had surgery the next day and early next week will be moved to a rehab facility for an undetermined amount of time.  While she was in the hospital my great aunt (My Mom's aunt) passed away.  My great aunt was recently moved to a nursing home and my Mom was just starting to go through her apartment and get it ready to sell.  All of my extended family is in Denmark and my aunt and cousins have been awesome in helping out my Mom and making arrangements for my Dad as well as now helping plan a funeral.  My sister is flying out next week to stay for a little over a week.  I'd like to go with her but don't really have any child care back up.  Since she and her husband both work they have a nanny, and her inlaws also live in the same town as them, so a little easier for her to get away on short notice.  

At this point I feel like there is no point in me going now as my Mom is obviously being taken care 24/7 until she leaves the rehab facility. My Dad - while not officially diagnosed - has Alzheimers.  He can no longer drive and gets confused easily.  We have arranged for someone to bring him dinner every night, come and clean once a week and someone else to come in periodically throughout the day and check on him.  My sister and I both feel that he would be safer in some sort of assisted living facility but my Mom doesn't seem to think that that's necessary.  Once my sister gets there we'll have a better idea of how he really is managing.  It's hard to be this far away at this point and if the kids were older and more self-sufficient I would definitely be going with her as well

My little guy has started back at preschool and since they also operate a day care I need to call them about possibly extending his days and hours for a couple of weeks in the next few months.  Our grade school has a before and extended day option so all the kids could be in a supervised situation from 7am to 6pm once school starts up again the last week of August.  My husband has said that with enough advance notice he would be able to trade out of call and lighten his caseload.  Still I think we would need to get some sort of nanny while I was gone to take care of them, cook dinner  and do some cleaning.  

Too much is up in the air at this point to know when I would need to go, but given that my parents live in a two story house with a finished basement, I don't think that's a realistic living arrangement for them going forward.  So I'm thinking I would go around the time that my Mom leaves rehab and/or they get their house ready to go on the market.

So while I definitely wanted to go back to Denmark soon, it wasn't under these circumstances  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Wake Up Call

About a month ago my husband and I applied for new life insurance so had blood drawn, blood pressure taken and were weighed.  

My numbers were normal as I expected since I eat pretty well and run.

My husband on the other hand not so good.  

200 lbs.  BMI 26.3 chol 268. BP 138/90

At first he tried to blame my cooking.  I admit I add some kind of cheese or creamy sauce to most meals.  We eat shrimp more than any other seafood.  When I asked him what he eats at the hospital he admitted to having biscuits and gravy an average of twice a week and usually taking advantage of the richer offerings for lunch. 

Thankfully he took it as the wake up call it should be.  After we got back from vacation we dusted off his bike and got it tuned up, he went to Sports Authority and got a new tennis racquet, a new basketball and some other stuff.  We've been playing tennis on Saturday mornings and Sunday he plays basketball with a bunch of guys, and when he gets home early he goes for a bike ride.  

He's been making better choices at lunch and will sometimes text me to tell me what he's having (seeking praise of course).  He uses some of the tips he's been giving patients for years - like don't drink when you eat.  Apparently if you drink while you eat the fluid helps flush food through your system and makes it take longer to feel full.

His goal is to get the cholesterol down under 200, and the diet and exercise that will take care of that will obviously bring the weight and the blood pressure down too.  The good news is he's already down 10 pounds, 

He admits he's not sure if he'll be able to keep it up once it gets cold again, but we do have a reasonably priced gym and pool at our community center.  I'm trying to run a race a month to help keep me on track, unlike last year when I stopped running once it got cold outside. Hopefully if I keep exercising he will too.  And yes I am trying to cook a little leaner too.  

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Kate Kontent is a twentysomething living in Manhattan in 1937.  The story starts off on New Years Eve.  She is at a small jazz club with her roommate, Evelyn Ross, rather than the big fancy parties as they don't have a lot of money.  Shortly after they arrive a young man comes in looking very out of place.  He sits down next to them and after a while joins them at their table.  He is Tinker Grey - a young banker who they assume is the stereotypical banker with a wealthy prep school and Ivy League background.

Kate grew up in Brighton Beach (her family immigrated from Russia) and works in the secretary pool at a law firm.  Evelyn grew up in an affluent family in Indiana but once she arrives in New York wants to prove she can make it on her own and refuses any financial support from her parents. She works for a publishing company.

Both girls are attracted to him which causes some tension between the two, and Tinker seems confused by who he likes more.  They are both quickly welcomed into Tinker's social circles.  In the beginning it seems they are using Tinker and his friends to some of them to enjoy opportunities that are beyond her budget, but no one seems to mind.  Certainly there are snobs in the bunch but Kate does also end up making some friendships that surprise her.  Certain opportunities also become available to them through their connections.  

Evelyn and Tinker end up pairing up, and while it upsets Kate a little in the beginning she soon finds a boyfriend of her own - Wallace Wolcott.  Through Wallace and her other new friends, Kate gains confidence and gets a new job, that she enjoys and thrives at.  The book is very well-written and the characters enjoyable.  

I picked this book as part of my Summer Reading Club for our local library.  I had never heard of it before but was supposed to pick a book from one of their book club lists and picked this one cause it sounded interesting.  I thought it would be more fluff than it was.  While there certainly were plenty of gin-soaked parties there is more substance to the book than I had expected.  Kate starts the book as fairly timid and naive and somewhat dependent on Eve.  As she explores different parts of New York and takes her new affluent friends to some of her favorite places she matures and starts taking more responsibility for herself.  By the middle of the book she has a better job and soon after her own apartment.