Something I Bought In August

Above you see some of my rings which once fit me like a dream. In particular my favourite triangle Mystic Topaz. Thanks to protein shakes I am 25kg lighter but that also means many of my favourite rings no longer fit. I have one ring that used to fit on my pinky finger which now fits on my middle finger. Most of the rings I used to wear on my ring finger are too loose to wear.

I can still sometimes wear my Mystic Topaz on my middle finger but only if my hands are puffy from water retention. The green one seen above does not fit on any finger, even at my most puffy. For the most part I have no rings to wear and that is SO NOT ME.

In fact there was one occasion – the Take That concert, where I put a ring on right before leaving. Then once I got into the car, I realised I must have lost it in the process of getting into the car. We looked everywhere for that ring. I thought maybe it had fallen into one of my bags and I would find it when I unpacked.

When I got back home, I found it sitting on my dresser – I had decided it was too loose and took it off, then in the rush of getting out the door with all my stuff, I totally forgot about having that little conversation with myself in my head. If I am out in the world without a ring, I feel a bit strange.

I had intended to buy one at the start of 2019 at the end of the year of buying nothing, but out with my Aunt in Berry on the 13th of August, there was An Incident. An Opal Incident. It began with this ring –

I liked it and wanted to know more, but it did not fit me. In fact none of the rings in the entire cabinet fit me. The lady in the store said she had some not on display and she pulled out a box filled with rings – most of them did not fit me, but *one* did, and it turned out to be a very fiery gorgeous opal, which had many colours in it.

Greens, blues, reds, oranges, yellows.

It depends on the lighting which colours fire up.

The ring does have a flaw in it but for me that makes me love it more.

Sometimes you even get pinks, purples, and aqua. For me, one of the reasons I will treasure this ring was the time spent in the store with my Aunt choosing it. It was a special happy moment after trying on many rings to find one that actually fit me, too.

Our wanders to the shops always include a special lunch – on this day we chose croissants with smoked salmon, a poached egg and avocado and cucumber salsa from the Milkwood Bakery. Special time spent with a special person who we very nearly lost a few years ago. There really are no words for that.

family, jewellery

These are Not Chickens…

Hi folks, Sephyroth here…Snoskred is very busy with her job, so asked for me to pop in with a little surprise. :)

Earlier this summer, we were graced with the presence of this lovely couple of ducks who would stop in and enjoy the food we put out for the other birds in the area. However, unlike the birds of Australia who take to sunflower seeds like kids to candy…these birds don’t seem to like it as much in the States…

Note from Snoskred –

Sorry folks, I am in the middle of a 7 days in a row at work thing. One person quit, and the other person went on holidays to Europe. I only had two shifts with her before she left so it was a big learning curve for me, and that poor girl did not know where anything was because the previous person kept hiding things from her.. so I did a huge cleanout and found all the missing things.

I’m handling this new task far better now that I organised everything the Aspie way I like it, but it took a lot more energy to organise than I expected, plus the person who resigned from this job did a little creative throwing out of manuals and deleting of files that I actually needed, so that took a lot of phone calls, downloading instruction manuals and sorting out.

I am hoping to have more spare time this week. I will try to schedule a few posts ahead. The bonus is I am really enjoying this new task. Happy moments!

guest post, Sephyroth

A Quick One

Adding just one Aunt to the mix can add in a LOT of unexpected events. The other day we both had the day off so we went out for a lovely 5km walk near Vincentia, then we ended up going into the nearest “big” town for crepes, shopping, and general wandering.

We had a chai latte with the crepes – the cafe had a gorgeous open fire – and we have since decided we will try as many chai lattes in the Shoalhaven as we can. We suspect the one we had may well be the best one we’ve both ever had, so it will take some beating. We both have today off, so who knows what kind of mischief we will get up to, or where we will end up. I suspect perhaps Berry, or maybe Milton or Ulladulla. We do have a plan to catch the train to Sydney at one point, more for the journey than the destination.

While we were in the “big” town, we ordered a carrot, orange and walnut cake for my Dad for his birthday, which was yesterday.

We’ve volunteered to hold a BBQ at ours yesterday so that the cake can be experienced by all. I have to tell you, my Mother is very Anti-Cake. If it were up to her there would not be one. I bought candles for a significant Dad birthday 9 years ago now, and she has never once let me buy a cake to put them on. It had been so long I thought I had lost them. I guess, lucky me that I did not buy numbers of any kind.

If I do manage to get these candles on a cake and lit, hopefully a photo will be added to the post here. If there is no photo, Mother won the battle and the candles remain in their carton, perhaps for another 9 years. I mean really, can’t we just set fire to these things for a short moment, so I can enjoy the coloured flames? YES WE CAN.

These are the most gorgeous candles ever, well worth the 9 year wait. Even Mother enjoyed them. The photos do not quite do them justice. Perhaps I will be allowed to cake and candle again sometime this century. :) If not I might print some of these photos and put them into frames, for posterity.

We are in the midst of a major decluttering at the moment – more about that another day – and I have a bunch of Avon which I used to sell some years back that I want to find new homes for. I just don’t wear makeup myself, not even the cool liquid eyeshadows. I had a lot of perfume samples left over some of which people in Australia for are really missing now that Avon has left Australia. Mother has been receiving Avon perfumes for some years now and using and enjoying them, so she left with almost all the full bottles I had left. Even the men at the table found things to take home in among my decluttering pile.

The cake was delicious. Three bottles of wine were consumed, considering Mother and I do not drink and The Other Half only drinks bourbon, the remaining four people were quite happy when they left, if a little wonky getting into the car to be driven home by the always sober Mother. A great night was had by all.

family

The Chicago Trip – Part 4

After a full day in the city, and plenty of activity, it was time to head home in one way or another :)

The day started with some planespotting out into the still-gloomy skies outside, but there were a few highlights –

A dying breed, literally. American are phasing out their “Super 80” fleet slowly but surely, yet you can still find them around, like this one taxiing to its gate –

O’Hare is clearly a United hub…just a few of their planes hanging around the tarmac, plus some semis at the cargo hangar and even a train on the tracks in the background –

Lastly for this section, a commuter jet taking off for Palm Beach, Florida, which was hopefully a little bit warmer than Chicago!

After that quick spotting session, I went down to the hotel fitness center to enjoy the pool and its amenities. I was slightly dismayed to find out that the fitness center cost $15 to enter – something that almost deterred me until seeing the sign that the pool was free for guests to use. Whew!

So, I jumped in and just let my foot soak for a while, then gradually turned up the heat by first going into the steam room and then into the sauna – whoa, that’s hot, but something worth doing occasionally, as you can chill and sweat it out ;)

Walking away, I snapped a picture of this, which is a sure sign that O’Hare can be a community upon itself –

I then headed back up to my room for the final re-packing and the trek out to the car. But first, another plane ;)

Or 3, including that Etihad 777 arriving at O’Hare 49 minutes late after its flight from Abu Dhabi. Now the last airplanes, for real this time ;) I like this shot because it’s a great display of how busy O’Hare is, planes *everywhere* –

While all this is going on, I made a coffee with the in-room coffee maker and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf coffee. For being a filter pack coffee, it was acceptable, but nothing you’d get from a proper coffee shop. I then made my way back to my car using the tram.

Remember the walk to the train station from the car? It’s still as long on the way back…only complicated by the slight problem that the skies opened up and the rain poured down. I was very thankful that I brought an umbrella, even though it could unequivocally be classified as the world’s worst umbrella, it would have been much worse without one.

I made my way to the Chicago Premium Outlets, which are definitely premium, considering this is one of the stores there:

The only other place I know has a Kipling store is the Ala Moana Center in Honolulu. As a guy, handbags don’t interest me, I’m good with the suitcases that I have, and if I’m going to buy a new backpack, I prefer function over fashion ;)

However, there is a store that drew me in –

I made sure to pick up a packet of hand creme there with the outlet discount :)

It was time for something to eat, as I hadn’t had anything as of that time, and I was also ready for a proper coffee. When I was coming in, I noted on the wayfinding display that there is a shop called Crepe Cafe, which is right in front of Lindt, I may add…but I got the house special crepe –

It has banana and mixed berries topped with Nutella and chocolate dressing, along with a dollop of whipped cream, and OMG again there are no human terms to describe this!

After the crepe, I wandered around the mall a little bit, and when I got to one of the exits, there was this –

Yep, a wall of clocks. All set, like a watch ad, at 10:10. This wall only covers A-Fa (Abu Dhabi to Fayetteville…skipping Chicago). The rest of the alphabet goes through the doors into the vestibule from the parking deck. More public art…

My foot had stopped hurting as much due to me walking around, so I hopped back into the car, and started driving along the Des Plaines River Road…a road that takes a winding route, not surprisingly, along the river. I spent what felt like an eternity on this road and thought…the tollways don’t have stoplights, crossroads, and will actually get me out of Cook County by the end of the decade, let’s be smart and get on there!

This is also where the photos really end, since I was driving – I took a couple of quick stops to stretch at the Oasis, then stopped at Costco where I had a realization looking at this scene –

This could be literally any Costco in the USA…the pricing signs are the same, with date codes and stars; the produce selection is practically homogeneous – some items may be organic in one store, non-organic others. Heck, even the food court is the same.

Well, except this one was different. The beef chili wasn’t there, replace with an Al Pastor salad. Also, they still had the chocolate frozen yogurt, which is being replaced in food courts with an açaí and vanilla yogurt blend. The açaí for the new Açaí bowl offering that has started coming around. I would have had the salad, but they were sold out, so I decided against the other food court items, and dropped in at the grocery store to do a quick shop there as well. Too bad I wasn’t going to be there in a few days though!

I carried on home, listening to the qualifications for the Indianapolis 500, making one last stop at Starbucks for an iced coffee, and then I got home to unpack everything and then return the loaner, adding about 400 miles to its clock, and increasing the average fuel. Maybe it is time for a hybrid ;)

Note from Snoskred –

I hope you all have enjoyed our 4 Mondays of Travel With Sephyroth. I know I certainly have. It should be noted the entire reason all of this came about was due to The West Wing Weekly who were arranging some live podcast recordings – tickets sold out incredibly fast and Sephyroth missed out on tickets.

I follow Rob Lowe on Twitter and when he mentioned he would be touring I looked to see if there were any dates nearby to Sephyroth and it turned out Chicago was the closest. I suggested to add in a couple of days of activities and stay a couple of nights, and this trip was born.

I am hopeful this experience will encourage Sephyroth to book a couple more trips, whether it be overnight stays or longer. Travel is an awesome thing!

guest post, Sephyroth

The Chicago Trip, Part 3

After what proved to be a very long Friday, Saturday came early, with alarms set left, right and centre as to make sure I was out of my hotel room in time to get to my 9AM yoga session, and I was successful, being up around 6AM and on the train by 7:45.

Getting off at the station, I was presented by what used to be these payphones, now replaced by a small mural of public phones around the world. Nice art, but not terribly helpful if your mobile is flat! :)

A short bus ride and walk later, I made it to 875 North Michigan, and headed to the 94th floor to get checked in for the class. The class was a straightforward yoga class; the highlight of which was doing tree pose with a partner – in this case the leader’s second-in-command was my partner. While tree pose can be quite treacherous, with a partner it’s quite a refreshing move, and so much easier.

After the class was over, I left the yoga mat behind as I had planned, but it wasn’t alone as there were other yoga mats in the corner for those who may have forgotten to bring a mat, which is a good tip especially if you’re travelling from further afield.

With the fog as thick as it was, there wasn’t much in the way of photo opportunities outward, unless you’re interested in the lake and seeing Lake Shore Drive.

Then we come to this – the actual skystone (not cornerstone) that was installed in the building when it was going up. The inscription states “This Skystone in the shape of a contemporary space travel vehicle was raised to the 100th story of the John Hancock Center on May 6, 1968. After public display, it will be secured and sheltered at the top of the building. Members of some future generation will break the time capsule’s seals and find within a collection of artifacts and microfilmed documents and photographs reflecting interesting aspects of the history of Chicago, Illinois, and the United States of America”

The “some future generation” happened to be my generation, as it was opened on March 12th, and the items in the Skystone, including baseballs signed by the two teams as well as a piece of the Eiffel Tower, are on display right next to it.

I wasn’t nervous about going on TILT, but if you are, there is a solution to it. Alcohol. ;)

The line goes pretty fast, and not much later it was my turn to get in the booth. At first, it’s not too bad, as they start you out with a very small angle, but after a moment or two, you’re leaning out over the city at about a 45 degree angle! It seems scary, but the adrenaline carries you through the experience – an experience made better by the fact that you have grab bars to hold and, as such, are not permitted to take your phone or camera to put in your hand.

If you’re in Chicago, it’s well worth buying a ticket to not only 360 Chicago, but spend the extra $8 and go on TILT…for such a thrill, it’s really a bargain, and make sure to buy the commemorative photographs they make of you on there. In fact, the only souvenirs I purchased in the entire trip were the photographs and magnets of 360 Chicago.

I was off to Navy Pier, but I needed fuel both for myself and my phone. The phone got situated with a stop at Best Buy for a portable charger, and I fed myself via the different shops in Water Tower Place – namely foodease, which features items from different restaurants and local sources such as appetizers from Joe’s Crab Shack and vegetarian quesadillas, plus “pickled things”, and Wow Bao, featuring steamed buns in an Asian style and Thai iced coffee.

I enjoyed my meal in a small park next to a fire house across from the Children’s Hospital. A block down the street was the beginning of the Northwestern University Chicago campus which houses the Law and Medical schools. Around the corner was one of Chicago’s Divvy bike sharing points, and I decided it was time for a change, so I rented a bike…the last time I rode a bike was three years earlier in the same situation.

I was still rusty. So rusty that I didn’t even pedal the bike, just walked it and glided along, almost crashing into a wall while going downhill, so the bike was quickly returned to the next station and I walked the last couple of blocks to Navy Pier, ready to begin my Pokemon adventure.

While my initial plan was to be solo, I actually wound up spending the entire time with 3 folks from out of town, and then our group seemed to expand one by one, but the core group of the four stayed together catching these little guys –

The highlight of the time for me was when one of the major raid bosses popped up, there was a mass of humanity that descended upon the site, and at least 3 groups of 20 formed right away. Nearly everyone in this picture is playing the game here!

As the time wound down, I noticed that my feet were starting to hurt. Why? I decided to wear my new shoes. Not a wise idea when you walk over 7 miles in a busy city. Nevertheless, I still had one thing to do before going over to the theatre, which was to go to Millennium Park and the BP Bridge. Since the original plan was to go there during the 3 hour event, I was somewhat behind. I still made my way down there by foot with a cameo from the President of Poland’s motorcade, along with hopping on another bike and actually using the pedals this time, instead of acting like Fred Flintstone.

The parks connected by the BP Bridge are a bit different to each other. On the east side is Maggie Daley park, designed for families to have a nice day out with miniature golf, a rock climbing wall and a whole playground for the kids. You then cross Columbus Drive via the BP Bridge to Millennium Park.

Millennium Park is just about one square block of green space, along with two buildings that are waterfalls with illuminating faces on them. The folks and I who were watching tourists get into the water in the centre didn’t quite get it…especially on such a cold day.

Next up, I took a quick swing a block south of Millennium Park to the entrance of the Art Institute of Chicago to get a picture of the Lion (One of a Pair, North Pedestal) in front –

Getting somewhat drained, I managed to find myself at a coffee shop to enjoy a mocha while getting the chance to give my feet a rest for a bit before walking on to the next stop, which was at Luke’s Lobster City Hall, which I managed to actually miss the first time past and had to backtrack around the corner back to the restaurant. I had the Luke’s Favorite – a lobster roll, coleslaw and bag of crisps (salt & vinegar). I also had myself the rare soda, in this case a local ginger soda.

There really are no human terms to describe how amazing the lobster roll really is. You just have to try it; you won’t regret it!

It was finally time to go to the show!

What can I say about the show? Rob Lowe is freaking hilarious, especially when he tells stories about sharing his After School Special, “Schoolboy Father” with a girl who stated her dad was an actor. His name, not known to Rob until rocking up at their house? Cary Grant. He left after watching the show with nearly a lifetime supply of soap on a rope shaped like a microphone. He also shared the story of when he was a part of, well, this:

He told so many stories, but I’m not going to spoil much of what he said here :) Though the concept of a porterhouse steak requiring a “hat” made of butter is, well, different. It was something that Chris Farley did when he was eating at a restaurant with Rob and some other cast members on a show they were doing together.

The show lasted about 2 hours, including a Q&A session with Rob, where I was mildly disappointed that his dad didn’t ask any questions of him, which I’m sure would have been a blast! I now want to (finally) read his two books – Stories I Only Tell My Friends, and Love Life.

I picked up my bag from the coat check, and hopped on the train back to the hotel via the O’Hare station and these neon signs –

I was ready for another good night’s sleep to be fresh for the drive home, with a few more surprise stops along the way.

guest post, Sephyroth

The Chicago Trip, Part 2

Having been to IKEA, the next goal for me was to find a Walmart to buy a Yoga mat, and then make my way to the Outlets for new shoes from the Adidas Outlet, and they did not disappoint. The instant that I walked into the store, I spotted an awesome pair of shoes that screamed my name. Two pairs of shoes, and a new long-sleeve workout shirt later, I was all set and pleased that I had only spent half as much as I expected.

With that stop done, it was time to venture into Illinois…and head into the Hell that is known as Chicago traffic on a Friday afternoon. But first, I made another stop.

One of my favourite things about the Illinois Tollway are the Oases along the highway. It’s like taking the shops and restaurants from an airport concourse and melding them all into a single building right over the tollway, and then putting a gas station on each side of the highway for fueling up at. A major plus is the view out of the windows –

While there, I organised the coins that I would need to pay the toll when I exited, since their automated machines only accept 5, 10 and 25-cent pieces. No notes or cards accepted. I also grabbed a Chai Latte from Starbucks to sip on while driving in the traffic on the way to the airport.

A quick musical interlude: since the car can search tracks in Google Play Music, I asked for it to play, by title, “Road to Nowhere” by the Talking Heads. Google mustn’t have been feeling well on this day, as this starts up:


Maniacal laughing ensues, but I quickly recover and coax it to the right song, and then decide that it’s time to load up some of the club and trance music that I have in my library to help with focussing on the rush hour traffic in Chicago. I get off the tollway via this ramp with 4 payment lanes.

Four payment lanes are great, until you see what’s ahead. Within 300m, you have to merge into a single lane, and then keep an eye out for traffic from the left that could be entering your lane to exit at one of the two exit ramps that are immediately after the merge point. It certainly isn’t the greatest moment in Civil Engineering. The positive for me is that I needed that first exit to access the remote parking lot.

I’m greeted at the parking lot with a recorded announcement in the classic Chicago accent; it’s really a ‘ting’ of ‘bewdy’. The next challenge is to find a parking spot. The first spot I find is in section D12 and right next to a tree, in the blue circle. It was quite a hike to the people-mover to get to the airport.

After reorganizing my items to carry them to the airport, I make the jaunt to the people mover and travel to the airport. The check-in at the hotel was straightforward, and I was up in my room on the 9th floor with a runway view after just a few minutes.

So, what’s the view like? Look one way and you see one tower, the other way you see the other tower :) Here’s the tower to the right –

After taking a few minutes to get myself recombobulated, I had a chance to study the tarmac and had the opportunity to see the Queen of the Skies in one of her cargo configurations –

It was now 7PM and time for dinner, so I hop on the train and head to Logan Square, and then on to Fat Rice. During my walk, I was keeping my head up, and the early-1900s flats caught my eye –

Even though it was raining very lightly, it was still good weather for a walk, and I get to Fat Rice only to find out that it would be an hour for a table to open up, so I went searching for another restaurant for dinner. I find Restaurant Ecuador, which has a high rating on Google and, more helpfully, its menu posted on the window, so I chose to pop in and have dinner there.

A tip if you find yourself at Restaurant Ecuador – Spanish knowledge is a major plus. Even though you’re very much in Chicago, you have to specify to the waiters that you speak English; otherwise, it’s assumed that you know Spanish, which is something that I do know, so I had a relatively easy time chatting there.

When I looked at the menu, one dish sparked my interest right away: Churrasco, which is Steam Steak served with 2 eggs, french fries, lettuce, tomatoes and white rice. I chose that for main main, and also selected an appetiser of Bolon de Verde, which is Plantain mixed with pork skin. The waitress was suggesting that I try it with cheese, but I chose not to this time. While waiting for my food, I had a chance to look around at the surroundings. You can tell that this is a small operation since you have some basic decorations, but nothing outlandish.

After about 10 minutes, my plantain arrives with a small container of salsa:

The plantain was soft and the pork that’s in there is crispy to give a nice contrast of textures. What about the salsa? Holy cow, this is knock-your-socks-off levels of spicy, but something that I would definitely have again. Just as I’m finishing up my plantain, the Churrasco arrives –

Snoskred and I had been talking about putting an egg on top of my pizza, so it was only fitting that I did get the item that had the egg on top ;) The steak was cooked about medium-well and was quite tender, especially when you combine some of the egg with it. The lettuce and tomatoes on the bottom were a good accompaniment. The only suggestion I would have is to include some different vegetables for more contrast.

Having completed just about half of the plate, I paid the check and chatted for a couple of minutes with the waitress in Spanish about how I wound up enjoying their restaurant.

While I was having dinner, the rain picked up a little bit so I decided to catch a bus back to the train station. A quick look to the east reveals that there isn’t a bus imminently arriving, but it couldn’t be too long, right? I wound up standing out in the rain for close to 15 minutes before abandoning that idea in favor of walking back. It was fortunate since in the time it took for me to walk to the station, I saw two busses heading the other way, and nothing my way.

Getting back to the hotel around 10:00, I wasn’t tired so I decided to take a walk around the parts of the airport that I can access, and come across this sign offering Indulgence, Love, and Beauty at O’Hare-

Indulgence – “Nuts on Clark”; Sarah’s Candies; and McDonald’s
Love – Hoypoloi, an uncommon Gallery; Seaway; and Coach.
Beauty – MAC; Sunglass Hut; and Hudson.

Let’s look at this a bit deeper. Each of the categories features one really strange inclusion…for Beauty, we have Hudson. Hudson run the convenience stores in numerous airports around the world. Now…Love. What the heck is Seaway? It’s a bank. Maybe you can use the money you get from Seaway to love a new bag from Coach, if you can get through the barrier.

McDonald’s for “Indulgence”? It’s a bit of a stretch to consider anything there indulgent. Surely you could find something different, like Eli’s Cheesecake. Or, if all else fails, Dunkin’ Donuts:

Making it back to the 9th floor, it’s time to settle in for a night’s sleep in preparation for a full day on Saturday, which will come next week. :)

guest post, Sephyroth

The Chicago Trip, Part 1

So, as I said last week, I’m planning to head to Chicago to see Rob Lowe. The plan is simple…drive my car to O’Hare airport, park it, and have a good couple of days in Chicago. There’s a lot planned, and the time is nigh.

Except there’s some problems…on Wednesday, my car decided to not start, so I wound up getting a free loaner car from the dealership, which I drove for the weekend. It’s not a problem since it’s a hybrid and it has some really cool features :)

To get to Chicago from where I live is dead simple – follow the freeway until the Illinois border, then follow the tollway – a task that would be slightly less expensive had I had my car, but it’s still worth the convenience to pay full price for the tolls (in Illinois, you pay full price if you pay cash, but if you use their electronic tolling, it’s half price).

However, I’m a bit of an odd duck when it comes to driving from here to there – detours are not uncommon for me; the first detour is to drop off a package, which is just a quick stop, and I’m back on the road again.

One thing about the loaner car is that it ties into my phone, and all I have to do is press the voice button, say “IKEA” and it immediately suggests that I go to the one that just opened the other day, no faffing about choosing one down a list.

It was no surprise that when I arrived at IKEA, the parking lot was nearly full, but there is attention to detail, even down to signs made up by IKEA telling you not to park alongside the road.

Getting closer to the parking lot, there are marshals directing you to your parking spot – you didn’t get a chance to choose your spot. I get parked, and notice something strange…an RV in the parking lot – as in someone actually came to IKEA in an RV…not a huge Breaking Bad style one, but one nonetheless.

Picking up the map, I realize that it’s in the design of the more recent IKEA maps in that it is the transit map, designed to make you spend more time in the store browsing through the showroom and marketplace, maximizing revenue for the store. One handy feature of the map, though, is that it does have the shortcut lines in it, showing how to jump to the restaurant from the entrance. The restaurant line was crazy long, and I think that they don’t have the restaurant as well planned as it could be – in the other restaurants that I’ve been at, you just queue up at the item that you want, say the meatballs, and then you get it.

I waited patiently in the line, perusing the choices for lunch, and I come across the Daim cake on the screens, so I picked that along with the Swedish meatballs and a Latte to drink while sat comfortably on one of their couches in the restaurant.

Some IKEAs have great views out of the restaurant while some others have no windows at all. This IKEA has this view out of the restaurant.

It’s definitely no IKEA Tempe…

After lunch, I took a quick trip through the rest of the store, picking up some things that I needed like plastic bags and a new kitchen brush before taking the second shortcut to the collection area, and the Swedish Food Market, now before the checkouts, a move likely designed to increase sales just that little bit more.

After checking out and grabbing a coffee at the Bistro, I went back out to the car, and noticed something else in the parking lot – U-Hauls…people actually rented U-Hauls to go to IKEA. Not just one, but five of them were in the lot! Crazy time! I will grant that if you are buying a lot of furniture, as I did last year, it may just be easier to fit it into a U-Haul instead of trying to cram it all, plus two other people, into your hatchback ;)

Now, to keep everyone sane, and to avoid having a never-ending post, we will stop here momentarily and pick things up next time. We’re only at 2 PM on Friday, and there’s still 80 miles ahead of me :)

guest post, Sephyroth

The Chicago Masterplan

Hi there, Sephyroth here. I’m taking a trip to Chicago soon to see a show featuring Rob Lowe, who one cannot help but just have a deep appreciation for. The only problem is that when I travel, I am a person who has little to no manner of researching things, so I wind up just figuring it out as I go, or letting others figure it out for me. For the most part, if I’m travelling with Snoskred and her Other Half, she’ll do the research and I’ll say yeah, sounds like a plan and carry on. I mean, how else does one wind up flying in a helicopter and holding a snake? ;)

This time, the only planning that she has done for me is to suggest the show that I am going to see, along with pointing out a bridge in Millennium Park because it was the bridge that was walked along in the Netflix show “Ozark”.

She was also instrumental in getting me to book my hotel a record 4 months! prior to my trip. Looking back, the prior record was 2 months when I was travelling to Hawaii and organized a hotel room near the airport since my flight was at 7AM. There was even one trip that I’ve taken where I booked my hotel at noon the same day that I left. That trip was nice, but kind of ended up being a bit of a mess, considering that my skill in this planning led me to drive over 1,000kms in a single day. That did at least net me the opportunity to get this close to Canada…close enough to take pictures, but not cross the border since it was before getting my Passport.

However! Hard as it is to believe, that isn’t my record, since a few years later (and this was planned!) I drove nearly 1,400kms in one day–and that was in November, when it gets dark at 5:00pm!

Needless to say, for me to actually have researched things and chosen things to do is quite the miraculous event. Again, booking a hotel 4 months prior to the trip? Crazy talk! Looking at attractions to visit a month prior? Insane! Choosing restaurants…at all? Now you’re just crazy dude…but I’ve done all of that! Wait…purchasing tickets to an event 1) 5 months in advance and 2) on the same day they go on sale…I got nothing here :)

So, this trip is going to be three days and two nights, and there are a few things that, in the time between when I purchased the tickets and the actual trip, I had learnt. Those things were –

1. The opening of a new IKEA store just 2 days before I leave; and
2. As a Pokémon Go player, an in-game event occurring on the same day as the show.

So, the one thing that I don’t want to do when going to Chicago is drive in the city. Even though I love driving…especially long distances…driving in a city of nearly 3 million people as part of a metropolitan area of almost 9 million is a bit daunting. At least in Atlanta, they decided to put shedloads of lanes in their freeways to compensate for the number of travellers on the road. Chicago? The big roads are on the outskirts of the city, and the main freeway in town is, at best, 4 lanes wide…usually 3 lanes.

Plus, there’s parking in the city – when I travelled down there for a day trip on a Thursday, I wound up paying $38 for parking in a parking ramp outside of the loop…but that was fine since Eataly was near to the garage, and my curiosity had been piqued about it. Plus the event that I went down there for was near the Tribune Tower – about a 10 block walk from there. It gave me an opportunity to check out parts of the city that I’d never seen before – such as the underground road network.

All of that led me to deciding to want a hotel out in the suburbs, and near to public transit…the L trains in particular. What does that mean? Staying out by O’Hare Airport, since it’s right on the Blue Line, and there are plenty of hotels out that way, all with a really good rate usually. Also, I’d done that in my trip about 9 years ago, and it worked out nicely – as well as netting myself a stack of dollar coins when I used a $20 note to pay for parking at the CTA’s lot :D

In searching the map, I discovered that one of the best rates available in that area wasn’t at one of the airports outside of the main airport area, but actually at the airport itself, and so booking for the Hilton O’Hare was set. One of the innumerate travel secrets that I’ve learnt over the years is that, if you’re certain about the hotel you want to stay at, book from that hotel directly – not only will you actually know you’ll get that hotel, you’ll be able to choose your room, and normally get the best price…not to mention the ability to earn traveller points through something like Hilton HHonors. As someone who loves airplanes and the like, I of course have chosen a runway-view room at the hotel so I can get some planespotting in as well as some rest during my stay.

The next thing was to start looking at attractions. In previous trips to Chicago, I’ve visited the Sears Willis Tower Skydeck twice – once before the ledge, and again after the ledge was created. What is the Ledge, you ask? It’s literally a porch on the 103rd floor of the building that lets you step over the city, but don’t worry. It’s fully enclosed in glass, but it can be a bit frightening (though I did step out on it…at night). I will note that the only problem about going up in the Sears Tower in the evening is that most of the shops, except for the one on Skydeck, natch, are closed, so you kind of miss out on some of the “touristy charm” if there is such a thing, but I was able to see a cutout of President Obama.

Plus, at this time, it was when Chicago was still in the running to get the 2016 Olympics…imagine holding the sailing on beautiful Lake Michigan? At least the support was huge a couple of months before learning that they would not get the Olympics, especially at what was just then freshly renamed Willis Tower.

As much as I love going to Chicago and visiting the Loop and downtown, I’ve never explored much outside of the main downtown core. The farthest out I’d been is out to Navy Pier and the Art Museum, so I thought…what about the John Hancock Center erm…uh, “875 North Michigan Avenue”…guess that naming rights deal ended…in February! It’s the second tallest building in the city of Chicago, and I’ve never been there before. At least there’s no question to its address now!

So, I look up the John Hancock Observation deck, to find that it’s now called 360 Chicago, and they now have this attraction much like the Ledge, but slightly different, in which you are actually cantilevered out over the street below; it’s called TILT, and billed as a thrill ride…so I think, well, why not? The other part of it is that after some digging I found that there is a Yoga class that goes on every Saturday Morning at 9AM, so again…why not? I’ve done Yoga a couple of times, and it’s quite enjoyable – and this time it would be with a whole group of people, not just in my basement in front of a computer monitor, bonus socializing!

That’s Saturday morning sorted; the next thing was to figure out where to go for the Pokemon Go events…so I joined a group that is focussed on downtown Chicago. I had assumed that they’d probably congregate at like Millennium or Grant Parks. Except they didn’t in the end. They chose the following locations –

– Lincoln Park Zoo – Not a bad idea, but quite a ways north, and not something I was looking to see
– Navy Pier – easy to find, and sort of easy to get from there to Millennium Park
– “The Glen” – which I have no real clue as to what it is, but I think it’s out toward Glenview…and I was going to be downtown.

Keeping in mind all of that I was doing, it was pretty easy to figure out which place to go to – Navy Pier. My plan is to go from Navy Pier, get checked in and pick up a piece of swag, and then head towards Grant Park and Millennium Park to walk around, followed by going over towards the Cadillac Palace Theatre for the show, picking up lunch and coffee along the way.

After the show, the plan is fairly straightforward – catch the L back to the Hotel and tuck in for a good night of sleep…then get up on Sunday Morning, and head back home, possibly stopping at IKEA again, and maybe a couple of other shops along the way.

As far as finding food, I decided that stopping at IKEA on the way down for breakfast would be a great idea, and an opportunity to check out the new store — seeing that I was that weirdo who actually went to the parking lot before it opened to get an idea of the surroundings. For lunch, I don’t have a good idea, but will probably just have some coffee or a Chai Latte from a restaurant, possibly going to Eataly if I get into town early enough, or try out an illy owned and operated cafe at the NBC Tower, but that’s not open very late, so may not be the best option.

For dinner, I was researching restaurants and came across a list on the Chicago Tribune’s website that is somewhat up to date (except for the Japanese restaurant they recommended closed last year…and the map that they used isn’t loading the Openstreetmap tiles). That list has a restaurant called Fat Rice which serves Macanese cuisine, or Chinese-Portuguese fusion from Macau(o).

The best part about Fat Rice is that it’s a short walk from the L train stop at Logan Square – just about 650m, or 10 minutes walking, depending on lights and such :)

On Saturday, the only meal I’ve planned for sure is dinner – at Luke’s Lobster City Hall. I figure that meandering from Navy Pier to Grant Park, I can snag something to eat while out and about, as well as get a coffee somewhere, probably finding a local cafe and trying to avoid Starbucks like the plague.

Then on Sunday, it was a drive home, and potentially making a second trip to IKEA to do a more extensive shop and get some Meatballs.

To make things easy, here’s an itinerary, of sorts –

Friday –
* Leave home as early as possible, 8 or 9 AM doesn’t sound out of the realm of possibility
* Make a quick stop to deliver a package that would be needed over the weekend
* Breakfast at IKEA, check out the new store
* Stop at the Outlets, get new shoes since the ones that I mainly use are over 2.5 years old now (and still in pretty good shape)
* Find lunch somewhere, and coffee
* Get to the hotel somewhat early, check in and head into the city
* Dinner – Fat Rice, a restaurant that serves a fusion of Chinese and Portuguese cuisine; a/k/a Macanese

Saturday –
* 9AM Yoga at 875 North Michigan
* TILT reservation at 10:30AM
* Pokemon from 1-4 at Navy Pier, then meandering over towards Grant Park
* Dinner at Luke’s Lobster City Hall
* 8:00 The Show that I set this trip up for in the first place

Sunday –
* Check out of the hotel
* Head home via some random route, but probably the Tollway

Goals? Have fun and don’t get robbed or murdered :)

Tune in Next Monday to see how this plan goes. :)

guest post, Sephyroth

The Label Maker

I bought Mother a gift voucher to have her nails done for Mothers Day. She wasn’t sure about it – she thinks she is not a person who has their nails done. I used to think that, before I learned I am actually someone who likes to have their nails done.

With Mother it takes 5-10 years to convince her I am right about anything. Then she tries the thing I suggested, and raves about it constantly forever. I can give endless examples of this. My current favourite is putting a screen door on the house. I suggested it when they first bought the house which is over 10 years ago. They finally put a screen door on last year and now all you hear is how awesome it is.

I gave her the voucher and said think about it, if you don’t want to have them done you can give the voucher back and I will use it. The next time I saw her I asked if she had decided and she wanted to give the voucher back to me. Well now what present should I get you?

She told me about a reed diffuser which was given to her for Christmas that she really liked but she had no idea where to get it. I had been given the same one, so I did some googling and found it at Bed, Bath & Table. We do not have one of these stores nearby.

The Other Half was to go to Shellharbour (120km/75miles or so round trip) that next weekend to get potatoes. I was staying home, because he planned to drop in on his best friend who lives up that way and do man cave things. The conversation went like this –

Me : Could you pick up a present for Mother at Shellharbour.

Him : How about we go together on Sunday instead and you can get it.

Me : That would not fit in with my planned no-spend days.

Him : Well, your no spend days are going to be screwed up anyway because of Tuesday (Gruen filming). So suck it up.

Me : Why don’t YOU put your big man pants on and suck it up? Surely you can purchase an item from a store, it will be no different to buying the potatoes.

Him : Won’t I have to spend my money?

Me : I’ll transfer the amount across to you.

Him : How will I know what to buy?

Me : I have one right here, why don’t I put it on your desk so you can look at it?

Him : You have one right here, unopened? Why are we going to buy another one then?

Me : blank stare, total silence, pause, much laughter.

WHY INDEED. Why had this concept not even occurred to me? Was I so anti regifting that I could not even comprehend this?

I was given the exact same one by the same person, but we are still using the Tahitian Lime reed diffusers we got from Costco, so our gift has been sitting on the shelf waiting for those to run out. So I have an unopened one which I will now re-gift, *and* I have a nail voucher which I already bought, which means my next nail visit was a no-spend day. I am now officially a re-gifter.

If you are unfamiliar with the term regifter, here is a quick one minute rundown of the Seinfeld episode. Featuring a young and much less wrinkled Bryan Cranston.

I love how Elaine says the word, just the level of anger and spite there, it kills me every time. Elaine is my favourite Seinfeld character. Mother was very happy with her reed diffuser, and I saved $39.95.

Bonus gift, now Mother knows where she can buy them in the future. I fully expect she will go on a reed diffuser spree next time she is near that shop. Mother is like me, she likes to stock up on things she loves, especially when they are not easily purchased nearby.

Now if only she could become like me in knowing I am always right and trusting me when I say things. :) Hasn’t she learned by now, after my many stellar years of always being right?

family, Manicures