Vacation - Part III / Sub-part D - Days 3 & 4 - FINAL ENTRY!

After a thunderstorm during the night, we woke to a cloudy wet morning.

Our plans were a visit to the Museum of Science and Industry, and possibly the Sears Tower if time permits - with a two hour road trip to see my brother-in-law, his fiancee, and their baby.

On our way to the MSI - the first thing we noticed is that you could not even see the top of the Sears Tower. It was clouded in. This realistically prevented us from visiting the SkyDeck for "observation" purposes.

We arrived at the MSI just as it was opening. We bought general admission tickets, and tickets to an early viewing of the U-505 exhibit. The U-505 was a Nazi submarine recovered during World War 2. The U-505 is a one-of-a-kind. There are only 5 U-Boats still in existence around the world, and the U-505 is the only one in the United States.

The U-505 tour was without a doubt the highlight of our visit to the MSI. In addition to the U-505, we saw the following other exhibits...

The Apollo 8 Command Module, Body Slices, The Chick Hatchery, Enterprise, The Farm, Flight 727, The Great Train Story, The Henry Crown Space Center, The Idea Factory, The Lunar Module, Mercury Space Capsule, NetWorld, Out of the Vault, Petroleum Planet, Prenatal Development , Robots Like Us, Ships Through the Ages, Toymaker 3000: An Adventure in Automation, The Transportation Zone, Walk-Through Heart, Whispering Gallery, and Yesterday's Main Street.

While watching the Flight 727 - we were standing next to a railing overlooking The Great Train Story" with a glass panel as the wall of the railing. Now, I knew that Zachary was afraid of heights, but not to the extent that I saw at the museum... Zachary would not even get close to the wall... He would have rather missed the exhibit than stand next to the glass wall. It took me sitting on the floor (no closer than 4 feet) and Zachary sitting on my lap (clinging tightly, and leaning away from the edge) to even get a glimpse of the display...

While the Prenatal Development exhibit is kind of creepy, it was really pretty amazing - They had actual human embryos at all different stages of development in jars. There was a note on the display saying that they understood that this display could be disturbing - but assured museum goers that the embryos were not destroyed for the purpose of the exhibit, rather - they were lost during pregnancy due to circumstances that beyond the control of the mother... (Natural causes, a car accident, death of the mother, etc...) It was not too bad until you got to the older embryos - up to the full term fetus...

I could talk about each of the exhibits, but that would be impractical... Again, let me say that we had a really good time. This is a very "interactive" and hands on museum, and I believe the kids enjoyed their time at the MSI.

We Left the Museum, and headed to Brian & Jessica's house...

Remember yesterday's interaction with Downtown Chicago traffic? Well, today was not quite as exciting, but noteworthy none-the-less...

I come from the Mpls-St.Paul metro area. It's a good sized city, with what I thought was a fair amount of traffic congestion... That was until I got to Chicago... We were again leaving at the 5pm "rush hour" time frame. The trip to my brother-in-laws was (according to Mapquest) supposed to take 2 hours. It took 2 hours alright.. 2 hours to get out of the city limits... I have never seen congestion in such distances.. as I did in Chicago... I am used to about 11 to maybe 15 miles of congestion at it's worst. This rush hour lasted for more like 40 miles... It never ended... It just kept going, and going, and going... And then there were the toll booths... which also slowed everything down, and put about a mile of backed up traffic every 20 or so miles... When we finally arrived at Brian's house - we had been in the car for over 4 hours....

Once we arrived, everything went well. We got to see Brian & Jessica, and Miles was up too! They had the BBQ ready for us, and we BBQ'ed hot dogs. It was good to see them again, and it was my first time to see their new house. I had seen video of the house - and it looked (on video) to be much smaller than it actually was. They had done some updating and painting, and the house was really starting to look nice! (Not that it did not before...)

We spent the night at Brian & Jessica's, and after a leisurely morning, having spent the morning with Brian and his family, we packed up and prepared to head back for home.

I had 3 more days off after getting home from Chicago, and that was spent doing some of the little chores that homeowners frequently procrastinate - and put off. It sure feels good to get some of them out from under my belt...

All in all Chicago was fun, spending time with my kids was great, spending time with my wife was a pleasure, visiting with Brian and Jessica was fantastic.. It was a great vacation - but, as with life... All good things must come to an end... (Including all these posts about my vacation...)

I'll sign off my Chicago trip entries with this thought that my wife and I shared as we headed down 169 from the Bloomington area... It is good to get away, but great to be home again...

Vacation - Part III / Sub-part C - Day 2

The plan for our second day in Chicago was our trip to the Field Museum and the King Tut exhibit.

We started out early enough to deal with rush-hour traffic and to allow for any "errors" in our directions. (Since we did not do a dry "test-run" the night before.) As we drove to the museum, we got to see the "EL" train. That was interesting - public transit that actually seems to work. We did eventually hit some traffic, but it was not terrible, and we did indeed make one wrong turn. I went SB on Lake Shore Drive when I should have gone NB. A simple turn at the next exit and back onto NB Lake Shore Drive found us at our destination with time to spare.

After trying to establish if "Soldier Field" was a baseball park or a football park, we parked under it in an underground parking ramp.

The building is old. The building is gargantuan. We entered, got "established" ourselves. (Tickets out and ready, bathroom stops before we get into any exhibits, and writing our cel phone numbers on paper for the younger boys (in case we get split up).

As we made our way down to the King Tut exhibit, we stopped off at the "Underground Adventure" . In this exhibit you "shrink" down to a half-ich in height, and burrow thru the ground. Everything around you is builtto scale, and you get to see the bacteria, small critters, insect, and whatnot that live underground.

From there, we stopped at "Inside Ancient Egypt" - a display of ancient Egyptian artifacts, small models of the mummification process, an ancient Nile river boat that was recovered, stones of the same size and weight of the stones used to build the Gaza pyramids (on skids and ropes for people to try and pull). It was a great way to "wet our whistle" for the King Tut exhibit.

On our way out of the "Inside Ancient Egypt" exhibit, there was (what I considered) one of the best displays of the museum - Apparently the Museum is in the process of expansion. While expanding, they had to dig for the foundation. The Museum has a small display of items found while digging for the addition. You see, when the Museum was built in the 1890's. When they built the museum, they brought in tons and tons of landfill (dirt, debris, etc). Now while excavating - museum curators are finding a wealth of "treasures" from the 1880's and 1890's. Medicine bottles, dishware, milk bottles, basically old debris, but it was very interesting debris... A slice of Chicago life in the 1890's!

We arrived at the King Tut Exhibit, and had to walk to the end of a long hallway with roped off lines. After working our way thru this line, we were issued our "Audio Tour" headsets, and went up a flight of stairs, where got into another queue line. This time we had a slide show of perhaps 20 photos from the discovery and opening of King Tut's tomb displayed giantly on the wall. When we finally made it to the front of the line we were escorted into a small, dark room, with three jumbo flat screen plasma TV's. The room was a "sallyport" (door on each side - only one open at a time). You are provided an initial explanation of the event, thanking the hosts and contributors, etc... They ask you to turn off all recording devices, cellular phones, and give you the warning about photography being prohibited. After the employee gives her speech, she starts up a (about) 10 minute movie that plays on the big screen TV giving you the background of what you are about to see. When the movie is done, the doors on the other end of the room are opened, and you stroll into the exhibit.

I would catagorize the display as "generational". You start out seeing artifacts from what is presumed to be King Tut's grandparents. As you work your way thru the exhibit you move from grandparents, to what is presumed to be his parents, then to artifacts from his collection. Overall, the exhibit was amazing. To think that you are face to face with handcrafted items from nearly 3000 years ago, and buried in the ground for just about the same number of years is awe inspiring. The ancient Egyptians made the tombs and mummified the dead for the eternal afterlife of the deceased. It's amazing to think that they were indeed correct (or at least for 3000 years so far). King Tut has lived on thru the discovery of his tomb and mummy.

I could get into huge detail here on the things we saw, what we liked, and what we didn't like - but I wont bore you with all that. We picked up a souviner book that goes thru a lot of the history we learned, and a two page spread on each artifact.

I would have liked to have seen more actual artifacts, but the display wasnicely sized, and the selection of artifacts was also nicely done. Overall,I would do it all over again if I had to.

While at the Field Museum we also took in the following exhibits..

Evolving Planet - Earth Sciences - Grainger Hall of Gems - Hall of Jades

There was more that we "did not get to see", than we actually "got to see"... It was an overwhelming place. By the end of the day - we were exhausted. The museum closed at 5pm and we on our way.

Just as we were getting on the road to go home, we made a hasty decision to try and reach the Sears Tower. We were (after all) in the shadow of the building... Sigh... That my friends - is where the story goes sour...

I love my small town driving. I have two spotlights in my town - and my work commute is mostly freeway, with only minimal city street driving and not many lights.

Now, as we left the Museum and headed downtown, I thought to myself that this wont be so bad. I don't have any directions, or know where to park.. But it's the Sears Tower for gosh sake... I drove along Lake Shore Drive until I reached a street that I could see the Sears Tower was on, and drove into the downtown area.

Remember folks... It's 5pm - on a weekday...

As I approached the downtown area we came to a Tee in the road. Left or right. I went right. Now I had to find another way to the Sears Tower thru the tangle of one-way roads, and the... the... um... sea of people.

Never in my lifetime have I seen such a mass of human beings - all walking in different directions. A constant stream of pedestrians in all directions - as far as the eye can see. Then there are the cars. Cars, Cars everywhere... Mopeds, and Vespa Scooters, delivery trucks, cabs, cars, vans, busses... It was what I consider hell on earth. Driving thru the turmoil of motorized and pedestrian traffic was all I could take.

If you left any space at all in front of your vehicle (any space AT ALL) a motorcycle would (from 3 cars lengths back from a different lane) drive between the stopped traffic and zip into the space in front of you (that was about 1/3 the size of the motorcycle). All to get ahead 3 car lengths ahead.

Refer to the picture for the following rant...

Traffic in the intersections... My god... Picture yourself as the first car in the far left lane of a one way road (stopped at the intersection) The light turns green, and you creep into the intersection a bit. then the police man in the intersection whistles at you and has you pull up to where s/he is at. Then because of the steady stream of pedestrians, you wait. In the mean time the cars behind you have also pulled up behind you, but because you are not moving they begin to honk at you. You look to the policeman to quiet the other cars down, but s/he seems impervious to the sounds. Ok... You tell yourself to ignore the honking and you wait... and wait... and wait for the flow of people walking thru the intersection. The stream that does not let up until (and even after) the light has turned red and then green for traffic in the opposite direction. But because there are still pedestrians blocking the road, you cant move anywhere. Since the light has turned green for "left to right" cross traffic, they feel they should "jackrabbit" into the intersection, and dynamite the brakes within a foot of the passage door of your car. Because you have not moved anywhere, they too start honking their horns at you. You look at the pedestrians in the street (blocking your path), then to the cars behind you (also in the intersection on a red - honking at you), then to the cars coming at you from your right - in the intersection on their green (but can move) - honking at you), and finally to the policeman in the intersection completely unaware of what is going on - before you loose your mind... After you loose your mind, you turn to the on coming cars to your right - give them the finger, turn to the pedestrians, and start pulling your car into the crowd (hoping not to squish one of them in the street), all while you are wishing you could stick your big fat "glow-in-the-dark-cuz-it-aint-seen-the-light-of-day-since-you-were-a-toddler" white ass out the back end of your car and show the drivers (honking behind you) just how close they can get to a full moon!!! Look close enough asshole, you may even see craters! Oh, and watch out for the volcano spouting black stinky lava you impatient bastard!

When now you have made it through the intersection, you can relax...until you get to next stoplight (one block away), and GET TO do it allover again... and again... and again...

Because we were in a "Downtown" area - we could not see the Sears Tower behind the other tall buildings - due of our proximity and angle. I could not see a horizon, I lost my bearings and was unfamiliar with the area. Face it... I was now lost.

And that was where I gave up... I continued driving around like this until I found my way back to Lake Shore Drive, and we called it a day. Happily (and much more relaxed), I headed back to the hotel.

Once at the hotel, I grabbed a brochure for the Sears Tower SkyDeck. The brochure had specific directions, where to park, how to get there, and many other interesting facts... Including the fact that I was within a block of the parking structure for the Sears tower at one point...

Oh, well... Maybe tomorrow...

Vacation - Part III / Sub-part B - Day 1

After driving almost all day, we finally arrived at the hotel without too much problem. We were all tired and hungry, so after checking in, we decided to try and find some authentic "Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza" and then try to get to the Sears Tower or the Hancock observatory that night. We checked the hotel room folder for any adds - and found a pizzaria that listed that on the menu.

Gianni's Ristorante & Pizzeria

When we found the restaurant, I was pleasantly surprised. I found it to be a quaint family owned Italian restaurant. This is what I love. I can not stand the "corporate" cookie-cutter restaurants where you eat the same thing no matter if you are in Seattle, New York, Miami, Minneapolis, Dallas, or anywhere. Inside Gianni's Ristorante & Pizzeria there was a small bar in the corner, and a few people gathered around that corner bar and TV screen watching the last game of the 2006 World Cup - France vs Italy. There was one other couple dining in the little restaurant. We were seated at a larger table in the other back corner.

Not sure what to expect, we placed our order for the Gianni's Special, and a small thin-crust cheese pizza (for Jonathan - the finicky pizza eater). The Gianni's Special was Cheese, Green Pepper, Onion and Sausage. When we placed our order, the waitress told us it was going to be "a while" - and the menu said it would be at least 45 minutes. Now this was interesting to me.

As we were waited, (and the time got longer) we decided to postpone the Sears Tower / Hancock Observatory visit for the night, and perhaps drive the route to the Field Museum (where we had tickets for the next morning) to make finding it easier (in the morning).

Now you need to know that it was interesting to me because I have (as a child) been to Chicago, and had "Chicago style deep dish pizza". It was the running joke in our family for many years. My memory of it was about a 5 inch thick "wheel of cheese" set into a pizza crust with toppings plunked into the bubbling mass of cheese. So, after having talked about my memory of what "Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza" was, my family (and I) were excited to see if this was unique to that pizza, of if this was actually what "Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza" is all about.

Well, I was close. My memory may have been distorted or exaggerated because of my impressionable youth. The pizza was not 5" thick. It was more like 1 ½" - 2" thick - and when you pulled a piece from the tray - the cheese and toppings strung out all over the place! It was a messy, stringy, cheesy, delicious mass of pizza!!

Michele ate one piece. Benjamin ate one piece. Zachary ate half of one piece. I'm a big guy. I can pack away food when I want. I ate one piece, and a half of the half that Zachary left behind, and could not put another bite into me. Heck, I had a hard time with the after dinner mint. Each piece came in at close to a pound.

While "Chicago style deep dish pizza" was not EXACTLY what I remembered it to be, it was quite a bit of what I remembered it to be. If anyone is "googling" this and reads this entry, and you live in or around the Franklin Park, Illinois area (yet have not tried Gianni's Ristorante & Pizzeria) - I recommend you give it a try!

Also (on an interesting side note) - The family employees (who had a heavy Italian accent) were very happy about Italy winning the World Cup that night! It was fun to watch them celebrate the Italian win! They apologized to us - we let them know that there was no need for apology - completely understandable!!

By the time we left Gianni's Ristorante & Pizzeria, it was later than we expected, and darker than we expected, and neither Michele or I wanted to be driving around Chicago in the dark not sure where we were going. We returned to the hotel (with leftover pizza in tow) and called it a night.

Vacation - Part III / Sub-part A - Pre-trip background

Here it is.. The real reason behind the vacation...There are a couple of good stories out of this trip - so I will break up "Vacation - Part III" into a couple of "Sub-Parts"...

Sub-part A - Pre-trip background.

Well over a year ago, I read an article about a King Tut exhibit traveling from Egypt for a traveling exhibit/event around the world. Chicago was one of the destinations. I had monitored the news for a while, and finally a site was set up where you could submit you email address, and when tickets were available, they would send you a reminder.

Jonathan was (at that time, and still is) very interested in mummies. This was a perfect thing for him. I originally told my wife about it, and told her I was interested in taking Jonathan. The trip started out as Jonathan and dad. That was well over a year ago. As time passed, the plan changed to Jonathan, Zachary and Dad, then to Jonathan, Zachary, Mom and Dad, and finally Jonathan, Zachary, Benjamin, Mom and Dad.

Months before the trip, my brother-in-law, his fiancé and baby moved to Sterling, IL (about 2 hours west of Chicago). The reminder email came, and the summer shift picks also came up. We picked a date, bought the tickets, and waited.

First of all - the tickets were VERY expensive... For the five of us, I paid over $160.00 for the General Admission, Underground Adventures, King Tut, and King Tut Audio tour package. But, heck... It's pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime event... I think the last time any of the King Tut Artifacts were in the US was in 1976. My parents never went, but my father bought some sort of souvenir book, that I remember looking thru over and over as a kid. I remember being almost hypnotized as a child. So.. we bit the bullet and got the tickets.

I started researching some of the other things that we can do while we are in Chicago...
There is the Field Museum (where the King Tut Exhibit was housed)
There is the Museum of Science and Industry
There is the Sears Tower
There is the Hancock Observatory

There is the Shedd's Aquarium
There is the Navy Pier
And that is only the tip of the iceberg.

We decided on the Field Museum, Museum of Science and Industry, a visit at my brother-in-law's house, with a possible stop at the Sears tower or the Hancock Observatory.

We booked a hotel, got our maps ready, got packed, and the day finally arrived. (This 4 day trip fell in the middle of my 16 days off (all those days I was getting all those other tasks done)).

End of Sub-Part A - Pre-trip background. Stay tuned for Sub-part B - Day 1.

Vacation Part II

Well, now that I have dealt with the CONSTRUCTIVE things I have done on my vacation, I I'll blog a bit about the non-constructive things I did.

First of all... The first several nights, I sat out on my new deck, drinking wine coolers, and listening to XM Radio - Here are a few of my favorites...

202 High Voltage - Opie & Anthony, and my new favorites - Ron & Fez.
150 XM Comedy - Stand up comedy
008 80's - 80's Music
009 90's - 90's Music
042 XMLM - Hardcore, Death, and Grindcore Metal

We also rented several movies....
8 Below
The Libertine
Failure to Launch
Just Friends
Pirates of the Caribbean (#1)

We got together with the neighbors for the 4th of July (They had a party with many friends) and then did our own fireworks display (both on the 3rd and the 4th).

We went on a couple of walks with the family.

I went to several of the boy's Baseball games.

I played a mean 2-day game of RISK (that is still going - set up on the dining room table to finish later) with the boys, and I played Monopoly Jr. with the girls.

And, on a positive final note, I got on a scale for the first time since February. Now, keep in mind that for lent this year, I gave up soda pop. I went 40 days without it. When I started up again, I have given myself a limit of 2 cans a day. (I used to drink about 5) and have made a conscious effort to eat a little bit "better" and a little bit "less". I also have been taking my break at work, and walking... It's about a mile. I knew I had been losing some weight. My "just fitting" pants are now a little big, and the next size down (which I could not button), I now can. Anyway, I got on the scale at my Brother-in-laws house, and discovered the number on the screen was about 15 lbs less then the number I had seen on the last scale I was on! WHOO-HOOO!! I lost about 15 lbs since February!!! Now I need to keep this up! I even feel better!

Vacation - Part I

Tonight is my last night of vacation. It has been one of the best vacations I have had in a LONG time. I had time away from work. I have had time to get a lot of projects around the house done. I had time to spend with my children, and I had time to spend with my wife, and even a little bit of time alone too!

Here is a list of just a few of the many projects around the house I got done:

1. Finished the spindles on the deck.
2. Repaired the sprinkler system.
3. Mowed and edged the lawn.
4. Repaired a broken light switch in the basement
5. Changed the oil in my car.
6. Sorted and put away lots of loose tools that have been hanging around the house.
7. Painted the front pillar.
8. Cleaned and vacuumed both the van and my "daily driver".
9. Cleaned and painted our bedroom.
(Our bedroom was the last room still in the "original" color. We have new bedding and
furniture for the room too! - about a year old - we just never got around to painting our room.)
10. Repaired, set and filled the automatic fish feeder on my aquarium.
11. Cleaned portions of the garage.
12. Cleaned all the debris from my deck building project that have been laying around the yard.
(Cut boards, sawdust, broken beer bottles, screws, nails, tacks, and staples, etc.)
(Now the kids can actually play under the deck!)
13. Replaced the finicky 3rd "cyclops" brake light in my car (that has been out as long as I can remember).
14. Tracked down my missing license tabs that I bought on-line and never received.
15. Repaired the drain in the bathroom vanity

Again, there were just some of the bigger projects I got accomplished. I will try to find my original "list" of things I wanted to get done on my vacation and compare the lists...

End of Part I - Part II to follow....


Today's little project...

Today I fixed the leak I knew our new sprinkler system (new last year) had. I knew it had a leak because when all the water in the house was turned off, I could see the little sweep hand on the water meter moving - Indicating that it was leaking somewhere. When standing outside the supply line for the sprinkler system was always cold and sweating, and you could hear a hissing noise from the pipe.

Reluctant to call the irrigation company back (for fear of a bill that looked like $$$$) I decided last night (while "rejuvenating" on my new deck & listening to XM radio) that today was the day I tackled the problem.

I have been (since charging the system this year) keeping the system off - turning on the control box, then walking out and turning on the valve each time I water, remembering to do the same (only off) when the cycle was done. If I did not, water would leak out somewhere underground - and I may as well "wipe" with dollar bills as let water pour out of a pipe somewhere under the ground!

Well, I started off where it made the most sense - the water source. Where the supply line enters the ground. It is under some decorative rocks, so I started digging the rocks back. When the shovel was not working the way I wanted it to, I got out the knee pads and started using my hands.

Well, right at the pipe I noticed how soft the ground was (under the rock and landscape plastic) and how water was starting to show up around the rocks as I dug them out. I decided to try a little "experiment" and I turned on the valve - and I saw movement like currents in the water around the rocks!!! GOOD NEWS! The leak was somewhere close to the pipe. I dug, and dug, and dug (carefully as to not cut any other pipes) and finally cleared out the area. It was now full of standing water. I got out a cup and bailed out the hole. It worked great. Now my pipe, the fittings, and the underground pipe were all exposed. I turned on the water again, and saw the stream of water coming from where the fitting met the copper pipe. It was a pretty strong stream of water...

Long story short - my local hardware store was out of the plastic fitting, but had everything else. Because my wife was out and about on errands, I called her and explained what I needed her to pick up for me (which she did - perfectly I may add) and waited for her return.

I sweated all the fittings, taped up the threads, made all the connections, and put pressure on the system. One small pinhole leak in my last sweat fitting. A couple more goes at it, and voila - A complete and functional sprinkler system again. I can leave the control box on, and the valve on, and no more spinning little water meter dial!

Deck part 19 - The light at the end of the tunnel

My dad came over today to help me work on the spindles. It was a great help because we pre-drilled and started screws in each end of the spindle, and then I could work above (on the deck reaching over the railing) while my dad worked on the bottom half (a couple of steps up the ladder. I started (myself) around 10am. My dad joined me around noon. We were finished by about 4:30.

All that is left is to finish the stairs.... And get a final inspection

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