Friday, August 12, 2016

Chicago Food Tour

As a birthday gift for Dan a few weeks ago I signed us up for a food tour in the Bucktown and Wicker Park neighborhoods of Chicago. It is an easy day trip for us to go into the city for a day. The South Shore commuter rail line goes from the South Bend Airport right into Millennium Station. We caught the 8:45 train, walked a block to the El, and took two trains to the near northside neighborhood where the tour began. We had a three-block walk to George's Hot Dogs, the starting point and first tasting. We arrived there on the dot of 11:15, as we had been told.

George's Hot Dogs was started in 1948 and they serve the basic Chicago dog:  hot dog, dill pickle spear, relish, mustard, tomato, small pickled pepper, and chopped onions. (One other woman and I had ours without the raw onions.)

The next stop was a place called Hot Chocolate. Because it is summer, they gave us a slushy cold chocolate; it was the medium, they also have light and dark. The marshmallow was made in-house and was also delicious. The menu for lunch looked really interesting and delicious.

After the chocolate, we left Bucktown and went into Wicker Park. The two neighborhoods are right next to each other. Both started out as manufacturing centers outside the city and gradually added housing. At first artists tended to come into the area as the housing was inexpensive. Now they are mostly very upscale, with homes running into the millions of dollars.

At the Goddess & Grocer deli we had some kale salad. It was so delicious, I ate it before thinking of taking a picture!

We went to a pizza place called Piece. This is not the deep-dish pizza that Chicago is known for, but a thin crust cooked at a very high temperature. The building is a former lumberyard and they have made great use of the design of the old warehouse. We were seated in a separate area, below the main floor level.

We were served a small piece of margarita pizza. It was tasty. This place is also a microbrewery, so there was a tasting of beer. But they provided root beer for those of us who don't drink alcohol (unfortunately not brewed in-house, but delicious anyway!).

After the pizza, we headed into a residential area, including Wicker Park itself, a nice oasis in the city. As soon as we left the main street, it became quieter.  We saw homes that were old and not yet renovated, as well as some more newly-built ones.

This Victorian home has recently been completely renovated and it is stunning. Our guide told us there is a ballroom on the third floor.

At this point, I was feeling the heat very much and took a break on some grass while the rest of the group looked at a few more homes. Dan and I met back up with them at the next stop, Sultan's Market, a  middle-eastern deli. We had a falafel sandwich there and lots of water. I wrapped up my sandwich to take home; the heat had completely taken away my appetite.

The last stop was Stan's Donuts, where we were given a fresh plain glazed doughnut. Again, I put it in my bag for later.

We were glad that Stan's was right beside the El station and we were able to go up and get on a train. This time we had a few more blocks to Millennium Station, so we walked through Macy's for the cool air. It made me nostalgic for the old Marshall Fields, where we sometimes shopped back in the 1960s.

We went to some fabulous places and would consider going back to the neighborhood. It was an easy train trip from the Loop. The two delis and the Hot Chocolate were the most outstanding. I can definitely imagine returning.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Short Korea Visit

Our flight from Chiang Mai to Seoul was uneventful, if a bit too short for much sleeping. We took the express train into the city and a taxi to the base where Anjali met us and we got our identification cards for getting on and off the base. Tuesday we went into Itaewon to get a few things at the Indian store. On the way, I noticed this restaurant. Itaewon is well known for having a huge variety of cuisines available, but this one wins the prize!

We got some tea and a few other items at the Indian grocery. I was amused when I saw the Pillsbury atta. (India friends will appreciate this!)

We took a half-day tour of some of Seoul's sights on on Wednesday morning. Our guide, Cindy, was very good. We visited one of the main Buddhist temples. She told us Korea is approximately 25% Buddhist, 25% Christian, and 50% "Free Thinkers."

One of four guards at temple entrance

Intricate painting on temple ceilings and eaves

Three golden Buddhas inside; people meditating

Drum pavilion at temple

Changing of the guard at the royal palace

Drummer at changing of the guard

Flag bearers

Throne area inside main palace building

Lake pavilion

Characters on roof; number shows relative importance of the building

Location of former palace buildings that were destroyed during the Japanese occupation, 1905-1945
It was good to see some of the main sights of Seoul. It is an enormous city with lots of history. We are looking forward to returning here next year. In the meantime, we are on our way home on Friday. We depart Seoul Friday at 10:40 AM and get to Chicago at 8:40 AM!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Last Things

Today is our last day in Chiang Mai. We will check out of our room at 6:00 and have ordered a taxi for 8:00. We'll have dinner somewhere not too far where we can take our time. Our flight is almost at midnight, but we'll be better off sitting at the airport (in A/C) than in the less-than-comfortable lobby of our building.

I finished up my Tai Chi class on Friday. It was also Mathilda's last day and she brought fragrant posies for everyone (camellia or gardenia, maybe). We had some group pictures. Two of the class members will likely be there again next year, but the others will have flown off in their different directions. It's been a fairly convivial group, everyone encouraging the others.

The grandkids came on Wednesday evening. After our domino game, we stood on the balcony in a strong wind that seemed to be brewing up a storm. It held off, but around 2:00 there was loud, heavy rain for an extended period. It cooled things down nicely, but the humidity was quite high. I had my last massage on Friday afternoon. Dang seemed sad to see me go and I was sad to see the last of her for some time.

Saturday we had our last time with the grandkids -- we are all getting a bit sick of dominoes, so no one was too sad about seeing the last of them! I had asked Dan to get some oranges while he was out to offer for snacks. He came back with a fruit feast -- oranges, pomelo (already sectioned), papaya (cut), watermelon pieces and pineapple (in spears). Along with some crunchies we already had, we gorged ourselves. In the end, one orange, one piece of watermelon, and one section of pomelo were left! Again we got supper down at the market area -- a mixture of chicken kabob wraps, papaya salad, pad thai, and pork, and brought it back to our room to eat. We'll see them all in May when we visit Spokane, so it wasn't a sad farewell. What a treat it's been to have them here!

This morning (Sunday) we took the scooter out to the JJ Market, where we had been on our first Sunday here with Ming and her mother. It's about a mile northeast of the Old City. It is an organic market with incredible vegetables and fruit (not that we need those now) and some handicrafts. We needed to pick up a few gifts (nothing like waiting until the last minute!) and knew we'd find something interesting there.

Now Dan is off for his last massage and then to return the scooter. I'll work on packing and relaxing (and probably a little tai chi practice).

We'll be in Korea for about five days, heading home on Friday, March 4.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Wednesday Update

Our last week here is flying by. As I'd hoped, I finished up the Tai Chi series of moves yesterday. That gives me three classes to go over the entire series and make any corrections necessary. My plan is to practice regularly during the year so I can start moving ahead right away next year (it took me more than a week just to get caught up to where I stopped last year). Our grandkids are coming over today and we'll have one more time to get together on the weekend.

Our residence has a nice big lawn with a covered sitting area and a few more seats. Recently there have been people out there playing bocce. When I took this picture it was over 90° and too sunny for me!

Every day I walk past the fire station on my way to tai chi class. Monday the tank truck was out on the street and filling up with water from the moat. You would not want to be drenched with that stinky water!!

On Saturday I signed up for the Asia Scenic cooking class at a farm. I did this last year, but I wanted to review my Thai cooking skills. And it was a chance to spend the day with Jazz and Billy, who wanted to cook, too. I signed up by email and got a confirmation of pickup time. I was a bit concerned when J&B weren't on the van, but when we got to the market on the way, they were there in another group. I spoke to our leader and asked if I could be switched, since we had signed up together. He immediately moved me into their van and cooking group, which worked out well.

At the market on the way we looked at the variety of vegetables and other things. This shows some of the types of rice available -- sticky and plain, several colors.

One of the features of this class is making the curry pastes from scratch. It is a lot of work, pounding with the mortar and pestle for quite a long time. Here is the group hard at work. We had people from the U.K., Greece, France, and the U.S.

My soup of chicken in coconut milk and massaman curry.

Sunday morning I walked over to the soi (alley) behind the Chiang Mai Gate Market. There were many little stalls with a variety of things available. As shown in the photo below, a lot of things are sold wrapped in leaf packets. I've no idea what these were. Prices can be shown for a single item or a kilo, depending what it is.

Underwear in two sizes, usually small and extra-small. And of course, you can choose black or white!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Tai Chi Classmates

Our time here is flying by -- we only have one more week before we head home. I am on track to finish the Wudang Tai Chi Square Form (Short Form) by the time we leave. There are 42 moves, each consisting of three steps (coordinated hand and foot movements). I learned #39 today, so I should be able to make it to the end. I can usually take in one new move each day, although it can be hard to remember by the next morning, even with some practice. I have found that this discipline is incredible for both mind and body.

Our teacher, Rod, is from London, of Greek background. He is married to a Thai and the classroom is attached to their home. He is pretty amazing. Not only is he very patient and a good teacher (adapting as necessary to individuals' particular needs), he also teaches Chi Gong (Qi Chung), Reiki, Yoga, and provides spirulina and noni juice to those who wish it.

It's been interesting meeting other people in the class. Marisa is from Australia, has lived in C.M. for maybe ten years. She is very advanced, but still comes a couple of times a week. The only other person I knew last year is Patrick from France. He owns a condo here and spends 7-8 months out of the year in C.M. He is trying to sell the condo and get a different one. His English is somewhat limited and my French is nonexistent, but we chat anyway.

Dario is American, from Chicago, and a professional percussionist. He has played in Mexico City and elsewhere, but is teaching English here. He and I agree that playing in an orchestra makes counting in your head automatic, helpful in our Seven Steps movement. Michelle is African-American and a restless sort. She has been here a bit more than a year but is ready to move on, to the Philippines next.  Patrick, Dario and Michelle are all near the end of their Round Form, on which I hope to begin work next January. (Round Form follows the general outline of the Square Form, but with constant flowing movement, no steps.)

Mathilda is from the Netherlands (and the only one my age) and has lived here for about 12 years. She is in the process of closing out her lease, selling furniture and moving back to the Netherlands. I think her husband died not long ago and she is ready to leave. Fabrizio arrived while we were in Luang Prabang. He is young and very energetic. It's hard to get him to slow down when we do Seven Steps or Spinning Silk together. Today Mathilda said she thinks he might be autistic, and it makes sense to me -- he doesn't interact in an ordinary way with the other people. And he's a little fierce!

Manuel and Judith are typical -- they are Swiss, just came this week and are leaving already. We get new students most weeks, people who are interested in checking out what tai chi is. They seem to enjoy just a bit of it. I remember when I started, how envious I was of those who had obviously been doing it for some time.

Olaf is in the Chi Gong class just before ours. I first noticed him when another student who was in my class the first two weeks mentioned that he had asked her out. She teaches at an international school here and was quite excited to think of having a date. But by the time she had to go back to school he hadn't arranged anything. A couple of weeks ago Olaf asked me about "my friend" (I didn't really know her well, but we had chatted a bit). I asked him if he meant Amy and he said yes. I said, well, you should call her! He said he would. But a few days later he told me he had decided not to bother. I'm pretty sure she had given up before that anyway. It's so interesting to have these small glimpses into other people's lives.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

A Couple of Outings

I've mentioned the Blues Pub before -- a small, inexpensive restaurant a short block from our place. We go there pretty regularly, even though they don't have a very large menu. This time I got a photo of the couple who run the place -- it's been going for well over 20 years. I'm pretty sure they live in the back.

When I walk to my tai chi class daily, I pass a lot of familiar sights. I finally got a photo of this fried chicken stand. When I go by on my way (about 9:35), it is just getting going. There are two huge woks of oil in the shelter on the left. The cooler is full of marinated chicken parts. And the canopied cart has various pieces of deep-fried chicken priced from about 10 to 35 baht. There are always customers!

On Saturday, due to a Facebook posting, we met up with a former Woodstock student, Sharon Getter Mitchell. She had been in a village in China and spent a few days here with her husband on their way south. We had lunch at a great little place near the train station, Upper Crust. They had great sandwiches and other items. I had the Greek salad shown below and Shari and I both had the mango cheesecake for dessert, which was wonderful. Dan and Malcolm had hamburgers; they looked really good!

Here we are with Shari. Thanks, Malcolm, for the photo.

We tried a new place last week, Gai's Thai Cafe. The veg pizza was delicious.

Last Sunday we went back to the Whole Earth Restaurant where we ate several times last year. The dining room on the upper level of the building is gorgeous.

The mango lassi was great! We had Indian food, which was good, but not quite up to full Indian standards.

Flowers on the table are common at many restaurants, as is the note telling the wifi password.

Thursday, February 11, 2016


As promised a few days ago, I have some photos of the parade on the Saturday of Flower Festival.

The first thing we saw were several young women dressed in ballgowns with escorts. I think they were the candidates for the queen of the festival. What you can't see below is the very high stiletto platform heels she is wearing. This is near the end of the parade, which is nearly three miles long. I can't believe she was still able to smile at the crowds!!

There were a number of bands and various groups in regional dress. Here is one such group.

This enormous drum might have come from a temple. Notice the gongs on the side.

All the floats were completely covered with flowers, petals, acorns, etc. An astounding amount of work must have gone into them.