Monday, July 27, 2009

Where the 2D Sidewalk Ends

Have you heard of this 3D sidewalk chalk stuff? I wanted to try it out, so I went to Target to procure my very own set. Seven dollars seems a little steep for five little double-sided chalk sticks and a child-size pair of 3D glasses, Crayola, but dang it, now I'm so curious about the whole thing. And here I am in freaking Target. So I'll bite.

Now I'm ready for some serious sidewalk fun. Aside from being double-sided and sharpened at each end (fancy!), the chalk looks just like regular ol' chalk, so the magic must be in the glasses. Crayola's website says that warm colors like red will appear high while cool colors like blue will appear low. Sounds good - I'm off to flex my sidewalk art muscles... as soon as the sidewalk dries from that little gust of rain we just had.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Soft Times in Cardiff, or Pint of Brains

It has already been two and a half weeks since my return from Britain, and I still haven't gotten around to posting any pictures. So here we finally go. UK Adventure Post #1: Cardiff.

My friend V is from Cardiff, so I traveled there by bus from London to meet up with her. She had spent the previous days arduously packing all of her belongings for shipment to her new home in Bangladesh, and stressing out about the many annoying but necessary tasks that come along with a move of that magnitude. She was ready for a break.

We spent two laid-back days together eating, drinking, doing tourism, and - most of all - catching up. For me, the highlight of Cardiff was hanging out with V. And that's not to knock Cardiff! It's just that when you see a dear friend for the first time in eight years, the joy of that overshadows the other things you might see or do.

Cardiff is a lovely town, and a welcome change for the cost-conscious tourist arriving from London. Here, for example, you can buy a full day's bus pass for just three pounds. In London, you must pay three pounds for an Oyster card which then entitles you to the privilege of paying two additional pounds for each tube or bus ride.

So, now that I'm here, - what to see in Wales? The answer: Castles! In the heart of Cardiff stands Cardiff Castle, a blend of Roman, Norman and Victorian design. A little further away is Caerphilly Castle (pictured below), whose plaque declares it the largest in Wales.

V said that many people prefer their castles renovated, but I quite like the crumbling and decrepit look of Caerphilly:

There were many interesting plaques explaining how the various people who occupied this castle would have gone about trying to defend it. Defenders would lob boulders with huge catapult contraptions (think Lord of the Rings) and shoot large spears with this menacing-looking thing:

There is one recorded instance of six men being speared together in one shot! Perygl!

The third and final castle we visited was Castle Coch, quite near to V's house and referred to by her as the 'fairy tale castle.'

Castle Coch, I was told, is not a real castle but rather a 19th-century reproduction of the genuine 13th-century castle that once stood here. Still quite impressive though, especially to someone who hails from a land where any building over 100 years is 'old.'

Aside from the castles, I would highly recommend that on your next visit to Cardiff you go to St. Fagans. It's a (free!) open-air museum where you can walk through Welsh history "from Celtic times to the present day." Fantastic.

V and I rounded out our tourism with a visit to Cardiff Bay, which featured a pretty boardwalk with several sculptures in addition to its many bars and restaurants.

A view of the Bay from the Norwegian Church

Merchant Seafarer's War Memorial, sculpted by Brian Fell using the hull of a beached ship.

Ceiling of the National Assembly for Wales

In general, Cardiffians may not be as friendly as their counterparts in London, but you have to give them credit for having a very cool local beer name: Brains. (I would recommend the extra cold smooth.)

V: Thanks for everything, and happy moving!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Happy 175th Day, J

I had a new mission this week: to find my list from sixth grade of things I hoped to accomplish in my lifetime. And I failed. Having arrived in Utica late Thursday evening, K and I spent Friday helping with preparations for my sister's graduation party and all day Saturday at the party itself. That left me with a couple of hours on Sunday morning to potter around my parents' basement storage room looking for my list.

I tried, but the only thing I achieved was the (inevitable) frustration of unpacking various boxes only to find that I was unable to fit the contents back into the very same receptacles. I emerged from the basement a list-less and sweaty mess, took a shower and resumed travel to Chicago, feeling thwarted the whole way home.

I know it's there somewhere, and next time I visit my parents, I shall try again. I wonder if one of the goals on the list was to be able to find the list.

Other than the list fiasco, the weekend was a grand success. I got to hang out with baby J, the newest member of my extended family. She is so cute and fun and inspiring that I just have to post a picture of her:

All right, two pictures:

I can't help it - she's 175 days old today, and I'm just such a proud great-second-cousin-aunt! What the heck am I to my first cousin's baby anyway?

And while I'm at it, here's one of me with my sisters. That's youngest sis AL on the left, me in the middle and the graduate M on the right. I should mention that I also have a brother of whom I'm extremely proud, but for some reason he was not present for this photo shoot.

When I eventually find my list, I think I can check off having a blast with my family and taking super cute pictures to prove it.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Apollo, Apollo

On the too-rare occasion that I find myself watching an episode of a little show called 30 Rock, I usually laugh so hard I puke. Ok, not really, but I do miss a lot of hilarious jokes because I'm still laughing at previous ones.

Not long ago, I caught an episode in which Jack is turning 50 years old and he's just come across a list that he wrote in fifth grade of goals he hoped to accomplish by his fiftieth birthday. They include "go to Disneyland, ride in an airplane, kiss Peggy Fleming, live in a house with stairs, beat up a Russian," and that old stand-by, "hit mom with a car." Oh Jack, you are terrible.

If I am not mistaken, I too made a list - in sixth grade, I think it was - of things I wanted to accomplish in my lifetime. Wouldn't it be fun to find it and see if I've actually made any headway? I'm spending this weekend at my parents' house in Utica, so I will have the chance to try to dig up that list.

Jack has accomplished all but one of the childhood goals on his list by age 50. (He has not yet managed to befriend Batman.) But despite his many accomplishments, Jack realizes that he is not really that happy. Isn't it nice to know that the realization of happiness is a complex and ever-evolving personal process? So I will be sure not to take it too hard if I have not completed many of the items on my own list. Still, it would be fun to check off at least one or two...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Puppets and Washboards in Welles Park

Saturday afternoon saw K, his folks and I making our way to the Chicago Folk & Roots Festival in Lincoln Square's Welles Park. We were greeted by a beer tent and several market stalls specializing in stuff like hemp and handmade jewelry. The for-sale folk art pieces, like those pictured at left, made for an interesting walk through. A few artists were painting big music-inspired murals.

Also present was the Puppet Bike, an Andersonville summertime classic. I mean, here we're talking about puppets that dance - no, rock out - under a disco ball, pop out of surprising little doors below their stage and interact with their audience. Umm, how could you not love a Puppet Bike?

As we made our way over to the main stage, the man with the mic said, "The first one to fall in the mud loses." The previous night's rain had apparently wreaked a little havoc in the park, but we found some nice dry grass and settled down. What a gorgeous day!

Cedric Watson & Bijou Creole played a dance-able set, sung mostly in French.

K's mom has been to New Orleans numerous times and told me that this washboard player was nowhere near as good as others she'd heard. Nevertheless, coming as I do from a long line of non-washboard players, I was quite impressed. Dude makes a living playing a washboard!

I may not be too picky about my music or my festivals, but I will definitely plan to go back to Folk & Roots. It was a marvelous chance to get out with all my neighbors and enjoy that friendly neighborhoody vibe that makes me adore living in this part of the city. Up here, we make mud fun.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Folk & Roots

Well, I'm back from the land of tea, civility and Marks and Spencer. Among the valuable lessons I've learned are that many Brits pronounce the word 'scone' like "scawn" (as in rhymes with dawn), and they sometimes refer to bedspreads as "counterpanes." Weirdos.

I returned from my travels feeling grounded and refreshed. I've even managed to almost make peace with my recent bike heist. I know I owe this blog a couple of posts about my trip, but first let's talk about my new adventure for this week.

K's parents will be in town this weekend and we are planning to take them to the Chicago Folk & Roots Festival in Lincoln Square's Welles Park, just west of our Ravenswood 'hood. The festival promises diverse grooves on multiple stages, lively dancing, and beer. And as if that wasn't enough, it offers up the Annual Midwest Fiddle Championship. Tell me that isn't pure gold.

This guy was at the festival last year, and I sure hope he comes back. My great-grandmother played the accordion until the day she died, and I'll always have a special place in my heart for the instrument and its devotees.

If the online pictures from past years' festivals are any indication, the place is going to be crawling with adorable children. This would normally be a good thing, but with K's mom in tow, it is sure to elicit several remarks about how desperately she needs a grandchild of her own. So to counteract the effects of that, I may just have to get drunk. Or get her drunk. Ideally both, and then get down with our bad selves in the dance tent.