Tag Archives: Cookie

Breaking Radio Silence

I’ve been hella busy the past month or so; here’s the first of a few blog posts to get me used to blogging again (and you all used to reading)

With a title like CB’s Mojo, you probably figured out that this blog is mostly about the stuff that makes me feel happy or inspired. In terms of world events, it’s been a tough month for that.

Cookie, Sis and I were in Paris for about 6 days at the end of September Here are a few pictures of the trip.

Palais_Justice
Palais de Justice
Presteej
The band Presteej with tourist at Sacre Coeur
Musician_SacreCoeur
Musician at Sacre Coeur
Liz_EC_Hel_Inv
Sis and Hélène (with Cookie as Napoleon) at Les Invalides

I may share more later, but these are the photos that especially spoke to me after November 13.

Advertisements

The European Adventures of Cookie, Sis, & me, Part 1

Part 1 of a series of indeterminate length

Welcome to England: Claridge’s

864846886_541ef34e87_n
Claridge’s: image by Dave Hunt on Flickr

Cookie took care of our arrangements, aided by her travel agent at Artisans of Leisure. We ended up with absolutely fabulous hotels in both London and Paris. Here are some of the cool things that happened at Claridge’s, aka Buckingham Palace’s spare rooms. Apparently when the royal family doesn’t have room for all their guests, they ship some of them over to Claridge’s.

ClaridgeWelcome
Tea, fruit, and macarons

Our welcome

Our flight got in before 8 a.m. Luckily, the hotel was able to arrange a very early check-in for us, and brought us tea first thing. It went well with what the travel agency had already arranged: fruit, macarons, and champagne awaited us in our rooms. Thus began our vacation tradition of drinking champagne at the drop of a hat. (Though we were restrained enough to wait for the champagne until evening.)

It took us two days to get through the macarons, three or four days to get through the champagne (it’s all rather a blur), and we never quite finish all the fruit, though we put up a good fight on that front.

Celebrity Spotting

My favorite celebrity quote about Claridge’s comes from Spencer Tracy, who said: “…not that I intend to die, but when I do, I don’t want to go to heaven, I want to go to Claridge’s.”

Our first morning, our guide Viv saw a British comedian whose name I can’t remember, probably because I wasn’t familiar with him. He was hidden in the celebrity breakfast area (which doubled as a bar in the evenings), just off the public restaurant where we were breakfasted. When the mirrored door leading to this hideaway opened, Viv caught a glimpse of a server bringing something to Mr. Famous Comedian, and got all fan-girly. Then as we were leaving the restaurant the next morning, we saw Harvey Keitel, probably on the way to the same little hideaway. It must have been his first morning there, because they hadn’t yet shown him how to avoid being seen yet. There were also reports of Joan Collins, and we spotted a very well-put-together older woman who was definitely “somebody,” if one judged by the stir she caused when she walked through the lobby. Maybe a British actress?

My favorite, though, was our near-spotting of Matt Damon. The night we were going to the Globe Theatre, our driver Clive said, “You know that fellow, the one who plays Bourne?”

“Matt Damon?”

“That’s probably the name. I don’t watch many films, but I remember Bourne.”

“Yes, what about him?”

“He just walked into the ballroom entrance, up ahead there.”

“Up ahead there” was perhaps ten yards from the car. We stared at Clive, our mouths opening and closing like guppies. Clive is a prize-winning fisherman, so maybe that’s what he was after.

He finally went on. “Yeah, the doorman said there’s a big party tonight for some film. Lots of folks in fancy dress. He looked good, did Bourne. They’ll all be going off to Leicester Square for the premiere after this.”

“The movie—could it be The Martian?”

Clive shrugged. “Dunno. Don’t see a lot of films. I just know Bourne.”

There was some temptation to blow off our theatre tickets and hang out in Leicester Square, but that was momentary. After all, it wasn’t like we were going to be able to chat up Matt, Jessica, Ridley, or any of their pals even if we could get into the premiere. So it was off to the Globe for us, to see Nell Gwynn. But that’s a post for another day.

Tea

You can get a fancy afternoon tea in London. Sis took Cookie and me to tea at Claridge’s, and you don’t get any fancier.

UsAtTea
Sis, Cookie, and me

We had champagne (do you sense a theme?) and of course, many types of tea from which to choose. I was boring and predictable, and chose Claridge’s Blend. Sis, being more adventurous, had White Silver Tip. Cookie tried the Iron Goddess of Mercy. Seemed apt.

The ritual was familiar; we began with tea sandwiches, and there were several tasty vegetarian choices. Then we had the best scones (plain and raisin) I personally have ever eaten, accompanied by Cornish clotted cream and Marco Polo jelly—fruity and mildly spicy. At this point, we were so full we could do little more than sniff the gorgeous pastries that ended tea: a strawberry mousse nestled on a large, macaron-type shell, a fluffy apricot dessert much like a light cheesecake, lemon cake with raspberry filling, and a mocha pastry with half a malted milk ball on top.

TeaPastries

Our waiter asked if we would like our unfinished pastries sent to our room, to which the answer was a resounding yes. We saw him the next morning at breakfast, and he asked if we had finished them later that evening. We had to admit that we hadn’t been able to. After a walk down to the Serpentine in Hyde Park, we were pretty much done for the night. The pastries ended up being our dinner the next night, if memory serves. We had a lot of dessert for dinner during this trip. That’s okay; we were on vacation.

Bon voyage à moi! Et à ma soeur, et Biscuit!

LondonParisBooks
Research and Funding

We’re going to London! And Paris!

By we, I mean Cookie, Sis, and I. BK was invited, but he’s rather like a cake in that he doesn’t travel well.

That reminds me of a story about my Sis’s friend Carmen:

Many, many years ago, when there was still an Iron Curtain, Carmen traveled behind it, to visit relatives in Poland. One of the relatives entrusted her with a broken samovar to bring back to her parents in the US. Why was this heirloom so important? Not even Carmen was quite sure, but it seemed to mean a great deal to this relative back in the old country, so she agreed to take it. She also bought scads of stuff in Poland, to the point where she was going to have to pay a ton of duty if she came clean about every little thing she bought. So she underestimated her expenditures, and just hoped they wouldn’t ask too many questions.

She was going through Customs and the official was giving her the side eye. She still managed to behave as if butter wouldn’t melt in her little rosebud mouth. The official either smelled a rat or was otherwise immune to Carmen’s charm. He pointed suspiciously at the box that held the family heirloom and said, “What’s in the box?”

Carmen said, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Official: “Try me.”

Carmen: “It’s a broken samovar.”

Official: “You’re right, I don’t believe you.”

So Carmen opened the box and revealed the broken samovar. The official seemed at a loss for a sensible response, though he might eventually have asked why she would bother bringing such an item back.

Carmen replied, “Well, I would have baked a cake, but I hear they don’t travel well.”

The official laughed and waved her through, and she was free to go on her merry way. The little outlaw.

So that’s how I learned that cakes, like BK, don’t travel well. With a broken samovar, who can tell? It was already broken.

Anyway, London! With side trips to Stonehenge and Bath.

Paris! With visits to Versailles and Giverny!

We are leaving really soon. We are stoked.

Any tips, hints, ideas for things we shouldn’t miss at any of the above locations? Comments are not only welcome, but highly desirable.

Less Writing, More Biking

The happiest time of the year has come and gone.Bike MS Tour de Farms is over. Sigh. The following is an account of our last week of training and the event itself.

1. Cookie was ready!

EileenWG
Cookie in front of the waterfall

Friday, June 19 – we went for a longish bike ride to see how we would hold up. A roundabout route through scenic western suburbs from my house to Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve, a lap and a half around the preserve and then another roundabout route back through different scenic suburbs netted us about 40 miles. We planned to ride the Tour’s 50-mile route and figured that if we could ride 40 miles, we could ride 50. We succeeded with our 40-mile route. In fact, with an overall speed of 11 mph (much of it on crushed limestone), we were about as fast as we’ve ever been for a ride of that length. (We are not fast. Just saying.) So we felt great about our upcoming ride.

2. Complications…

Sunday, June 21 – we did a cooldown ride, just to make sure our muscles still worked. Cookie had had a rough night. She had developed a rash which she figured out was probably shingles. She was already on an antiviral medication (she’s proactive that way) and hoped that it wouldn’t develop into a full blown case.

Tuesday, June 23 – I planned about a 20-mile solo ride, just to keep in shape. I started strong—over 11 miles, my speed averaged 13.3 mph. I was jubilant!

At that point I fell down and went boom, garnering a few bruises and scrapes and a minor neck sprain. (Details here.) Skippy’s back wheel got mangled. Would we be able to get a new wheel installed and aligned in time for the Tour? Bike Shop Mike was hopeful; even though he had to order a new wheel, he thought she would be ready by Thursday. Friday at the latest.

Wednesday, June 24 – I lay around and got nothing done. My head, neck, and back hurt, but it could have been so much worse that I couldn’t complain.

Thursday, June 25 – I started feeling better, and huzzah! Bike Shop Mike texted with the news that Skippy was all fixed. But then I got an email from Cookie saying she might only be able to do the 35-mile route. Unlike my neck sprain, her shingles weren’t getting any better.

Friday, June 26 – I felt good as new. As I was packing and otherwise preparing for the weekend, Cookie called with the sad news that she couldn’t ride. At all. It turned out that she had learned well from the “Your Cat Died” joke, and had been letting me down easy. BK and I went on to DeKalb with heavy hearts, which were somewhat relieved when we met up with part of our team, the Sargent & Lundy Power Pedallers for dinner at Pizza Villa. There was chianti (and much rejoicing).

3. A brighter day dawns…

TeamBefore
Before the ride: me, Andy, Danielle, Dave, and Randy

Saturday, June 27 – the weather was sunny, with a 10 mph wind out of the north. The day’s forecast high was 73º, though it was in the 50s just before we started the ride. A while before we left, Cookie texted.

Cookie: Have a great ride!
Me: Thanks! How are you doing?
Cookie: Okay.* No way I could have ridden today. See you at the finish line.
Me: Awww, poor Cookie
Cookie: Yeah, yeah. Now get out there and win one for the gipper, uh, Cookie.

So that’s what we did. Around mile 20 I developed a helmet headache, which the ER doctor warned me might happen, but BK called Sis, who agreed to bring me my muscle relaxants (along with Cookie), so I had that to look forward to. True to her word, Cookie was there to greet us at the finish line. And my speed? I averaged 12.4 mph!

TeamAfter_2
Cookie, Randy, me, Danielle, and Andy

Sis, Cookie, BK and I went to Eduardo’s in DeKalb for Mexican food. I had a delicious watermelon-cucumber margarita, which went really well with the muscle relaxants. Sis took Cookie home; BK and I went back to the hotel and fell asleep before 8 p.m.

Sunday June 28 – BK drove me back to the Tour. I quickly biked 15 miles as a cooldown from the day before, and my speed was even better than Saturday’s: 12.8 mph. BK and I went back to the hotel for chocolate milk, a cinnamon roll, and a shower. BK and I went home, another Tour de Farms completed.

SkippyAfter
Skippy & new helmet still wearing their ride numbers

Thanks again to all the generous beings who donated to the National MS Society in support of this year’s ride: Lorie & Steve, BK, Kurt, Steve, Sis, Sara, the Musto family, Katie, Mickey & Janet, Tim & Nan, Beth, Lori, Ann, the Patel family, Katherine, and Seamus the World’s Best Dog!

* Cookie-speak for : “I’m in excruciating pain.”

Pure Michigan—Post One of Three: Relaxation

peninsula

If you live in Illinois, you can’t escape the radio and TV commercials that tout the joys of “Pure Michigan.” Michigan is portrayed as a magical land that will restore your lost youth—or at least your joie de vivre.

I forgive you for being skeptical. Thing is, you know, you really want there to be a place like that, especially if you can drive there—which, from the Chicago area, you can.

Background

When possible, Sis takes a trip to celebrate her birthday, choosing the weekend either before or after September 24th. Our 2014 mission, dated September 25-28: investigating to see if magical Michigan lived up to the hype.

Where we stayed

Snowbird
Snowbird Inn

On the recommendation of our cousins Cecelia and Emily, we stayed at The Snowbird Inn, a bed and breakfast on Michigan’s Leelanau Peninsula.

AliceWeb
Alice

Our host, Alice, was rather perfect. She happily shared details about the painstakingly restored house, which was built around 1900, and the 20-acre site of the inn. She gave us directions to a beach within walking distance, a great bike trail, a scenic drive through Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and her favorite wineries and restaurants. She astonished us with her wide-ranging knowledge of the area. She was quite familiar with small towns that were a two-hour drive away!

2cats

There were two kitties. Awwww! Cookie, Sis and I are all allergic, and responsible enough not to have cats of our own. We were, however unable to resist petting the inn’s cats. Apricot wouldn’t have tolerated being ignored, while Sophie was so happy to receive attention that petting her was its own reward.

Porch
One corner of the porch
Cookie_Couch
Cookie relaxes in the living room
MusicRm
Baby grand in the library

The inn itself had common areas with plenty of books and a baby grand piano Alice almost begged us to play. There was even music stored in the piano bench in case we no longer had any pieces memorized. We no longer did. If anyone would have, it would have been Cookie, but she swore up and down that she no longer remembered how to play anything. Hmm.

Bed

Sis_Room
The room Sis stayed in—its name was Jane
Cookie_Room
Cookie’s room was named Sophie, like the cat
CB_Room
My room, Thelma…mmm, comfy!

The rooms were given names instead of numbers, which is always fun. And if you like spotless, crisp white sheets as much as I do, you’d appreciate the linens. The large windows (lovely views!) and restored blond woodwork and floors made the rooms light and cheery. Fresh cut flowers from the outside garden brightened each guest room and other rooms throughout the inn.

Breakfast

Alice cooked delicious breakfasts that kept us fueled far, far into the day. There were two vegetarians at the inn—a lovely young structural engineer who was there with her husband, and me. We both found plenty to eat during breakfast at The Snowbird, and the meat eaters had good choices, too. There were homemade muffins and fresh fruit every morning, as well as French press coffee. I can’t even remember all the food choices on offer, but I do recall savoring the almond crème brulee French toast the first day, the broccoli quiche the second day, and eggs Benedict on Sunday, our last morning. Also, I can’t believe we have no pictures of the sunny dining room or the exquisite place settings. The table looked different every morning, and always lovely.

To be continued…

Anyway, our long Michigan weekend was about relaxation, food and fun. My next post will be all about the food Alice didn’t make for us; she isn’t the only good cook in Michigan. After that, I’ll tell you about the fun.

Million Word Party — Recap

MilWords_cards_gifts
I wish I had pictures of the singing and ice cream, but I was too busy singing, eating, drinking, mingling, and accepting congratulations to snap pictures.  A couple of days later, I was able to take pictures of the gifts and cards I received, so I’m sharing those.* These mementos were an unexpected perk of giving the party. Featured below are a few closeups of the handmade items.

Tim, knowing of my recent fondness for gnomes (I blame the Writing the Other workshop), made me a congratulatory sculpture, which now lives in my writing area.

TimGnome
Isn’t it fantastic?

In addition to sharing much-needed freezer space, Beth put Al to work. Using his arcane computer knowledge, he was able to offer advice on how to generate the next million words.

AlBeth_Card
I knew the responsible party immediately

Whitey used leather working skills I didn’t even know he had to create this gorgeous journal cover, which he filled with Moleskine soft cover note books. I carry a notebook with me most of the time to note observations and ideas; this will replace what I’ve been using. For all you Doctor Who fans, the cover symbol is in Gallifreyan, the script of the Time Lords. It means create.

WhiteyNtbk
Learn to write Gallifreyan here!

I got other lovely gifts and cards as well. There’s Bird by Bird (by Anne Lamott) and a fabulous multicolored set of disposable fountain pens from Jack and Carol. There’s the wall hanging from Dick and Jill that proclaims “The Book was so much Better”.  There were thoughtful congratulatory cards from Sue and Ed and Kim, too.

Sis gave the gift of a venue. With all the traveling this summer, my house was in no shape to receive guests, so she generously offered hers and it was swell, from the living room that was transformed into singalong space through the kitchen which became the ice cream bar to the backyard patio with fire pit.

Cookie and Cookie Junior brought brownies and beverages and gave me the gift of time to actually attend the party by taking over serving and cleanup work in the kitchen. Joanne brought yummy homemade peanut butter cookies.

We all loved the comic Hindi song Kishin and Rita performed for us and the song-leading and instrumental gifts that Jack, Bill, Al and BK provided.

I haven’t yet mentioned several people who gifted me with their presence and good spirits: Camille, Cheryl, Katherine, Barry, Sabrina, Len, Carole, Pam, Cathy, and Kim. I have to admit, though that the attendees who astonished me the most were Bro and his lovely Bride, who came all the way from Houston without letting their intentions slip in any way.

If I forgot to mention anyone or to connect the right person with the right card/gift, I’m sorry. Please blame it on the overwhelm factor.

For those interested in the ice cream, here are the flavors we made for the party: caramel pecan, chocolate, coconut, lemon-orange gelato, peppermint, pineapple sorbet, strawberry yogurt, triple chocolate, vanilla, and vanilla yogurt.

We also created frozen (and other) drinks that required plenty of ice cream, including root beer floats, coffee or chocolate stout floats, piña coladas and grasshoppers.

A lovely time was had by all, or at least by me! Thanks again to all involved.

*Disclaimer: In no way did we expect the party to be a gift-giving occasion. BK and I were just delighted that people were willing to show up and celebrate.

Chicago History Museum – Even Better Than You Think

Image
Robert Chevalier de La Salle

Bro and I had such a swell time being tourists last November that he dragged Bride to town for a similar excursion this spring. The idea was that the weather shouldn’t be too bad, and in fact might be glorious. Bro and Bride have lived in Houston for over twenty years, and have forgotten their Midwestern roots. Or maybe whatever regulates their body temperatures has forgotten how to deal with the cold. It doesn’t help that all their clothing consists of golf shorts, tropical shirts, and bikinis. My theory is that everyone in Houston dresses that way all the time, because the temperature in Houston never drops much below 80º.

Be that as it may, Bro and Bride got into the area Sunday night. The weather was not glorious. They drove through freezing torrential rains to get to us. The forecast continued cold, with a chance of rain all week. We hadn’t planned anything ahead of time, and it turned out that on Monday, both Bride and Sis had to work. It fell to me to suggest fun indoor activities to occupy Bro on Monday. We both wanted to go see Edward Gorey at the Loyola University Museum of Art, which I thoroughly enjoyed with Cookie about a month ago, but which Bro hadn’t seen. That would have been an excellent plan for a chilly, rainy day, except for one thing. LUMA isn’t open on Mondays. Auggh! Wailing and gnashing of teeth commenced. On to plan B.  I offered Bro a list to peruse, which contained such items as:

  • Target shooting at Glisson Archery
  • The Art Institute
  • The Museum of Science and Industry
  • Chicago History Museum
  • Seeing a movie like Captain America: The Winter Soldier or The Grand Budapest Hotel

That last option was so attractive—or at least the Captain America part of it was—that Bride was willing to knock off work early to accompany us, so that’s what we did. It was a fun movie. I have to take BK to see it.

Why did I share this long, boring list?

Here’s why. On Tuesday, when we hoped to take an architectural tour on the Chicago River, the day started with fog, segued into more damned rain, and then subsided back into fog. Not ideal, especially if you’d like to see the tops of the buildings you’re looking at. We needed a substitute activity, so Bro pulled out my list from Monday.

Cookie and I were planning to meet the others where the tour boat launches,  but when it became clear that it was another day for indoor activities, I called Bro on my trusty smart phone and and said, “So maybe today’s the day to do LUMA.”

It turned out Bride and Sis still weren’t interested.

“How about the Art Institute?” I asked. Cookie is a fellow there and could have gotten us all in. I could almost hear the yawns on the other end. Seriously? I love the Art Institute. Tough crowd. In their defense, they’ve all been to the Art Institute multiple times. Anyway, what Bro, Bride and Sis chose really surprised me. They said they wanted to go to the Chicago History Museum.

Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised. I wanted to go, after all. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be on the list. But I figured I was the only one. When I mentioned it to Cookie, she was all, “Sure, sounds interesting.”

One reason I wasn’t sure people would want to go is that I remember going to that museum a long time ago. It wasn’t called the Chicago History Museum then; it was the Chicago Historical Society. I remember it being squashed-together and poorly lit. There were dioramas. I have a fair tolerance for that kind of thing if I’m interested in the content of a museum, which is why I wanted to go. I’d read about some cool exhibits there—the Jack Delano Railroaders and the Ebony Fashion Fair exhibits, to name only two.

Anyway, that’s where Cookie and I met up with Sis, Bro and Bride. It is no longer squashed together and poorly lit. Once inside the now-spacious interior, we opted for the free tour of one of their main exhibits, Chicago: Crossroads of America. It was quite cool. I wish I could tell you the name of our guide, but I’m hopeless at remembering that kind of detail, especially when I’m not taking notes.

What I do remember is learning that during the 19th century, Chicago was the fastest-growing city in the world. (The town was incorporated in 1833, when the population was about 350. By the time of the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, there were 299,000 inhabitants. After the fire, the city’s reconstruction and growth were incredibly rapid, and the population reached 1.7 million in 1900.)

Another great takeaway was  that Chicago owed its phenomenal growth to the railroads. Chicago was on America’s frontier when it started; by the 1850s, it became the nation’s transportation hub, because of its water connections to the eastern waterways and the Mississippi River, and the 30 rail lines that entered the city.

My new appreciation for the railroads made Jack Delano’s Homefront Photography even more interesting. To quote from the museum’s web site:

In 1942, the Office of War Information issued photographer Jack Delano a new assignment: document “railroads and their place in American life.” During the next several months, Delano captured three thousand images, two-thirds of them in the nation’s rail hub—Chicago.

ChiMuseumCollage_web

 

Another excellent part of our visit was the Ebony Fashion Fair exhibit. Here’s another quote:

The Ebony Fashion Fair began in 1958, and over the next 50 years the traveling fashion show blossomed into an American institution that raised millions for charity and helped Johnson Publishing Company reach audiences.

Show organizers overcame racial prejudice to bring the pinnacle of Europe’s premier fashion to communities that were eager to see, in real time and space, a new vision of black America that was the hallmark of Ebony and Jet magazines. Eunice Johnson took over as producer and director in 1963, and under her direction, the traveling show took on new heights as she expanded her cachet and power within fashion circles.

Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair recreates the experience of the Ebony Fashion Fair through the story of Mrs. Johnson and more than 60 garments from icons of the fashion industry such as Yves St. Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Christian Lacroix, and Patrick Kelly among others.

If you want to see the Ebony exhibit, do it now! It’s only there until Sunday, May 11, 2014.

We spent all day at the Chicago History Museum (the café is just fine, by the way) and barely scratched the surface. We didn’t get by the Abraham Lincoln or historical clothing sections at all. I can’t wait to go back.