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All posts for the month November, 2016

This was the original first paragraph that I wrote for this post: I have to admit that I’ve only been to the Shedd Aquarium (the full name of which is “John G. Shedd Aquarium”) a few times.  I recall a childhood field trip to the Aquarium, one trip with my parents when I was pretty young, and a trip sometime in the early 1990s.

At this point, I remembered that I had a trip to Chicago scheduled and that Alex and I could actually visit the aquarium and wouldn’t need the explanation that I hadn’t been there in over 20 years. So we did.

One thing that I’ve noticed about Chicago is that retail was a big deal there in a way that it doesn’t seem to have been in other cities. In Pittsburgh, for example, the Carnegie family was a big deal — the Carnegie Museums, Carnegie Mellon University, etc. In Chicago, one of the leading families was the Field family and you see their name on the Field Museum, for example. Marshall Field & Co. also was instrumental in the founding of the Shedd Aquarium.  you see, John G. Shedd was an executive at Marshall Field & Co.

Shedd Aquarium Dome

Shedd Aquarium Dome, 2016

I wasn’t really thrilled by the aquarium when I was younger. For my first visits, I was too short to really see into the tanks comfortably (I loved the reef in the center of the building, though, since the glass goes all the way down to the floor). I loved the architecture, though. There are carvings of sea life, like scallop shells and sea stars, in the details on the building, and the octagonal dome above the reef is gorgeous. The rest of the building is long sort of galleries with an arched ceiling that gives the building a unique feel.

In 1991, they opened the Abbott Oceanarium and then they made another addition in 2003.  Today the Shedd Aquarium is home to 32,000 animals, including dolphins, beluga whales, and sharks. There is also a tank holding sea lampreys, which are a major pest animal in the Great Lakes.

Most of the museum is accessible to wheelchair users. If you give the museum two weeks’ notice they can also get a sign language interpreter for deaf visitors. Also, as I write this, there are plans to add special features for blind visitors.

This finishes off this issue. In other news, now that the summer heat is over (or is it?), I’m back to walking the greenways, which means that I’m back to listening to the issues from the 1800s. And they are just as gripping as always. I’m counting down the issues until 1915, when National Geographic starts to appeal to a more general audience.

Also, as of the day I’m writing this (November 26), I’m finally caught up on my steps (nothing like waiting until the last minute!). I’m actually a bit ahead. I’m done with today’s steps already. And, finally, I’m sticking to the Duolingo thing. I’m averaging 4.7 lessons per day, and I plan to invest this money in the stock market as I save up enough to buy shares of stock (probably a share every nine months or so). This certainly won’t make me rich, but it won’t hurt, either.

Swimming with Tigers, by Glenn Hodges, photographs by Brian Sherry

Swimming with Tigers is the first story in a three-part Summer of Sharks series. Hodges admits that he was afraid of sharks, but that when he was given the assignment to write this article, he decided not just to research tiger sharks, but to actually get in the water and swim with them.

Additionally, Hodges was not an experienced diver. In fact, the tiger shark experience was his first dive ever. We accompany him and watch the tour operators feed the sharks to make sure that they aren’t hungry when the divers get in with them. We also see a frightening moment when an angelfish swam into their group followed by smaller sharks. Then, after the swim, Hodges goes to Hawaii to visit with a scientist who studies tiger sharks.

Juárez Returns to Life, by Sam Quinones, Photographs by Dominic Bracco II

Despite having lived in San Antonio for nearly a quarter of a century, I have only been to Mexico once. When my former in-laws were visiting, they had one day that they hadn’t made plans for. We offered them a choice of a water park or of visiting Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. They opted for Mexico. We went down and ignored the panhandlers (of which there were many) and did a little shopping. What’s funny is that I was the least not-impressed of the four of us and yet my former mother-in-law goes down there regularly now (she is decorating her house with things she’s bought in Mexico).

And I admit that Mexico would definitely be a good place for me to explore for my blog. However, there’s the War on Drugs going on in Mexico right now, and while our War on Drugs has been largely metaphorical, the war in Mexico . . . isn’t. Travel Blogger Wounded in Drug Shootout isn’t really the kind of attention I’d like to garner. And until the State Department’s Travel Warning for northern Mexico becomes a Travel Alert (or even better goes away completely), I think I’m going to stay out of that area. This does not rule out travel farther into the country, by the way, Alex and I visit a volcano in even-numbered years and a trip to Mexico City and Popocatépetl sounds like it might be in the cards for the 2020s.

All is not lost for Norther Mexico, however. In this article, we watch the rebirth of Juárez Mexico, once considered the most dangerous city in Mexico and possibly in the world. There’s a nifty chart showing the spike in killings  in Juárez in 2010, how it increased, and how killings have declined in the years since.

The Art of Solar Energy, by Jamey Stillings

This is another in the ongoing Photographer’s Journal series, in which Stillings shares with us some of the photographs he has taken of the Crescent Dunes Solar Energy Plant in Nevada.

I almost got ahead of myself and said that this was about 2017. This is the worst time of year for me in the pharmacy. We’re pulling medications that expire in early 2017 off of the shelves. So I will be dating everything 2017 until this time in 2017, when I will suddenly decide that it’s 2018.

The one place that Alex always wants to go when we visit Chicago is the Chicago Botanic Garden. I at first worried that I might have to rent a car so that we could drive to Glencoe, but when I started planning I discovered that the Braeside station on the Union Pacific/North Metra line is a straight shot down Lake Cook Road from the garden (note: As always, this is how it worked in 2016. I make no promises that it will stay that way indefinitely.)

So, the morning of our third day in Chicago, Alex and I got up and stopped by another couple of notable buildings, this time the Sears Tower and the Chicago Board of Trade building. We went into the Sears Tower so that Alex could see “The Universe,” the Calder mobile in the lobby (which, at first, he misheard as “Caldermobile,” like Batmobile, but for Alexander Calder, I guess). We went to the Board of Trade building because, well, it’s the Board of Trade building.

After this, we walked to the Ogilvie Transportation Center, where we caught the next train to Glencoe. On the way, we passed the Morton Salt storage facility that has had a wall collapse two times. Google seems to think that the first collapse was in 1989, but I can’t find anything specific about that collapse. The second one (in 2014), however, was big news. You see, in the intervening 15 years, a car dealership moved in next door and they had parking spots right up against that wall. So, yeah. The cars that had been parked there ended up covered in bricks and salt. 11 cars were damaged in the wall collapse. I told Alex this whole story as we went past. The building is hard to miss. It says, “MORTON SALT” on the roof.

When we got to the Braeside station, it was a one-mile walk to the gardens. There is a pedestrian entrance to the garden that is lovely. Much nicer than the parking lot. We stopped in the visitor’s center and stopped in the cafeteria for a snack. Then we hit the garden. They’ve added a few things in the six years since we were last there. I think that the Regenstein Fruit and Vegetable Garden was new. Also I think that there is more to the Dixon Prairie than there was last time. Otherwise, though, it was pretty much the same lovely garden as usual.

There were only two negatives. One was apparently they had just done something — spread manure, maybe? — under the trees, and the smell burned our sinuses. As a result we had to avoid the trees. And then, possibly because we were avoiding the trees, it was hot. Like, really hot. Like, almost Texas hot. As a result, we left an hour or two earlier than we’d originally planned. We got most of the gardens in during the almost three hours we spent in the garden, tough. Then we slogged back through the heat to the Braeside train station.

While we were on the train back to Chicago, I texted a friend that we had planned to meet to let him know that we were going to be a lot earlier than we’d expected to be. We met our friend by the Michigan Avenue bridge (one of my favorite places in the city) and he showed us around his work. Then the three of us headed for Navy Pier, where Alex and I had plans to see the fireworks.

Union Station, Chicago, Illinois

The passageway to the tracks, Union Station, Chicago, Illinois, 2016

We got dinner from the food court at Navy Pier. Alex and our friend got hot dogs, I got the strange combination of an Italian beef sandwich and a Greek salad (They were delicious, by the way). Our friend had to head home soon after dinner, so Alex and I found a seat for watching the fireworks. It turns out we weren’t quite in the perfect spot for the fireworks, so we moved a little closer and I got some pictures of the fireworks. Then, as everyone else on the pier headed home, we walked farther onto the pier.

We walked to the end of the pier and watched the beacon from Chicago Harbor Light for a while. Then I took a picture of Alex on the couch of Bob Hartley, Bob Newhart’s character from the 1970s Bob Newhart Show. I also took a picture of an insomniac seagull that Google photos thought was a picture of the moon. we walked back down the back side of the pier, where there were fewer other people and the lighting was more subdued. I got some lovely pictures of the pier back there, and we continued on to the bus back to our hotel.

We checked with the driver to make sure we were on the right bus, and then we completely missed our stop. We ended up at Union Station, which I had been wanting to visit anyhow. So I took Alex into the station and pointed out the corner where Zod threatens the family in Man of Steel (I find violent scenes in movies to be really boring, so I spent those scenes in Man of Steel trying to identify buildings, because I was pretty sure that they were using Chicago as Metropolis. Once they arrived at Union Station, I was certain that they were using Chicago as Metropolis).

At some point on the walk back to our hotel, S Health let me know that I had set a new step record that day. This really did not surprise me a bit. My previous record had been 12.25 miles on the day we visited the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. This day, my new record was 14.37 miles. It may be a long time before I beat that one.

Peru’s World Apart, by Emma Marris, photographs by Charlie Hamilton James

We return to the Power of Parks series with Manu National Park, a park in Peru that is home to “uncontacted” tribes of indigenous people, including (but not limited to) the Mashco-Piro and the Matsigenka. I put “uncontacted” in quotes because that is how they are generally referred to, but some of the indigenous tribes that had previously been keeping to themselves (and, by policy, outsiders were forbidden to initiate contact with) are starting to reach out to the outside world.

Of course Peru and Brazil are two different countries with different policies, despite their proximity to one another. Brazil’s ban on contacting their indigenous people dates back to the 1980s. Peru’s only goes back to 2006. One of Marris’s guides, Glenn Shepard, has been living with the Matsigenka for “30 years,” so before the limits on contact were put in place.

There is a lot on the history of the area and also on the geography, geology, and natural history of the area. Natural history is, of course, not really history as we think of it. It’s the study of the flora and fauna of a place (we get another of those strange trap camera photos that make the animal look more like taxidermy than like life, this time of an ocelot). And we get some idea of the llifestyle of the Matsigenka. We go along as Marris goes monkey hunting with them, for example.

Plundering the Past, by Tom Mueller, photographs by Robert Clark

Mueller takes us into the world of illegal artifact trafficking. We are introduced to the mummy of Shesep-amun-tayesher (who, for some unknown reason, loses her hyphens after the first time she’s named) and as we watch how her mummy got transported from Egypt to Birmingham, Alabama, we also see how the business of trafficking works with other artifacts as well.

We also see the conflict that museum curators and others who work with these artifacts are trying to deal with. You see, a lot of these artifacts are being trafficked by terrorists and so, by dealing with them, the collectors and the museums and other institutions are probably supplying terrorists with money. However, if ransoming these artifacts weren’t lucrative, there’s a good chance that the terrorists would just destroy them, or that the artifacts would be “collateral damage” of the wars in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question, and there probably never will be, until some farflung future date when the terrorism in the Middle East finally stops.

No, I’m not taking up stripping. There’s no way I’m in shape enough for it. I have to admit that I have nice legs, though.

When I first started blogging, I read a bunch of articles saying that you need a “niche.” If you don’t bring your readers something that no other writer focuses on, you’ll never find an audience or whatever. The examples they gave were budget travel, traveling with children, and so on. Like there aren’t dozens of blogs on those subjects.

Then, sometime this summer, it hit me. Two things I really love, and the reason I cannot see myself living in a rural area, are public art and urban parks. I’m not going to only write about those things, there aren’t enough days in the week for me to visit all of the art and parks in all of the cities to be able to keep up a regular schedule of posting on just those two subjects. But as Alex and I (and, once Alex is grown, just I) travel, I’ll be visiting the parks that I can get to and photographing and exploring the history of the public art that I see as we go. There will probably be a side order of museums along the way as well.

The plan (and I’ve saved nearly all of the money up for both) is to visit Quebec City, Montreal, and Toronto in July 2017 and then Memphis, Nashville, and Cincinnati (possibly Louisville as well, depending on how early we get out of Cincinnati) in August on our way to and from Kentucky for the eclipse. I think I’ve only visited one park in one of those cities, Centre Island Park in Toronto, so that will give me some new areas to explore while I’m on those trips.

Speaking of “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” it was probably about 10:00 p.m. or so when I heard Gypsy coming from the other room (my dad watches Turner Classic Movies a lot). I knew that Alex had never seen most of the classic movies and Gypsy was a particular favorite. So I offered Alex a choice, he could go to bed or stay up with me watching a movie about a stripper. I assured him it wasn’t *that* kind of movie (its TV rating is PG), and he was intrigued enough to check it out and interested enough to stay up until the end.

Phil Hardberger Park is one of the crown jewels, if not the crown jewel, of the San Antonio Parks and Recreation system. The city purchased the family farm of the Voelcker family and have turned the site into a natural and historic landmark. Hardberger Park is 311 acres and has 19th century buildings on the site.

Hardberger Park is unusual in that it is actually two separate parks, to all appearances. The eastern part of the park has an entrance on Blanco Road and seems (to me at least) to be the more heavily visited of the parks. The eastern side has, in addition to the usual walking paths and playground, the picnic pavilion and the larger of the two dog parks. The western half of the park has an entrance on Northwest Military Highway and has, in addition to the usual walking paths and playground, the Phil Hardberger Urban Ecology Center.

The west side also has an art installation, “Golden Age” by Anne Wallace, which uses reflective metal to simulate the appearance of a wildfire on the prairie area behind the Urban Ecology Center. Personally, I think that Wallace miscalculated the height of the grasses in the prairie, her explanation of the work reads, in part, “As Hardberger Park’s restored grassland matures, the gold will appear to hover just above the prairie, using the sun and wind to bounce light off the tops of the grasses,” except that by now, the gold is buried within the grasses for most of the year. I wonder if it’s too late to raise the poles holding the circles up another three to six inches . . .

Geology Trail, Hardberger Park, San Antonio

The Geology Trail, Phil Hardberger Park, San Antonio, Texas

Alex and I have explored the eastern side of the park pretty thoroughly. If you are in San Antonio and are starved for some greenery, there is a lovely corner of the Geology Trail that is really vibrant in the springtime. We have spent more time but done less exploring on the western part of the park, because there are a lot more paths over there. Somehow, since Hardberger is one of the closest parks to my home, we only go there when we’re out of ideas on where to go, and since between the heat and the fact that there just aren’t many people out there, we tend to do just a short walk and then hop across the street to pick up groceries (as I write this, the western entrance is across the street from the Alon Market HEB supermarket; I make no promises that the supermarket will be there whenever you’re reading this).

I mentioned earlier that there are two halves of the park with separate entrances on different streets. The halves of the park are separated by Wurzbach Parkway, a four-lane highway with a 50 mile per hour speed limit. So it’s cross-able, but it can be something of an adventure getting from one side to the other. The plan is to add a bridge joining the two halves. And the bridges that are on the Howard W. Peak Greenway System are very nice, and would serve for the purpose of getting visitors safely across. That’s not the plan, however. The plan is for a $25 million bridge that would be 150 feet wide and have enough native greenery on it that animals wanting to cross from one side to the other will be encouraged to use it rather than risk crossing the road as well. At the moment, it looks like voters will be voting on a bond to raise $15 million of this money in May 2017. Will the bond pass? After the November 2016 elections, who knows? Will the Hardberger Park Conservancy be able to come up with their share of $10 million? I don’t know that either. If I ever do find out, I’ll let you know.

Update: 3:10 p.m. Actually you can no longer cross Wurzbach Parkway. They’ve put up a Jersey barrier. Unfortunately, this is not a barrier made of jersey material (which would be easy to move aside and get through) but is, in fact, a 3.5-foot-high cement wall. As a result, the only way from one side to the other is to drive until when (if?) they build that bridge.

I think I may have to start paying myself to do Duolingo.  It’s kind of disheartening to see the things I’ve completed become uncompleted again, particularly in Spanish. I speak Spanish practically every day at work (today I had to give a woman the cash prices for her medications) so it’s not like I’m losing my abilities in Spanish. I am a bit rusty in my other languages, though, so I need to get back to that.

Additionally, if the bottom drops out of the economy, I’m going to need all of the skills I can get. And working in a foreign language, translating or whatever, is something that I could hang my shingle up and do on my own (unlike working as a paralegal or a pharmacy technician, which require supervision of a lawyer or pharmacist (respectively)) if it came down to it.

And between the progress I’ve made getting undone and the fact that there are so many points between levels up where I am (Level 12 in Italian, Level 12 in Spanish, Level 10 in German, Level 8 in English for Chinese Speakers) I’m thinking maybe $0.10 per Duolingo lesson? It’ll add up over time and persistence, but won’t break me to save up as we go.

If that’s the amount I go with, I’ve saved up $0.20 so far today working on German. Now on to a little English for Chinese Speakers and $0.30.

Note the use of the word “may” there.

I actually finally got the tiniest bit ahead on Saturday, November 12. Then on Sunday, Alex and I went to the southern end of the Riverwalk, which was exciting. I’m trying to decide if I should post my picture of the end of the Riverwalk here or wait until I finish walking the whole thing and do the Mission Reach writeup. I think maybe I’ll leave you in suspense.

Then I went to work for two hours. When I came home, i was still about 2,000 steps short, so Alex and I took the dog for a walk around the neighborhood and then I got the final couple of hundred steps pacing in the house.

So now I am pretty much perfectly caught up. I’ll probably be good through Wednesday, but then I have Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday off, and Alex is with his dad for both this weekend and next weekend. That may leave me up to 24,000 steps behind again.

Let’s hope I can get motivated enough to get some walking done this weekend. Otherwise I’m probably sunk.

We got up early and hit the complimentary breakfast, which was lackluster. The “scrambled eggs” tasted like those cholesterol-free artificial eggs, judging by the overwhelming onion flavor that they had. I’m not a big fan of onions, so that was disappointing.

Then we hit the road. Our first stop was the Harold Washington Library, which I, personally, love. Yeah, I can see the disenchantment with the big verdigris structures on top, but I love the rest of the red granite exterior and the inside is lovely. I also have a sentimental connection to the building. They were putting the finishing touches on it during my time working in the Loop and I walked past the construction site nearly daily. My folks and I also went on one of the official tours when the library officially opened, but I don’t recall ever visiting the winter garden on the top floor. So, Alex and I took the escalators all the way up and then all the way back down again. I have to admit that I slipped my shoes off in the winter garden because they were just the tiniest bit squeaky and the silence up there made the squeakiness really loud.

After we left the Harold Washington Library, we continued eastward on Van Buren and into Grant Park. We passed the statue of Lincoln and then headed for Buckingham Fountain. From there, we went on to the Field Museum of Natural History.

While in the Field Museum, we visited all of my favorite exhibits: Ancient Egypt, the gemstone and jade halls, the taxidermied Lions of Tsavo, and, of course, the dinosaurs. They have modified that section of the museum since the last time I was there, focusing on the eras in which the different animals on display went extinct. They also have the old Charles R. Knight paintings in the same rooms with their respective eras. I love those old paintings, even though they’re a bit out of date by today’s scientific standards. Isn’t it interesting that two of the artists whose work I’ve loved since I was a child — Monet and Knight — both had visual impairments? I have always been extremely nearsighted, so perhaps something about their work feels sort of “homey” or something. We also found that the meteorites, which had been removed from display for decades, if I recall correctly, were back on display. It was lovely seeing them again.

We headed from there to the Adler Planetarium (writeup to follow someday). I hadn’t been to the planetarium in years. Since the last time I was there, they added a whole glassed-in section, and, I think, at least one sublevel. So Alex and I spent quite a bit of time there. We were constrained by time and finances, so we had to pick just one show to see, which ended up being in just a regular auditorium, rather than being in the big dome. I have promised Alex that we’ll do another planetarium sometime soon so that we can get the dome show in.

After that we went to the Shedd Aquarium (which I also have yet to write up). We got the most basic admission, which only lets you in to see the fish and other animals on the main level. But that ended up being enough. I also love the building itself. The attention to detail in the doorways and things makes just walking around the building an enjoyable experience.

I had planned to take Alex to Aurelio’s Pizza* in Homewood. While we were looking up train schedules, I stumbled across the information that there is (or perhaps was, for those of you reading this in the future) an Aurelio’s in the South Loop, almost on the doorstep of the Museum Campus. As it was around 5:00 by then, we sat down for a while before heading off for pizza. I got some pictures of the museums without crowds around them while we enjoyed the early evening.

I had hoped to make it to the park on Northerly Island (which used to be the Meigs Field airport), but, again, it was 5:00 by this time and we were exhausted.

We had our pizza and then headed back towards our hotel. On the way up Michigan Avenue, I happened to notice the Rosenberg Fountain, which may be the oldest piece of public art in Grant Park (I’m not sure if the fountain or the Art Institute lions are older). So I made Alex stop so that I could take pictures. One thing led to another and we ended up walking back north through the park while I took pictures of the art.

Then we hiked back to our hotel and got some rest for what would turn out to be a record-setting day of walking on our third day in Chicago.

*I hardly ever mention the names of businesses in these writeups, but I figured that this would be far more complicated if I tried to talk around the name of the restaurant rather than just naming it outright.