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Family Reunion Plus

August 1, 2005

Today would be a reasonable time for me to do a goal check-in, but I’m not going to. I’ve decided quarterly is often enough; I know what I need and want to do and writing yet again about how I haven’t done nearly enough doesn’t really seem like it will help me accomplish more. I’ve been in a slump and finding it hard to muster much enthusiasm for things I like to do, like quilting, much less things I don’t, like dieting, and I sure can’t get motivated to document the slump in detail. Besides, I have other more fun stuff to talk about today, because I just got back from a mini-vacation to Chicagoland (broadly defined to include part of Wisconsin).

Said mini-vacation started Thursday, when I lolled around in my bathrobe most of the morning. Well, I didn’t loll, exactly; I finished packing and printed a few more pages of information for the trip and answered a couple work e-mails in my bathrobe. Then I got dressed and ran out to the bank and the store so I’d have plenty of money and contact solution to see me through the weekend. Mr. Karen, who’d gone into work for the morning, arrived back home around 1:00 and we were on the road by 1:30. By 2:30, I had spilled lunch on my shirt–I guess I shouldn’t have tempted the universe by bringing only one top for each day of the trip. But fortunately the stain on my tee turned out to be the only bad thing that happened all day. We encountered construction, of course, but experienced no construction delays the whole way to Chicago. Amazing.

I’d found a good price at the Hilton across from Grant Park but didn’t quite believe it was for real until we checked in and went up to the room and found it was exactly what I’d hoped for–a nonsmoking space with a king bed and a lakeview. I loved, loved, loved the view; we could see all the way from Soldier Field to Navy Pier and had a great vantage point for Buckingham Fountain, too. Despite the sign warning me that mosquitoes might invade the room if I opened the window (“well, duh” was my reaction to that, being an Illinois native), I raised it all four inches it would go and took in the city sounds while I enjoyed the sights.

Soon I had to leave the window, though, because we had tickets to the taping of Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me (the NPR news quiz, not to be confused with Whad’ya Know?, a different public radio show which I saw taped last summer and which has a quiz element but lacks Carl Kassel). On the walk over, we got take-out sushi and a smoothie with mini-tapioca pearls, which we ate in a garden next to the Art Institute. Life was good. The taping was hilarious–Mr. Karen doesn’t even listen to the show and he enjoyed it a lot. I have Diane to thank–it was her post a couple weeks ago about seeing a taping that caused me to say “hmm, I like the show and I’ll be in Chicago on a Thursday night” and go buy tickets. Because I haven’t been keeping up with all the websites I usually read (see “slump” in the first paragraph), I was clueless about why one of the panelists, Richard Roeper, was being teased about billboards and the people next to me had been discussing whether to shout out “hey, chunky” when he was introduced (they decided not to); he seemed very embarrassed and didn’t want to talk about it, and now that I’ve looked up the column he wrote that sparked the talk, I can see why. He should be embarrassed.

Friday morning we walked over to the Field Museum. Neither of us had been since Sue the T. rex went on exhibit, so that was our first stop–not that we had to go out of our way or anything, since the display was right behind the desk where we paid for our admission. After examining Sue from many angles, we toured some of the other exhibits and then had a late lunch at the cafeteria before heading out. I had to stop and pose on the stairs where I camped out with my mom and my brother one night lo so many years ago to get tickets for the King Tut exhibit. (That night is one of my favorite childhood memories–I can recall much more about the camping out than I can about the exhibit we saw the next day.)

We didn’t head out soon enough to beat the Friday afternoon traffic out of the city–though from talking to people who live there now, the only way to do that might have been to leave in the middle of the night on Thursday. It took us a couple hours to go the 40 or so miles to our motel in Waukegan where we’d be staying the next two nights. Because we hadn’t firmed up our plans for this trip until just recently, I had a hard time finding a place to stay for a reasonable price in the area we wanted to be in; sleeping in this Days Inn was the price we had to pay for procrastinating. It had abysmal freeway access, the nonsmoking room we’d reserved was not available, and the desk clerk seemed unable to understand that I’d paid for the room when I made the reservation online, even though the form she handed me to sign had the words “charge guest only for incidentals” highlighted in blue. Ah well, at least we weren’t going to be spending much time in the room, since all it had a view of was the parking lot and the credit union next door.

After checking in, we got back in the car to drive to the Washington County Fair in West Bend, Wisconsin. The billboard for it that we saw on the drive touted “133 acres of fun”; when we got off the highway and saw all the cars streaming in to the fairgrounds, Mr. Karen wondered how many of those acres were devoted to parking. We had just enough time to take a quick tour of some of the arts and crafts in the main building, some chickens and rabbits in the small animal barn (unfortunately, the cavies were on Thursday, so we missed them), and one aisle of cows in the dairy barn before finding a seat on the grass with a view the main stage to see Kansas perform. I hadn’t expected quite so many people to be there; I think this was as far away as I’d ever been from the stage in all the times I’ve seen Kansas over the years since I’ve know Mr. Karen. (At $9 per person, it was also one of the cheapest times, and if we’d gotten to the fair before 4 p.m., it would have only been $6 per.) After the show ended, we saw more animals but not the llamas, who apparently didn’t stay up that late. We did not spring for the 50 cents a piece to see the giant pig, so I’ll just have to imagine what that would have been like. Probably a lot like a regular pig, but bigger, I expect.

Saturday was the main event, the whole reason for the trip in the first place, the family reunion, now in its um, almost 20th year, I guess it is. (If I were at home I could look it up, but it’s no more than 20 years because I was at the first one and I’ve only been in the family since 1986). Mr. Karen usually makes a big fruit salad as our contribution and this year he kept up that tradition, capping the strawberries in the hotel sink with the grapefruit spoon we’d brought from home. Next time, we’ll also have to bring plastic wrap from home, as I was nervous the whole way there that I’d take a turn too fast and fruit would slide right out of the bowl, but we made it to house of the cousins who hosted this time without incident. Unlike last year, there was no cornholing, but there was croquet. In order to burn off even a fraction of the calories I consumed, I really should have been running laps around the forest preserve across the street between every serving instead of ambling around the backyard tapping a ball every few minutes, but that wouldn’t be as much fun.

Sunday we left the Days Inn and the same clerk who’d checked me in wanted me to pay for the room even though as we’d already established (I thought) I’d paid before I even arrived. Fortunately, there was another clerk there, too, and she was familiar with the whole prepaid online reservations concept and managed to talk the first clerk into voiding the transaction on my card so I only ended up paying for the two nights I actually stayed and not four. I’m still going to keep an eye on my statement online for a few days, though, just to make sure. Last stop for the weekend was Chinatown in Chicago for dim sum with a subset of the reunion attendees (everyone was invited but not everyone could make it), where somehow we managed to eat quite a lot even though you’d think we’d still be full from the day before.

Now I have made it home through the traffic jams (one big one in Illinois and another in Michigan that we bailed out of right at the start and took a detour through the countryside instead, both in construction zones) and am back to work and already looking forward to my next vacation in the fall. Guess I’d better buckle down now so I can keep my job so I can afford that next vacation.

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