Thursday, August 27, 2015

Children's Week in Chicago

Our grandchildren were coming to visit and we had several places we wanted to take them. We have four grandchildren between the ages of four and nine. It’s difficult to find places that appeal to all of them but we usually come up with several ideas.

On this visit, we planned to go to the Lincoln Park Zoo – an old favorite. It’s one of the few big city zoos that is still free of charge. It has a wonderful primate house and a lot of other great exhibits. We also wanted to go to Maggie Daley Park – which has recently opened downtown. Having heard great things about it, we were anxious to see it ourselves.

This time, for a change, the kids’ visit was blessed with great beach weather. What kid doesn’t like going to the beach? Since they were happy to go to there every day, we didn’t make it to some of the places we planned. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of other opportunities. Most people don’t think of Chicago as a place for a beach vacation but all the beaches in Chicago along Lake Michigan are free. Lake Michigan is so vast that I can almost forget that I’m not at the ocean when I’m there. Many of the suburbs along the Lake also have beaches many of them with smooth sand and the Lake temperature had actually warmed up enough to swim in.

Touhy Beach

Two of the places that we did get to are ones I really like because of the community involvement in creating them. A favorite that all the kids requested is Indian Boundary Park in the Rogers Park neighborhood. It has a wonderful playground area that was built by neighborhood volunteers. The kids had a great time in it playing hide-and-seek.

Indian Boundary Park
Playground at Indian Boundary Park
The area that used to be a mini-zoo is now a garden and conservation area. It’s a beautiful park and certainly worth a visit.

The beach at Touhy Avenue has an annual event and fundraiser in which individuals and community groups donate money to paint a section of a large concrete bench that is located just beyond the beach. During a weekend at the beginning of the summer, everyone involved gathers to paint their sections. It sounds like a wonderful community weekend. My youngest granddaughter went with me to see the benches. I asked her which one she liked the best and she picked the one with the balloons. She also liked the one with the butterfly.

the painted benches at the Touhy Beach

Next time they come we’ll have other exciting things for them to do. Chicago always has ample opportunities.


Thursday, August 20, 2015

Upward Social Mobility and the British

You don’t always have to travel long distances to meet someone from another country. When I was growing up, throughout junior high, high school, and even college, I had an English pen pal named Irene. I would receive lengthy letters from her each week and reply with a lengthy letter of my own. We often felt as though we knew each other better than we knew many of our other friends as a result of all those letters.

I was reminded of Irene this past week when we went to see the play After Miss Julie.  Performed by the Straw Dog Theatre Company at 3829 N. Broadway in Chicago, it was written by Patrick Marber and directed by Elly Green. The story takes place in 1945 on the estate of a wealthy landowner on the election night of the Labour Government that initiated the British National Health System.

What was remarkable about the relationships among the characters in After Miss Julie was the complete social separation and subsequent differences between the upper class people living on the estate and their peers and the working class people that worked for them virtually as serfs. Successive generations of servants had grown up on the estate and never known or dreamed of any other status in life.

I won’t give away the plot of this play because I hope that Chicagoans reading this post will go see it. Even in the previews, it was seamlessly performed. Anita Deely, John Henry Roberts, and Maggie Scrantom did fine jobs as the actors in this three- person play. It will be playing at the Straw Dog Theatre through September 26th and I definitely recommend it.

By the mid 1960’s when I was corresponding with Irene, it seemed to me that the social mobility situation in England hadn’t improved very much from how it had been in the 1940’s. I was shocked when at the age of 15 or 16, Irene failed a test that determined whether or not she would be allowed to continue high school. After two years of high school, she was required to drop out. She got a job as a clerk at Woolworth’s and for her, that was that.

I was pleased when I met British people on our last trip to hear that that exam is no longer given in the English public (what they call private) schools. Hopefully, the opportunities for social mobility for working class people have improved dramatically. I haven’t corresponded with Irene in decades and have often wondered what happened to her. Did she actually work as a clerk at Woolworth’s forever? Did she ever think about doing anything else?

Seeing After Miss Julie inspired me. I don’t know how to find Irene. Not knowing her married name, I wrote a letter to her at the last address I had for her. If I don’t hear from her, I have a few other places that I can try. I probably have a 5% chance that I’ll find her. If I do, I’ll ask her what she thinks about After Miss Julie.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

How to Maximize Your Frequent Flyer Miles and Travel Around the World

Traveling is great. It's even greater when you can fly to your destination for free. When we first started traveling outside of the United States, we had miles saved from my husband’s travels from work. Those got used up a long time ago, but we’re still traveling. We’ve become so adept at using our miles that people ask us for tips.

Here are a few:

   1. Book your flight as early as possible.
In Rotorua, New Zealand, a Maori village
The airlines only reserve a few seats on each plane for use by frequent flyer mile users. Our experience is that most airlines let you book eleven months before the planned trip. Whatever the earliest time is for your particular airline that’s when you need to book your trip. You’re not sure that you’ll be able to go then? Buy travel insurance, but make the reservation ASAP.

  1. Be flexible.
You want to travel on Tuesday but you can only get a flight on Wednesday? Take the flight      anyway. You don’t want to make stops? Well, the airlines are making it increasingly difficult for the occasional tourist to use the miles so sometimes that’s as good as it gets. When we went to Ireland, all the frequent flyer seats were booked for all flights within a week of our target date. We booked tickets for London instead and then bought Aer Lingus flights from London to Dublin for $24 apiece. We still got there. When we wanted to fly to New Zealand, we flew to Australia and changed planes. On our flight to South America, we found that if we came home on March 1 instead of February 28th, we would each need 30,000 fewer miles. We came home on March 1st.
Valparaiso, Chile

   3.   Change Credit Cards when companies offer deals.

        Many credit card companies offer bonus frequent flyer miles for signing up with them. Check         the terms of the credit card. Sometimes it pays to get one if they’re offering enough bonus             miles. “Oh the places you’ll go,” wrote Dr. Seuss.

 Happy traveling everyone!
folk music group in Guatemala