Monday, February 28, 2011

Exploring Chicago

Right now I am sitting in the lobby of the Marriott located on the Magnificent Mile. For a large hotel, in a big city,they sure have slow Internet access. We arrived Sunday afternoon via the subway transit system. It was my first time on that type of public transit, can you believe that? I have been on the MAX in Portland and the Seattle Light-Rail system, but never on an actual subway. We traveled without mishap or any delays changing from subway to bus and finally landing on the Magnificent Mile.

I’ll step back a bit. Heather, Chloe, and I are on a bit of an adventure to the ACUI National Conference. This conference is the big one for Union professionals and is the second one I have ever attended. It’s Heather’s first big professional Union conference, and Chloe is a student who won a scholarship to this event. The fact that she had the scholarship helped us to justify the travel.

We flew out of Spokane, to Seattle and then on to Chicago. The flights were uneventful and during the long flight I was able to watch the movie “Inception“.

We landed at O’Hare and proceeded to the Blue Line, the L as they call it. It cost each of us $4.00 to take the subway, a taxi would have been about $40.00. We had one transfer from the L to a bus that took us directly to the heart of the Magnificent Mile.

We checked into our hotel and then met up with Heather’s Aunt, Uncle and Cousin who took us out to dinner at Gino’s East. We ordered Chicago deep dish sausage pizza. Very disappointing in my view, if this is the best of Chicago man we are in trouble.

We had some time before we had to check into the conference so we put on our walking shoes and headed South to see if we could find the Bean, a famous sculpture in Millennium Park.

As the story goes, the Cloud Gate sculpture was privately-funded piece that cost $23 million and was placed in the center of the park unfinished to meet the celebration of the parks opening. At first everyone hated it. It was nothing but a huge chrome blob and no one could believe that it was purchased with their money. Then they started to visit it. The reflection of the city in the Bean draws you closer and then you see yourself, the people around you and all the smiles it brings. The city began to fall in love with it and now it is one of the ”don’t miss” points of interest in Chicago. We played in the reflection and took pictures.

Continuing on we headed north to find the Lake. We knew it was about five blocks away and could catch a glimpse here and there, but we could not get to it. The freeway blocked our path so we turned east and followed some signs to the Navy Pier. Within about four blocks we were once again blocked, so we backtracked a bit and ended up grabbing a taxi which transported us to the front gate of the Navy Pier.

At the pier we walked out to the end and took pictures of the lake and surrounding panoramas of the city. We explored the interior of the pier facilities and looked through a stained glass museum as we walked. Once through the building and back on the street we were able to make our way back to the hotel. Our first big exploration a huge success.

Conference wise this is a very big one with about 1000 professionals and students in attendance. The first day was programmed with numerous breaks and down times where folks could explore. While most of the folks attending the conference were walking around looking for food, Heather and I grabbed a taxi and went to the Sears Tower to take the elevators up to the 110th floor. The Sears Tower is now known as The Willis Tower, but people in Chicago won't ever use the new name.

If you have never been up in a skyscraper, let alone the skyscraper that lead the tallest building war for so many years, you have to take the time and spend the $17 to get to the observatory and see Chicago like it should be taken in.

We had a blue sky day with a little haze covering the distant landscape. At the observatory level they have added four glass window boxes that allow you to walk outside the original building and look straight down to the street below. It is a real hart stopper to step out onto that see through glass floor. With the four boxes you can step out and take pictures of each other, so of course I had to coax Heather out onto the glass for some shots. We spent about an hour up in the tower and headed back.

To get back to the hotel we chose to take the subway, again for the adventure. We walked down to the Blue Line of the L and road the train to the Loop area, and then changed over to the Green Line and road to the exchange for the Red Line. That sounds easy, but it actually was not. We spent about 45 minutes on the train and platforms and only made it 3 blocks! We could have walked faster! Finally after several trains, some walking and a few very nice folks helping us out, we made it back to the motel.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Is it Sixteen Years?

Another year and yet another Hill's Resort gathering has passed, but the memories and photos will now live on in our blogs, photo galleries and hazy memories. It was another great year with abundant food and lots of laughs. The weather was superior with sunshine each day. We couldn't have asked for a more perfect weekend.

It all started Friday with a clear sky drive up to Priest Lake. Linda and I left early enough to get up to the cabin before folks arrived. We like to get the wood in and a fire started so that the place is warm when the rest of the crowd gathers.

We unpacked the truck and as Linda was putting things away, I filled the wood rack. Raina and Dean arrived just as Linda was starting the fire which signaled the start of laughing and of course drinking.

Bridget and Dennis had been in contact and we knew that they would show up sometime between our arrival and the end of the weekend. They were on Hill time and no one can ever predict their actual appearance time.

The fire was going strong when the phone rang signaling that Bridget and Dennis were either lost or had actually found their way to the resort and couldn't remember which cabin we always stay in. It turned out to be the latter and within minutes they appeared at the door.

With the cabin warm and everyone present we settled in picking up where we left off last year, laughing and teasing each other. Bridget set upon the task of preparing dinner as the rest of the grouped drank margaritas, wine and a couple beers.

The dinner was outrageous! She fixed a Greek salad and some other Greek type main dish that centered around shrimp that we tossed over rice. We ate facossa bread with the meal and when we were all finished she brought out the most gorgeous home made apple pie any of us had ever seen. This pie was beyond belief. Thick light brown crust covering layer upon layer of apples baked so nicely that they still were just a wee bit firm when bitten. Then to top it off they added vanilla ice cream, we were in hog heaven.

After we licked our plates clean, Bridget broke out one of her new games. I am not sure what it was called, but it was based on identifying shapes on cards that, when put together, fulfilled a set of criteria that Bridget had interpreted and written on four, very small and delicately fashioned paper towel pieces. These intricate criteria sheets became the focus of much of our teasing for the rest of our stay during the weekend. It was so Bridget.

We played several rounds of the game and each time a sequence of cards was produced, Bridget would make sure that the three cards met her set of rules, matching each paper rule sheet to the cards every time they were displayed. This went on until everyone was exhausted and we all wandered off to bed.

Saturday morning arrived with blue skies and cold sharp winds. We ate breakfast and then loaded up our snowshoes for a hike around the local golf course. We took two rigs and proceeded to circle the golf course several times looking for a place to park and embark on our trek. Finally we stopped on the side of the street, parked and donned our snowshoes, we walked the exterior of the golf course playing like children as we went. It was a very fun adventure.

We returned home and had a bit of free time before the Gonzaga basketball game. When tip off arrived we loaded into the rigs again and drove the three blocks to the restaurant and bar at the main lodge. The girls smuggled their margaritas and popcorn into the bar where we watched the Bulldogs smother the Dons in an exciting yet one sided game.

Once the game was over we drove the three blocks back to our cabin and settled down to have a great taco dinner provided by Raina and Dean. It was late by this time so we ate and teased Bridget until we were ready for bed.

Morning came quickly and everyone was eager to pack up and get on the road. Raina and Dean headed up to Bonners to visit Raina's family. Linda and I drove back to Post Falls where we unloaded and then reloaded the truck so that Linda could drive down to Moscow to visit her Mom and Dad. Bridget and Dennis were lounging in the cabin when we left, once again on Hill time.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

We Finally Took the Big Step

For the past couple years I have had a dream of getting a fishing boat. A boat that I can go out in and fish for pike and bass, a boat that I can take out on the lake and troll for lake trout and salmon. I looked at various models and contemplated my needs but it seemed that every time we got close to the big purchase, something came up that required that we postpone the event.

Last year Linda took a leave of absence from work and we practiced for our retirement. One income equaled our base pay and then we supplemented each month which gave us a good reading on our retirement. We had to wait.

So now that we are back to our usual situation we felt it was the time to make the dream come true. Fall came and we spotted a boat that I really liked. It fit all the criteria I had for the boat. Linda and I looked at it and actually went to Qdoba to talk it over and make a final decision. We decided that we couldn't finalize the deal until we replaced the roof on the house.

Last weekend we went to the Spokane boat show and looked at what was offered. There wasn't a great selection of fishing boats, very expensive and mostly to big. We returned disappointed. As we drove north of Coeur d'Alene to do some shopping I suggested to Linda that we head out to Tobler's Marina. Tobler's was having a sale, their own boat show.

We arrived and went into the show room. Boats were all over the place. Again, most were too big or too expensive. Our exploration lead us outside to the exact boat we were looking at in the fall.

The boat is a Crestliner Canadian 1650. It was fitted with a 60 hp Merc four stroke. We started the negotiations and began adding the extras that I felt made up my retirement boat. We added a Minn Kota motor for the front. A Merc 7 hp kicker for the back. Full canvas. Two electric downriggers and a fish finder.

Linda and I have always hated negotiations on vehicles, campers and anything you have to dicker on. This started out about the same as other deals. We got all the pricing and were talking about the additions when the manager of the place, Brent, came in to where we sat. Immediately Linda lit up and his smile widened. Turns out that they knew each other from the fitness center they had both attended. After a few minutes of talking, he took our order sheet and walked to his office. He returned and told us he had taken $489 off the price. That was very nice and it made our decision a little easier.

We had to think about the deal so we gave them a deposit to hold the boat and went home. Over the week I visited the boat twice, climbing all over it, talking about the pros and cons. On Saturday we went back out to finalize the deal. I had decided that this was the boat I wanted.

When we arrived, we met with Lois, their financial person. She explained that they reworked the offer and found that they had made a $250 mistake in our favor. We filled out the loan paperwork and then headed into town to wait for it to be accepted by the bank.

About two hours later we got the call that everything was ready, Lois also said that they found another little mistake. We met in the office and she explained they had made a $400 mistake on the rebate. So at this point we were $460 better then when we first walked in. It made us feel a bit better about the deal.

Lois went over all the paper work and showed us the work order for the shop. Linda stopped her and had a question. On this paperwork and the final sales papers, there was no mention of the Minn Kota. We showed her the paperwork that stated our first offer and it clearly showed the Minn Kota. So, she wrote it in without changing the bottom line. A free Minn Kota!

This made us feel a lot better about the price of the boat Of course I looked up the retail price on the web when we got home. Retail price for that motor was $689. Our deal now sat at $1300. We were feeling a lot better about our deal. All the dealings, mistakes and successes really was stressful. By the end of the day we were beat. It was all worth it in the end. I pick up my boat in a few weeks and then you will have to read about all my fishing trips. You might be the losers in this deal.