Just before Christmas we took a whirlwind ten-day car trip to Chicago, Pittsburgh and Northern Virginia. We loaded gifts for family into the car top carrier and settled the Poodle in the back seat. Oh what joy for Poodle; he was literally bursting with happiness as he hopped into the car. Naturally, he had no idea he was about to spend a good deal of time in the car (nearly  2,000 miles when all was said and done) as well as visit two homes where cats ruled the roost. Consider yourself lucky Poodle, I thought. I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the Pittsburgh portion of the itinerary (just too many unpleasant memories with respect to Pennsylvania…sophomoric, I know).   Ignorance is bliss my four-legged love.

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Downtown Chicago

You might ask why anyone would want to visit Chicago in the winter.  I wondered that myself as I my fingers and toes felt on the verge of frostbite as we walked my daughter’s neighborhood our first morning there. It was cold enough to warrant a coat for The Poodle.  He wore his smart blue coat and it was only a coincidence (I swear!) that it matched my North Face jacket.  In any event, we were in Chicago to support our daughter’s beau who was graduating from the University of Chicago with his PhD in Physics. He had put in years of blood, sweat, and tears to get to this day and we felt blessed to be able to share it with my daughter and her beau, (now Dr. D.) and his family too.  Armed with an impressively well-rounded education (i.e., Dr. D. is so much more than a physics geek) he already has a job lined up. He is going the academia route as opposed to Industry and, as a bonus to the whole equation, now Rocket-man has another person that speaks his language in the family.

Rockefeller Chapel

Rockefeller Chapel

Dr. D. and his proud parents

Dr. D. and his  parents

I have to say the graduation was one of the most beautiful graduations I had ever attended. Classes began on the 215-acre campus of The University of Chicago back in 1892. A year later they had their first graduation ceremony and to date there have been an impressive total of 521 convocations at the university, which was ranked #5 in the nation in 2014.  Even more impressive is the list of prominent alumni such as economist Milton Friedman, film critic Roger Ebert, and authors Saul Bellow and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. just to name a few.  The “Quad” (Quadrangle) section of the campus features a beautifully landscaped expanse of green surrounded by stately Gothic inspired ivy-covered buildings. We all commented that it reminded us of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts school, complete with gargoyles.   I half expected to see old Dumbledore himself on the steps of Rockefeller Chapel where the graduation ceremony took place.

The ceremony itself was simple and elegant…none of the throwing of mortar boards and the like and hardly a shout-out to any graduate accepting his or her diploma. And, to cap off the ceremony, once outside of the chapel, there was a group of bagpipers handsomely attired in their ceremonial kilts playing jaunty tunes.  For some reason I had a devil of a time getting decent photos inside the chapel (so many of them came out blurry which elicited a sotto voce expletive or two from my lips as I tried to capture a shot of Dr. D. receiving his diploma).

Our time spent in Chicago was topped off by a wonderful evening excursion downtown to see Chicago’s largest open air festival, the Chriskindlmarket.  Brrrrrr….it was cold, but oh my, so beautiful!  Downtown was filled with the Christmas hustle and bustle of shoppers everywhere and ridiculous traffic as well but it was the Christmas lights that twinkled everywhere that lifted my heart into the spirit of the season. I hummed Christmas carols as we made our way from the subway to the Daley Plaza where I was instantly transported back to my three years in Stuttgart, Germany. A vision of pushing my baby boy’s stroller through streets and stores bursting with holiday shoppers thirty years ago brought tears to my eyes.   Vendors lined the large plaza selling everything from gluwein to other German  delights such as schnitzel, pretzels, a plethora of sweets from pastries to nuts, and dreamy alcohol-filled chocolates.  I nearly went nuts myself when I came upon the stalls that were selling traditional German nutcrackers.  I was as giddy as a schoolgirl, turning over nutcracker after nutcracker to see that it was “Made in Germany.”  A pretty, young sales woman with bright red hair beneath a colorful winter hat, at first eyed me suspiciously.

“These are actually made in Germany and not China!” I said…. perhaps a little too excitedly, I’ll admit.

“Well of course they are!” said the pretty young woman, breaking into a lovely smile, realizing that I was simply thrilled to see authentic German items at her kiosk.  She had a thick German accent and she seemed to be having a wonderful time showing off her large selection of nutcrackers and traditional wood incense burners. Of course authenticity also spelled expensive. These were not Pier 1 prices!  Rocket-man could see my excitement.  Did I detect acute paleness in his face at some of those prices?  Ah, yes.  We reached a happy medium with something small but precious. Despite a frugal Christmas due to the events of the year, Rocket-man made my heart swell with the purchase of a small, cheery, wooden chap (an incense burner) that I absolutely adore.  I named the new addition to the house “Helmut” with the help of the jovial sales gal.  Helmut will take his place on the bar counter where he’ll stay 365 days of the year.

Helmut

Helmut

 

We filled our bellies with treats we don’t normally eat.  We saw lovely sights.  We spent time, albeit a very short time, with my daughter and we were able to celebrate her beau’s tremendous academic accomplishment.  Check, check and check!  How great is that?!  And our Northern Virginia stay?  As always, it was filled with all things wonderful because of Alexandre-the-Greatest and his parents.  We crammed a lot into just five days: Rocket-man had business meetings and I had a consult with a doctor that specializes in Total Knee Replacements (more on that at another time); we attended a cub scout meeting where 50 some boys, to include Alexandre-the-Greatest, received achievement patches (though it seemed like 1,000  boys with all the ruckus);  we baked Christmas cookies, we ate tremendously well and enjoyed (responsibly) libations, and we met with friends, to include a wonderful dinner (the best calamari that I’ve ever eaten) at Hank’s Oyster Bar in Old Town, Alexandria with my former boss.  The Pittsburgh visit aside, (unfortunately), it was a memorable and treasured ten days and it provided much-needed levity after all that has happened this year.

Cub Scout Alexandre-the-Greatest, in tan pants

Cub Scout Alexandre-the-Greatest, in tan pants

So my “status” as of today?  I’m filled with bliss that this year is ending on an up-swing and I’m filled with hope that peace, love, joy, good health, and a measure of success continues into 2015, not just for me and my family, but for you and yours, and souls around the world.

2015 will absolutely be better….right?