I keep my blog as a personal record of what I'm up to, which might be seen as working towards "An elegant sufficiency, content, retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books, ease and alternate labour, useful life"

I'm certainly not there yet.  There is quite some way to go!














A friend has emailed to say that she is having trouble with the photographs loading on my blog.  She is using Firefox on a PC and I am wondering if anyone else is experiencing similar issues.  If you are, would you please drop me an email or leave a comment below and I’ll see what I can do.

Thank you x


Are we having fun yet?


We started the day just as we always start a day here




with breakfast at Tempo.




The corned beef hash person was happy.




And since Mary the waffle-eater wasn’t here yet, I did my best and sampled a banana-nut waffle on her behalf, just to make sure it was good enough for her.  I think it might meet with her approval.




Suitably stuffed, we made our way onto Michigan Avenue.  Our main target for the day was the Murakami exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Institute and with the weather forecast to turn showery later, we aimed to be there sometime in the afternoon.  Before then, we decided to mooch along the Miracle Mile, pop in and out of shops as we pleased and generally enjoy being in one of our favourite places.




We popped into the shops at Water Tower Place, where the fountain which sits between the up and the down escalators amused us just as much this morning as it has done all the time we’ve been coming here.  Those water hollow shapes look like glasses, don’t they?  So clever.




In the shops, I found nothing special and didn’t really think the topless look was what I was seeking.  The reasonably priced stock in Chico’s was disappointing, with a preponderance of synthetic fibres and designs best described as nunty whereas the elegant Eileen Fisher clothes were way out of my price range today.  Never mind, we’ll hold out for some discounts in the next three weeks, eh?




There in the shopping centre was a cute Lego figure, life sized, characterising the Windy City.




But outside, the sun was shining, the temperature was rising and we were enjoying the walk.




A little further along the Magnificent Mile, I found my way into Sephora and whilst my Hero went off to explore something more interesting than make up, I spent half an hour discussing chemical peels with Brianna, who kindly shared a few samples of the $88 product whilst recommending (and selling me) the $27 one Winking smile




Further along Michigan Avenue, by the Du Sable Bridge, we came across these two large figures: Abraham Lincoln and a another more modern chap.  We recognised Abe Lincoln, of course, but didn’t know anything more until we came back and googled.




Here, by the river, it was a few degrees cooler, with a pleasant breeze blowing from the lake.  The Architecture Tour boats were doing a brisk business, but we were feeling thirsty and spotted a sign in the window opposite.




Ghirardellis ice cream parlour and chocolate shop would do just fine!




So sitting looking out of the window overlooking the bridge, we spent a good half hour with our rootbeer float and chocolate malt shake, watching the world go by before heading back out into the afternoon heat with the intention of making our way to the art gallery.




But along the way, there was a known distraction.  We knew of a Microsoft store along here and it was no accident that we “just happened” to stop by and find the new Surface Studio, launching in the next couple of days but here for us to try and play with.

Oh. My. Goodness.  We want one.  (Each) ! 




Dragging ourselves away, we eventually made it to our main target – the Museum of Contemporary Art.




The exhibition we wanted to see had only just opened and since Illinois residents get free entrance on a Tuesday, it was pretty busy.  Never mind, there was still room for the two of us!




We’d decided to absorb ourselves in this single exhibit and not try to see everything.  So, with the whole afternoon stretching ahead of us, we settled down to watch the introductory video.  The artist explained his work and how it had developed, influenced by traditional Japanese themes.  Though some of this was familiar, we hadn’t grasped the fact that there is no division between “high” and “low” art in Japan; that a piece of Manga comic book art is valued as much as a Hokusai print.  Well, perhaps that’s pushing it a little far, but generally speaking, there’s a lack of snobbishness regarding “commercial” work and Murakami was not embarrassed to describe his own work as populist and very commerical.




During the film, we were introduced to a character he had designed early in his career, called Dob.  Some way between Mickey Mouse and Sonic the Hedgehog, iterations of Dob popped up in many of the works throughout the exhibition.  At different stages of Murakami’s career, a variety of events had caused him to reassess his priorities and one definite theme early on was the atom bomb.




So one of the first, large pieces was this very striking canvas with the remains of a firework alongside, displayed on the pink plinth.




Around the corner was another video presentation though, with explanations of how these huge pieces were created.  The artist himself creates the original design, which is then transferred to the full sized panels using silk screens and layers of paint, applied by a team of artisan workers in the vast studio.




There were examples of works at every stage here, from the pencil sketches to the imagined colour designs, silk screen panels and finally, the full size finished segments.  I found this really interesting and could have spent longer just working out how this all comes together.




The end results were so precise, so carefully executed, it was hard to identify the artist’s hand at all, beyond the initial concept and drawing.  Meticulous detail on an enormous scale.




And cute.  A good deal of cute – because it’s Japanese, after all. (Even if the mushroom cloud is still there in the imagery)




The concept of superflat was explained and applied to this piece in particular.




But we’d already been drawn into the next room, where a whole wall full of daisies was smiling at us.  This was Murakami at his most commercial with a small, repeatable – and marketable – design, almost a logo, created specially to repeat and to sell.




Fascinating.  And yes, meticulous.




The next piece to catch my eye was entitled “Graduation”.  I rather liked the fun image of a small character being shot out of a machine of some sort, out into the world.




The small character had been acquired by/identified with Kanye West and the works which stood alongside were both created for the star, including this album cover




My Hero was already in the next room though!




These are enormous works, too large for me to capture in one photograph and the detail is incredible.




In this series of paintings, a recurring character is that of the arhat, an elderly Buddhist figure who wanders through the countryside.  Murakami included these figures in several works, varying the scale and the interpretation.




These are screen printed in layers, much the same as his earlier works, and the high gloss finish was difficult to capture.  Layer upon layer of paint was evident but the surface was incredibly smooth and shiny.  Polished, even.




Here were the arhats, huge larger-than-life figures and tiny little chaps right down there at the bottom of the canvas too.  All screen printed with a variety of interesting visual texture in there.




Some of the printing revealed the bare canvas in places – here as part of the polka dot background.  The matt surface was quite a contrast to the high gloss finish of the tree in this corner of the work.




These were huge canvases too.




Last but not least was a piece of work created by Murakami epecially for this exhibition, entitled “The Octopus eats his own leg”, based on a Japanese saying.




Here again was a blend of traditional and contemporary themes, referencing classic Japanese prints in a highly original way.




It filled all four walls of the last gallery of this area and could easily have kept us looking and noticing small features for several hours.  We loved it.




Feeling somewhat overwhelmed by what we’d seen, we followed the crowd to the Museum store, where Murakami merchandise was selling so fast, there was no time to take it out of the boxes.  Everything was limited to 5 of a single item per customer, including these $40 T shirts which will surely turn up on eBay soon.

What an afternoon!  How glad we were to have seen this and to have learned so much about the artist and his work.  So shell-shocked were we though, we didn’t want to overlay what we’d seen with any other art right now.  It was time to return to the Sofitel.




It’s actually down a leafy street nearby and yes, our feet were glad it wasn’t so far away!




This evening, we ate dinner at Eataly, another long time favourite.




The weather forecast was warning of an incoming storm, so we took our brollies with us and kept our fingers crossed.




Thankfully, we got there and back in the dry. 




The pleasing scent of Essence de Sofitel greeted us upon our return.  We recognise the aroma from Sofitels worldwide, but this is the only one to have a display and explanation of the concept.  Fascinating!

Another grand day in the city then.  Tomorrow, we look forward to Mary’s arrival and the real fun can begin!


On our way


Our road trip proper won’t begin until the whole gang is here on Wednesday, when Mary arrives.  Till then, my Hero and I are just limbering up, getting into the (time) zone and looking forward to the main event!


Fullscreen capture 13062017 031310


We got off to a flying start last night, when we met Edward for dinner at Launceston Place, where the Gin and Tonics were spectacular.  Sadly, Amy was feeling poorly and decided an early night was the sensible option, bearing in mind that it wasn’t long till Monday morning.  Such a shame she couldn’t enjoy the fun and contribute to the conversation in these politically turbulent times!




As usual, we were spending the night at the Sofitel at Terminal 5, dropping off our car in what always seems to be the windiest spot in the land.  Perched on top of a hill with wide open space all around, I guess it’s ideal for an airport, but for those who work here, it’s always exceptionally breezy.




The travelling companions found the whole experience exhausting!




Fortunately, it wasn’t too early a start and though our flight was a little late as a result of a strong head wind, it was trouble free and comfortable.  We also had the added advantage of our new Global Entry status, so breezed through immigration in no time at all, collected our bags and were on the shuttle to the rental car lot within an hour of landing.




Whilst I sat with the bags, my hero negotiated the challenge of the Avis office, where a new software system was causing a few problems.




“Our” vehicle was waiting for us in space L33, which was fine – except someone else was sitting in it when we got there!  Since we both had the registration document showing the same vehicle, I stood with the luggage a little longer, whilst the Avis staff managed a new challenge - one vehicle, two contracts.




The answer was across the way.  Our Dodge Grand Caravan was in J22 it seemed, so we left the red car with the other driver and familiarised ourselves with the identical grey vehicle in the next row.  Whilst my hero made the necessary adjustments and fitted our own great satnav, I walked around taking photographs of a few small dings and, most important of all, the numberplate Winking smile




Soon we were in downtown Chicago and already spotting things we’d like to see/do.




Our hotel of choice in Chicago is the Sofitel as well.  This will be our fifth time here and for these couple of days “warm up”, we’d booked a standard room; good enough for the two of us.




A little surprise then, on opening the door fully to find ourselves upgraded to a rather large suite – how nice to find our loyalty recognised!




Someone was very excited indeed.




Chicago and the mid-west generally is enjoying a bit of a heatwave right now, so we lost no time in getting ourselves together and out there in the fresh air.

It’s so good to be back!




Dinner was  bit of a no brainer – it had to be a Giordano’s pizza.




Since we were last here a couple of years ago though, they’ve expanded/remodeled and the place is bigger and better.  We sat straight down – no waiting – with a pitcher of beer and ordered our pizza.




We needed no reminder of how filling these pizzas are and knew we’d struggle to finish even the smallest on offer.  Forty minutes later, the freshly made “small” pizza arrived and the challenge began.





More of a pie than a pizza, there must be at least a pound of mozzarella in there, not to mention all the rest.  We reminisced as we worked our way through it too, for our first encounter with such a pizza was in Florida, with two small boys (Edward and his friend Seb) and my parents on one of our fun birthday jollies.  There was (still is?  I don’t know) a Giordano’s near the house we rented and it was a favourite supper location, involving pizza eating challenges and boys with seemingly hollow legs Winking smile




No such appetites here sadly and we admitted defeat leaving a pile of crusts behind!  It was definitely rather more of a stagger back to the hotel then, at the end of what’s been quite a long day.

I think we will sleep well tonight, for sure.


A creature of habit


I think that applies to us all to some degree, but this morning I am acutely aware that I don’t need to look too far to find a prime example.

I’ve got my hand up.




When we returned from our last adventure, I cleared out my art kit box, recognising that I am all too good at putting something extra in whilst never taking anything out.  Not only was it becoming too stuffed to close, it has pretty heavy too.  So I emptied it, thinking I’d just begin again before the next trip.


I just went to gather the things for our road trip and had forgotten I’d done that!  It wasn’t so difficult to assemble the basics though and of course, I knew exactly where to find a record of a previous kit too.  My pink box was soon packed and ready.




But in looking for the right colour ink pad, I opened the drawer with a few leftovers from previous projects.  Maybe there’s something in there I might use?




Feeling virtuous at “using what I have”, I soon filled a small zip bag with stickers and the like. (Hang on, why am I including a “Caribbean” sticker?)




And then there was the question of colour.  Shall I take a small box of watercolours or my bag of Neocolour crayons?  Or the new set of wax aquarelle crayons bought in Prague?




Or shall I do as I did last time and take a handful of Inktense coloured pencils?  Lighter, cleaner and more compact, they’re the obvious choice.  In fact, I don’t know why I even considered the others.  I always take my Inktense pencils with me!




So there we are then.

What do you mean, what clothes am I taking?




with a few thousand friends!




thankfully, not all on the same coach as me!




I came well prepared and my hero’s socks grew a few inches along the way.




The fun of being in Liverpool is that there is such a strong sense of place that I never forget where I am, even if some of it – Penny Lane, above – doesn’t look quite how I think it should!




But reminders are never far away anyway.




I was staying down by the waterfront, meeting friends for dinner at London Carriage Works, which was a great choice!




My travelling companion Ellen and I were ready to go the next morning, with all papers in order.




My goodness, though, it was windy!  Somehow, though, we stayed dry and didn’t blow away on the short walk over to the arena.




We had great seats and Jerusalem was as moving as it always is, when thousands of women sing.  You’ve just got to be there to share the experience – there is nothing quite like it.




The day was filled with interesting speakers, including Josephine Fairley, of Green and Blacks chocolate, above.




Susie Dent, the lexicographer and etymologist spoke in the afternoon, raising a few smiles with her amusing malaphors (it’s not rocket surgery) and eggcorns, producing a spectacular example of jargon that I’m sure is pretty commonplace in the kinds of places I work from time to time:




(she told us it described a go-karting activity)

But as always, the real stars were the members.  I was going to include the adjective “ordinary”, but really, there is no such thing as an ordinary WI member.  Every one of us brings her own set of unique skills and experience with her and rising to the challenge is all part of the fun.  I know from experience how much confidence it takes to speak to an audience of several thousand people and I always admire those who do.




As usual, there were two resolutions to discuss and both prompted some interesting contributions from the floor.  The first focused on working to alleviate loneliness and I enjoyed hearing both the proposer and seconder’s address, for they spoke with the familiar East Riding accent, pronouncing “lernliness” exactly as I’d say it myself!  They put forward their points well, the audience responded with supportive discussion and the resolution was carried. 




The afternoon resolution on Microfibres in our oceans proposed by a member from Buckinghamshire provoked a particularly enthusiastic responses though, mainly as a result of Natalie Welden’s passionate address about this subject of huge concern.  Not only was this something which was dear to many hearts, it was something on which every one of us could take action and for once, the WI was ahead of the game.  Here was a campaign everyone felt they could get behind 100% and when another “ordinary” WI member stepped up to make a comment, describing herself as an oceanographer, later revealing her international standing and wide experience, it was clear, we had the benefit of first class opinion.  No surprise then, that the resolution was carried with more than 90% support.  Watch out then, for mentions of “plastic soup” and microfibres in the coming weeks.

Extraordinary women making a difference!




As the meeting was drawing to a close and we began looking out that helpful phonetic translation of the Welsh National Anthem, ready to attempt to join in the traditional finale to our meetings, the Retros came on stage and the party began.  The Hippy Hippy Shake and All you need is Love hit the spot – what a great way to end a fantastic day in Liverpool and to warm the vocal chords up for the grand finale of Jerusalem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau and last of all, the National Anthem.

The conversation on the coach home was rather different from yesterday.  After a day of such thought-provoking discussion we had plenty to think – and talk Winking smile – about.  It’s such a privilege to spend a day in the company of so many inspiring women and I’m already looking forward to seeing them all again in Cardiff next year!