Here are a few photos from my trip to Atlanta, GA in April 2010.
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The Toronto Needle as seen from Centre Island.
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On our last full day in Toronto, we decided to venture to Centre Island for a day of fun. 

We arrived around 10 a.m. to the ferry and climbed up to the top portion so we could feel the wind in our face.  We stood at the front of the ferry, taking in the water and the island that was drawing closer.  The clouds were ominous, darkening with every passing moment, but we continued on.  Once docked, we walked quickly to Centreville Amusement Park, which is a small ride-heavy park with an adorable "Coney Island" feel to it.  Almost all the rides were appropriate for children, and Little Guy rode all but four:  the ferris wheel (too high),  the bumper cars (not tall enough), the water bumper boats (not tall enough), and the log flume (but he watched me ride).  LG was very brave, as he normally - how do I put this delicately - spazzes out at the mere mention of some of the rides.  To our surprise, he hopped onto several of the more thrilling rides, such as a cute child's coaster and an indoor "Scrambler" where the cars move back and forth and fling you from one wall to the next.  He was brave, but determined that those rides were definitely not for him.  We rode with him on the carousel, the spinning teacups, the spinning monkey barrels (ugg, Joel and I don't do well on spinning rides), the haunted house, and several other rides.  There were several LG-sized car rides that he did as well.  As we were taking a ride on the Jalopies, the clouds decided to let loose and pour.  Pour!  We stood for a moment under the awning, deciding what to do next.  I noticed an ice cream parlor across the way, so we quickly ran into the parlor and ordered some delicious ice cream.  I hadn't eaten ice cream for what felt like months (which may not be inaccurate) so I savored every lick of my chocolate chip cookie dough cone.  After riding the Jalopies a few more times, the rain had somewhat died off and we moved on to the next few rides.  After about fifteen minutes, the rain had broken and the sun was shining through the clouds.  We finished up all the rides, and stopped for lunch at a restaurant inside the amusement park.

Then, we walked down to the other side of the island and rented a quadricycle:  a three-seated, four-wheeled bike!  It had a little canvas top over it, so we were shielded from the sun for the most part.  We rode the bike for about an hour and fifteen minutes, and then turned it back in and walked around some more and visited the beach.

The bike, though, was by far my favorite part of the experience because it was just so cute and classic.  I'll share a video of us riding it.  Little Guy is most helpfully talking...the entire time...and "helping" us ride the bike.  For whatever reason he is making baby cooing noises at the beginning of the video.  I didn't notice it until I was home and watched the video and realized...dude...you sound like a baby!

I love our little family.  :)
Here's me rockin' the log flume (by myself - LG was too chicken to go):
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Joel hanging out on the beach...
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Here's a view of downtown Toronto from Centerville Island.  The day we traveled there was our last day in Toronto, and what a perfect day it was.  The kind of perfect that you want to cherish forever and ever.  I know I will.
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A very quick synopsis of our Toronto activities:

Day 1 in Toronto:  Selecting a Thai restaurant from Chinatown that wasn't breaking health code, and rescuing Little Guy from a near drown.

Day 2 in Toronto:  Riding almost all the coasters at Wonderland Canada, including Canada's tallest (the Behemoth, hoo baby!), and then eating great Greek food for dinner.

Day 3 in Toronto:  Doing what I came here to do (presentation at national conference), meeting up with my co-author from my masters cohort and his roommate for lunch, visiting the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) where we were able to see them setting up for a special event (looked like a gorgeous wedding) where I wanted to stay and eat their food and take pictures, then back to downtown for dinner with the guys at Pier 4, a fantastic seafood restaurant.

Day 4 in Toronto:  Taking the ferry to Centre Island and spending the day.  First, buying an all-day pass for the kid-oriented amusement park, riding every ride but the Ferris wheel.  Walking to the bike rental shop, and after a lengthy discussion over the cash only policies, deciding on a three-seater quadricycle.  Riding the quadricycle around the small island (about an hour and a half jaunt), dropping the cycle back off, then walking back to the rides and re-visiting the pony rides, the mini-coaster, and the dizzying barrel ride.  Managing to secure a ride on the ferry, and walking back through downtown to a great Indian restaurant.  Returning just in time to  the hotel to miss the enormous thunderstorms that would end up delaying all of our colleagues' flights that evening. 

Day 5 in Toronto:  Waking up way too early, in a mad rush to the airport, finding a line a mile and half long to drop off the luggage, rushing through border patrol, rushing through customs, rushing through security, arriving at our gate just in time to see...our flight delayed an hour.

But, we made it home safely and Little Guy was a great little traveler.  Pictures and  video of our adventures to follow this week. 
 
 

From the Butterfly Garden, we ventured to several other places, including the Missouri Botanical Gardens, which was celebrating 150 years.  At the time we arrived, the sun was blazing overhead so the shots I would have loved to get were just a bit too bright with all the light.  But, I made due, and Joel patiently strolled along beside me, waiting until I had my fill of photos.

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Above:  We stopped to feed some enthusiastic Koi.
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A few weeks ago we were in Oklahoma for my grandfather’s funeral.  On Sunday evening, we went out to dinner the night before the funeral.  My mom, dad, sister, and Joel were with me.  One of the topics that came up was the hotel we were staying in.  Apparently my mom had stayed there the year before when she was visiting.  She stated how much she liked the hotel, how it was really nice with the business center, their cozy feeling, their nice breakfast; she even commented on how the staff was still the same.  We all piped up and talked about the man that had been working there the last few nights, and my mom nodded and said she remembered him from the previous year.  I think the man stood out to us because he was distinctive in that he was a little pale, brown hair, average height, but was very nervous acting – kind of nervous mannerisms – and didn’t make much eye contact.  I remember thinking to myself that I felt a little sorry for the guy; he seemed like a little bit of a loner.  

That evening, we had all retired to our separate rooms on the second floor.  Joel and I fell asleep in our room, my mom and dad fell asleep in their room.  My sister was in her own room but she is a bit of a night owl.  Around 12:30 a.m., her room phone rang.  This is a paraphrase of the phone call.

Sister:  “Hello?”

Male:  “Hi, this is ____ from the front desk.  We’ve had some complaints from other guests about some noises.  Are you watching porn?”

Sister:  “Porn?  No.  I have a movie on, but it is on really low.”

Male:  “Are you sure?  It sounds like there was someone being held up against a wall, and some bangs…”

Sister:  “No.  I just came out of the shower, and like I said, I had a movie on, but it is on really low.”

Male:  “What movie are you watching?  Is it porn?”

Sister:  “No, the Dark Knight.”

Male:  “Is that a porno?”

Sister:  “Nooo…it’s a Batman movie.”

Male:  “Well, I tell you what.  I get off in 5 minutes.  Why don’t I bring up some champagne and watch it with you?”

Sister:  “Sir, is that a joke?”

Male:  “No, I’m serious.   Why don’t I come up right now?”

Sister:  “Sir, that’s inappropriate.”

Male:   “No, it’s completely appropriate.  I’ve been watching you come in and out of the hotel for the past few days and I think you are smokin’ hot.  So you said you just came out of the shower?”

The male voice continued to talk to my sister even though she had gone silent.  He continued to ask her very inappropriate questions, of which I will not repeat.  He was absolutely filthy and very disturbing.  She hung up, and immediately called my dad on his cell phone.  My father immediately came down to her room, and listened to her story.  He brought her back to my parents’ room, and called down to the front desk.  He asked for confirmation on his wake-up call, and let my sister listen to the desk clerk’s voice.  My sister immediately nodded within hearing a few words of the desk clerk’s voice.  My dad said, “Thank you,” and hung up.  He then used his cell phone to call the police.     

A very long story short, the police couldn’t do anything because they weren’t able to determine if it was an internal call (which is what my sister maintains) instead of an outside call (which is what the front desk clerk maintains).  The front desk clerk, when confronted by the police, swore up and down that he had not made the call; he seemed extraordinarily nervous and agitated.  By this time, it was 2:00 a.m. and the hotel manager did not see a reason to replace the front desk clerk with someone else.  We packed up and moved to a different hotel at 2:30 a.m.  I laid awake until 4:30 a.m., too on edge to find comfort in sleep.  I was so angry towards the desk clerk, sympathetic towards my sister, understanding of my parents’ reactions, and professionally curious.  The manager sided with the employee, compensated my father for the rooms, and stated they were complying with the police.  But with a phone system that is untraceable, there’s no proof.  The desk clerk still has his job.

As a person who travels often, and stays in hotels just as often, this was a scary occurrence.  It’s always important to protect your room identity (for instance, when checking in if a clerk announces your room aloud, pass your keys back and ask for a different room and have them write the room number down on your keys in case someone heard them), and be aware of your surroundings, but if the front desk staff are the people you are normally supposed to trust, what do you do if the hotel staff is the one to blame?  I thought my father’s method of confirming the voice and then calling the police on his cell was very reasonable and smart.  Let this be a warning to all of you who travel alone or with your families:  be aware of your safety at all times.  This may have been the first time that a police report was filed against this person, but it may not have been the first time he committed the act.  It may not be the last, either.  

 
 

On our recent trip to Oklahoma for my grandfather's funeral, we decided to visit the Oklahoma City Memorial.  I had visited the outside, but not the inside.  I don't believe they allow pictures inside; even if they did, I think it would be disrespectful.

I was actually living in Oklahoma at the time of the bombing.  I remember my mom watching the t.v. in horror as her hometown (and my birthplace) suffered an unprecedented tragedy.  If you are not familiar with the OKC bombing, this is from Wikipedia.org:

"The Oklahoma City bombing of April 19, 1995, carried out by American militia movement sympathizer Timothy McVeigh with the assistance of Terry Nichols, destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It was the most significant act of terrorism on American soil until the September 11 attacks in 2001, claiming the lives of 168 victims and injuring more than 680. The blast destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a sixteen–block radius, destroyed or burned 86 cars, and shattered glass in 258 nearby buildings. The bomb was estimated to have caused at least $652 million worth of damage."

There were children in the building, as the Federal building had a daycare inside of it.  The Memorial is one of the most touching, heart-wrenching, peaceful, beautiful memorials I have visited.  The designers really did do a beautiful job. 

9:01 a.m.:  Innocence

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9:02 a.m.:  The bomb inside the truck exploded, taking out more than a third of the Federal building.

9:03 a.m.:  The "moment we were changed forever, and the hope that came from the horror in the moments and days following the bombing."
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Above:  The reflecting pool.
Below:  The Field of Empty Chairs.  The chairs reflect the 168 lives that were lost.  Each bears the name of a person.  The smaller chairs represent the children that died.
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Below:  The Survivor Tree, an American Elm that withstood the astounding brutality of the explosion.  The tree is revered and continues to thrive to this day as a representation that life does indeed go on. 
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To the innocent people who lost their lives, to their family, their friends, their coworkers; to the brave volunteers and rescue workers who risked life and limb in order to locate every missing person; to the courageous rescue dogs, including many Labrador retrievers who suffered burns, cut paws, and smoke inhalation, but served as tireless workers in the scope of the tragedy:  I'm so, so sorry. 

If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend a visit to the Memorial. 
For more information:  Oklahoma City National Memorial

"We come here to remember those who were killed, those who survived and those changed forever. May all who leave here know the impact of violence. May this memorial offer comfort, strength, peace, hope and serenity."
 
 

Snapped this photo of the L while walking around Chicago May 1-3, 2009 on our past trip.  I love Chicago from behind the camera lens - it's a very photogenic city on many different levels.  Squint hard, can you see the bird?

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A few weeks ago, we took a trip to Chicago to present academic research at a conference.  When we are in Chicago, Joel and I make a pilgrimage to Yanni’s, which is about 30 minutes outside of Chicago.  Yanni’s is an authentic Greek restaurant and they have amazing food in a beautiful setting.

This trip while were at Yanni's eating dinner with our undergraduate research assistants, all of a sudden several firemen came in - distinctly not ambulance, as they had 'fire dept' written on their shirts - and went past our table to a table a few feet away.  They talked to an older woman for a few moments, and then brought a stretcher in for her to lie on.  They lifted her on it and she just laid there with her eyes closed.  Everyone was really calm, the woman was in some pain but she was being fairly quiet, and then they wheeled her out.  I looked over at her family and they just sat back down and started eating.  No concern on their faces, they just started talking again.  It was the strangest thing!  I wonder why they were so calm.  Maybe the woman frequently visits the hospital and it was more routine for the family?  I have no idea.  I hope she's okay, but thought it was very strange!

Maybe she had too much saganaki.  

I could never have too much saganaki.  I think you could literally strap me down and force feed me saganaki for 11 hours straight and I’d be like, “What?  Why are you stopping?  MORE.  I need more saganaki!!”