81 Squares | train tales





All neatly printed in five of the boxes. Methodically she scanned from right to left. With each scan she added, as small as she could, the possible options in the top left corner. After each scan she pulled the pen up from the folded newspaper and floated the tip of the pen an inch from the paper as she rechecked her work to see if any answers could be surmised.

Then she went through the next row. She did this for all nine rows. Then she started on the columns. Then the 3×3 grids.

While some people slept, she sudoku’d.

Each day was a race to complete the sudoku before the train pulled into her station. Most days she finished the puzzle with time to spare.

She wasn’t a competitive person prior to picking up her pen. But there was comfort in the 81 squares. Like the monochromatic ink on the page, it could either be right or wrong. Thanks to the daily practice she got she was rarely wrong. The five-star Friday puzzle was merely a warmup. First, she competed against family for bragging rights. Then the stakes got higher. She started entering underground sudoku contests.

All her practice and penning had led to this day in London. The World Sudoku Championship.

Miller Time | train tales


He was a Miller man long before his trimmed goatee started turning gray, long before he began commuting to the city for work.

He tucked his badge into his shirt pocket before joining his buddy from bowling and female coworker in the facing seats at the front of the car. They had met years ago during a commute home. Bonding over Miller Lite and complaints of their work day, he came to look forward to his ride home. For months, he sat looking at the lights passing through the window frame, but now he had a posse.

Tonight, they cracked open their tall boys, cheers’d and released. It was a two can day for him. His friends began to sip more, laugh more and swear more as they made their way through their cans and stories. Tonight’s conversation focused on how great Tommy Boy was.

After the first stop, new passengers boarded. One walked up to their bench seats with a Bud Light in hand and asked if the extra seat was taken.

The Speed of Purpose | train tales


It was the fastest he moved all week. The train had already begun its forward momentum as he darted down the grooved, rubber-lined aisle toward the doors. He used to run hurdles in high school, but that was 20 years ago. Laptop bags and purses replaced the 42-inch high plastic bars he used to fly over.

“Please wait!” he squeezed out. But it was too late.

Trains don’t accept excuses.

Trains don’t wait.

His great misfortune, other than being six seconds too slow, was missing his stop on an express train. The train continued to sway and glide down the rails, passing stop after stop. Rush hour traffic crawled on the adjacent expressway as the train surged farther and farther from his stop and his waiting wife.

He stared out the window at each passing town. He began dwelling on the little moments that he could have changed that would have given him those extra six seconds.

If that conferrence call didn’t drag on…

If the elevator had come a little earlier…

If he was half a step faster to catch the WALK sign…

If he listened to the onboard announcement alerting the train’s impending stop at Clybourn…

A Day with Monet

window, monet, jardin, giverny

As the rain falls this morning in Chicago, it is difficult to believe that seven days ago I was looking out the hotel window at the mist making everything it touched glisten in Paris.

Wednesday was supposed to be the best day weather-wise during our stint in Paris. The plan was to seize the good weather day and visit Giverny, the home and jardin of Claude Monet.

We landed in Paris on Monday and were greeted not with a warm accolade, but with a gray, drizzly day. The next day was more of the same with temperatures in the low 60s.

The forecast promised Wednesday being warmer and sunnier until Tuesday night when the fickle European winds shifted. We discussed visiting Giverny another day, but opted to go anyway.

Giverny is an hour to the northwest of Paris. There are regional trains that make the voyage. You are supposed to buy the tickets in advance versus on board. I say supposed to because we purchased ours, which are reasonably expensive (about 30 euros RT), got on board only to never have the tickets checked. This was the third time we had purchased train tickets which went unchecked.

Tip: Use train time as nap time. Make sure to set an alarm for when you should be arriving.

The train stops in Vernon. From there you exit and can take a shuttle bus (4 euros each way), rent a bike or walk an hour. It was raining and we were light on time, so we paid the 8 euros for the RT bus. If it had been nicer we may have walked. The bus winds its way through the streets and over a bridge before burping out the tourists. The parking lot was filled with other tourist buses. Beyond the parking lot is a lush open field. There are paths toward the house and an Impressionist museum.

Meandering through old homes and quaint tourist shops, we found our way to the main attraction. We purchased the Paris Museum Pass, but discovered Monet’s house and garden are not included in the list of venues. To the back of the line we went. Admission is 9-10 euros. You can buy tickets in advance and save yourself time waiting in line.

Once through the gift shop you enter the garden. THE jardin. It takes a few moments to realize you are in Monet’s garden. You see some pretty flowers. The garden is a large grid, with rows and rows of vibrant blues, greens, purples, yellows, reds. Every color you could put on a painter’s palette. As I walked deeper into the flowers and trellises, I began to appreciate and accept the magnitude of where I was.

Starting and stalling to avoid photoboming someone else’s photo, I made my way toward the lily pond. You go through a tunnel and come up steps to see the pond replete with water lilies.

I slowly panned right to left, taking it all in. I was in Monet’s paintings. THIS is what he looked at and painted countless times. The rain started to increase, creating ripples in the pond, blurring the previous crispness of the leaves and lilies. The visitors opened their multi-colored umbrellas, which now resembled the array of flowers that preceded the pond.

We lingered here for a while absorbing the serenity of the water garden., listening to the sound of the frogs. For the past week and a half we had been running around from museum to ancient site. We had taken time to relax and enjoy each of the previous cities, but for me, the garden was an oasis to recharge. We sat for a bit on a bench that was kept dry by the overhanging tree.

Eventually we slowly strolled our way back to the tunnel, through the garden and into Monet’s house. A man at the door gave us a plastic bag for our lightly dripping umbrella and told us “no pictures.”

To the left of the entrance is a room of paintings, then Monet’s studio with large, open windows looking out on the garden. I still can’t fully fathom that I was standing in the room where Monet painted impressionist masterpieces, revered to be one of the masters of art.

His bedroom is upstairs, directly over his studio. It also has large windows that look out onto the garden. The house isn’t that large. It’s no Versailles. Back down the stairs and through the kitchen before exiting. Naturally, I snapped a pic of the kitchen on our way out. I wonder if Monet would’ve liked my cooking. Or if Monet was a cook.

The gift shop has an array of Monet offerings, everything from books to bobble heads to prints and calendars.

We found our way back to the shuttle bus, then train station and Paris. Our next stop was Musée de l’Orangerie. This is covered by the Paris Museum Pass and is home to “Les Nymphéas.” These are amazing and I highly recommend this 1-2 itinerary if you are interested in impressionism.

We started the day seeing the flowers and garden that inspired Monet. Then followed it up with seeing his panoramic lily paintings housed at l’Orangerie.

As I look out the window to my backyard, I don’t see a vast, colorful garden or a water lily pond like Monet’s. Instead I see a patch of pale green grass that stands a little taller because the lawn mower ran out of gas last night. But if I close my eyes, the sound of the light rain takes me back to that rainy day in Giverny with Monet.

Andrew’s Adventure

After live tweeting my train commute into the city, I took a cab to a morning meeting. In the 10 minute ride, I learned my cabbie, Muhammad Ali, wakes up at 4am and also doesn’t like driving in the snow.

The saddest part of my day was not being able to photograph my breakfast. I had eggs benedict, which is becoming my go to instead of french toast. It was at this moment that I realized I have a problem. There is no reason to photograph all my food, but for some reason I feel compelled. I’ve entered a support group.

Below are pictures from the rest of my day downtown: working at Starbucks with the hoi polloi, a stupidly delicious muffuletta, then an early evening of culture at the Art Institute of Chicago. ‘Twas a good day, but it reminded me that there are warmer places to live in January.