City Girl Confessions: A New Kind of Al Fresco Experience

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City Girl Confessions is my recurring column in The Glencoe Anchor.

When they first caught my eye, I thought they were bubbles. Or perhaps new-age moving pods, meant for quick storage during renovations. Either way, the sidewalks on Vernon Avenue were filling up with giant, clear orbs at the precise moment that freezing winter temperatures rolled on through.

Turns out, they are igloos. And the igloos are for everyone! Hometown Coffee & Juice has found a decidedly clever way to keep their patio cozy even when weather is lingering around freezing. You can reserve an igloo for an hourly fee and receive beverage/food service while lounging in style. The igloos have chairs, blankets, coffee tables, heaters, water, water glasses, and even a portable Bluetooth speaker, should you desire music. 

When a friend asked if I wanted to join her for coffee and a catch-up in the igloo, I thought, Why not? How often do I get to lounge outdoors in the middle of winter? My curiosity was stoked, so the plans were made. 

I’ll share the obvious: sitting in an igloo is a whimsical way to enjoy a cup of coffee. You enter and exit through a long zippered portion. The service is attentive and quick. You can fit a surprising amount of people in the space without it feeling cramped. And yes, I was warm (our igloo had two space heaters; I cranked ours up to 74 degrees and was quite cozy). 

But I think the most surprising element of the igloo is the perspective. The view was beautiful. It felt very intimate, yet we were very much on display (igloos do not subtlety blend in). Passerbys would occasionally walk by, stare, or peer in. Someone even called out, “Are you actually warm in there?!” This was not intrusive; everyone is sort of in on the whimsical nature of igloo dwelling in the Midwest. Any conversation that came up was kind and met with a lot of chuckles.

I’ll confess, this igloo excursion reminded me of something that I often tell my children: try something new and take in a different perspective. When it’s 30 degrees outside, I typically don’t linger outdoors. Yet this was a scenario in which I welcomed the chance to- and that in doing so, I had a chance to marvel at how beautiful the sunlight is in winter months. I saw a busy town with busy residents bundled in colorful coats and hats. I saw dogs on their morning walks, also bundled in colorful coats and hats. I saw stillness. I saw the season stretching outward. I saw winter from a whole new perspective. 

With Happy Hearts

This pillow encapsulates our Christmas season. And our year, actually. A year with painful goodbyes and stitched up hearts. A year of warmth and growth.

I’ll remember this year as the one where Wells chimed in reading ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,’ alternating pages with Fitz and I while Gus listened. I’ll recall how Fitz couldn’t find Scotch tape so he resorted to using a massive shipping tape dispenser to seal our presents. I’ll smile thinking about my daughter sporting a blue bowtie at Christmas Eve service, her little hands proudly holding a candle. I will shake my head in wonder in contemplating how I survived nearly two weeks of endless illnesses and antibiotics.

I couldn’t possibly forget my sister’s Home Alone-themed party (and neither will the internet; I’ve never received more DMs in my life).

I will smile happily thinking of every family dinner, cookie baking, cocktail toast, city excursion, sister date, twinkle lights, and seasonal feasts.

I will wince and then chuckle when I think about how I accidentally discovered a gift from Fitz that was supposed to be a surprise- a special piece of art work that captured my heart. When I hang the painting up in my living room, I know it will provide an amusing story for years to come.

It’s 58 degrees outside today. The furthest thing from a white Christmas (but how wild was our Halloween snowstorm?!). Maybe we’ll ride bikes and take the dog for an extra long stroll.

We are alive. We are breathing. We are moving forward. Later on, over this winter break, the holiday trimmings will be packed away till next year. And everything will be new once again.

Christmas & Other Things

  • New stockings to welcome the newest family member (Putter the dog)
  • Annual holiday party, with candied bacon winning again for best bite
  • A Home Alone-themed party in which Fitz dressed as Gus Polinski, polka king of the Midwest (he took clarinet lessons, people. CLARINET LESSONS)
  • Hot tea, green juice, water, repeat (also: prayers for my immune system)
  • Taking advantage of that free gift-wrapping service at Nordstrom
  • An amazing hosting gift: the Saveur cookbook! I made this ham, egg, and lemon sandwich on brioche for dinner on Tuesday.
  • No snow. Bummer.
  • Lots of twinkle lights. Delightful.
  • Frasier Fir candles
  • Carols are great but do you ever listen to Christmas jazz? (*swoons*)
  • 4th place in chess championship for Wells, ice skating lessons for Gus
  • Off Campus Writers Workshops for me, paddle season for Fitz
  • Shivers for Putt-Putt, who does NOT like the cold (she is from Mississippi)
  • Menu planning for Christmas Eve: maybe baked ziti and roasted salmon with dill sauce
  • Holiday tea with my sis, U Club with the A-team (solid city escapes)
  • Lightscape at the Botanic Garden

And a partridge in a pear tree!

 

An Evening with ‘The Niceties’ at Writers Theatre

I love the escape of theatre. I love that I can pause my life to steal away into a dark room, watch art that will spin my brain around, and return to my world feeling transformed. And I’m so very lucky to have a world-class theatre right here in Glencoe.

This past week I was invited to take in a performance of The Niceties at Writers Theatre. On an evening so cold the air stung my cheeks, I grabbed three friends and walked into the show, ready for whatever the experience held.

Two women 
A professor’s office 
A conversation on American history 

Your first thought might be…that’s not exactly riveting. But oh, the simplicity of this story  should not be overlooked. For one, the dialogue is sharp- I got the feeling that writer Eleanor Burgess placed every syllable of this play with purpose. At first, these women are chatting, then suddenly they are deep diving, threatening, accusing, worrying, chastising, provoking, and revealing. It’s a game of verbal volleyball. And you will feel bumped, set, and spiked.

In the show program, there was a paper insert. In it, the theatre broke the fourth wall: ‘you might find yourself tempted to choose a side. We urge you to resist that temptation. There are no heroes and no villains in this play.”

This is entirely true. The audience is also a part of the show. Just listen…you will hear cheers, jeers, guffaws, whoops, and even stunned gasps among your fellow viewers. It’s as if we were all crammed in that professor’s office together. You will get the sense that some of this uncomfortable dialogue has been waiting to be let out for hundreds of years. You will be shocked as you consider your own understanding of history- what are the parts you celebrate? What are the parts you don’t know? What are the parts that have been swiftly erased altogether?

As for the verbal volleyball game…it’s emotional as well. You will fret that as soon as you identify with one character, you quickly align with the other. You will be puzzled, concerned, and dismayed. You will realize that a happy ending is not coming. You will sit in silence when the lights go dark, and you will listen. And keep listening. And think that listening is the best thing you can do right now.

I walked into the cold night transformed once again. The conversation among my friends was wild- dissecting bits that stung, rehashing the dialogue that stayed. As we split off to drive home, we hopped on phone calls to marvel about the show. Then woke up this morning to do more of the same.

So why do we watch a story that confront uncomfortable truths? I will borrow a powerful line from the character Zoe: “We want to know the pain was worth it.”

I remain grateful for the chance to see The Niceties. I hope you see it, too.

Editor’s note: I was gifted four complimentary tickets to the show and encouraged to share my opinions, whatever they may be.

Convos With Writers: 11 Questions with Amanda Simkin

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‘Chicago mom’ is a term synonymous with Amanda Simkin. When I was freelancing for parenting websites, our paths kept crossing in such unique ways that by the time we officially met I thought, “Wait- how have we not been friends for years?!” Good news, we are friends, and I glean inspiration from this mama-of-two everyday- her luminous smile, candor, and entrepreneurial spirit make for a high-five-worthy convo.

Amanda’s writing went viral when she wrote a blog post about the best Christmas lights in the Chicago area. She swiftly crafted her blog into a full-blown business that helps guide parents and families, while celebrating all things Midwest.

So let’s dig in.

Continue reading “Convos With Writers: 11 Questions with Amanda Simkin”

Falling Fast

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Photo by KIM DAE JEUNG on Pexels.com

This morning I exited the yoga studio, hopped into my car, and drove home with my mouth agape. It’s here. The most stunningly beautiful part of the season is here.

The leaves are on fire.
The leaves are falling.

It’s mesmerizing. It’s bittersweet. I know that in just an hour’s time, I could look up from this laptop and see a completely different view. The most exquisite moment makes the quickest exit.

I was struggling to communicate this to my kids this morning- they were more intent on yelling in silly voices and sticking their tongues out at one another. It’s fine. Someday they’ll get it. Someday, when life is good or hard or both, they will look up and lose their breath while thinking, “Wow…nature is amazing.”

(back to work. I’m putting together a nonfiction book proposal. I wrote a LOT about Theo this past summer. We’ll see if it goes anywhere…)

Happy Weekend: May it be blooming

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Speaking of blooms, I have plans to attend this sparkling event at the Chicago Botanic Gardens.

Do you have plans for the weekend? It’s my 20th high school reunion but I am not attending…husband is traveling, babysitting options are scarce, and also…those kind of events are not really my jam. That said, I feel pretty lucky to still have high school pals in my life and connected through social media. Did you attend your high school reunion? Did you like it?

I cannot get this new Taylor Swift song outta my head.

I’m also excited to get to a Cubs game with the kids on Sunday.

Happy Weekend!

City Girl Confessions: Sneaking in Those City Escapes

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City Girl Confessions is my recurring column via The Glencoe Anchor.

Life zooms by from the window seat of the Metra. It’s a blur of colors, textures, and weather. Time seems to suspend as well. Heading south into Chicago brings me back into my past, back into the roots from which this very column was born. 

It’s a pleasant experience, though. Sometimes there are hints of longing or bittersweet memories. I feel it in seeing the way retail has flipped, the way that condo buildings seem to have sprouted from nowhere. 

I walked through an old neighborhood haunt and was shocked to see a favorite long-term grocer had closed. I was bummed- they had the best bakery bread there. Down the block there was a fully remodeled grocery chain. It’s enormous panes of glass shimmered like a skyscraper.

And yet…this was not some beautiful, poignant moment. Sheets of a snowy-slushy mess were pouring from the sky. Sidewalks and curbs bore inches of freezing water that sloshed into waves any time a cab zoomed by. The monstrous wind seemed to turn everything horizontal. The sky was an angry gray that muddled the views of Lake Michigan. It was smack in the middle of Spring and a snowstorm was taking over Chicago during my visit. It was not a pleasant experience.

The occasion for the city jaunt: a celebratory dinner for my brother and sister-in-law, who are moving across the country for the summer. Kind of like studying abroad, but for business reasons. We made a fancy dinner reservation at the end of April, believing that to be ‘safe.’ Maybe it would be one of those perfect 70 degree days and we could walk around for a pre-dinner drink in the area. Maybe we could seek out a rooftop deck to stare at the architectural marvels of the city. Maybe we would be laughably wrong in all of these assumptions. 

Yet, the dinner went on as planned. The laughter went on. Our lives went on. No matter how frantic things seemed, talking through it made us feel better. I imagine that when my brother and sister-in-law truly leave, and we feel the heaviness of their absence, we will recall this snowy Spring night and grin. We will remember that we somehow made it work. 

Our ride home was an Uber. ‘Train in, Uber out’ seems to be a method that works well for our urban visits. As we cruised along the highway, I stared out the window, watching life zoom by. It was a blur of colors, textures, and weather too wild to be believed. Time seemed to suspend as well. I thought about the changes that lay ahead. I thought about the way things used to be. Outside, the snow accumulated, blanketing the green grass in endless white. 

We slowly pulled into Glencoe, back into familiarity, back into the present. The snow had finally ceased. The sky was now clear. We were home.