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.

A Most Enduring Mother’s Day Gift

In honor of Mother’s Day, I’m sharing a favorite column of mine written in 2016 for The Glencoe Anchor. Its words are some of my favorite as it pertains to this holiday and the mothers and mother-like figures we celebrate.

I feel as though I’m drowning in gift guides. Each day brings about an email, a tweet, or a conversation that starts with something like, “What are you getting your mom for Mother’s Day?” and ends with “Hmm…well, at least I have some time.” I’ve seen lists, flash sales, quizzes, and even a heart shaped pizza touted as the ideal Mother’s Day commemoration. 

This is a tricky holiday and a very good one. Fortunately we have an occasion in which we can recognize incredible women in our lives that have mothered and mentored us in a capacity that has had profound influence. But let me be candid: we are all conflicted about our mothers in the best possible way. You see, those little personality traits that they have that drive us a bit nuts? Let the world come full circle when you find yourself yelling at gridlock traffic, folding socks a peculiar way, or preparing a recipe in the same dedicated fashion. We ARE our mothers sometimes and that can be a wild roller coaster reality to accept. 

It’s okay to idolize your mom, too. No matter your age, acknowledging the deft multi-tasker, expert advice giver, master chef, gentle soul, and kind disposition of this person resonates deep in the heart. I still get a little emotional when my mom bakes me a banana bread or presents me with that perfect, most thoughtful gift. Mothers just have that way of getting to us like no one else can. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t touch on something delicate: we aren’t all lucky enough to have a mother. Maybe she doesn’t live nearby or perhaps she is simply not here. For this extra special group, I implore you to exercise gentle consideration. No matter what happens in life, a mother is a constant. She is a wave in the ocean or the rising of the sun. To be without a mother on Mother’s Day can feel like you’ve lost your own hands. It’s a good time to check-in with these friends and be the constant for someone who needs it. At the very least, it’s an excuse to gather together and share one of those heart-shaped pizzas. 

Back to those endless gift guides. Society might have you considering spa appointments or sparkling jewelry, but I’m here to share a secret that will change your gift-giving forever. It is meaningful, exquisite, and you won’t find it on any ‘must have’ gift guide: This Mother’s Day, share with your mother a time or memory when you were proud of her. Pick up the phone and tell her about it. Don’t text or clog her cell phone with emojis. Don’t pen a longwinded email. Let her hear your voice when you speak. Let her recognize your connection to that memory. Let the moment be authentic even if it feels weird or emotional. 

As for me, I will share this: Mom, I remember seeing your smiling face in the audience at every dance performance of my life…every recital, half-time show, competition, and awards ceremony. I was so proud of your unwavering support. I was proud of all the times you enjoyed my performance and the times when you were candid about me doing better. Now that I’m a mother myself I deeply appreciate how you constantly carved out time in your life to cheer me on. I know that it wasn’t easy but you sure made it look effortless.

City Girl Confessions: So Much More Than A Candy Store

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

A few years ago I covered the grand opening of The Sweet Buddha in Glencoe. I shot photos, interviewed owner Sarah Miller, and had a sugar-filled day at her cheery candy store. 

But here’s the thing: I just walked into The Sweet Buddha this past week and found myself taken aback. Everything was different. Is the candy still there? Yes, delicious candy is still present and accounted for. But the vibe of the shop has evolved. I suspect its growth can be traced to the evolution most local businesses adapt to- tailoring your shop and its products to consumer demand and laboriously tweaking that formula to stay fresh and current.

Fresh and current are two words that came to mind when I walked into The Sweet Buddha. There is a lovely display of jewelry that runs the gamut of easy, everyday bracelet stacks to delicate rings and earrings with a bit of sparkle. I noticed several handbags, scarves, and zip pouches along with go-to gift items like glassware and candles. I grinned when I saw a whimsical station of the store in which shoppers could make customized dorm room signs using letters from old license plates. 

My youngest child, who happened to be tagging along, busiest herself by making friends with stuffed animal unicorns. A quick glance let me see that the store was a treasure trove for young ones and their bright imaginations- colorful backpacks, rainbow reading pillows, notebooks, glittery signs, etc..

When I gestured to the brightly lit event space, Sarah passed along information on birthday parties, personalized candy baskets, and event hosting (not just for children either- think jewelry making or painting).

The genius herein is that the store owner is a parent and knows how to balance the shopping harmony among the age groups. Sarah wisely set up a couch, coffee table, and TV so kids are welcome to hang out, relax, and enjoy a sweet treat while parents shop for a few blissfully uninterrupted minutes. Yes, you read that correctly: this store has a spot specifically for your kids so you can shop in peace. 

I’ll confess: I thought I had this local shop figured out. I had written about it long ago, I had known its story. The problem was that I didn’t check back in- something that often happens when we consumers get busy with and opt for convenience over shopping local. What I learned is that The Sweet Buddha still satisfies a sugar fix but it shines as a fresh specialty store. 

As my visit came to an end, I made a promise to myself that I would not fall into this kind of trap again- the trap that removes curiosity from our daily lives. Small business owners work exhaustive hours to ensure a positive consumer experience in our community. Let’s stay curious about how these stores are doing. Let’s walk in and look around when we have an extra five minutes. Let’s share the secret of what makes a local business so great. In doing so, you might learn, as I certainly did, that this is so much more than a candy store. 

Photo credit: Sarah Miller

City Girl Confessions: The Art of Missing Home

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

My husband once proclaimed that five days is the ideal getaway. Shorter than 5? That’s great. But longer? That’s when home sickness can start to creep in.

Hold up, though. I’m not talking about the slow ache that can come from deep longing- say, how I felt when I first went away to college and missed my family. I’m talking about the gentle pull I feel when I’m away from my usual routine for too long. It’s those times that I begin to miss the mundane elements of everyday life: walking my dog down the street or writing in my favorite arm chair. Oddly enough, I even miss the feeling of standing in my kitchen gazing into my yard. It’s something I do every morning. I notice the sun’s position, the growth on trees, and how still the weather feels.

For Spring Break, I traveled to Texas with my family. To get away from chilly, rain-soaked Glencoe was a welcomed respite. We visited extended family, rode rollercoasters, ate barbecue, and jumped into swimming pools. Everything was beautiful and oversized (yep, the old saying is true). The warm sunshine and endless acres of hill country were soothing, fascinating, and enjoyable- precisely the emotions one hopes to get out of a vacation.

One evening, during dinner, someone raised a toast our visit to the Lone Star State. “Yes,” I chimed in, lifting my wine glass. “Here’s to experiencing a little southern living!” The table fell completely silent. It was then that my father-in-law casually pointed out that Texans “don’t consider this ‘the south.’ it’s just Texas.”

Hmm. Okay. Learn something new every day. 

While that take is certainly one that I didn’t see coming, I also recognize that the whole point of travel is get away, shake up our understanding of the world, and see how other people live. How we exist in the world is entirely our own- there is not one ‘right’ way to do it. And Texans are not alone in their declarations- whether we want to admit it or not, us Midwesterners have our quirks. And that’s okay- those differences make us unique.

After more than five days of wildflowers, cattle ranches, and hotel pools, I was beginning to feel that gentle pull of homesickness. I found myself yearning for the routine of my yoga mat and a regular dinner schedule. Oddly, I even craved bundles of freshly folded laundry (living out of a suitcase for a week will make one long for unusual things). 

I’ll confess- this emotion is what brings a vacation full circle. As fun as it is to get away and see how others live, it can be equally soothing to return to our regularly scheduled lives. For this reason, I will openly welcome a return to chilly, rain-soaked Glencoe. When I arrive home, I will stand in my kitchen, gazing outside at the usual view, marveling at the way things are changing and growing. 

City Girl Confessions: Desperately Seeking Spring

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

There’s something really disheartening about checking the weather forecast and seeing single digits…again. I get that we live in the Midwest, but c’mon! The first day of Spring is slated for March 20th. How may I rejoice in the switching off of seasons if I’m still shoveling snow and wearing the same oversized sweater for the 176th time?

I’m bitter (and bitterly cold). March really seemed like the finish line. If we could just soldier through the snow days, the blizzards, the Polar Vortex, the sleet storms, the ‘thundersnow,’ then surely we would come out the other side a bit dazed but ultimately grateful to see a patch of grass here or there.

In this winter haze, I’ve found myself craving odd things. In walking through a Target, I stare longingly at little seedling packets and ceramic flower pots. While it’s true that I loathe gardening, I find myself desperate to do anything involving sunshine, warmth, and quality time outdoors (sans parka). I’ve even taken on extensive decluttering and reorganizing, despite the fact that the Village of Glencoe’s Spring Clean Up event is not until early May.

Mostly, I find myself longing. I glance at the barren trees in my backyard and wonder what the branches will look like when the green leaves fill in. I wince when our garage door opens and my kids spot their bicycles, begging to take a ride down the street. I miss regular neighborhood walks with my dog (the ice-melting salt wreaks havoc on his paws).  

I’m daydreaming of that one perfect Spring morning: the kind where we are inexplicably running early and have time to burn before the school bell rings. So we hop in the car and head east on Park Avenue so that we may sit on hard stone benches that overlook Lake Michigan. We don’t bring coats because the weather doesn’t warrant it. Maybe I sip coffee and prop up my feet. Maybe my kids point out a galloping dog or a tiny wildflower peeking through the dirt. The sun is up and out, the breeze softly whispers. It’s perfection even if it hasn’t happened just yet. 

Confession time: we all have our moments of frustration. Sometimes we just need to yell into the void and move on, owning our deepest feelings of seasonal stress. Once we have that release, it’s almost like the world finally bends in our favor, recognizing that we are open to the newness around the corner. 

So what’s getting me through this freezing cold week? An intricate risotto recipe. Scrabble Junior with my children. Concentrated belly breathing in yoga class. Ongoing commitment to my down coat and pom-pom hat. Documentaries on Netflix. A sense of humor. 

That one perfect Spring morning is on its way and when it actually gets here, I’ll be ready. The bicycles will be set up, the dog leash will be in my hand, the coats will be stashed in the closet, and the Lake will beckon. It will be warm, perfect, and brand new.

Sunset by Andy Warhol

 

 

City Girl Confessions: A Local Shop In Full Bloom

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

It’s challenging to shop local. There, I said it. We live in an era of quick convenience. We can order things straight from an App or smartphone. With just a few quick taps, I can track a pizza delivery, queue up a latte order, tour local real estate, read reviews for a wool sweater, and place a library book on hold. 

Would you believe that two-day shipping is now considered slow? There are literal options for same-day delivery, often meaning that what one wants right now can be delivered to almost instantly. 

For obvious reasons, the era of quick convenience is very enjoyable. But there is one teeny part of this that is irksome- the effect that this has on small, local businesses. 

I’m haunted by a story of a legendary Glencoe book store that closed its doors in 2016. It was a glorious shop that not only offered books but it had a secret theater in the back. I was lucky enough to see a few shows there and I’ll never forget how wondrous the concept was or how intimate the performances felt.

When the store closed, one of the reasons cited was competition from online book retailers- that patrons would walk in, compare online pricing, and grow frustrated when the vendor couldn’t match the price of a book. 

Here’s what I know for sure: local businesses are pillars of the community. They give us picturesque storefronts to frame our streets. They painstakingly gift-wrap our purchases. They go out of their way to order what is needed and deliver it to you in a satisfactory manner. They ask to know our names and chat with us about our children, families, or pets. Most of all, they want to see Glencoe prosper.

During that recent holiday that celebrates all things love, I took a unique approach. I grabbed a flower vase from my cabinet and asked my husband to specifically visit The Flower Shop on Vernon Avenue. I figured if he was going to give me flowers for the holiday, it would mean much more to me if the item had ties to the community. So that’s just what he did. 

For days, I stared at the masterpiece of florals that were assembled by The Flower Shop: roses, hydrangeas, tulips in soft shades of creamy pink and lavender. I thought about how easy it would have been for my husband to go a different direction: tap his phone and place an order. I thought about the extra effort involved- the suggestion made, the vase grabbed, the act of walking into the store, etc.. 

I’ll confess: the extra effort is worth it. Supporting local businesses sometimes means paying a little bit more, showing up in person, or getting off of our Apps and smartphones. But that effort is always, always appreciated. Storeowners see it, residents see it, and our community reflects it. Quick convenience is pretty great, but shopping small allows everyone local to bloom. 

City Girl Confessions: All The Ways to Warm Up

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

I still haven’t fully defrosted from the Polar Vortex. Perhaps I won’t until the first flower of Spring blooms. That would be fine because the way I see it, if we are stuck in the thick of winter, we simply must adapt. We must identify warmth and cling to it. It’s not an impossible feat. I’ve narrowed down some great spots in town that are perfect for raising your temp and soothing your chill. 

Firstly, let it be known that I can find any excuse to get myself to the Glencoe Public Library, but in winter months, I covet this space because of the Johnson room and it’s wondrous fireplace. This, combined with scenic views of the downtown spread, make it one of the ideal places to curl up with a book and settle in for a long stretch of warmth. 

If fireplaces are your thing, I’ve got another option for you. In departing the library, walk across the street and make your way into Meg’s Cafe. Their fireplace is lovely, their service attentive, and their Soup of the Day is not to be missed. 

I often find the the chill of winter hits me hardest first thing in the morning. There is nothing fun about waking in the dark and dragging oneself out of a warm bed. I soothe my chilly bones with a 6am Warm Vinyasa Flow class at Reach Yoga. On Tuesday and Thursday mornings, the studio is heated to a delightful 80 degrees. Even in the midst of a Polar Vortex, I have found my way to Reach to stretch and move on my mat, all the while imagining that I’m on a tropical vacation. Rest assured that in these colder temps, Reach also cranks the heat for its regular classes to keep yogis comfortable.

In 2019, I learned that I have been dressing for winter all wrong. Apparently, it is most beneficial to dress in three layers rather than one bulky sweater. To get my layer fix, I enjoy pursuing the racks at Three Twelve Tudor, which offers plentiful long t-shirts, super soft sweaters, cozy cardigans, and knit scarves. Owner Amy Bishop is kind, resourceful, and always game to help you find exactly what you’re looking for. 

Winter is a great time to really maximize slipper usage. Valentina has offerings for any adult, from a simple pair of thick UGG brand socks to a sherpa-lined moccasin.

Still seeking warmth? Don’t forget about the cozy kid blankets for sale at The Wild Child, ‘The Club’ bagel melt at Hometown Coffee, and the robust candle display at Blacksheep General Store. 

I’ll confess, February is a tough month to endure in the Midwest. We must soldier through tougher temps to come out the other side. But the cold is what makes us resilient. To live in the Midwest is know multitudes of weather and savor the emotions that come with it. 

As you seek ways to keep warm this season, don’t forget to check on your neighbors and friends, particularly those who live alone. The warmth of friendship is wildly comforting and can sustain us when we need it most.