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. 

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.

City Girl Confessions: In the Quiet of Morning, Preparations Begin

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

My weekday mornings begin in the dark. Under a pitch black sky, I slowly drag myself from a warm bed, throw on some clothes, fill a water bottle, and drive to Reach, our local yoga studio. The drive is less than five minutes, but there is always some kind of action to keep things interesting.

For one, the wildlife is running amok. I see it all: skunks, coyotes, raccoons, and foxes. It’s a jolt every time to spot the nocturnal zipping around, and to notice them when they are used to going unnoticed. 

There is the occasional taxi or Uber, lingering to take someone to an airport, their headlights illuminating a dark street.

There’s construction projects and street cleaning as well. I’ve even see water main repairs and workers lowering themselves under the ground, headlamps shining.

There is such stillness in these early hours- any small movement is magnified and ripples throughout. In a way, it’s a gift to see the world before everyone wakes up. To watch solitude settle on the houses, the roads, the businesses is very soothing.

This past week, I’ve encountered something surprising when I’ve turned onto Vernon Avenue: the trees are illuminated and glowing. In the quiet dark, Village of Glencoe Public Works methodically place cords and wrap twinkle lights as needed, adjusting the bucket trucks to reach new heights. Though Halloween may be on the calendar, clearly, the Village is planning ahead.

Now, I’ve attended the ‘Light the Lights’ event in our town before. It’s festive and filled with community cheer. But I’d never really seen the work that went in behind the scenes to the big lighting reveal. After what I’ve witness this week, let me just confirm that the work is time-consuming, meticulous, and a lot of patience is required.

This little realization stretched further for me. For it made me recognize all the times that our community workers were hard at work while I was fast asleep. It’s one thing to appreciate our little town, it’s another to see how every bit of effort plays a role in creating a community.

In late November, we will have the chance to see all of this early morning diligence pay off. Light the Lights will take place in downtown Glencoe, complete with family activities, shopping specials, beer and wine stroll, etc.. In a matter of mere seconds, the lights will turn on and months of hard work will come to fruition.

I’ll confess, there is always something beautiful to take in when you rise before the sun. Maybe it’s stillness, maybe it’s a yoga class, maybe it’s a lighted tree. Or perhaps it’s something that causes you to stop and pause for just a moment. But in that moment, whatever you see or experience, is yours to hold onto. 

City Girl Confessions: Knocking Out The Scary Bits

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

It’s the most wonderful time of year…for me. I am positively delighted by Halloween and all of its orange-and-black spooky splendor. I’ve been this way since I was a kid, poring over costume ideas and scouting haunted houses while immersing myself in scary books and movies. A witch’s hat has permanent residence on my shelf.
Continue reading “City Girl Confessions: Knocking Out The Scary Bits”

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…)

10 Things on my 10-Year Anniversary

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Last month marked a big milestone: a decade of marriage. Here are ten random things I’m sharing in honor of the occasion:

  1. We took our kids to Vintners Inn, the site of our ceremony and reception in 2009. They loved running through the vineyards and eating grapes right off the vine.
  2. Each anniversary, I usually throw on my wedding dress for 5 minutes and drink my morning coffee. My kids are totally entranced by this and for a brief moment in time, I reminisce about our special day. However, this year we were traveling and I did not get to wear it. Oh well.
  3. Fitz still has the custom green Converse he wore in the wedding with ‘FitzAndKelly’ embroidered on the side (fun fact: these were also gifts for our groomsmen). For our 10-year anniversary, I gave him a new green pair. Embroidered on the side is ‘Since 09.’
  4. Of our attendants, the three ringbearers and one flower girl are all teenagers now (!)
  5. It was Fitz’s idea to get married in wine country. We got engaged in Big Sur in 2008 and as we traveled through northern California in a haze of starry-eyed bliss, he turned to me and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we got married here?”
  6. Our wedding cake was super unique: dark chocolate made with ground up beets! It was absolutely delicious.
  7. We honeymooned in Hawaii. I’d love to go back there with our kids- best beaches ever.
  8. When I look back on our wedding, I’m so thankful that we were able to incorporate nature. It was really special to be outside at dusk, in a beautiful part of the world, with all of our friends and family. And thankfully, Mother Nature cooperated! It was a perfect 75 degrees.
  9. To this day, I’ve never seen so many people simultaneously cry in my entire life as they did when my dad gave a speech at our reception.
  10. Though a wedding is a very special day, I am most proud of the life that Fitz and I have created together over these ten years.

City Girl Confessions: The Details that Stay With Us

IMG_6810City Girl Confessions is my recurring column in The Glencoe Anchor.

One of the best parts about living in a city…is escaping it. Yes, I’m a firm believer of restorative exploration and getting out of a comfort zone. If density and skyscrapers are your thing, time to venture to green grasses and quiet evenings. And vice versa: it’s good to dial up the energy by sneaking away to the city lights. 

Years ago, back when I called Chicago home, I craved the occasional escape. It felt good to get away just as it felt good to come back. Would you guess that one of my very favorite times of year to escape the city and soak up the suburbs was early October? 

Driving along residential roads, I would gaze out the window at the various front porches and doorsteps, completely lost in bliss. Each home’s doorstep was fully decked out in seasonal splendor: smooth, round pumpkins, tall corn stalks, little hay bales, and oodles of potted chrysanthemums in shades of gold, orange, and aubergine. 

Call it basic, but these artful doorsteps were an intricate fantasy for me. I didn’t just see jack-o-lanterns and flowers…I saw a vision of what my life could be like. I thought about a doorstep that children would come home to, fresh from the school bus. I thought about trick-or-treaters in October, reaching high on tip-toe to ring the doorbell. I imagined a dog perched near the window and birds in the trees out front. But mostly, I thought about the notion that our front doors really do represent the most beautiful welcome for visitors- whether they be expected, or just driving by while lost in daydreams.

Perhaps that’s why I find myself scooping up armloads of gourds  and positioning potted mums in just the right place. Maybe that’s why I don’t mind stringing orange lights on the bushes. Because there is a weirdly cool feeling that comes from realizing that the thing you fantasized about has come to fruition. The holiday-themed patio? The whimsical decor? The bus stop, the trick-or-treaters, even the birds chirping out the window? I can claim all of it as reality…and it’s a wonderful reality to hold onto and lock away in a memory bank.

I’ll confess: I will always covet returning to my city girl roots. I will always champion restorative exploration. And maybe one day, far into the future, my kids will drive around Glencoe in those early moments of October, and they will look out the window and dream. Whatever the vision, whatever takes hold, it will be theirs to cherish. 

Let us not forget the details that stick around, for it is possible to find significance in something very small. As a new month unfolds itself, someone, somewhere is opening a car door, stepping a foot out in the world, and breaking into a wide smile. 

Monday Motivation: An Irish Blessing

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Photo by Nicolas Veithen on Pexels.com

***Yesterday, a beloved member of my church retired and this song was sung in honor of the new path that lay ahead. I then learned that my pal gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. This morning, a friend’s beloved dog had passed on. All of these moments seized at my heart. So I’ll share this blessing with you…and if someone else you know needs, it’s okay to pass it on.

May the road rise up to meet you
May the wind be at your back
May the sun shine warm upon your face
May the rain fall softly on your fields
and until we meet again
May you keep safe in the gentle, loving arms of God.

City Girl Confessions: The Magic in the Mess

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

If you want to see my anxiety shoot through the roof, just say the word ‘messy.’ I get a little cringe-y and creeped out when it comes to certain things, and let’s just say that paint, play dough, clay, and slime are the stuff of nightmares for me. Yet, children covet this squishy stuff. They cherish the mess. And there are loads of studies that point to the benefit of this creative play.

It hit me on one of those last, lingering summer days…the kind where minutes pass by like hours and adults are just craving that first day of school. Don’t get me wrong, summer is a glorious, heavenly existence in the Midwest. Ours was filled with camps, trips up north, pool days, popsicles, and explorations of every mini-golf park in a 40-mile radius. But those last days of summer? The ones right before school? Those days are kind of excruciating. The emotions are high, the energy levels higher, and that presents some interesting clashes. Bottom line: new transitions can throw us all for a loop, and everyone in my home was feeling the stress of that. 

So I decided to break my own rules and bring on the mess. Long ago, my sister gifted my child a Jackson Pollock art kit from the Museum of Modern Art. It came with acrylic paint, a canvas, drop cloth, and information on ‘action painting.’ Now if you’re not familiar with Pollock’s work, just imagine wildly tossing, flicking, and splattering paint all over a canvas. Yes, this is the very messiest form of art one can embrace. 

My children absolutely loved it. Pollock once said that putting a canvas on the floor and walking around all four sides to paint allowed him to feel as though he were literally within the painting. I can confirm that my children seemed to have felt the same way based on the colors that sailed through the air and the shrieks of glee that came from my backyard. It was a mess indeed: on their hands, their clothes, their bodies, the pavement, the grass, the canvas, the drop cloth…paint really does travel when the artist is at work.

Witnessing this mess was oddly joyful for me. Let’s face it- life will always be messy. It will always necessitate a clean up- literal and figurative. Making peace with this notion allowed me to put down the stress baggage that I so willingly carry. 

When the paint dried and my backyard sort-of recovered, I walked into Signature of Art in downtown Glencoe. I placed the canvas on the front desk and said, “I need to frame this. It’s the memories of my summer.”

The gentleman working nodded; he understood exactly what I meant. And I’ll confess: one day, I will see this paint splattered canvas hanging somewhere in my home, and I will think of this particularly messy day. A day with paint-splattered hands and backyard shrieks. I will not remember the details of the clean up. But I will remember the magic of the mess.