Category Archives: culture

People live downtown?

It’s funny. When we first moved to Chicago, it seems like everyone we knew lived north, mostly within a 15-block radius in Lakeview.

Slowly, our friends began to migrate and/or populate west. Wicker Park ruled, and even we fell within its jurisdiction in nearby Ukrainian Village.

These days? It seems like everyone is moving to the Loop or South Loop.

Back when everyone lived in Lakeview, it would have been unfathomable to me as to why anyone would move downtown. It costs more for less space. Living close to work would make it dangerously convenient to stay late.

So, is the migration to the Loop and South Loop new? Or have I just reached the place in life where people my age have the means + desire to live downtown?

My guess is the latter. People have been living in the Loop and South Loop for years, much to my ignorance. With views like these in my pal’s new place, I can see the appeal:

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Filed under city life, culture, neighborhoods, random

Lunch in another (not so far away) land

Yesterday, Elaine, my good pal/running partner/former and current co-worker, invited me out for lunch adventure to Roly Poly. I was quite obliged to help her use an expiring Groupon.

As it turned out, Roly Poly was a bit of a hike from our office. Cutting through the misty, balmy air on the several block walk  for rolled sandwiches and baked chips felt like trekking to another country.

And it almost was! We ended up in this tiny nook on LaSalle, somewhere between Chicago and an old European city.

With its charming wrought-iron entryway and cobblestone streets that were flanked by hints of modern architecture, I was swept momentarily onto a Parisian side street.

Like this one.

Well, I can dream, right?

Speaking of treks, Chicago and Paris, I read this interesting article today in the Chicago Magazine that compares the saturation of public transportation in Chicago vs. Paris. I’ll give you two guesses as to which city won that one.

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Filed under Chicago, city life, culture

Books and the Nook

Oh, the kids these days. They’re all tweeting, listening to iPods, using iPads and reading books on eReaders.

Now, I’m one of them (sorta). I’m not one of the cool kids with an iPad 2, but I did recently receive a Barnes and Noble NOOK Color a few months ago for my birthday. The NOOK was an unexpected joint gift from my husband and in-laws.

Voila!

The NOOK comes with a color touchscreen, built-in wi-fi, and apps such as Pandora and Sudoku. I’m a big fan of the crossword puzzle app too (nerd alert!). The best is the immediacy of downloading books. If I’ve procrastinated getting a book for my book club? It’s there in seconds. Huge hardback books weigh less than a pound on the NOOK. And magazines look amazing.

But to be honest, before getting the NOOK, I was pretty hesitant about the whole eReader thing. I never wanted a Kindle. I considered myself a traditionalist of reading. There’s just something cozy and familiar about curling up with a good paperback book. Ahhh, and the smell of  books. Thats something technology can never replace. Also, I love supporting Open Books book store, a nonprofit that promotes literacy.

Curious: where do you fit in?

Books made of paper, eReaders or a combo of both?

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Filed under culture, hobbies

Notes on another city: Amsterdam

Oh, hi. I’m back from writing hiatus. At least I hope. I’ve been jetsetting across multiple destinations—first, Amsterdam and then back to my semi-normal reality. And what a whirlwind it has been.

So, yes, baby went to Amsterdam, with the husband and two amazing pals, Ryan and Sarah. Along the way, we met up with a swell bloke, Marcus, a friend of Ryan and Sarah’s across the pond. It’s safe to say that a grand time was had by all.

I mean, how could you not have an amazing time here?

Amsterdam’s beautiful old buildings, cobblestone streets and prolific canals were bewitching. And combined with the culture, food and lifestyle? They made Amsterdam the first place I’ve visited recently in which I could actually envision myself living.

Notes on lifestyle

Beyond the beauty of the city, what impressed me most about Amsterdam (which is also true of the few European cities I’ve visited) is its slower pace. People just seem to savor life a little more. Afternoons are spent at cafes lingering over coffee or a beer with friends. Dinners are events that last hours. It’s refreshing. In fact, finding fast food restaurants or carry-out coffee shops in Amsterdam is rather difficult. And if you do, they’re likely American chains in tourist areas. It’s a good reminder that we Americans shouldn’t rush through life so quickly.

I was surprised that the cafes were so packed outdoors. While we love patio dining in Chicago, we’d scoff at the notion of sitting outside in 45–50 degree weather. Talk to us in May when the weather is in the 60s.

Oh and the bikes! Dear lord, the bikes. Adults on bikes. Children on bikes. Adults with children on bikes. Everyone rides bikes. Drivers seemed to be more respectful of bikers, which is perhaps while you never saw anyone wearing a helmet. It was kind of unnerving (especially having seen countless bike accidents stateside), but I was told it was because of the slower pace of street traffic. Related: I never saw one overweight person in Amsterdam, most likely due to the lack of fast food and everyone being so active.

I imagined my dear pal Megan whizzing by with baby B on one of these. Perhaps they’re just coming back from Noordermarket with some fresh produce and cheese. I would want them to be wearing helmets though.

Also, the locals were extremely friendly and accommodating. I never got a sense of disapproval of our Americanism. Aside from a few Aussie dudes we met. That doesn’t count.

Notes on food

I’m guessing people don’t visit The Netherlands for its food like they might visit Spain or Italy. From what I’ve read, traditional Dutch cuisine consists of a lot of sausage, potatoes and greens. While we didn’t end up dining at a traditional Dutch restaurant during our trip, we did sample quite a bit of delicious local fare. Some of the highlights include:

Dutch pancakes (pannekoeken)

Sweet Dutch pancakes are famed, however, I prefer mine savory. Spinach, tomatoes, onions, pine nuts…incredible.

Apple pie

You know that phrase, “As American as apple pie?” I’m not sure how we got that national accolade. Dutch apple pie is incredible.


Cheese

Dear god, we ate so much cheese on this trip. I am saying this like it’s a good thing. I felt like we ate approximately this amount.

Of course, many beers and cones of chips were consumed as well. Being an international city, Amsterdam offers practically every type of cuisine. There were notable amounts of Argentinian and Indonesian restaurants in particular.

Notes on being a tourist

Part of what makes Amsterdam accessible is the fact that almost everyone speaks English fluently. Which is good because I found Dutch to be impenetrable for the short time I was there. (Give me more time and some formal training though, and I would give it my best shot.)

Like lots of people, I like to do as the locals do when I travel. Given that we stayed in an apartment in Jordaan area, which is a lovely neighborhood a little ways off the tourist strip, it was pretty easy. We hit up corner pubs and cafes, perused the local markets and dined in nearby restaurants. We wandered, window shopped and languished in the Dutch way of life.

We could totally be locals. I stole this photo taken by Sarah Ruark cause I love it.

 

But of course, we did the touristy things as well. My favorite was the countryside bike tour during which we saw a windmill and visited a farm that produces cheese and clogs. My other favorite was the Anne Frank House, which was powerful, moving and every bit like the house I had imagined from reading her diary. We also went to the Heineken Experience, which is very touristy but mandatory, as well as the Van Gogh museum. Next time I make it back, I’d love to see the Rijksmuseum and Rembrandt’s house.

And of course, I’d be remised if I didn’t mention Amsterdam’s notorious vices. Everyone knows that prostitution is legal and marijuana is decriminalized in Amsterdam. It was interesting to experience a place with such relaxed attitudes about typically taboo practices and learn how their legalization or decriminalization has contributed to less crime overall, and in some cases, a healthier economy. I digress.

Anyway, we had gaggles of fun in Amsterdam. If you’re going soon, can you take me with you?

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Filed under city life, culture, travel

Doing good, doing well

Sometimes I really like being Facebook friends with my sister Tricia and her college friends. It’s encouraging to see youthful optimism.

It makes me ask myself, where the hell did mine go?

I feel like I’m too young to have already lost youthful optimism. I’m not even 30. Yet, I’ve lost the feeling that I can affect change. That my voice can be heard. That I can be a do-gooder. Especially in the current landscape of extreme bi-partisanism and unsettling world events. Nothing seems to get done except arguing over who’s right or wrong.

But I remember that something can be done in small strides. Joe recently suggested that we volunteer for a Bin Donated event to sort books for Open Books, one of my favorite organizations in the city. A great idea.

So, a group of us sorted through 6,200 books, dividing them between fiction and nonfiction.

Then, we boxed them up to be inventoried. Along the way, we skipped past Provence, put together A Million Little Pieces, survived the Lipstick Jungle, Ate. Prayed. Loved, and caught glimpse of sordid romances.

And the profits from these used books, when sold, will support literacy and creative writing programs.

I have to remind myself sometimes that we all can’t all sell our possessions and save the whales (or can’t we?). Some of us aren’t as bright eyed as we used to be. We may have become purveyors of consumerism (this girl), even if it’s not exactly what we had in mind as college kids. Maybe we should stop and remind ourselves that small gestures affect change in their own way. Like doing a favor for a friend to make his or her day  better. Or speaking up for something we believe in. Or  even giving an hour of time to improve the world in a very small way.

Joe, a do-gooder in his day job, let me know that Volunteer Match and Craigslist are good places to find volunteer opps. Our friend Mary is also planning cooking nights for Ronald McDonald House.

Just in case you want to reconnect with your youthful optimism.

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Filed under Chicago, culture

The city makes you grow up slower

…or, at least that is my excuse.

Yet another birthday has passed. Related: I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want out of life.

Yes, the heavy stuff. Houses, kids, career, experiences—the whole nine yards.

I’ve also been thinking about what my 19-year-old self would think about where we are today. She would certainly expect us to be a real grown-up—married, living in a lovely house with a few kids running around and writing for a fabulous magazine.

Well, at least I’ve got the married part down.

I have no regrets about moving to the city. But it’s dawned on me—the city has made me “grow up” by society’s definitions a little slower. The biggest reason? Cost of living. Rent, groceries, utilities, gas, parking tickets, vet bills—everything in the city costs more. Mortgages are also more expensive, so it’s harder to save up for a proper down payment. Especially with all the wonderful distractions around like tasty restaurants, fancy bars, shows, and shopping.

And babies! Dear lord, people ask nonstop about when we’re having babies. Probably because we’ve been married three and a half years. And that’s what grown-up, married people do. It’s in our future, but I can’t yet fathom affording childcare, having enough apartment space, or taking babies on public transportation. My dear friend Megan makes having a baby seem completely manageable and even fun. It’s encouraging.

Grown-up or not, I think my 19-year-old-self would be pretty pleased about our life. We have a great husband, amazing friends and awesome experiences under our belt.

Look at these awesome “grown-ups.” Life is good.

For now, I’ll convince myself that I have the rest of my life to be grown up.

Where do you stand? Has the city made you grow up slower?

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All by ourselves?

I’ve recently noticed that most people, including myself, are generally afraid of doing things alone. Here’s how I know:

A few weeks ago, I was busily running errands in preparation for the holidays, out-of-town travels and Joe’s birthday. It was after work, and I was starving.

I had cash in my wallet—a rarity—so I stopped at Sultan’s (a cash-only joint) for a falafel. (For my money, Sultan’s has the best Middle Eastern food in town. And for cheap! A mere $6 gets you a delicious falafel sandwich and a lentil soup. I digress.)

I started to order the falafel to go. After all, I was by myself. But I was starving and didn’t have the spare hands to carry another bag, so I plopped down at a window booth and ate my dinner. All by myself.

I was so hungry, I couldn’t even wait to take this photo. Amazing. And embarrassing.

Taking a break from the deliciousness, I noticed I wasn’t by myself. Individuals in the booth behind and in front of me were also eating alone.

The funny thing was, all of us were using smartphones. I was checking Facebook for the millionth time that day to pretend that I busy with someone, somewhere.

So, why is it that people are hesitant to eat alone? Dining is a social event, so I guess eating alone may make you feel alone, even if it’s not the case. Even as an independent person, I feel weird about it. Perhaps co-habitation has ruined me.

I think that we should celebrate and savor our independence, like my friend Casey does. Every once in a while, she “takes herself out to dinner,” enjoying a lovely glass of wine with a lovely meal. It’s something that her dad does often. I find it refreshing.

The same goes with movies. Many people don’t like going to the movies alone. Or bars. Both places are dark. I don’t get it.

Which camp are you in? Do you (or would you) dine alone?

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Filed under Chicago, city life, culture, food, random