FALL BRINGS MEMORIES OF SUMMER

I made a pumpkin-pecan pie this weekend. Not a big deal, one would say … Unless you see it for what it really is. It is Fall.

Now it’s no secret among those that know me, but this is my most-favorite of seasons.

I am trying my best to embrace the falling leaves, watching the sidewalks slip into vibrant hues of red, orange and yellow. I repeatedly fed into my craving for apple cider recently, possibly to some detriment of “calorie counting.” Two days of breakfast consisting of amazing pumpkin bread from my friend David has me dreaming of making my own. (And of carving a Jack-o’-lantern some time this month for Halloween.)

But all of my Autumn excitement is also making me look back at the Summer past.

I’m not sure what it is about having friends and family come visit that always makes me see Chicago in a different way. In some ways, even after four-plus years of calling the city my home, I still feel like a tourist myself. Yet, when someone new comes to visit, I find myself delving even deeper into vacation mode, seeing things anew, or simply new. This Summer was a good one for me in terms of welcoming people I love to the city I love.

My friends Abbey and Amber were the first to come this summer, as they made their way from North Carolina. Here for an engagement party for Abbey’s brother, getting to spend time with me was not the focus of their trip, but equally important to us all.

I had yet to meet their son Aiden, now two, and being able to hold an actual conversation with someone so little continues to blow my mind, all these months later. Spending the day downtown with this amazing family was something I needed for the soul, even if I didn’t realize it at the time. Abbey joking on the way up to their hotel room that it was like “Amber was getting ready for a first date,” as she got dressed to meet me that morning; The ability to wrap my arms around Amber for the first time in years and hug her tightly; The joy of seeing Abbey’s excitement in being caught up in the middle of filming for a Vince Vaughn movie; Watching what wonderful parents they both were as we played around Millennium Fountain and Aiden’s delight at getting to play in the water … These are the things I will take away from their visit, along with the anticipation of seeing them again.

My Mom was next, just later that week, although I can’t really classify her as a visitor anymore.

Having spent a lot of time in Chicago by this point, her idea of a vacation is simply living my life with me. There’s no need to take her to the Willis Tower, Hot Doug’s or any tourist traps. On my couch with a good book or simply walking Huxley around the block is more-than pleasing for her. There are always the “normal” things we do when she comes, shopping (for me of course), hanging out at my apartment, having sushi at least one meal and taking my dog to the beach.

That’s the best thing about my Mom, she’s simply happy being with me.

As long as I get her some Garrett’s Popcorn, that is.

July brought my birthday, Pitchfork Music Festival and a slate of “regular” visitors.

Arriving on the actual date, my friend Jake drove overnight from Alabama just to spend time celebrating with me. As I knew it would be crazy around the time of my actual birthday, I didn’t plan anything special, just letting nature take its course towards fun. Spending the day downtown in Millennium Park, lying on the grass with Jake, could not have been a more-fitting gift for me this year. Watching the kids playing in the fountain, women dancing to the salsa music from Pritzker Pavilion, and my photographer friend Leah (also up then from the South) capture all of the things she was seeing for the first time was simply icing on the more cupcake I had to celebrate.

The rest of the weekend was split between Union Park for Pitchfork and my back porch for conversation. The pairing of the four of us was just as much fun as ever, even having to ride in the back of Jake’s truck in downtown Chicago brought some semblance of joy.

I am still brought back to the weekend each time a plane flies overhead. I can hear Jake saying. “There’s Chip and Kalah,” even though, sadly, I know that it’s not.

I love my best friend. After 17 years with her by my side … cringe, yes, we are old … every moment we have to spend with each other is just as great as the first.

For months, I felt guilty every time someone else would come to visit, knowing Robin wanted to be up here with me as well. When she called mid-summer to confirm a weekend trip, it laid plans I most-looked forward to. Like my Mom, she has been her several time before, so it never seems to be a touristy trip. Like my Mom, she is just happy to be around me, my couch becoming a place of refuge for days of catching up and dissection of my single life and hers with a husband and children.

Leisurely afternoons downtown, led to even more laid-back evenings back in my neighborhood. And whether it was meeting a bratwurst down by the Chicago Public Library or having al pastor burritos at the tiny place, Carmela’s, by my house, Robin got her fill of all-things Chicago. (At least the things that were important to me anyway, including getting to meet some of my friends here.)

And like my Mom, we had to go to Garrett’s.

The best thing about family? You can go nearly a decade without seeing them, but you know that you love them just as much as you always did.

Last month brought my last visitors to Chicago, my cousin Paul and his family. Here for a few days, I only got to spend their last night here with them due to work conflicts. But I am thankful I was able to get up with them … even if for only a few hours. Having never met Paul’s wife, Ofelya, I wasn’t sure how she would react to his long-lost cousin honing in on their vacation time, but I was immediately family to her as well. And her to me. Their son, Blake, provided most of the entertainment for the evening … When he wasn’t busy watching “Dora the Explorer,” that is.

It was more-than enlightening to see my cousin, now a grown man, with his family. But the time didn’t seem so far removed from the days we spent rolling down the hill in our grandparents’ backyard as children, our Mothers later picking all the Fall leaves off our clothes in time for family pictures.

See, in the end it all comes back to the leaves.

So bring them on.

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A (NEAR) PERFECT TWO DAYS

SPENDING AN HOUR LOOKING THROUGH RECORDS AT SHAKE, RATTLE & READ WAS NOT ON THE AGENDA FOR SATURDAY, BUT MY FRIEND KIRK AND I FOUND OURSELVES THERE IN HONOR OF NATIONAL RECORD STORE DAY. I’M NOT QUITE SURE WHAT IT IS ABOUT MY WEEKENDS LATELY … NO MATTER WHAT I PLAN, I NEVER SEEM TO GET ANY OF IT ACCOMPLISHED.

Oh … the weekend.

It doesn’t matter how my week is going at work, I am on constant countdown for Friday now that warmer weather has finally hit. When 5 p.m. came this past one, I knew I had no other concrete plans than grabbing a beer with friends that night at Hopleaf … and I liked it that way.

Cleaning house, seeing a friend I keep canceling on and going to watch “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” which another friend has music directed, were the main items on my agenda for Saturday and Sunday.

But somehow, it never seems to go that way.

My friend Kirk and I celebrated National Record Store Day Saturday afternoon at Shake, Rattle & Read. Less than $10 was spent for Sonny Rollins and XTC on vinyl, and I was proud of my finds … and Kirk’s $15 copy of “Zeppelin III” as well. Then we were off to take Huxley to the dog beach at Montrose Harbor … which thankfully wore him out for the rest of the day. When Kirk dropped us off after the beach, I told him I would come up to his place after I cleaned some, so we could hang out and listen to records.

Less than an hour later, I was standing in the middle of Target with my friend Jessica. Having gotten a ZIP car for work in the suburbs Saturday, she called to see if there were any errands I needed to run before she returned the vehicle. Although nothing was pressing for me, spending the early evening doing retail therapy with a great girl was enough incentive for me. After lots of laughs – and lots of cash – I found myself back at home … and later at Kirk’s for coffee and Katamari. (Yes, I am too old to be playing video games … but it’s quite an amazing one.)

Sunday morning found Kirk, his roommate Hunter and I waiting for more than an hour to sit down for brunch at Tweet. (Even a screaming baby at the table next to us could not override our joy at finally being seated.) A favorite place for the guys, it was my first time venturing into the “famed” breakfast spot. The coffee is great, the food fresh and the staff super friendly … Although fully worth the wait, I’ll be making it a point to go during the week now that the sun has come out of hiding.

After a necessary walk back home, we found ourselves lounging on the couch listening to Beck’s “Sea Change” as we gave our food time to digest. Next, we all headed north on the Red Line for coffee at Metropolis where we hung out for an hour or so enjoying our lattes and French presses while deciding what to do next. We agreed on “dinner” (cheese and crackers … fresh pineapple … and later ice cream) and went our separate ways, after agreeing to meet up again just an hour later.

And that’s exactly what we did, as we ended our weekend back on their couch with snacks and “Inglourious Basterds.”

It’s Monday now …

My apartment looks as if it was hit by a tornado. I never went to see my friend Amy. Thankfully, “Whorehouse” runs through June. And I have further proof of why I don’t like to actually make plans.

Besides … there’s always next weekend to accomplish all the things I failed to do.

It’s only about 96 hours away anyway.

YES, THE FACT THAT IT IS FINALLY SPRING HAS A LOT TO DO WITH ME FEELING SO RESTLESS AT THE MOMENT. AS TULIPS POP UP EVERYWHERE ALONG THE STREETS OF UPTOWN, I FIND MYSELF WANTING TO SPEND AS MUCH TIME AS POSSIBLE OUTSIDE ENJOYING NATURE’S COLORS.

TWEET, JUST A 10-MINUTE WALK FROM MY UPTOWN APARTMENT, PROVIDED A GOOD WAY TO BREAK UP THE MONOTONY, AS I USUALLY END UP AT GOLDEN HOUSE NEXT DOOR TO MY BUILDING FOR BREAKFAST WITH FRIENDS ON THE WEEKEND. DESPITE THE DELICIOUSNESS OF THE FOOD AND COFFEE BOTH, THE FIRST HOUR AT THE RESTAURANT WAS EXCRUCIATING, AS I HAD TO WAIT WITH TWO GUYS WHO HAD YET TO HAVE THEIR CAFFEINE … AND WERE LOW ON PATIENCE. BUT THE CORN AREPOS MORE THAN MADE UP FOR THEIR DISCONTENT.

A COMMON PLACE TO FIND HUNTER, KIRK AND I HERE LATELY? ON THEIR COUCH LISTENING TO ONE OF COUNTLESS RECORDS OR WATCHING AN OLD MOVIE HUNTER THINKS WE “JUST HAVE TO SEE.” THANKFULLY, HUXLEY HAS ALSO BECOME A MEMBER OF THE “FAMILY,” SO HE’S NEVER LEFT HOME ALONE.

AFTER ONLY ONE VISIT, I KNOW THAT METROPOLIS WILL NOW BE MY GO-TO PLACE FOR COFFEE. HUNTER HAS BEEN SINGING THE SHOP’S PRAISES SINCE I MET HIM, AND EVEN THOUGH I HAVE HAD THEIR BREW BEFORE, I HAD NEVER BEEN UP TO THE CAFE ITSELF. COZY, ODDLY QUIET, AND WITHOUT AN OUNCE OF PRETENSION, METROPOLIS NOW HAS A FAN IN ME.

HUNTER, UPON FINDING SPILLED ADVIL ON THE GRANVILLE PLATFORM, REALIZED IT COULD BE USED AS CHALK. WHILE I WAS ABLE TO SPELL OUT MY WHOLE NAME USING THE IBUPROFEN, HUNTER KEPT IT SIMPLE WITH HIS “H” WHILE KIRK LATER IMPRESSED US WITH HIS MODERN MEDICINAL ART SKILLS. YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF FINDING JOY IN THE SMALLEST OF THINGS. AH … THE WEEKEND.

A ‘FINE’ DINING EXPERIENCE

THE ELEGANT TABLE SETTINGS AT SHULA’S STEAK HOUSE DOWNTOWN WOULDN’T NORMALLY BE SEEN THROUGH MY LENS. BUT THANKS TO A TERRIBLE DINING EXPERIENCE, I FOUND MYSELF THERE AGAIN, ONLY THIS TIME WITH DIFFERENT COMPANY AND A WAY DIFFERENT OUTCOME.

Sometimes it pays to complain. At least that’s what I learned nearly two years ago.

My best friend here in Chicago, Amy, was due to get married in the summer of 2008. Five months before the wedding, she had a smart change of heart and ended the relationship. The weekend her wedding was to take place, a few of us girls got together and took a “vacation” downtown.

After a lazy Saturday afternoon in the hotel room, we found ourselves hungry and ended up in the lobby restaurant, Shula’s Steak House. (Not our scene, obviously as we are not 50-year-old businessmen, but it was close and we still had to get dressed to go listen to music at Underground Wonder Bar.) Three hours later, filled with cold soup, wrong orders, raw chicken and a lot of waiting, we all left pretty disgusted.

And at $167, split between me and another friend Laura, who like Amy is a teacher, we all left pretty depressed. (And that was with no alcohol consumption and before a tip.) Thankfully, that was the year I decided to e-mail companies if something was wrong … sort of an experiment if you will. I got $6 in coupons from Hostess after my box of 6 100 Calorie Cupcakes only had 5; and later $5 from Green Giant after I found a quarter-sized piece of wood in my bag of roasted potatoes.

Shula’s? Well, almost a year after e-mailing them, they sent me a $200 gift certificate. And the expiration date was yesterday.

Amy and I never really got excited about going back, I’ll be honest. We would mention every once in a while that we needed to go, even if it was to drink wine and eat dessert. Though we see each other once a week as religiously as possible, heading downtown is rarely what we do … not when all we need is in our own neighborhoods.

Knowing she would be with her family at Midevil Times yesterday, (Hey, it’s her birthday this week, and it’s where she wanted to go for the first time as a joke. And yes, I was way jealous.) I was left with the task of inviting someone else for this extravagant treat. (Or torture, based on previous experience.) Most of my friends eat well, come on now … more than a few of them are gay men, and there is an actor, an event coordinator and a lawyer in the mix. And some of the others have wives at home that feed them or are professional-grade chefs in their own right. (Look, correct usage!)

I didn’t really have to think all that hard, because I knew I wanted it to be appreciated. I have recently started hanging out with two of my neighbors, 20-something guys who are both interns at different recording studios here in the city. And smart boys that they are, any extra money goes to mint-condition vinyl and a new cartridge for the turntable. (Now you know why we have all so immediately bonded. And how I am forever in debt, because I have already learned so much.) So I knew, both being from the South (yes, another bonus) they would jump at the chance for steak.

Oddly enough, even though we were truly out of place this time, it turned out to be a pretty great evening.

And I never have to go back again.

AS I HAD PLANS LATER THAT NIGHT, I CHOSE THE EARLIEST RESERVATION POSSIBLE, SO WE WERE MET WITH EMPTY TABLES AND GREAT SERVICE. TRUTH-BE-TOLD, I WAS HAVING SO MUCH FUN WITH MY DINNER GUESTS, I CANCELLED MY EARLIER ENGAGEMENT TO GO PLAY VIDEO GAMES WITH THEM, BECAUSE WELL … IT SOUNDED SO MUCH BETTER. SEE, THAT IS WHY I NEVER MAKE PLANS.

THE REAL REASON I NEEDED HELP BURNING THROUGH THAT $200 GIFT CERTIFICATE? MY CHOICES ON THE MENU WERE FEW, AND I ENJOYED A BAKED POTATO, SALAD AND GRILLED ASPARAGUS. SHULA’S WOULD NOT GET PETA’S RECOMMENDATION BY ANY MEANS. BUT THEY DO GET A THUMBS-UP FOR THE BASKET OF BREAD.

THROUGHOUT THE NIGHT, I REMARKED TO KIRK, SEEN ABOVE, AND HUNTER THAT I WISHED WE HAD BEEN RECORDED WHILE THERE … SORT OF A “THINGS YOU NEVER THOUGHT YOU’D HEAR AT SHULA’S.” AT ONE POINT, THERE WAS TALK OF “CLUB SAUCE,” WHICH ALMOST MADE ME CRY FROM LAUGHING. (“ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT,” FOR THE UNKNOWING.) IT WAS LIKE HAVING A MEAL WITH MY LITTLE BROTHERS, WHO I MISS DEARLY, SO AN ADDED TREAT, I GUESS.

DON’T LET THE REFINED WAY HE’S HOLDING HIS CUTLERY FOOL YOU … AT ONE POINT, HUNTER EVEN THREW OUT AN UNCANNY MR. BURNS IMPRESSION FROM “THE SIMPSONS.” (AND YES, I HAD HIM DO IT AGAIN, AS IT WAS QUITE SPOT-ON.)

THE REMAINS OF HUNTER’S FILET MIGNON … AND THE MAIN REASON THESE PHOTOS FOR THIS POST ARE IN BLACK AND WHITE. A TAD BIT UNDERCOOKED FOR HIS TASTE, I GOT THE WAITER TO PACK IT UP AND HUXLEY WAS ABLE TO ENJOY SOME OF IT LATER AT HOME.

RIGHT BRAIN WINS EVERY TIME

THE BEST OF THE REST, I GUESS. I PHOTOGRAPH A LOT OF THINGS THAT DON’T END UP IN MY BLOG (INCLUDING PICKLED BRUSSELS SPROUTS AT JOEL AND JEREMY’S CHRISTMAS PARTY.) VIOLENTLY ILL AT HOME TODAY, (NOT A GOOD MENTAL IMAGE WITH SPROUTS ABOVE, I AM SURE) I BEGAN ANOTHER WAY TO SHARE WHAT I SEE WITH ALL OF YOU WHO LOVE ME.

So what’s a girl to do when she’s too sick to leave her couch … but bored out of her mind? In my case, start a new blog.

I was in the mood to create today. (Truthfully, I was actually looking forward to going to work, as the need to make something was palpable. Unfortunately, my body had other ideas.)

Midday, I began to clean photos off my laptop, only to realize there were a lot from the last year that had not made my blog or the newspaper for some reason. My mother continues to ask me every time she reads something, “Did you take that picture?” I have to assure her again and again that I did, so this is mainly for her. (Again.) Now she can see the other images that were important enough for me to document with my thankfully work-provided, but all-together crappy, digital camera.

It’s also in part for my friend Joe, who has said I write too long for him sometimes. (There is more to that statement, but since I love him … I’ll refrain.) Ah critics … So now he can just flip through and look at pictures when he just needs to occupy his mind for a minute. Hats off to him.

After going a few years without taking many photographs at all, I will admit to being a little obsessive from time to time. But as those of you who know and love me surely realize, it’s all in my search to find more beautiful balance and continued growth in this world of mine. So I guess look at this as a companion piece to “SEEN IN CHICAGO.” Where my words describe what I see here, the lens will do it for me at the other. I write what I see. I shoot what I see. Sometimes I get it right/rite. Sometimes I don’t. All part of the learning process.

Ladies and gentlemen, untrained eye chicago.

I’m thankful for those of you who like seeing things my way.

http://untrainedeyedchicago.wordpress.com/

FOOD FOR THE SOUL

THEY SAY BREAKFAST IS THE BEST WAY TO START YOUR DAY, AND I COULDN’T AGREE MORE. ESPECIALLY WHEN THAT MEAL IS SHARED WITH PEOPLE YOU LOVE. A HAPPY, LAST-MINUTE BREAKFAST WAS HAD BY DAVID, JOSH AND I SATURDAY MORNING AT GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT.

Oscar Wilde said “only boring people are brilliant at breakfast.”

I tend to disagree there, Mr. Wilde. I do some of my best work with a plate of eggs in front of me, surrounded by quite interesting friends. Now granted, sometimes it can be hard to get a conversation going before any of us have had our coffee, but once the hot, brown liquid is flowing through our veins, so will the topics.

This weekend was a tale of two breakfasts. One was a last-minute jaunt to our favorite spot; the other a more leisurely brunch with a girlfriend.

Different as night and day … or well maybe as different as morning and mid-morning. But Mom was always right when she said breakfast was the most important meal of the day.

Not only can it feed your belly, it can feed your soul.

THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT THAT HAS BEGUN TO FEEL LIKE AN EXTENSION OF HOME IN A WAY. I GUESS KNOWING YOU CAN GET CHEAP, GOOD FOOD MERE STEPS AWAY PROVES TOO TEMPTING FOR THE THREE OF US. (WHEN JOSH CALLED, I AT FIRST TOLD HIM NO AS WE HAD JUST BEEN THERE LAST WEEKEND. LESS THAN 30 MINUTES LATER, I WAS SITTING IN A BOOTH BY THE WINDOW.) I DON’T THINK I WILL EVER TIRE OF PHOTOGRAPHING THIS RESTAURANT EITHER, AS THERE IS ALWAYS SO MUCH TO LOOK AT THERE. SO MUCH PERSONALITY.

BRUNCH ON SUNDAY WITH JESSICA AT MAGNOLIA CAFE ON WILSON WAS A MORE DIGNIFIED (AND PRICEY) AFFAIR. BUT WE BOTH AGREE IT IS WORTH IT FOR THE MANGO MIMOSAS AND THE LEMON CURD THEY SERVE WITH THEIR MUFFINS, (OH. MY. GOODNESS.) PLUS THE COFFEE IS STRONG. MEALS WITH JESSICA BRING OUT MY MORE GIRLIE SIDE, AS WE CHAT ABOUT MAKEUP AND HAIR, SHOWS AND WORK, AND THE EVER-POPULAR TOPIC OF RELATIONSHIPS. SINCE JESSICA IS YOUNGER THAN ME BY NEARLY A DECADE (GASP!) I CAN ACTUALLY IMPART SOME WORDS OF WISDOM TO HER. SOMEONE HAS TO GET SOMETHING OUT OF MY MISTAKES, RIGHT?

HEART ABOUNDS IN UPTOWN

QUEEN, STYX, SIMPLE MINDS, TODD RUNDGREND, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, R.EM., REO SPEEDWAGON … NOW THAT’S QUITE AN ECLECTIC TWO ROWS AT SHAKE, RATTLE & READ. WHY DO I LOVE THIS TINY UPTOWN ESTABLISHMENT? WELL, IT’S NO RECKLESS RECORDS, BUT SOME OF MY GREATEST USED VINYL TREASURES HAVE BEEN FOUND HERE. (INCLUDING ORNETTE COLEMAN’S “VIRGIN BEAUTY” FOR $8 YESTERDAY.)

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways … I love thee with a passion put to use, in my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith. I love thee with a love I seemed to lose.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I think I’ve started a bit of a trend here, so this will be the last time I apologize for using someone else’s poetry. But know I only ever do it with the highest amount of respect and because sometimes it takes another’s words to explain what I am exactly trying to say … or trigger it, anyway.

How Browning felt about the person/animal/sidewalk/roasted lamb/quill pen … (I wasn’t in her head and I can only presume what any artist may be writing about, so I try to refrain.) is how I am feeling about Chicago today. Well, Uptown specifically. My 2010 Valentine of sorts. And a pure one.

Following a time of ultimate grief, I have been startled at how I look at things now. It IS more child-like in a way. After four years (and almost two living on the same block) I feel such a love, such an ownership of my neighborhood … yet I continue to view it each day as new.

I made a comment to a friend about feeling like a tourist now that I constantly have my camera out. But she was right in her response that it was different because I am just documenting what I see. I’ll be honest and say I started doing this blog for my life-long Valentine, Mom, who begged me forever to begin doing one, if only for her. And now that she tells me how much closer it makes her feel to me, hundreds of miles away, I wish I would have sooner.

But I think it would have only been possible now.

I regained many loves I seemed to lose.

THE NUMBER OF BOOKS AND VINYL CRAMMED INTO SHAKE, RATTLE & READ ON BROADWAY IS QUITE AN IMPRESSIVE FEAT. BUT BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAY THERE IS TRULY SOMETHING HERE FOR EVERYONE. “PLATO’S ETHICS,” “JEMIMA J,” “THE HOTTEST STATE” (SORRY, ONLY IN PAPERBACK CHIP) AND “LISTENING TO PROZAC” ALL JUMPED OUT AT ME YESTERDAY. BUT IS WAS A COPY OF “HIGH FIDELITY” (WHERE DID MINE GET TO?) THAT CAME HOME WITH ME, AS I WAS IN THE MOOD TO READ IT AGAIN.

THERE IS SOMETHING ABOUT SEEING THESE LITTLE CARTS UP AND DOWN THE STREETS THAT WARMS MY HEART. (EVEN THOUGH I KNOW I COULD NEVER STAND OUTSIDE ALL DAY IN THIS WEATHER.) MORE PREVALENT IN THE WARMER MONTHS, YOU CAN FIND CORN, SNACKS AND EVEN SNOWCONES ON VIRTUALLY EVERY CORNER.

YEAH, YEAH … SO IN ADDITION TO THE THING I HAVE FOR MEN AND THEIR BEARDS, THERE’S ALSO EXTRA BONUS POINTS FOR PLAYING AN INSTRUMENT. SO IF YOU’RE CARRYING A GUITAR CASE ON THE CTA, YOU WILL AT LEAST GET MY FLEETING ATTENTION. UNFORTUNATELY, IT WOULD TAKE A FULL DRUM KIT TO REALLY IMPRESS ME, AND WELL, THAT’S JUST SILLY. I DON’T EXPECT TO EVER SEE GLENN KOTCHE TOTING HIS WARES ON MY 81 LAWRENCE BUS … EVEN IF IT DOES GO RIGHT TO HIS NEIGHBORHOOD.

SOMETIMES I DO FEEL LIKE A BIT OF A VOYEUR AT GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT BECAUSE I ALWAYS HAVE MY CAMERA OUT WHEN WE’RE THERE. (AND MY FRIEND, JOSH, KEPT TELLING ME I WAS TODAY … SO MAYBE I AM.) BUT THERE IS JUST SOMETHING ABOUT THIS DINER THAT HAS SIMPLY ADHERED ITSELF TO ME AND MOST EVERYONE I KNOW. WHEN I CAME TO LOOK AT MY APARTMENT IN MARCH 2008, MY LANDLORD, TIFFANI, SAID IT WAS THE ONE PLACE SHE WOULD MISS THE MOST. IT TOOK ME ALMOST A YEAR BEFORE I VENTURED IN, BUT SOMEONE WILL DRAG ME THERE (NOT HARD TO DO) AT LEAST ONCE OR TWICE A MONTH NOW. IT’S THE KIND OF PLACE YOU EITHER LOVE OR HATE, I GUESS … AND THE KIND OF PLACE YOU ALWAYS ORDER THE SAME THING. (ME? EGGS, HASHBROWNS, PANCAKES … JOEL? EGGS, CORN-BEEF HASH, PANCAKES … JOSH? EGGS, BACON, FRENCH TOAST … DAVID? BUCKWHEAT PANCAKES … YOU GET THE IDEA.) THE PEOPLE THAT WORK THERE ARE WHAT MAINLY BRINGS ME BACK, AS THEY ARE SOME OF THE WARMEST YOU WILL EVER MEET. AND THE FACT THE ELDERLY HISPANIC MAN KISSES ME ON MY CHEEK AND TALKS TO ME IN SPANISH EVERY TIME HE SEES ME IS JUST ICING ON THE (PAN)CAKE. SINCE JOSH CALLS HIM “MY BOYFRIEND,” TODAY I WILL CONCUR … IF ONLY TO VENTURE THE THOUGHT THAT THANKFULLY VALENTINES COME IN MANY HEART-WARMING FORMS.

A FOUR-LEGGED FURLOUGH WEEKEND

Ah furloughs.

The current bane of my existence.

If it’s not stressful enough living paycheck-to-paycheck, throw in five days off unpaid and give it a whirl. (For some extra spice, we’ll add the $300 in fees my bank refuses to give me back for being less than $30 overdrawn. Yep Colonial, talking to you.)

Needless to say, stress and depression overwhelm me here and there. (And no, I don’t think myself special … I know everyone is facing a lot of the same issues.)

This past weekend was an extended one for me, as I had to take an extra day off. (Being the only Features designer at the moment, I have been “encouraged” to take my furloughs on Monday, as that is our lightest work day.) Usually, I would be jumping for joy at having to take a mini-break from work. But when there is only $23.59 in my bank account – at least I kept it in check this pay period after losing the $300 – that leaves few options for fun.

(Oh, and did I mention I couldn’t pay my cable bill yet? Yep, so no entertainment is coming from inside my apartment at the moment – unless you count all the “Friends” DVDs that have been making the silence bearable.)

Thankfully, Mother Nature smiled upon us in Chicago. A glorious 72-hour period enabled me to enjoy hours of free entertainment outside.

And my dog, Huxley, had the weekend of his life.

PARK

SATURDAY MORNING FOUND US AT PUPTOWN WITH OUR NEIGHBORS DAVID AND COMET, SEEN ABOVE. THE WONDERFUL WEATHER BROUGHT OUT DOZENS OF DOGS AND THEIR OWNERS.

PARK2

AFTER RUNNING AROUND THE PARK FOR HOURS, HUXLEY GOT TO DO ONE OF HIS FAVORITE ACTIVITIES – ROLL IN THE GRASS. (WHICH UNFORTUNATELY IS COVERED IN FALL LEAVES – I HAVE TO REMOVE THEM ALL FROM HIS FUR.) AFTERWARDS, DAVID JAZZED UP A $2.99 ALDI CHEESE PIZZA WITH PINEAPPLE AND BOCA BRATWURST FOR US TO ENJOY AS WE HUNG OUT ON HIS BACK PORCH. SERIOUSLY DELICIOUS. (AND ALWAYS LOVELY JUST TO HANG WITH NOTHING PULLING US AWAY.)

RIVIERA

SATURDAY BROUGHT HOARDS OF AFI FANS TO THE HOOD, AS THE BAND PLAYED AT THE RIVIERA. LIVING TWO DOORS DOWN FROM THE VENUE, SHOW NIGHTS HAVE BECOME HUXLEY’S DREAM. WHEN HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE ARE LINED UP AROUND THE BLOCK ALL DAY, MANY OF THEM ARE WILLING TO GIVE HIM A LITTLE LOVE AS HE WALKS BY. (IN FACT, ON FRIDAY NIGHT, SOME MIDDLE-AGED MEN – THERE FOR THE BLACK CROWES – TRIPPED OVER THEMSELVES TRYING TO GET TO HIM.)

BEACH2

BEACH

SUNDAY MORNING FOUND US AT MONTROSE DOG BEACH, AS IT WAS ANOTHER LOVELY DAY. HUXLEY AND I MET MY FRIEND SHAWN – PLUS HER SISTER BRITNEY, HER BOYFRIEND TAYLOR AND THEIR DOG RUCA – FOR AN HOUR OR SO. AS I FEARED THAT OUR BEACH DAYS WERE DONE FOR THE YEAR – MY 15-POUND DOG GOES RIGHT FOR THE WATER EVERY TIME, AND MAN CAN IT GET FRIGID – IT WAS AN UNEXPECTED TREAT TO GET TO GO SO LATE IN THE SEASON.

HUXLEAVES4

PER USUAL, THERE WAS MORE ROLLING IN THE GRASS AFTER WE LEFT THE BEACH – THIS IS ACTUALLY WHERE THIS FAVORITE PASTIME OF HIS STARTED. AND YES, AFTER HUXLEY HAD ALL HIS FUN, I HAD TO PICK OUT ALL OF THE DEBRIS FROM HIS MATTED, SANDY FUR.

HUXLEY

AFTER LEAVING THE BEACH ON SUNDAY, IT WAS STRAIGHT TO SOGGY PAWS FOR US. MY FRIEND JESSICA – WHO RECENTLY MOVED TO MIAMI – LEFT FIVE WASHES FOR ME ON HER ACCOUNT. (THANKS TO HER FOR NEVER GETTING AROUND TO USING THEM!) AFTER ALL THE SAND, LEAVES, DIRT AND GRASS, HE WAS REALLY STARTING TO SMELL. AFTERWARDS THOUGH, HE WAS SOFT, SHINY AND, MORE THAN ANYTHING, CLEAN. WHEN I RETURNED TO MY APARTMENT, I DISCOVERED MY NEIGHBORS BRENT AND BILL – OF THE LOCKED-OUT HALLOWEEN ADVENTURE – HAD LEFT ME A $25 CHASE GIFT CARD FOR HELPING THEM OUT THE WEEKEND BEFORE. (SEE KARMA DOES PAY, PEOPLE … AND IT HELPS YOU BUY GROCERIES.)

HOOD

MONDAY MORNING FOUND ME WANDERING AROUND MY BLOCK AS I WAITED FOR JOEL TO JOIN ME AT OUR FAVORITE BREAKFAST SPOT – GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT. YES, IT’S A FAVORITE BECAUSE IT’S JUST ONE BUILDING AWAY FROM MINE. AFTER WITHDRAWING $20 FROM MY ACCOUNT – PART FOR BREAKFAST, THE REST TO PUT ON MY CTA CARD TO GET ME TO WORK THIS WEEK – I WALKED AROUND SOME MORE. (YES, MY JOEL IS PERPETUALLY LATE.)

KIDS

ON MY WALK BACK TOWARDS THE RESTAURANT, I SPOTTED THESE NURSERY SCHOOL STUDENTS ALL BUNDLED UP FOR THEIR MORNING WALK. THE LITTLE GIRL IN FRONT JUST KEPT WAVING AT ME AS I WALKED BY, AND IT MADE MY DAY.

GOLDEN1

FINALLY, IT WAS TIME FOR GOLDEN HOUSE. AGAIN, JOEL AND I GOT OUR FAVORITE CORNER TABLE BY THE WINDOW SO I HAD MY USUAL VIEW. MORE DAYS THAN NOT, THIS ELDERLY MAN CAN BE FOUND SITTING AT THE COUNTER, ALWAYS ORDERING THE SAME THING – COFFEE AND FRENCH FRIES. THE DECOR HAS NOT CHANGED IN THE RESTAURANT FOR DECADES, SOMETHING THAT MAKES ME LOVE IT EVEN MORE. (AND NO JOEL, WE’RE NOT TURNING IT INTO A WAFFLE HOUSE.)

GOLDEN2

JOEL’S FRIED-EGG-OVER-HASH-BROWN COMBINATION IS A BIT WEIRD, BUT TASTY HE ASSURES ME. EVERY TIME WE GO, WE BOTH END UP WITH TWO THINGS: HASH BROWNS AND PANCAKES. (AND YES, THE $3.70 SHORT STACK IS THE BEST MONEY CAN BUY ANYWHERE. YUM, YUM, YUM.) AFTERWARDS, WE TOOK THE TIME TO WORK OFF OUR BREAKFAST BY TAKING HUXLEY – PLUS JOEL’S DOGS, RUSSELL, CONNOR AND PANDORA – BACK TO PUPTOWN FOR A COUPLE OF HOURS. (AND NO, HAVING JUST HAD A BATH, HE WAS NOT ALLOWED TO ROLL IN THE GRASS AFTERWARDS.)

SHAWN1

SHAWN2

MONDAY NIGHT, HUXLEY AND I WERE INVITED OVER TO SHAWN’S HOUSE TO JOIN SOME FRIENDS FOR DINNER AND SCRABBLE. AS SHAWN IS ABSOLUTELY ONE OF HIS FAVORITE PEOPLE, THIS WAS AN AMAZING TREAT FOR HIM. (NOT TO MENTION THE NEARLY MILE-LONG WALK HE GOT HEADING OVER THERE.) SHAWN MADE THE MOST INCREDIBLE VEGETABLE LASAGNA THAT HAD AN ALMOND PESTO AS A LAYER. (SCRUMPTIOUS.) THANKFULLY THERE WAS ENOUGH LEFT OVER TO PACK ME A DOGGY BAG – FOR ME, NOT HUXLEY – AND I ENJOYED IT AGAIN THE NEXT DAY FOR LUNCH.

HUXLEY2

AFTER THE RETURN TREK HOME FROM SHAWN’S AT 11 P.M. – NOT TO MENTION THE COUNTLESS HOURS OF ACTIVITY IN THE DAYS BEFORE – HUXLEY WAS ALMOST IMMEDIATELY OUT FOR THE COUNT. (AND I WASN’T TOO FAR BEHIND.) FURLOUGH WEEKENDS MAY BE BAD FOR ME, BUT IF YOU ASK HUXLEY, I’M SURE HE WOULD WISH FOR MORE. NOW, IF I COULD JUST FIND HIM A JOB …