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.

2009: MY YEAR IN REVIEW

ONE OF THE TOP MOMENTS OF THE YEAR FOR ME CAME AT PITCHFORK IN JUNE. I WAS MORE THAN EXCITED TO BE THIS CLOSE TO THE FLAMING LIPS FRONTMAN WAYNE COYNE. (EVEN IF I WAS IN AN AREA WHERE I WASN’T SUPPOSED TO BE.)

JUST SOME OF THE BEAUTY DOWNTOWN CHICAGO HAS TO OFFER … ON ONE OF THE FEW SUNNY DAYS WE HAD THIS PAST SUMMER.

THE SHOW PUT ON BY DAN DEACON AT LOLLAPALOOZA THIS YEAR MADE ME PROUD TO BE A TRUE FAN OF MUSIC … AND EVEN HAPPIER THAT I GET TO WRITE ABOUT IT.

DURING A LABOR (NOT LABOUR) DAY BARBECUE WITH FRIENDS, HUXLEY AWAITS HIS SECOND PIECE OF STEAK EVER … HAVING JUST HAD HIS FIRST SECONDS BEFORE. NOW THAT MY FRIENDS, IS PURE JOY.

LIVING DOWN THE STREET FROM THE BUSIEST FIRE STATION IN CHICAGO TRULY HAS ITS DISADVANTAGES … BUT THE FIREMEN THERE ARE SO FRIENDLY, AND HUXLEY ALWAYS KNOWS HE CAN GET A TREAT. (IF IT’S WARM ENOUGH FOR THE GARAGE DOORS TO BE OPEN, THAT IS.)

THIS WAS ONE OF THE MOST PATIENT DOGS I HAVE HAD THE FORTUNE TO OBSERVE. LEADING HIS OWNER AROUND A CROWDED RED LINE HAS GOT TO BE A THANKLESS TASK, BUT I’M GRATEFUL I GOT TO SEE IT.

ALWAYS A HIGHLIGHT OF ANY DAY FOR ME IN UPTOWN IS ENJOYING A CUP OF COFFEE WITH JOEL BY THE WINDOW AT GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT.

DESPITE HAVING TO RUSH MOST DAYS AS NOT TO MISS A TRAIN, I HAVE FULLY EMBRACED THE LIFE OF A COMMUTER THIS PAST YEAR … EVEN IF IT HAS BEEN DUE TO AN UNFORTUNATE SITUATION, THE LACK OF A WORKING CAR. (AND A SERIOUS LACK OF FUNDS TO REMEDY IT.)

THOUGH IT WAS SAD THAT MY BEST FRIEND ROBIN’S SON, GARY MICHAEL, BROKE HIS ARM OVER THANKSGIVING, IT WAS AN ENLIGHTENING EXPERIENCE BEING THERE TO SEE HIS CAST PUT ON. DESPITE BEING ONLY FIVE, HE HANDLED IT LIKE A TROOPER.

THIS FAMILY JUST CAPTURED ME ONE DAY ON THE LAWRENCE BUS. I DON’T KNOW IF IT WAS THEIR BLUE PUFFER JACKETS OR JUST HOW ANIMATED THEY ALL WERE, BUT I ENJOYED WATCHING THEM FOR BLOCKS.

AGAIN … WAITING FOR YET ANOTHER TRAIN, BUT I LOVE THIS VIEW FROM THE PLATFORM. THE ARAGON IS SUCH A MAGNIFICENT VENUE.

Oh 2009, won’t you just go away already?

Counting down what’s left of this year …

(Don’t be confused by the time stamp of this post, I can’t be bothered to change it from U.K. time. Even though I am punished for it by having certain words show up as misspelled … It’s theater, not theatre … it’s humor, not humour … But since most of you know London is one of my favorite (not favourite) places on earth, it’s kind of fitting.)

… and I am waiting with frenzied anticipation for this one to beat it.

Go away … Scram … We don’t want you around here no more.

Oh so close, is how I can best describe the past 365 days … or 397 if you stretch it back to when my Dad died. (It’s all quite a blur really, each has smudged into the next.)

It’s been a year of heartache, of adjusting to changed dynamics all across the board … family, friends, lovers … life in general.

Are you really still here 2009? It feels as if the few minutes it’s taken me to write this has been an eternity.

It’s been a year of stress, I type through clenched teeth. I have accomplished things professionally, and thankfully creatively, that I never thought possible. (Moments of which I wouldn’t have wished on anyone else, hence the anxiety. The ones that caused me to lose my sense of humor (not humour) a bit … painful …

But all of it mixed with such discoveries that I almost want to think it worth it.

Ah, those discoveries …

The writing … the photography … the moments I have been able to capture this year … that’s where I count myself so very fortunate. New experiences that I would have been jealous had I not lived them myself. Special moments in my life …

… Two feet from Wayne Coyne at Pitchfork … and sharing that wonderful weekend with fantastic friends; Ruining brand new shoes traipsing through pouring rain the first day of Lollapalooza while introducing my visiting Mother to the music of Bon Iver and Ben Folds … and sweating my ass off during the hottest day of the summer 24 hours later, grasping hold of the greatest 45 minutes of my festival-going life during the Dan Deacon Experience; Grizzly Bear entrancing ever fiber (not fibre) of my being at The Metro … and sitting by Pat Sansone (sigh) while numbed by the sound …

… My first full Christmas with my best friend of 17 years, spent with her in-laws in St. Louis … the joy on her kid’s faces when discovering Santa’s bounty and later while sledding is captured in my mind forever. (Along with the unfortunate moment when I sliced my hand through a glass candle holder playing Wii tennis. The sound of that is an mp3 somewhere in my brain.)

… Being able to fish with my nephew over Thanksgiving … Knowing I am fortunate enough to have amazing family that loves and misses me, as I do them. (But are accepting enough to know that Chicago is my home now … no matter how long I choose to try to survive it’s terrible winters. Allowing me to embrace everything Uptown has to throw at me … good and bad.)

… Finding a new friend, with an amazing number of things in common … someone I told more to than anyone else over the last seven months (And vice versa, as I thankfully got to hear wonderful tales of family life.) … only to have lost him yesterday to a new job in the city. Our daily commute will be mourned, along with the ladies who came to love me at the Starbucks where we met each morning, and the seat warmers in the Subaru.

… Again, so close. The always perpetual Catch-22.

(And notice I didn’t bring back up the boys? That’s because there’s only about seven hours of greatness I can take away from 2009 … A night that forced me to confront some walls … finally woke me up … changed me.  The rest … well, quite frankly, delete.)

But here’s to the next 52 weeks. Despite the hiccups of this past year, I am truly filled with hope. Opening a Christmas card today from a friend in California who unexpectedly welcomed a daughter this year, I was fully hit with the notion that life can change in a split-second.

So here’s to 2010 … may it be filled with wonderful things for everyone that I know and love, including me.

Now, if I can just make it through the next 3 minutes.