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.

LIFE, AND ITS BEACH

MY FRIEND, HUNTER, WHO WAS NICE ENOUGH TO TAKE HUXLEY AND I TO MONTROSE BEACH SUNDAY AFTERNOON, MAKES HIS WAY OUT OF LAKE MICHIGAN WITH MY PUP. A FELLOW SOUTHERNER … AND BEACH LOVER … THE HOURS SPENT ON THE SAND SEEMED TO DO HIM JUST AS MUCH GOOD AS IT DID ME.

“I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them day to day. Though my problems are meaningless, that don’t make them go away. I need a crowd of people, but I can’t face them day to day.” NEIL YOUNG, “ON THE BEACH”

Zombies.

Every one of them.

As I made my commute downtown this morning, I was hit with that oddest of sensations.

It being a Monday, there was the normal sense of agony as everyone made their way to offices downtown and beyond. But today there was an added level of anxiety in the atmosphere, masked by an eerie silence, as I passed the throngs of people pouring out of Millennium Station. Heads down, hurriedly moving about like scattering cockroaches as a light is flipped on, most walked as if in mourning.

And I was one of them as I contemplated my return to another day full of dread following joys of this weekend. Ah, the weekend … that wonderful heat-filled-sunshine-radiating-get-me-outside-then-back-into-an-air-conditioned-apartment 48-hour period that just passed.

The first of the “summer” here in Chicago.

Following weeks of stormy weather, cool temperatures and the odd 60-degree day, Mother Nature decided to reward our patience with a week filled with digits in the 80s and slight chances for rain. Saturday was quite calm as the weather began its transition.

But Sunday … Ah, Sunday.

The minute I stepped outside to walk Huxley, I knew what a wonderful day it would be. Removing my thin sweater at 9 a.m. as we made our way around our Uptown neighborhood was the first sign of wonderful things to come. By the time we made it back home, the warming rays of sunshine had encompassed every fiber of my being, and the resulting switch in mood was palpable.

The complaints over the “sweltering” heat began early for some around me, yet I continued to revel in temperatures normally reserved for March back home in Mississippi. The window unit, left in a bout of laziness at the end of last summer, was switched on in the house as I watched my 15-pound dog pant profusely when we returned from our walk … Which left me wondering if I was the only one relishing in the quick switch outside.

I soon discovered I wasn’t.

Hundreds of canines and their smart owners covered the sand at Montrose Beach Sunday afternoon, as it seemed every dog lover had the same idea in the 80+ degree heat. Splashing through the knee-deep water and walking along the sand with my pup and some friends, Hunter, David and then Joel, I began to regain some of the spirit a lack of Vitamin D seemed to have sucked from my body. Now, I am left hoping the feeling garnered from nearly two hours spent with my toes in the sand will last.

As I sit at my desk today, facing the open window, it is taking every ounce of strength I have not to go crashing through it just to get outside.

But, since I would rather not spend the week covered in stitches, I’ll be patient.

I’ll move like all the other zombies, towards another warm weekend.

Yep. No turning back now … Summer is here.

GET HUXLEY IN THE BACKSEAT OF ANY CAR, AND HE CAN SOMEHOW FIGURE OUT WHERE WE ARE GOING. LIKE ME, HE WOKE UP IN THE BEST MOOD ON SUNDAY, WHICH ONLY CONTINUED AS WE MADE OUR WAY TO THE BEACH THAT AFTERNOON.  THE JUXTAPOSITION OF MY PANTING PUP AND HUNTER’S WINTER GLOVES STILL IN THE BACKSEAT SHOWS HOW WACKY THE WEATHER HAS BEEN HERE IN CHICAGO RECENTLY.

IF YOU EVER WONDER WHAT PURE JOY LOOKS LIKE, THIS IS IT FROM A CANINE PERSPECTIVE. I HAVE OFTEN SAID THAT FOR HUXLEY, THE BEACH IS LIKE HEAVEN ON EARTH … AND IF ALL DOGS ACTUALLY DO GO TO HEAVEN, I HOPE, FOR HIS SAKE, SAID PLACE WILL BE THE BEACH FOR ALL ETERNITY.

THIS VENDOR SHOWED DEDICATION LIKE NO OTHER AS HE PUSHED HIS ICE CREAM CART THROUGH THE THRONGS OF PEOPLE ALONG THE SAND SUNDAY AFTERNOON. THE JINGLING BELLS HAVE BECOME SYNONYMOUS WITH A JAUNT TO THE BEACH, AS DOZENS SELL THEIR WARES ON WARM DAYS.

DOZENS OF DOGS AND THEIR OWNERS CAN BE SEEN IN THE LENSES OF HUNTER’S WAYFARERS AS HE SURVEYS THE BEACH. AND I THINK HE WILL AGREE WITH ME WHEN I SAY THAT THE WATER WAS ACTUALLY QUITE WONDERFUL … FOR A LAKE ANYWAY.

AS THE CLICHE GOES, “STICK A FORK IN HIM …” AFTER A QUICK SHOWER UPON OUR RETURN FROM THE BEACH, HUXLEY WAS DONE FOR THE DAY. AND RIGHTFULLY SO, AS HE SEEMS TO COVER MILES OF SAND DURING OUR AFTERNOONS AT MONTROSE HARBOR.

THE HIGHS/LOWS OF SPRING

A WEEK OR SO AGO, MY NEIGHBORHOOD WAS BLANKETED WITH A THICK LAYER OF FOG FOR DAYS. THE CREEPY AMBIANCE DID NOT LAST LONG THOUGH, AS THE DAYS FOLLOWING WERE SUNNY AND BRIGHT. NEVER KNOWING WHAT YOU WILL GET WEATHER-WISE IS ONE OF THE JOYS OF LIVING IN CHICAGO, I GUESS.

I was always taught growing up that people talk about the weather when they have nothing else to talk about.

For more than two decades, I would have completely agreed with that benign statement. Moving to Chicago changed that for me. Meeting neighbors out in the courtyard, down the street, at the corner, it’s always the first comment one of us will make.

It’s either too cold to be out and/or the snow is too deep to walk … then it hits 50 degrees for a few days and you marvel at the miraculousness that is warmer weather … a few days later and it’s in the 40s again, and the remarks center round how cold it feels even though two weeks before there was ice on the ground … it’s a vicious cycle, I assure you.

Last Monday, after weeks of fog, rain and a chill in the air, I cheated. I met my friend, Shawn, and her sister, Cody, at the Garfield Park Conservatory. Walking around the temperature-controlled rooms, surrounded by foliage, both native and exotic, it really hit home how much I longed for green. After months of bleak grays and hibernating leaves, I am beginning to ache for signs of life around me.

And they are truly beginning to show. The sun has been out this week and it even hit 65 degrees the other day at work. The tulips are coming up in our courtyard. We heard bugs and frogs chirping in a field the other day, and my friend, Natalie, rejoiced at the sighting of a bee earlier this week. (Although we both agreed said insects would hate the weather forecast for the weekend.)

And for once, they were right on the money. After a week of longing to be outside while sitting at my desk at work, now that I have the freedom to enjoy the sunshine, there is none. This morning I woke up to snow.

For it is “Spring” in Chicago. The most magical time, weather-wise, of the year.

(Well, next to Fall … and Summer … and OK … even sometimes Winter.)

LAST WEEKEND SAW THE SUN OUT EVERY DAY, ALTHOUGH IT PROVED TO BE A BIT OF A MISCONCEPTION. IT WAS STILL PRETTY COLD, SO STAYING OUTSIDE FOR LONG PERIODS OF TIME WAS NOT ALL THAT COMFORTABLE.

A TRIP TO THE GARFIELD PARK CONSERVATORY WITH SHAWN AND CODY DID LITTLE BUT MAKE ME MORE ANXIOUS FOR WARMER WEATHER ON A DAILY BASIS HERE IN CHICAGO AND GREENER SURROUNDINGS. BUT THE CONSERVATORY ITSELF WAS BEAUTIFUL, AND SPENDING THE AFTERNOON LAUGHING WHILE DOING A WONDERFUL, FREE ACTIVITY IS ALWAYS GOOD FOR THE SOUL.

JUST WHEN YOU THINK IT IS SAFE TO GO OUTSIDE, YOU ARE MET WITH SNOW AGAIN. EVEN HUXLEY WASN’T QUITE SURE HE WANTED TO BE OUTSIDE THIS MORNING, AND AFTER A MINUTE, HE DRAGGED ME RIGHT BACK INSIDE. HOPEFULLY THE TULIPS WON’T BE TOO ANGRY WITH MOTHER NATURE, AND WILL BE HERE TO STAY FOR A WHILE SOON.

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?

TUGGING AT MY HEARTSTRINGS

EMMANUEL, 2, MADE MY DAY ON THE RED LINE TODAY. QUITE A LITTLE FLIRT, WE KEPT EACH OTHER ENTERTAINED THE WHOLE TRIP HOME. YET ANOTHER EXAMPLE OF THE MANY FORMS LOVE CAN TAKE.

Ah Valentines … why must we only celebrate them on February 14? Late evening, a day later, and I find Cupid has brought me even more to love. One is sweet. One is petty. One is amazing. (Well, two actually on the last … but for continuity’s sake, since they are a couple, we’ll call them a one.)

I met him on the train coming home. The tears were fresh on his face, but once he saw me, I could tell immediately he was in the mood to flirt.

I was more than willing to oblige.

It started innocently enough, him peeking at me through his knit cap, pulling it up and down over his eyes. When I smiled back, and he did the same … well, I knew it was on. The headphones came out of one ear, in case the communication went past teasing looks and silly faces.

He was adorable. The way he mimicked my every move. Each time I touched my nose, he did the same. Each time I held out my gloved hand, his mitten-covered one reached out to me. We were all giggles as the train car began to fill with commuters. I would peek around people’s shoulders at him … the others adding another level to our cat-and-mouse game. His laughs were music to my ears …

(Well, one of them anyway, as I still had “Odd Blood” filling the other. Where, I might add it has pretty much stayed since Wednesday, as I have been completely transfixed by its beats and simple, emotional lyrics. I always let music find me when it does, and rarely do I buy something the week it’s released. Honestly, I didn’t know when I picked it up it had only been on vinyl 24 hours … I just knew I would be covering them when they played here in April, and at $10.99, it was a small work expense. Well, it obviously found me when it needed to … fortunately. See, maybe even a fourth Valentine in Yeasayer.)

… and Emmanuel, 2, knew just how to make a girl like me fall in love. And I was glad to keep him occupied for 25 minutes across the aisle, while his tired mother got a moment of peace and quiet. When they went to leave at Wilson, one stop before me, he reached out his hand to grab mine while walking by. I told him it had been a pleasure to meet him. And it had. (Now, if only the ones 13(ish) times his age could be as sweetly forward.)

Off the train, I ran into Starbucks. (See, told you the second was petty.) I’ve started stopping in a few times a week to grab a cup of coffee. Yes, I’m just a block from my house … where a French press and fresh (but cheap, thanks Trader Joe’s) beans await … but the time it takes to boil the water when all you want to do is warm up is worth paying $1.66. Plus, they know what I want before I even tell them. (Tall, steamed soy … so $2 really, as they get my change for remembering.) I like their bold coffee, hate me some Pike Place, but since that’s all you can get after noon, I’ve learned to deal.

But today was extra special. I paid my $1.66, (with my debit card, so sadly no tip) and I walked out with a grande with an added shot of espresso. (Done to make it taste like the bold, knowing I like it better. And that conversation was had months ago … yet the guy behind the counter found it important enough to commit to memory. And treat me unasked.) See good people in my neighborhood.

Which brings me to my amazing Valentine.

The first time I walked into my current apartment, I knew I was home. I had scoured craigslist for weeks, and nothing in my price range had even sparked my interest enough to tempt me to even view it. Until I saw the ad for a small, colorful place one block off the Red Line, half a block from The Green Mill. It was the only one I looked at. I paid my security deposit immediately, and wrote out checks for the next few months. It was mine.

Adding to its luster was its current tenant, Tiffani. We bonded immediately over Wilco, (I was carrying one of their bags that day) and our true, undying love for the heart-throbbing Glenn Kotche. (Smart girl, that Tiffani.) She and her husband, Deke, left for their larger place downtown almost three weeks before my lease began. I moved in immediately, no charge for rent or electricity for those 18 days. And their kindness has continued for the past 650 or so.

They have seen me through furloughs and unexpected trips home when my Father had his stroke and later passed away. If I had to pay my rent late and sent an extra fee, it was always sent back. (I finally learned not to even add it.) I am sure they know how much I love living here, and can only hope that has taken a load off their minds, as they have taken many off of mine.

When Tiffani texted me today to see if I could use her train card up in the next few weeks, I assured her I could. (And at $4.50 a day spent on the CTA, yet another load …) She and Deke will be leaving soon for Texas, as other opportunities await. But I know they leave loving this place, this building, this block, this neighborhood as much as I do. (Yes, tears here.) And I thank them for truly caring about me. (And I thank Facebook, as I can still laugh at her jokes from hundreds of miles away.)

Ah, that Cupid. He does give you things when most needed.

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.

CHILLED TO THE BONE, CHILLED OUT

YES, MY AFFECTION FOR THESE TOWERS DOWNTOWN LIE WITH “YANKEE HOTEL FOXTROT,” BUT THE FALLING SNOW MADE THEM MORE MAGICAL. WALKING TO THE TRAIN TUESDAY NIGHT, I WAS THRILLED TO SEE SO MUCH OF THE WHITE STUFF FALLING FROM THE SKY.

Crap, it’s cold. Really, really cold. And why it feels that way, I’m not really sure.

Twenty-five degrees on a February night is pretty rare. We’ve already survived way-worse temperatures this winter … and we surely all dread the frigid ones to come. But man, there’s something in the air today that just won’t let me, or most people I saw, shake the chill.

Now granted, for some reason, we just can’t seem to get the temperature right at work, and there were moments I wondered if I would see my breath as I sat in front of my Mac this morning. I even called one of our always-prepared photographers, Natalie, to request feet- and hand-warmers I know she buys in bulk at Costco. When she got back from assignment and gave me enough to last a few days, I thought I heard angels singing. (Or maybe it was just a track off Yeasayer’s “Odd Blood” I had wafting from my tower.) Either way … a few shakes of a packet, and boy, what a huge difference.

It was no better on the train home from work, each time those doors opened … But I had aforementioned amazing album busting through my headphones and I never stopped moving the entire way. (I’m sure some people found me a bit weird, constantly tapping my feet from White Sox field to Uptown. But I have learned when you’re freezing, just move a little. It truly helps.)

Now, I am in my apartment … waiting for the radiators to kick into high gear. (That usually happens around 10 p.m., so close now.) But I know before I truly can get warm, the creature to my left eyeing my every move will want to be taken back outside one more time. Ah, the price you pay for pure love.

I know sometimes it can seem more painful than it really is, but I actually love winter. (Except for the ice, of course.)

I take in every snowflake I see. Four years on, each is still just as novel as the last. This week’s has been the best this winter so far … deep and beautiful. And to me, not a nuisance at all. It can slow you down a little, but good boots boost your confidence as you trudge through whatever is splattered across the sidewalks. (Now, watch me bust it when I take Huxley out in a minute.)

Yesterday was a perfect example of a magical winter day. I played hooky from work, wanting to soak up every second of the wonderland outside my window. The snow finally trickled to flurries mid-morning, and the pup and I played around for a while, as our courtyard had yet to be shovelled. By the time I left my house to head downtown to meet a friend for lunch, not a patch was to be found on the concrete. (I swear, I think fairies just show up sometimes.)

Despite the wind coming off the Chicago River, Michigan Avenue proved to be a nice walk after I deposited Christopher back at the Tribune building following a quick bite. The sun was shining, all the businesses had removed the accumulation in front of their store-fronts, fear of lawsuits surely speeding up the process. It wouldn’t have mattered though, as I had one destination in mind.

I said I wouldn’t do it this week, but I did end up at Reckless Records. Being so close (well, six or so blocks, anyway) to my favorite location on Madison, I couldn’t fight the draw. Two albums later, (Shame, shame on me … come on IRS, deposit that refund.) I happily walked to the Red Line, back home to enjoy another perfect winter day. (Even if the rest of it was spent cleaning, and later vegging out on Amy’s couch catching up on missed episodes of “How I Met Your Mother” and “The Big Bang Theory.”)

Truth be told, I guess I don’t mind so much living in an icebox. Now, if the heat would just come on.

THE SNOW WAS ALREADY PRETTY DEEP ONCE I GOT BACK TO UPTOWN, BUT THAT’S OK … I HAVE MY BOOTS, (AND LOTS OF KNEE-SOCKS TO PULL UP OVER MY LEGGINGS.) THE BEST $20 I EVER SPENT AT A ST. LOUIS WALMART.

THE DARLINGTON HOTEL AT THE CORNER OF LELAND AND RACINE IS ONE OF MY FAVORITE BUILDINGS ON MY STREET. IF FOR NOTHING ELSE, ITS AMAZING SIGNS AND THE INTERESTING CHARACTERS COMING IN AND OUT.

THE SNOW CONTINUED TO FALL STEADILY TUESDAY NIGHT AROUND UPTOWN, LEAVING US WITH INCHES AND INCHES OF THE WHITE STUFF, PLUS SOME BEAUTIFUL DRIFTS.

I ALWAYS FIND HUXLEY’S EYES A LITTLE CREEPY WHEN THE FLASH HITS THEM LIKE THIS, BUT I THINK IT ADDS TO THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN ASPECT OF IT ALL. AS YOU CAN SEE, HE HAD JUST ENJOYED ANOTHER TRIP OUTSIDE … A BIG FAN OF THE SNOW, THIS MISSISSIPPI-BORN BOY IS.

I LOVE THE COLOR OF THE SKY WHEN THERE IS A SNOWSTORM IN THE ATMOSPHERE. IT CAN GO TO GRAY TO WHITE AND BACK TO GRAY AGAIN … BUT SOMETIMES IT WILL SETTLE ON THIS AMAZING AMBER COLOR, WHICH IS TRULY MY FAVORITE.

WEDNESDAY MORNING SAW THE END OF THE DRIVING SNOW, BUT JUST THE BEGINNING OF A LOT OF CHAOS ON THE ROADS. THE CITY DOES A PRETTY DECENT JOB KEEPING ALL OF THE MAIN STREETS AND EXPRESSWAYS AS CLEAR AS POSSIBLE, SO THE SIDE STREETS ARE USUALLY PUT OFF UNTIL THE END OF THE STORM.

THANKFULLY MY STAIRS LEADING TO THE BACK PORCH ARE PRETTY PROTECTED, SO I NEVER HAVE TO DEAL WITH WHAT MY NEIGHBORS HAVE TO. NOPE, DON’T ENVY THEM AT ALL.

SNOW AND ICE SEEMINGLY COVER EVERYTHING FOR MONTHS IN CHICAGO, INCLUDING OUR BACK GATE. SOMETIMES I FIND MYSELF WALKING THROUGH GOLDEN HOUSE RESTAURANT NEXT DOOR BECAUSE BOTH THE GATE IS FROZEN, AS IS THE ALLEY I HAVE TO SKATE THROUGH TO GET BACK ON MY WAY TO THE FRONT OF MY BUILDING.

AS YOU CAN CLEARLY SEE, HUXLEY IS NOT AFRAID TO BE IN THE SNOW, BUT  HE’S GOT A BIT OF WINTER GEAR TO HELP KEEP HIM WARM. I’M NOT REALLY ONE TO DRESS UP MY ANIMALS, BUT THANKFULLY MY MOM IS. SHE ALWAYS BUYS HIM A WINTER COAT FOR CHRISTMAS, AND THIS YEAR HE GOT HAND-ME-DOWN SWEATERS FROM HIS AUNT GRETA AS WELL.

IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE SNOW EVERYWHERE, IT WOULD HAVE LOOKED LIKE SPRING BY MIDDAY WEDNESDAY. THE CLOUDS PARTED, THE SUN CAME OUT, AND IT MADE FOR A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN UPTOWN.

ADDING TO MY PERFECT DAY WAS THE ABILITY TO GET A PRETTY DECENT SHOT OF A BLANKETED GRACELAND CEMETARY FROM THE TRAIN. (USUALLY THEY COME OUT TOO BLURRY TO BE OF ANY SUBSTANCE.) THE SPRAWLING GROUND IS HOME TO MANY NOTABLE BODIES, INCLUDING THE FIRST MAYOR OF CHICAGO AND CHARLES DICKENS’ BROTHER AUGUSTUS.

ALTHOUGH THE STREETS AND SIDEWALKS DOWNTOWN WERE CLEAR, EVERY OTHER SURFACE (INCLUDING THE CTA BUSES) BARED TRACES OF THE TWO DAYS OF WICKED WEATHER.

THE VIEW ALONG THE CHICAGO RIVER WAS IDEALIC, EVEN IF THE WIND WAS A BIT BRUTAL. WITH THE AMOUNT OF SNOW ON THE GROUND, THE STAIRS REALLY HIGHLIGHT HOW DILIGENT CREWS WORK TO MAKE SURFACE AREAS SAFE FOR TRAVEL.

THESE PIGEONS FLOCKED (NO PUN INTENDED) TO ONE CLEAR SPOT ON A SIDEWALK ON WACKER THAT WAS OUT OF THE WAY OF FOOT TRAFFIC. DOZENS OF PEOPLE WALKED BY AS I STOOD AND SHOT THEM, AND NOT ONE OF THEM FLINCHED.

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.