Condo Christmas

IMG_1177Since we moved to Chicago 10 years ago, we have lived in condos, an adjustment from our large suburban home, but a practical choice in the big city. Having cast off rooms full of furniture, we felt lighter in our new condo life, even while we bunched together on one couch to watch TV. We adjusted and found we didn’t miss the extra rooms we had hardly used (formal living and dining rooms anyone?), that is, until Christmas.

Right after Thanksgiving, a temporary tree lot appeared near the L stop in our neighborhood. We chose our tree, carried it home, and began the climb to the 3rd floor. A few tight scrapes and fallen pine needles later, we emerged into the living room to set up the tree. Of course, to make room, we had to rearrange the furniture, but after the ornaments were on, it was perfect. We had a vaulted living room, and some years chose tall trees that would take advantage of the vertical space. Unfortunately, we learned that those trees were so long, they’d get bent and battered during the tight turns up the staircase. And worse was the trip down.

After Christmas, when the tree is a crispy shadow of its former self, the trip down the stairs to the alley is a giant trail of needles. After the ornaments are all put away and the furniture is returned to its regular placement, I’m in the back stairs sweeping and sweeping needles. Needles I will continue to find till the following September. Ah, the high rise life. More than once, I contemplated hurling our tree from the 3rd floor deck. I can see the alley from there, I’m sure it would be faster. Sigh, no, we never catapulted our tree. I thought about jamming it up the chimney, Grinch-style, but I knew how ridiculously flammable it would be – not a call I wanted to make to the insurance company.

Every year, my husband makes the pitch for an artificial tree. It would be easier, cleaner, we’d always know if would be the right size. It might even be “pre-lit”, thus avoiding the curse-laden task of winding the lights around the tree, only to discover that one string was dead. But I squash that pitch. I love a live tree, I love how it smells, I don’t might watering it every day. And I don’t really mind sweeping up the needles. Or, at least, I conveniently forget what it was like for long enough to get that tree inside.

This year, we are in a new building without a vaulted ceiling, but we have an elevator. Our tree came from a lot in the neighborhood, and we successfully wrestled it into our condo with a minimum of needle loss. Happily, we even found a place to put the tree that didn’t require rearranging all of the furniture. It’s against the windows and can be seen from the street. After dark, we realized that the lights are reflected in the windows, and look amazing. In fact, it’s the best looking tree I can remember.

Of course the tree is just a prop, and the real best part of the holiday is that the kids will both be home. We’ll have fun looking over the ornaments they made, smile at the silly ones of Yoda and a robot, and bemoan those broken in the move. Before the needles rain down, we gather, relax and capture happy moments by the tree.



28_packedtrain_lgI love riding around town on the L.  I can get almost everywhere I want to go,
and while public transit may sometimes take longer than driving, there are the added benefits of not having to fight traffic or find parking, and it’s also a fun way to sight-see.  When the train is above ground in the Loop, you get an unparalleled view of the Merchandise Mart and the Chicago River, close-up views of interesting looking offices, The Art Institute, and, if you’re fast, a view of Lake Michigan between the buildings.

People-watching is the bonus, wild-card element of riding the train.  I like seeing the different kinds of coats, boots, and hats; backpacks and messenger bags in cool color combinations; whether they read from their phone or a tablet; people who are traveling alone, or with friends, or kids.  On weekends there are Bears fans headed to or from the game.  Also groups of tourists – either from out of town or the suburbs.  Often a group trying to read the CTA system map, and chattering about what they’re going to do when they get to a) Wrigley Field, b) the St. Patrick’s Day parade, or c) the packet pickup station for the marathon.  Some people ask others in the car for directions, and I like to help them if I can.

During rush hour, it’s standing-room-only, people packed in together like sardines.  Grasping the poles and straps, we all sway and lurch with the movements of the car.  I try to stand with my feet apart, knees bent, and I lean into the forward motion of the train.  I keep my hand on a pole, but when it’s really crowded, I may have to depend on my balance.  You get attuned to the train’s movements.  The jerk of acceleration when the train leaves the platform, the slight slowing when the train goes into a curve, the deceleration approaching the station.  Slower, slower, you think you’re stopped and then, wham! the conductor pulls the brake and everyone in the car shudders forward a bit as the train comes to a full stop. People jostle around as some leave and others get on.  Then we start again.   

I’m a chlorine baby.  I grew up in a neighborhood pool with occasional visits to lakes, and first saw the ocean when I was 17.  While I’ve never liked swimming in salt water, and the gritty, sandy aftermath of a beach visit, I loved the constant motion of the waves and the tides.  Maybe that’s another reason why I like the train.  That regular bobbing, back and forth, almost hypnotic.  Balanced there in the car, I’m surfing through Chicago.


Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 2.34.15 PMLately I’ve been spending time in 1999 and 1964.  Part anthropological study, part guilty pleasure, binge-watching old TV shows is fun.  I can immerse myself in a different world and catch up on long-deferred viewing.

Watching The West Wing, I’m reliving the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  (We had a “homework night TV ban”, so lots of TV escaped my notice then.) The perspective of the staff, the clash of personalities, and the pace of any given day form a rich slice of White House life. I’m so engrossed, I wonder about the characters’ lives even when I’m not watching. The national and international issues seem like they’re ripped from today’s headlines – international unrest, nuclear crisis, party polarization. And since my social studies and history classes were a long time ago, I feel like this show is teaching me how government works – maybe a dangerous assumption, like using Facebook as your key news source.
The Man From U.N.C.L.E. inhabits 1964, in all its black-and-white, 007-imitating glory.  I was spurred to revisit this show, a childhood favorite, after a movie remake was released this year.   The episodes seem like quaint set-pieces, presenting an idealized secret agent’s world to cold-war era viewers.  The intrepid agents, in their sharp suits, are protecting everyday Americans from easily contained evil. They use cutting edge communication and tracking devices, travel to exotic locales, make jokes while waving their guns around, and are occasionally, temporarily, caught in some outlandish snare by an megalomaniac planning world domination.  Yep, it’s fabulous.
While viewing these shows in the same month, I’m most struck by how women are portrayed.  U.N.C.L.E headquarters is filled with primarily decorative, beautiful women with guns holstered at their small waists. Napoleon Solo regularly ogles them as they walk away.  They answer phones, take notes, hand out security badges, and, curiously, sometimes knit or darn socks at their desks.  One intrepid translator played by Barbara Feldon (the future Agent 99 in Get Smart), manages to bungle her way through a mission she was assigned to, as a prank, only to run back to the safety of her quiet office.  Outside of headquarters, women are either damsels in distress, or evil masterminds.

Thirty-five years later the women are different.  The West Wing has multiple, prominent female characters in positions of authority.  Even the administrative assistants have extraordinary skill and influence over the orbit around the Oval office.  And while these characters have weaknesses, they don’t appear to suffer from being dismissed and objectified.  I’m more comfortable in the 1999 world, but I recognize the 1964 world.  It’s not that far removed from offices in the late 70’s – expect for the gun holsters.

I’m climbing back into my time machine (aka the comfy couch) with a firm grip on the remote, mulling my next classic TV destination – Twilight Zone? Mad Men? Downton Abbey?  Where ever I go, I’m sure there will be women to admire.





Family Unit

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 5.08.48 PMThere seem to be two kinds of drivers in the world: those who decorate their cars with bumper stickers and decals, and those who don’t. And it seems that, like tattoos, one is never enough. It’s rather entertaining, while stuck in traffic, to read these expressions of belief, loyalty, and personality. Maybe the drivers are outgoing, friendly people who would strike up a conversation in a grocery checkout line, but since we’re trapped at rush hour, they let their cars broadcast their most important news: (My son is an honor student! Go Blackhawks! Notre Dame Alumni!, Imagine Whirled Peas).
My recent favorites are the stick figure families that provide an inventory of each family member. Mom and dad, three sons, an infant, and two dogs. This iconography seems to have supplanted the “baby on board” sign, proudly giving everyone equal billing, whether you’re onboard or not. It’s sort of a census report combined with a hobby and vacation recap (skeet shooting! a visit to the Magic Kingdom!). And sports fans, who must spend loads of time in their SUV going to practices and games, are decked out in the correct equipment: hockey family in their skates and pads, the baseball family, and the gymnasts. I want to sidle up next to the car with the Star Wars family to see if there are really twin girls in the back with Princess Leia honey-bun hair-dos, and if the Darth Vader dad is really driving with that helmet on.

We are a family of four. While I don’t display that on my rear window, it is the way I always think of our family. Even though our kids are in their twenties, our nest is almost “empty”, and we are together less frequently. I’m glad my kids are independent and capable, but there’s always going to be that gravitational pull that wants them back in the idealized state, at the dinner table, in the van on vacation, around the Christmas tree. And for a brief moment, captured in a family photo. Regrouped, fixed in time, unchanging. Like those stick figures.