Play ball!

img_1679Chicago is feeling a little fuller lately. Normal weekend traffic seems even more sluggish. There are more people walking in the neighborhood wearing Cubs hats and jerseys. A stream of folks are coming out of the train from the suburbs, trying to orient themselves towards Clark and Addison, their mouths agape. Lines are forming at the bars at 9am. Helicopters are hovering overhead, and the camera crews have already staked out their corners. Hours before anything is happening, everyone’s jockeying for position, and I’m just trying to get home.

In a big city like Chicago, there are occasional big events: Obama comes to town, Beyonce has a concert, Hollywood headliners come for a movie premiere. All newsworthy, and causing some ripple of change in the flow of the city. But the World Series feels different. Or at least, this one does. We had barely arrived in Chicago in 2005 when the White Sox won the World Series. That was followed by three Stanley Cup wins, so sports success feels like a given here. But during baseball season, I’ve had an opportunity to learn about the Cubs’ woes: the drought, the curse, and the years of longing and disappointment for fans. So I can appreciate, in some small way, how exciting and terrifying this year must be.

We live near Wrigley Field. I walk past it most weekends, and can see it from the train on my way to and from work. From our building’s common roof deck, we have a beautiful view of the lit bowl of the stands. But tonight I’m happy to be slightly removed from the frenzied fans pressed together around Wrigley (police are trying to limit that crowd to 300,000) and those crammed into the numerous bars in a one mile radius. Plus, it’s the weekend before Halloween. There are block parties for kids and traditional trick-or-treating, but the bulk of the crazy comes from adults running from bar to bar in costume, so I’ve learned that for “big” events, it’s usually better to stay in.

I can’t claim to be a big sports fan, but I’m holding my breath, listening for the excited shouts from the bar across the street that tell me they’re doing well. Go Cubs Go!


Tea Traitor

img_1671Most days, but especially when there’s a chill in the air, I love drinking hot tea. Taken with milk and sugar, I find this to be the most comforting drink: it’s something I associate with home, and it lacks the bitterness I taste in most coffee. But being a tea drinker that can also enjoy coffee isn’t what bothers me. It’s that my taste for tea has become high falutin’ – I’ve turned away from good old Lipton and become a Darjeeling devotee.

I grew up on Lipton – hot or iced – it was a fixture in our kitchen. I remember discovering that one cup was wonderful, but after two or three, I was rattling. It’s good to learn about moderation. I also learned that in restaurants it is usually easier to drink coffee. As if drinking tea was a subversive activity. But you know how it goes. You’re in the IHOP booth and the waitress is pouring coffee into your mug almost before you can pipe up and say – “Oh, I’d like hot tea please.” She suppresses her withering expression and stalks off to retrieve the little pot of hot water and a tea bag. And when you realize you only have coffee creamer and need to ask for a small pitcher of milk…you’ve become the “problem” patron.

So I learned to drink coffee in many situations – at work, in restaurants, while doing errands near the ubiquitous Starbucks – and found that I liked coffee too, but I still considered Lipton tea my go-to hot drink. Then one day I attended a high tea at a lovely hotel. Not only was I going to drink tea, I was given choices, and I decided to try Darjeeling. It was marvelous! All the tea flavor I was accustomed to, but somehow…better. Maybe it was the cucumber sandwich pairing, but I wanted to keep drinking this tea. I discovered you could buy it in the grocery. I turned my back on Lipton just as it was occupying a smaller and smaller portion of shelf space, squeezed by a multitude of black, green, and herbal tea varieties.

Recently my fondness for Darjeeling tea feels a lot more like an obsession. For reasons I cannot understand, it’s becoming harder to find – do I blame climate change in the foothills of the Himalayas, or is Queen Elizabeth limiting exports? There is only one grocery chain in all of Chicagoland that stocks Twinings Darjeeling. I have to make a special pilgrimage every so often. I’m too embarrassed to buy every single box on the shelf, so I get two, and add other groceries to my basket so I don’t look so mercenary. But I think that lady at the check-out knows by my wild-eyed look.

My pantry now has 40 Darjeeling tea bags, enough to weather a biblical flood, perhaps. But I also have an emergency stash of Lipton – just in case.




img_1659Nighttime walks are interesting because you can usually catch a brief glimpse of someone’s kitchen or living room – the inside of a building you pass every day. I’m convinced that this shared curiosity must have sparked the city-wide open house that is hosted each fall in Chicago. We all want to see inside spaces where we can’t usually go. And once a year, we’re allowed to satisfy that curiosity without being creepy.

The open house includes private businesses, buildings with architectural and historic significance, clubs, mansions, churches, and industrial spaces. With over 200 buildings on the tour, you can’t see all of them in one weekend, but over a few years, I’ve criss-crossed Chicagoland to see some beautiful and surprising things. A metal sculpture studio tucked under my neighborhood train stop; the Elks National Memorial (a stunning stone and marble edifice honoring members if the Order of the Elks who died in WWI); the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist (a pivotal scene of the Divergent movie was filmed there); and a quiet office where art conservators work to repair paintings, paper, textiles, and furniture. I strolled among giant wooden pieces destined to be part of a dozen Santa’s sleighs in mall holiday displays around the country (a local theatre set design company makes them), and used a password to gain access to a private speakeasy that I never knew existed.

This weekend, I visited two buildings that my mom and I admired from the outside during one of her visits. The coral pink Edgewater Beach Apartments look like it may have been transplanted from Miami to the lakefront. It’s the only surviver of an original three-building complex that included a hotel. Wow, this must have been the bees knees in the 20’s and 30’s!

In the same neighborhood is St. Ita Roman Catholic Church, an example of French Gothic architecture that originally caught my attention from the train. I’m always surprised when I find a church in the US that’s as beautiful and grand as those I’ve seen in Europe; St. John the Divine and the Washington National Cathedral qualify, certainly. Not only is St. Ita’s striking on the outside (gargoyles!) but it is filled with beautiful mosaics, tile, and stained glass. You just have to sit a moment to take it all in.

I’ll have to wait until next year to check a few more of the notable locations off my list. Meanwhile, I’ll keep track of buildings that intrigue me. I wonder if the Chicago Architecture Foundation takes suggestions?


img_1235As cool weather approaches, I turn to my knitting bag. Surveying the yarns I have, and picking up a few new things at my neighborhood knit shop, I’m ready to make all those holiday gifts. At least that’s how the conversation with myself starts every fall. I love to knit and lately have shifted my focus from large ambitious projects to smaller ones that I can do in a reasonable time. No one wants a wool pullover in July, even if that’s when I finally finished it. Hats, scarves, and the occasional baby sweater are fun, and I get to use interesting, colorful yarns.

It’s surprising how much you can knit while watching TV, though binge-watching the second season of House of Cards proved to be too distracting. I need to look at the needles while I knit or I find I’ve missed a stitch, or twisted something around. I’ve gotten pretty good at fixing mistakes – undoing, unraveling, fishing dropped stitches out with a crochet hook. It reminds me of sewing.

I sewed a lot from the time I was in high school through the first few years of working. Summer dresses, formal dresses, theatre costumes, skirts, and curtains. Mom had a wonderfully outfitted sewing room complete with a padded work table, a cabinet filled with threads, notions, patterns, and fabrics, a table for the sewing machine, and a full-length mirror to scrutinize the work in progress. I spent many evenings in that room, listening to the radio, cutting, pinning, stitching, ripping out stitching, re-sewing, hemming, and trying on clothes. Then came the moment when I could hold up the garment that actually looked like the pattern – I was proud to wear those clothes. Perhaps my first manager noticed that I wore the same five wrap-around skirts in different colors to work, but it’s what you do on an entry-level salary.

With young kids, I sometimes sewed Halloween costumes, or repaired split seams, but didn’t make the time to sew garments. Even knitting projects were challenging – those kids grew too fast (or I was too slow) for me to produce a sweater in the right size and season. Now that they’re grown, I don’t have that excuse, so maybe I need to find a good mini-series to accompany the click-clack of my needles. Look out cold weather – we’re all going to have warm necks and heads!


mobius_stripThe seasons seem to come around faster every year. Part of that feeling is brought on by the compression of “fall” into the pumpkin/turkey/Santa/NewYear season. But even if I have to buy my Halloween candy next to stocking stuffers, I take some comfort in the pattern. It’s a way of marking the time and feeling a measure of control in knowing what comes next.

My days are packed with routines – from meals and work to the baffling number of dental and skin care steps required before bed. Repeated events fill the week, the month, the quarter: projects, book club meetings, grocery trips, budgets, and commutes. But rather than feeling like I’m on an endless treadmill, these activities are familiar mile markers I’ve touched so often, their edges are smooth and worn. Emerson said that “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds,” but I don’t think it’s foolish to enjoy what is familiar. Of course, I have to guard against only reading things that confirm the opinion I already have, and be willing to improvise when things don’t go as planned.

When the kids were small we established routines so we could manage getting them fed, bathed, and in bed at a regular time each evening. Reading bedtime books was my favorite part – either digging into the bag of colorful picture books from the library, or favorites from our own shelves. Like most kids, they loved repetition. If a story was interesting, exciting, or funny, they’d want to hear it over and over. Even with a story they had memorized, the anticipation of what they knew was coming next seemed to set them aquiver. That infectious joy made it a lot easier to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar for the twentieth time.

Repetition builds muscle memory that frees you from having to work out the details anew. And like practicing piano scales or push-ups, repetition also brings improvement. As I set out on another week, I’m wearing some variant of my black/gray/navy uniform and I look forward to the train ride, my cup of tea at work, and seeing my co-workers. Processing a third or fourth revision on a project, this may be the iteration when I get it right.