Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Midwestern Thanksgiving

This is the best season of the year, rivaling even summertime in the city. While I’d been anticipating Thanksgiving for a couple of weeks, it all started, full-swing, on Wednesday morning.

That morning I actually got a seat on the train on the way to work. Commuter numbers were already dwindling in anticipation of the holiday. Everywhere I looked, someone was dragging a suitcase (not that this is unusual—people are constantly rolling suitcases around this city). As I headed through the Pedway, I didn’t experience the usual crush of suburbians that typically descend upon the train station, which meant that I didn’t have to weave through them precariously. The Tribune salesman was in his usual spot, his booming voice reminding me (as it does every day) that I could purchase one for just 50 cents. I just smiled watching the unusually slow pace of the people around me, and felt the light mood of the anticipation of the holiday break.

After a shortened work day, it took about an hour to get out of the city, even at 2 p.m. After that, though, the only slowed traffic was at the Ohio turnpike entry booths, where they still seem to be figuring out how to work their I-Pass (or EZ-Pass) system (I’m just glad that they finally got on board).

Thursday morning was portioned between the kitchen and the treadmill (okay, the kitchen actually got much more of my time). I decided not to be lazy and opt for deviled eggs (even though those are always a favorite) and tried a feta cheese pastry concoction I’d found on the Internet, after a long search for a good appetizer. Lucky for me, Kroger was completely dead on Thanksgiving morning (God, I love Kroger. I wish Chicago would get some), so I whizzed in and out with my four cartons of feta and stalks of green onion. After about an hour and a half in the kitchen, ta-da! I had managed to pull together my new favorite appetizer.

Thanksgiving is really inching up there, nearly beating out Christmas, as my favorite holiday. The two most important elements are there—family and food. In a typical year, there are rarely times besides Thanksgiving, Christmas, and my birthday, when I get to see all of my family in one place, at the same time, with the added bonus of all the amazing food. This year didn’t disappoint: gigantic turkey, dressing, cranberry relish, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potato casserole, mom’s spinach dish, creamed spinach, green beans, grandma’s rice pudding, rolls, feta cheese pastries, apple pie, cherry pie, pumpkin pie, and carrot cake. I definitely helped myself to two pieces of pumpkin pie (my favorite!).

Anyway, everyone was in good spirits. My cousins and nephew spent half the time chasing each other around with plastic guns and swords, while my little niece toddled after them, unsuccessfully trying to join in. My uncles and brother talked about cars, cameras, and computers. My mom and I spent considerable time keeping an eye on my niece, who likes to climb on everything (too bad we didn't burn off quite as many calories as she did!). I'd say that, all in all, it was probably your typical Midwestern Thanksgiving. And I'm thankful for that.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Nutcracker: Dreams, Realizations, Reality

F.Y.I., this post isn't exactly "Chicagoing," but when you move to the city, part of the experience is what happens when you visit home...

Tonight, my mom and I went to see the Ballet Theatre of Toledo’s Nutcracker. It was cute, the humor was interwoven quite well, and it was good for such a young company of dancers, but mostly it flooded me with memories. Admittedly, it wasn’t the Toledo Ballet version I grew up watching, and in which I once danced. But, since Nigel and Anne Marie broke off from Toledo Ballet and started their own company, it’s still infused with some similarities, including one of the guest artists whom I remember from my girlhood. Sometimes, I couldn’t help but tear up watching, knowing that dance will never again play quite the same role in my life that it did for the fourteen years that I avidly studied it. So much of tonight’s performance just took me back to the moments when dancing was all I wanted to do forever. When you’re young, it’s easy to believe things like that—before repeated kneecap injuries and a fractured toe. I’m not bitter about it, because I likely would have opted for a more practical path, regardless of injuries, and I'm really happy with the direction my life has taken. I suppose, however, there will always be a slight twinge of nostalgia there.

It was really bizarre to see the way some of the dancers have aged (including one of the guest artists). I haven’t seen them in years, and tonight it was a blast from the past for which I just wasn’t entirely prepared. It’s been fifteen years since I performed in the Toledo Ballet’s Nutcracker, and I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen a Toledo production of it since then. So, yea, fifteen years makes a noticeable difference—especially in the dance world. It’s so funny how people remain preserved in your memory with the youth, vigor, and admiration they commanded when you knew them. And when you see them years later you take a step back and say, “Yes. They’ve aged, too.” It’s just that I remember staring, starry-eyed, at Anne Marie practicing pirouettes for her role as the Snow Queen, during a rehearsal when I was just a girl, sitting under the barre, cross-legged in my pink tights. And I remember how Gail would practically bend her body in half, arching backward during the Arabian dance. She was one of the most beautiful, sinewy things you’d ever seen. I didn’t see her tonight, but watching the Arabian dance, I was struck at how it paled in comparison. The thing is, as you get older, you realize that your heroes aren’t immortal.

Anyway, it’s funny to see a production like this and notice how drastically my perspective has changed. When I performed in the Nutcracker, I was blown away by the high school girls, who performed roles like Snowflakes, and Sweets, and Russian Dancers. I aspired to be them. By the time I reached their age, I pretty much was them, though I didn’t really think of it that way. Now, I look at them and just think, “My God, they’re so young, and there was a day when I wanted to be them.” It makes me laugh a little, but I know there are still little girls admiring them. Plus, I myself am still blown away by the talent of some of them.

Anyway, it was a little trip down memory lane, and it brought back some happy memories that I had long forgotten. Plus, it was a nice kick-off to the holiday season. I’m looking forward to watching the Nutcracker from a completely different angle in a couple of weeks, when I’m back in Chicago reviewing the Joffery’s production. As much as I’m looking forward to watching the professionals take the stage (I can’t wait to see the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de duex and snow scene Joffrey-style), I do hope they include some children in their version, too (and I expect they will). There’s something really huge to be said for featuring children in a ballet like this one. I wouldn’t want any young dancer to be denied the chance to have the memory of dancing in a full-length production of the Nutcracker. It is a children’s story, after all.

Friday, November 13, 2009


I love the sound of all eight elevators in our elevator bank whooshing up and down just past 5 p.m. on a weeknight. The speed of the cars zipping up and down mimics the urgency of the passengers heading out of the office. I imagine how it would look if you could see through the walls and watch all 48 double-decker elevators sliding past one another like some kind of amusement park ride. Honestly, the thrill of working in one of Chicago’s tallest buildings doesn’t fade. And even my more jaded co-workers have to admit how much they love looking out of the windows in our corner conference rooms. Either the lake, or the city, or both (depending which conference room you’re in), just sprawl out below your gaze. On beautiful days, those views can be very distracting.

The elevators were whooshing vigorously when I left the office today. It had been a long week, full of long hours and being sick. I felt relieved to step outside, breathe in the fresh evening air, and find the blanket of darkness that descends upon the city so early these days. While I was sad to say goodbye to Daylight Savings Time, I have been happy to walk out of the office and find the dark skies overhead. Because dark skies mean glittering city lights, and downtown Chicago might just be at her most beautiful in the night.

Even though I felt crummy, it was even nice to walk from my apartment to the John Hancock building tonight. (The weather is still quite warm for November, which makes for perfect evening walks.) Can you believe that there are apartments in the Hancock? And that they are actually affordable? Apparently so, because I just spent the evening there with a bunch of the old intern crew to celebrate Suzie’s 20 or so hours in town before she heads back to Seattle.

Now, I know that I work pretty high in the sky, but living on the 57th floor of the John Hancock is a little higher than I would want to reside. Trey (it was his apartment) told us that when it’s stormy, the wind gets so loud that you can’t even carry on a conversation in the apartment. The view’s great, but the constant creaking from the wind is a little unnerving. And you have to ride up two sets of elevators just to get home. I can just see me at the end of the work week, grumpy, feeling exhausted, battling tourists the whole way home, then having to take two elevators just to get to my apartment. Then losing sleep if it’s a stormy night? Ugh! But…it might just be worth it for the satisfaction of sharing my residence with both the Signature Room and the Cheesecake Factory.

Anyway, the thought of moving into that place is daunting enough for me to never consider moving there (not to mention zero parking). But it’s undoubtedly a great place for hosting parties.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


We are getting so lucky with our pockets of springtime. Both today and yesterday were magnificent, with highs near seventy degrees, and full sunshine. I had every intention of going down to Macy’s yesterday for the noon lighting of their big Christmas tree, until the sunshine bursting in from the slats in my blinds woke me in the morning, and immediately convinced me that my day would best be spent outside. How can I possibly think about the holidays when it feels like May (honestly, I have no idea how they ever get into the Christmas spirit in Florida or Southern California)? So, after puttering lazily about the apartment for a couple of hours, I went out and spent some time with on of my favorite ladies—Lake Michigan.

It really felt like summer again, as I threw on a T-shirt and ran out the door. I just ran and ran and drank in the sunshine. Many people, and their dogs, were out enjoying the weather. Maybe I’m just missing Henry (our family collie-mix), but I saw more dogs this weekend than I have in ages. Adorable, big, fluffy dogs. Some swimming in the lake, some trying to jump in the lake with their owners in tow, some running up and down the beach. Dalmatians, golden retrievers, black labs, sheepdogs. They were having so much fun, I couldn’t help but smile (and wish I had Henry with me).

Anyway, up past Fullerton, I took a break to sit and stare at the lake. It had been well over a month since I’d last gone down to the shore and just drank in the beauty of the lake and the city and let myself be. Lake Michigan was calm and smooth. Only the occasional wave runner marred her surface, but I enjoyed the way the sun created rainbows of lake spraying out from behind them. I believe I sat there for over half an hour, which is a pretty long time for me to just sit, without talking, without reading, without surfing the net, without working on something.

Being by the lake is such a contrast to the busy city life that it’s sometimes hard to believe that both exist within the bounds of Chicago. Tomorrow morning I will be lost in the crush of people siphoning into the El on their morning commutes. I will squeeze into some pocket of space between bodies just wide enough for me to stand in until I get to my stop. I will have no choice but to breathe in the smell of the lotion, cologne, or body odor of the person next to me, and to become uncomfortably warm in my layers of clothing.

But while I’m on the train I’ll think about how, just yesterday, I was running in a tank top by the lake, lungs expanding with fresh air, and soaking up sunshine. Nothing but water and open space to my east. When I was out there, I never once looked at a clock or a cell phone or even bothered wondering what time it was. I feel like my batteries were recharging. So tomorrow, when I’m back in the hubbub and probably wishing it were still Sunday, I’ll nevertheless be pretty fresh-faced and ready to tackle the week (at least, I hope so!).