Friday, December 17, 2010

Winter Walks

A few nights ago, I went for a walk in the cold. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’m so easily amused, but it’s always kind of thrilling to me to put on my heavy boots (which make me invincible, you know), and tromp through the slush and snow. I like the way it feels bundled up inside my hood, my own body heat held closely between the layers. I like how ridiculous it feels to be all wrapped up in some amalgamation of winter gear. I watch other people rushing around, shoulders hunched up against the cold, pink faces, clouds of breath in the air. It always makes me laugh, although I’m not quite sure what it is that I find so ridiculous about the whole thing.

But in the moments where the people are gone, it’s really rather peaceful, like pockets of solitude. In the city, people are always out and about, even in the wee hours of the morning, so you’re never really alone unless you’re at home (and even then, you hear your neighbors in the apartments adjacent or above). But in the wintertime, the pedestrians thin out in the evenings, so you can go whole stretches without seeing a single person headed your way. No, it’s not silent, because there’s still traffic—so, you know, it’s not perfect stillness. It’s certainly not akin to a walk in the woods. But I can liken it to how I feel when I walk down by the lake, away from the beaches, during the summer. You can have whole moments to yourself, even though the city is moving at a rapid pace to your west. It’s refreshing.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Flying

Finally finding a few spare moments to write, between gazes out the airplane window, at a rippling blanket of clouds (and the mountainous Northwest, pictured below). How much I can write boils down to a race between my fingers on the keyboard, and my puny laptop battery, which is losing power by the second.

Christmastime in Chicago has been a whirlwind for me. I’ve been in and out of the city a little bit this month, so I missed a few things like the first major snowfall. I’m not really disappointed about it, though. I’ve seen snow every single winter of my life, and will no doubt catch Chicago’s first winter snowfall next year. I was in Las Vegas that weekend, and when we descended back into O’Hare after dusk the following Monday, the snow-and-Christmas-light dressings over the landscape provided a friendly welcome home.

This holiday season has been marked by holiday performances, although I haven’t gone completely overboard with the arts reviews. In fact, I have found, this year, that the urge to snuggle up inside for a good movie or some cooking (with a certain someone) has been much stronger than my desire to be out and about in the cold city. But so far, I’ve seen two versions of the Nutcracker (review of the Joffrey’s in next week’s SNIPPETS, which you can sign up for here), the American Blues Theatre’s It’s a Wonderful Life (review posted here), and this weekend will find me at A Christmas Carol at the Goodman Theater (this one is for pleasure only—no review). The one other Chicago holiday attraction I’m dying to catch before Christmas is the Krist Kindle Mart. I finished all of my holiday shopping weeks ago, but I love to go look at the wares and eat German pastries.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Catching Up with an Old Favorite

My perspective on Chicago is changing. I sometimes find it difficult to defamiliarize the city anymore, because I am so close to it. This is partly why my blog posts have become fewer. I wouldn’t say that I have lost my exuberance for the city. I still feel the rush every time I walk out of work in the evening and the city pops against the dark sky. And when I look out the windows at the office and watch the traffic inching along sixty stories below. And when I have opportunities to interview great artists in the city, and even some just traveling through. The excitement of Chicago is still here. But the novelty is transforming into something resembling my feelings toward a favorite old novel. This is okay with me because I love old favorites, and new details emerge as my own perspective changes. I’m hoping that I will still be able to entertain you with my tales about Chicago. And thank you to my faithful readers. It means a lot to me that you’re still here, reading my stories.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Twosided + Two-ish Hours = Two Happy Ladies

In early November, I stumbled upon an adorable little shop in Lakeview called Twosided. I noticed it for the first time when Matt and I were riding down Wellington late in the evening. The shop windows were aglow with the twinkling of eight or nine Christmas trees all decked out, casting light out onto the street. I gasped when I saw it, and Matt just chuckled at me (he knows I’m Christmas-obsessed).

So, when my mom made her annual Christmas-shopping-in-Chicago visit the following weekend, we decided to spend one full day moseying about the shops in Lakeview. Our first stop after introducing mom to Matt's and my favorite brunch spot (sorry, can't reveal it--we don’t want it to start getting crowded!) was Twosided. I couldn’t believe I’d never been to this place before, to be perfectly honest. In addition to the Christmas trees loaded with lights and ornaments, this little store is chock full of the best—and I do mean best—selection of greeting cards I’ve ever stumbled across. They’re very kitschy—not your banal Hallmark cards—and you could spend hours just reading through them and picking out the ones you want.

Mom and I perused this shop for about an hour and a half. I collected a small pile of birthday and holiday cards, and a funny little onesie for the new little nephew or niece that will be joining our family next year, and a gift for one of my best friends. Mom and I both left with a little reluctance and bags filled with evidence that we’d had ourselves a very good time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jacket Weather

It’s that awkward time of year again where some people are outside in flip-flops and a sweater (guilty as charged) and others are already cloaked in winter coats and scarves. I’m of the resistant crowd, I suppose. But if I start wearing a heavy coat already, how will I make it through the dead of winter? I figure that if I force my body to adjust now, I’ll be much less miserable and grumpy when January hits. Of course, all bets are off for February, because lack of sunshine and cabin fever make me grouchy.

BUT that’s a long way off! The leaves are starting to fall, and in the lobby at the office, little round ovals of yellow dot the marble floors each morning after the leaves have ridden in and fallen off of heels and boots. Speaking of leaves on shoes, isn’t this the most perfect time of year for taking walks? It always feels idyllic strolling down the sidewalk with gusts of yellow and orange swirling around you. I get a bit giddy about autumn. Especially right now, when we’re still in that luscious little window of the season before the evenings go dark quickly following daylight saving time. It’s funny how, in August, I can dread fall so much (because it means winter awaits), but once it’s here, I feel like I’m going back to school all over again (which I always loved).

I’m hoping to make it over to the Conservatory before the leaves are brown to take some pictures. I’ve never been, and I bet it would be a nice breather from the crazy schedule I've been keeping of late. Let's see...

Clef Notes Journal: Autumn Issue

Clef Notes has posted a sampling of its Autumn Issue online. I did a feature on Martha Graham for this issue, as well as a piece about the Laura Twirls Suicide Awareness Foundation Benefit Performance "Hope through Dance." You can check out the Martha Graham feature by clicking on the first page posted below:

Please take a moment to check out all of the great Autumn pieces posted on the Webpage. We're hard at work on articles for the Winter Issue!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Winter's Dramatic Prelude

Rarely is the changing of seasons as suddenly visible, and palpable, as it was today. At lunchtime, the temperatures were in the low 80s. Sometime during the afternoon, clouds began rolling in dramatically off the lake, cloaking much of the downtown in mist. When I walked out of the office a little before 6 pm, it was downright chilly, in the low 60s. We managed to eke out a couple of extra weeks of summer--and it was glorious. Fall has finally come, full blast.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's "Fall Series 2010"

(This piece originally appeared at GapersBlock.com.)

September 30, 2010--Hubbard Street Dance Chicago always surprises with their repertoire. Each of their performances is so different from the one prior, unified by the unwavering talent of the HSDC dancers. The company stretches the bounds of contemporary dance--which are expansive to begin with--consistently transforming movement in ways that can reach even the most reluctant performance-goer. Their performances present such a variety that there's sure to be something that impacts each segment of their audience.

HDSC's Fall Series, performed September 30-October 3 at Harris Theater, includes four pieces that not only exhibit this variety, but showcase the unfailing athleticism and grace of the dancers. The first piece, Alejandro Cerrudo's Blanco, leaves the viewer with a calm sense of satisfaction. An abstract work featuring four women--Laura Halm, Jesssica Tong, Meredith Dincolo, and Robyn Mineko Williams in the opening performance--the piece emphasizes extensions and liquid movement. Despite the demanding choreography, the movements seem gentle and organic, with limbs gliding like silk.

HSDC dancers Penny Saunders and Jesse Bechard in Arcangelo. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Cerrudo's Deep Down Dos, the second piece in the series, takes the audience into a deep cavern, with a sci-fi flavor. The score "Music for Underground Spaces," written by Chicago Symphony Orchestra composer-in-residence Mason Bates, felt a bit like An American in Paris meets the Matrix. The piece has the feel of an intense film score, with hints of Gershwin-esque playfulness. The choreography creates an impression of weightlessness, with dancers moving, at times, as though floating in space.

Only the third piece, Victor Quijada's PHYSIKAL LINGUISTIKS, leaves me baffled. The piece begins extremely strong. Many dances feature a kind of puppeteering, where one dancer seems to pose another one, but this piece showcases some of the best puppeteering I've ever seen. The opening scene, featuring four male dancers, is truly humorous, as each dancer poses another so skillfully that, at times, you almost believe that the dancers are oversized plastic action figures, rather than human beings. But the work tries to accomplish too much, and loses unity between all of the components. The piece is filled with moments of comedic brilliance, particularly in the ways it invades and breaks down the fourth wall, but it becomes disjointed and drags.

HSDC dancers Pablo Piantino and Penny Saunders in PHYSIKAL LINGUISTIKS. Jacqueline Burnett in background.Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

In their Fall Series, HSDC saves the best for last. The final piece, Nacho Duato's Arcangelo, features impressions of heaven and hell. Marked by its gorgeous visual composition, Duato's work features images created by uniquely posed legs, figures posed at rest on the stage, and work with a curtain. The piece is so skillful that even the use of the curtain onstage creates a disturbing illusion of decapitation. A standing ovation is certainly warranted after this piece.

Only two more performances remain in HSDC's Fall Series. Audiences can view the program Saturday, October 2 at 8 pm, or Sunday, October 3 at 3 pm. Both performances are at Harris Theater in Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph St. Tickets are $25-94 and may be purchased online through HSDC's website, or by calling the Harris Theater box office at 312-334-7777.

A New Season Begins...

It's such a comfort to know that the end of every Chicago summer brings the beginning of the Chicago arts season. And for me, it's a thrilling time of year.

Clef Notes has been assigning me some very exciting stories lately, involving interviews with some of the biggest names in Chicago's dance world. This month marks the start of the new performance season, and my schedule is a whirlwind of programs to review, rehearsals to observe, and interviews to give for both the magazine and for Gapers Block. Needless to say, my freelance work has been very fulfilling, though a little overwhelming at times.

Last week, I spoke with Luna Negra Artistic Director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano for a piece I'm writing for the Winter Issue. Before we spoke, I took in the silent studio where we would meet, and snapped a few photographs on my phone. There's always something comforting about being in a quiet dance studio. The empty space just seems to beg for dance to fill it up, and I have to contain myself from indulging in a few tor jetes and leaps. It's just a room, with a piano, a portable dance floor, and a barre. Yet, no matter where I am, the studio still feels like home, and takes me racing back to some of the happiest moments of my childhood and teenage years...





Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Good-Bye to Another Chicago Summer

Summer Sped Up (A Chicago Timelapse) from Josh Kalven on Vimeo.

Since summer is officially over tonight, and because my co-worker, Kristen, is even more sad about it than I am (I've already accepted fall, and I'm kind of excited about it, to be perfectly honest), this gem was brought to my attention. Pretty cool! Enjoy!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Time Flies...

Pardon the time lapse since my last post. My life has been very full (in a good way!) lately, and the hours for blogging become slimmer and slimmer. But I've definitely been writing! Have been prepping for two exciting interviews in October for two stories I'm writing for the Winter Issue of Clef Notes. I've also had some fun opportunities through GapersBlock.com. Two weeks ago, I went on a tour of The Chicago Theatre that was really interesting. We couldn't secure a photographer for the event, so I got to take the pictures, too (it's times like these I wish I had something a little fancier in the camera department). Click on the story below to read the entire thing at GapersBlock.com!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Celebrating a Chicago Anniversary

Two years ago today, I moved to this beautiful, cold, stinky, lovely, angular, popular, laid-back, intense city that I call home. Hopping into my car that day, and hitting the highway for my westward drive to Chicago, there wasn't a doubt in my mind that I belonged here. And as the city unfolded before me as I crossed the Skyway, I felt the thrill of Chicago up my spine. She's not a perfect city--certainly not as flawless as she seemed that very first day--but she's home to me now. And I still get the thrill.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Chicago, Kim and Ems Style: Part IV

Sunday was jam-packed despite the miserable heat. We woke up around nine, and I decided to make pancakes for breakfast before catching the bus downtown to the Chicago River. I had, unwisely, booked a noon riverboat tour with the Chicago Architecture Foundation on a 90+ degree day. Granted, we still missed the hottest part of the day, but I'm not sure why noon had seemed like a good time to me when I’d picked up the tickets.

Anyway, Kim’s even more of an architecture fan than I am, and he’s a huge urban-planning buff, so I figured we definitely needed to take my favorite Chicago tour. We enjoyed the heck out of ourselves, despite dripping with sweat, and Kim was shooting with his DSLR (and me with my point-and-shoot) the whole ride.



By the time it was over, we were (surprise!) ready to eat again. I took us to the most lackluster place of the whole weekend—the grill at Millennium Park. I’ve had good food here in the past, but they really disappointed on Sunday. Of course, maybe it’s just because they pale in comparison to the fabulous eats on which we gorged ourselves the rest of the weekend… But the drinks were good. So, even though we were still outside, we had shade, and a couple of tasty drinks, and we just sat and talked for a couple of hours. We kind of melted into our chairs and were nearly too lethargic to move at all, but the prospect of More cupcakes motivated us.

But once we got to More, and picked out our gourmet cupcakes, we were ready to throw in the towel, go home, and enjoy our treats in the A/C. So we did.

It was already dinner time when we arrived home, but we decided to eat the cupcakes first. I had opted for my absolute favorite—red velvet—and Kim went for something a little less usual—mango cilantro. I was pretty psyched watching Kim bit into his, and when he said it might just be the best thing he’s ever tasted, well, I was pretty proud of myself. I’d been talking up More since I’d visited D.C., and I had to prove that these cupcakes were better than the rest. I succeeded.

The rest of the night consisted of watching “Mad Men” with takeout from Joy’s Noodles & Rice. I went to bed fat and happy than night, and didn’t feel sad until morning. Kim joined me on my morning commute, continuing to express admiration for my fabulous city (ah, Kim, how you stroke my ego by telling me what an amazing city I live in), and then I saw him off on Lake Street at the Blueline stop. I felt rather sad on the walk to work, as you always do when one of your best and oldest friends heads out of the city. In fact, I sulked the whole way to work and then some. But then I reminded myself that it won’t be long before we indulge in Chicago or D.C. together again. And besides, it’s about time for a diet after all that food!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Chicago, Kim and Ems Style: Part III

Saturday afternoon was short, as we had only a brief time between Hot Doug’s and heading out to Ravinia to see Rodrigo y Gabriela. We took a ride down Lake Shore Drive, and over to my old neighborhood, but then headed back home to grab a few things, and then grab the Redline to Argyle. Here, we stopped to pick up some awesome Bahn Mi sandwiches and desserts from Ba Le Bakery (Kim, check out their awesome website!) to take with us.

Now, I know I’ve lived in Chicago for a while, but I’d never ridden the Metra before. Being a bit of a public transportation lover, I was pretty psyched by sitting “upstairs” on the train, and the fact that the conductor actually walks through the train and checks your tickets (really, it’s kind of quaint and adorable). As the train filled up on the way to Ravinia, I started to realize that this whole Ravinia thing is actually kind of a big deal. Of course, when we arrived and saw the massive line waiting to get inside, this really began to sink in. After bucking an angry-mom-sounding park official, we joined the crowd of people cutting to the front of the line, only to wait another 20 minutes to get inside. Once past the gate, I had to admit it: okay, this suburban music festival, and, in particular, this band of which I had not previously heard, was a huge deal. There were only slivers of grass apparent between all of the blankets, chairs, and elaborate dining set-ups strewn across the sprawling lawn. I was completely caught off guard by the tables, tablecloths, five-course meals, and candelabra displayed at so many of the temporary sites created by concert-goers. I had never seen anything like this before in my life. Luckily, Liz and Matt had arrived when the gates had opened, a couple of hours before we’d arrived, and had staked out and set up a nice spot, with two huge picnic blankets, large enough to hold all four of us. We had brought a decent spread of food to add to their collection of munchies, and with several bottles of wine between us, we were set!

Rodrigo y Gabriela were tremendously good to the ears and the spirit. I couldn’t help but wish I could remember the flamenco I’d taken during a summer master class at Toledo Ballet in high school. The music was beautiful, the sky was full of stars, and the night air was perfectly comfortable. Everyone seemed content.

The evening was destined to expose me to new experiences, and so, settling in for the Metra ride home, I couldn’t hide my shock that everyone—and I mean everyone—on the train seemed happy. It was like a jovial community, where everyone smiled and joked and laughed with strangers as though they were old pals. Granted, most everyone had been drinking for hours ahead of time. But it wasn’t akin to the El at 2 a.m. People weren’t sloppy, or obnoxious, or rude. They were just having a good time, and I was sincerely impressed. I had completely underestimated the potential of Ravinia!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chicago, Kim and Ems Style: Part II

If Xoco weren’t enough, we headed to the famous Hot Doug’s on Saturday around noon. Now, Hot Doug’s opens at 10:30 a.m., but the idea of eating hot dogs for breakfast somehow seemed ludicrous to me, and, well, we didn’t even haul ourselves out of our beds until about that time. But when you arrive at the restaurant, you understand why you’d want to get there at about 10:30 a.m.—because by the time you make it through the line it will be at least noon, if not later. So, we made our way around the building and to the back of the 90-minute-long queue baking under the mid-day sun. An opportunistic ice cream truck sat at the curb, selling water and ice cream to grumbling bellies along the way. Admittedly, I was turning into a bit of a crab, what with the lack of food and the sun heating beads of sweat down my back. As we inched closer and closer to toward the entrance, it became a greater and greater tease, and my impatience started to take hold. Once we could see the food, though, the excitement became fully re-ignited, and everyone around us grew lively. In fact, by the time we were close enough to view the menu on the wall, I started to panic that I wasn’t going to be finished deciding by the time we got up to the counter! Could we just order one of everything?

Soon, however, we were met with a jovial cashier who acted as though there weren’t sixty people crowded at the door, waiting to get in. Once you’re inside, time slows down and everyone just seems so relaxed. Despite the long lines, there were open tables, with diners slowly savoring their meals. There wasn’t a thing frantic or stressed about it. After expertly ordering a Chicago dog, a blue cheese pork sausage with almonds, a jalapeno and cheddar beef sausage, French fries fried in duck fat (with cheese on the side), and a couple of drinks, we took our seats to await the artery-clogging goodness. And boy was it goodness. We split the Chicago dog, and it was amazing. It was perfectly tangy, and I am convinced that I will never, ever, eat a hot dog with ketchup again in my life. Then I dug into my blue cheese sausage, which was good, but didn’t even compare to the $6-cheaper Chicago dog. Kim asked me if I could taste any difference in the duck fat fries, and I honestly could. But maybe it’s because I routinely eat my fries with nothing on them but salt.

After leisurely eating our lunch, shooting the shit (we do a lot of this), and enjoying the mix of tunes that took us back to middle and high school, we headed out, our full stomachs in tow.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Chicago, Kim and Ems Style: Part I

The loneliness in my apartment is always palpable after a visitor leaves. So much laughter and conversation bounces about the walls when I have company in town, making the contrasting silence of emptiness feel a bit jarring when I come home alone. Already, though, I am settling back into the quiet, wrapping it around me, biting into it with Debussy, as I sit and dream and write…

The weekend was lovely, as weekends with best friends typically are. Driving west on Addison Friday after work was a surprising treat, and proof once again that I have grown accustomed to my habitual haunts. I’ve lived in Chicago for nearly two years, and there’s so much I’ve never bothered to see, despite the fact that I am on a constant search for everything new and different. Addison took me by surprise as it was both beautiful and pleasantly traffic-light the whole drive west where I met Kim at the blue line stop.

Once I’d collected him (what a sight for sore eyes!), I chattered away practically the whole drive home, which is increasingly unusual for me these days. I suppose this is the biggest clue that I’m really and truly comfortable with you—we just start talking and before you know it, you can’t shut me up (yes, I know, shocking, right?). And from that point, the fabulous Chicago weekend was full-steam ahead!

We headed to Xoco for dinner, to which neither of us had ever been. Kim is definitely a bit of a foodie, and he was pretty keen on the idea of hitting up a Rick Bayless restaurant while in town, as was I, since everyone’s always talking about his spots. Of course, I couldn’t have planned the timing better if I’d tried—we walked in and Bayless was behind the counter. Kim had a mini freak-out before I even knew what was going on. I’ll be honest—I had no idea what Bayless looked like, so I was a tad confused at Kim’s frantic unzipping of his camera bag. When I asked what was going on, Kim said from the side of his mouth, “It’s f--ing Rick Bayless!”

Bayless only hung around for about five minutes more, leaving us plenty of time to examine the menu and shoot the shit before we ordered. We opted for the guacamole and tortilla chips, pork belly vermicelli for Kim, seafood caldos for me, and churros for desert. I’m not much of a soup fan, so it was unusual that I ordered the seafood caldos, but if you could have seen and smelled the soups, you wouldn’t have passed it up either. The food was amazing, but so was the company. It’s odd how your emotional appetite can satisfy your hunger, because we couldn’t finish a single dish we’d ordered. We laughed about it, pointing out how, if we’d been at our desks for lunch (or dinner), or otherwise eating alone, we’d have been able to scarf down the entire thing. Le sigh.

***

So, a little while after writing this entry, I came across this little gem at Huffington Post. Yep, that's Xoco!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Moments of Lovely

Pittsburgh may have the friendliest people in the U.S. I’m not joking, and yes, I have considered the South as well. Granted, I only spent a brief time in Pittsburgh this week, visiting one of my best friends from Ball State, but people in the city have that genuine Midwestern attitude (even though they’ll swear they are East Coast, NOT Midwest) with none of that large city “bother-me-not” mentality (probably because they are not a big city). Add to that the hilly landscape and industrious mind-set, and of course Wendy (wink, wink), and you’ve got a great little city. My visit there was a mix of relaxing, shopping, eating, and exploring Pittsburgh’s culture.


Duquesne Incline

There’s much about which I could write here. Pamela’s pancakes, the Andy Warhol museum, riding the Duquesne Incline… But, of everything, Phipps Conservatory left me nearly speechless. I could rave endlessly about the beauty, expanse, and outright whimsy of Phipps. It felt so magical, weaving in and out of seemingly limitless rooms of foliage and flowers, butterflies and glass art. I’m not even crazy about flowers the way my mom is, but I just couldn’t help but feel swept away. Of course, Wendy and I couldn’t resist the endless photo opportunities, either, and we posed in every little nook, amid cascading vines, on quaint bridges, and beside waterfalls. We stayed for a good part of Thursday afternoon, basking in the greenness and the wafting sweet scents.

Phipps Conservatory

When I look back on it, though, all of Thursday was rather enchanting. The whimsy of Phipps seemed to trickle on into the night. Wendy, Autumn, and I got all done up for a girls’ night out, complete with tapas and sangria at Ibiza. While dinner was lovely, and we had a nice time out on Carson Street, it was later that night (actually, make that Friday morning), when our evening took an unexpected twist. At about 3 a.m., Wendy, Autumn, and I found ourselves at an observation point at Mt. Washington, looking out over downtown Pittsburgh, all lit up against the black sky. Add to this the fact that I was dancing barefoot, with a sweet young Pennsylvania guy to classic jazz (streaming from his front shirt pocket where my phone, cued up to Pandora radio, was conveniently set), pausing every so often to absorb the cityscape before us. I love these kinds of unexpected moments--when Romance (and romance) just slips in, as though it were waiting in the wings all along. And even as the night ends, and everyone goes their separate ways, that unexpected moment of lovely still lingers in the early morning air.

Downtown Pittsburgh, 3 a.m. (Above)

One of Pitt's many yellow bridges

Maybe it’s the inspiration of Phipps's never-ending mazes of foliage, or the barefoot twirling overlooking night-time Pittsburgh, but I found my love for Chicago re-ignited as well. I had butterflies in my stomach, and lost all semblance of patience when my flight home began its descent over Chicago late Saturday afternoon. I had had my eyes closed, the airplane window “shade” pulled down, listening to my headphones. But as soon as I felt those lilts indicating that the plane was slowly losing altitude, my eyes popped wide open, I lifted the window shade, and I sat there with my foot bouncing, like a little kid, eagerly awaiting our landing at Midway.

It always feels so warm and fuzzy to return to the broad shoulders of Chi-town. Chicago, my love, I missed you! There's no place like home.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Expensive, Confirmed by Huffington Post

Now, I'm always a bit ambivalent about these "Top Cities" articles, but whenever they talk about Chicago, I just can't help myself. This one doesn't surprise me one bit, though. The Huffington Post ranked Chicago #4 in the Top Eleven Most Expensive Cities in America.

You start to become at least a little complacent once you've lived in a city for awhile, but seriously, the high cost of rent, ten percent sales tax, and high cost of public transportation are rather crazy. Of course, my dollar doesn't stretch nearly as far here as it does elsewhere, but I still love my city.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Magazines, Music, and Paper-Making, Oh My!

It was a little geeky walking in the door. People dressed up in ridiculous paper-made robot costumes greeted us as we stepped in. Of course, a few steps beyond them, walking into a veritable maze of people and magazines, I completely geeked out, too.

On Friday evening, Liz, Matt, and I met up at the Printer's Row Ball at Columbia College. The lit dork in me was jumping up and down about going before we even got there. Stacks upon stacks of back issues of cool magazines? Posters and cool graphic design work? Photography and papermaking and broadsides? Please, count me in!

The event is held annually by Poetry Magazine, and GapersBlock.com usually has a presence (at least, I think they usually do). While, to me, the print presence was much stronger than the digital presence, I'm always happy to discover that there's such a plethora of local magazines. Gapers Block presented a slideshow of Chicago's online lit sites, but we either left before it or missed it while we were upstairs oohing and ahhing over the printing press demonstrations, and the really cool paper art exhibit (see picture). I honestly was surprised by the number of small publications coming out of Chicago that I'd never heard of. I grabbed magazine after magazine as we weaved in and out of heaping tables of back issues. (Not that all of the periodicals were local, of course.) I have visions of tearing them up and making some kind of Chicago-based art piece out of them (but I get these visions all the time, and usually I just get to busy, or opt to write instead).

So, the first floor had most of the magazines, as well as a music stage with a DJ spinning, and free drinks and appetizers at the far side. After moseying about for a bit, we headed up to the second floor. This was really the print-making floor. Several volunteers were working huge presses, and you could print out a piece of art if you wanted. In another room, about fifteen people crowded around tables filled with scraps of rubber and wooden blocks--they were making rubber stamps. Having had (nerd alert) a large rubber stamp collection as a kid, I was pretty excited. But our scissors were pretty awful, and all the good pieces of rubber were gone. So, I wound up with a failed attempt at a sun that looked akin to a kindergarten project.
Rubber stamp making

We wandered around looking at paper art and photography, and were on a rather fruitless search for the elevator when I noticed columns of paper discs suspeneded from the ceiling in one of the rooms. We went in and walked through the columns, and took pictures of them and each other in them for about fifteen minutes or so. It was a very relaxing and quite fascinating exhibit.
On the eighth floor, which wasn't much different from the first floor, only sized down, we saw people carrying huge bags of magazines around with them. I was having a difficult enough time just keeping hold of my stack of five, much less dragging a huge bag around everywhere. No offense, but those people just got a little too into it.
Row of bottles at Eleven City Diner

After making our way back downstairs, we went next door to Eleven City Diner, to which I'd never been before. I actually wasn't very hungry, but Liz and I split the Moshe Cristo sandwich. Okay, whoever decided to put a sandwich on French Toast was a genius! It was ham, roast turkey, and melted Swiss on Challah French Toast---mmmm, so delicious! Top that off with Wisconsin cheddar cheese fries, and I was one happy camper (who was trying not to think about the number of calories in the meal). Needless to say, I felt pretty good when we left for the train.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

"Transformers" Invade Chicago

One of the (many) exciting aspects of living in a big city is that they are constantly shooting movies and television shows here. And, just as thrilling, when they're complete, you get to see your city--the places you dine, work, live, etc.--on the big screen, or in your favorite television episodes. Like a little kid, the novelty of this just doesn't get old for me. I'm still discovering movies that I knew and loved growing up were shot here. And immediately I have a new perspective on every one of those films.

This week, Transformers 3 has been shooting on the Mag Mile. There is plenty of grumbling from locals, whose commutes have increased two- and three-fold for a few days, but I'm lucky that it doesn't really impact me. It was cool to see no traffic on Michigan Ave., as that doesn't happen too often. I didn't check out the damage of the film shoot (and I do mean damage--you've GOT to check out this photo from the Tribune), but I know that I'm going to see this movie, and solely because it was shot on the Mag Mile.

Friday, July 16, 2010

My Jazz Fix

Many days, when I’m sitting there in my office chair, the sweet strains of Ella or Peyroux or Miles funneled into my ears through my ear buds, I start pining for the Green Mill. Live jazz is like my secret elixir. If I’m stressed, I literally crave it the way some people crave a drink or a cigarette (not that jazz, of course, is ever far from either of those things).

This week, it finally became such a necessity for me to de-stress that I made a plea for anyone who wanted to please join me for an evening at the Green Mill. I was completely prepared to go alone if I found no takers. Of course, it was no surprise that my jazz buddy, Vinny, was the first to respond, so we headed up there last evening. I hadn’t even bothered checked the calendar before we arrived, feeling pretty sure that with my Green Mill drought it would have to be some serious jazz organ to disappoint me (no offense, jazz organists, but I just don’t like it—organs are not jazzy). So, we were both pleasantly surprised to find a sixteen-piece ensemble setting up their big band stage. Indeed, Thursdays at the Green Mill are always big band evenings, featuring the Alan Gresik Swing Shift Orchestra. It was going to be a lively evening.

I decided I wanted to treat myself, so I made it a White Russian night. Sipping on sweet cream is a most heavenly accompaniment to jazz, be it bebop or big band. Vinny and I felt transported back in time as the emcee read off the show sponsors and advertisements, as though he were emceeing a radio show in the 1940s. (After checking out the orchestra’s website, I discovered that they do, in fact, broadcast their Green Mill performances on Avenue950.) While some of his jokes weren’t particularly funny, I could feel my laughter growing more enthusiastic as the alcohol and the music settled into my veins.

Once the music was in full swing, Vinny and I realized that we had stumbled upon a huge group of swing dancers. A huge group of twenty-somethings had taken over the dance floor (interspersed with some elderly gentlemen and a few older couples), and they were busting out some impressive swing moves. They all seemed to know one another, despite the fact that the couples were constantly changing partners. Vinny and I hypothesized that it was a group from a swing dance class coming out to practice their moves, but after I tapped on a few shoulders and asked a couple of questions, I learned that they’re just a bunch of swing dance enthusiasts who go out dancing together. Apparently, there’s a pretty sizable swing dance group in Chicago (not that I’m surprised by this—there’s a group for everything here!). As we watched them, I couldn’t help but feel that old pang to learn swing dance resurface (it’s something I’ve always wanted to do, but have never had a partner for). It may be time to finally take some classes.

My delight in the entire experience—the setting, the music, the atmosphere—exploded through my smile all night long. It had only taken me mere minutes to feel as though I were in a different world. I suddenly wasn’t in Chicago, not Uptown, not anywhere discernable on a map. With the music of the 30s and 40s swirling around me, soaking into my hair, and drifting into the spaces between my fingers, I was transported to a place that usually only exists for me in books, old movies, and my dreams.

Monday, July 5, 2010

San Francisco Ballet Feature

Per usual, I want to plug Clef Notes Concert Journal for the Arts. For the summer issue, I wrote a feature story on the San Francisco Ballet's production of Little Mermaid in addition to two dance reviews. You can check out the feature story on the website.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Martinis + Manicures = Happy Lady

Thursday evening, Liz and I met up for girls’ night, with martinis and manicures at Beauty Bar in Noble Square. The Chicago location just opened up this spring, in what used to be Sonotheque. One of the women who writes for Gapersblock.com DJs at Beauty Bar, so she clued me into the venue last weekend. All she had to say was “$10 martinis and manicures” and I was rapt!

Before heading to Noble Square, Liz and I went to Mado up at Devon and Milwaukee to spend her Groupon. I’d never been, but Liz insisted that they have the best desserts in Chicago, and who am I to argue with that? Not to mention the fact that the produce is all locally grown. My most favorite dinner item was the roasted carrots with ras el hanout goat cheese, pistachios and cumin honey. Mouth-watering, even now. We ate only small plates so as to save some space for desserts, but I had no idea that we would actually wind up with a smorgasbord of desserts. When they brought our desserts they gave us an extra one, so we ended up staring this lemon chiffon mousse concoction, rich chocolate lava cake with cherries, and almond cake with jelly all square in the face. Liz was right--they do have the best desserts in Chicago. We simply couldn’t eat every bite, as the dishes were so decadent and rich, but we were feeling a happy kind of sugar-rush food coma as we headed toward Beauty Bar.
As soon as we arrived, I became all teenage-girl gushy about the place. The sparkly, geometric patterned walls, old hair dryer seats, reproduced ads for hair products from the 1950s… It was so adorable that I just wanted to wrap it all up and give it a good squeeze (I’m such a sucker for vintage anything, but particularly when it’s done well). It was so positively the place to spend an evening with your girlfriends that I couldn’t believe I’d never been there before. To top off the ambiance, of course, were the martinis (named fabulous names like “Shampoo”—which I chose—and “Redhead”) and manicures for ten bucks.

My martini was a bit lackluster (despite the cute bartender who mixed it), but my manicure was fabulous. Believe it or not, it was my first manicure ever (I’ve never been able to justify spending 20+ bucks when I can do my nails at home), and the whole experience was relaxing and enjoyable. My manicurist was a cute blonde PR girl, and we had a lovely chat about Chicago, summertime, and the PR world. All the while, she was turning my neglected fingernails into nicely-shaped, shiny purple nails. Even as she filed and painted, I was able to sip on my martini. It was a fabulous pampering!

Some of the art/vintage ads on their walls

And while these manicures were happening within glitzy retro walls, a female DJ spun glitzy retro tunes. As we waited for our nails to finish drying, Liz and I looked at trashy gossip magazines and finished our cocktails. I admit it—it was an utterly frivolous evening! But it was so incredibly inexpensive that I didn’t even have to feel the slightest bit guilty.

If you’re looking for a fun, cheap night out with the girls, go to Beauty Bar. Yes, I realize it’s a chain, and I know how so many of us Chicagoans (wait, did I just call myself a Chicagoan?) love to turn our noses down at anything that’s not uniquely ours, but it’s a seriously great way to de-stress.

Back Online, Itchin' to Write

Wow, have I got some serious catching up to do here, and at Gapersblock.com! Finally received my new laptop this week, and it’s taking some adjusting. It’s lighter, which is good, but somewhere along the way I came to associate the weight of my old computer with quality. It had substance. I mean, it was my first laptop, and it was there for me all through grad school. Have you ever seen that episode of Sex and the City where Carrie’s computer crashes and she loses everything? Then when Aiden buys her a new one, she has a difficult time accepting it—all she wants is her old one, her baby. Well, that’s sort of how I feel right now. Luckily, I had all my documents backed up (I don’t know how I could go on without them, seriously), but I lost most of my pictures and all of my music.  Oh well. Cest la vie! I’m sure I’ll be crazy about my pretty new purple computer in no time (despite the fact that AFTER I dropped the cash, everyone’s telling me how much Dell sucks)!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

My Stare-Down with a Chubby Gull

Hi, readers:

My much-loved laptop has finally crashed, making it rather difficult for me to keep up with freelance work, let alone blog for awhile. Please bear with me. To tide you over, here's a little anecdote I wrote up on the airplane to D.C. last week...

A couple of weeks ago, I’d been running around downtown after work chasing a long list of errands, when I decided to slow down and enjoy the weather. I ran into Borders to grab a sandwich and pick out a new novel, then headed to Millennium Park. Finding one of few empty benches in Wrigley Square, I sat down with my sandwich and opened my book.

Minding my own business, out of the corner of my eye I realized that I was being stared at--hard. Soon, the pit-pat of webbed feet inched just a little bit closer to where my own toes were relaxing on the sidewalk. As I glanced over, my gaze was greeted by a very bulbous gull, intently eying not me, but my sandwich.

As I sat there munching, trying to ignore my fat new friend, and assuming he’d fly off after bit, I quickly realized that he was enraptured by my sandwich and firmly rooted to the spot. I stopped reading and returned his stare-down. “Okay, bird. What’s your next move?” I thought. His response? Nothing but the occasional birdy twitch of the head. I laughed out loud at his persistence. He still didn’t budge.

Yet, for all his stubbornness, I did not feed him. After all, I could see that he was already quite over-stuffed with tourists' crumbs. He remained virtually immobile until the very last bite had entered my mouth. As I crumpled my wrapper into a ball and nonchalantly returned my attention to my novel, he honked at me disapprovingly. After waiting for my acknowledgment, he honked again, turned, and waddled away. As I watched his fat little backside trailing away, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself.

Friday, June 4, 2010

From Ethereal Grace to Crimson Passion, HDSC's Summer Series Impresses

After viewing Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Summer Series, which opened last night, June 3, 2010 at Harris Theater, I can't help but feel a lingering sense of enchantment. HSDC showcased the remarkable range of its dancers with the comic yet ethereal "Bitter Suite," the intoxicating world premiere of "Untouched," and the athletically-demanding "Bordo"... Continue reading at GapersBlock.com.

untouched2.jpg
A scene from "Untouched." Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Even more cupcakes!

In the midst of all this moving and learning about my new place, I have continued to win free cupcakes from more, and go out of my way to pick them up each week. I will have to stop now, as I simply don't have enough hours in a day to run off all the excess calories (and, well, I really should share the wealth). But they have been positively amazing. The red velvet is the best, followed closely by the white velvet (which is topped with the most decadent white chocolate shavings). Here are some pictures of my weekly cupcakes. An homage, if you will, as I force myself to stop dropping into more (for awhile, anyhow).

Red Velvet

Um, I don't know which kind this one was.

White Velvet!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Familiarizing the Footsteps

I’ve been in my new apartment for just under one week now, and, although I love it, there are always certain adjustments that have to be made when becoming accustomed to a new home. New noises, in particular, can feel quite cacophonous until you adapt to them. I remember this one time when my mom was in town staying with me at my old place, for instance...

As I was trying to drift off to sleep, she asked, “What’s that sound!?”

“What sound?” I asked, puzzled and groggy.

“That sound!” she responded. I had to work hard to hear what she was hearing and it took me a minute to realize it was the refrigerator making the same sounds it always made, on about a 15-minute cycle.

She didn’t even believe me when I explained that it was only the fridge, certain that it had to be something more serious than that. It took me a little while to assure her that it was, in fact, a normal sound from my kitchen.

So anyway, the building I’ve moved into was built in the fifties (I presume), and the floors aren’t as thick as those in my last apartment. You can definitely hear the person above you walking around. You can even hear yourself as you move through your apartment. The first night I stayed in the new place, it became painfully apparent that I was living beneath a lumberer. A lumberer who’s up at odd hours of the night. Each of his(her?)heavy step vibrates my body, heavy with sleep, as I attempt to pass out each night (a small vibration, really, exacerbated by my strong desire to go to sleep and my annoyance that some people don’t know how to carry their weight). I’m sure I will get used to the lumbering steps (after all, there was a time when I could block out even CTA trains right outside the window at night), but I’m still in the adjustment period.

So, as I write this, I can barely even keep my eyes open. It’s been night after night of dwindling hours of sleep. At least the heavy-footed dweller above me has made me overtly conscious of my own footsteps through my apartment, but I honestly didn’t need to be reminded of this annoyance to tread lightly. I can’t help but feel that the person living below me is lucky to be living under a former dancer. Oh, well. Another week or so, and the heavy steps will be as commonplace to me as the sounds of my fridge in the old apartment.

Room to Grow

When the movers came I was in a bit of a funk. It’s always a strange sensation to have all of your belongings forcibly removed from their homes in various cupboards, closets, and crannies and stuffed amidst wrinkled newspaper and bubble wrap into foreign cardboard boxes that are then stacked up in every inch of movable space in your apartment. But, more than any of that, I just felt sad to be moving. I asked the movers what exactly they wanted me to do—could I hold doors or help them with some of the boxes or something? When they told me I could do as much or as little as I wanted, I opted to simply stay out of their way. Instead, I gazed longingly out the window at my downtown view, drinking it in as my belongings gradually made their way from my old home and into the moving truck. Once my things were gone, I rushed out before the stark emptiness of the shell could fully creep into my consciousness.

The day before I’d felt similarly, as I turned over my Ohio driver’s license for an Illinois I.D. and then stripped the Ohio plates from my little red car, to exchange them for unattractive Illinois plates. It was high time for me to do this—the man at the DMV scolded me for having lived in the state for well over the 30-day grace period you legally have to make all of these changes after moving to the state (about which I had had no idea). But I have never legally belonged anyplace but Ohio. And, in all my sentimentality, it felt strange to erase the Ohio identifications from both my wallet and my car. So, I did it quickly, and didn’t think about it, just as I did when I walked out of the place that will always have been my first apartment in the big city.

Anyway, after rushing out of the old place at 1260 N. Dearborn, it wasn’t long before I arrived at my new apartment to await the movers. I easily found a parking spot (haha, yes, really!), and then headed upstairs to wait. In another hour’s time the movers had come and gone, everything was in, and I could finally see my new apartment for what it was—-huge! And as I listened to Coletrane, and Miles, and Ella, and Madeline Peyroux, while unpacking my things and re-washing my dishes, I couldn’t imagine why I’d ever felt so glum just hours before.

For the first time since moving to Chicago, I felt like I was home. I am crazy about my new place (not to mention my new neighborhood!). It’s a real apartment. Yes, it’s still a studio, but unlike the previous one, it’s not a shoebox. I have room to move and breathe and have guests. Everything inside is new—the appliances, the counter tops, the bathtub, the bathroom vanity, the carpet and the paint. Don’t get me wrong—it’s not fancy—but it’s perfect for me. And the plethora of closets, well, heaven!

So, as I tried out various furniture configurations, and organized the clothes in my closet by color, and stowed all the linens away in the linen closet, I realized that all this time when I worried that I was taking a step back by moving out of downtown, I was actually making a step up. In all my exhaustion at the end of the day, I took a look around and breathed in all the space. I smiled to myself, realizing that here I have room to grow. And, like the hermit crab, that’s really all I needed.

New Gig: GapersBlock.com

Blogging will continue as soon as Comcast makes it out to my new apartment and hooks up my Internet. In the meantime, I've started writing for the arts section of GapersBlock.com, a website devoted to--wait for it--Chicago! Very excited to be reviewing dance performances and other arts events around the city for the site. So far, my posts have been short and sweet, along the lines of this preview for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Reviews forthcoming, however.

Please don't laugh at my bio photo. Definitely regretting the pic I chose. I swear everyone's pics seemed so serious, so I tried to choose a not-smiling photo, and now it seems like everyone's smiling except me. I look like I'm trying to be all emo or something. Oops.

By the way, GapersBlock has an extensive calendar of events happening around the city to which all of its writers contribute. It's a rich resource for those looking for something to do in Chicago. If you've got something going on that you want me to add to our calendar, don't hesitate to let me know!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Chicago Resuscitated: Summer's Here!

One thing I can say about Chicago seasons is that they are abrupt, and summer’s descent upon the city last weekend was no different. Yes, we had a dash of seventy-degree weather here or there in April and earlier in May, but when summer (or any other season) decides to come to Chicago, it seems to happen overnight. And so the temps leapt up into the eighties on Saturday, and there they will stay that way, or close to it, for quite some time (much to my elation).

I missed the first weekend of summer in the city, because I was back in Ohio (where we were getting a similar taste of the first days of the new season), gathering boxes for the move, visiting family, and eating ice cream (yes, Mr. Freeze!!). On my hour-and-a-half long commute out of downtown and onto the skyway on Friday, though, I gasped out load when I heard a DJ on one of the radio stations report: “Tomorrow we will see temperatures that we haven’t seen for 200 days.” I literally frowned at the radio as I drove out of the city, thinking about how many cold days we get in this city.

I’m still debating whether the winters are worth it, but there’s no denying that Chicago gets its resurrection every summer. Indeed today the beaches and the running path were enlivened by Chicagoans (and tourists) soaking in those much-missed summer rays. I was so eager to get to the beach first thing upon my arrival in the city, that I was cursing up a storm as I drove around for half an hour trying to find a parking spot in my neighborhood (thank GOODNESS I’m moving soon and won’t have to deal with that as often anymore!). As soon as I had all my boxes unloaded, and the car parked, I was off to Oak Street Beach. And I have only one word to describe how it felt to be there, basking in the sun—glorious!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Next Home Awaits

As I gradually pack up my small number of belongings (actually, not quite as small as I had anticipated—how can one accumulate so much stuff in a studio apartment?), I’m trying to hone my perceptions of this home before I move out next week. I am reminded of the hermit crab I bought my brother for his birthday when we were kids. The crab was so attached to his shell that he refused to move into the bigger one we provided him, and eventually he died. I’m realizing that I’ve been a little too much of a hermit in this place, a bit stifled as well, and it’s time to move on.

I definitely have mixed feelings about this shell that I’m about to shed. I’ve experienced the gamut of human emotions in this place, particularly during last summer and fall. In fact, let’s be frank, I’ve experienced a lot of crap in this apartment, alone, by myself, staring heartbreak dead in the face, and trying to navigate my way around it. This apartment has been my haven from the world, a place where I have gone to cry, to write, to eat, to shower, to sleep, to host friends and family, to laugh on the phone for hours.

This home is an extension of so many facets of me. Bits of myself echo back everywhere I look. The green walls, scratches on the wood floor from my move-in day, nail holes anchoring my favorite pieces of art, dirt on the kitchen floor—that’s all mine, and it all fits together just so. And, in many ways this apartment is a symbol of my stubbornness and independence.

As much as I identify with this place, however, memories fade. In a couple of years, I won’t remember the details anymore. So, here I go again, documenting the moment, so that, like the rest of my Chicago experience, I can come back to this very place in future years…

The hallways of my building have a rich floral carpet disguising an uneven floor, and motion-sensing air fresheners release a sweet floral scent when you walk by. A giant mirror greets you as you step off the elevator at each floor. They still use those vintage gold trash cans with the ash trays on top, just off the elevator, even though no one is allowed to smoke in the hallways. Oh, and one of the two elevators likes to either conk out altogether, or randomly stop on the fifth floor, even when you don’t want it to.

The building lobby has dark wood paneling, a fireplace, and a portrait of Shakespeare hanging on the wall. If you walk to the back, toward the laundry room, it usually smells like trash, because the trash chute (oh how I will miss the convenience of the trash chute) deposits its contents somewhere around there, and the dumpsters are right out back.

My place (many floors above the stinky dumpsters) has what I like to call a hallway when you first walk in. It’s about 24 square feet of space with a coat closet to the right, and the bathroom to the left before you step into the living/bedroom, which is painted with the celery color I spent an hour debating over at Home Depot. The kitchen is painted a contrasting beige, and I have a large serving dish displayed above the cupboards that ties the colors together perfectly. There’s a fabulous full-length mirror built into my clothes closet, but that closet isn’t big enough for all my clothes, let alone my shoes.

The bathroom has those cute little white hexagon tiles all over the floor. The vanity has three mirrored doors I can position to see the back of my hair as I fix it. The towel bars, soap holders, and radiator in the bathroom are all painted black, and it sometimes chips off when I clean. The sinks are constantly getting clogged up, and I once had some kind of black tar ooze up into my kitchen sink from, apparently, the apartment next door, one morning when I went to get a glass of water (yea, that was kind of gross).

My kitchen is actually quite sizeable, and set off from the rest of the apartment. It has nice oak cabinets, on top of which stand a row of empty wine bottles that I will soon recycle.

I will never forget the evening view outside my window, of high rises lit up against the nighttime Chicago sky, nor the late-night, open-window saxophone strains.

Yet, as much affection as I have for this place (my fellow Cancerians can empathize with me here--home is where the heart is), I am so excited about the move. This is actually the perfect time for me to begin a new Chicago chapter. Many wonderful new beginnings started this week (writing-related), completely unexpectedly, and almost immediately after I was able to put events from the past to rest. My intuition is sending me all the right vibes. It's so energizing.

So, as the move date inches closer, I wait eagerly to get my hands on the new place, learn its quirks, find its secrets. I know that it won’t take long before the new walls reverberate with Emily, too.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Jumping on the Cupcake Bandwagon: more, Please!

With the last bits of chocolate frosting from my more cupcake melting in my mouth, I have to admit that I’m not as cynical about cupcakes as I once was. Now, I’m a big fan of cupcakes—I mean, really, who isn’t—but this whole cupcake craze, well, it just seemed a bit excessive. Honestly, I was appalled that couples started using cupcakes in place of wedding cakes at weddings (I've gotten over it, but am still just a bit too traditional for something like that). And the number of cupcake shops, well, they seemed to be very popular on TV shows and movies a few years back, but I didn’t realize that there were so many shops dedicated to these miniature cakes until I moved to the city.

Thanks to my foodie co-workers, cupcakes made their way into the office, and even into the occasional afternoon “snack run.” more made its way in when a dozen cupcakes were delivered to our office after Elizabeth won some kind of contest, and I have to admit that they were scrumptious (especially the Lemon Meringue). Sugar Bliss is the closest cupcake shop to the office, so Christina and I sometimes escape the office in the afternoon to go on a quick cupcake run (though their cupcakes aren't quite more's). Actually paying four to six bucks for a cupcake still felt a bit, dare I say, preposterous to me, though, which is why I only do it once in awhile. Free gourmet cupcakes, though? Now that I can handle.

Again, thanks to Elizabeth, I found out that more does this advertising on Facebook where you can tag yourself in their cupcake pictures and get a free cupcake. You have to be quick about it, though, before the picture hits the maximum number of tags. I managed to tag myself just minutes after becoming a fan of the page this week, so today I made my first trip to more today to claim my reward.
It’s a good thing that the cupcakes are pricey enough to be a special treat only, because the shop is dangerously close to my apartment. If it were a bit more economical, I might gain some noticeable poundage. They do the minimalist d├ęcor thing, and the cupcakes are set up on glass shelves where not a crumb is visible. The glass case is right in front of your face, rather than down below in a typical pastry display case, which is pretty smart and extremely luring.

A line snaked out the door when I arrived, and I waited patiently for my free cupcake. The girl behind the counter looked a little relieved when I said I’d come to claim my free cupcake, because, well, that’s a lot easier than someone hand-picking two-dozen cupcakes. When I left the shop, the line was even longer. I tucked my box in my purse, and walked home a tad gingerly, making certain not to jostle or smash my treat.

Arriving home, I put my cupcake (it was the more signature cupcake—chocolate with a white cream in the center) in the refrigerator to save for later. Needless to say, later has come and gone, and I can still taste it. Absolutely delicious. Worth $4? For sure. Even better because it was free? You bet!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

gdgt Live in Chicago

This evening, I attended an event at which, a year ago, my friends would never have expected to find me—a party thrown by a gadget website. My job and, more specifically, my particular clients, have turned me on to gadgets and up-and-coming technology, immersing me in the exciting world of TV-Internet integration, smartphones, mobile devices, and more. So, I was unabashedly excited all day about going to the gdgt party at Gallery 233.

gdgt.com is a site I originally started reading for work, but began frequenting in my spare time after buying my Droid in November. It's a great guide for all the features on my phone, as well as how-to’s and answers to common questions or issues with the phone. It’s a great, community-oriented resource for all my tech inquiries (and no, no one’s paying me to write any of this). So, when Free Things to Do in Chicago posted about the gdgt party earlier this week, I emailed all my co-workers and started getting a bit, well, psyched!


I have seen pictures and read about a large number of the devices that I actually got to play with and view in action tonight, which is really, really cool. Microsoft demoed the Windows 7 Phone that’s not coming out until fall, as well as the KIN phones which launch tomorrow (the "Turtle" is the cutest phone I’ve ever held in my hand—it’s like a makeup compact in shape and size); Boxee showed off its capabilities and I spent some serious time chit-chatting with their reps; and I got to play with uber expensive Logitech mice.


My favorite table was the CherryPal table, though. A company like CherryPal stands out in the tech space because they are making technology affordable for developing nations. They manufacture small, simplistic, and inexpensive computers that make connectivity and technology accessible in nations that have very little. I asked their rep how they could afford to make such inexpensive computers (the smallest one starts at $99, with a 2 GB memory, and an SD slot—simple but functional). He told me that they are a company of 50 people, they work out of a warehouse with no A/C in Palo Alto, CA—in other words, they have very little overhead. That, and the fact that they sell thousands of these computers, allows them to continue doing what they’re doing. FYI, when I said that the little computer was like a tablet with a keyboard, he told me they're going to be releasing a tablet.


After spending some time at CherryPal (the last table I visited during the evening), I mingled with a few co-workers, and watched some interviews that will no doubt appear on gdgt soon. I spent some time whining about how the iPad competitors have been pulling out of the market left and right, and had some completely nerdy conversations with some other event-goers as we speculated about HP's tablet and how the company's acquisition of Palm will affect HP's approach to the device. I met some cool people, not the least of which was engadget blogger Nilay Patel (I read his stuff on a daily basis, and was really excited to meet him).

So, tonight, I completely embraced my tech geekiness, a side of me to which usually only my co-workers are privy, and it was so much fun! Along the way, I acquired a couple of free T-shirts, a free month of Zune Pass and a couple of free drinks; met Nilay; and made a really good (hopefully) connection with an editor in Chicago. Oh, and enjoyed the 10:1 men to women ratio at this event (ladies, pay attention). I’m still excited about the whole evening, which is why I’m writing this instead of sleeping…

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Enterprising Kitchen's Bubble Bash

Facebook leads me to great finds sometimes, thanks to wall posts and fan pages posted by my friends and acquaintances. Last Thursday, my friend Marcy posted a link to The Enterprising Kitchen’s (TEK) “Bubble Bash.” I hadn’t heard of TEK, but I was intrigued by the name of the benefit, so I followed the link to the website, where I read about this great organization and what they’re doing for women. TEK is a non-profit organization that helps low-income women learn job skills through a six-month training program during which they manufacture beautiful, all-natural soaps and bath products and gain knowledge of the business aspect. Theirs is a mission I can stand behind, as TEK empowers women who have faced difficult circumstances to be self-sufficient, providing an opportunity to gain the skills necessary to do so.

After visiting to the website, where I discovered that the event registration was already closed (the event was that evening, after all), I messaged Marcy about volunteering. To my surprise, she told me that they still needed people to help out that evening, and I should come by the benefit.

It was a beautiful evening. Held at the Chicago Cultural Center, the venue was lovely and spacious enough to hold the great turnout. Numerous tables were set out with products and various packages for silent bidding. I was honestly feeling a little awkward at first, as Marcy hadn’t arrived yet, and I didn’t know anyone else there, but Jasmine, who began the program in November, walked up and engaged me in conversation and we had a great chat. She made me feel more comfortable in the room of strangers, was eloquent and out-going, and I really enjoyed hearing about her experience with TEK.

I met a number of other great women that evening—both volunteers and women finishing the TEK program. While I had to leave the event before the end of the night, I really had a nice time meeting these women, and learning more about TEK. I think it’s a great organization, and would encourage others to become involved and to check out the bath products, especially if you’re interested in women empowering women.

Good-Bye to My Joffrey Favorite

Having lived in Chicago a relatively short time (under two years), and only having become acquainted with the Joffrey Ballet beyond the name and legend when I first saw them perform in their 2009 spring production and thereafter, I have missed many years of great dancing by a company I highly admire and respect. Only this year did I truly become familiar with the faces and dancing styles of each of the company's dancers, watching them in performance after performance, either as a reviewer for Clef Notes, or for personal pleasure. In that time, I have developed favorites and I am sad to see my most favorite male dancer, Calvin Kitten, say adieu to the Joffrey.

I had seen Kitten perform prior to 2009’s Nutcracker; so I recognized him immediately as Fritz, in the opening scene of this year’s holiday production. Then, of course, I was enthralled by his dancing--technically superior, athletic, spirited, yet with a refined grace--as the Snow Prince. I remember writing in my review that he actually stole the Snow Scene—a scene that I had, up until then, associated with its light, airy, graceful choreography for female dancers, particularly for the Snow Queen. But Kitten is such a dynamo, and he has an indescribable presence. You simply cannot avert your eyes when he’s on stage and after he's gone, the impression lingers.

It was after submitting my Nutcracker review that I read on Fabrice Calmels’ blog that Kitten would be retiring this season, and I wished I had been able to write in my review some kind of tribute to his last opening night as the Snow Prince with the Joffrey—because Kitten burst on the stage “like a winter wind” (as I wrote in the review), and there will be a certain energy lacking without him. I will miss Kitten’s sophisticated elegance and clean technique next season, as my eyes will no doubt fruitlessly try to seek him out on the stage. But I’m glad I had the chance to be amazed by him before he concluded his Joffrey chapter.

Last week, the Chicago Sun-Times's Hedy Weiss wrote a nice send-off article for both Calvin Kitten and Suzanne Lopez, who are leaving the Joffrey this season. Check it out if you're a fan of either of these fabulous dancers. In all likelihood, Calvin Kitten will never see this blog post. But if he does, Calvin, best of luck to you! You will be missed by your many admirers!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Strange Chili Cocktails, Fun Chilly Evening

Last night I went out with some friends to celebrate—could you guess it—yet another going away party! This time, the celebration led us to Between in Wicker Park, where we surprised Matt who’s moving to San Francisco at the end of the week.

The atmosphere at Between is interesting—in a good way. They have all kinds of exotic-looking light fixtures, which add a touch of whimsy and a dim romantic glow to the place. Rows of long red tassels encircled our corner by the windows, where we sat on cushy cubes around a low square table. Our corner wasn’t really made for ten people, but in the words of Tim Gunn, we made it work. It was quite cozy, in fact, which was nice because, for May, it was uncharacteristically frigid yesterday (forties for temps!).

Bad picture of the cool light fixtures at Between

We were there more for drinks than for food, although we indulged in both. And I have to admit—depending on what you ordered, you’d either have a fabulous experience, or a terrible one. Take the “Hot and Dirty” martini, for instance--the topic of much conversation throughout the evening. Now, admittedly, I didn’t get too near this drink (after a quick whiff of it, I decided to save myself the trouble). Matt ordered it and after his first sip was insisting that everyone else try it. A fan of fruity drinks myself, the moment I heard the word “savory” to describe the cocktail, I was out. I watched one cringing face after another, and soon I was examining the drink with floating chili pepper bits on the surface. It smelled like liquid dinner—literally.

Reactions to the other drinks were similarly mixed. I was a bit dismayed that my ten-dollar cocktails were filled far below the brim, in part because our server did a pretty good job of spilling a bit of just about everything on the table as she brought our drinks (and she was only bringing about four at a time and they weren’t that busy until later in the evening, so, having been a server, I had little sympathy for this). I enjoyed my Passion Between—it’s difficult to screw up a passion fruit martini, however, and, as long as it was sweet, I was going to like it.

Potato-Wrapped Shrimp

The food was okay. I ordered potato-wrapped shrimp. Again, I was less than thrilled about the quantity I received for my money. Yes, they were pretty good, but at $3/shrimp, they should have been much better. Their octopus is excellent, though. It was quite tender and tasty.

Octopus Dish

We had great conversation all night. Lots of banter about restaurants, which, honestly, seems to be the topic of choice at any Chicago get-together. At some point during our cocktails, someone suggested we head out to Sayat Nova for Bollywood dance night, which apparently happens once per month on a Saturday night (not 100% sure, and couldn’t find the info on their website). Not one of us knows how to dance to Bollywood music, but it sounded like a lot of fun, so that’s where we headed next.

Sayat Nova was a blast. A little pricey ($15 cover), but fun—I mean, seriously, who doesn’t love Bollywood music? I immediately wished I hadn’t been wearing heels or carrying my large purse, but I did the best I could on the dance floor. We all had fun laughing at ourselves and learning some new moves from some of the women who knew what they were doing. I would’ve liked to have stayed out later, but still recovering from a head cold, I decided to call it a night just after midnight. But there’s always next month's Bollywood Dance Party!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Pretty Sushi

Before going to the Joffrey Ballet’s opening night of Eclectica on Wednesday (find the review in Clef Notes' Summer Issue), Im and I stopped at Oysy for sushi. I’d never been before, and I have to admit that the atmosphere is a little on the sterile side (which I guess is both good and bad for a restaurant), but the sushi is pretty good.

When it comes to raw fish I’m mainly a maki-only kind of girl (not for lack of trying other types of sushi and sashimi, I might add). There’s just something about the seaweed, and the rice, and the fish all rolled up tight and dipped in a touch of soy sauce that excites my taste buds. We ordered the Godzilla, Rainbow Dragon, and Dynamite maki (Im ordered the fatty tuna, too, which I’ll eat once in awhile, but am quite happy to forgo on most occasions). Now, I’m pretty sure that you can’t go wrong with a Godzilla roll anywhere—I’ve loved it every time, and everywhere I’ve ever ordered it. In my opinion, you can’t really go astray with tobiko either, which is part of why I loved the Rainbow Dragon. The roe adds that nice little crunch, without significantly changing the taste (well, at least I don’t notice much difference in the taste).

But when it comes to Oysy’s Rainbow Dragon roll, I think I loved the presentation even more than the taste. You’ve got to hand it to Oysy for presentation. Check out how awesome our Rainbow Dragon roll looked:

Oysy's Rainbow Dragon Maki

You’ve got to love the colors of the wasabi-, chili-, and black-tobiko, not to mention the eyes and tail. Then of course it’s stuffed with all those kinds of fish: salmon, tuna, white tuna, eel, shrimp… Yum! (That's part of the Dynamite maki to the right.) Our dragon was even cuter in real life.

Oysy was the perfect place to go before the ballet. It wasn’t insanely busy, so we were able to get in and out pretty quickly and make it to the performance with time to spare, which I really appreciated. If you’re headed to Auditorium Theatre and need a place to grab a bite before the show, Oysy’s not a bad choice.