Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Chicago Dance Digest

Hi friends, family, and fans,

Recently, I started a blog devoted to dance in Chicago--Chicago Dance Digest. Frankly, I wanted to do more dance writing than the four articles per issue that I am tasked with each quarter for Clef Notes. I plan to continue writing for the magazine, because I have a good relationship with them and am excited for the publication's future. I also plan to keep blogging here when I have interesting, non-dance-related stories to share about Chicago.

One of the features of Chicago Dance Digest is a full events calendar of dance events in Chicago. Personally, I have often found it difficult to find a comprehensive list of Chicago dance events on the web. I finally decided to take matters into my own hands, and take all of these emails I receive from press reps and theaters, and turn them into something useful for dance fans.

Additionally, I am really excited about the freedom I will have to choose my own stories, profiles, interviews, etc. to feature at Chicago Dance Digest. It is my hope that the stories posted on the site will be interesting, engaging, and informative for my readers.

At this time, I would like to ask you to consider following my blog. It's tumblr-based, so if you're on tumblr, please feel free to follow and re-blog or like any of my stories. For everyone, please feel free to comment on my posts, and ask questions via the ask questions link at the top of the home page. You can also follow me on Twitter. My handle is chicagodancedigest.

Thank you for supporting me in this new endeavor!


Sunday, July 24, 2011

Good-Bye, Borders

Since I was already in the Loop this morning, I decided to drop into Borders at State and Randolph to peruse the going out of business sale. Have to admit—it was kind of depressing. The supplies are starting to dwindle, although the sales aren’t that impressive just yet. And all around me I could hear sentiments echoing my own, as people walked through the doors and sighed or gasped or said “Wow, I can’t believe it.”

I adore bookstores. Especially large ones with a café where you can spend the whole afternoon. My family and I used to hop in the car on a Sunday, head to the bookstore, and spend hours looking at books and music. It was one of my favorite family activities—we all loved it.

When I was studying abroad at Oxford, I found a safe haven at Borders. It felt very American, and at a time when I was overwhelmingly homesick, that meant quite a lot. I could just head to Borders and almost forget I was hundreds of miles away from home and across the pond. Plus, that was where I discovered the Frappuccino (wink).

Ever since, Borders has been a place where I go if I want to be alone, or if I’m feeling sad. I find solace in books, like so many others. Now, I’ll probably spend more time at After-Words, my favorite little used book shop on Illinois. It’s a little further away from the office, but much closer than the one Barnes & Noble in the Gold Coast. I can get lost for hours at After-Words, and it’s local. Hoping they stick around for a while...

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

How to lose your mom in Chicago

My mom visits me in Chicago about twice a year. Somehow, the most amusing transportation stories seem to arise from her visits. (Maybe it’s more our attitude about these mishaps that makes them funny, rather than the situations themselves.) So it was that this past Thursday night was no exception, as I lost my mom on the bus ride home from dinner…

We’d stuffed ourselves at the Cheesecake Factory after what had been, for me, an excruciatingly long day at work. It was about ten o’clock when we finished our meal and grabbed the 145 bus headed uptown. Because I was dragging my mom’s luggage with me, I headed for the back set of doors where I could stand with her suitcase without blocking up the aisle. I expected Mom to follow me, but instead she stopped in the middle of the bus where she decided to stand (still not sure exactly why—there was no one else standing, other seats open, and plenty of room near me). That seven feet or so of space was all we needed to set off a rather absurd (and scary) course of events.

Once the 145 exits Lake Shore Drive, its first stop is at Belmont and Sheffield. As we pulled up to the stop, I tried to get my mom’s attention to tell her I was just going to step off to let people off the bus, but she was staring out the window, lost in her own thoughts. Well, no big deal, I thought, and I stepped off the bus with her suitcase to let the other passengers exit.

When I stepped back onto the bus, I looked around for mom and she wasn’t there. I scanned the seats. No mom. The bus was already starting to move at this point, so I tried to peer outside and pick out my mother in the swirl of pedestrians walking off into the night, but it was very dark outside and the tinted windows were working against me.

“$%&@!. She must have gotten off the bus when she saw me step off,” I thought. “Well, okay, not a problem. I’ll get off and go fetch her.” I rang the bell for the next stop and hopped off the bus, heading back down the street toward the Belmont stop to retrieve mom. As I came closer, however, I realized there was no longer a soul in sight.

“What the--?” I asked the air. “#&$@! She’s got to be on the bus still,” I deduced, and called her cell phone. She didn’t answer. I called again. “Arg, Mom! Pick up your phone!” I thought, imagining her moving farther and farther north on the bus. I kept calling her, but she didn’t answer. I left a frantic voice mail basically saying, “Hey, mom, I’m freaking out, I wish you would pick up your phone.” And I kept thinking, “How the heck did I miss her? Where did she go?”

Feeling defeated, and still mom-less, I decided to head back to my apartment, dialing her number again every minute or so (I somehow thought that she would miraculously hear her phone on the 16th ring). I took her luggage up to my apartment and stared at it, starting to wonder if maybe she put her cell phone in there, on silent, and, in that case, we’d be in a real pickle. My innocent mother, alone, in the big city, at night, with absolutely no clue where she was? #%$*!

So then I sat down on my couch to wait. I started to worry that someone might kidnap her, and any number of other panic-spun scenarios. As I sat there, about fifteen minutes after I stepped off the bus at Aldine, my mom called me. I could sense annoyance in her voice immediately, but it dissolved as soon as she heard how upset I was.

“Oh my GOD, Mom. I have been CALLING you and CALLING you! Where are you!!!?”

“I’m on the bus,” she said, as though it were the most natural thing in the world that she’d be there, and ludicrous I should think she’d be anyplace else. (Turns out, she’d sat down when I stepped out to let people off, but she’d sat down next to a large woman and I couldn’t see my rather petite mother on the other side of her.)

“But I looked and I didn’t see you and I thought you got off the bus so I got off the bus at the next stop and went back to get you and you weren’t there!”

Mom responded to my ranting calmly, “I looked for you but didn’t see you. I thought you must have sat down. I just figured you would have told me when it was time to get off the bus. But then it started to seem like a long time, and I couldn’t see you. So, I walked to the back of the bus to find you, and you weren’t there.”

I was feeling a little exasperated that she had been standing so far away from me on the bus to start with, and that she wasn’t keeping an eye on what was going on, but then I was even more exasperated that I had not seen her when I was looking around the bus. I was frustrated at both of us at once and had started crying (omg, I lost my mom—what kind of daughter am I?) and I asked again, “Where are you??”

“Well, hang on,” she said, “I’ll have to ask the bus driver.”…“He says we’re at Lawrence.”


Mom asked me, “Calm down. Just tell me what should I do.”

“My God Mom, you have to go the other way. I got off the bus a long time ago!”

“Okay, hang on, I’ll ask the bus driver.”

She chatted with the bus driver who explained what she needed to do. I thought maybe I should tell her to hail a cab, but then I didn't know how long it would take before one would drive by, and I liked the idea of her at a lighted bus stop more than some random corner.

“Okay, honey, I’m going to get on the bus going the other way. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. Tell me where I have to get off the bus.”

So, I told her where she needed to go, and I was still freaking out because it was still night time in Chicago, and my mom was still friendly and sweet, and I was worried that she would get lost, or mugged, or attacked… My adrenaline had set my imagination on a wild ride.

Meanwhile, mom had bumped into some older folks waiting at the bus stop and was making new friends. She started the tale by saying, facetiously, “I’m here in Chicago visiting my daughter, and the first night here, she loses me!” And they all burst into laughter at the absurd hilarity of the thing. When the 151 pulled up, my mom went to climb on, as she’d been instructed to do, but was nearly clobbered by the wheelchair ramp she wasn’t expecting to lower in front of her. But at this point, everything was funny, and as her new friends warned her to watch out, they all (including my mom) started laughing again, and asking her what kind of buses they must have in Toledo. Then Mom told the new bus driver her story. Naturally, it followed, “Um, can you tell me where I need to get off the bus? I’m visiting Chicago, and my daughter lost me…” More hilarity.

While all this was happening, I was still sitting in my apartment gripping my phone. I had turned on the TV, and I just started to feel the exhaustion of a hair-tearing week at work and the events of the evening, but I was still mostly nerves until mom called me again. “We’re at 4200,” she told me—a number that meant absolutely nothing to her, but made me feel relieved. She wasn’t too far away now.

When she stepped off the bus, I met her on the sidewalk, and I could finally relax after I felt her frame in my embrace and I knew for sure that she wasn’t lost anymore. As we walked home, I explained again to her exactly what happened, in a calmer, more comprehensible manner.

Oh, I see what you’re saying.” Now she understood that I actually had gotten off the bus because I thought she’d gotten off. Not because I’d left her behind, expecting her to know what to do. We started laughing. And we rehashed the whole thing, laughing and laughing the whole way back to my apartment. And at that moment I loved my mom all the more for being such a good sport and for finding the humor in a precarious situation.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Good-bye February

Just one, quick, celebratory note that it's the last day of February. It has actually been quite a nice month, despite the weather. But I'm not sorry to see it go. March is the month that closes the winter, a season to which I am ready to bid adieu. Hello, March. :)

Restaurant Week 2011: Naha, Sepia, Cafe Spiaggia

This year, I finally participated in Chicago Restaurant Week. When Matt and I returned to Chicago on Tuesday, after spending the long weekend with my folks in Ohio, we were looking forward to our reservations. On Wednesday, we went to Naha for lunch. We arrived before the doors opened at 11:30 AM, but we didn’t have to wait in the cold for long before they let the growing crowd in. It was my first time at Naha. They seated us right away, and near the window, where plenty of light shone in, despite the overcast skies. The Restaurant Week options all sounded wonderful, and they really provided a nice variety of options. We skipped the wine (it was the middle of the work day, after all), and I ordered the simple salad, white fish with shrimp, and this banana dessert (whose name I couldn’t properly pronounce, let alone spell).

I loved my salad. It had plenty of crunchy beat pieces, colorful radish discs, and a nice mix of greens under a light, sweet dressing. Honestly, aside from dessert, it was my favorite part of the meal. The white fish was good, but there was something sort of licorice-y about the shrimp. I enjoyed the dish, but I wasn’t blown away.

By the time dessert arrived, we were staring anxiously at the clock. It really took forever for us to get each course, and we had to get back to work. A couple at a nearby table complained to the waiter, who replied that he was getting the food out as fast as he could. Granted, the restaurant was full, but an hour and a half for lunch? Seems excessive. Plus, I was freezing next to the window, so I felt a greater sense of urgency to wrap things up.

It’s a good thing the dessert was awesome. The dish had bananas sliced long-ways, on top of a flaky pastry with a crispy caramelized top layer, on top of some kind of custard or mousse. It had a hint of salty flavor to it, which added just the right kick. After that, it was a dash back to the office.

On Friday, we headed to Sepia for lunch. The atmosphere there is really warm. I’d describe the restaurant as having a kind of cozy eccentricity. I loved the classic chandeliers wrapped in modern cylindrical casings hanging from the ceiling. Our waiter was very welcoming—much more so than our waiter at Naha. Sepia’s Restaurant Week menu was a bit slimmer than Naha’s, however, so we decided to order from the regular menu. Matt ordered the trout, via recommendation, and I, for some reason, thought that the Cubano (a sandwich I would usually never order) with fried plantains sounded awesome.

My sandwich was, in fact, exactly as tasty as I hoped it would be. It had some kind of pickles on top of the ham that made a nice combination with the mustard. And I tore through the plantains (I love plantains). Matt’s trout, however, was amazing (I bit more of a specialty dish than my Cubano, I'd say). We were both quite satisfied with our choices. Plus, we finished lunch in just under an hour.

We wrapped up our Restaurant Week eats with Saturday dinner at Café Spiaggia. Now, I liked the atmosphere here, but our seat wasn’t great. It was the first table as you entered the dining area. We sat facing a window, which would overlook Michigan Ave., if it weren’t for a low roof directly outside the window obscuring the view. Basically, we had a lovely view of the cold drizzle falling outside. And it was chilly at that table. I repeatedly pulled my cardigan tighter around me, and Matt told me he was freezing through the whole meal.

The food, however, was excellent. First, the bread they bring to the table is delicious. I’m a total sucker for bread and olive oil. Theirs had a nice salty, cheesy light crust on top, with a little rosemary in the center. And there were large triangular crisps that were like crunchy parmesan heaven (I had to restrain myself to save room for dinner).

We stuck to the Restaurant Week menu, except for a couple of cheese plates for starters. Both of our cheese plates were tasty, but I highly recommend the buffalo mozzarella. As part of Restaurant Week, you get a little bit of each Cicchetti offering. I enjoyed the kale and the nuts, but steered clear of the olives (LOVE olive oil, but not olives). We both went with the Zucca (roasted winter squash, arugula, candied walnuts, and alpine cheese) plate for the next course, and I never realized how much I like squash. It was really delicious.

For our main courses, Matt ordered the cappellacci, and I had the wild boar gnocchi. I adore gnocchi, but if you’re choosing between the two, I’d go with the cappellacci. The dish is a little smaller, and lighter. With all of the food, the wild boar gnocchi was just a little too much for me.

For Restaurant Week dessert, you get to choose three flavors of gelato and/or sorbet. Matt went with espresso, chocolate, and chocolate hazelnut. The difference between the chocolate and the chocolate hazelnut was slight. I went with a cinnamon milk gelato, grapefruit sorbet, and mint gelato. I loved the cinnamon milk flavor—it tasted faintly like chai ice cream. I also enjoyed the grapefruit sorbet. The mint gelato tasted like chewing on mint leaves, to me, and was just a bit too strong. If only for two of the three flavors, I was excited that the dessert portions were quite generous.

We enjoyed our food at Café Spiaggia, but were quite happy to bundle up in our coats as we headed out the door.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my first Chicago Restaurant Week, and I’m still quite stuffed.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fickle February

February weather has been predictably erratic again this year. The first week of the month brought the third worst blizzard in Chicago history, during which time the city was hit with over 20 inches of snow. Most of it fell in under 24 hours, and we didn't leave the apt for two and a half days. Here's my take on the blizzard, written on Feb. 2:

The snow has piled up on the outside windowsills, obscuring the view of the flakes continuing to fall. It snowed all night long, and we’ve found it thrilling to watch the accumulation from the warmth of the apartment. We have been humming Christmas carols, and enjoying the excuse to stay in, cook, and enjoy each other’s company (well, when we aren't working anyway).

They’re calling this the blizzard of ’11, and, so far, it’s only the fifth worst blizzard in Chicago history, but the snow is still falling. We have been in since about 1 pm yesterday, an hour before the snow started falling hard. By 3 pm, most people were emailing with messages that they were leaving the office. Crashes on Lake Shore Drive started around 7 pm, last night. WGN has been interviewing stranded motorists this morning, who had driven onto LSD at about that time. A jack-knifed bus blocked the northbound side, and commuters found themselves stuck, running out of gas, batteries dying, and completely immobile through the early morning hours. This morning, the city is towing the 100 plus cars parked on LSD.

We were like school children last night, running to the window every half hour or so to track the storm’s progress. Thunder and lightning pierced the sky through the snow clouds; I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced lightning during a winter storm before. The wind was so loud, we often thought that an El train was approaching, only to find out that wind gusts were responsible for the racket.

Then, of course, two weeks later, we had two gorgeous days in the fifties. The heat, thankfully, melted away six-foot piles of dirty snow that had been shoveled or plowed up during the weeks before.

I didn't take a whole lot of pictures, but here are a couple:

This is my guy covered in snow after a lot of hard work.

Here's a picture of the street, covered in snow.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Living and Reflecting

"An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world." - George Santayana

There comes a point when your life is so busy that you simply don’t find the time to reflect and document. It has always been a pleasure of mine to document life, particularly Chicago life (hence the blog, of course) so that I could use my experiences to remind myself of the past, and save them perhaps to incorporate into one of my novels someday. Yet, as much as I love writing, and introspection, and sharing my life in Chicago, life in Chicago can be so fulfilling and I become so consumed by all the pleasure of living that I deny (or maybe even lose) the urge to document it.

It was easy to write when I was lonely (Henry Miller once wrote that "what the artist needs is loneliness," and this is true). I would come home from work many days, and indulge in my solitude, where jazz music and blogging provided great sustenance. As I have settled into my life in the city, however, I have become less lonely. I have made more friends, discovered more paid writing gigs, and found someone completely amazing with whom I love to spend my time. And, as a result, I found myself with fewer free hours for reflection. And it’s really only a slight twinge of regret that I feel toward this loss of solitude, but I do feel the need to strike a balance between time for unpaid, pleasure writing, and the active living of life.

I believe this is a dilemma faced by most writers. Whether simply opining, or working on a novel, poetry, or non-fiction, most of us are not gainfully employed by our passion. And so we work a 40-plus-hour/week job, and then we have friends and families and errands and chores, sleep, exercise, etc. In the end, our writing becomes constrained by the activities of life, which consume our minds even when we’re trying to clear them out and allow the imagination to roam. And our writing becomes confined to a few hours a week, maybe, during which time we fight to block out reality and tap into this thing called “inspiration” that doesn’t just come when you call it.

You cannot write anything worth reading without living life. But you can’t write without stepping out of reality for a bit. It’s kind of a lovely dilemma. I may sometimes find it frustrating that I don’t have hours to sit and ponder and write, but I’m grateful for the challenge. I will continue to do my best to reflect, document, and share my experiences, if only for my friends, family, and self.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Eek! Bookless Borders!

Last Friday, Matt and I decided to do a little window shopping along Michigan Ave. to kill some time after we'd arrived about half an hour early for our reservation at the Rosebud restaurant on Rush. Strolling down Chicago Ave., then turning north toward the Godiva store, I stopped dead in my tracks. I guess I hadn't been over that way in awhile, because I experienced a sudden wrenching in my heart as I saw the full display of empty bookshelves through the windows of what used to be Borders. I gasped audibly. (Apparently, I'm completely behind the times, because news reports in 2009 announced that Borders would be closing its "flagship Michigan Ave. store" in 2010 because it was not meeting its profit goals.)

It's not that I'm particularly attached to that Borders (although I do have an affinity for Borders, in general). In fact, there's one conveniently located just up the street from my office, and it appears to be firmly in tact, at least for awhile. But that empty store was a stark reminder that the world is going digital, and that, well, bibliophiles like myself are growing fewer and farther between. I expressed to Matt that I'd been clinging to the hope that the physical book--the smell, the pages, the writing in the margins--would hold its own in the battle against digital, despite the fact that we've seen print newspapers and magazines hanging by threads (if not disintigrating altogether) for many years now. Come to think of it, I now see far fewer books in the hands of commuters each morning than I did when I first moved to Chicago a little over two years ago.

Is it my age that has me clinging to the feel of paper, the scent of fresh pages, creased spines, and margins full of notes from the first, second, fifth read-through? Am I hesitant about the digital revolution because I am a creature of habit, resisting the way my grandparents resist the cell phone my concerned uncle bought for them? Honestly, how could an e-reader chock full of digital books ever trump the satisfaction of stuffed bookshelves? I think I'm becoming even more stubborn about my books because I know, deep down, that I, too, will eventually shed my stacks of paper in favor of the ebook revolution. Someday soon, it will be as passe and ridiculous to carry a stack of books as it was for Ron Weasely to wear his hand-me-down robes at Hogwarts in Harry Potter.

Practically speaking, digital books do make sense. To think that I could have gone to grad school without the horrendous neck and shoulder pain from carrying all those books around in my bookbag! Yet, I can't imagine writing a thesis without all the books strewn across my living room floor, flung open to all of the "important pages" whose exerpts would wind their way into one of my chapters.

Practically speaking, though, I start to wonder if maybe I shouldn't really sell all those lit and theory books I've been hesitant to part with (just in case I should ever decide to return for the PhD). You know, while they'll still catch a few bucks on Amazon...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Packing Snow

It was quite a squeeze today on the El. A bit of a rude awakening, as well as a reminder of why I don’t ride the El anymore. It snowed all day today, which doubled the number of public transportation riders, as commuters traded driving on treacherous roads for an easy swipe of their CTA cards. It wasn’t really that bothersome to me to hang out in the tunnel on the crowded platform watching the mêlée of man vs. train. I couldn’t believe the risking of limbs and cramming of briefcases I saw as commuters literally smashed themselves in to the “ding-dong” of the warning bell, and the swooshing of doors closing shut. I determined that I wasn’t in that big of a hurry.

Three packed trains stopped by before I and the cluster of bodies around me could squoosh ourselves into a car. I was experiencing that empty-stomach/end-of-workday/zombie state of mind(less) that usually hits me around 5:30 or 6 pm. So I just kind of zoned out and tried to keep my balance. I was conscious of profuse apologies as the doors swung open at Grand, and Chicago, and Clark/Division. It seemed that at every stop, some Chicagoan was apologizing for the state of the CTA to some unnamed non-Chicagoan.

“I’m sorry. I hope you don’t have any place you have to be in the next hour.”

“You’re not from Chicago, are you? I’m sorry this sucks.”

Anyway, like I said, I was in a bit of a fog, so I didn’t really see what the big fuss was about. All I could think about was dinner, and that maybe those visitors to Chicago should come back in June.

When we got to my stop, I slushed my way home, noticing how warm it actually felt outside, and how the fresh air had awakened me. Once again, I found myself enjoying my winter walk. I wasn’t wearing proper boots, and could feel the moisture of the slush sneaking up against my toes. But I didn’t really mind, because home wasn’t too far away.

And as I walked I got to thinking that we’re almost halfway through January already. Which means that we’re that much closer to springtime/summertime in Chicago. And I admit that on many of these brisk but sunny days, I’ve been gazing out the window imagining it were summer. Looking down over the city, I’ve been recalling what the view will look like when brick, stone, and steel aren’t the only colors on the horizon, when the lake will shine bluer, and the green of vegetation will snake its way between the buildings…

Then, of course, I tried to be practical and remind myself not to ignore the pleasures of winter. And so I continued sloshing home in the snow.