Sometimes, you wake up having no clue how the day will turn out. You have an idea of the plan of events – working from home in the morning and going to a family party in the afternoon – but there’s no way to anticipate the jokes you’ll laugh over, the mini cheesecakes you’ll eat, the roman candles you’ll detonate, or the chubby Shiba Inus you’ll pet. And who would guess that when you think you’ve missed the show, the drive home on the highway becomes a parting of a sea of fireworks. And all of a sudden, you’re surrounded on both sides by explosions of light from homes and parks for miles.
I grew up in a suburb an hour west of Chicago. Saint Charles has a lot of seasonal festivals – Pride of the Fox in June, Scarecrow Fest in October, Festival of Lights in December. It’s a quiet place, but whenever there’s a festival, families from the city drive out in hordes to experience a day in “quaint” Saint Charles. I always thought those people had it all wrong; I wondered how long it would take them to realize how boring the suburbs were and how big of a mistake they’d made deciding to spend their weekend away from the bustling city. Now that I’m working and living in Chicago, I finally understand what was so wonderful about my quaint little town.
If I were to list the top five most stressful situations I’ve ever been in, more than half would be hours spent driving around Chicago looking for parking spots (literally…one time we spent two hours in 90-degree heat looking for a spot in Lincoln Park). But add onto the typical parking-spot search a sudden downpour, two dead cell phones, an empty gas tank with no stations for five miles, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and a string of closed-for-construction-that-hasn’t-even-started highway entrances, and you have last Saturday. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty frustrated with the city - and just in time, because on Sunday, Max and I went out to Saint Charles to visit my mom.
I’m always so happy to see my dogs when I go to my mom’s: Mikey, the 18-year-old corgi, and Delilah, the 8-year-old goldendoodle. Our first order of business was to take Lilah to the forest preserve. I’ve never seen a happier dog. Watching her dive into the creek, bound through plants, and tie herself up in her leash out of excitement, I forgot that she’s not a puppy anymore. Max and I took our shoes off and walked barefoot through the mud, and I thought about how funny it is that I don’t think of forest dirt as dirty, but I wash my feet after being in the city for a day.
After dinner, we went to my mom’s friend’s Lusitano farm to see a foal that was just born that morning. Every time I go there, I get a little sad that I didn’t grow up riding. Horses are so amazing and I wish I had one! But I also wish I had a couple dogs, a few goats, and some chickens, so maybe I need to have more realistic expectations. Anyway, there were a few adorably shy babies and I saw the yearlings I’d seen last summer when they were newborn foals. Their mothers are so gentle and accustomed to all the human attention. After petting every horse in the pasture and taking a few too many pictures of the foals, we headed down the road to a “cookout” hosted by a friend of my mom’s friend. This friend also has a huge stable with a 3/4-mile covered racetrack. The “cookout” turned out to be more like a full-blown fiesta with tacos, margaritas, musica, puppies, and regal Friesians bobbing their heads along.
We can’t go to Saint Charles without stopping at our favorite ice cream store, Graham’s, in the neighboring town. We rolled into Geneva, and guess what was going on? You guessed it (or maybe you didn’t) – a festival! The Swedish Days’ parade made its way down Main Street, kids’ screams echoed from rides at a carnival erected in the courthouse parking lot, and local shops displayed booths of their specialty items – beads, stationary, brownies. The crowd of people, some locals and some tourists from the city, milled around marveling at the quaintness of it all. It dawned on me that I’m not sure which group I fit into now. I’m not a city person, but it might have taken me moving into the city to realize it. I no longer think of my hometown as boring; now I see it for what it really is: a quaint haven on the Fox River, with festivals, fiestas, horses, the best mint chip ice cream, and ample parking.
…that make me enormously happy:
2. Catching the jokes in children’s movies that are meant for the parents who got stuck watching
3. Elderly golden retrievers
4. Better-than-the-original YouTube covers (like this one)
5. Abandoned highway underpasses converted into colorful skateparks
6. Walking with Max
7. While walking with Max, giving silly thoughts and voices to every dog we see (like the dachshund down the street whose yipping at the fence translates into a plea to come sign his petition to close down Superdawg – in a thick Chicago accent, of course)
8. Falling asleep to rain and waking up to sunshine
9. Beautiful, regal buildings from a time when things were built to be beautiful and regal
It finally feels like (consistent) summer in Chicago. This weekend, the sun was shining and temperatures hit 90. Max and I went for a walk in Rosewood Park along the lakefront. I think strolling in the sunshine and staring into a seemingly ominous body of water is all it takes to clear your mind. It’s all it takes to remind you of all the good in life: the people you love, the trips you’re looking forward to, the gifts you’re thankful for. Water is just so serenely tranquil. It’s one thing to look out over an expansive landscape and realize how small you are, but I don’t think anything compares to a flat, aquatic horizon, where the blue of the water hits the blue of the sky. You can see that not only are you a tiny part of your world, but also that your world is tiny in itself. On the other side of Lake Michigan, there’s another “world” I can’t even see. And that’s just a lake; across oceans that span the majority of this planet, there is so much to see, experience, taste, and learn. No matter how stuck you feel in your own day-to-day, it’s enough to make you hopeful for what this universe has to offer.
I think this might mean I’m destined for beachfront property, right?
Max just returned from a fishing trip in Canada and was already feeling symptoms of nature-withdrawal, so on Saturday, we went to the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe. I’d never been before and was amazed at how huge the place was. My favorite section was the fruit and vegetable garden. I’ve always wanted to have my own vegetable and herb garden, but after Saturday, I now also want a beehive, a bat house, window boxes, and a greenhouse-kitchen hybrid. That’s realistic, right?
I think I have a talent for picking people out of a crowd who’ve never operated a camera before and asking them to take my picture. So none of the shots of us together were in focus, except for one where Max’s eyes were closed. At least the pictures of the plants turned out okay!
I recently attended an employee engagement seminar held by my company in an effort to extend my lunch hour by an extra hour. Weeks later, the wheels in my mind are still turning over one part of the talk. The speaker used the most frustrating allegory to illustrate her point. I’ll shorten it up a bit…
Under the el tracks, in the bank plaza on Wells, there’s a flower bed that blooms beautifully in the springtime. Thirty miles north, there are similar flowers blooming in a very different environment: the Chicago Botanic Garden. The flowers on Wells would probably be happier growing in the Botanic Garden, but they keep blooming where they’re planted. Like the flowers, you should make the most of your situation, drive your own career, and bloom where you’re planted.
The speaker’s message was clear – especially after she repeated it twice and sent it out in an enterprise-wide e-mail post-presentation. However, I’m a bit confused as to how I’m supposed to be inspired by flowers which – while, yes, they bloom - have a lifespan of less than a week (due to a steady diet of ashtray soil, exhaust fume air, and acid rain sludge dripping off the train platform). If you can look past that, there’s still the fact that as humans, we are not “planted” anywhere. We don’t have roots…we have legs. If a human is stuck in an unhealthy situation, a lonely city, or a dead-end job, she can use those legs and walk away. We don’t have to play the hand we were dealt. And I think a life led with that truth in mind will be much more beautiful than a flower blooming where it’s planted.
It’s been a couple of months since I last posted on here, and there’s a reason. Time might seem to move quickly when you’re busy, but retrospectively, time spent doing nothing flies by the fastest. I feel like I wasted the last several weeks of my life accomplishing nothing and letting negative thoughts consume me. I might get into that in later posts, and I might not, but I will make a bigger effort to document my life as it happens through writing and photos. For now, I want to recap what I did do in April and May.
On April 1st, I turned 21, which might be the last birthday I’ll have been excited for. I’m officially an adult now, even though I’ve felt like one since I was 15. But now I have the horizontal ID to prove it.
A few of my friends threw a surprise dinner for me a couple of days before the actual occasion, and I spent my real birthday at work (which was no fun, but I guess it’s karma for having a spring-break birthday all those years in school) and then at dinner with Max.
On Easter, Max, his brother and sister, and I spent the day making a huge breakfast together and playing a contentious game of Risk. It made me really excited for the day I’ll have my own home and invite my friends over for board-game nights. Some of my favorite college memories are of card games and Cranium battles with Max, my roommates and their boyfriends.
Max and I explored some other neighborhoods and towns on days when the weather was nice. Lakeview and Evanston are so fun to walk around and a nice change of pace from the South Loop where I spend most of my city days.
Fast forward to May (see, I told you April flew by). I went to the Bongo Room and the Shedd Aquarium with my friend from work on what must have been the only day of spring in Chicago. I felt like a horrible person visiting the Shedd after watching and crying over Blackfish on Netflix. Everyone should watch that movie (and The Cove while you’re at it) and then be a better person than me and stop giving money to aquariums, zoos, etc.
Some of my friends from high school have been in town over the past couple of weeks for Mother’s Day, business trips, or summer vacation, so I’ve had dinner/drinks/shopping excursions with lots of familiar faces who’ve reminded me that not everyone is horrible. I really hit the jackpot with my high school friends. I’ll probably write more about them later this week, but for now, it’s worth noting that I plan to be more focused, busy, happy, and alive these next few months, and that’s largely due to their inspiring radiance (cheesy enough for ya?).
On that note, it’s finally feeling like summer and the change is working wonders for me. Things are looking up and I can’t wait to write about ‘em.
Last night, Max and I went to dinner at the Grand Lux Café. When we got there, though, seven of my friends were waiting to surprise me for my birthday! I had no idea beforehand, and I’m so impressed that Max and Aliyea were able to pull it off without me finding out. Little details don’t usually slip by this sly sleuth. Jokes aside, I feel so loved and happy! Aliyea made a beautiful cake (seriously…open a bakery already, woman) and Max blew out the candles for me so everyone wouldn’t get my sick germs. Ayse flew in from DC, Max and Aliyea have apparently been planning together for months, and everyone took time out of their precious spring breaks to spend a night with me. I’m so lucky to have the friends I do, and they’re the best birthday present I could ask for!
No matter how long it’s been since we’ve talked or visited, every time I see my best friends from high school, everything falls right back into place. We may have new travel experiences, boyfriends, struggles, triumphs and funny stories under our belts, but when we get together, it always feels like we’re 16 and back at boarding school again. So, I got to spend this past weekend travelling back in time with five of my friends who were in town.
On Friday night, we went to the Skydeck at the Sears Tower. If I had been with anyone else, I probably would’ve been complaining about the long lines, but waiting gave us a chance to catch up on the past year in our lives.
Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect if we’d planned it; we got to the top right as the sun was setting over the skyline. After the sun set, the city lit up and you could see rows of lights all the way out to the suburbs. I’m only just now realizing that this would’ve been the perfect opportunity to take a panorama shot. Shucks. After the Skydeck, we went to Giordano’s to have as authentic of a Chicago dinner as we could find at 9pm in the Loop.
On Saturday, we watched the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Grant Park for a bit before eating an amazing brunch at the Bongo Room. After brunch, we tried to see the green river, but we were too late and the river was back to its usual mucky brown-green. As a side note: I’ve never seen so many belligerent drunkards outside of a college town as I did in Chicago on Saturday…St. Patrick’s Day really brings out the best in everyone, huh?
On Sunday, we went to a vegan restaurant called Native Foods Café, and I’ll be honest – I did not have high hopes. I was pleasantly surprised, though! The food was delicious, and it was so fun catching up with my high school RA, Kristen, and hearing about the inspiring work she’s doing now as a social worker.
By Monday, the group had dwindled down to just Kavita and me, so we did a little shopping and then had dinner and gelato at Eataly. It was an exhausting weekend taking trains back and forth to the Loop and coordinating so many schedules and opinions, but any time spent with my girlfriends is time well-spent. It’s days like these that make me really happy with my decision not to move to San Jose. I don’t know where our lives will take us from here, and maybe soon I’ll be the only one left in Chicago, but I find comfort in knowing that whether one day or one year has passed, these friendships remain just as strong.
I sometimes imagine that I’m in a movie. I run faster on the treadmill when pretending to train for the Hunger Games. I hear a melancholy soundtrack playing as I gaze out the window of the car. Monday night, though, was a film noir.
Ayse was in town again and we went to Maude’s Liquor Bar for dinner before seeing the Lyric Opera’s production of Rusalka. Aside from the amazing, self-proclaimed “almost French” menu, Maude’s has such a unique ambiance. Our dinner felt magically black-and-white, which might have been due to the moodiest of mood lighting, but, more likely, was a result of the swanky-yet-sophisticated décor of the second floor. Between the two of us, we ordered the classic lyonnaise, escargot, tenderloin steak tartare, French onion fondue, Brussels sprouts, chocolate mousse, and French-pressed coffee. Everything I tried was divinely delectable.
The magic of the evening continued with Rusalka. I’ve written down my thoughts on opera before, but I feel the need to elaborate after this performance. The set was SO incredible – fog transforming the stage into a swamp, ballet sequences and floating flower petals, a cavernous ballroom with arched roof beams and myriad mounted antlers, and talented performances by actors so genuine that you forget you’re sitting in a theater and start to lose yourself into the storyline. Rusalka is a dark adaptation of The Little Mermaid, and it’s now my favorite of the five operas I’ve seen.
Maybe I don’t live inside of a Czech opera or a French crime movie, but nights like these keep me dreaming.