Tag Archives: chicago

So this is what they were talking about… (Chicago Winter Woes)

When we first decided to move to the Chicago area, in November no less, every single person we encountered would look at us incredulously and warn us about the frigid cold winters. Even when we were in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the winter temperatures regularly hover below zero, residents pitied the frosty plight that we were to face in the midwest.

So we were prepared. When the first cold front came through shortly after we moved here and temperatures hardly rose above 20 degrees for a week, I bundled up and went about my business feeling proud of my ability to tough it out and power through. But that was nothing…

This week, as a massive cold front swept most of the nation, we got a taste of our first real winter weather, where temperatures have plummeted to zero and wind-chills have gotten down to 35 degrees below zero. This is a cold like I have never known.

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When it started on Sunday, we were still in good spirits. The freezing temperatures blew in accompanied by beautiful snow. We enjoyed the day of rest while we watched the flakes fall, sun shining through, and cozied up drinking endless cups of cocoa. Eventually we got out to shovel the snow from our drive, treating it as a fun new adventure – my first time shoveling snow, how thrilling! 

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Monday was a sunny snow day filled with fun and frolicking. Though the temperatures stayed in the single digits, we alternated playing in the snow and getting out and about with bustling around the house cooking and cleaning and keeping warm. And at the end of the day, we enjoyed the vibrant colors of the sunset contrasting the stark white of the snow.

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Tuesday brought more snow. And more shoveling. Which by this point was starting to get old. But hey, the sun was still shining and this winter weather wasn’t going to get me down. So I put on a pot of soup, simmering with a mix of hearty flavors and a dash of hope for a bit of warmth. I layered on wool socks and knit hats and cozy scarves – just to stay inside.

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On Wednesday I pulled out all the stops to combat the cold. I packed on the layers and devoured the soup and drank the tea. I hovered by our space heater and broke out our new humidifier. I dashed out to the gym to warm up my body. And when all else failed I just crawled into bed early, cranked up the electric blanket, and tried to ignore the wind howling outside of our windows.

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But then came Thursday, and really I’d had enough. It was so cold, and so grey, and so cold, and so windy, and so cold. When I finally pulled myself out of bed, I discovered that there was ice lining the windows. Let me re-phrase that, there was ice lining the inside of the windows.

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Sometime around mid-morning even more snow started. The wind whipped around so wildly that it was impossible to tell whether the icy flakes were coming from the sky above or the already snow-covered ground below.

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By now my coping strategy had degraded to climbing under a pile of blankets, kept company by a marathon of House Hunters International. It was apparent that no amount of soup or tea could drown out the fact that were were living in the world of Frozen. And not in the happy Disney way, but in way that looks much more like this:

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Because we are all just so cold. All the time.

Then, out of the blue yesterday, a dear friend called me. While she lives in (relatively) warmer Tennessee now, she used to live in Chicago and consoled me with the story of her first Chicago winter meltdown (the only kind of melting we’ll be seeing around here anytime soon). She told me about a frigid day when she was walking to the train and she was so cold that she just started crying. Before a warm tear of relief even had the chance to slide down her face, she said, she realized her tear had frozen to her cheek.

Equal parts heartbreaking and hilarious, that story was just what I needed to hear to encourage me to keep going. Because, unfortunately, Chicago winter weather doesn’t care about our feelings. So we just have to find a way to (snow) plow forward, making the most of it, and looking towards the warmer days ahead. (Forecast is calling for double digit temps next week – hooray!)

And when all else fails, remember it could always be worse… (I’m looking at you Fairbanks!)

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Weekend Wandering: The Perfectly Imperfect Christmas Tree

Though I’ve been in the Christmas spirit for a while, we still stuck with tradition and waited until after the joy and mayhem of Thanksgiving to start the Christmas decorating. But this weekend it was time, so we set off to find our shining beauty – the Christmas Tree.

To save time and money, we planned to go the easy route this year and pick from the pre-sorted, pre-cut selection of firs at a local lot. But when we pulled up and learned that even the puniest of trees on the lot were going to run us a whopping $80, that wasn’t going to happen… So we made a last ditch decision to continue our tradition from last year and headed out to pick and cut our own tree at Larson’s Family Farm.

We drove an hour west, leaving the suburban sprawl behind and winding through midwestern farms and cornfields. When we finally arrived, we has less than an hour of sunlight left with which to pick our perfect tree. Though the sunset made for a beautiful setting, it also served as a stressfully ticking clock on my indecisiveness.

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I darted frantically from the firs to the pines to the spruces and back again searching for what would be the perfect symbol of our holiday cheer. While Larson’s had a vast selection and beautiful variety, every tree I came across seemed too short or too sparse or too crooked. In my eyes, one tree was not full enough while another was not green enough. As darkness began to descend, I fretted that we had driven all this way and I would still not find “The One.”

Then my husband, in his simple but infinite wisdom said, “They’re trees. They’re real and living, so they’re not going to be perfect.”

Ah yes, how I so easily forget that to be real and living means by default to be imperfect. And that’s not only okay, but wonderful. Because isn’t it far better to have the type of beauty and essence that is real and living than to strive for some artificial idea of perfection?

This season more than any other, I think it’s easy to forget the beautiful reality of life in our quest for perfecting the holidays. We strive for the perfect tree and the perfect gifts, for the perfect house for hosting parties and the perfect treats to share with friends, for the perfect Christmas card picture and the perfect gift wrapping. We can become so blinded by the sparkling lights that we forget what this season is truly about – the birth of a grace and love that allows us to be perfectly imperfect as real and living humans.

So with the sun descending below the stalks of corn, I finally decided to forget perfection and pick a tree that had a beauty and charm that we loved. We went with a pine, mostly because I loved how Andrew called them the “furry trees.”

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It’s shaggy and sparse in areas and a bit wonky at the top, but in our eyes, it’s taken on it’s own kind of real, imperfect perfection.

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Weekend Wandering: ‘Tis the Season

Generally I am a strict holiday purist, preferring to keep my holidays completely separate. I can’t stand when I walk into a store in July and holiday goods are already decking the halls (I mean aisles). To me, the Christmas season has always begun the day after Thanksgiving. Christmas music, decorations, and shopping are held off until we can celebrate Turkey Day in all it’s gobbling glory.

But then I moved to a place where by mid-November I’ve seen snow falling more days than not, the temperature has scarcely risen over freezing, and one of the few radio stations I’ve found has already started playing Christmas music 24/7. So yes, it already kind of feels like the North Pole up here.

Still, I think I could have remained strong had it not been for this one magical Chicago Christmas tradition. A place that combines three of my favorite things: craft vendors from around the world, German food and drink and atmosphere, and Christmas (of course). Christkindlmarket. A mecca of all things cozy and Christmas-y and wonderful!

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The traditional German-American holiday market kicked off this past weekend in Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago, so of course I had to drag Andrew into the city to experience the joys of the holiday season, European style. Though the market was admittedly crowded – it’s a pretty small space, taking up just one square block – who cares when you’re filled with good cheer and Glühwein (alkoholfrei for me).

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We browsed the vendors, taking in the delicately crafted glass and wooden ornaments, handmade cuckoo clocks, and traditional German pyramids and nutcrackers. And of course we had to sample all of the delicious food offerings – from bratwurst and sauerkraut to potato pancakes and pretzels, and anything you could imagine dipped in chocolate – the options were endless.

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Once we left the Christkindlmarket, we continued in the Christmas spirit by heading to the Magnificent Mile Light’s Festival to enjoy their Christmas parade. The weather had warmed up a bit from the frigid temperatures of the proceeding week, making parade watching more bearable. We enjoyed seeing the fun floats, giant balloons, and talented performers.

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However, being at a big parade in person is a different experience than watching it on television; involving annoying street closures, lots of standing around, being packed into crowds, craning to see over others, and waiting a while between floats. So it was a fun experience, especially since we’re new to the city, but let’s just say next year (to avoid becoming Scrooges) we’ll stick with the Christmas Market and skip the crowds.

Though this week is still all about Thanksgiving, I have to say I enjoyed getting a little head start on the Christmas season. There’s no reason these two holiday siblings can’t share the love, right?

Happy (early) Holidays to you, friends!

Tips for a Joyful Move

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Over the past few years, I have moved more times than I care to remember. From hopping around college housing (including a stint overseas) to apartments in the Washington, DC area, a travel trailer that took us to Florida and back to Tennessee, a few houses there and now up to Illinois. By now you would think I’d be an expert, addicted to the art of packing and unpacking and creating new abodes. In honesty though, while I love new experiences and places, I really hate the process of moving.

I’ve finally found that there are a few things that help me keep my sanity, and keep tears to a minimum, when drowning in bubble wrap and boxes.

  1. Purge Everything – Before you start packing, take a day and go through all of your stuff and get rid of anything you don’t absolutely need or love. Then do it again the next day. With a fresh eye, day by day go through your things until you’ve narrowed it down to manageability. I have to admit, this process is really hard for me. While I’d like to be a minimalist, I tend to err on the side of hoarder – finding it hard to part with that sweet birthday card or that shirt that I might decide to wear in a year. But it’s so refreshing… and you don’t miss the stuff nearly as much as you would think.
  2. Take the Time to Properly Pack  – In my younger years packing and procrastination went hand in hand, meaning that at the last minute I would just throw everything in non-sensical order into boxes. This caused a lot of heartache and shattered glass as things ended up, unsurprisingly, broken. Since we are now apparently adults and have acquired nice stuff and beautiful wedding gifts, with this move I took the time (and recruited my wonderful momma) to wrap and strategically pack breakables. Bubble wrap is your friend. Packing paper (more than you think you could possibly need) is your friend. And a mom who is much more knowledgeable in this field is most definitely your friend.
  3. Label, Label, Label – Again, throwing everything into unmarked boxes is not the most efficient or effective strategy (unfortunately it took me many moves to learn this). You will save yourself a lot of time and headaches on the other end (unpacking) if you take that little bit of extra effort to properly label. I prefer labeling specifics of a box, rather than simply “kitchen” or “living room,” so that I know where to find exactly what I’m looking for. This method helps to decifer which boxes actually need to be unpacked immediately in order for to cook pasta or sleep on clean sheets and which ones can wait patiently in a corner. Thus saving you from living in an endless sea of half-unpacked boxes.
  4. Unpack Everything – Unpacking is the more fun, but no less daunting, part of moving. This is where you get to organize and decorate and make your new house (or apartment or trailer) a home. I prefer to do this slowly, taking time to figure out where I want each piece. However slowly you do it though, it’s important to sort through each box. Confession: I failed to do this on our last move and we ended up with what we not-so-affectionately referred to as our “Room of Shame” – an unused bedroom that remained filled with unpacked boxes for the duration of our time living there. If there are boxes with momentos or seasonal items that you’re not using in the near future, fine, throw them in the basement or back of a closet. Otherwise, unpack those boxes baby! Anything you find you don’t need or have a place for, revert to #1 (toss it). Remember, just because you moved it hundreds of miles doesn’t mean you can’t get rid of it now.
  5. Be Really Really Gracious to Your Husband and Father (or whoever helps you move) – This point is especially important if you’re pregnant and can’t actually move much and your role consists mostly of watching them do the (literal) heavy lifting. Both Andrew and my dad were a Godsend. They quickly and without complaint managed to Tetris all of our stuff into a couple trailers, then drove hours (through snow) and unpacked everything on the other end. So yes, I am endlessly grateful for the help of these two great men! All that to say, when people offer to help you, accept their assistance with gratitude (a few beers will usually do the trick) and no matter how haphazard the packing job may look (see image above), trust their superior skills.

Though we hope to be here a little while, this will surely not to be our last moving adventure. With each move we learn a little more and it becomes slightly less painful. Teamwork is everything. If moving with a partner or family – work together, be patient with one another, and chip away at it bit by bit. You’ll get to that happy home dear friend!

Weekend Wandering: Checking out Chi-Town

We’ve spent the last week in our new home getting slowly unpacked and settled in, escaping the house only for the occasional exciting trip to Home Depot, Lowes, Target, or Ikea. Lest we get sucked into the wide world of suburbia, we decided on Saturday it was time for a little break and an excursion to the city of Chicago.

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Just a couple miles from our house is the cute little town of Clarendon Hills, complete with a train station and easy access to the city. We met up with one of Andrew’s coworkers and his wife and hopped on the train for a quick (30-ish minute) train ride into the city. As we disembarked at Union Station, we had admittedly no plan.

I have to confess, for as much as I love to travel and explore, I am probably the worst tourist. Many of my friends are so great at putting in the time and research to discover the best restaurants to eat at and the best things to do or see. I, however, am far too lazy and usually go into a new experience with very little plan, choosing instead to wander and take it all in and just do or see whatever I happen to come across. The downside of this method is that I likely miss a number of interesting things.  In the case of Chicago though, it was a relief to not have to be a tourist and plan and pack it all in. While it was my first trip to the city, it certainly will not be my last. So I have plenty of time to see and do all the fun things this great city has to offer.

Since Saturday was probably one of the last great weekend weather days of Chicago before the cold sets in, we spent most of the day just walking around and getting acquainted with the city. It really is a beautiful place, with the sprawling waterfront and meandering canals, historic architecture, clean streets and green parks. A few of the highlights from our day:

  • Lunch at the historic Berghoff Restaurant – One of Chicago’s oldest restaurants and the first to obtain a liquor license once prohibition was repealed. It serves up delicious German fare (my favorite!) and their own freshly brewed beer and soda. I especially loved the Blackcherry Soda. And don’t miss out on trying the corned beef or a delicious wurst – yum!
  • Exploring the historic (and haunted?) Congress Plaza Hotel – Since it’s construction in 1893 the hotel has hosted countless presidents, celebrities, and foreign dignitaries; and Al Capone supposedly lived in the hotel for a time. The rich history plays into the tales of haunt. This weekend however, our little group was probably the creepiest thing in the hotel as we roamed the hallways and staircases, exploring the fading glory of this Chicago relic.
  • Visiting “The Bean” (of course) – If you’ve been to Chicago or ever seen anything about the city, you probably know about “The Bean” (official name, Cloud Gate), the large reflective sculpture that is the highlight of Millennium Park. We joined every other tourist to take in the stunning sculpture. We went in the evening and I’ll admit, it was pretty cool to see the lights of the city reflected on such a large scale.

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After a long day of walking, we made our way back to the train station to head back to our endless tasks at home (oh the joys of adulthood…). It was lovely though to have a break from it all and be quickly transported from our quiet neighborhood into the bustling city. Chicago, I’m look forward to many more dates in our future!

Have you visited Chicago? Are there any things you particularly love to see or do there? I would love to know as I embark on future city excursions! 

Settling In

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After a long couple weeks of packing and a crazy couple days of loading and moving, we’ve finally arrived at our new home outside of Chicago! Though we still face the arduous task of unpacking and making changes and improvements to make the house feel like home, we’re really loving this place already.

When we came to house-hunt, we spent a whirlwind couple of days seeing what seemed like every rental property within a 30 mile radius of the city. Though we know living in downtown Chicago would be an incredible experience, and I especially love the culture of city living, we decided that where we are right now in our lives (growing family, big dog who loves to run, desire for space, ease of parking and driving in the chilly winters, etc.) called for a more suburban locale. In the end, we decided on a little old house in Darien, Illinois, about 20 miles southwest of the city. (Fun coincidence: our landlord’s father built the house when he moved from Tennessee to Illinois).

We’re oh-so-happy with the location so far. At the end of our street is a lovely park with a walking path, sports fields, and playground – perfect for strolls with Bella or taking our little one to play. Just across from the park is a beautiful enormous library that just beckons me to come explore as the days grow colder. Within a few miles of us we have any convenience we could need – grocery store, Target, restaurants, shopping, train to the city – but our street is still quiet and feels tucked back from the hustle and bustle of it all.

And the neighbors – the wonderful neighbors could not be any nicer. Our first day moving, they came out and welcomed us with kind open arms and midwestern charm. They offered tips and recommendations on things to do and places to eat, and an endless supply of information on the area. Within 20 minutes I had been kindly provided with a guest pass to a local gym, offered a job, and met a potential future babysitter. Yes, I think we can be great friends. Moving to a new place and being immediately surrounded by a sense of community fills me with relief and hope and excitement for the future.

That’s what gets me through each box I slowly and carefully unpack – the excitement of making this unfamiliar place home. I can’t wait to share more about our adventures – past, present, and future. I have big hopeful plans!

Home

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After a long few (and fantastic) weeks away, we are finally home! Though I have so many more photos and stories to share, for this brief moment I am basking in the glorious feeling of simply being back at home. Along with the not so glorious tasks of unpacking, doing laundry, grocery shopping, and the list goes on…

But that’s ok. Because no matter the tasks at hand, there’s something so comforting about doing them in a place so familiar. A place we’ve made our mark on and is a reflection of us. A place that in turn has made its mark on us.

My mom gave me the beautiful print pictured, a Charles Dickens quote. In my traveling and wandering I’ve discovered the truth of this sentiment more and more. There are few things I love more than exploring and experiencing new places, and one of the reasons is because it makes me truly appreciate my home. Traveling shifts my perspective in a way that allows me to recognize what I already have; and for that I am so grateful.

This place we now call home will only be ours for a bit longer. In a few short weeks we’re packing up yet again and moving on to our next more permanent adventure – Chicago. Looking at the daunting task of finding a new place and moving, I’m scared the new house won’t feel like home. We’ll be in a new city without close friends or family, and though we’ve done it before, it’s no less frightening. So I just have to remind myself one other thing I’ve learned from my wandering: home doesn’t have to be a specific geographic location, but something you carry with you in your heart. It’s what Andrew and I have created together – the love, the joy, the fun, the humor, the honesty; the essence of us – that will fill our new house and make it a home.

Fun fact: While I was writing this post, Phillip Phillips’ song “Home” randomly started playing. It’s a good one folks…