Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Chi Town

I am home from my trip to Chicago to visit my little sister, Katherine, for her 25th Birthday. We had so much fun together. Prior to this trip, I had never left the girls for more than 24 hours. So I was a little tentative. But I knew they were going to be with their Dad...and I have to get out there sometime, right? I took the attitude that the trip was going to be good for all of us. A little training course for when Matt and I go to Mexico in February! When they dropped me off at the airport, Megan was sweet and stoic, saying "I might be a little sad, but I be happy the whole time Mom!" Molly was less enthused, crying as I got out of the car saying, "No go Mama!" Quick kisses and some waves thru the car window and they were gone.
I got into Chicago late Thursday night and immediately noticed two things. First, it was freaking cold! I walked out to the curb at the airport for Katherine to pick me up, and a blast of cold wind and snow flurries literally hit me in the face. It took my breath away. Second, I was in a CITY. Not a town, definitely not Costa Mesa. There was hustle and bustle going on at 11:30 at night. People walking the streets, flagging down taxis, headed out for a night on the town. (Considering some of the bars stay open until 4AM, the night was still young.)

That night, we just got some pizza and headed back to her apartment. Having gotten married at 23, I never lived alone. I went from home, to college roommate, back home, to living with Matthew. I loved seeing Katherine in her element. Her own apartment, decorated with only her things. It was a cute one bedroom in Lincoln Park, about 5 minutes from downtown. It's in an old brick building at the top of three flights of stairs - no elevators. That was fun with my big suitcase! :) We got in our Jammie's, jumped in her bed and talked until 2 in the morning!

Friday morning, we went to brunch at a place called The Bongo Room. Sunshine cascades into this South Loop restaurant decorated with Ikea-style blonde furnishings and orange and pea green accessories (If my sister in law Adrie owned a restaurant, this would be it!) Katherine warned me that the pancakes here are the stuff of legends, but having run a great breakfast restaurant myself, I waited to be impressed. As I read the menu, I literally began to groan, everything sounded SO good. Pumpkin Carrot Cheesecake Flapjacks or Banana, White Chocolate & Macadamia Nut Pancakes, or Apple Pear Pancakes with warm Orange Cranberry compote. Katherine told me that you could order any pancake individually, rather than a whole stack. So, being more of a savory breakfast eater than a sweet one, I decided on a breakfast burrito wrapped in a Cilantro Chipotle tortilla with homemade salsa... And we shared one Pumpkin pancake. It was the size of a dinner plate! Needless to say - that was all we ate the rest of the day!

After breakfast we went to Michigan Avenue to do some shopping damage. Katherine had made appointments for us at Intimacy. Sadly, there are none of these stores in California yet...but I am threatening to be the one who opens one. You may have seen Intimacy on What Not to Wear (on E! channel) or more recently on Oprah. They claim to be "bra fit specialists" who will change your life. I was a little sceptical. The fitting was free, which I assumed to mean the bras would be outrageously over priced and my fitter would push me to buy at least 3 or 4 of them. I walked away more than pleasantly surprised. I learned that I have been wearing the wrong size bra my whole adult life! And when I found the right sized one - WHOA! - what a difference! In the way it felt, in the way it fit, in the way it looked, in the way the straps didn't fall off my shoulders all day long!! I was sold right away. And I was also pleased how my fitter was so helpful, but not pushy. Katherine and I laughed however, when we learned that my fitter's name was Blessing, hers was Angel, and we overheard another girl calling hers Heaven. I was even more satisfied when later that day at Nordstrom, I found the same bra I had just bought for the same price. So, if you are a female of bra wearing age - and you ever get a chance to visit Intimacy, I say GO!

After Intimacy - we shopped up and down Michigan Avenue until late in the afternoon. At one point my sister turned to me and said "Should I be taking you to a museum or something? I feel bad you come all the way here and all we do is eat and shop!" I laughed and replied, "I don't! I am loving it!" We compromised and decided to visit a Chicago landmark, the Hancock Building, for a drink. This tower is a 100-story, multi-use building. There are office suites, apartments, on-site businesses including a bank, dry cleaner, salon, gym, dog groomers, restaurants and retail shops. I loved that you could live there and never have to leave the building! On the 95th floor is a cocktail lounge with a panoramic view of Lake Michigan, the Navy Pier and the Chicago Skyline. It was a clear day and the view was beautiful. Katherine showed me how from the women's bathroom, you can look down on Oprah's penthouse in the building next door! We sat down and enjoyed two Corona's and an order of guacamole. When the check came for $49 we gasped and thought of our frugal Father when we said, "We could of just bought a CASE of beer and some avocados and gone home!" But the company, experience, relaxation, and view made it all worth it!

We walked back to her apartment and crashed for a few hours before Katherine's boyfriend Paul met us after work. We headed out to a wine bar called D.O.C. This place was right up my alley. Truly a bar in the sense that you seat yourself and they only serve drinks and appetizers. But such a warm atmosphere (especially when coming out of the cold night!) with large stuffed sofas, candlelit rooms, small tables and crackling fireplaces. The wines were great and the food even better. They specialize in wine flights - a selection of 2 ounce pours of three different wines, grouped by category - sparkling wine, classic whites, Italian whites, voluptuous reds, spicy reds. We partook in quite a few. We also ordered the cheese plate, duck quesadilla, wild mushroom risotto balls, and steak & frittes. The best part of the whole night was when I got CARDED! Our waiter looked at my ID and smiled and said "I used to live in Newport." Katherine and I commented on what a small world it is, and concluded that he must be telling the truth since he dropped the "Beach" when talking about the town, the way only true locals do. We explained to Paul that your either from Newport, Laguna or Huntington.... not Newport Beach, Laguna Beach or Huntington Beach. He humored us, smiled, and rolled his eyes :) Walking home from the wine bar, I realized how Katherine stays so fit! Everyone walks everywhere, And when you are walking in 21 degree weather, with a wind chill of 10, you walk fast!

Saturday we slept in until 9:30am - The first for me since before children! And then met two of her girlfriends from UofMichigan, Marissa and Missy, for brunch at a place called Orange. This homey restaurant puts a contemporary twist on breakfast. I ordered Green Eggs and Ham - a dish of eggs scrambled with basil pesto, roasted tomatoes, mozzarella and pancetta. It was surprisingly good but made me miss reading Dr. Seuss and my girls. This place also specializes in fresh squeezed juice (orange, pineapple, kiwi, strawberry, watermelon or cantaloupe are just a few that you could choose from) and is also BYOB - as in Bring Your Own Booze! So, Saturday being Katherine's actual birthday, we brought some champagne and ordered a carafe of OJ. Orange's other original claims to fame are "frushi," which is seasonal fresh fruit rolled like sushi in fruit juice-infused rice, and pancake flights - a plate divided in fourths, with small stacks of silver dollar pancakes all topped with different flavors.

After breakfast we walked all over Lincoln Park and down Armitage Avenue. Armitage reminded me a little of Balboa Island. It is an upscale and quaint, tree-lined street busy with local MWSs (moms with strollers) and frenzied power-shoppers. The unique boutiques that fill this picture-perfect neighborhood are a haven for shopaholics. We spent several hours in Art Effect and All She Wrote, a gorgeous paper/stationery store. Katherine found a dress to wear to her party that night and we also visited Land of Nod - a store that I love, but there are none out here, so I have only seen the catalogs before. Walking back to her apartment, we passed Oz park, and I thought how fun it would be to bring the girls back in the Summer. In 1976, the park was officially named Oz Park in honor of L. Frank Baum, the author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Baum lived in Chicago a few miles west of what is now the park. The Lincoln Park Chamber of Commerce has commissioned sculptures that are around the park of the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow. Other elements which celebrate Oz Park's theme, include the "Emerald Garden" and "Dorothy's Playlot." The playlot not only relates to the park's name, but also to that of its donor, Dorothy Melamerson, a retired local school teacher whose savings have paid for a number of park improvements in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

Saturday night we had planned to visit Red Light for dinner, before heading to the bar for Katherine's Birthday party. But after walking around all day, we were pooped! So we flopped on the couch and watched The Girls Next Door and Talk Soup on E! Channel and ordered Jimmy John's sandwiches instead. Matt's brother, TJ, owns 3 Jimmy John's in Iowa and I had never tried them before, so I felt the need to represent. After vegging for a few hours, we got dolled up and met over 30 of Katherine's friends at an Irish bar downtown called McFadden's. It was fun to meet people from UofM, her work, her internship, UofChicago (where she is getting her Masters) and put some faces to names. I felt instantly transported back to college frat party days when they carded me at the door, charged me $30 cash, and put an obnoxiously colored, ridiculously tight band on my wrist that meant I was good for "All You Can Drink." Paul had brought a Birthday Cake (which was great, since I had travelled cross country with numbered candles 2 and 5, but never got around to making anything to put them on!) and added his own sweet touch with an "Over the Hill" candle. He took great pleasure in noting that he doesn't turn 25 until July, which means he's not even 24 1/2 - Katherine couldn't even round up. She was officially an "older woman!" I love him, he cracks me up. We drank and danced (and waited in line for the women's bathroom) until about 2am and then got a taxi home.

Sunday we finally rallied about 11am to find it was snowing! We met Paul and his parents, Jerry & Nancy, at a brewery called Goose Island for the Bears game. It was fun to be in town for the big game. Everyone in town had on a t-shirt with Mike Ditka on the front or that said "Da Bears." We were walking down the street and people were honking their horns and yelling out the windows "Go Bears!" People seemed please that it was snowing - a sure fire way to hinder those Saints from down South. I had to leave in the middle of the game to make it to the airport. Katherine was concerned that I came all the way to Chicago only to drink, eat and shop - so we assuaged our guilt with a quick trip to Wrigley Field for a picture that could prove that I was actually in Chicago! (We figured Soldier Stadium would be a tad crowded.) We then raced to the airport, only to find that the snow had delayed my flight by 4 hours! It ended up being kinda fun to sit in the terminal, watching literally 100's of people, crowd around a few small TV's. There were people laying on the ground, standing in the aisles, and sitting on shoulders. The energy was contagious when they would erupt in joy every time the Bear's scored.

After an easy flight home, I exited the plane and laughed - recalling how I thought it had been "so cold" here the week before I left. It had been 18 degrees when I boarded the plane at O'Hare, and it was maybe 55 degrees when I got home at 11pm, and it felt glorious! I vowed never to complain about California weather again. Matt was waiting for me at the airport and the girls were home asleep with my parents. It took all I had not to wake them up when I got home. But the hugs, kisses, love and Molly repeatedly saying "Home!" that ensued the next morning was enough for me to know that I was missed.

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