28
Oct

Earlier this week the Chicagoland area experienced what meteorologists call a “weather bomb.” Yawn. So not surprised. In fact, the only mildly surprising part of this story was that Mother Nature didn’t wait until the weekend to unleash her Chiclone. Not like when I was a kid. Back then she would coordinate her torment perfectly to fall right on Halloween, effectively ruining the holiday for all Midwestern children pretty much every single time.

Yeah, I’m bitter.

Most years, my Halloween costume was something chosen from the seasonal aisle at Jewel. Consisting of a tunnel vision-inducing plastic mask, complete with an elastic band that would always cut into my ears, and a matching garbage bag-esque smock, I usually dressed up as one of the following: Wonder Woman, Strawberry Shortcake or Little Orphan Annie. Whatever. It was all the same to me. I was just in it for the candy anyway.

Then one year on a gorgeous afternoon a few weeks before Halloween (that’s Mother Nature – a big fat tease), my family drove out to Sonny Acres Farm to do some hay riding and pumpkin picking. We also did a bit of perusing through their ginormous costume shop. And that’s when I saw it. Pink (polyester) satin. Silver (poorly sewn on) sequins. A beautiful (made of flimsy wire and cheap garland) shimmering crown. The perfect princess costume. My dad looked at me like I was crazy; it cost fifty dollars. I looked at my dad like he was crazy to think he could win this one. Come hell or high water – water in the form of very public little girl tears – I was getting that dress.

I lovingly cradled it in my arms as I napped on the way home. Already I was dreaming of Halloween. It couldn’t come fast enough for me. Everyday after school, I would try on my outfit and admire myself in the mirror. No more tacky grocery store costumes for Anna. This year I would dazzle. *jazz hands*

Halloween morning. It’s forty degrees outside and drizzling. Like most little kids, I was stupid and naively assumed that by the time I got home from school, it would be nice out. Nope. Because the sun was already setting, the temperature had actually dropped a bit more and the wind was picking up. My dad refused to let me go trick or treating without a jacket. A jacket?! Princesses do not wear jackets. Especially not ones bought at Burlington Coat Factory.

He then suggested that I wear my jacket under my costume… Okay, remember how I mentioned earlier that I used to trick or treat just for the candy? Well, put two and two together. There was absolutely no room between me and my dress for anything, let alone a jacket. My circulation and range of motion were already severely compromised by how tightly my princess sleeves were choking my upper arms. But discomfort and lack of oxygenated blood I could handle. Not being able to show off my beautiful dress? No way, Jose.

My dad and I began negotiation proceedings. I cried. He shook his head no. I cried some more. He walked away. I followed him and cried. He ignored me. I gave up. What was the point anyway? We both knew he had the winning hand this time. For one, minutes were a tickin’ away. The more time I used up bawling, the less time I had to collect all that sugary goodness just waiting outside my door. Two, he was my escort. I couldn’t leave the house without him, and he wasn’t leaving until I put on that jacket. I didn’t give up without a fight, though. Multiple times I would sneakily unzip my jacket, and multiple times my dad would immediately notice and bark at me to zip it back up. Fine. I angrily trudged down the sidewalk with pumpkin basket in hand and a scowl on my face, the grumpiest little princess in town. So the evening went. And of course everyone kept asking what I was supposed to be since my costume was hidden by my stupid jacket. “Are you a disgruntled child laborer?” If I were, would I be wearing this crown, jackass? Gimme my Snickers bar.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

21
Oct

My babe is a year old.

Wow. How quickly the last twelve months have gone by. Over that time, she has given me so much joy, more than I could have possibly imagined. I can barely even remember my life before her. But it hasn’t been easy. She needs so much time. Constant attention. It never ends. I give and I give and I give, but then sometimes I just can’t give anymore. I mentally shut down and want nothing to do with her. For hours – even days at a time – I’ll straight up ignore her. Yet for not one moment do I ever stop loving her. I swear. Momma just needs a nap. And a cocktail.

Okay, you can wipe that judgmental look off your face. I’m not talking about a real live kid. Come on, though, I bet some of the parents out there know exactly what I’m talking about. Am I right or am I right? But my “babe” is my blog, and she turns one year old this week. I couldn’t be any more proud had she ripped out of me after thirty-six hours of labor.

Ugh. I remember how nervous I was as I posted my very first blog piece a year ago. The idea of writing about the two cities I love was exciting; the reality of it, nauseating. Would anyone actually read it? Would I be mocked? Or worse – ignored? I had no idea what to expect, yet was certain of one thing; I was gonna do this on my own. Just like Jamie Lynn Spears. I love my friends and family, but truth be told, didn’t really expect their support in this endeavor. Not because they’re a bunch of Jerky McJerkisons, but because we all have crazy busy lives to live. That iCal fills up pretty fast. Kids to get ready for school. Pets to walk and feed. Presentations to finish. Therapy sessions. (Admit it.) Grocery shopping. Laundry. Dishes. Bills. And don’t forget to DVR insert your favorite TV show here! Plus, what’s the haps on Facebook? Twitter? MySpace? Does anyone still do MySpace? It’s exhausting just to write it down. So after all is said and done – the kids are in bed, Fido is fed and the laundry can wait ‘til tomorrow – who has the energy to read? The New York Times. The Washington Post. The Onion. These are worth perhaps a few minutes of your time, but even that’s pushing it. Needless to say, I came out of the gate already jaded as to who would even care about this little blog of mine.

Now as some of you may know, I have a hard time admitting when I’m wrong. About anything. Ever. I’m just rusty because it so rarely happens… Heyo! Seriously, though? It’s a problem. Case in point? Trivial Pursuit. Maybe you think it’s just a fun board game to play after dinner with friends. I do not. I don’t even bother playing with other people anymore. That’s a waste of time. Instead, I will sit there for hours, reading the questions to myself and uttering a smug “Yes!” as I flip each card around to confirm my guess. And when I’m wrong? That’s a typo, right?

Yet over the last year, I have never been so wrong in all my life.

I figured I might have a friend or two that would send me their well wishes. The courtesy “It’s great! Good job.” That’s the polite thing to do. Like the compulsory, “Hi. How are you?” when meeting someone for the first time. Or pretending like you don’t totally notice when that same someone shakes your hand with a disgusting, sweaty palm. Somehow it’s even worse if you see them wipe their hand on their pant leg before the handshake. Because they know. Gross. What I did not expect was the overwhelming outreach of encouragement and generosity that has flooded my life over the past twelve months.

For the record, I will never, ever tire of the “It’s great! Good job.” It will always be warmly received in my home. And to the rest of you… Thank you for graciously guiding me through the incredibly confounding world of internet tech (Phi). Thank you for donating your precious time and talent to design my very first logo (Carla). And thank you to those who have been faithful readers each and every week (too many to name). If this is your first time reading my blog – welcome! And if it’s your last? That’s okay, too. I still appreciate the time you gave me. Jerky McJerkison. Finally, a huge thank you to everyone who has pushed me to do more and dream bigger. Your love and support mean more to me than I could ever adequately express. Humbled. Grateful. Amazed. These few words don’t even come close. I just hope that you got a little something in return. A smile. A laugh. Perhaps a guffaw every now and again. If so, then it’s all been worth the late nights and labor pains… Not the stretch marks, though.

Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

14
Oct

Saturday night. Oktoberfest. The girls and I roll up to Alpine Village for a night of bocks, brats and kraut. Those Germans really know how to set the bar for indigestion. Yet upon entering the premises, we immediately became alarmed that our night of fun would have to be forfeited. The place was packed. Cars and people everywhere. Specifically, we were surrounded by hundreds of women wearing dirndls that I imagine can be found only at Frederick’s of Hollywood. Invoking a few weeks prematurely the age-old Halloween rule of being able to wear the sluttiest costume possible without fear of retribution, these chicks were brazenly milling around like Bavarian prostitutes. And then there was the line. Snaking every which way across the parking lot, just looking at it was a buzz kill. The night was not starting out well.

I tried to play the role of optimistic friend, but was met with a wall of skepticism. We stood in line for all of five minutes. My friends were done. Besides, for what exactly were we waiting? To enter a tent housing hundreds of drunken douche bags that would probably be stepping on our feet all night, then invading our personal space while trying to apologize, then using that fake apology as an excuse to hit on us? That didn’t sound like much fun. And given our still unwavering pledge to partake in the eating and drinking parts of that evening’s merriment, we all were a tad nervous regarding the lavatory facilities provided inside said tent. Port-a-potties did not instill confidence. But instead of turning right back around and going home to watch DVRed episodes of Jeopardy! – an idea that was very seriously considered – we decided to first check out the German restaurant just a stone’s throw from the tented debauchery.

Best decision ever.

Upon being seated, it was obvious with one quick glance that we were among the youngest guests by a few decades. But this joint was just as packed with the over sixty crowd as the parking lot was with the under thirty revelers. The dining area was huge and overlooked both a stage and dance floor. The German-inspired band was decked out in full traditional lederhosen – though the lead singer was wearing an American flag bandana around his forehead ala Springsteen. For the most part they performed familiar tunes like “Roll Out the Barrel,” yet there were moments where I sensed that perhaps this band was a bit confused. At one point the singer broke out into a Spanish ballad probably better suited for a Mexican quinceanera. Okay. (Shrugs shoulders.) Anyway… Nothing is cuter than old folks shaking it on the dance floor. And that’s when we saw her.

Black Lycra tank top. Black spandex leggings with strategically placed rips up the thigh. Hooker heels. Did I also mention that she was about sixty and Asian? Perhaps you think me rude for not respecting my elders, but I promise you that this chick wanted to be noticed. So unabashedly at ease with her attire, she would make a completely unnecessary full circle around the restaurant after every trip to the ladies’ room just to make sure the other guests got an eyeful. Mission accomplished. We couldn’t stop staring at her. It was horrifyingly awesome.

Also horrifyingly awesome, minus the awesome? The dirty old men that would converge upon our table every five minutes. I don’t know which was more uncomfortable – the geriatric Chinese Sandy from Grease or these guys. My friends and I would be chatting one minute, and the next, hushed silence as some grandpa would creep over and loiter right behind us. THISCLOSE. Their dirty old man eyes would then zoom in on whichever girl was in his line of sight. We ladies in turn would immediately bow our heads as if the tablecloth was suddenly the most fascinating thing in the world. We feared that should one of us make eye contact, we would either be asked to dance or get flashed. Equally disturbing scenarios. Waiting with bated breath for each pervert to leave, we could relax only when he would finally shuffle away toward the bar… and then return mere minutes later. I couldn’t figure out if they were being persistent or just suffering from dementia and had forgotten that they had already tried their luck at our table.

Not that I’m complaining. It was the best people watching I have ever enjoyed in my life. Was this Oktoberfest or Christmas? Could it possibly get any better? Then the band started to play “The Chicken Dance.” As I watched the table next to us of senior citizens flapping their arms in unison, my question was answered. Yes, Anna, there is a Santa Claus.

From time to time we’d look outside and see hundreds of twentysomethings still waiting in line, still trying to get inside that tent, and we’d feel bad for them. Well, not really. Mostly we would smugly mock them from our table, patting ourselves on the back for being smarter than everyone else and not following the rest of the pack. Poor kids. They were missing the real entertainment of the night.

Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

07
Oct

Ah, Chicago…

I could smell the Italian beef. I could taste the deep-dish pizza. I could hear those around me bemoaning how awful “da Bearsss” played on Sunday. I was home.

In Los Angeles.

Huh? That doesn’t make any sense. Am I lying? Not at the moment. Losing my mind? Perhaps one day. But no. Monday night I attended the 2nd Annual Chicago LA Link Event – thank you, Columbia College! – and received a small glimpse of what heaven must be like.

Truth be told, I wasn’t expecting much when I received the invite. I had never heard of this event and wasn’t sure who would show aside from my college friends. Also, given the circumstances of the day – RAIN! OMG! – I was certain the turnout would be small. It was like God testing the real Chicagoans to separate the wheat from the chaff. The strong from the weak. The awesome people from the lame.

I arrived within the first hour, and already the place was packed. A fabulous venue, about as big as you can get for a restaurant, yet it still couldn’t hold all the guests. People were spilling onto the street. I couldn’t believe it. And then it dawned on me. Free Chicago food. Portillo’s. Lou Malnati’s. Eli’s. All the major food groups were represented. People get fanatical when they hear the words “open bar,” but when compounded with authentic Chicago cuisine, then you have a true feeding frenzy on your hands.

My friends and I circled dutifully for the first hour or two, mingling among familiar faces and perfect strangers. When the occasional celebrity crossed our path, we’d exchange looks and ask, “Was that who I think it was?” But honestly, I was growing less and less enamored of my fellow Chicagoans as the night wore on. They were no longer my compadres. Rather, just one huge obstacle course between me and the food.

Given that I’m a vegetarian, it was heaven and hell for me that night. I don’t miss my meat-eating days, yet the hot dogs at Wrigley always mock me with their inviting aroma every time I visit The Friendly Confines. And of course this shindig flew in a Vienna Beef stand. I did not give in. Nor did I give in to a deliciously evil Portillo’s Italian beef sandwich.

Nevertheless I was sabotaged. Not only was this restaurant serving Chitown favorites, but also they had platters upon platters of sushi. I guess they were trying to class up the joint a bit. When I saw them, my revolve faded like the Cubs in September… I still have a huge soft spot for seafood. A soft spot right in my belly. And after three glasses of sangria, I would have sold my right kidney for a spicy tuna roll. Once I caved, it got ugly real fast. Nom nom nom… I couldn’t stop. But within a matter of minutes, the buzz began to wear off. I needed a bigger hit. That’s when I saw the crab leg platters. They never stood a chance.

I tried to quell my craving by downing a slice of Eli’s cheesecake, but it was like throwing a cup of water on the Great Chicago Fire. I needed the crab. I meandered nonchalantly toward the kitchen. I spied three trays  – two sushi and one crab – just sitting there. All alone. Just begging me to fulfill their destiny. I happily obliged and proceeded to vacuum them into my mouth. A few crab legs here, a piece or two of sushi there. But as I began round three on the crab, a server came up alongside me and swiped a sushi platter. A moment later, another server came for the second one.

Oops.

I guess I was supposed to wait until being offered the food and not just scarf it straight from the kitchen counter. But to the servers’ credit, neither of them said one word to me as they took away their demolished trays. What they were thinking is a whole ‘nother story. I didn’t care. I was still hungry. Then one of the chefs put out another tray of Eli’s cheesecake. Chocolate banana.

I’m definitely going to hell.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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