Chicago Life and Style.

Your Home. Your Life. Your Style

Month: January, 2011

Take the family to a movie–without spending a fortune!!!


I love champagne. In fact, it’s my favorite cocktail of all time. I should have been one of those black and white movie stars that lounged around an drank champagne all day. But I digress.  Since I am not a movie star but rather a self employed single mom, I have to look  harder for opportunities to indulge myself. Luckily I have a few friends that like the bubbly as much as I do and between us we usually conspire to get our fix.

I feel I must list my favorites now.  For everyday (ha!) inexpensive bubbles I like Roederer Estate. Do not confuse this with Louis Roederer who makes several champagnes including the (in)famous Cristal. My friend and I recently went to a tasting of all the various bubbles made by Louis Roederer (including the $250/bottle Cristal) and neither one of us walked away impressed.  Personal taste of course.  For my slightly fancier special occasions, I prefer Perrier Jouet. I love all their vintages really.  Finally, my secret super special bubble is the little known Billecart-Salmon Rose.  I am not normally a fan of Rose, preferring always a drier Brut but this is really special.  I had it the first time at my beloved Ambria, the former jewel restaurant in the Belden-Stratford hotel.  Ambria also had the BEST chocolate souffle, I was devastated when it closed many years ago now.

Where to get these bubbles while out you ask? Well, I can only tell you about MY favorite places to get them, and so I shall.  The Bar in the lobby of the Peninsula has splits of Perrier Jouet and is also my favorite bar for everything else.  It used to be even more awesome because they had a great humidor and would provide a cedar stick to light your stogie.  HUB 51 has very reasonably priced and tasty food and dangerously well priced bottles of Perrier Jouet.  I’m not sure Ive ever left with only one bottle on the bill!! I have not run across anywhere that serves Roederer and since Ambria has gone the way of the dinosaur, I have only found Billecart Salmon at the most discerning wine stores. Sigh.

The good news is that I just discovered an ongoing bubbles tasting event!!  Bistro 110 is hosting a tasting the last Thursday of January, February and March!  I’ve always liked Bistro 110 for its awesome location off Michigan Ave, yummy mussels and crusty french bread. Bubbles on top of all that just puts it over the top!  If I can manage it into my schedule, I’ll be there the last Thursday of every month until April–say hi if you see me!


Chicago Too Cold? Pshaw!

I woke up this morning and as soon as I looked out at the bright sun shining on the white fluffy landscape the Mister Rogers song popped into my head. You know the one, “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood, a wonderful day in the neighborhood, won’t you be mine, won’t you be mine, won’t you be…my neighbor?”  Well, yes, Chicago, yes I will.  I didn’t come to Chicago directly from my home town but rather a circuitous route around the country.

After leaving Shaker Heights, I moved to Dover, DE. Then on the Wichita Falls, TX (right next to the middle of nowhere) and San Antonio, TX and then back to Shaker for a time and one more stop after that.  I was living in Shaker and life was just fine but the relentless gray skies were really starting to wear me down so I decided, “what the heck, I’ve done it before, I’ll just pick up and move!”  And so, in my usual style, I researched the heck out of the best place to live.

Usually, deciding where to live is a highly emotional, personal decision. Often based on factors like location of family, job relocation school friends or allegiances etc. But, as with many major decision in my life, I do things a little differently. I made a list of what was important to me–it went something like this: sun, warmth, smart people, good economy etc etc.  Pretty much in that order.  The most wonderful website around is Sperling’s Best Places. You can get economic data, employment details, demographics, teacher/student ratio and very detailed weather info.  In addition, Money magazine had at the time just come out with an article about the best places to live in the country.  I checked other sources as well and all the data distilled down to one overwhelming winner: Raleigh, NC. This post isn’t about Raleigh so I wont go into any details about my time there.  Suffice it to say that Raleigh and I did make not good neighbors.  The weather and the sun were more thanI could have dreamed of and yet, I was miserable anyway.  Clearly it was time to reevaluate my list.

Here’s what my new list looked like: above the Mason Dixon Line, BIG city (must have buildings over 10 stories), sunnier than Cleveland, smart and diverse people, good economy etc etc.  Well, my mother and sister were still in Cleveland and I preferred somewhere in driving distance because I bring my dogs with when I visit. So, that left me with Chicago and New York. I spent quite a bit of time in New York as a child/teen because my father lived there and it just seemed like too much work to live there.  My mother grew up in Chicago, still had family here, loved it, and my sister went to college here and lived here after she graduated and also loved it.  It seemed a natural choice. So, once again, I packed up and without a job to come to, I made the move.

It was my first time in a big city and I decided I wanted to live in a highrise with a doorman so I had that extra layer of security. Of course I had NO idea what the different neighborhoods were or where anything was. I got lucky.  I lived at Park Place at Irving Park at the lake on the 41st floor with a view of the lake. It was an AWESOME place for entertaining. The wide open floorplan, the views, talk about wow factor when you walked in. But. I had a dog and 900+ units all using two elevators to take all the dogs out, do the laundry, move, take garbage out etc was not a recipe for peaceful living.  I decided to move on and ended up–again by accident–in Ukranian Village, and I’ve been here ever since. I moved into a new house when I got pregnant but stayed in the neighborhood. I’ve opted for as closed a floorplan as possible because I get bored living in what is essentially one big room. The openness is wonderful for entertaining but I don’t like it for the day to day.  Finding the right space depends on how you plan to use it–thinking about the practicality of a space for your life is critical in making a good choice.

So, what about the fact that it has been under 10 degrees every time I’ve walked the dog for the last several days? What about the fact that this morning, the beautiful fluflly snow served to cover up the patches of black ice and make my walk about as treacherous as possible? Or that I actually did fall on the ice earlier this week? Pshaw! That’s what I have to say about it. I LOVE Chicago!  And I almost never complain about the weather ’cause I’ve had the best weather ever and it didn’t make me happy.  Yesterday, when it was about 13 degrees, I took my dog for  a playdate and we spent about 2 hours outside running around Warren Park on the far north side with another mastiff buddy.

Rocky and Bella at the park

After our playdate, I dropped my son (dog) off and picked up my daughter for a trip to the ice rink. Was I cold? Nope.  I had on long underwear and fleece pants and a sweater and a parka that keeps me warm in sub zero temperatures and boots that do the same. I was totally comfortable and loving spending time outside in the sunshine with my kiddos.  Today I am preparing to watch the Bears game and we will likely find some time to head out and make snow angels.  I LOVE Chicago, I love it in the winter just as much as in the summer.  You can dress up or down to the weather but there is nothing you can do about the people that live around you. Or the skyline you see driving into town. Or the choice of activities in your neighborhoods.  For all these reasons, I LOVE Chicago and I don’t care one fig about how cold it is outside! And, I have a fireplace too so I can stay cozy and toasty warm at home in a house I love in the city I adore.

Now, Go BEARS!!!!

Diversity– in Chicago and beyond

I grew up in a nice suburb of Cleveland, went to public school there for a time and then to a Catholic school and on to a Jesuit college.  If I don’t say anything else you probably have a picture of what/who I am, what I believe and generally what my life experience has been.  But, the rest of the story is that the nice suburb was Shaker Heights, we had a local rabbi come and host Seder dinner in the lunchroom at my Catholic school, my father is Jewish, my mother Catholic and two of the most progressive teachers I ever had were the nuns who taught two of my religion courses in college.  If you aren’t familiar with Shaker Heights you might not realize how dramatically that changes the picture.

Shaker Heights has long been held as an example around the country as a model of integration and diversity. Shaker began, as many affluent neighborhoods do, as a planned exclusionary suburb, deliberately meant to keep out minority religious, ethnic and racial groups.  By the time I came along, a dramatic shift had taken place and Shaker had for decades been practicing what they term pro-integration. It began in the late 1950 with the formation of a Community Association formed by the residents around a particular school that actively sought to attract and retain a balanced mix of residents.  Additional associations formed and their active involvement in the sale and marketing of their homes and the management and recruitment of the neighborhood schools created an amazing place to grow up. A friend of ours lives in Shaker and has a 7 year old. She was telling me a story about her son telling her about the girl he has a crush on.  Her son is white and the girl he had a crush on is Chinese but all he said was “Mom, I really like her, she is so pretty. And her eyes–they are just so–so fancy!”

My sister still lives in Shaker and I am amazed every single time I go back to visit.  It doesn’t matter if I’m pumping gas or at the grocery store or getting my requisite Peanut Buster Parfait from my favorite Dairy Queen–I am guaranteed to see a greater mix of people on one trip than I see most of the time in Chicago. It’s shocking really.  I remember when I still lived in Shaker and an African American friend of mine who grew up in a different suburb came to visit and we were at the grocery store together.  Keep in mind we were at the “nice” grocery store–similar to a Treasure Island here in Chicago.  He asked me if I was uncomfortable being in the minority.  I had no idea what he was talking about.  Apparently, there were more non-white people in the store than white.  The great gift of growing up in a place like Shaker is, I didn’t even notice. People are just people to me.

I know a little bit about more cultures and religions than most people who don’t study the subject for a living do. Im far from an expert on any of them, but I know they exist, and I know enough not to be scared of and to appreciate the differences among us.  I also got a tremendously rich and expansive exposure to some of the major faiths in our world in a very open and non-judgmental way.  It allowed me to make my personal choice and embrace my personal faith with all the positive feelings that should accompany such a choice.

My daughter happens to go to Catholic school here in Chicago. She’s in pre-school and the only reason she is in Catholic school was because it offered the best schedule and cost options for us at this time. When she is ready for Kindergarten, I’ll have to decide if we are going to make the change to public school.  I’ve wondered long and hard how I am going to give my daughter the same kind of diverse education and exposure to as many cultures, races and religions that I got.  I don’t necessarily have the answer.  What I do have is wonderful friends of all different races, faiths and cultures. I am grateful that my daughter has these wonderful people in her life and that they have embraced us even though we are different in many ways.  In our own small universe we are going to create the diversity that I grew up with on a community scale.

As we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr day, my dream for my daughter is to walk down a street (as I can do any day in Shaker) and see a white person, an observant Orthodox Jewish person walking on Saturday(because they aren’t supposed to operate machinery/work on the Sabbath), a Muslim, an Asian and an African American–and for her not to notice.