Chicago Life and Style.

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Month: December, 2011

Winter Solstice…let the celebrations begin!

Happy Solstice!  No matter what your particular religious affiliation may be, the solstice is a wonderful pagan celebration that everyone should honor.  The big holidays have so much hype we all run around getting thing done, preparing, buying gifts etc. etc. and sometimes forget to actually relax.  Well, this is the perfect occasion.  The winter solstice is the longest night of the year, conversely, the shortest day. Which means, people, that even though we haven’t gotten winter weather yet, the days start getting longer from here out! I find that very comforting when our fair city is covered in ice and snow– we are getting lighter every day.

Here are some pared down celebrations that everyone can do at home without much preparation and without a lot of time.  One of my favorite traditions involves the burning of holly to say farewell to the past year with appreciation and releasing old pains.  Then, each person burns an acorn to represent the year ahead and the hopes we have for it.  Now, I don’t happen to keep holly and acorns around my house SO, I print out coloring pages and my daughter and I color them together and talk about the solstice while we color. Then we burn our “representative” holly sprigs and acorns.

We also do a candle light circle.  Each family member get a candle and there is a central candle as well to represent the sun, we start in the dark and I read one of my favorite prayers and then light each individual candle and together the center.

The longest night has come once more,
the sun has set, and darkness fallen.
The trees are bare, the earth asleep,
and the skies are cold and black.
Yet tonight we rejoice, in this longest night,
embracing the darkness that enfolds us.
We welcome the night and all that it holds,
as the light of the stars shines down.

When we light our fire that will eventually consume our acorns and holly, we each take a moment to talk about something we like about winter. Snowflakes, cozy fires, hot chocolate, making snow angels etc. Here I read my two other solstice prayer choices:

Great sun, wheel of fire, Ra in your glory,
hear me as I honor you
on this, the shortest day of the year.
Summer has gone, passed us by,
the fields are dead and cold,
all of earth sleeps in your absence.
Even in the darkest times,
you light the way for those who would need a beacon,
of hope, of brightness,
shining in the night.
Winter is here, and colder days coming,
the fields are bare and the livestock thin.
We light these candles in your honor,
that you might gather your strength
and bring life back to the world.
O Ra, mighty sun above us,
we ask you to return, to bring back to us
the light and the warmth of your fire.
Bring life back to earth,
Bring light back to earth.
Hail Ra! Ruler of the sun!

 And I always like to end with a more general blessing:

I am grateful for that which I have.
I am not sorrowful for that which I do not.
I have more than others, less than some,
but regardless, I am blessed with
what is mine.

Happy Solstice, I hope you take a moment to embrace and enjoy the wonders of our natural world today and tonight.


Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance

In this housing market more and more people are opting to rent—that includes people choosing to rent instead of buy and owners who are choosing to rent their homes instead of sell them during this tough time.  That makes for a lot of first time landlords.  If everything goes well and the tenants love the place and the landlord is responsive, no further information is needed.

Unfortunately, as with all things in life, the best case scenario is not always what actually transpires. Luckily there is an ordinance in place that governs the landlord-tenant relationship.  It is heavily geared toward protecting tenants and puts a lot of responsibility on landlords. The consequences of not following the ordinance can be significant and it is critically important that all landlords understand their rights and responsibilities—they start at the time you take a deposit and continue for the term of the lease.

As of January 1, 2012, there are a couple more requirements that have been put in place which include additional disclosures and a requirement that a landlord change the entry locks for EVERY new tenant.  Whether you are a renter or a landlord, you want to make sure that you have a good grasp of the ordinance, what is required and the remedies if one party or the other does not perform.

It is a common misconception that renting a home is much easier that buying one. Certainly there is less paperwork involved but much of the same due diligence should be exercised.  Choosing qualified representation is a critical step in becoming a landlord or choosing the right home to rent.

Copies of the Landlord Tenant Ordinance and Security Deposit Summary, as well as all disclosure forms can be found in various places all over the internet.  Unfortunately, like many lease forms out there, they are outdated or illegible.  The ordinance takes precedence so just because you write something into a lease, doesn’t necessarily make it enforceable.  Contact me for the most current information and to talk about how the ordinance may affect you.

Unique Gift Ideas

When I was a kid my mom did a great job of making sure there were lots and lots of packages under our tree-despite not spending a ton of money.  Once of my favorite toys of all times was remote controlled cars. So, the car was one package, and the batteries were wrapped separately—oh the anticipation when you opened a big pack of batteries and knew there was something coming that required them!!  Because we didn’t eat sugar cereal in our house, my sister and I each got a box of our favorite sugar cereal wrapped up—always a huge favorite and one that kept on giving as we always spent the next morning in bed eating our Christmas cereal.

This year (and last) most of us intend to tighten santa’s belt and get creative. Here are some ideas, some are free/inexpensive and some are more extravagant but still honor the holiday spirit and the fact that most of us adults in the city don’t want or have room for more “stuff”.

Consumables: always a nice option that doesn’t take up space!

Give the gift of flowers-not just a boring bouquet, give your loved ones a flower/plant subscription.  You’ll get credit when you tell them its coming and every time they receive a new arrangement.  Plow and Hearth allows you to choose 3/6/12 month subscriptions and be flexible with what you want to send.  Prices range from $100-$370.

Fruit of the Month—not just for businesses!!  If you’ve never been the recipient of these awesome gifts, you should try it.  I, um, I mean Santa, buys it for me and my daughter every year.  I never have to worry about running out of fresh fruit to send with school lunches or for snacks and the quality really it exceptional. Again, you can customize how much you want and the duration as well as what fruits you prefer.  Harry and David is my favorite for this.

Every gets stressed over the holidays, one nice way to give a gift and a break is to send a gourmet treat to friends/family members.  I did this for my sister and bro-in law one year and it was a HUGE hit. I sent them a brunch basket with bagels and lox and all the trimmings as well as an international cheese tray.  Not only did they not have to prepare breakfast one day, they invited friends by and put out the cheese tray .  It provides a chance to entertain and share your home with friends without having to worry about what to serve OR, to stay in bed and skip preparing a meal entirely!  Dean & Deluca, although expensive, is the absolute best at this sort of thing. They also have very unique specialty food gifts—I recommend the artisan salts.

Keeping the spirit of the season.

Instead of “stuff” or even fancy food/flowers, this gift is a great one for families, especially with children.  You can choose and purchase a farm animal for an impoverished family to supply protein, milk, and income, chickens, goats etc. If you aren’t interested in the animal type of gifts, you can sponsor the digging and stocking of a fish pond, and fishing lessons. You can help plant trees, provide seeds, provide education so that people all over the world can become self sufficient and enjoy a fraction of the bounty we enjoy every day. The best charity for this that I found is World Vision.

For this and all charitable gifts, please make sure that you know who you are giving your money to and check them out on Charity Navigator.  This site review the financials and efforts of charitable organizations and rates them so you know how efficient their fundraising is as well as how much of your donations actually make it to the end source.

Near and dear to me heart, the Garfield Park Conservatory is still in need of your support to re-build this historic institution that was near destroyed by hail this summer.  A local artist has created beautiful decorative bowls from the shards of glass that rained down from the ceilings. It’s a beautiful handmade, one of a kind sculptural creation, a piece of Chicago’s history and it supports a wonderful cause. What more could you want? On sale in the gift shop of the conservatory at $100, it’s the perfect excuse to come check out the holiday display and enjoy the greenery.

Purely for fun.

This is THE coolest thing.  A real flying fish and shark.  Remote controlled, no wires, they actually fly around your house.  For under $50 I think this is an awesome gift that everyone will get a kick out of. Check out the video to see them in action.

For the teckie, I’m sure everyone knows that all the cool accessories, covers, speakers, keyboards etc. are to be had at Brookstone.

For more traditional, put in a box and wrap it gifts, check out Signals. They have some very unique gifts, something for everyone of all ages that you won’t find in your average store.

And last but not least, give the gift of time together.  Another favorite gift of my family is homemade coupons—coupons for things like taking your turn to walk the dog or do the dishes, or babysit. Or, take a half day off and go to lunch together. It’s better than just saying, “oh, we’ve should do that”. It’s both a promise and an excuse to stop all the other distractions and focus on what you’ve committed to doing together.  The expensive version of the homemade coupon are tickets to events together. The Nutcracker is a holiday favorite of course but you can get creative too.  Fleurotica, the fashion show where all the fashions are made from plants and flowers comes up in March. You can buy tickets now and give them with a bouquet for a gift now and later.

My tree!

My first wrapped gift of the season--I love wrapping gifts as much as giving them!!