Juicy Olive

The quest for “the good life” should never be complete but it should definitely begin now.

33 and Grateful (and full!) September 2, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — juicyolive @ 6:39 pm
Tags: ,

Birthdays have never really been my thing. I mean, sure, I think, much like many women my age, I held on to the “Sixteen Candles” fantasy of finding my own Jake Ryan to sweep me into my next year…well into my 20s. But for the most part, my birthday has always been a private event. I’m not a huge attention hound. I’ve never needed a big shindig to make me feel important. In fact, the thought of a bunch of people singing in my honor sort of makes me sweat.

The birthday of my dreams as a young woman

The birthday of my dreams as a young woman

Monday was my birthday. I honestly cannot believe I’m officially in my mid-30s. This isn’t a statement about feeling old. Rather, it’s just that I’m shocked that time has passed so quickly. I know I sound like my Great Aunt Merle when I say that it feels like only yesterday that I was 15.

This year I celebrated with some of my favorite people:

On Friday, I went out with my friend and neighbor Tommy, his girlfriend Tracey and his sister (and a close friend) Annie. My new squeeze Alex joined us too. It was a fun night. We had a yummy dinner at a local pub, then raced to Urban Outfitters to buy long-sleeved shirts because it’s apparently already autumn in Chicago. Properly bundled, we walked to the Lincoln Park Zoo to catch Five for Fighting at an outdoor concert. It was such a pleasant evening. We plopped down on blankets, gerbiled up to stay warm and sipped a refreshing beer while listening to live tunes.

Saturday morning I arose early for a long run. Throughout the 9 miles, my thoughts were on one person: my dear friend Amy. The week before she had given birth to a beautiful, healthy boy. The day before she had endured an 8-hour surgery and double mastectomy to remove cancer from her breast and lymph nodes. Just as I was lacing my sneakers for the exhausting run, I got word from her husband that the surgery went well. Each time my feet pounded the pavement, I thought of Amy. If she could endure childbirth, the heartwrenching decision to have a double-mastectomy, the surgery itself and the anxiety of upcoming chemotherapy, then I could endure yet another mile.

My gal Amy - dressing the part to kick some Big C butt!

My gal Amy - dressing the part to kick some Big C butt!

Clean and rested from my exercise, I zipped down to Crust to meet Courtney. We are kindred spirits who met at a dinner party where everyone was required to bring someone who didn’t know everyone else. The person we knew in common has long since disolved in our social circle, but the bond between Courtney and I keeps getting stronger. Over an incredible salad, two pizzas and some wine, we caught up, laughed, gave advice and figured out the time when we’d meet next. I couldn’t have felt more lucky to have spent quality time with her – whenever we are together, I leave the encounter feeling stronger and more fulfilled!

peas and carrots - circa 2007

peas and carrots - circa 2007

With moments to spare, I raced back to my house, as my parents were about to arrive. They walked in the door, arms full of presents. We played with the dog and I opened the gifts — favorites include a new Boo’s Chopping Block and the add-on to your iPod so you can track your running and your music! I took Mom and Dad to The Violet Hour — at first I think my dad thought it was too “floofy” for his taste. But sitting at the bar, he developed a near-instant man-crush on the mixologist. Before you know it, we were all warm and fuzzy from concoctions like the Juliet & Romeo, a Tequila Old Fashioned and a Dark & Stormy. Following cocktail hour, we put our names on the long list at Avec. My brother joined us, and we shared a bottle of Bordeaux while we awaited our table. Two hours later, we were seated at last. The wait was worth it. Our palates were teased with dates stuffed with chorizo, wrapped in bacon and topped with pequillo pepper sauce; chicken thighs roasted with fennel and favas; a whole roasted dorade; house-made pappardelle with blood sausage ragu – the list goes on, and so we kept eating. Full and happy, we all retired that evening confident that the foodie thread running through the family DNA had been amply satisfied.

Look no further for incredible cocktails - The Violet Hour

Look no further for incredible cocktails - The Violet Hour

Sunday morning, I revived myself with a cup of coffee from Intelligentsia. Quickly thereafter, Carrie and I met and shimmied down to to the Gold Coast, where our other girlfriends had congregated. We were lucky enough to snag a table that day at Fred’s – the ultra chic 7th floor restaurant at Barney’s. I felt so privileged sitting at that table. There I was with five beautiful, talented, intelligent women – it’s staggering to know that in my life I have the pleasure of naming these ladies as my friends. Over eggs and strong coffee, I opened up to them about my new romance with Alex and felt so empowered by the enthusiasm they shared with me and for me. I talked with Robin about the upcoming birth of her second daughter and we all got to giggle as we rubbed her growing belly. We talked about work, travel, finances, family — much like the moment when you’re on a perfect date and you feel that the rest of the universe has grown quiet, it seemed that we were the axis around which our very happy worlds were spinning. How fortunate I am – how fortunate we all are – to have each other for celebrating life’s excitement.

I spent that afternoon with Alex and a couple of his friends at the Slow Food Chicago event at the Goose Island Brewery. Featuring several “green” chefs, the party was a pig roast with scrumptious takes on swine. We sipped delicious beer and noshed heartily. Afterward, Mark and Sandra invited us back to their loft. Very graciously, they opened their wine cellar to us, and we finished the night sipping gorgeous reds and an exquisite dessert wine.

I couldn’t believe it when the alarm rang on Monday morning. This was my big 33, and yet I had already been celebrating for 72 hours! That day at the office my colleagues wished me a happy birthday and friends from near and far called, sent emails and texted me with good tidings. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from Alex that he had been able to sneak out of work early so he could pick me up at the office. He greeted me with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and a CD compilation of love songs with a rock’n’roll twist (sigh). After taking Stella the Wonder Dog for a long walk, we changed into our fancies and hopped in a cab down to River North. At the restaurant Graham Elliott, we enjoyed the 10-course chef’s tasting menu, complete with unique wine, beer and spirit pairings. The two gluttons that we are, Alex and I couldn’t have been happier. We enjoyed escolar, halibut, scallops, corn bisque, duck, bison, fruit, chocolate…it was a lovely evening. Stuffed and buzzed, we headed home.

As the week has progressed, I’ve had further opportunity to celebrate. Last night my brother and I went to a Cubs game with some fellow Vanderbilt alumni. Tonight I’m meeting Allison and some other friends for a special Wandering Goat dinner from famous chef Stephanie Izard.

Eventually the volume on “Happy Birthday, dear Charlotte!”  will fade to mute. I’ll probably have a few extra pounds to work off from this week of indulgence. I certainly have some lovely gifts from loved ones. But the thing I find to be the most rewarding part of ringing in my 33rd year is the people whom I celebrated with. I am immensely grateful to have built a world for myself that features such remarkable, sharp, funny, talented people who sincerely care about me as much as I care about them. When I blew out the candles on my cake this year, I wished for my life to continue to be enriched with wonderful people and experiences. But, fortunately for me, much as Sam told Jake, there is really no need to make a wish – it already came true.

Thank you

Thank you


Family Fun – No Force Required August 21, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — juicyolive @ 6:07 pm

My sister and brother and I had dinner last night at Terzo Piano – the lovely restaurant attached to The Modern Wing of Chicago’s Art Institute. A prix fixe meal, each of us selected beautiful appetizers, entrees and desserts. David and I split a bottle of a crisp Gruner Veltliner, which paired perfectly with the food. The meal was delicious, the service entertaining yet refined and the ambiance was open and airy.

What made this meal in particular so remarkable, however, was not my heirloom tomato, watermelon and fresh feta salad or the plump mussels floating in a chili-spiked broth festooned with fennel and grilled corn. Nor was it our server, who seemed to have a witty yet quirky quip whenever visiting our table. In fact, even though we were able to see the celebrated chef Tony Mantuano from across the room, it wasn’t being in a room with greatness that took the night to platinum.

For the first time in longer than I can remember, my siblings and I sat down together – sans parents – and were able to catch up properly. We weren’t rushing from one family holiday party to the next. We weren’t laying around the den stuffed to the gills with chocolate sheet cake while watching Coming to America (a Walker family holiday tradition…don’t ask.) We weren’t cheering on the Razorbacks with a load of crazed Arkansans. It was just us – plain and simple. Telling stories, sharing updates, laughing, offering advice and catching up in the true sense of the words.

It’s rare Caroline, David and I are free at the same time and in the same city to orchestrate such a gathering, but I’m so glad we were able to do it last night. We had a splendid time – no morsel of food or work of art could match it.


Relationship Request – DENIED! August 19, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — juicyolive @ 4:20 pm
Tags: ,

The Claudias and I were talking the other day over a lovely bottle of vinho verde. As the summer sun warmed our faces, we swaped stories of life’s recent highlights. As these conversations go, travel, food, work and fun certainly rank among our favorite conversation topics. But without fail, we always return to that time-honored analysis of the opposite sex.This naturally leads to dating, which may forever confuse us all.  One woman had finally come to grips with the fact that he was NEVER going to leave his wife – ever. Another was mending a broken heart, as her sweetie had decided to relocate – and not take her with him. Still another, years after standing proudly in Singledom following a complicated divorce, had decided to enter the dating world again. For my part, I had decided to part ways with Paul after picking up far to many signals that he wasn’t that into me and finally realizing I wasn’t that into him either.

So there we were, slightly buzzed, cheeks pink from the sun, our voices rising as we lamented just how complicated the dating world had become. And much like a scene from a recent movie, when Drew Barrymore complains about how the technological aspects of romance were exhausting her, our conversation was saturated in perjorative mentions of Facebook, Twitter, texting and email.

How is it that this has become the de facto way to court and be courted? And yet, it’s true. Take, for example, non-committal Fred. He was terrified of being in a relationship because, for whatever reason, he wasn’t “ready” for one yet. Understandable and perfectly respectable. However, he had no problem to committing to sending perfectly inane emails day after day. Even when Claudia told him that, to her, an email did not a relationship make, she continued to receive messages from him. This would be fun and a nice way to get to know each other while still taking things slowly, except Fred’s emails consisted of things like, “just had an apple from the farmer’s market – wasn’t as good as I hoped,” or “the sun today is intense – lots of sunscreen for me.”

How is it that this pseudo relationship had boiled itself down to a series of status updates? And how is it that poor Fred thought that was actually a means of connecting? By the umpteenth useless email or text from Fred, Claudia had had it. She simply stopped responding, and Fred eventually got the picture. It wasn’t Claudia’s proudest moment, but how do you reach someone who has clearly no ability to connect on a personal level?

Is this what technology has brought us? Hope not.

It’s not all Fred’s fault, though. I heard from one Claudia that her main squeeze had become so into Twitter that when he broke up with her – OVER EMAIL – the entire Dear John letter was just shy of 140 characters! It barely made sense, but Claudia was clear that courtship was finished. Or what about Keith, who texted “miss u babe – talk later” to someone else while he was out with my friend? Stupidly, he sent it to my friend by accident. One friend has never actually talked to her boyfriend on the phone – they only text. How about the moron who invited a gal to be his Facebook friend; while he had neglected to tell her about his girlfriend the night before, she was able to learn he was “in a relationship” as soon as they e-connected. And while less-than-confident guys are hiding behind these tools as a way to still be in touch, ultra-paranoid girls have been known to cyber-stalk their suitors. They’ll figure out what bands a gentleman likes, where he’s been on vacation and try to determine if he’s dating others — all in a few keystrokes. Even worse, there are people who are perfectly comfortable conducting their relationship via these applications. How often have you read one person’s passive-aggressive G-chat status (“sigh”), only to later read his S.O.’s equally obtuse Facebook post (“where do broken hearts go?”) to realize there’s trouble in paradise?

e-date 2

Anyone who knows me understands that I’m a huge proponent of experimenting with all of the new, fun technical applications out there. But none of these tools can become a replacement to human interaction, especially when you’re trying to form an intimate bond with someone.  Abusing the information available to you is futile – you’re either going to connect with this person or not. But, like the Claudias and I were saying, you’ll never be able to test that chemistry if you’re getting status updates from Fred. We’re thrilled that he “likes gelato – yum” but really need to know if he likes us.


Report Card

Filed under: Uncategorized — juicyolive @ 3:28 pm

If there was a panel to assign grades to bloggers, that group of esteemed individuals would have given me an “F-minus.” When I started this blog, I had committed to posting to it twice a week – and up through late July I had honored that committment. Somehow recently, I’ve been derailed. And like the vacationer who can’t bring herself to diet in the real world after weeks of indulgence in paradise, getting back on this horse has been a mental hurdle for me.

The good news is, that while I’ve flunked this period of blogosphere 101, I’ve been getting good marks elsewhere:

  • Friends –  I’ve been doing a great job at finding balance in socializing with them (my favorite subject!) and finding time for myself.  Of course, within that balancing act, we had a fantastic weekend at the lake in Galena – too much food, too much wine, lots of sun, late-night Rumikub…what more could we ask for? Also, my friend Amy is going through a particularly rough patch with a recent breast cancer diagnosis (compounded by being 8 months pregnant!), and I’m proud for the support I’ve been able to offer her.
  • Family – I’ve actually been able to see my dear brother more frequently. I’m bowing to the medical school gods, who have finally released their death grip on his schedule to afford him at least a bit of spare time. My sister and I have been in touch a lot recently, and she’s even coming to visit today! We’re headed back to the Quad-Cities tonight for some QT with Mom, Dad and Granny.
  • Romance – I’ve made good decisions recently in the dating department. This has meant doing some spring cleaning to get rid of the dusty ol’ hangers-on, setting boundaries with those who are in the “just friends” department and opening the door to someone new. We’ll see what happens. As you know, it’s always an adventure with me.
  • Work – I’m busier at last! Enough said.

Sure, “excuses, excuses,” you’re probably thinking. And, you’re right. I’ve let the rest of life trump this journal for a while. But, I’m back and willing to work my way up the ladder again.

With this mea culpa complete, please allow me to get back to the Juicy Olive way…I’ve got a fabulous story to tell you! Check back in about an hour for the goods.


Bad Day / Good Day July 31, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — juicyolive @ 4:06 am

Last Christmas season, a commercial kept running on television with that ridiculous Daniel Powter song as the soundtrack. The lyrics go a little something like this:

Because you had a bad day
You’re taking one down
You sing a sad song just to turn it around
You say you don’t know
You tell me don’t lie
You work at a smile and you go for a ride
You had a bad day
The camera don’t lie
You’re coming back down and you really don’t mind
You had a bad day
You had a bad day

I mean, seriously, what on Earth is he trying to say? He had a bad day? Or did I? Or did you? And are you okay? Or are you still having a bad day? Whaaaat?

My sister and brother and I got the giggles every single time that commercial came on during Christmas break and couldn’t help wondering what made this THE song for the holiday season.

Recently, my sister Caroline sent me a text that read, “the had a bad day song just came on the radio…I may have just barely vomited.” Of course, I laughed.

I honestly can’t imagine ever giving the song much credit, but I’ll tell you something: when you have a bad day (cue the melody in the background), it does impact your life. And it doesn’t have to be that a cab drives through a puddle and splashes your white dress or your inkpen leaks all over your freshly pressed shirt. Recently, I’ve had some bad days that have honestly amounted to me not feeling very useful at work and feeling a little lost personally. A friend of mine recently died, I’ve had a moderately slow workload at the office, I’ve been toying with vacation destinations but can’t decide where to go, etc.

In fact, every day this week, I’ve been a little “off” at the moment I wake up until the moment I go to bed. But TODAY, things felt back on track. And you know what? It boiled down to me feeling more fulfilled at work and at home. I gave myself a million projects to do, and I actually completed them all. I signed up for another half marathon and set the training schedule for it. I brought my lunch to work for the fourth day in a row.

Honestly? I haven’t had a bad day recently, but I HAVE felt a little uninspired. But days like today, when I’m cranking out the goodness at work, focusing on a ship-shape household and identifying healthy opportunities for myself…these kinds of days make me able to weather the sluggish ones.

I’ll probably never get to a full understanding of “Bad Day” and its lyrics, but I’m hopeful that I can rebuild good days like today again soon. It feels good. I feel good!

If you’re in Bad-Day-Mode any time soon, I have two suggestions:

1) avoid that awful song (unless you’re truly able to get a good laugh out of it)

2) get focused and get busy – it’s a great recipe for good


Joyeux Quatorze Juillet! July 15, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — juicyolive @ 4:11 am
La Lavande - a sight seen (and smelled) everywhere in Provence

La Lavande - a sight seen (and smelled) everywhere in Provence

Today is Bastille Day – the celebration of the storming of the Bastille prison in France. Much like our Independence Day in the United States, it is a national party that allows the French to celebrate their history in great form. For someone like me, however, it brings such different meaning.

I love French

I love French

Come with me on a journey that we’ll call Mon Affaire Avec La France. When I was very young, my aunt Daina went away. I don’t think I even knew her at that time. I simply knew of her as this lovely lady we spoke fondly of and who lived in PARIS! She flew home to the States and directly to my home town to visit my little sister who had very recently entered this world, and I thought she was fantastique. Surely, much of what I felt was an adoration of a woman who was not my  mother (therefore, she was ultra cool), but there was something so exotic about where she had come from. And what I remembered most was that she had this ability to replace a word like “dog” with “chien” or “mother” with “mere.” This new vocabulary, this foreign place and her glorious Marilyn Monroe style hair made me instantly adore her, but it also made me begin a secret romance with France.

Over the years, I aimed to perfect ma mode francaise. A starting point was that I ate whatever my grandmother Walker put in front of me. She was a true gourmande, and her pantry was like going on a treasure hunt through Place Vendome. We would race to the couch where she was sitting (my siblings and I) and ask, “What’s this, Grandma?” “Those are white asparagus – marinated in truffles and salt,” she’d say. “Try them.” And we would. And they were scrumptious. My parents caught le bug francais – we’d eat pate and whenever we came into the city adored our opportunity to see the Impressionist exhibits at the Art Institute. I’ll never forget the way Seurat’s “Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” beckoned me to picnic on the shores of the Seine, while my sister told all of us the exact history of pointalism. (Sidebar: To this day, I’m convinced 60% of why she enjoyed that discussion was to say the word “pointalism” – try saying out loud…it’s fun.)

As I entered high school, I never hesitated when I selected the language of my choice – French it would be. Even though Madame Behensky was less than erudite, I learned things like “C’est une feuille de papier.,” (this is a sheet of paper!) and I was hooked. Teacher after teacher, class after class – I knew French was in my blood.

At college, I had a rude awakening. Talking about sheets of paper and how big the orange is wasn’t that tough. Discussing existential philosophic novels in a francophone african dialict was more than challenging. But I persevered. I fought my way through the essays, the quizzes and the exams – and before you knew it, I had arrived in Aix-en-Provence.

There, I spent a luxurious six months and adored every minute of it. The experience of living abroad is worth a separate post (or ten), but let me tell you this: when I think of my time in France, every single sense is aroused. I think of diesel exhaust mixed with fragrant cigarette smoke mixed with tumeric and sea air. I think of mythic winds that knock you on your ass when you turn the corner in the dark of a damp, Mediterranean evening. I think of haggling with vendors for the price of a tablecloth and then toasting friends for our victorious (and still overpriced) purchase over a Syrop Fraise. I think of couscous royale, bouillibase, moules frites, ice cream cones in the shape of a rose bud, overpriced whiskey and budweiser, underpriced wine.

Bouillabaise a la francaise - fresh from the sea and heavenly

Bouillabaise a la francaise - fresh from the sea and heavenly

Every Bastille Day, I of course am thankful for the French having the ability to cheer on their country. But I’m so very grateful for the experience that country has given me since I was about 3 years old.

There are people out there who are down on France. I get it. They go to Paris and Nice and feel they’ve experienced the country. That’s the equivalent of visiting Times Square and Hollywood Boulevard. If you are ever interested in learning more about the country and getting off the beaten path, please let me know. I’d happily give you tips about where you can visit to experience la vie francaise. It’ll be worth it. I guarantee you this time next year you’ll be craving a crepe, longing for watercolors, dreaming of the Alps and considering a long-term investment in an olive grove.

Vive la France!

Vive la France!


Getting Back on Track July 13, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — juicyolive @ 10:25 pm

As readers of my previous post know, my friends and I suffered a great loss recently with Laurel’s passing. It’s been a tough week and a half, and I spent some time wrapping my head and heart around this news. As a result, I put my writing on Juicy Olive on hold, as well as a lot of other things.

But today, I’m feeling like myself again. I got a great night’s sleep last night, perhaps supported by watching one of the most ridiculously boring movies ever moments before my head hit the pillow. (for anyone interested in an entertaining summer rental, I highly suggest you do NOT pick up “Knowing.” I won’t ruin it for you, but just trust me that this can go in the ever-growing pile of Nicolas Cage’s flops.) After a good night’s sleep,  I packed my lunch ths morning, and I actually remembered to bring it to work today! Tonight, I’ve got a five-mile run scheduled followed by a healthy dinner prepared by moi.

I’m hopeful that this energy and focus are signs that I’m leaving the fog and getting back into the real world again. It’s amazing how much stress can impact all that we do and how we see the world; giving myself time to feel that stress, deal with it and begin to pick up some of the pieces has been very helpful to me.

In determining what would help me get back on track, I thought a lot yesterday about what else brings me comfort. And I realized that writing in the Juicy Olive – to all of you anonymous readers – is quite therapeutic. So, thank you, all of you, for being the receptacle to read and (hopefully) understand these thoughts and ideas and theories and philosophies. The catharsis of opening myself to the world via Juicy Olive has been quite rewarding.

Here’s to keeping the quest for the good life alive and well.