Juicy Olive

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

The Sun Sets on a Star June 26, 2009

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Farewell.

Farewell.

Like all of you, I was stunned to hear that Michael Jackson died yesterday. It’s not that I have illusions of immortality for the King of Pop – or anyone else for that matter. It’s just that I felt so sure he’d be entertaining us for much longer. He’s been a musical presence for my entire life. This morning on The Today Show, Meridith Viera commented that she remembers dancing to Jackson Five records in her room when she was in junior high. I mean, think about it, for almost as long as he was alive, he was a source of entertainment and, sadly, a spectacle.

Like Meredith, I have my own Michael Jackson memories. I stayed up late at Becky Gordon’s house to watch the primetime premiere of Thriller. I had a silver glove. My sister and Christina Johnson had a multi-year romance with his albums. My elementary school music class performed We Are The World.

This man – no matter how kooky you think he is – has taken up permanent residence in the lexicon of our past. And yet I’m comforted that the passing of greatness does not mean his influence is gone. Two of the most important musical acts in my life are The Beatles and Bob Marley and the Wailers — both groups had essentially disbanded by the time I was born. But thanks to my father’s nonstop encouragement of their music on us, my brother, sister and I have those songs forever recorded in our heads and imprinted on our hearts. I have a feeling that Michael Jackson will have a lasting effect as well. Life comes full circle – so share your favorite Michael stories with others. Play your records for your kids. Do the moonwalk. Sustain a legacy.

Michael-Jackson-Thriller-23672

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Words to Love By June 25, 2009

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As many of you know, I’m a huge music fan. On my playlist at any given time is R&B, acoustic jazz, rockabilly, 60s Brit-pop and piano solos. I love a wide variety of songs, artists and groups. I just finished listening to a great Caribbean roots band – very tribal and upbeat. Before that, I was rocking out to a groovy Lollapalooza mix a friend of mine burned for me.

And while I’m always on the lookout for stellar new music, there are certain artists or songs I return to time and again. When I’m feeling nostalgic, The Beatles – White Album. When I’ve got a crush on someone “1963” by Rachel Yamagata. And when I’m feeling introspective – like today – I find myself putting “On the Radio” in my playlist. Regina Spektor, in my opinion, nails it when it comes to the cycle of putting yourself out there to be loved:

 This is how it works
You’re young until you’re not
You love until you don’t
You try until you can’t

You laugh until you cry
You cry until you laugh
And everyone must breathe
Until their dying breath

No, this is how it works
You peer inside yourself
You take the things you like
And try to love the things you took

And then you take that love you made
And stick it into some
Someone else’s heart
Pumping someone else’s blood

And walking arm in arm
You hope it don’t get harmed
But even if it does
You’ll just do it all again

 Whenever the elements of being single in the city start to get under my skin, this song pulls me back to center. It reminds me that there is something important and exciting about meeting someone new and giving it the appropriate energy to explore the connection. And you hope you don’t get harmed – surely, but as Regina puts it, “even if it does you’ll just do it all again.”

And that’s okay. I’m okay with doing it all again and again and again. It’s exhausting. And it can be disappointing. But it can also be illuminating about the kinds of people you need and want on your team. It teaches you more about who you are than you ever imagined possible. And it defines for you the meaning of hope.

 

An Abusive Relationship June 19, 2009

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When Charlotte and Chicago first got together, everyone was envious. Chicago was big, dynamic, sparkly, sophisticated and appealed to all of Charlotte’s interests. She’d send emails to her friends about how awesome Chicago was and quietly felt sorry for them that they hadn’t realized the kind of relationship she had with Chicago. With Chicago, Charlotte tried new things, reached new heights and felt certain she had at last found a long-term relationship with a quality partner.

Hello, Lover...

Hello, Lover...

And for many months, Charlotte seemed content. But then she started to notice the subtle signs that something was off. She had gained a few pounds. She was scowling more often. She was always cold. The bottom of her pants were always dirty. She would sweat inside that damn puffy coat but shiver without it. She got dark circles under her eyes and her skin took on an unsavory gray pallor from being held captive inside her condo night after night.

Bruised and Battered...that's no kind of romance

Bruised and Battered...that's no kind of romance

Those who were friends with Chicago defended Charlotte’s relationship. Somehow they saw redeeming qualities: great social life, theater dates, easy transportation, variety, etc. But people who hadn’t met or barely knew Chicago wondered what Charlotte was doing with her life. She complained – a lot – about the lack of sunshine, the gray days and the seeming dearth of green pastures.

Yet again, months would pass and Charlotte would perk up. Her friends thought, “At last, Chicago has started to treat this lady the way she deserves.” She’d become active again. She felt comfortable leaving her home. Charlotte would  laugh more often and you could visibly see that she was less stressed. And this would remain…until November.

Over the years, people have reluctantly come to terms with Charlotte’s abusive relationship with Chicago. Time and again, winter after cold, dark winter, she gets beaten up, and yet she returns to Chicago’s open arms each May. The promise of flowers, al fresco dining and sex…I mean SUMMER…lure her back.

Happy days are here again

Happy days are here again

Some day – who knows when – Charlotte will probably leave the hot-and-cold, back-and-forth life she’s created in Chicago for a more consistent and mild lifestyle. But for now, cut the girl some slack. It’s June. The running trails are open. The sidewalk cafes are packed. The music from the street fairs is rockin’. It’s clear she’s in love. Let her be – for now. But don’t go too far. She’ll be needing a shoulder to cry on come January.

So, let's get this straight, I'll be seeing this tough guy again in only six months?

So, let's get this straight, I'll be seeing this tough guy again in only six months?

 

X’s and O’s to PDX June 17, 2009

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A few weeks ago I visited Stephanie in Portland, Oregon. It had been years since I was there. Boy, can that city impress. The weather was remarkable, the beer was delicious and the scenery was breathtaking.

Since returning, I’ve reflected frequently on that visit, and I can honestly say I really love Portland. The people there really have the right idea about how to live. For the most part, everyone I met had great jobs and professional ambition. But unlike other cities, it truly seemed that people’s careers were important, but not center stage. Instead, Lifestyle (with a capital “L”) was the star. Everyone was focused on fitness. Around each corner of The Pearl neighborhood was a health food store or a fitness retailer. People got up early on the weekends so they could take a hike – a real one…on a mountain. Instead of racing from one party to the next, everyone seemed very content with hanging out on someone’s porch the whole afternoon or having a quiet dinner and calling it quits for the night.

Sometimes living in a big city does me in. The pace, the people, the frenzy…they can overwhelm and underfulfill. Now, even a few short weeks after my return from Portland, I’m struggling to figure out how to retain the Oregonian mindset here in hectic Chicago. How can I find a slice of the simple life? Where can I find gorgeous outdoor scenery that isn’t packed with people?

I suppose until I find those little nooks in the city, I’ll recall my fun weekend in Portland. For anyone considering a visit there sometime soon, let me know. I’ve got a wealth of recommendations for you. Whether it’s the delicious beer in the Brewery Blocks, the hidden gem Italian food at a neighborhood trattoria, a hike through Multnomah Falls, wine tasting in the Willamette Valley, watching the windsurfers in Hood River or trying on the darling hats at Bonnet – there’s something for everyone in such a beautiful city.

A gorgeous setting at Multnomah Falls

A gorgeous setting at Multnomah Falls

 

Words To Rely On June 11, 2009

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I recently read that “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.” True, this sounds like something that should be featured on an inspirational poster in Dunder Mifflin’s breakroom, or perhaps inside a card whose front image features a color-tinted vintage photo of a little kid dressed up like an adult. But after you get past the trite tone, I do have to admit that this quotation has stuck with me.

 Frequently, I get stuck in the mindset of feeling like I need to get past A before I can work on B. For example, a few years ago I was dating this guy who was a total turkey. Nice guy, but didn’t have his act in gear in the slightest. I knew I needed to end it with him. But I also knew that it would be stressful, a tad dramatic and (even though I was ready to call it quits) sad to endure a break-up. Simultaneously, I was hunting for a new job. Talk about intense – the secrecy, the anticipation, the hopes, the rejection, the fantasizing, the waiting – all of it made me want to pull my hair out. I kept saying to myself, “I’ll break up with him as soon as I get past this job hunt.” For some reason in my mind I felt like I needed to tackle one obstacle at a time in order to deal with the stress-storm life had handed me.

Eventually it dawned on me that while I was slightly at the mercy of others for the job hunt, the only obstacle from finding resolution with the boyfriend was me. So I tackled the issue head-on and broke up with him in the midst of a highly stressful time for me professionally. Was it fun to have my small shit storm turn into a hurricane? (bad visual…sorry) No. But I knew I had to address it. And so I did. And I was fine. In fact, I was more than fine. I found myself more confident for having rid myself of an unproductive relationship; it gave me the faith I needed in myself to keep looking for the right job. And you know what? I got a great job. Even better, the guy ended up marrying his hairstylist who was “way more fun than [me] because she stayed out really late and liked to party.” I’m pretty sure my ability to persevere through the stressful times helped produce a win-win for me

I think at complicated times in life, we need to remember not only that we can’t just wait for the storm to pass, but most of us already know how to dance in the rain. Figure out how to two-step your way through a problem and maybe even enjoy yourself while you’re at it.

Ahh, the exact way to inspire me through my tough times. How about you?

Ahh, the exact way to inspire me through my tough times. How about you?

If all else fails, try your hardest to laugh your way through the storm. Check out the funny posters at Despair for a pick-me-up!

 

Brunchola, Bruncharoo, Le Brunch, Brunchito June 10, 2009

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Seriously, what other way would you want to start your day on a weekend?

Seriously, what other way would you want to start your day on a weekend?

I’ve been living in Chicago for more than five years. I can’t believe how much time has passed and how quickly it has flown. There is much that I miss about my old stomping grounds. In Colorado, I skied like a maniac, had a killer vegetable garden and played golf whenever I pleased. Before that, in Nashville, I listened to live music, walked “the loop” around Vanderbilt’s campus and mastered the art of margarita consumption. But here in Chicago, we’ve got the Cubs, the lake and – of course – the food. Ask someone what their favorite restaurant is, and you may never get the same answer twice. That’s because this city is a breeding ground for creative, innovative chefs to practice and perfect their arts. Whether it’s taking a simple hot dog to new heights at Hot Doug’s, making a mockery of all the other sushi in the world at Kaze or surprising us with the simplicity of fresh, local ingredients at Uncommon Ground, Chicago’s dining scene has something for everyone.

 Without fail, I get to tempt my tastebuds every week at brunch – the official weekend meal of true Chicagoans. By mid-week, my friends and I are already discussing weekend plans, who’s free for brunch and, of course, where we’ll go. There truly seems to be a brunch spot for every situation. Consider the following:

  •  Ladies Who Brunch – for my birthday last year I eschewed the idea of a meet-up at a bar in favor of a fun girly brunch with my gals. A perfect setting for this gathering was Jane’s. It’s a convenient location and has wonderful food.
  • Big Spenders (aka “Mom and Dad are in town…let’s go to brunch!”) – there’s something quintessentially Chicago about the Ralph Lauren restaurant on Michigan Avenue. With the high-backed leather chairs and beautiful service, you can’t help but feel like fashionable, urban royalty while eating their steak tartare followed by crab cake benedict.
  • Hangovers – this is an obvious one. You go out on a Saturday night and tie one on. The only thing that can cure what ails you on Sunday morning is a stiff breakfast cocktail and grease. Definitely go to Stanley’s. This place has a serious buffet that includes macaroni and cheese, an omelet station, lox with bagels and – my favorite treat – the waffle boats with fruit and whipped cream. The bloody mary bar is also a winner.
  • Kid AND Adult-Friendly – Recently, my friends and I have been hitting Wilde when their kiddos are in tow. It’s big and noisy (thanks to the crowds and the excellent tunes the DJ spins) but features very good pub fare. I’m a major fan of the fried egg sandwich with grilled tomatoes, caramelized onions, thick-cut bacon and sharp white cheddar.
  • Sports Watching – Any other day of the year, you wouldn’t catch me at Duffy’s in Lincoln Park. But when a non-stop set of football games are on, this place is excellent. The brunch buffet has a little something for everyone, and the umpteen flavors of mimosas keep me entertained almost as much as the games.
  • Cuddly Morning with your Sweetie – When l’amour is in the air, the surroundings should simply nurture your inner love-bug. Think about hitting Big Jones in Andersonville or Hot Chocolate in Bucktown. Someplace where you won’t have to wait, and you’ll be encouraged to linger at your table long after the French press coffee is finished.
  • Healthy Habits – It sounds abhorrent to go for the low-cal, no-fat, all-healthy approach on a weekend morning, but on the off chance I’m seeking a dose of goodness, I head to the Chicago Diner in Boystown or Lola in West Town.

 Of course, one of the best ways to spend time with friends over our favorite combo meal is to host your own. That’s exactly what Tiz and Mike did for Tiz’s recent birthday celebration. Everyone brought a dish (still dreaming about Lindsay’s breakfast casserole!) and we all plopped down for food, drinks and relaxing conversation in the comforts of a friend’s home. When in doubt about where to break your fast, open your pantry doors, bust out the speed-dial invite list, tune up some good music and prepare for a great time!

Breakfast of Champions - brunch with friends to celebrate Tiz!

Breakfast of Champions - brunch with friends to celebrate Tiz!

A special BrunchCake to fete Tiz on her birthday!

A special BrunchCake to fete Tiz on her birthday!

 

Wreckathalon review June 2, 2009

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Just a normal saturday for Charlotte and Tommy

Just a normal saturday for Charlotte and Tommy

As many of you know, I participated in a bar crawl this weekend. While it was actually to raise money for charity, I’d say that the primary benefit for me is it was a hell of a lot of fun. What a kick in the pants. If y’all haven’t done so recently, might I suggest the following:

  • Gather a group of people – many of whom know each other and the rest who are loosely connected to the group
  • Invite them to spend the afternoon with you
  • Insist they wear “comfortable, creative costumes”
  • Hype it up for weeks in advance so even the most uninformed attendees get very excited
  • Heckle people about what costume they’ll wear so they feel pressured to come up with a good one
  • Suggest everyone hydrate that morning – lots
  • Begin the festivities mid-afternoon with a mandatory beer chugging contest (this is especially classy for the ladylike teammembers.)
  • Have everyone draw straws for team assignments – the goal is everyone knows a couple of people on each team – but not everyone
  • Set a four-hour time limit for each team to hit as many bars as possible.
  • At each bar, to get a point the team must complete a dare (i.e. create a human sculpture of mrs. o’leary, her cow and the chicago fire) AND consume a drink order (i.e. a fishbowl of “beach juice”)
  • Require everyone to eat something somewhere
  • Act like a total idiot throughout the day
  • Extra points given for kicklines, impromptu serenades to a bar, doing the Truffle Shuffle and having your picture taken with any mustachioed gent (or lass?) you see walking down the street
  • take lots of pictures – especially if a certain team member begins doing the tongue tango with a disturbed beggar-girl at a dive bar (anonymity is essential in this case)
My Wreckathalon Team - a great group of winners.

My Wreckathalon Team - a great group of winners.

So, you get the idea. Create an opportunity for you and your friends to get together, make new friends, act silly, have fun and enjoy the spring sunshine.

More photos of the Wreckathalon are forthcoming. Admit it – you can’t wait to see additional damage of the day!