Monday, October 12, 2015

The Chicago Post

So here we are in has been almost 2 months and it is still taking some getting-used-to.  For the first month or so, it felt hard to open my heart to really enjoy myself.  I wasn't really thinking about where we came from (just sort of pretending to not care that I missed people and places--a forced numbness, I suppose...a defense mechanism, some would say) and not really allowing my heart to embrace the charm of the new place.  I would see something pretty, like the Prairie Path that extends for miles of beautiful walking/jogging/bike riding or the uniqueness of each house in a style totally different than Orange County housing tracts,but I would sort of dismiss them as No Big Deal.  I would be taking in the sights and sounds of different ethnic groups represented in the grocery store and trying new food items and start to get kind of excited, and then sort of shut off my heart and think about all the work we had to do on our ugly house that didn't feel like home.

The Prairie Path
Example of a cool house in Lombard, Il--definitely not our house (and, in my research for this blog post, I found out that this house was the model used for the mansion in the Little Orphan Annie comic strip)  (I also found out that the Unabomber is the most famous person born in Lombard, Il) 

Wheaton College...practically a castle!
But, I can say, that lately, I have begun to allow this place to grow on me.  I still get confused about where I am...thinking that I feel an earthquake or asking a student at Wheaton if he went to Biola (true story), and I still am trying to figure out the subtleties of how people relate and get to know each other (one person totally asked me if I was a psychologist because I guess I was asking too many get-to-know-you questions.  My bad, sorry).  I accidentally told my nice neighbor that he was my best friend here (joking about how I didn't know many people but he had helped us move some furniture and our kids had played a couple times) and then I didn't see him for weeks.  Oops.  But people are in general, friendly and easy to talk to.  Sometimes they even smile and wave, even though they don't know's nice, albeit confusing.  The kids' school is really nice and homey...not quite the same as the more high-pressure, competitive undercurrent of our last school (or So Cal in general), but really really nice.  

I think the change in me started to happen when we went downtown for my birthday and walked around for miles and miles (thanks for being good sports, kids!).  It truly is a beautiful city...and it smells like rich, wonderful, chocolate brownies sometimes when the wind is blowing right. True story...we were walking around and wondering when we were going to come upon a bakery, and then later learned (from friendly people on the street who were also following their noses) that there is a large chocolate factory in downtown. Awesome. A far cry from the lovely odor of Purina dog food that often wafts through Flagstaff, AZ.  Here are some photos from my birthday day.

This is the story of my life.  But I wanted to show you the inside of Gino's East, one of the famed deep-dish pizza locales that is recommended by everyone.  You can autograph the wall.

This is also the story of my life.  Moving on.

Who would have guessed that the views of buildings out the window while you eat would be so exciting? It's the charm of Chicago, I guess!

Thank you, Evan, for taking my picture.

Sorry, one more buildings shot, it is just so pretty!
 We found a park that had been recommended to is called Maggie Daley park and it is maybe the most awesome park we have been to. The kids and I had just watched "Hook" and I felt like we were in the Lost Boys hideaway.  I even went down the big crazy silver slide.  I guess in the winter, you can ice skate all around the curving pathways that surround the park.

The kids loved the park almost as much as I did :)

Long shadows time of favorite part of the day (except for coffee-drinking time).  The surreal moment when you are walking under the El, just like you always saw in the movies and wondered how it worked to have traffic and pedestrians using the space under the railway.
 The other ways that this place has begun to work its way into my heart is in the nature we have discovered...
Outdoor areas like this are called Forest Preserves here.  There are many of them all over the Western suburbs.  We are enjoying exploring them.

(Annie is not falling headfirst into the water, don't worry)

...and in the fact that we are beginning to have friends.  We found a really great church, and the pastor's kids go to our kids' school.  We even traveled up to Wisconsin yesterday for a church-related event and enjoyed getting to know some of the people more closely (though I didn't feel comfortable grabbing them for a selfie quite yet...I don't want to be seen as that pushy lady from CA in addition to asking too many questions :) )
Here is a list of recent Chicago discoveries and observations, if you please:

  • The Suburbs:  Each town in the suburbs is called a village.  You can only get a library card for your own village library.  Every village has a main street.  There is also something called a township that I am not sure about.  Oh, and we found a product in the store that said it was made in Chicago-ish, referring to one of the villages, so I was right on!
  • Traffic:  There are few cul-de-sacs in this place.  Every street is a through street, mostly, and even the bigger streets have houses with driveways right on them.  In So Cal, it seems that most neighborhoods are a little more protected from through traffic--with an official entrance and exit--and the bigger streets are lined with walls or shops.  Also, roads randomly become highways (and I am not totally sure of the terminology of highways/freeways/tollways here yet--I know people from the LA area are made fun of in other places for naming our freeways and calling them "The 5" "The 605" etc.).  Roads also become toll roads and I am always nervous that I won't have the right change.
  • Weather:  This is an important topic of conversation here.  Everyone, I kid you not--everyone who hears that we came from CA apologizes to us (see, Midwesterners are so polite).  I have only met a few people who admit that they like the winter.  Everyone else can't believe we would leave the place they dream of in February to come to the place of bitter cold winters.  We have been warned that the sun refuses to shine for weeks on end and how to gauge the level of coldness by how quickly our nose hairs freeze (true story, often referenced in conversation).  It is an interesting time for us, because the weather has been truly beautiful (while everyone has been suffering in extremely hot temps in CA) but I always feel like people are reminding me of the Big Bad Boogeyman Winter that is breathing down our necks on the heels of autumn. I kind of laugh inside thinking of how much our friends in So Cal liked to talk/complain/blame illnesses on the weather...especially when I read in the school handbook that student crossing guards would be relieved of their duties only if the temperatures got below ten degrees, but that the adult guards would still be at their posts.  Yikes!
  • Revolving Doors:  You have to become adept at using revolving doors here...keeping out the cold air is of utmost importance.  Yes, my children are the ones without any revolving-door-etiquette and are guilty of squishing each other and old ladies and trapping fellow passengers inside.  We're working on it, folks.
  • Shopping:  Oh, it was a sad day when I went to my first grocery store and saw the high prices for California strawberries and citrus fruits and the lackluster supply of salsa or tortillas.  But the frozen pizza aisle?  Oh my!  The frozen pizzas get their own whole aisle and there are so many brands I have never heard of!  Since my first few trips, I have discovered other stores that have better produce at lower prices.  And the apples here are delicious!  My favorite grocery store is called Caputo's and it is Italian (though it has products from all over the world at great prices).  It is a small chain, just in the Chicago area and has hot Italian food and deep dish pizza, homemade pasta for you to prepare at home, a full in-store bar, samples of fresh mozzarella and breads and wines and produce (and in the research for this blog post, I found out that they sell their famous pizza dough, too!  Score!).  The line at the huge deli uses a "take a number" system and the whole thing intimidates me but people are pretty serious about their deli meat here!  I make a goal of bringing something new home to try every time I go.  They even have lovely Italian music playing and a catchy Frank Sinatra-esque jingle that plays every once in a while--"Caputo's, Caputo's...I love this store!"  My sentiments exactly.  On the flip side, they have a super cheap store called Aldi here that keeps their prices down by having no fancy displays, making you bag your own groceries and put a quarter in the cart release that you get back when you return your cart to the rack.  
  • Food (actually mostly about Pizza): local pizza places here are like Mexican food in So Cal (let's not talk about Mexican food...I am too afraid to try it here).  Everyone has their favorite pizza.  There are little shops all over, all claiming to be "The Best Pizza in Chicagoland!"  Many of them are just named Connie's Pizza or Nancy's Pizza or Pizza by Irene, but I tend to lean more toward buying pizza at places with names like Giordano's or Lou Malnati's or Gino's...just sounds right.  So far, my favorite Chicago style pizza is...(drum roll)...Tony's pizza in Placentia (my hometown in CA).  My other favorite pizzas are: Fratelli's in Flagstaff and for carry-out, Porky's in Placentia as well.  Oh, and there was that time Jeremy and I each ate our own whole medium pizzas with a knife and fork at a random restaurant on the slopes while snowboarding in the Italian Alps.  That was pretty good pizza.  So, I have liked the pizza here okay, just haven't been wowed yet.  Alas, I must keep trying and tasting.  Some other foods I love here are Italian beef sandwiches and the Burger/Ice cream (or frozen custard) joints...they are my favorite!  And of course we've eaten at Portillo's and loved it!

We are working on table manners with Sam, I promise.  It's slow-going, but we're persevering.

  • Miscellaneous Observations:  There are noisy cicadas in the trees in September, lots of bees and hornets, busy busy busy squirrels hoarding food for winter (not like the squirrels in our yard in Fullerton that seemed like they had nothing to do except make mischief, living the charmed Southern CA squirrel life).  Some animal has taken up residence under our front porch, which was a mixed blessing because they chased out the hornets that had been living there which had terrorized us and the neighbor kid.  But, our new guests are not welcome, either, and I am wondering what will happen if they get cold and hungry in the middle of the winter and try to come inside. I might have to use my frying pan as a weapon again, like I did with another furry intruder years ago. There are lots of thunderstorms here--yet the lightning just flashes like a camera flash, instead of dramatically slicing through the sky and hitting the ground like in an Arizona monsoon.  And tornado drills--that's a new thing, too!  Oh, and the kids' school is two-story and they have lockers--even first grade Annie. The school is totally closed and locked--parents are rarely allowed inside and must be buzzed in after being seen on a video monitor.  It makes it a little hard to meet other parents, but I've gotten to know a few on the playground after school. I am not sure how we are going to handle all the winter gear issues when winter comes...especially our oldest child who is not so great at keeping track of his stuff or cleaning out his locker.  The kids don't play handball or tetherball here, but football during recess is the big thing.  We aren't Bears or Cubs or White Sox fans yet, which is probably not a good idea, but I'm sure we will after drinking the Kool Aid for a while (though it appears you definitely have to choose between Cubs and Sox--you can't like both).

  • The Lake:  We have now seen the lake (Lake Michigan) a few times and it is definitely big and blue and dotted with sailboats.  It almost looks like the ocean...but it just doesn't smell right. The kids aren't convinced that the beach is the beach even though it looks like a beach and is called The Beach.

It kind of reminds me of that old movie "The Truman Show" with Jim Carey where he doesn't know that he is the star of an elaborate reality tv show and his town and the ocean are just part of a closed set. In the final scene, he sails to the edge of the set and finds a giant blue wall with clouds painted on it.  That's just how I feel looking at the lake--because it does look so much like the ocean but something in my brain knows it's not.
The Truman Show

In this photo, Evan is playing catch with some new friends on our trip to Kenosha, Wisconsin.  In the background is a charming lighthouse and Lake Michigan.  Still somehow reminds me of the Truman show...but I was loving the lack of crowds and relaxing pace of the day.  Oh, and the day ended with a sampling of 4 different kinds of Racine Kringle, the official State Pastry of Wisconsin, of course.

Fall:  Fall is a big deal here, along with decorating houses for Halloween.  It's mostly fun except for a few over-the-top front yards with dismembered baby dolls and mannequins being killed in all sorts of fashions.

An observation not related to Chicago, per-say, but desperately important:  I need to work on my kids' "posing-for-pictures" skills, stat.

So I guess this is how things go.  Sights, smells, sounds, tastes, beginning to make a house a home, and the first few glimpses of friendship do wonders to the heart in a new place.  In the process, my heart has begun to remember the places we have left, which can be met with intense sadness and longing, but it is good to be blessed with so many places and people to love.  We were sharing our process of feeling more settled and happy with our pastor/friend, and he said, "Well, we are really glad you are here.  It feels like such a good fit to have you with us, and it is an honor to be on the receiving end of your journey.  It's like we missed you, even though we didn't know you yet."