Wicker Parking

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I remember an evening, after the movie Wicker Park premiered staring Josh Hartnett (remember him?), when a few friends and I tried to locate the Wicker Park neighborhood in Chicago. Remember the days before Google Maps and smart phones? I’m not sure where we were at the beginning of the night, but after searching unsuccessfully, during a bitter cold evening in January or February, we wound up eating ice cream at a Cold Stone creamery (which really doesn’t make sense!).

Last week, before Jordan left for a friend’s bachelor party weekend, we spent a free afternoon in the city – a pre-celebratory birthday date. I wasn’t exactly thrilled when I first found out Jordan would be out of town for our birthday, so I wanted this day to be memorable and to do something or go somewhere new. Jordan suggested that we find an interesting restaurant and choose the neighborhood accordingly. We decided on Birchwood Kitchen (more on that later), but before dinner we explored and shopped.

We love Wicker Park. It is full of small coffee shops, record and book stores. The clothing stores are a mix of low and high-end with a splash of vintage and now that the vintage has mirrored my childhood wardrobe, I’m feeling an instant connection. I found a few fun pieces of clothing that I’m excited to work into regular rotation and an LP of Sufjan Stevens Invites You To: Come On Feel the Illinoise at Reckless Records. That album (and live concert) has always been one of my favorites; I’m instantly teleported to the end of high school.

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Ok, Birchwood Kitchen was a major win! The menu is simple with salads, sandwiches, and burgers, but fresh and delicious ingredients. They also sell coffee, lattes, and homemade bakery items. The inside of the restaurant is more typical of a coffee shop (comfortable benches and plenty of tables to have a work meeting or a coffee date with a friend), but the patio outside is the ideal place to spend a summer night! It is literally nestled into the neighborhood (you could see neighbors in their backyards). As we paid our bill at the counter, I noticed all the fresh pastries and convinced Jordan to purchase some for dessert. Jordan chose a lemon bar and I picked out banana chocolate chip bread. They were delicious!

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I just love exploring this grand city. There is so much to see and discover.

Tinker Bell and Me

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“All the world is made of faith, and trust, and pixie dust.”
– J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan 

Growing up a baby of the ’80s, Disney movies were the only movies in our house for my brothers and I to watch. The second golden age of Disney animation was beginning and we had a VHS player! What more did we need? “Which is your favorite Disney film?” was a common question to ask your friends. Like any girl would, I enjoyed a good princess movie, but Peter Pan has always been my favorite.

I absolutely loved Tinker Bell. She was feisty and small, independent and yet she still needed Peter. As the youngest of two brothers, I often felt like Tink: desperately needing to be heard, striving for my own identity, but clinging to the comfort of older siblings. Other people must have seen the similarities as well, because Tinker Bell was one of my nicknames. I even dressed like her for two Halloweens in a row!

Life has been interesting lately. I try to live a balanced life and one that is full of perspective, but sometimes wallowing feels good. Impatient Tinker Bell had a tendency to wallow and pout if things didn’t go her way… though it usually just got her in trouble. And really, it gets me in trouble too.

A year can feel very overwhelming without structure. There are days when I miss the structure that being in school gave me. For years, I would go into a counselors office and walk out with a set plan and over the course of the semester I executed that plan. Now, I have no one to tell me which course to take. There are just endless possibilities. Jordan and I are working through the possibilities and I’m trying to not wallow when something doesn’t pan out like I had hoped. It’s kinda exciting, but I wish I could sprinkle some of Tinker Bell’s pixie dust to make everything just right. Though, really, I just need to pray and surrender. I believe God always has a bigger and better plan.

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^These photos were taken in and around Kensington Garden and Regent’s Street. The Peter Pan statue is in Kensington Garden.

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Chicago on Two Wheels

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Jordan and I are amidst a love affair, a love affair with Chicago. When I was younger, Chicago used to feel really overwhelming to me. Over time, through day trips with friends in high school, music festivals/concerts in college, and date nights with Jordan in the beginning of our relationship, the city became smaller, intimate and more manageable. Working in Chicago for two years had a huge impact on me in discovering that manageability. Driving in Chicago traffic was either going to break my fear or leave me running for the hills. I crushed my fear (except for parallel parking, that still alludes me) and became comfortable. I even could answer questions about directions! I knew streets and neighborhoods and could contribute to a conversation. My confidence level soared a few notches in those two years. Every now and then Jordan and I discuss the notion of moving to Chicago, but it’s never felt like quite the right time. Maybe it will one day or maybe it’ll just exist for fun Tuesday date nights and weekend excursions. Jordan and I recently experienced Chicago in a new way, on a bike.

I received my first (non-brother-hand-me-down) bicycle when I was seven. Our neighborhood in Ohio was filled with families with young children. Two of those families had three daughters. A set of pink and purple banana seat bikes was exchanged between those two families. The week we moved from Ohio to Illinois, I was gifted the purple one (with unicorns!). I felt so special, especially after dealing with neighborhood kids teasing me for using a boys bike. It was a hard move for me, but that bicycle helped to sooth my broken heart (I was a very tragic seven-year old, apparently) .

I rode that bike until I couldn’t fit on it anymore (eventually I received a brand new bike for once, though I missed those unicorns). Around the block, on a trail, to a friend’s house and back, or maybe to get a special summer treat from Dairy Queen. I knew I had arrived in my new surroundings once I felt comfortable biking alone. Somewhere along the lines of learning to drive, my bike began to collect dust in my parent’s garage. Biking allows for a special connection to your surroundings, I wish I would have kept up the habit.

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Jordan and I had noticed bike rentals popping up in Chicago. We kept saying we wanted to try them, but needed a somewhat leisurely afternoon to enjoy them. We took a recent Saturday afternoon to bike around the city. I was a little hesitant at first when I realized I wasn’t going to be able to use the sidewalk. You mean I have to bike with traffic?!? Jordan reminded me about the bike lanes, which are extremely helpful especially since it had been years since I last rode a bike.

We rented bikes from Divvy. We started in Old Town and traveled as far south as Buckingham Fountain. You pay one flat fee for 24 hours, but you have to stop every 30 minutes and rent a new bike if you don’t want to incur any extra charges. Thankfully, Jordan found an app on the Apple App Store that guided us to each checkpoint. Stopping every 30 minutes was a little tedious at first, but we were quicker with the on/off process towards the end. Jordan and I have caught the biking bug once again and we’ve discovered that  A) we need to buy bikes and use them in our own town more often and B) we need to rent bikes in each town we visit.

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Biking is my new favorite way to view a city; more expansive viewing than walking, but more intimate than driving.

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Create Your Weekend

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Two years ago I made a career change. I went from working a traditional 9-5 to becoming a barista. Because of my job change, I view weekends differently. The coffee shop customers usually comment one of two ways, either begrudgingly that it is Monday or optimistically when Friday has arrived. I try to console or encourage right along with them. Between Jordan’s freelance work and my schedule, we can’t always wait until the weekend to frolic (that’s what weekends are for, right?). We try to bend accordingly and become creative, so our weekend might be a Tuesday. Though to be honest, sometimes that bending requires Jordan to work late into the night after we’ve spent our day together. It’s give and take for us right now.

Having Saturdays off for most of the summer has been wonderful (I’m preparing myself for when that starts to change!). This past Saturday was ideal and the weather cooperated for the activities we had planned, attending the Kane County Flea Market. This flea market is open the first weekend all but two months of the year and is packed with furniture, crafts, records, clothes and even a small farmer’s market! It would be difficult to leave empty handed. After shopping for a few hours and filling our bags with new belongings (including a sweet brass lamp from the ’60s), we enjoyed walking through Geneva. Geneva reminds me of LeClaire, Iowa where Antique Archaeology (American Pickers) is located. They both boast of quaint buildings, quiet streets, and beautiful views of the Fox River (Geneva) and the Mississippi River (LeClaire).

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I can’t quite pin-point when it happened or if it was a conscious choice, but while traveling, Jordan and I always look for a vintage/antique/flea market to explore. Our apartment isn’t completely furnished (despite the poor newlywed Ikea choices), but what we do have is a mixture of old and new. The old are either items we’ve purchased on travels or cool hand-me-downs from relatives. The dresser from my grandparents’ bedroom set, the yellow mixing bowl of Nana’s, and a set of chairs that belonged to my uncle’s fraternity are a few of my favorites. I often wonder about the lives of those who owned these articles we’ve acquired. I relish in the ability to appreciate an item that was previously enjoyed. Hopefully one day, someone else will capture some of our precious belongings.

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On History, Royalty, and a Tiny Regret

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I often jokingly say that my history books growing up seemed to focus solely on the pilgrims, so much so that I feel like certain historical events aren’t familiar to me. It used to be my little joke, but now Jordan laughs along with me. I’m always trying to fill in those perceived gaps through documentariespodcasts and books.

One area of history that fascinates me, starting when I was an early teen, is the Tudor Dynasty. King Henry VIII and the scandals that surrounded his six wives seem unreal. Despite his attempts at producing a healthy son, Henry’s greatest legacy was a daughter! Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne after the tumultuous reign of her sister, Mary. She was able to support and provide stability to her people during her 44 year reign and was loved and revered in return.

Fast forward to earlier in the year when Jordan and I were deciding on places to visit in Europe. The Tower of London was high on my priority list. For a time, Queen Elizabeth I was actually held prisoner there, the same place where her mother was beheaded. The Tower (and the other buildings inside the walls) is nestled across the River Thames from many contemporary government offices. One might imagine that it is secluded but in actuality, it’s right in the middle of a very modern environment.

I’m not one to regret past decisions, but I kind of regret that we didn’t pay for a Tower of London tour. Returning to London from Paris, I forgot my initial desire to see the inside of the Tower. The 40 US dollars per person ticket price seemed like a lot considering the Tate Modern museum was free and it was still on our to-do list that day. Looking back and after hearing of other people’s experiences, going inside the Tower would have been worth it. It’s a guided tour, not simply a price for admission. Thankfully, we were able to walk the grounds outside the wall and read a few interesting facts along the perimeter. Hopefully, this won’t be our last time in London because I would love to go back to the Tower!

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Essential Chicago | Lincoln Park Zoo

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This summer  has been particularly special. Not because of any grand event, but mainly a bunch of small wonderful ones. Playing tennis in the afternoons, walks to the library (stopping at Dairy Queen perhaps) and lots of visits with friends and family. After experiencing a long work commute for a few years, I wanted to regain lost time and it is finally starting to come back.

Many have asked me if I was scared when Jordan began working for himself, but honestly I was more excited for the possibilities. This is the first summer in years that my work scheduled has leaned in my favor with very little coaxing. Having a few Saturdays off in a row has been amazing! Jordan and I have taken full advantage by turning off the computers, leaving the office (our house) and exploring outside. A few weekends ago we decided to brave the crazy July heat and spend time at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The LPK zoo is one of the few free attractions in the city. The zoo is lush (almost tropical) and displays amazing views of the Chicago skyline. The animals were lazily taking naps in the shade and overall unimpressed with us humans. My favorites were the kangaroos and camels!

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Before we left in the morning, Jordan decided last-minute to throw towels in the trunk of our car. It was a good call. After walking the zoo (and enjoying the surrounding neighborhood) we journeyed to the beach and enjoyed the lake breeze. Lake Michigan is really quite beautiful. We can’t wait to go back!

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Exploring Oxford

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Jordan and I planned our trip to Europe off-and-on for almost a year.  The early stages mostly consisted of discussing which countries/cities we wanted to visit. When traveling Europe there are several reasons why visiting more than one country makes sense. Since the countries are close together, the cost to travel between them is minimal compared to the initial plane tickets to arrive (in fact, our Eurostar tickets were less than an average ticket to another US state). We wanted to make good use of our time and experience Europe from different perspectives. London was an automatic yes for both of us, but we weren’t sure about where else to go.

Jordan suggested Scotland as he had great memories from a pervious trip. We eventually decided on Paris, France, a city and country neither of us had visited, which just so happened to be my idea :-). During the pre-planning, a close friend got married and moved to England with her husband, who is a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit them and experience a smaller town since our other two stops were larger cities. After our first stint in London, we left for Oxford.

Not only did we have a great time visiting with Zac and Sally, we were also able to recharge for a few days. Jordan had the opportunity to catch up on some work and I took full advantage of their laundry room (the only way we were able to take carry-ons). Oxford is my kind of town; quaint, charm for days (medieval charm!), plenty of modern conveniences, but a slightly slower pace compared to London.

Our friend’s apartment was perfectly situated. We had no trouble wandering and exploring the city center by ourselves. London is roughly 70 miles away, but since Oxford is a university town all major necessities wouldn’t require travel (and so many cafes, I was in coffee/croissant heaven). Traveling from London was extremely easy and inexpensive. We used the UK version of Megabus.

After experiencing some dreary, rainy days in London it was nice to see the sun! It wasn’t quite warm enough to shed all our layers, but oh so nice to feel the sun shine on our faces.

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Ohio | Mount Adams

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Along the banks of the Ohio River, sits a metropolis affectionately known as the Queen City. Overlooking the city, a hill rises. Mount Adams watches over the city, the river, and the banks of Kentucky. Even though Cincinnati isn’t as large or maybe as exciting as Chicago, it has a charm all its own. This neighborhood oozes charm and is one of my favorite places to visit.

The first time Jordan took me to Mount Adams was New Years Eve weekend in 2005, a few months into our relationship. He had lived in Cincinnati the previous year and was looking forward to showing me around. We only had a few hours to visit the mount before needing to attend a party elsewhere in the city. Thankfully, those road trips to Ohio continued in the following years and visiting Mount Adams became a part of the ritual.

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Scenes of Paris: Part 2

Shakespeare and Company, Paris
Shakespeare and Company, Paris

Jordan and I celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary during our stay in Paris. The original idea was to visit The Louvre, but unfortunately they were experiencing an employee strike. With no real plan for April 12, we continued to wonder that enchanting city. First stop was to visit the English-speaking bookstore, Shakespeare and Company. Pictures aren’t allowed to be taken inside, but if you want a peak, the bookstore has been featured in a few movies, including the Woody Allen film, Midnight in Paris. Our lack of extra luggage space was the only thing stopping Jordan from buying the whole store!

Luxembourg Gardens, Paris
Luxembourg Gardens, Paris

Continuing on from the bookstore, we walked right into the Luxembourg Gardens (I had forgotten it was so close!). Spring literally sprang for us on that day; the gardens looked so lush. We bought baguette sandwiches and McDonald’s Cokes (because sometimes you need something familiar) and enjoyed lunch on the lawn with the locals.

Tuileries Garden, Paris
Tuileries Garden, Paris

Many of the large parks in Paris have these green lawn chairs sprawled about to use for picnics. I love the idea! The Parisians seem to take full advantage of any public outdoor space. This is the Tuileries Garden, located outside of the Louvre Museum. Even though we weren’t able to go inside of the Louvre we were able to see many statues, including a few Rodin, that were sprinkled around the garden.

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After lunch, Jordan wanted to walk to see the location of the Bastille prison. The only remains left are surrounded by a park but this is the beautiful July Monument, marking the event that pushed forth The French Revolution.

Maybe you can see the huge storm that was brewing in these clouds because right after visiting this monument the rain fell hard and we were drenched! In fact, the rain fell so hard part of the roof in a local grocery store (we took refuge for a few minutes) starting caving in! An employee and I had an interesting interaction where because I greeted her with a simple bonsoir, she continued laughing and joking about the rain in French. I enjoyed being considered a local for a few minutes!

Those two days in Paris, where Jordan and I were able to wonder leisurely, were some of the best days.

Scenes of Paris: Part 1

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“Paris is always a good idea”

Sabrina, 1954

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Arriving into London I didn’t experience culture shock. It felt comfortable and familiar, but that is not how Paris was for me. Paris is equal parts beautiful and intimidating. Like a mysterious women, who at first, appears to be cold and distant. You must be polite, respectful and eager to learn her ways, but once you do, you are welcome to stay and know her better.

We stayed in Le Marais area. It is found in the 4th arrondissement (district) of Paris. Only one major street separated us from the Seine, which made it extremely convenient to walk to everything.

On our first full day in Paris, we decided to use the river as our guide. We saw Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower and the Arc De Triomphe among many other enchanting sights. Below are a few photos from our day in Paris.

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This bridge was covered with locks that couples affixed to represent their unending love. It was a sight to see.

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To our pleasant surprise, Notre Dame was open to the public and non flash photography was allowed. Every inch is covered with beautiful carvings or stained glass windows.

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Walking under the Eiffel Tower was a surreal experience. It feels larger than life, especially for a structure that was intended for temporary use. It’s hard to fit the whole structure into a picture and we had to walk awhile until we were able too! The lawn is filled with runners, school groups and locals eating lunch; seemingly unphased by the beauty surrounding them.

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To avoid interrupting the intense roundabout, entering the Arc De Triumph is accomplished through an underground tunnel.

Our bodies were sore from walking so much this day, but we were ready to tackle Versailles on day two.