Sturdy Purdy Thirty

I did it!!! I turned thirty!!! Hard work guys, I’m telling ya. In addition to graduating in May with a Masters of Music(!!!!!!), I have mastered the public transportation of Chicago. I know this city pretty well now but there are still avenues that I haven’t explored.

So I Saturday night after playing for a lovely wedding I unloaded my harp, picked up Genevieve and we drove up to a random beach in Evanston. Sitting on a rock next to the water, the evening view over lake Michigan did not disappoint.

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It’s moments like this when I am grateful for true friends. Friends like Genevieve. We all need people who know us so well that they see our quirks but love us anyways. In fact I think these are the people that can help us the most. Those that know us the most.

On Sunday morning I packed a lunch and took the hour drive up to Illinois State Beach. I highly recommend a Sunday morning picnic on the beach.

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I must say something about being thirty. When I was fourteen I remember having a strong thought that if I made it to thirty unmarried I would be lonely, miserable and so unhappy. Dear friends, that is simply not true. While life is not easy, it never is easy for anyone. I am surrounded by a network of people that I love and that support me. I have been given opportunities to grow that I never expected and am so grateful for. I am so happy. I am sturdy. I am purdy (soulful pretty) and I am thirty. And it is glorious summertime in Chicago!

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Abraham Lincoln

Six months ago when I crossed the Mississippi river and entered Illinois I noticed that I was welcomed to a state that calls itself the Land of Lincoln. The land of lincoln

As I settled down and explored Chicago I started to see him everywhere. There is a Lincoln Park, Lincoln Avenue and Lincoln Square to name a few. He is even on the Illinois licence plate. My first real encounter was his presence in the Art Institute. He actually has two statues very close to each other in the museum.

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Lincoln art institute

While walking through Humbolt Park I stumbled upon yet another statue of the man, this time in a more younger backwoodsman form.Humbolt park lincoln

I found an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry that has a strand of Lincoln’s hair. This exhibit teaches about how the DNA from hair cells can tell a lot about a person. Of all the people in the world that they could have chosen to pick a hair from it was Lincoln’s hair they chose.

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I found a children’s book just the other day that talks all about the Land of Lincoln.

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And then of course there is the massive platform in the middle of the downtown Millennium Park dedicated to the memory of Honest Abe.

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Monument up close

So, why is he every here? Why is Illinois called the Land of Lincoln? Well, let me tell you. Abraham Lincoln spent some of his childhood in this state and for the majority of his adult life called Springfield, the capital of Illinois, his home. “Lincoln was never a resident of Chicago, but he was always a favorite in that city. It was there he was nominated in 1860 as the Republican candidate for President, and the city always felt as if it had a personal claim on him.” (Ketcham.)

After finding so many references to Lincoln around me I decided that it was time to learn about this great man who’s memory so permeates this part of the country. As my plane took off after Christmas, I pulled up “The Life of Abraham Lincoln,” by Henry Ketcham and dove in, (it’s a public domain book and should be free on any book site should you so feel inclined to do the same.) Ketcham starts with Lincoln’s humble beginnings in the most rugged of rugged circumstances; a dirt floor log cabin with three walls and a fourth wall made of furs. It was under these very poor circumstances that Lincoln’s dear mother taught him to read and fostered a spirit that would one day save the nation.

As he grew he became a friend to everyone he met and his reputation for being “Honest Abe” earned him the respect of many.  He was almost entirely a self taught man who earned his knowledge through hours of diligent book study. His mastery of the English language created a great orator and as a politician his speeches had incredible power. There is one speech that we have no record of because every newspaper editor present was so entranced with the message that no notes were taken.

After he won the presidency, he left from Springfield his home to take his place in Washington. But walking into such a role was no pomp and circumstance for him. War was imminent and the pressures of being a President under such a time were enormous. With thousands upon tens of thousands of men dying on both sides of our divided nation this man held together our country with patience, perseverance, strength, and all the qualities of any saint.

In his book Ketcham recounts an incident exemplary of the President’s tender heart under such travail.  “It was Hatcher’s Run on the last Sunday before the close of the war. A detachment of Confederate prisoners, possibly two thousand in all, had just been brought in. They were in rags, starved, sick, and altogether as wretched a sight as one would be willing to see in a lifetime. A train of cars was standing on the siding. The President came out of a car and stood on the platform. As he gazed at the pitiable sufferers, he said not a word, but his breast heaved with emotion, his frame quivered. The tears streamed down his cheeks and he raised his arm and with his sleeve wiped away the tears. Then he silently turned, reentered the car which but for him was empty, sat down on the further side, buried his face in his hands, and wept. That is the picture of the man Lincoln. Little did the Southerners suspect, as they in turn cursed and maligned that great and tender man, what a noble friend they really had in him.”

“On him as on no one else the burden of the nation’s troubles rested. It may with reverence be said that he “bore our sorrows, he carried our grief.”

The very day of the end of the Civil War, the very day of the end of Lincoln’s greatest work, he was shot and died the next morning in a humble commoner’s hotel room. As Ketcham puts it, “But this is not unfitting; he was of the plain people, he always loved them, and among them he closed his earthly record.”

He was the man who brought about the demise of that evil institution of slavery while also holding together and nation and so became the champion of freedom.

Learning from “The Life of Abraham Lincoln,” has reverenced me to one of the greatest men to walk on the very soil on which I live. Learning of great men and women can do no less than make us want to be better. And so I find it entirely appropriate that Illinois named itself the Land of Lincoln. I am now so very glad for the constant reminders everywhere of such a great man who would only want the best of the people of this country he gave his life to save.

Apparently there are six outdoor statues of Lincoln in Chicago. I have only seen two of the six. The statue in Lincoln Park I have yet to see it. Doubtless, this is only the beginning of my opportunities to pay homage to, learn from and hopefully live a little better like the man Abraham in the Land of Lincoln.

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AMAZING DAY

It’s time for a post and a toast to the most AMAZING DAY! Today I finished my first semester as a graduate student! Where does the time go?! Life is just flying by and life in Chicago is like a speeding bullet train (only it’s not a bullet train because Chicago trains are not bullet trains.) Lately life has been a little ho-hum mundane but today all of the stars aligned and I am pleased to say that it was the most AMAZING DAY EVER and a wonderful cap to my first semester.

Why, might you ask, was today so AMAZING? Well, let me tell you. Coldplay came out with a new album today and as I said to my roommate this morning, “if life had a soundtrack, mine would be Coldplay.” Yes folks, it was Coldplay Day (which is something I officially declared this morning). I woke up excited, I downloaded the new album and I made my morning eggs and tea, I got ready, walked out my front door, pressed play and the sounds of Head Full of Dreams took me all the way to school. It was magic. You see, everytime there is a new Coldplay album I know I’m going to love it and then listen to it probably a million times after that so the first time I listen to the album it is an event. It is a moment I can never get back and the start of an incredible new perspective on my life. Suddenly my routine morning train ride was the moment I have been waiting for ever since Ghost Stories got worn out in my head from being on repeat so many times. And what’s more, there is a song on the new album called Amazing Day!

And so my day went. It followed suit. Once thing after another just made it amazing. I smiled, I straightened my hair (that means it is a special day), I saw Spectre for the second time, I confidently smiled at all the strangers, I nailed my showcase performance at school, I walked out of my school (one semester down!) to a wonderful load of peppermint ice cream and through it all I sang Amazing Day.

I am so glad I moved to Chicago if only to have this Amazing Day. Thank you Chicago! Thank you for this amazing first semester and four months of plucking my fingers till they hurt and my muscles are sore with happiness. And thank you Coldplay. Thank you for A Head Full of Dreams, the new soundtrack to my Chicago adventures!

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I LOVE THIS CITY!

Something about this city hit me today. I had been in the practice room for hours stretching my mind and fingers to the maximum over and over. I decided to take a walk outside to greet the happy sun who was out today. The moment I stepped out of my school and on to Michigan Avenue (Chicago’s main strip) a rush of excitement took over. I couldn’t and still can’t stop smiling! Ever since I moved here I have experienced some of the most exhilarating moments of my life to date and just by being in this city. I am generally a happy person but something about this place/my life is augmenting my normal state of joy. The only word that truly describes how I feel is content. I feel so content and I will try to explain why.

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I’ve decided it is a hodgepodge of maybe four different things:

1.  I am a built for the city girl. Growing up in a big family I am used to lots of energy constantly around me. I love the vibe that other people carry and I feed off of that (yes, I am an extrovert). I think I’ve always wanted to live in a big city. It’s a challenge to me. There are so many things to do and become and it forces me to work hard which in turn is so satisfying. Just figuring out the trains has been a rewarding challenge.

2. The buildings. I pay attention to details and in good design even the smallest details are paid attention to. Chicago is home to the first skyscrapers in the world and thus has a reputation for excellent design. Many Chicago buildings have even the smallest details from the foundation to the cornice. I especially like the contrast between the old and new. I’m walking under the decades old El Train while noting a new contraption of shining steel being built next to it. As my Dad would say, “It’s just so cool!”
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3.  My new friends! Being far from family and Utah friends I have made an extroverted effort to get to know as many people as I possibly can. I have been amazed! From my roommates to the people in my church group and my school, there are incredible people here doing incredible things. Mostly everyone is not from here and everyone brings such a new perspective to me. Everyone is nice. If you smile and say hi to someone on the street they will nine times out of ten smile and say hi back. Okay, maybe eight times out of ten but still, that’s pretty good.

4.  My Harp. My harp was originally made in Chicago. It has returned to its homeland and now gets played everyday (almost) all day. Nothing has made me more content than to be able to work at what I want to do most. More on the harp later, I’m sure.

In sum: I am content.

Although I am incredibly homesick for my family and friends of Utah I am where I ought to be doing what I ought to do. #blessed

Run with Xavier

This post is for someone who asked me about school. Gram, I promise my life isn’t all apple picking and sailing trips.

A long time ago when I was in high school, my best friend had a t-shirt that she would wear during our cross country workout runs. If I recall correctly it had a picture of people running and then said underneath “Run with the big dogs.” Today I realized that this phrase has a whole new meaning and a very real application to what school is doing for me right now. In high school “run with the big dogs” meant that if you want to be a competitive racer, if you want to place at the end of the race, if you want to be pushed you have to run with the lead pack or the “big dogs.” It is a mental game that is not necessarily one that others are playing with you. Rather, it is a game you are playing with yourself. You have to push yourself to get up there, you have to be the one to run faster and stick with the stronger runners. The more you run with the big dogs the less intimidating it becomes. The big dogs soon become your friends and before you know it you ARE a big dog.

I feel like this is how my studies have started out this year. I am surrounded these days by very talented faculty and students and I have a heap of work to do in order to obtain my Masters Degree. It can feel a bit intimidating and daunting.

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This is the East Entrance to the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. These doors look out onto Lake Michigan.

I have never been much of a competitive person but something about this city and these colleagues of mine and knowing that I only have two short years to achieve the harp skill level I am seeking, is lighting a bonfire under me. Just today I had a friend of mine say that he wakes up at 6:00am every day so that he can get more practice time in. I now feel like I want to practice starting at 6:00am everyday! My weekly lessons with my professor are challenging me in all the ways I want to be challenged. I feel that with every practice session I am more focused than I have every been. Playing in the CCPA wind ensemble and the Chicago Symphonic Winds, I have surprised myself with my ability to perform. I’m getting better and better every day.

In addition to all these little fires of motivation, we also had a forest fire run through town this weekend. His name is Xavier de Maistre. He is a world-renown master harpist and coincidentally colleagues and countrymen with the same harpist that motivated me to want to do a Masters in Harp. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra brought him in to play the Ginastera Harp Concerto with them this weekend. Aside from the couple of out of tune notes that I just wish he would have taken a moment to tune in between movements, he was a flawless player. The french harpists are naturally very expressive in their playing and he is no exception. His ability to fly across the strings at incredibly fast speeds is super human. Needless to say I enjoyed the concert very much. It’s not very often that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (fifth best orchestra in the world,) brings in a harpist. Whenever I get an opportunity to hear a harpist of this caliber I go. It provides a perspective on how fast the big dogs are running. It motivates me.

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So that’s how we run with the big dogs. We find those who will help us to run faster and then we push ourselves with all our mental and physical energy to keep up. I’m feeling more energized now than ever before. And with a little luck maybe someday I’ll be that harpist on stage with CSO and the gold plated harp.

Why I Moved

Already I have had a lot of adventures in the Land of Lincoln but truthfully this past week exemplifies why I chose to come here. I moved to Chicago to play the harp, and this week I sure did.

At my school I was assigned to play with the Wind Symphony for their concert in two weeks. Consequently, my very first ensemble rehearsal at the Chicago College of Performing Arts was on Tuesday. For our upcoming concert there is only one piece with a harp part and lucky for me it’s a piece that I had already performed with the Utah Wind Symphony last year. That made rehearsal go so smoothly. I got the harp in the room, sat down and played with so much confidence because I knew every cue. Our conductor made the comment, “Harp you sound beautiful, just like I expected you would.” I WAS ELATED! It was such a high note to start out my ensemble rehearsals at CCPA. I feel like I used to struggle so much with playing in orchestra but I’ve come so far and I understand now more than ever what it takes and how to really make it work.

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I will also mention the back in time experience I had this week. Maybe this is normal for Chicago but it was definitely new for me. The Fine Arts Building next to my school is a landmark site in Chicago. It was constructed in 1886 and the moment you step inside you feel like you are transported back in time. As you walk over to the elevators you notice something different. These elevator doors have windows. Then you wait for 10 minutes for the elevator to arrive because each elevator has a driver! That’s right folks! He opens the door, you get inside, he closes the door and operates some sort of gauge to lift or fall the elevator. He calls out the numbers to each floor and as he gets to the floor he has to stop more than once to get the elevator exactly level with the floor. I kept thinking what would it be like if someone asked me, “what do you do for work?” and I said, “I drive elevators.”

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In addition to playing with the CCPA Wind Ensemble I have also have the privileged to play with the Chicago Symphonic Winds this week. Hurrah for my first paying harpist gig in Chicago! Not only am I playing with them, I am playing a small harp concerto with them. And to sweeten the deal, or possibly complicate it, our concert is going to be on a boat on the Chicago River. I’m sure this will make a great post in the future.

When I showed up to our first rehearsal on Saturday they had a harp for me to play but there was broken string. They didn’t have any extra strings so I pulled out a short piece of some extra string and jimmy rigged the old broken string back in place on the harp. I was rather proud of my improvisational skills. It actually held pretty well and got me through the rehearsal.

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The rehearsal went pretty well and I am very excited about the Concertino I am playing with them. It is a beautiful piece that exhibits the beautiful sound of the harp.

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And lastly I must also mention I have been quite the cook this week. I made a substantial dinner three times this week and yesterday I made a blueberry pie for our dinner group. It was num num nummy.

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Here is the recipe http://www.williams-sonoma.com/recipe/blueberry-pie.html and if anyone feels so inclined to make it please do invite me over.

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The secret to living h-APPLE-y

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Well, it has been another rigorous week of hiding behind the harp for hours on end.

Classes have been in session now for a little over three weeks. There is lots of work to be done and I am happy to spend hours practicing. I am doing a Master of Music after all. It’s an exciting adventure to be getting better at doing what I love the only downside is that I tend to be a hermit during the week. So, I have found a secret to living h-apple-y (note the apple). It goes a little like this…work harp, errr I mean hard, play harp, errr I mean hard. Work hard, play hard.

So this weekend we played hard.

My professor of harp at the Chicago College of Performing Arts (CCPA) is Marguerite Lynn Williams. She is a wonderful performer, teacher and mentor and also the principal harpist for the Chicago Lyric Opera. On Friday we turned out to support the Orchestra Musicians of the Chicago Lyric Opera at their concert in Millennium Park. They are going through some tough contract negotiations and we wanted to show our support for the sometimes undervalued musicians. Hurrah for musicians!

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The concert itself was terrific. The Millennium Park venue is stunning under the Chicago lights and the Lyric Opera performers were top notch.

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Now, here’s where the weekend get’s juicy. My church group of single adults has a tradition of going apple picking every fall. What could be more delightful than spending an early fall morning driving north of Chicago through sweeping green landscapes up into Wisconsin to pick apples, eat cheese, doughnuts and spend time with wonderful people. I would definitely call this a secret to living h-apple-y.

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lindsay apple

My roommate Lindsay really liked the small cute apples. We picked a whole peck of cute little apples.

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This is our whole group of apple pickers. They are fantastic and even though I’ve only been here less than a month I already feel so welcomed to Chicago by them.

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Thank you Wisconsin for the cheese, fresh apples, melt-in-your-mouth doughnuts, warm weather and even the baby goats.

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This weekend of h-apple-y playing held an extra special treat for me. My professor Lynn is the founder of the Chicago Harp Quartet. Their recent season included sold out concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York as well as the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. This weekend they held their first fundraiser concert. I was privileged to attend and meet so many new harp friends.

harp friends

The concert was held in the showroom of a collector of hundreds of vintage cars. Walking through all of them was like taking a step back in time. All of them are in impeccable condition and kept running. We couldn’t take pictures of them for sake of copyright but if I could I would have had a whole post dedicated to the cars.

The Chicago Harp Quartet harpists were wonderful. It was an honor to meet all of them and spend some time with them. They are truly professionals in every sense of the word. Their ability to perform together and so technically was astounding. Meeting them and getting to know them was truly a highlight of my weekend.

So there you have it, the secret to living h-apple-y, (as the lid of my apple cider jug would put it): picking apples and filling my free time with wonderful people and music. I can’t wait to see what this week hold.

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Club “I Jumped in Lake Michigan”

If you had no idea let me tell  you. Chicago is right next to a lake. I promise. It is Lake Michigan and it is ice water. But lucky for us people don’t always go to the beach just to swim, oh no. They make it there to just bask in the sun and do whatever else people do on beaches. This weekend I got my fair share of doing what people do on beaches of cold lakes but I also found myself in the icy lake.

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I’ve made a friend here in Chicago. Actually, I’ve already made a host of wonderful new friends but this particular friend’s name is Bryan. He learned how to sail this summer. So naturally when it came up in conversation and he asked if anyone wanted to go I said, “When? Tomorrow? Ok.” You see, I’ve had a lifelong desire/wish/goal to go sailing. Little did I know that this weekend that wish would be granted. So Saturday our sturdy crew of Martha May, LeAnne and Bryan set sail.

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I did not get the memo that you wear a bathing suit when you sail and so I suddenly found myself fully clothed, chest deep, in a lake, on a beach, pushing out a sailboat. But no matter, we still had a splendid time. The wind was with us and we were actually able to clip along pretty fast. Our trusty crew consisted of Martha and I on Jib (the front sail) duty and Bryan at the helm. At one point Bryan asked me if I wanted to steer. I gladly took over but not without first nearly tipping the boat and picking up a bit too much wind. After a while I got the hang of it and I feel I filled the role of skipper to the best of my limited abilities. All in all, I think it was a very successful trip to sea.

Labor day, a.k.a. today, also turned out to be another lake filled day. We first started the day by visiting the Garfield Park Conservatory. It was a great place for exploring new plants, trees, cactus and odd nooks and crannies. It looked a little like this:Conservatoire
                           gardenia

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pond

I think this lily pad pond was actually my favorite part of the Conservatoire. It seems like you could almost just step across the water by way of lily pads. But of course, that would land me once again, unintentionally in a cold body of water.

Despite my earlier hesitation to get in the lake I did however end this beautiful Labor-less day by jumping in the lake tonight at Promontory Point. It has been so hot lately that an ice cold lake actually felt pretty good. So with pride I can now say I have joined the “I jumped in Lake Michigan,” club. Once unintentionally while sailing and now once with every intention of beating the humid heat.

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Breaking Strings and Sweaty Things

I am writing this blurb so that in the middle of a miserable winter I can look back and remember what heat is like.

For the past week or so I have had my first dose of 90% humidity heat. Yes, LeAnne, welcome to Chicago heat in the summer. When I lived in Argentina the heat was humid but not like here in the Midwest. Don’t get me wrong. I still prefer to be sweltering hot over freezing cold but this is something else! It’s like the heat swims up through your veins faster and before you know it you are enveloped and you can’t get away. When I walk only 10 minutes to the train, I get there begging for shade, or some wind, or… why not… a cluster of teenagers with buckets of ice water. This is doubling my washing machine use and I’m not a sweaty person! I have harp strings breaking daily because of the humidity. I made an omelette the other morning and the eggs were sweating on the counter. Using coasters is now out of necessity since a glass of water sweats buckets. It’s criminal.

To make matters even worse we have a problem with my room. The air conditioning is not only broken in my room but I think there is a sufficient lack of insulation. All the heat beating down on my roof ends up cooking my room. I came home today and the temperature was….wait for it….99 degrees in my room! Which with humidity feels like 127.9 degrees. Here’s proof:

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Luckily, the air conditioning is not broken everywhere in my house. My harps are resting in the living room very nice and humid cool, despite the recent outbreak of broken strings.

In other news, I visited Buckingham Fountain for the first time. Apparently it is one of the largest fountains in the world. I am just trying to enjoy it before it freezes over from winter winds.

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Also, in keeping with the “organic” theme I made a fresh lemon ginger vinaigrette today. It was my first time making a vinaigrette and I’m mad at myself for not having done this before. Fresh salad dressing is so…fresh!

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Organic Trains and Frizz

It has been another fabulous week here in Chicago. Oh, that’s right. I forget. I moved to Chicago. There are moments when I am walking down the street and it seems like I’m still just visiting. But nope folks, I am here to stay! At least for two years.

I don’t have a car in Chicago but I do have the trains. When I first saw the trains I thought they were quite ugly; nothing but steel. But as the days have rolled by and my dependence on them solidifies I have started to see how distinctive they are. You see, I’ve come to understand that Chicago in general is a place of no frills. Appearance doesn’t matter really as much. Show us the meat and potatoes!

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Maybe it’s the winter here that teaches everyone that sometimes appearance doesn’t matter when all you really want is to stay warm. Maybe it’s the wide diversity here that can teach people, ever so subtlety, that just being yourself and owning who you are is where the meat and potatoes lies. Whatever it is I find that the train exemplifies this Chicagonian trait. It is efficient in it’s design, nothing fancy, all bare bones, adding to the character of Chicago. I like the trains now. They have shown me a new perspective.

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In addition to the “no frills” statement, I have also found Chicago to be equally swept up in the “organic” movement. My nearby grocery store has the largest organic section I have ever seen. Saturday I decided to jump on that bandwagon and check out the largest farmers market in Chicago. So, despite the rain, I shouldered my umbrella and we were not disappointed.

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All the produce available came from farms within close proximity to the city. I got everything to make Ratatouille and in the end nature did not disappoint. Hurrah for organic farmers markets!

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I’m starting to learn that water is often on the daily menu. I’ve been caught in the middle of rainstorms twice (don’t worry, I now own a poncho and an umbrella, one for each downpour,) and it has rained a lot this week. If its not raining the air is holding onto rain making everything feel moist and sticky. If you know me you know that I love my curls. The humidity loves my curls and my curls love the humidity. This is where we have problems. I get in fights with my curls because they love the humidity too much. I feel a little betrayed. It looks like this:

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Maybe one day my curls and I will get back on the same page but for now it’s just going to be a bit of an ugly looking relationship.

So, between my frizz, organic food and riding the “no frills” train I’d say my adventures in the Land of Lincoln are going just swell. Not too bad for only two weeks.