Monday, March 20, 2017

A Lovely, Lazy Empty-Nest Morning

I'm obsessed with people's daily routines - the little habits, preferences and practices that add up to define a person's way of life. In fact, I just binged on the New York Times Sunday Routine section which details the way notable New Yorkers spend their day off.

I'm especially interested in the way people spend their mornings. Now that I'm an empty-nesting, marriage-commuting, freelance-writing, pet-free gal, my weekday mornings are often open. As a result, I have been able to create the most enjoyable, liberating routine for myself - both in Chicago and Iowa -  and it goes like this.

6:00am Coffee in Bed
I love my morning routine so much I get up early for it. If Liam's around he wakes me by bringing me a strong cup of coffee with a splash of milk on his way to the gym. If I'm solo I'll set my alarm then stagger into the kitchen to fetch my own. Either way, I enjoy that first cup of coffee in bed, often in the dark, and I keep it warm with a nifty little Brookstone cup heater on my bedside table. The key to maximum enjoyment is to set up the coffee pot the night before.

6:10am Read Something Inspiring
I used to dive right into the headlines,  but since the election and its aftermath, reading the news makes me feel desperate or angry, which I've decided is a rotten way to kick off the day.  My new policy is to make the first thoughts I put in my head positive and motivating. My latest inspirational reads have been The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, The Universe Has Your Back by Gabrielle Bernstein and The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I'll read a chapter or two, highlighting what resonates.

6:30am Meditate a Little
I meditate almost every morning, but I'm not very disciplined in how I go about it. (I just realized I'm not very disciplined about much!) To help me concentrate, I use an idea that's come up during my reading as a starting point. I sit crosslegged in bed or on a comfy chair, place my hands palm up in my lap, close my eyes, focus on my chosen concept for a moment, then try to clear my mind while taking long, deep breaths. I do this for 10 to 15 minutes. The experience is pretty uneventful, really. Once I get into it I often see swirling clouds of purple, but other than that, I'm not struck with any huge epiphanies or receive any mystical messages. Meditating just clears my mind and makes me feel centered and more me.

6:45am Journal
After I meditate, I write in my journal. I've been keeping one since I was 15 years old and I still have each and every volume. They'll probably be used to blackmail me someday, and trust me, I'll pay up. I don't use my journal to record life events, it's my way to make sense of the world and my place in it. Reading my journal would be horribly boring for you, but for me writing is a way to solve problems, sort through my feelings and generally fire up. I whine, brag, worry, argue, and joke. I come up with brilliant ideas, I make lists of all the things I'm grateful for,  I plan errands and record calories. My journal is a mashed-up, hodge-podgy dumping ground and I rarely start a day without it.

7:15am Take in the View
I never considered "look out the window" to be a legit activity, but our new homes both have mesmerizing views. In Chicago I watch the sun rise over Lake Michigan and the jets line up over the water to land at Midway. I see the traffic build on Lake Shore Drive and the huge cranes swing into action on the construction site of the new skyscraper being built across the river.  In Iowa I look west out over rolling prairie hillsides and a golf course with a pond and a stream that's bursting with wildlife - I've never seen so many types of birds. Liam and I are obsessed with our views. In both places we have armchairs placed to face out the windows and binoculars within arm's reach.

7:30am Get Dressed, Eat 
Getting dressed entails pulling on yoga pants and slipping a bra under the t-shirt I woke up in.  I brush my teeth if I haven't already. I wear my glasses - contacts come later after all the reading is done, which it isn't. Breakfast is something like tuna salad and crackers, peanut butter
and banana toast, or cereal with almond milk and berries (carbs, yum.) I don't like to cook in the morning - I'm not that hungry and it's too much hassle.  I chug a couple glasses of water to combat the dehydrating effect of all the coffee.

7:45 am More Reading, More Coffee
Ah, this is where my morning gets really good. I'm up, I'm perky, I'm motivated and it's still early! Now I read my NY Times daily briefing and scan the Chicago Tribune and google things I'm curious about. I usually do a social media sweep to see if my kids have posted anything new (yes, I stalk them.) Gradually, I tune into what's going on in the world beyond my window, and start thinking about my own writing.

8:30am Feel like a Slacker
About this time, my inner critic shows up. "Hey, Marjie," she hisses, "The successful people of the world are out launching their tech start-ups and writing screenplays and teaching pilates and delivering meals on wheels! You're just lounging around in your pajamas, for god's sake!" And it's true,  I haven't moved a muscle or done anything productive other than simply enjoy myself for the last two and half hours. I guess it's time to wrap my morning routine up. But first, one more splash of coffee.

What about you? 
What are your routines during your favorite time of day? I would simply love to know.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Fashion Minute - Spring Tops

The world is a crazy place right now, so as a concerned citizen and deep thinker I'm writing about a very important topic. Spring tops.

In the spirit of public service I've created a one minute video showcasing what I think are some of the freshest, most fun, feminine styles out there right now. Because, as a dear friend who is no stranger to hardship once told me, when life seems to spiral out of control you can still make a choice about what to wear. A small but meaningful triumph.

Here's the video.  There's an abundance of styles like these out there but  if you're interested, I've listed the stores, brands and prices of the tops featured here below.

Happy Spring!

Karen Millen white/black slash-sleeved sweater $160 at Bloomingdales
Aqua Stripe Off-the-Shoulder top $48 at Bloomingdales
Club Monaco Rylie denim shirt, on sale $99
Club Monaco White Ammeliyah top with bow sleeves $119.50
Michelle by Commune Tiger graphic Tee $28 at Bloomingdales

Note: The first two cold-shoulder tops  - Rag & Bone Heather tee ($125) from E-Street and Bobeau blue long-sleeve from Nordstrom ($48) - are no longer available, but look for similar styles.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Must Haves for City Living

We moved into our Streeterville condo three months ago and although we split our time between Chicago and Sioux City, I'm settled in enough to report on the essentials for navigating downtown living. I am loving getting out and exploring the city so much. Every day is different and invigorating -especially now that I've made these adjustments.

Comfortable Shoes
I had this vision of myself moving into the city and becoming incredibly chic. While I'm not giving up on that entirely, you cannot survive in the city without practical walking shoes.  For any destination within a mile and a half, it is more convenient, cost-effective and pleasurable to walk rather than drive or use public transportation. However, walking a mile in pinched, unsupportive, or slippery shoes is pure hell. So now I have a small range of shoes and boots that I can walk in and look, well not too frumpy (Stan Smith Adidas, a pair of the new-styled Uggs, and a pair of Clarks.) What I lose in fashion I make up in mobility. And if it's a snazzy destination, I simply carry my heels in a tote bag and slip into them when I arrive. Speaking of totes....

Collapsible Tote Bag
Since I spend so much time as pedestrian, it's natural that I run most of my city errands on foot. It's essential to have a collapsible bag on hand so you can carry your purchases easily. Chicago has a city law where stores charge you extra for bags and often the ones they give you are hideous heavy duty plastic things with garish logos (I'm looking at you Target.) Now I carry my own lightweight tote in my purse or pocket. And speaking of purses.....

Hands free Purse
When I'm in the city, a shoulder bag off limits. In the suburbs it's easier to swing your purse off/on your shoulder when you get in/out of car, but pedestrian living means you need your hands free. I realized this as I was carrying a couple heavy grocery bags home from Whole Foods and my shoulder bag kept slipping down to my wrist and bumping around. Checking out other women on the street, I realized everyone carried a cross body bag or backpack, so now I follow suit. But the best option is to carry no purse at all and put your keys, phone and credit cards in your pocket. And speaking of pockets...
from Pinterest

Loose Change and Singles
Sadly, there are a lot of homeless people on the streets of Chicago. I try to make sure I carry a couple bucks in my pocket so I can easily put it in a needy person's cup when I pass by. I can't give to everyone, but this makes me feel like I'm acknowledging my less fortunate neighbors in a personal way. I also donate to the Chicago Food Pantry. Winter is an especially hard time to be on the street. And speaking of winter....

Warm (really warm) Winter Wear
My condo building has indoor parking and a well equipped gym and pool. As a cold-hating freelancer I could make that an excuse for never going outside. But the point of city living is not to huddle in a high-rise, it's to experience Chicago. So out I go, even with the temps hitting the single digits. The key to surviving the winter is a super warm coat (must cover the butt), warm boots, lots of layers and a few stylish accessories. I'm a fan the trendy fur-pom beanies. As my friend Jim says, "There's no bad weather, just poor clothing choices."  So now that we're dressed appropriately......

Lunch Reservations and Happy Hour Hot-Spots
Chicago's night life is legendary, but I've hit on a couple unexpected pleasures for earlier in the day - fancy lunches and happy hour hot-spots. Why? Because dining and drinking out in the evening can get get expensive and over-indulgent. Meeting a friend or my hubby at a great restaurant for lunch or for a 5pm glass of bubbly feels like both a splurge and a bargain. We couldn't get into Cindy's Rooftop restaurant for dinner but our lunch there with our kids was delicious, scenic and reasonably priced. And the Eno wine bar at the Intercontinental Hotel serves half price flights of wine from 5-6pm weekdays. The perfect place for a quick catch up over a drink and appetizer. And speaking of apps....

Open Table, Grub Hub, Spot Hero, Uber, Lyft and a Ventra Card
These are the apps I rely on for reservations, food delivery, discounted parking and getting around town. My Art Institute membership card is an app too!

I'm sure my must-haves will evolve with the seasons and as I settle in. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for the new city dweller, please share them here!

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Forget Writing, Now I'm a Cartoonist

One of the reasons I've been excited to move to downtown Chicago is to expand my creative influences and bring new energy and focus to my writing. As a first step I took an  Adult Continuing Education class through the School of the Art Institute of Chicago called Creative Encounter. I convinced my friend Laura to take it with me and we planned to meet for a quick dinner before class each week, so I knew it would be fun no matter what.

The class was cool - an exploration of the creative process for non artists, centered on the idea that all of us have the capacity to take our perceptions and ideas and turn them into creative expressions that have substance and value.  While we spent a lot of time exploring the "process" side, the goal was that we'd all end up with some  final "product" or piece of work. Last Thursday, we each presented our projects to the class and I was blown away by what my fellow students had accomplished. We had evocative video, origami story telling, multi-media collages and paintings, a sensory feminine altar (complete with chocolate cupcakes) and my project, a comic strip.

I wanted to do a comic strip for a few reasons:
1. I love to doodle.
2. I enjoy writing dialogue but I wanted to try something more "arty" than just writing.
3. I saw the Chicago version of the Tony award winning musical "Fun Home" based on the graphic novel of the same name by Alison Bechtel and was intrigued by cartooning.
4. After the crappy election, I craved humor and light.

After a little research and a lot of practice I began to draw two female characters somewhat consistently. Here are my first three strips based on what these 50-something chicks wanted to say to each other about getting older.

1. Multi-tasking

2. Getting Deep

3. Much to Offer

It's rough, I know, but it's a beginning! And I enjoyed the process of creating these little scenes so much.

Attempting something new (like running or cartooning) can be scary and uncomfortable and embarrassing. You have to allow yourself to be really bad at the new thing and hang in there anyway. The results are gratifying. It's fun and empowering to do new things!

As Barbara Sher says:
You can learn new things at any time in your life if you're willing to be a beginner. If you actually learn to like being a beginner, the whole world opens up to you. 
Here's to more creative endeavors and more new beginnings. And stay "tooned" for more of  my new comic strip!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Post Election/Winter Blues Pick-Me-Ups

Are you feeling blue about the election? I'm certainly not over the results but I can't go around feeling angry and dismayed ALL the time. Here are some things that have been lifting my mood during these unsettling weeks. (And Trump fans read on - these tips can be helpful to get through a long, bleak winter too.)

1. Get Outside
A good brisk walk (or run) makes everything better. Find a spot that inspires you - a park, the lakefront, an interesting neighborhood - and march around until you feel your blood pumping and the knot in your chest begin to loosen. Feel the wind on your skin and the sun on your face. You're alive! The world looks just the same as it did a couple weeks ago. Breathe deep and enjoy. In this moment all is well and, not to get all Eckhart Tolle on you, this moment is all we have.

2. The Crown on Netflix
I just finished the first season of this show about the early years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign and I'm obsessed. Watching this young woman struggle with her duties as monarch and her desires as a woman/wife/mother/sister/daughter is fascinating and inspiring.  It's even more compelling when you realize that Elizabeth II has been ruling Great Britain and beyond for almost 65 years. Beautifully shot, wonderfully acted - it's an escape and a timely history lesson combined.

3. Make Up a Little
It may seem frivolous but a mini-makeover always gives me a lift. Play around with a new shade of lipstick or eyeshadow then take some silly selfies to celebrate the new you. A nice make-up artist at Nordstrom helped me select this color-drenched Giorgio Armani Rouge Sheer Lipstick. It wasn't cheap but I think $37 is a small price to pay for looking and feeling brighter.

3. Clean Up Your Act
Organize a drawer, wash a window, or just throw out a pile of old magazines. The simple act of completing a small job makes you feel positive and productive and improves your surroundings at the same time. Here's an interesting story about the therapeutic effects of cleaning.

4. Unfriend/Unfollow as Needed
That person whose political comments are making your social media life a misery? Take control. After spending countless hours worrying how to respond respectfully to one dude's right wing rants on my page,  I realized we'd never really been friends to begin with and I'd miss nothing if we were no longer connected on Facebook.  I blocked him. Another option is to simply remove a person's annoying posts from your feed by using the "unfollow" setting. Hey, if I'm bumming you out, feel free to do the same to me!

5. Donate Some Cash
If you're unhappy about a particular aspect of our new leader's agenda, put your money where your mouth is and donate to a cause or organization that you believe in. I donated to the Human Rights Campaign but if you're looking for a list of pro-women, pro-immigrant, pro-earth, anti-bigotry organizations, this story at Jezebel is a good place to start.

6. Bottoms Up
And if you're still feeling upset, there's always this. Cheers!

It's an act of courage to stay positive my friends. I'm going to do what I can to stay in a productive, optimistic frame of mind, otherwise I'll be no use to anyone.  If you've got some suggestions, please share.

Sending you warm wishes for a Happy, Healthy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Breaking News: Old Bitch Learns New Tricks

Donald Trump has been elected President of the United States and I am training for my first five mile race. Three months ago I wouldn't have believed either of these things could be possible.

But there's Trump, touring the White House with President Obama and assembling his cabinet, and here's me, slowly but surely logging miles along the Chicago lakefront in preparation for the 8K Turkey Trot in Lincoln Park next week. Life is full of surprises.

I've never been a runner but I was inspired to take on this challenge in August when my daughter Emma and I watched her boyfriend Kevin do a half triathlon with his friends in Chicago. There were so many different people competing - all ages and body types. We stood cheering the athletes a half mile before the finish line. Some people were exhausted and some were exhilarated, but they all were determined to reach their goal. It was awesome! I wanted a piece of that sense of accomplishment.

"Emma," I said, "We could do this, or at least we could do the running part. Let's sign up for a race at Thanksgiving at do it together."

Emma, who played competitive soccer for 13 years and has run several races including the BIG 10 ten-mile run, looked at me skeptically.

"You always say you're going to do things," she said, "and you never do them."

Oh, snap. That hurt.

"Well. I guess I'm going to have to do this one then."

I found a training plan for beginning runners online and began to follow it. The plan assumed you could already run a mile - something I hadn't done in like forever, but I gave it a go. Encouraged by that first mile I invested in some running shoes and supportive inserts. I've been running ever since.
Emma and me on a training run on Navy Pier.

It doesn't come easily. First of all, I'm slow. Second, every time I head out I have to overcome my fear. I'm not sure what I'm so frightened of - that it will hurt, that I can't do it, that I'll fail. But once I get chugging along I do a check-in with myself - look, you're fine, you're breathing, it's a little uncomfortable but nothing actually is in pain. And when it does get hard I ask myself, "Am I really more tired than all those triathletes were on their last half mile?" The answer is always no. I also think of what Emma said, damn her.

Friday I ran four miles along the Lakefront trail - a beautiful route from my condo down to the Shedd Aquarium and back - so I'm almost ready for next week's big race. Each time I reach a new milestone I feel so great about myself. Look at me, I'm 53 years old and I'm doing something I've never done before!

If I can do this new thing, what else can I do?

Donald Trump was not my candidate.  I was dismayed when Hillary Clinton lost the election - I still am. But one thing that stunning defeat made me realize is that I have to get involved. It's not enough to send a donation or post an anti-Trump ad on my Facebook page or laugh at a snarky SNL skit. I can't expect other people to do the important work for me. I'm not sure what form it will take yet, but I'm resolved to take action, especially for women's rights, human rights, and equality for all. America has come far but the fight still continues, one slow milestone at a time.

Hillary lost, but as a result there's a newly activated me. I'm no old dog. I'm an empowered bitch ready to tackle new tricks. Hear me woof!

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A Tale of Two Cities (and three houses)

Over the last year or so we've transitioned to live in two places - Sioux City, where Liam works for a very cool company, and downtown Chicago, where we have a very cool condo.  During the week, Liam is mostly in Iowa and I'm mostly in Chicago, but on the weekends we travel between the two or hit someplace different for fun. It's an unconventional arrangement that even has our kids a bit confused, but we like the freedom and excitement of being able to hang in both places.

Downtime in Sioux City is relaxing and serene. We live on a beautiful pond on a pretty golf course that's home to all sorts of critters like fox and pheasant and muskrat and turtle and weasel (when's the last time you saw a weasel?) We love to hike local nature trails and play terrible golf and take naps and cook pots of soup and hit the 80s band concerts that roll through town. We have cocktails on our balcony and listen to the geese honking as the sun slides down the open sky.  We have a GMC pickup truck and a sauna and a three-car heated garage.

View from our terrace in Sioux City.

Our condo is still new to us, but living in downtown Chicago is already a thrill. Restaurants and culture and shopping and sports (Go Cubs!) and parks and the river and lake are literally on our doorstep. The vibe is energized and exciting and busy, busy, busy. Our building has wonderful doormen and a huge gym and indoor pool. We can see the fireworks at Navy Pier from our balcony and hear motorcycles racing through Lower Wacker at night.

Living at the corner of Chicago River and Lake Michigan

Living in two such different places provides a contrast and balance that makes me feel alive and excited about the future. Change is scary but change is growth and growth is good (that's my mantra.)

That said, we haven't made a clean break from Wilmette, because we haven't sold our house there yet. So I'm still hanging out on the North Shore, which is fine, because I love Wilmette, but honestly, the three house thing is getting old. It's like a big ball of energy holding us down and we're moving on! I know this house is perfect for the right family and I hope they find each other soon.

 I'm happy inside and out. Buy me!

I know plenty of couples with similar arrangements in Chicago, but our Sioux City neighbors don't know what to think of us. This back and forth wouldn't work if we still had kids at home, but we're at a point where we can create a life that works for the two of us. This situation and these places are still new and I'm still figuring stuff out myself. I lose my keys on the daily.

Hopefully this should make for lots of good writing material and luckily I can write from anywhere. So check back soon and for an update on my pursuit of a ripe peach life in Chicago, Sioux City and beyond!