Friday, July 31, 2015

A Swim in Lake Michigan

I walk on the beach almost every day. I love the way the sand feels on my feet. If I'm feeling adventurous, I'll dip my toes in the water for a moment. Most days, I back away immediately. The water is too cold for my Arizona blood.

But yesterday was different. "Today is the day," I thought. I went for a 1-mile jog to get out of my home office during my lunch break. I ran to the pier to check out the view I've seen many times now: the buildings of the Loop to the south. The water was usually calm. Just one day earlier, it had been choppy and the wind was stronger. I tested the water. Not frigid. I went in to my knees. I thought, I've gone this far, let me keep going. It took a lot longer to get used to the water when it was up to my waist. It was now or never. So I dove in. I wished I could swim farther out to where I couldn't reach the bottom, but, alas, the lifeguards won't allow it.

I studied the people on the beach until I saw a familiar figure. Graham was home from work and looking for me. He almost couldn't believe his eyes; was I really in the water?  And so, a little while later, we went for our first swim together in Lake Michigan. 

It wasn't too long. But on the walk home, I said, "I love it here." Graham smiled. "You do?" I really do.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

Susupuato Restaurant, Edgewater, Chicago

I miss my mom's cooking. I miss enchiladas, sopes, tacos, ceviche, everything. The cravings are intensifying. My first attempt at finding the best Mexican food in Chicago started at Susupuato Restaurant in Edgewater. Consider this Stop 1.

We were the only two diners in the restaurant on a Monday evening. 

I ordered gorditas rajas con queso but was told they were out. Bummer. I settled for just veggie gorditas, which means beans, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and sour cream. I wasn't sure what to expect, because what I consider gorditas are actually sopes. These were more like sopes in sandwich form. I loved the beans but wished for a little more flavor in the gorditas. I wished there was cotija cheese on the beans or in the gorditas.

Graham chose the fish tacos with extra rice and no beans. How a person could not be a fan of beans I will never understand, but to each his own.

I am told that to find good Mexican food I should go to the Pilsen neighborhood. Sadly, that part of the city is a bit of a drive from our place. Perhaps we've venture there sometime soon. In the meantime, I will look for other Mexican restaurants to try and ask my mom how to make some of her best dishes. I just hope I can do the recipes justice.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sol Cafe, Rogers Park

I've been following Sol Cafe on Instagram since we moved here. I was finally persuaded to get myself in the door after whoever handles the cafe's social media posted a photo of a vegan burrito this week. Yes, it was a burrito photo that prompted me to act.

The burritos are actually from the Growling Rabbit. When I asked the cashier to heat up my burrito, he jokingly said no, but I wasn't amused. (Before I have caffeine I don't have a sense of humor.)

Most of the tables were claimed at this point in the morning, so I settled on the table at the front window. It didn't offer much of a view. It faces street traffic and a shutdown restaurant across the street. Inside, though, the space is cozy. Artwork for purchase hangs on the wall. There is an antique TV and a seating area in the back. Books are stacked on a coffee table. A small retail area offers such things as Sol Cafe bandannas and cards.

The barista brought my warm burrito out to me. The vegan burrito contains spicy tofu, black beans, sweet potato and spinach and comes with pico de gallo. I relished every bite of it. Ray Charles' "Georgia" came on as I enjoyed my burrito. It was followed by Frank Sinatra's "Fly Me to the Moon."

I had ordered the signature Phoenix Fizz drink to go along with my burrito. The name intrigued me. The beverage is a sparkly tea punch with a kick that is provided by spices. It was a bit too much for me. I should have just ordered coffee or a chai latte, but I'm glad I tried something new.

Sometimes it's a nice treat to try a different local business over the convenience of a national chain like Starbucks. I like to think I practice a balance of supporting both.

Sol Cafe is on Howard Street in Rogers Park. It's a short walk from the Howard CTA station.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Small Garden Harvest

My first experience growing vegetables indoors has so far been positive. I have a lot to learn, namely what do I do with a lot of basil?

My eggplant plants have each produced one fruit. The mini eggplants are about 2 inches long. I think I waited too long to pick one of them; it started to lose its purple color, though it still feels glossy. The directions on the Bonnie Plants website say to pick them while they are still glossy; otherwise, they might have a bitter taste. I found a recipe for Mini Eggplant Parmesan via the Food Network that I hope to try, though I wouldn't be able to make much with two mini eggplants.

My Anaheim pepper plant has produced one pepper. The others haven't yielded any, though it appears that a couple may be starting to grow. What should I do with one grown pepper?

Our tomato vines don't appear to be growing any tomatoes yet. The plant get taller and taller every day, but so far it has produced nothing. The same is true of our cucumber and bell pepper plants.

Though I am not enjoying a feast of vegetables from our garden yet, I am proud that I have been able to grow a few things. I was never able to plant vegetables on our patio in Phoenix because the space didn't get enough sunlight. The ability to grow a little bit of food is satisfying and rewarding.

How's your summer garden coming along?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Sights of Rogers Park, Chicago

Flowers grow in front of brick buildings and along driveways. Bumble bees and butterflies keep busy, floating from bloom to bloom. Lightning bugs flicker about at dusk.

Rogers Park, Chicago

Sunset and skyline admirers walk on the pier. On a clear day, the distant towers of the Loop are visible. Sometimes they are obscured by a haze. If a storm is clearing up, the clouds transform from bright orange to red to pink to purple.

Rogers Park, Chicago

People watchers might comment on how lucky people are to be on a boat on such a lovely day before redirecting their gaze to the waves.

Rogers Park, Chicago

Seagulls hang out on the sand, looking for scraps to eat.

Rogers Park, Chicago

Rogers Park, Chicago

Bright murals decorate underpasses and walls.

Rogers Park, Chicago

Sunlight creeps through the leaves.

Rogers Park, Chicago

If these are the sights of the season, I never want summer to end.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Sunset Cruise on Lake Michigan

When I bought tickets for a Monday night cruise via Groupon, I had no idea what to expect. I wasn't sure if it was on Lake Michigan or the Chicago River, but I figured it would be entertaining either way.

We boarded the Mystic Blue Yacht to see it's basically a club on a boat. There's a DJ and a bar on the top deck. People had already claimed the seats in the center, so we were left standing on the railing, which turned out to be the best position to take in views. (Each floor had music and a bar, and the lower inside portion had a dance floor, too.) No one danced at first; most people took selfies with the skyline backdrop while sipping their first drinks. After a while, the crowd got a little louder and more relaxed. The music was a selection of hits you forgot you loved, a lot of them from the '90s.

The views are incredible. I mentioned a few times that I just can't believe we live in Chicago.

Clouds initially made us nervous that it would rain, but there was nothing to worry about.
 It couldn't have been a more perfect evening.

The boat goes south in a big, slow loop before moving north for another loop. Both sides of the boat get views of the skyline. You get a nice glimpse of Adler Planetarium before turning around.

 Also visible are Buckingham Fountain and the Navy Pier Ferris wheel.

We could see the northern neighborhoods to the right.

As the end of the two-hour cruise approaches, the yacht returns to Navy Pier.

All this fun cost $23 for two people (thanks to a $5 promo code), $13 for parking and $21 for two drinks. Am I crazy for thinking that's a good deal for Chicago?

Monday, July 20, 2015

My Worst Half-Marathon Performance

I wasn't expecting miracles out of my Rock 'n' Roll Chicago Half Marathon experience, but I did think I would finish in about two hours and 15 minutes. Just before the race, the announcer said something like, "This is not the race for a PR. It's a race to have fun."

We had been hearing about the heat index in Chicago all weekend, so I tempered my expectations a bit. My plan was to stick to the 2:10 pace team for as long as I felt comfortable. That didn't last long.

I felt sticky from the moment I crossed the start line. We ran over a bridge, immediately dispelling my belief that there are no hills to run in Chicago. We crossed many of them.

I heeded the advice to enjoy the run, stopping to take a photo in front of the Chicago Theater and giving high-fives to children along the route.

I took every cup of water, ran through every hose, grabbed ice at every opportunity and looked for the cooling stations. I stayed in the shade as much as possible. At Mile 5, I was passed by the 2:20 pace team. I was drenched in sweat and battling negative thoughts, so I decided then to just have as much fun as possible, forgetting about time.

Around Mile 9, I seriously considered crossing to the other side of the cones to skip part of the course. I didn't, of course. We soon turned east, running toward the sun. It was impossible to stay cool. I grabbed my first Gu and walked a bit.

I was extremely relieved to turn north toward Grant Park. The DJ pointed toward the finish as he danced. I enjoyed myself for a bit. I Periscoped for 3 minutes as I took one of many walking breaks. As I moseyed along, I noticed several people in need of medical attention. A woman was passed out on the course. A group of runners surrounded her. Another man looked like his legs were severely cramping. Yet another runner approached the medical team, who gave her a cold bottle of water. The cold, sponges around Mile 10 were a much-needed treat. On one of the final hills, I saw a runner being pulled by her friend.

I finally started jogging again a half-mile from the finish line. As soon as I crossed, I saw a guy who appeared to have blurred vision being helped by a friend. I rushed to get water, a sports drink, Popsicles, a wet towel and a bagel. The Popsicles were exactly what I needed.

My time was 2:37, the longest it has ever taken me to finish a half-marathon. Despite the heat, the views along the course made it a memorable experience. What's most important is I listened to my body, something yoga has taught me. In that regard the race was a success.

Happy Monday!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Reconnecting with Yoga

It seems that when I focus on one aspect of my fitness routine, another one suffers. Lately, running has taken a back seat, despite my upcoming half marathon. I recently won a free month of yoga at Yoga Six, and I took it as a sign that I need to reconnect with my yoga practice. I had all but abandoned my practice over the past month until I decided to commit myself to attending as many yoga classes in the studio as I could. Yoga classes in the studio are still important to me because I need an instructor to push me to really approach my edge and let myself get deeper into poses.

By sheer serendipity, I have free yoga during the month Yoga Six is hosting a yoga challenge in which students try to take three of each of the studio's six class types, plus a workshop. Students who complete the challenge are eligible to win prizes. What better way is there to commit myself to yoga than to do as much of it as possible and get tastes of different styles and methods? I've now experienced five different instructors and have been re-inspired to try to teach in the near future.

For anyone looking to delve deeper into their practice, or for those who are just starting out, there are ways to get inspired.

  • Take a class from a new instructor or at a new studio.
  • Try a new class type. Never been to hot yoga? Take it at least once. Usually prefer faster-pace vinyasa classes? Go to a yin one instead.
  • Next time a class features some play time, try a pose that scares you. (Ask the instructor to spot you.)
  • Take a workshop. 
  • Browse Instagram for #yoga poses. See what people of all ages and body types can accomplish. 
  • Ask a friend to go to yoga class with you. Make it a date with a meal or fresh juice afterward.
  • If time and budget allows, enroll in teacher training, even if you don't plan to teach. It's a wonderful method of self-study.
  • Start your own yoga challenge for yourself. How many times can you make it to class? Have you ever tried two-a-days?
How do you stay inspired to maintain a yoga practice?


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Smile at the Sun

As I was leaving yoga this weekend, my instructor said, "If the sun is shining, smile at it and it will come back."

Sunday was one of those perfect Chicago summer days. They can be a rare treat.

It was one of those days when everyone grabs the grill and heads to the beach park for a picnic. Vendors pushing ice-cream carts hawk their goodies. Dogs are freed from their leashes to prance about the grass. The soccer and softball fields are teeming with players of all ages. Runners seize the opportunity for a lakefront jaunt. Bicyclists do the same, trying to dodge pedestrians on the way. Walkers relishing the weather smile at passers-by.

I smiled back, and then I remembered the most important smile I needed to return.

 I smiled at the sun.

Monday, July 13, 2015

3 Great Yoga Studios in Chicago

I've been able to try three yoga studios on the North Side of Chicago during my time here. Each has its own style and perks. I hope to spend more time at each of them as I revive my intention to get deeper into my yoga practice.

Yoga Six Lincoln Park

I was lucky enough to win a free month of classes at Yoga Six during the June Adventure Run. I had never been to the studio before that. My first class at the studio was Slow Flow. It's one of six class types offered at Yoga Six. Slow Flow was 60 minutes of all-levels, gentle yoga that is taught in a warm environment. The instructor had a kind, laid-back presence. We often used blocks along with a bolster to get into the poses. It was a morning class that was a nice way to ease into the day.

I also took a Deep Stretch class to complement my half-marathon training. The poses are held for long periods of time and props are integrated into the warm-environment class. The instructor regularly prompted students to think about why we feel tense in certain areas of the body. I must have gotten deeper into my hip flexors, because I felt it for days.

I also tried Power Flow, which is taught in a heated environment. The 60-minute class was challenging. We repeated several sequences at a one breath per movement pace. We flowed through many rounds of vinyasa and played with transitions like jumping back and down to chaturanga. I appreciated the strong emphasis on the breath, because I really need those reminders to breathe throughout class. 

The studio itself is new and well maintained. The restroom/locker area is spa-like and offers amenities that many other studios don't, like toiletries and showers. It appears to be studio practice to have instructors wait outside after each class to greet students as they leave and ask how they feel.

Chi-Town Shakti

Chi-Town Shakti is in the Edgewater neighborhood. It's a small studio on Devon Avenue.

The class I've attended the most is Hatha 1-2, which is a 60-minute session for which students can use the "pay what you can" option. Most of the classes I went to were taught by an instructor who loves to play around and experiment with sequences and transitions. He adjusts more than most instructors I've met in Chicago so far. The Hatha class holds poses longer than vinyasa-style classes; often we would be in a high lunge for 10 breaths or more. Another staple of his classes is play time against the wall to work on certain poses and spotting each other in inversions. His aim is to build community. He does not use music for the most part, other than chanting at the end of class and hitting a gong. The studio itself is located close to a street, so noise creeps into the space, but for the most part it's easy to tune it out.

Centered Yoga

I first heard about Centered when I was ordering takeout from a Thai place in Rogers Park. The restaurant's counter had business cards for one free yoga class at Centered, which is located just off the Morse CTA stop on the Red Line. The studio is small and no-frills, but it's felt the most comfortable for me. The students face an exposed-brick wall, and to the left are the props and mats. The instructor for the class I attended lighted candles (both real and faux) throughout the space for a relaxing ambience. She emphasized the breath and had great cues, which made the class one of the best I've had in Chicago so far. We played around with side crow, which I appreciated because we have not done that in any of the other classes I've taken in the city. I loved the music. I wished I could remember the lyrics after class so I could look up the songs. The studio has a diverse array of yoga styles as its class offerings.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Chicago Adventure Run, July Edition

I must have used up all my luck in June, because not only did I not win at the Adventure Run, but our team lost the pacer early on and we missed most of the checkpoints. We have done well in the past by sticking with the same pacer. She usually stops at the closest checkpoints first, but she had a new strategy this month. She told us we wouldn't be stopping for 2 miles and shouted out the directions. Our team thought we had heard correctly, but we would later found out we didn't. The group that followed the pacer had varied paces; our team was toward the back. Half of our team sped up to try to catch up, but we soon lost the front of the group. We became split from our own team, too. We didn't have the map either, so we watched for orange T-shirts. We soon encountered two speedy guys who seemed to know where they were going. We tried to keep up with them to make it to two stops. I struggled to catch up. It must have been obvious, because multiple strangers on the street encouraged me with "You go, girl!" and "You got this!" We soon saw another group of runners, and they, too, were speedy. We decided to head in their direction but soon we lost them as well. We had been running with a woman who seemed to be on her own, and her plan was to head to the secret checkpoint and return to the store. We agreed to join her. By then it was 7. We found the checkpoint, at Evergreen and Dayton, and started running toward the store. I remembered I had seen a checkpoint at Weeds, so I suggested we go there. Another team member guessed that Eddie Bauer was also probably a stop again; that was our next stop. Then it was time to head back to make it in time for the raffle. We ran 4.25 miles and only made it to five stops. Two team members still managed to win prizes.

While I didn't leave with anything, I was glad I went, because lately I have lost motivation despite my upcoming half marathon. It is no longer enough to be signed up for a race; I need more inspiration. Runner's World shared a link to 101 Kicks in the Butt today on Twitter. Let's hope one of these can give me the boost I need.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Lincoln Park Zoo

Chicago makes it easy to get all of your steps in. That's what I thought when I took a stroll around Lincoln Park Zoo with friends over Fourth of July weekend.

All of Chicago seemed to be at Fourth Avenue Beach and the surrounding area. We rented Divvy bikes to ride along Lakeshore Trail before heading to the zoo, which has free admission. When I heard Divvy bikes are only $7 for 24 hours, I couldn't believe it. Turns out that is in 30 minute increments, so if you ride over that at one time you pay a surcharge. The ride was much like a video game; we had to focus to avoid colliding with any pedestrians and bicyclists. 

Our first order of business was to grab lunch, but we stopped to admire the lions on the way.

The majestic eagle was a must-see on the Fourth of July.

We made our way to the African animals exhibit, which is indoors. The indoor exhibits tended to be the most crowded, but I could still get a good look at the animals.

Next we checked out the rhinos. One rhino seemed to hang out by a gate, and when we saw the adjacent enclosure we noticed the rhino in there was directly on the other side. It was almost as if they wanted to be together. 

We walked over to the monkeys, but I couldn't really get a good look because of the people crowding the glass. ...

The sea lions were active in their pool. 

We walked through a couple more indoor exhibits before leaving the zoo. The primates were popular with zoo-goers.

We couldn't leave without one last photo of the view.

On my next visit I'd like to have lunch at the restaurant while gazing out at this view. Chicago, you never cease to amaze me.