Pilsen, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down

We’re moving to Hyde Park this weekend after three years in Pilsen – four years total for me. This is the longest time I’ve lived anywhere since moving out of my parents’ house twenty years ago, and as I write them down, both of those numbers seem crazy to me. For a solid decade, I moved at least every year, and while few of those moves were capricious, this current move has been so exhausting that I can’t imagine what the previous ones were like.

But I suppose things are different now. This apartment is the first that we shared together, and the last place we lived before becoming parents. It’s where we brought our baby home from the hospital. Where I breastfed him in the green chairs by the window while watching the marathon that I had wanted to run. Where he learned how to roll over and crawl and walk and talk and feed himself and use the toilet and draw jellyfish. Where those milestone came on the back of days and weeks and months of broken sleep. It’s where we said goodbye to Pandora, N’s faithful cat companion of many many years.

When I first moved to Chicago, Hyde Park felt like the suburbs to me – geographically far, relatively sleepy, and generally undesirable for someone who wanted to live in the city. I fell in love with the idea of a certain kind of life, and Hyde Park didn’t offer any of those things.

But again, things are different now. Five years ago, I went dancing every week. My weekends involved boozy nights out and foggy headed brunches with friends. I could do my long run, nap all afternoon, and then stay out until the wee hours with few consequences. It’s been almost two years since I went dancing – not since Neo closed. We’ve been trying for almost two weeks to wrangle a night when the toddler goes to sleep early enough that we aren’t too wiped to go out for an hour AND our friend is available to babysit. Long runs are squeezed in between early morning grocery store breakfast dates and trips to the park and the lake and the butterfly garden. Most nights I’m in bed before 10, if not earlier.

When we chose Pilsen, it was because it split the difference between the north side, where we would prefer to live, and my work on the south side. We were three miles from the heart of downtown and two miles from the lake. We could see the Sears Tower and, on a clear night, fireworks over Navy Pier. We could pretend like we were still going to go out, even if the reality was very different.

Pilsen has been our home, but it’s time to move on. Over the last year, it’s become clear that Hyde Park offers us many of the things we value about the north side – for example, access to the lake and museums – but with a dramatically shorter commute. In the years since I moved here, a number of amenities have been added to the neighborhood that have made it sooooo much more appealing – for example, there are grocery options other than the terrible Treasure Island. The wide range of ethnic foods down the street from us (and Jolly Pumpkin!) is a better fit for N’s vegan-mostly diet than the Mexican-mostly options in Pilsen. And I don’t even know where to begin with the parks.

So: it’s bittersweet, but it’ll be good. I will miss our life in Pilsen, particularly our lovely light-filled apartment, but I’m excited to start our new life in Hyde Park as well.

March Eats (and drinks!)

We gave up restaurant dining* for Lent, so you’d think I would have a bunch of new recipes to share here! Instead, we’ve gotten into a comfortable groove with some of the favorites from the last two months – we’ve made the 1-pot curry a couple of times – multiple times in a week, in fact, because the recipe doesn’t use up an entire can of curry paste, and since it only lasts about a week in the fridge (and we love it so), we’ll make it again within a few days. We have roasted vegetables with awesome sauce** and a starch (generally quinoa or brown rice) on the regular. And we’ve been making chococado pudding** a couple of times per week. N has also mastered an amazing and simple marinara that serves as the base of an excellent puttanesca, though we’re both burned out on pasta at the moment.

So while it’s been a good month for cooking, it hasn’t been a great month for cooking new things.

1. Chocolate Cake with Date Frosting – My New Roots
I don’t get to bake very often – it’s better for us to not have treats in the house – but I like to use N’s birthday to make something sort of over-the-top. The My New Roots cookbook has a recipe for just such a cake, with layers of chocolate and blood orange and deep chocolate frosting. N (wisely) decided he didn’t need an entire cake, so I scaled down the chocolate cake recipe to make four cupcakes – the right amount for us after a treat-filled weekend. The blog post linked above is frankly more over-the-top than the cake itself, which, while delicious, was a little too wholesome for my birthday cake tastes – but this wasn’t my cake, and N was delighted, so we’ll mark this one a success.

2. New Brunswick – Serious Eats
While prepping last month’s Jeweled Rice, I kept thinking how nicely the aromatics would pair with whiskey. While the fresh mint and orange zest were gone long before we restocked the liquor shelf, I made use of other things we had on hand to try a few new cocktails. The New Brunswick made efficient use of the pink grapefruit that had been lingering on our counter – and is my new drink obsession, as it is a nice balance of sweet and tart.

3. Wild Rice Salad – My New Roots
This seemed really promising, but the soaked wild rice was just…weird. Normally I’m a fan of dishes that mix textures, but this wasn’t one of them. It was a little too creamy with not enough crunch.

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4. Baked Tofu
OK, this isn’t really a recipe so much as it is a different technique. I’ve never been super happy with my attempts to prepare tofu at home – sometimes the flavor is good, but the texture is almost always too soft for my liking. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve baked tofu a couple of times, and it’s SO MUCH BETTER. Baking cubed extra-firm tofu for 400F for 30-40 minutes yields chewy – maybe even a little crispy – cubes that are perfect for throwing in a salad or serving with roasted vegetables and awesome sauce. I’m super happy to have figured this out, and will be baking tofu like this ALL THE TIME going forward.

Weeknight color

* We gave up restaurant dining for Lent with a couple of caveats. First, N’s birthday always falls during Lent, which means that he almost always has to make an exception to whatever he’s given up in order to enjoy his birthday. This year was no exception to that rule – we went to Dusek’s and had a really wonderful dinner, though not quite as spectacular as my birthday dinner in January. Second, I had a few days of work travel about halfway through Lent, and while I could have technically avoided restaurants, trying new foods in different cities is one of my favorite things about travel. Third, we exempted meals/dishes that were already paid for via gift cards or other freebies since the intent was to save money. Finally, we exempted grocery store takeout since that’s often a weeknight sanity-saver on nights when we have to run errands and won’t otherwise have time to cook.

** I somehow haven’t talked about awesome sauce OR chococado pudding here. I will remedy that in another post.

January Eats

One of my resolutions was to try four new recipes each month. Here’s what I tried:

1. 1 Pot Kale Sweet Potato Curry – Minimalist Baker
We used to eat a lot of curry, but after two bouts of food poisoning from curry in two years (once at home, once at a restaurant in Antwerp), it’s been out of rotation for awhile. We had everything on hand, though, so I tentatively suggested this for dinner last week, and oh, I’m so glad I did. I substituted butternut squash for the sweet potato and served it over quinoa – and we ate the entire thing. The toddler finished his and asked (repeatedly) for more cubes. N liked it enough that he suggested we make it again two days later. It was equally good over brown rice, and with twice as much curry as I initially used. We’ll definitely be making this again.

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2. Coconut Lentils – Budget Bytes I kicked off the year with a very strict diet after the indulgent holiday season – a week or so of no animal products, grains, artificial sweeteners, or alcohol. I like doing this from time to time in order to reset my habits (and my cravings) – I also find that it helps me get back in the swing of meal planning and cooking, very necessary steps especially when I eat at least one meal per day away from home. I made a big batch of these lentils for a week’s worth of lunches on a Sunday night. My kitchen smelled heavenly – but unfortunately they were really bland on their own, and by day two, I felt sad eating my bowl of porridge. I will make these again, but not as a main dish.

3. The Life-Changing Loaf of Bread – My New Roots I am madly in love with the My New Roots cookbook, and was excited to try this grain-free “bread”. It’s loaded with nuts and seeds and fiber – all good things, right? Except that it came out of the pan sticky, dense, and not really sliceable – and then sat in our bellies like a brick, which is what it also resembled. The LCLOB was apparently the recipe that launched the MNR blog into the stratosphere – but I would assert that it is neither life-changing, nor a loaf, nor really bread. The toddler liked it, but we stuck the rest in the fridge to feed to the squirrels.

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4. Spicy Spaghetti Squash with Black Beans
This was another serendipitous recipe that used up a lot of things that we had on hand. We didn’t go for the full in-the-squash presentation – not terribly practical when you’re serving three – but no one seemed to mind. This is another definite rerun.

Spicy spaghetti squash

5. Indian Spiced Cauliflower Soup – Smitten Kitchen
I love cauliflower, and we all love Indian food, but I have to say that the strictly vegan version of this recipe was a little eh. The toddler and I had yogurt in ours which improved the flavor, but something was still off. Maybe it was too watery? We liked it enough to try it again, but not immediately.

6. Really, though, the big winner this month was the smoothie bowl, especially now that we have a fabulous (refurbished) Vitamix to do our bidding.

1/3/17 Green smoothie bowl 1/4/17 Pumpkin pie smoothie bowl

1/5/17 Eating the rainbow smoothie bowl 1/9/17 Froyo smoothie bowl

This Week’s Reads (1/27/2017)

I don’t have a lot of extra cycles this week. I was in Atlanta last weekend at a conference doing conference things (meetings! attending presentations! carrying too much stuff around!), sharing meals and drinks with friends and colleagues that I don’t see often enough, and participating in the Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women (more on that later). Reentry after these whirlwind trips is always hard, but it’s been particularly overwhelming this week, when several work projects have come together at the same time while (it feels like) our country has imploded around us. I’ve alternated between trying to read all the news and make all the phone calls – and feeling so exhausted and demoralized by any one piece of news that I just want to put my head in the sand and tune out for the next four years. But I can’t do that.

I spent Tuesday morning teleworking from our car dealership – just routine service stuff – and the sign on the TV made me feel a little more sane, as did some of the below links. Right now it’s really hard to know how to direct our energy, where we can do the most good, or what news we should trust. It seems like the best thing we can do is keep leaning on each other as we find our way through.

Don’t shame the first steps of a resistance – SocialistWorker.org
Oh boy, did I need to read this. I’ve already talked about feeling shame about not doing enough before the election. This has been compounded by shaming in various online spaces from more active or established activists.We can and should all do better. Every event, movement, organization, and individual can be more inclusive. “But endless social media critiques with no commitment to diving into that struggle for the kind of movement we want is not a serious approach.”

After Women’s March, Longtime Chicago Activists Answer ‘What Next?’ – Chicagoist
Reflections and ideas for action from Chicago-area activists

How To Mobilize Your Election Fear & Anger Into Action In Chicago – Chicagoist
This is from November, but it’s worth a reread for Chicago-area folks. Lots of links to organizations that can use your help.

Ways To Take Effective Action Following The Magnificent Women’s March – Gothamist
Specific action items for leveraging the nascent movement embodied in the Women’s March

Trump’s executive order on Obamacare, explained by two health policy experts – Vox
This gives me at least a little hope that the repeal of the ACA, if it happens, won’t be as catastrophic as feared. (It will still be bad.)

Chicago To Trump: Go F*ck Yourself
“Chicago isn’t perfect. We have a dickhead for mayor, horribly crooked cops, an insane murder rate, and over 100 years of institutionalized racism that is literally embedded in the city’s infrastructure, but threatening the city with armed soldiers is a historically bad idea. Just the fact that a city built by immigrants and full of refugees, transplants, hipsters, and olds could unite to tell the highest elected official in the country to take a flying fuck at a rolling doughnut is proof that something good is happening.”

My Marathon Year

When you’ve been running long enough, or have run enough races, people start asking when you’re going to do a marathon. For me, the questions started after I ran my second half, in the fall of 2011. Riding high on the euphoria of finishing Detroit, I decided I wanted to run a marathon.

13.1! Space Blanket! Medal!
Detroit half marathon finisher, October 2011

So I registered for Chicago in 2012. And then I thought about it, and then I thought better of it. I sold my bib, and then I broke my arm, so running the marathon became a moot point – though I did end up running a portion of the marathon with a dear friend as she finished her second. The experience of running her through the hardest 8 miles of the race was so powerful – and the rush of the finish so intoxicating – that I decided (again) that I wanted to run a marathon.

And then I thought about it again, and decided it wasn’t for me again. And so it went for another year, where I ran seven half marathons in four cities and two states. I joined an informal running group. I started doing speedwork. I got more serious about my diet. I got fast(er). And then the marathon bug bit again, and I started telling people: this is my marathon year.

And literally the next day, I found out I was pregnant. I watched the 2014 Chicago marathon from my chair, nursing my two week old baby as the elite runners passed through our neighborhood. Not my marathon year – not that kind of marathon, anyway.

And then 2015 wasn’t my year either. The baby continued to breastfeed enthusiastically and sleep erratically, both of which wreaked havoc on my well-being. I agreed to wait a year, and then made sure I was out of town on marathon day.

So in March of this year, I entered the Chicago marathon lottery, and in April, I got in. A week after I received my acceptance, I ran one of the most difficult races I’ve completed and wondered what in the world I’d gotten myself into.

Post-race face
Portrait of the artist as a water-logged half marathoner, April 2016

And so the summer passed with nearly every lunch hour spent on increasingly sweaty runs, and with nearly every weekend seeing me nudging my “longest run ever” record a little bit further. The last five miles of my 14 miler featured thunder and lightning, a torrential downpour, and standing water on the trail. It was so humid for my 15 miler that by mile 11, my shoes and socks were squishing with every step. My 16 miler was a dream. My 17 miler was painful at every turn. My 20 miler was spontaneously pushed to a Friday morning and culminated in a freak storm.

I ran before dawn. I ran most of the Lakefront Path, and literally all around Antwerp. I listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts. I didn’t do as much strength or cross training as I should have. I was constantly hungry. I got to a point where I was just so sick of running that I couldn’t wait for it to be done.

View from mile 3/17 at 6am.
Sunrise at Navy Pier

All of this prepared me for the marathon itself – and none of it prepared me for the marathon itself.

I wasn’t prepared for the overwhelming feelings that I experienced in the week leading up to the race. Everything felt incredibly emotional especially – my last long run, walking into the race expo, and picking up my bib.

I'm not crying; you're crying.
Race expo

I felt stressed and anxious when people asked me how I was expecting to do, or what time I expected to be by a certain location – as if I was going to let them down if I wasn’t there on time. I experienced a lot of impostor syndrome – I’m not a marathoner, I’m not an athlete. I felt the need to downplay what I was about to do, and wished I hadn’t told as many people – even as I couldn’t stop talking about it.

I worried about food all week – what should I eat? What shouldn’t I eat? What should I eat the day of? What is going to work with my stomach? And then an infected insect bite sent me to the emergency room three days out, and massive doses of antibiotics gave me all new worries.

I spent the night before the race at my parents’ hotel, where my mom’s mention of the race when making her reservation resulted in a surprise package waiting for me in the room.

Happy marathon eve to me.
Happy marathon eve to me

The morning of the race was everything I expected it to be. I jogged to the course, the streets filling up around me with marathoners and their loved ones. I watched the sun rise over Buckingham Fountain as I stretched. I ran into members of my running group – all first time marathoners – with enough time to snap a photo before we had to head to our corrals.

Team Noon Recess All Stars is ready to go!
Team Noon Recess All Stars

And then it was go time.

Here we go!
This view!

I want to remember how strong and steady I felt crossing the starting line. I want to remember those first miles, the sidewalks crowded with spectators, excitedly anticipating seeing my parents between miles 3 and 4. I want to remember running through Lincoln Park, a river of people rushing northward. I want to remember turning onto Addison at the northernmost part of the course, scanning the crowd for the previous night’s Lyft driver, whose wife had run the race before and who said he’d keep an eye out for me at that turn.

I want to remember the blinding sunlight through Boystown, and then the wave of emotions as I passed Neo, and then the beautiful scenery on Sedgwick as we headed back south. I want to remember checking my splits, mile after mile, and finding myself exactly on target mile after mile. I want to remember crossing the river back into downtown and texting the friends and family who were waiting for me to the west.

I want to remember the halfway point, my feet sticking to the pavement from all of the energy chews, my heart full of pride at what I’d already accomplished. I want to remember Annette and her family in the West Loop, her running out to join me for a few blocks. I want to remember accepting red licorice from someone in the crowd. I want to remember jumping up and down as I saw Karen at the western most point of the course.

Mile 15
Mile 15, photograph by Karen

I want to remember that it started getting hard after that, and that by the time I saw Alisa on Taylor Street, I was starting to struggle. I want to remember turning south to Pilsen, and wondering if I was going to finish, but holding it together because I knew I’d see my family soon. I want to remember digging into my reserve so that they would see me smiling. I want to remember the hurried hugs and kisses – and the toddler so overwhelmed by everything that he turned away.

And then I want to remember turning the corner at mile 20 and everything falling apart. I want to remember the last 10K taking everything I had – and taking it all out of me. I want to remember crying as I limped down Halsted, pulling it together to run through Chinatown, then falling apart again. I want to remember how sweet that grape popsicle tasted in mile 24. I want to remember counting down the blocks until I saw Michelle who lifted my spirits by running the last few blocks of Michigan along with me.

And then I want to remember the end, pulling out all stops to get up Roosevelt, summoning some secret reserve of energy to call out THIS IS IT as I rounded the corner into Grant Park and saw the finish line.

I ran a fucking marathon
I ran an effing marathon.

And then after – the shuffle through the finisher’s area, getting my medal and my space blanket and my banana. Collapsing on the ground for an ugly cry before I could return any of the texts or emails or social media love that had been blowing up my phone for hours. Finding my way out and meeting Michelle somewhere on Michigan and her getting me home. Painfully climbing the two flights of stairs to my proud family. Sitting on the floor to stretch without any certainty I could get back up. Devouring a caramel apple cupcake despite having no interest in food whatsoever. A celebratory meal with family and dear friends. Walking slowly around the Arboretum the next day rather than sitting at my desk and cramping up. Trying to make sense of the surprising pains and emotions that emerged in the days that followed.

So, I ran a marathon. Maybe someday I’ll run another one. How do I feel about it? I feel everything about it.

I want to talk about this first.

I ran my first marathon yesterday. And I want to tell you about it, but I want to talk about this first.

I took this photo because I liked my pre-race layers – the Divvy shirt was going to be tossed before the race started – but when I looked at the photo on my phone, I wasn’t happy with it because I didn’t like how my belly looked.

Let that sink in for a minute. I was an hour away from the start of my first marathon, an accomplishment preceded by months of training and hundreds of miles logged on calloused feet and strong legs, all of which was done while working full time and with a toddler who still nurses nearly as much as he did at 9 months. And in that moment, I was upset at the shape of my belly.

I don’t remember when I first internalized that I was bigger, or that my weight was something I needed to be concerned about. Certainly by the time I was 12-13, I believed it to be true. I don’t know when I started understanding that my body had value, or that the value of my body to some might exceed the value of the heart and mind that it contained. But there were certainly long years where that felt true, and unlearning that truth was costly.

Whenever I run a race and see little girls watching and cheering, I think about how important it is for girls in particular to see women of all shapes and sizes doing hard and amazing things that aren’t limited to the traditional confines of gender. Every time I accept a high five from a little girl on the course, I hope that it’s a meaningful moment for her, that my imperfect body will be added to the many many messages she’ll receive about who and what she can be, that she’ll understand that she doesn’t have to have a perfect body to be amazing.

Antwerp v. Chicago, pt. 2

Beer: Also should be the subject of its own post. Whenever we go to Champaign, we stop at the Esquire for beers and marvel at how cheap they are compared to Chicago. $3 for a Blue Moon? I’ll take it! Beer here is like that, except that we’re drinking world class beers for a couple of euros.

Bedding: The pillows in Belgium are fine if you want a fluffy square but not if you want actual neck support. On the other hand, some duvet covers have a thing that you tuck in (instead of buttons or snaps) in which can also be used to tuck the duvet itself under the mattress, thus solving two persistent problems in our sleeping situation: the tucked in vs not complex, and rampant blanket displacement/theft.

Fancy ice cream desserts: Something of an edge to Belgium for having a suite of ice cream desserts like the Dame Blanche. Sure, it’s just vanilla ice cream, chocolate sauce, and whipped cream, but they’re all the real thing, or you’re not really eating a Dame Blanche. Also all ice cream trucks sell ice cream by the scoop, not just the prepackaged novelties.

After hours health care: We all got food poisoning during the second week of our trip. When the toddler hadn’t kept anything but breastmilk and coconut water down for 2 days, we were encouraged to go to the doctor. At 7pm. On a Friday night. In the States, and with my insurance, that would have meant driving 7 miles to Hyde Park to pay a $75 copay to be seen at the ER. The last time we did this, we waited 3 hours and left without being seen. In Antwerp, we walked 10 minutes to a neighborhood clinic. We were seen by a kind and professional doctor who spoke both English and Dutch, and were on our way home in under an hour. With no insurance, and as non-residents, and after hours on a weekend, we paid €29, or less than half of what we would have paid in the States. No healthcare system is perfect, but this was dramatically better than most of our recent experiences back home.

Parks (pt 2): We miss the sponges surface from playgrounds in Chicago – the sand from Antwerp’s speelpleinen gets EVERYWHERE. And while I’ve enjoyed running the trails in the wooded parks, I miss the many drinking fountains on the lakefront path.

Bottled water: OH GOD THIS IS A TOUGH ONE. Bottled water is a thing here. No one drinks tap water, even though the tap water is clean and good. If you want water when you go out to eat, a small bottle of Spa or Chaudfontaine will cost you at least €2. While I agree that bottled water sometimes tastes better than water from the tap, and while I love me some fizzy water, I loathe buying bottled water and am frustrated by the unnecessary waste generated so that we can avoid drinking the perfectly fine water from the tap. We’re not in Flint. We’re not even in Chicago, where I agreed to buy and install a reverse osmosis system because of the old infrastructure delivering water to our home. While there are many, many, many examples of American excess, the bottled water habit in Belgium is its own kind of excess.

Things falling from trees: In Chicago, we have acorns. Antwerp has chestnuts that fall with an audible thud. They’re more dangerous, but also more delicious. Advantage: Antwerp.