Urban Kayaking

My trip to Maine was the first time I’ve gone kayaking, but I was almost-immediately in love. So when Isha wondered if anyone wanted to go kayaking while she was in town, I was all over that. We went with Urban Kayaks, on their Historic Chicago tour.

I know Isha from my days on Tumblr and internet friends become real life friends pretty easily when brunch is involved.

Me!

Pancakes are always bringing people together, you know.

Isha!

Kayaking on the Chicago River was, at first, a bit more intense than I had anticipated, so I’m glad we went with a tour to start. With all the architectural tour boats, and other boat traffic downtown, it was good to have a few seasoned kayaking instructors with us to manage navigation. They did a great job of teaching us the necessary skills to manage it though without being dramatic – much more fun than stressful, I promise.

Cloudy weather = beautiful colors.

Our overall experience with Urban Kayaks was pretty good. Everyone was super friendly and the historical tour aspect of the trip was engaging and interesting. They had three instructors out with us, which is good as we were a pretty big group. That part became a bit frustrating near the end – not everyone picked up kayaking at the same speed. I spent a lot more time braking to avoid other kayaks than being able to steer while moving forward. Based on my only other experience kayaking, I did expect a smaller group based on the cost of the trip.

Wolf Point, Chicago

I would use Urban Kayaks again for a tour though – with the expectation that it’ll be kind of an easy, calm, fun trip. It’s a little pricey, but there are not many “cheap” tourist activities in Chicago. I would say, even, it’s imperative that your first time kayaking on the downtown portion of the river is with a tour group. Until I own my very own kayak, I will definitely rent from these folks, too.

This is really one beautiful city.

Note: all photos courtesy of Isha T. as I refuse to even try to take photographs with my camera phone anymore.

Meiko!

I seem to listen to primarily male singer-songwriters, broken-hearted and angsty young men. Damien Rice is a favorite. Sufjan Stevens. Mumford and Sons. More Damien Rice. Even more Damien Rice. Sometimes I need a break, though, and my friend Jason is replete with recommendations for female musicians to listen to and through him I have found some very lovely music. A few months ago, I asked very specifically for something I could listen to at work… not too sad, not too happy…and a female, please… and he recommended Meiko.

I listened a few times, here and there. I liked it. But listening to music at work is not the way to give a new artist a fair shot. I couldn’t tell you any specific songs I liked; I certainly didn’t retain any lyrics. It fades into the background for most of the day (which is how I listened to Lana Del Rey on loop for 8 hours without realizing it last week).
A few days ago, a friend offered a free ticket to the Meiko show at Lincoln Hall. I know that name! I thought, looked her up on Spotify and instantly remembered that, yes, I like this. So I jumped at the ticket and headed the beautiful Lincoln Hall venue Wednesday night for what turned out to be one of the best shows I’ve been to in months.
Meiko is just seriously so adorable. I can’t help it – I’m a little in love with her. She was phenomenal live. I’m just waiting for a live album to release because it was so much better than a studio album. That sounds terrible but I mean it as a compliment. She has a lovely voice and was just on all night. Great music, super charming – I was swooning, I can’t deny it.

 

She was so sweet and genuine and accommodating at the merch table. I picked up a super cute t-shirt, snagged her autograph, and yet somehow resisted from just putting her in my pocket and taking her home (that’s how we talk about about things that are adorable, ok). Just a wonderful night all around.

Both of her albums are great but I am looping The Bright Side like crazy – happy, upbeat, cheerful songs that are guaranteed to make you smile. She loves love, y’all! And it’s fun!

And yes, I asked her where she got her dress and then I bought that dress. We’re surprised? (No, we’re not.)

WordPress 101

On Tuesday, Sabine and I took an introduction to WordPress class with Nicole Crimaldi of Ms. Career Girl through Dabble. (Whew – lots of moving parts there.) This class was $25 but Sabine and I signed up during a “bring a friend” special so it was really just half that for both of us. I had literally never looked at WordPress before, but assumed that there was something above and beyond about it that would require a two-hour introduction class. Turns out, WordPress is not hard. WordPress is actually really easy to use. WordPress seems kind of fun to use. However, this class was still a great experience and I do not regret going at all. If I did it all over again, I’d do it the same.

Nicole gave us a great overview with signing up for WordPress, yes, but so much of this session was discussion about how to use blogging for whatever your purpose. There were participants who were starting small businesses, some just looking for more information for the mental knowledge bank (me), and others unsure of the next step but ready to move on to something else. And it was amazing to hear Nicole’s story of fighting back against a job that made her unhappy by working really hard and really smart. It was motivating.

Additionally, she had great tips on how to grow your blog’s readership and how to think strategically about SEO and keywords. I would say most of the participants were interested in how to monetize their blogs, which makes sense if this is for your business or part of your side hustle. For me, my blog is just part of my web persona, if you will, but I am very interested in creating a healthy and interesting presence on the web. While I am really not concerned with monetizing my web presence, I would say it still falls into a “side hustle” category, and these tips were great.

I was thrilled with the class and thought it a great night. The space was comfortable and inviting. Nicole was engaging and interesting – and inspiring. I’m happy to add her to a list of entrepreneurs I admire. I feel ready to really make this blog something to be reckoned with (haha – that sounds intense). It’ll be a little bit, here and there, but by the end of the year, there will be some big changes here. That’s the best thing about these Dabble classes – they truly do give you a taste of something new, and empower you to take off from there. Money and time well spent.

Recommendation: If you’re new to blogging or social media or just less comfortable with tech, take WordPress 101. If you’re all set with figuring out how to set up your blog, do that, and take Nicole’s Start Your Side Hustle class on Tuesday (8/14).

Who Has the Better Summer? Round 2: Stuff To Do

Wisconsin is where Chicagoans go to escape the city in the summer but it’s also where I spent my first 24 summers. The novelty that city slickers find in small town Wisconsin is just my normal. But after a few summers in Chicago, this feels normal too. So which is better? If you had to spend summer in just one place, which promises a better summer: Chicago or (my) small-town Wisconsin?

Summer Festivals
In my hometown, we have two summer festivals really – Walleye Weekend and the fair. The first is at the large park on Lake Winnebago and has formed around a three-day walleye fishing tournament. I know it better as the weekend we eat all kinds of fried food and watch the younger ones in the family play soccer. Just like any other summer festival – terribly unhealthy but delicious food, beer, bands, and the real purpose is something no one pays attention to. The fair is, of course – the fair. Come on. Carnival rides, animals in a large barn-type thing (um, I’ve been informed it’s just called “a barn”), and more fried food and beer.

In Chicago, summer festivals are much more compact – just a few blocks of space, at most. They’re typically not free; they’re suggested donation-admittance. Of course, here you’ll also find your fair share of fried foods, but many festivals are held in celebration of some heritage and so you’ll get a sampling of new foods too. Chicago’s festivals are so phenomenal though because there is literally something for everyone all summer. Lincoln Square’s Maifest (like Oktoberfest in spring!), Printer’s Row Lit Fest (used books for sales, author talks and readings!), and Wicker Park Fest (hipsters and music!) are a few of my favorites. And there are several fests every weekend, so it goes without saying if you have nothing to do – you’re wrong, there’s something to do.

Point Chicago.

Camping
This one is easy. You can’t camp in Chicago. Point Wisconsin.

Lazy Summer Porch Drinking

Yikes, this is harder. There are not many porches in Chicago. We have a back staircase that has a landing which we could theoretically put out one, maybe two, folding chairs and drink some beer. The view is lovely – the roof of the apartment building next door or into my neighbor’s kitchen. But Chicago has some pretty amazing local breweries that give perfect summer beer options – nice and light, crisp and a bit fruity.

Eh, you can buy Goose Island anywhere now. Wisconsin has New Glarus, big backyards, decks with grills and plastic kiddie pools. Point Wisconsin.

Outdoor Dining
It feels unfair to even write out a comparison here. There is no comparison. Point Chicago.

The Lake

Contenders: Lake Winnebago and Lake Michigan. I realize much of Wisconsin has access to Lake Michigan but we’re talking about my Wisconsin. My small-town Wisconsin has Lake Winnebago. A lake I’ve never swam in, maybe once canoed in, and often mocked. That said, I’ve only been to a Chicago beach once and certainly did not go in Lake Michigan. Tied.

Oh no, tied overall. Who guessed that would be the case? Truly, the winner is usually wherever I am not. When Chicago is too hot (and dirty), I crave a Wisconsin summer. And when Wisconsin gets boring, I itch to be back in Chicago. Luckily, it’s easy to go between the two.

Who Has the Better Summer? Round 1: Summer Storms

I’m in the midst of my sixth summer in Chicago and starting to feel the twinges of homesickness that always pop up along with the sudden summer thunderstorms and tornado warnings. Chicago, like the rest of the Midwest, has severe summer weather, but not often enough for my taste.

I lived in Milwaukee briefly last year and was kind of lounging around listening to the news one morning, when I heard something about a “water spout on Lake Michigan.” And a moment later, I realized,
I live on Lake Michigan! (Literally – my apartment was across the street from the lakeshore.) And sure enough, a glance out my window was enough to see something completely new (to me) and fascinating.

Photo from the National Weather Service and WISN Studio via mlive.com. 
Read about the water spout here.


Severe summer weather captivates us because we’re so close to but rarely ever in any real danger. (Please note that I do not live in Tornado Alley and while we have had our share of devastating tornadoes, they are rare.) And we’re regularly reminded of the power of nature, of
weather, in a Wisconsin summer. We crave and relish the summer thunderstorms while keeping an ear out for the sirens ushering us to the basement.

When severe weather strikes in Chicago, it’s just not the same. I’ve never really lived somewhere with an enclosed porch. I’ve certainly never lived somewhere with more than a pocket-sized view of the sky. The ramifications of severe weather inconvenience us more in the city than they did in small-town or rural Wisconsin. Chicago thunderstorms inspire annoyance long before any sense of awe.

It’s storming. It’ll take me 45 minutes to get home by train/bus. Do I wait out the storm at work? Do I want to be on the train during the worst of the storm? Will I have to wait for the bus long? 

It’s all much more tiring than fascinating when a thunderstorm strikes Chicagoland. Point Wisconsin.

What do you think, summer storms: yay or nay?