Talking To Strangers

As a traveler, it is difficult to be shy.  There are so many people you encounter along the way, how can you resist making friends?  With social media and faster technology, it becomes even easier.

Having grown up in theatre, talking in front of people has always been natural for me.  That has translated into being able to create small talk at the drop of a hat; elevators don’t get quiet, train rides become entertaining, and I come away from these encounters with interesting stories and sometimes small tokens of the accidental friendship.

Last night, I left my cyr class and walked to the bus stop.  There was a fella standing there when I arrived, and he asked if I knew when the next bus was coming.  I replied “Nope, but at least it’s warm tonight.”  This seemed to spark something in him, because he replied about how cliché it is to talk about the weather.  I laughed and asked if he would rather talk of something else.  This was the beginning of a conversation that lasted the entire bus ride.

In the middle, he pulled a box out of his backpack and asked if I would like a paper crane.  Delighted by this, I selected a brightly colored one from the box.

I was on the bus heading towards a Couchsurfing meet-up.  Couchsurfing is my preferred method for traveling – you search ahead for a couch to crash on with a local in the destination town; it’s free and opens up a side of the city you may not have seen otherwise.  My network has grown over almost every continent because of Couchsurfing.  The Chicago meetups happen regularly, but I rarely get to attend.  A few beers, an amazing cashew butter and jam sandwich, and belly-aching laughs later, someone dumped a handful of origami on the table and offered them up for grabs.

Amused, I extracted the tiny little crane I had gotten on the bus just two hours earlier and showed them.  The gifter chuckled and plucked a large turquoise crane from the pile, offering it to me, a mate to the little one.  I don’t even remember her name, but I remember her face and smile, and the smiles on the faces of other giftees.

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Now, the two little cranes sit atop my computer monitor, brightly colored and about to take flight.  Each reminds me of the people I met with a simple salutation.

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Explore Chicago: Hanging Out With Lorna’s Laces

I didn’t realize this could be an Explore Chicago post until I came face to face with that word at the top my screen that demands “Title.”  I thought about it – how do I sum about my awesome weekend in a few short words that makes you want to continue reading?  What did I really do and what do I want to share with you?  This weekend was actually a large exploration of Chicago, from it’s quaint and quirky neighborhoods to the suburbs and a vast exploration of the public transit system into the Loop, it was strange and colorful and chilly and wonderfully inspiring.  Honestly – a little terrifyingly inspiring, as strange as the concept may seem.  To sum up what I mean – I have been face to face with some amazing, beautiful, creative, and ambitious people doing fantastic things.  And I’m faced with the ability to be a part of it – and it blows my mind.  I feel like I’m standing on the edge of everything I have want to do and all that is required is to take that one last leap of faith, and to be perfectly clear – it scares the h-e-double-hockey-sticks out of me.

But, I digress.

Saturday saw a most wonderful opportunity realized.  I teamed up with the gals from Windy Knitty and we went to the dye studio of Lorna’s Laces – a most lovely, colorful, wacky little yarn dyer that is based in Ravenswood, a neighborhood here in Chicago.  Take a look at that website – go on, I can wait.  Pretty stunning, yes?  The color combinations, the quality, and if only you could feel the amazing cloud-like substance the yarn actually is – you would be head over heels and “accidentally” swiping your credit card (I may or may not speak from experience).

The coolest part, besides seeing the hole in the wall where the magic happens and standing inside hallways of beautiful, colorful, tempting skeins of super soft merino…I got to dye my own yarn.

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We started with a base.  I had a skein of superwash merino fingering weight, as did a majority of the others there.  This was her famous Solemate – ideal for sock yarn because of the 15% nylon and 30% Outlast.  It is deliciously soft and has a lovely sheen to it.

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We then picked out colors and watched Beth mix the pigments.

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She took a skein of the same base yarn and showed us what each of the colors was going to look like.  Once the 8 colors were ready, she let us have our fun.  There were 3 of us working on the tables at once, laughing our butts off as we spilled dyed across the table, played around with colors, and explored the studio.

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Seriously….color explosion everywhere.  I couldn’t help myself.

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And then we found this – a table of mill ends and one-of-a-kind skeins.  All of the samples they work with while they are trying to come up with new colorways – sitting right here on the table at ridiculously cheap prices.  I couldn’t resist.  I really couldn’t.  I keep wandering to the table, digging through the pile and finding all of these amazing little treasures.  I came away with a bag full of colorful pretties, and I have plans.

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In contract to the hanging skeins pictured above, our trial skeins hung in a row drying, but were no where near as stunning.  Granted, we all adored each others handiwork because it was a lovely surprise when they were finished.  We weren’t quite sure how everything was going to turn out, and each skein was beautiful.

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This is my Solemate.  It seems to reflect the icy chill of winter that is settling over us, with that lovely splash of color and beauty that you happen upon on those cold days.

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And then I couldn’t help myself, so I bought another base – this time a Superwash Worsted, and had another go; this time inspired by the autumn colors on the table.

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I can’t believe how lovely they turned out, and now I am racking my brain to think of suitable projects, because at this rate, my stash has an awful lot of souvenir, one-of-a-kind, once-in-a-lifetime finds that I really, simply, should not keep stuffed in plastic baggies inside of drawers.  They are meant to be admired.

Explore Chicago: Turtle Racing

Yes, turtle racing.  It is exactly what it sounds like.  This was a discovery that one of my roommates led me to.  She goes turtle racing almost every Friday and nagged and nagged like a bitter old housewife until I relented and joined her and her rugby team for an evening.  My roommate is pretty awesome, so I trusted her judgment.

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There was so much excitement in the crowd!  Everyone was amped up to watch, to join the raffle, and to cheer on the turtles.  It was quite infectious.  Then again, to race a turtle, you have to first buy a drink, from which you then get raffle tickets – so the more you drink, the more likely you are to race.

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The team was very gracious about letting the newcomers have a turn racing.  We pooled our tickets for better odds.

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This is the table they were racing on.  The red circle is the starting point.

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If your ticket is called, you randomly select a number, and that number corresponds to a numbered turtle.

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Once all of the numbers have been assigned, the turtles are set up for the race.  There is so much anticipation at this point.

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And then they scramble as soon as the lid is off.  I was impressed with just how quickly those little guys can move.  It didn’t take very long at all for the first turtle to reach the outer ring.

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If you have the first turtle out, you win a t-shirt.  If you’re turtle is the last one to leave, you get a free beer.  The slowest turtle is always the same – Yolanda.  Some say she has stage fright, others that she is just lazy.  I think she may just be too dignified for us primates.

Explore Chicago: Wrigley Field

I have been trying to update since Friday, but with the combination of social events and a wonky internet connection, it couldn’t happen.

Anyway, on Friday, Ellette and I went our June Chicago exploration to Wrigley Field.  This was a work function, so we were with a group of 50 or 60 people.  It was mostly fun, but neither Ellette or myself find baseball the most entertaining sport.  Luckily, I had yarn in my purse and knit for a few innings.

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Still, a coworker loaned Ellette his jersey because she was shivering, and she looked awfully cute decked out in her Cubs gear.

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Ellette’s favorite part was singing ‘Take me Out to the Ball Game.”  She was waiting eagerly for the 7th inning so she could sing.

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We had buckets of sugar. I do believe this was the first time I witnessed Ellette in a sugar high.  our diets contain very little sugar, and most of what we do consume is naturally produced by the fruit we snack on.  We were  both a little overloaded with Pizza, Cotton Candy and Ice Cream by the end of the game.

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Ellette is about to leave town to spend the summer with my parents, so the Explore Chicago adventures will take on a slightly less family-friendly appeal.  I’m looking forward to a childless summer (Especially since I am going to be working a lot) but I know I will miss Ellette within a couple weeks (if not sooner).

Explore Chicago: The Blue Man Group

We had a group adventure over the weekend, captained by my friend DJ (the cute blond far right).  He was determined to give us non-Chicagoans a taste of true Chicago, and that entailed heading into the city for dinner and a show.

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Dinner was at Edwardo’s and consisted of deep dish spinach pizza.  Only one lonely piece survived the meal, as the adults of the group were ravenous by the time we arrived at the restaurant.  If you don’t know it, or have never had deep dish pizza – it is loaded with carbs, grease, and deliciousness. One piece is usually all I need to feel absolutely stuffed.

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Afterwards, we headed to the Briar Street Theatre to see the Blue Man Group.

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The Theatre is definitely something to behold.  It’s interactive, which keeps you entertained before the show.

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Tubes were everywhere, and when you got up close they all played different types of music or speeches.

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There were some you could use to communicate with people across the theatre.

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We all laughed so hard we cried.  There were points during the show where I laughed so hard I couldn’t breathe.  I was gasping for breath, and DJ was sitting next to me laughing at me while I squeaked for air.

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It was an incredible show – and I heartily recommend it.  You will not be able to stop laughing (I’m laughing now as I write this).

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Because our Chicago adventures include public transportation, CTA shenanigans ensued during the ride home.  Ellette and I like to try to ride without holding on to anything.

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It quickly escalated.

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All in all – a fantastic Chicago adventure that has become one of the highlights of my year so far.

Explore Chicago: A Mid-Week Escape

I declared yesterday “Mental Health Day.”  With the spur of activity that has surrounded me for the last couple of weeks and what I see in the upcoming ones, my psyche was on the brink of total metldown.  I could hear that little voice in my head crying out “Run Away!” every time a new task fell into my lap.  My to-do list is far too long to ever think about completing, and I don’t foresee another opportunity for a break until June.

So, what did I do?  I played hookey.

Ok, not entirely truthful.  I clocked out of the office after a half-day, with the reasoning that mental health is just as important as physical well-being, and if they wanted a happy and productive employee, they would let me take the time off.

A friend and I hopped on the train at 2 and headed for the city.  He couldn’t believe that I had never been to Garrett’s (or the Magnificent Mile for that matter), so that was our first destination.

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There was a line stretching out the door and down the block, and I loved watching the little kids pressing against the glass cases that were filled with tons and tons of delicious smelling popcorn.  We got our bags (one of cheese and one of caramel) and started walking.  Garrett’s popcorn is definitely as good as it is made out to be.  (I have the remnants in a drawer of my desk and have been sneaking handfuls throughout the workday.  Yumm!)

As we were walking down Mag Mile, I stopped dead and I’m pretty sure my chin hit the ground and my tongue went rolling like a cartoon when I spotted this lovely window display.

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That look you see on my face – that’s the “up-to-no-good-can-I-smash-the-window” look.

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I probably spent about 10 minutes inspecting every machine close enough to look at.  I didn’t spot my featherweight though, which was a little disheartening.

We then went to the John Hancock building, up to the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor.  We had cocktails (deceivingly strong ones) and admired  the view.  I feel bad for being there without Ellette, who would have gone crazy with excitement.  We will plan a return trip later in the spring, when the weather warms up and we have a bit more time.

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While I was sitting there, staring out over the city, and running my mouth like a crazy woman about every little thing under the sun, I couldn’t believe that this is where I live now.  I have been in Chicago for almost 3 years. I have avoided a lot of the touristy attractions in search of a more real, down to earth, side street kind of scene.  I have met some wonderful and talented people, seen some amazing shows, and learned a lot of new and sometimes strange things in doing so.  But being up there, looking down, it was all kind of surreal.

Afterwards, we walked along the lake front until we came to Millenium Park and the iconic Bean (because everyone has to see the bean).  It was fun watching all of the tourists getting excited about all of the different ways they could photograph the sculpture.

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We capped our day with a very satisfying dinner at the Chiago Diner in Boystown.  This is one of my favorite restaurants – and a must try for any vegan/vegetarian reading this.  Everything on the menu caters to a meatless diet and their ethics are fantastic.  Their wait staff has always been wonderful and their food is mouth-watering.   I have yet to get a dish I don’t enjoy.  They are small, but always bustling, with a charming and vibrant atmosphere.

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This was the perfect break I needed.

Exploring Chicago – The Art Institute

We decided this last Sunday would be our explore Chicago day, even though it was rainy, because our weekends this month are filling up quickly.

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Ellette doesn’t seem to ever get tired of the train rides.  So long as she can see the map, she is a happy trooper.  We spent much of the ride playing eye-spy.  Initially, we were going to go to the Lincoln Park zoo, because it was supposed to be relatively dry and warm.  Then, the forecast tipped to raining all day, and we thought the Garfield Park Conservatory would be fun.  But on the train, the idea for going to the Picasso exhibit presented itself and Ellette was very excited to see the artwork, so we went that route.

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I’m not the kind of person that takes pictures in art museums.  For some reason, that feels wrong – like I’m stealing from the artist or not doing their art justice.  You want to see Picasso’s work – go check it out yourself! Any photo I could have taken would not have shown the colors and textures the way they ought to be respresented.

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This little jem, however, was part of the paperweight collection and we all fawned over how beautiful and intricate it is.  It is so lifelike!

Because of this and other adventures of the weekend, there was hardly any crafting.  There will be a finished-object post coming up.  I promise!

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