pear picking

The Winter Pear
by William Allingham

Is always Age severe?
Is never Youth austere?
Spring-fruits are sour to eat;
Autumn’s the mellow time.
Nay, very late in the year.
Short day and frosty rime.
Thought, like a winter pear,
Stone-cold in summer’s prime,
May turn from harsh to sweet.

Posted 11 years, 1 month ago at 11:24 am. Add a comment

What to do when your baby is awake in the middle of the night

  1. Have a plan.
  2. Carry out that plan.

Simple as that.

In a random moment of clear headed fortitude, Gary and I realized the need for such a plan. Theodore’s molars were swollen, meaning teething was once again immanent. In the past, we’ve just slogged through nearly sleepless nights, sometimes just barely keeping strung out emotions in check. I knew something had to change if we I was to keep my sanity. (Gary has a remarkable ability to remain calm even when sleep deprived.)

Our Plan? It involves late night/early morning public transportation, a 24-hour pancake cafe, and copious amounts of butter and syrup. And maybe orange juice.  A Pancake Plan. The inevitable night came. Sleepy cries turned into ever less restrained giggles. Instead of cursing the night, we shrugged on clothes reminiscent of a college freshman and shuffled out the door. Our street that was usually spiced with saxophones, cyclists, and strollers was now simply peppered with “closed” signs. The moon punctuated the inky sky as we waited for the bus. (Rave for door-to-door public transportation!)

We settled into a corner booth at Elly’s Pancake House and wrapped our hands around hot coffee mugs as Theodore practiced using a straw. Our fellow diners (breakfasters? What do you call a meal eaten at 4 a.m.?) seemed to be more on the staying-out-late end of the spectrum than our getting-up-early. Regardless, the ambiance of the place felt genial, as if Elly (whomever she is) opened her kitchen up just for you and whatever circumstances brought you there, accepting you whether your feet be shod in sparkly high heels or in slippers. Or your hair mussed from dancing the night away or from tossing and turning. Imagine shuffling down to your kitchen having finally given up on sleep and wanting only to watch time tick by on a different clock for awhile. Instead of stoically picking at leftovers in the light of the fridge, you are met with fresh coffee, good company, and ample stacks of pancakes. There are very few bad nights that cannot be made better by those things.

By the time the bill was paid, the sky had lightened and we were feeling similarly brighter having avoided a midnight mama meltdown in such a yummy fashion. As we walked the few steps from the bus stop to our door, the mood had mellowed a bit. With barely a word, we all three tumbled back into bed together for a 7 a.m. nap. As I drifted off with my two loves on either side of me (one of whom smelt faintly of syrup) I found myself almost looking forward to the next night the Pancake Plan would be needed.

Just almost.

Posted 11 years, 5 months ago at 9:20 pm. 3 comments


As an introvert, I know I’m supposed to enjoy doing things alone. Being by myself is supposed to restore my spirit and make me feel most myself. And generally, that’s true. Except in one area: dining. I used to recoil from  eating alone. I still shudder to remember walking through a noisy cafeteria, tray in hand, desperately scanning faces trying not to look like I was desperately scanning faces. If no inviting countenance was glimpsed, I played the part of a solitary scholar and ate in the shadow of a book. Being an introvert, it was not an option to just say “Hello! Is this seat taken?” and plunk down next to another eating-alone stranger. Then there was the dark time I found myself both companionless and bookless. It was not my most dignified moment when I pulled out my cell phone, pretended there was someone on the other end, and ate as quickly as I could. (Promise you’ll keep that a secret, m’kay?)

No longer.

I recently found myself with a baby free morning and nowhere specific to go. I decided to head to Uncommon Ground, a local spot that wears a rooftop farm as a crown. Instead of the coffeeshop atmosphere I was expecting, I was greeted by a hostess who seated me with a menu. I felt the tingle of my old  anxiety in my finger tips for just a moment. Dining alone?

Oh yes.

Now I steep in it, this eating by myself. I sat at that table with nothing but the condiments across from me and let myself suffuse. A kettle sang in the kitchen as I exhaled the tensions that seemed to cling to me more tenaciously than a toddler. (At least toddlers can be left with a sitter. I’ve yet to find someone who will tend my worries with the same care that I do.) Through windows pin pricked with rain I watched the tide of people outside at the bus stop while, inside, my thoughts began to color the air around me. My fingers lingered around a hot mug, purposefully feeling the warmth slowly ebb away instead of abandoning it after only a sip or two. An hour passed as I spooned at a berry and yogurt parfait. (Drizzled with honey gathered from hives on the roof just above my head!) I read and reread paragraphs from my book, squeezing out all the the beauty I could from words like these:

“All ingredients need salt. The noodle or tender spring pea would be narcissistic to imagine it already contained within its cell walls all the perfection it would ever need. We seem, too, to fear that we are failures at being tender and springy if we need to be seasoned. It’s not so:  it doesn’t reflect badly on pea or person that either needs help to be most itself.”
- Tamar Adler An Everlasting Meal


These hours dining alone were a much needed dash of salt.


Posted 11 years, 6 months ago at 1:32 pm. 1 comment

a beautiful day in the neighborhood

It’s a beautiful day in this neighborhood,
A beautiful day for a neighbor,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

It’s a neighborly day in this beautywood,
A neighborly day for a beauty,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?

So let’s make the most of this beautiful day,
Since we’re together, we might as well say,
Would you be mine?
Could you be mine?
Won’t you be my neighbor?

This used bookstore sits on a corner a couple blocks from our apartment. The first time we drove past it (while apartment hunting), I thought that surely the windows were just a clever display of controlled chaos designed to lure people into the shop. When I rounded said corner a month later (oh! that’s where that shop is! who knew it was so close by!), I was fully expecting to find well ordered shelves. I was delightfully wrong. The inside is exactly like the outside: cluttered, musty, and winsome. Pyramids of books  lurch into the shoulder width aisles.

Further down the block, I had to stop and admire the artful arrangement of smooth river rocks, broken concrete, and knobbly tree trunks. Something about it makes me think of an urban fairy tale.

“This is a no kill parking spot. Help stop dogs dying in hot cars. Thanks.” Thanks to the creative medium of this public service announcement, I guarantee you I’ll be watching for dogs in parked cars. I wonder what other causes could benefit from such creativity?

Finally, someone should write a children’s book for this poor lost bunny.

What interesting things have you noticed in your neighborhood recently?

Posted 11 years, 7 months ago at 6:28 pm. Add a comment

A beautiful kitchen does not good food make

A series of what can only be considered fortunate events culminated in finally pushing the Quotidian household towards Chicago. If cities could be soul mates, I’d say I’ve found my other half. As the Intelligentsia website put it, Chicago is “a city that is brooding, practical and reluctantly beautiful.” (Their flagship coffeebar, by the way, is a mere 472 ft from my front door.) I hesitate to label myself in front of others who know me so well because I can just imagine you coming up with counter examples to any category in which I choose to place myself. However, brooding practicality seems as good a description of my personality as any.  It’s true I once favored the purely decorative, whether it was collections of porcelain figurines or jelly shoes that caused my toes to grow funny. As I’ve grown older, though,  I’ve come to recognize the beauty in things like a quilt casually crumpled over the back of a chair, a bowed shelf of canned goods in a cold basement,  or even an expanse of cleared off table.

And you don’t know me well if you think I don’t indulge in a good brood every once in awhile.

While I do get a thrill out of already claiming Chicago as “my city,” I know that I am still a newcomer here. There are new corners to be rounded just about everywhere I go. So it seems a bit disingenuous to inventory all the reasons Chicago and I are the perfect match. Things like not being the only one sporting the homeless granny chic grocery cart. Or being able to attend a live jazz concert simply by opening my window. Or that summer here waits until spring is finished speaking. There are also some things that are common to any major city- enjoying public transportation along with people from all different economic backgrounds, passing a couple in the street and not being able to assume the conversation you overhear will be in English, and deciding on a cuisine for dinner (Japanese, Italian, Lebanese, ect) still leaves you with about three restaurant choices within walking distance.

There are also other less desirable things common to cities. Namely, the mac ‘n’ cheese kitchen. You know the type: a room that seems like an afterthought with a fridge squeezed in, postage stamp size counters,  and just enough cupboard space to store a few pots, bowls, and of course, your blue stash of mac ‘n’ cheese. I am now the proud owner renter of just such a kitchen.

This is the picture I took  during our apartment hunt which turned into more of a scavenge when two (!) apartments were rented out from under us. By the time the dust had settled, this was the only apartment left out of the dozen or so we’d looked at. The rest of the apartment is quite nice. There’s wood floors instead of plastic elementary school style tile. (Yes, that huge hole in the floor is still there. It grabs disturbingly as stocking feet.) The apartment is on the south side of the building, so even though I don’t have any private outdoor space, there’s ample sunlight.  And the location is something out of a dream. Two bus lines within blocks that will take you downtown within 20 minutes. A local bagel bakery, diner,  and chocolate shop clustered at the end of the block. The kitchen, however, was cause for big tears and gnashing teeth. And maybe a little sackcloth. Only Mr. Quotidian will know whether or not ashes and swearing off cooking for the duration of our lease were involved, and he’s been sworn to secrecy on the matter.

How was I supposed to cook -  I mean really cook – in a kitchen like this? Sure, it’d be perfectly adequate for other people, but for me? Where’s my food processor and 16 pots and pans supposed to go? Not to mention all my pantry foodstuffs,herbs, and spices, which accounted for an eighth of our moving boxes all on their own. My cookbook collection probably bumps that fraction up to a quarter. Where were all these chef-ly accouterments supposed to go in a kitchen like this?

To hell with a chef’s kitchen you say? Power to the small kitchened people? Granite and stainless be damned, too, you say?


A few days after signing the lease through tears, I decided sackcloth and ashes was probably not the most helpful response. (Actually Mr. Quotidian decided for me and I was forced to agree.) After all, a beautiful kitchen does not good food make. Do I seem sure of that? It’s only because I’ve repeated it as a mantra these past weeks. As I came to terms with my new kitchen, I began to look at it as a creative challenge. A wise person once taught me that limits are the harbinger of creativity. If that’s true, and I believe it is, this will be one of my most creative kitchens yet.

Here are some of my limits:

  • I’d rather spend money on quality ingredients than fancy kitchen organizers. Therefore, make every effort to repurpose things I already own. When something must be bought, try to purchase things that can be repurposed themselves in a new kitchen. (I won’t, after all, be living with this kitchen forever.)
  • The kitchen must be as intrinsically baby proof as possible. Safety latches and rubber bands can only go so far.
  • Even though it’s small, it must not feel cluttery. The counters will be kept clear.

“beautiful kitchens do not good food make”
“beautiful kitchens do not good food make”

“beautiful kitchens do not good food make”
“beautiful kitchens do not good food make”

Posted 11 years, 9 months ago at 11:21 am. 2 comments

An auspicious find

aus pi cious [aw-spish-us]
1590′s “of good omen,” from L. auspicium, divination by observing the flight of birds, from auspex, “augur,” lit. “one who takes signs from the flight of birds
1. promising success; opportune; favorable: an auspicious occasion
2. favored by fortune; prosperous; fortunate
3. a pair of brand new snow boots bought on the very same day the decision to move to Chicago was made; preparedness for real winter; thrifted on the cheap from His House on River Dr.: These auspicious boots will keep my feet warm this winter in Chicago.

Posted 11 years, 11 months ago at 3:46 pm. 3 comments