Kayak downtown Chicago

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View from Dick’s Last Resort

Have you kayaked the Chicago River yet? What a thrill! This had been on my wish list for several summers, ever since I worked out on Goose Island and saw the colorful kayaks floating by. I believe those kayak classes and tours by Kayak Chicago were the first and perhaps the only ones available at that time, and it seemed like a novel urban adventure to me. I had this daydream of kayaking in the afternoon then going to one of my favorite restaurants, Uncle Julio’s, just east on North Avenue, for happy hour and toasting to the adventure with a round of Swirls. But years passed, I no longer worked on Goose Island and it didn’t happen.

As time went by, I started to notice more and more groups of kayakers on the Chicago River downtown. Finally, the opportunity arose for me to make this wish come true: When I recommended kayaking to family from out of town and a couple of friends, they were up for it.

I went on the internet and found a handful of kayak establishments in addition to Kayak Chicago including Urban Kayaks, Wateriders and Chicago River Canoe and Kayak. They all sounded great: I’d still like to try Kayak Chicago starting at Goose Island to kayak a less busy part of the river, Wateriders has several fun tours and Chicago River Canoe and Kayak is a bit north offering less urban kayaking experiences which I would definitely like to do, especially now that I’ve gotten my feet wet kayaking for the first time. The three kayak businesses closer in all had similar tours (architecture, sunset, fireworks, etc.) at comparable pricing.

Being a downtown gal who strives to keep potentially complex plans simple, I opted for the Urban Kayaks one-hour Riverwalk Intro Paddle. I liked that my first kayak experience could be a lesson during which we’d be closely watched over by a professional kayaker and that it was along the Riverwalk, one of the most magnificent areas of downtown Chicago.

The folks at Urban Kayaks were great! It’s easy to book online after which they email a liability waiver to sign and then all you have to do is show up and give your name. They treat customers kindly; they sit you down first in a brief class on how to kayak; they don’t balk at helping you get your life jacket on properly and getting in and out of the kayak; and the tour guide stays very close by in the water, keeps the group together, gives helpful instructions through a megaphone and is even in radio contact with the boats to keep the flock safe.

Because I had never kayaked before, I read all the kayak sites for general information, like how to dress (expect to get wet) and what to bring (water, if you wish) and leave behind (cell phone, cameras – unless you want to buy one of their waterproof bags). Urban Kayaks has lockers, both locked and open-air shelving to stash your stuff.

I had planned to use the airtight compartment on the kayak but didn’t need to. What they don’t tell you online is that the life vests have two large pockets that can hold quite a lot and they zip up good and tight. So I was able to stuff an extra pair of glasses in one side and my “necessity pack” in the other. I never ended up needing any of the things I brought; I might as well have left them in the locker, lol. Perhaps on a longer kayak tour, one would want personal items along. Once the life vest was tightened up, I found I could stash my water bottle down the front and it stayed perfectly secure.

By the way, I did a kayak-for-two with someone who had kayaked previously because this was new to me. Even though I learned, I believe I would still prefer the dual-kayak for subsequent experiences, because it’s easier to talk to each other and you’re both having the exact same experience, which makes it more fun.

Urban Kayaks also has porta-potties and a “changing room” which is actually a porta-potty without the toilet, and it’s in the toilet area. They were rather stinky, as porta-potties tend to be, so I was glad I was wearing a swimsuit and didn’t have to use the dressing area.  And I recommend you do the same. I really didn’t get as wet kayaking as I’d expected. I didn’t have to use the dressing area: Afterwards, I simply left the swimsuit on and switched my top clothes (to dinner-appropriate attire) right in the open. It was so easy.

Now that I’ve kayaked the busiest part of the Chicago River, which is the strip along the Riverwalk, I feel well-schooled in how to kayak safely. It gets pretty hairy: The boat and barge traffic along there is serious. There are sightseeing boats, constructions barges, pleasure crafts of all shapes and sizes and water taxis. Kayakers quickly learn to stay as far to the right as possible and stay aware.

After all the kayakers I’ve watched go by on this strip of the river, it was such a rush to find myself actually doing it. People gawk at you, wave and take your picture, though you’re pretty focused on controlling your kayak in busy waters. I was glad I did it and now I feel ready for further kayak excursions like the sunset tour and checking out more serene venues.

We ended up dining on the balcony of Dick’s Last Resort and watched ensuing kayak groups navigate the Chicago River. That capped off our experience perfectly. I highly recommend kayaking along the Riverwalk then eating at one of the numerous great restaurants on the river.

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International Yoga Day: Strike a pose

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This is my cat’s version of cat yoga: taking over my yoga mat just when I am about to start yoga

We interrupt our normal programming (the ongoing series on learning to walk like a city slicker) to bring you a special announcement: June 21 – and every year on June 21, typically also the first day of summer in the North, the Summer Solstice – is International Yoga Day. In case you think this is no big deal, look again. And if you think yoga is just for girls or is simply stretching and deep breathing or meditating, listen up!

First, a funny yoga story: Years ago, a gal pal and I decided to do a yoga class at the Garfield Park Conservatory. What could be more serene than doing yoga in such a setting! On the way to our class, I spouted that I’d been doing yoga on my own since the age of 13. So when we set up our mats, she said she was going to put hers behind mine so she could be in the back of the class. Thus I found myself positioned between her and the instructor and several exotic trees. Was I in for a surprise: I discovered for the first time that yoga can be extremely difficult! We found ourselves getting into impossible poses and holding them for impossibly long periods! My friend eased off – but I kept going. I didn’t want to look like a fool after bragging I’d done yoga since my teen years. Wow, was I ever hurting after that class – for days! It was then I realized that what I had been doing all my life was simply mild stretching!

Flash forward a decade later when I was taking weekly yoga classes at a local gym. A big hulk of a guy, obviously a weight lifter, sat in front of me in yoga class looking tough in his armed forces t-shirt. Noting several strong looking fellas in class that day, our yoga teacher apparently decided to go all out. About half way through class, the hulk was grunting and groaning. Later as I glanced at him from my downward dog position, I saw he was sitting there resting…By the end of class, he was soaked with sweat and could hardly rise to his feet while yours truly bounced lightly to her feet, feeling energized and glad to be a disciplined yoga regular.

But enough about me! I told you those two stories to demonstrate what I said above: Yoga is not wimpy, and yoga is good for both guys and gals. Plus don’t worry that you will find yourself in a yoga class sitting around chanting – unless you sign up for that specifically. Sure, yoga can be a spiritual experience. But among the many types of yoga, general yoga classes help one’s body develop strength, stamina, flexibility and balance as well as benefiting the psyche. Yoga offers something for everyone: There’s laughing yoga, aerobic yoga, hot yoga, power yoga, cat yoga and so much more.

“Yoga allows you to rediscover a sense of wholeness in your life, where you do not feel like you are constantly trying to fit broken pieces together.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

In 2015, the United Nations General Assembly declared June 21 International Yoga Day per the suggestion by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014. This day was suggested because, being the longest day of the year in parts of the world, it carries significance in many cultures. Also, June 21 is said to be the day that Shiva, the very first yogi and guru, introduced yoga.

“Exercises are like prose, whereas yoga is the poetry of movements.” ~ Amit Ray

One of the reasons the idea of Yoga Day was so widely accepted by leaders of many countries is because yoga is believed to bring its user a sense of well-being and inner peace. The rationale followed that if everyone had inner peace, there would be a chance for world peace.

“Yoga is not a work-out, it is a work-in…so that we can know what we already know and be who we already are.” ~ Rolf Gates

The very first Yoga Day was exciting indeed, breaking two Guinness world records: one for the largest yoga class ever of almost 40,000 people (held in India) and the other for the largest number of nations participating at once (84). There was a yoga class of 5,000 in San Francisco that day. Yoga Day has grown every year, with special events added. In 2017, the Indian Prime Minister, along with numerous top Indian businessmen, participated in a yoga class of 51,000. New York City, Japan, China, Athens and Dublin also hosted major yoga gatherings.

“In truth, yoga doesn’t take time – it gives time.” ~ Ganga White

This will be the fourth World Yoga Day. Countries and cities all over the world are gearing up for this. A quick internet search will yield plenty of articles and events heralding Yoga Day along with amazing photos. Chicago has many yoga festivals at this time of year. Check your local listings. Even if you live in a small town, I guarantee your local yoga studio is aware of International Yoga Day and will be holding some kind of event. If you haven’t given yoga a chance yet, 2018 can be the year to personally discover the welcome difference yoga can make in your life.

“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured, and endure what cannot be cured.” ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

How to fall in love again, with the city

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photo by quinntheislander

City life: It’s not for everyone. And even those who adore the city can at times grow weary of it. Maybe it’s not so much growing weary but becoming annoyed. After all, cities, especially big cities like Chicago, are loud, fast-paced places that can set even the steadiest nerves on edge at times:

  • People, people, people everywhere – Bustling, crowded sidewalks; rude people; people who plow right into you while barreling through a crowd in a hurry
  • When there aren’t a lot of people around, then one must be aware of one’s surroundings to make sure there aren’t also criminals around looking for victims
  • Awful, congested traffic made much worse by construction seemingly everywhere, especially during warmer weather; cabs that honk frequently; lots of impatient drivers who lay on the horn unnecessarily; buses that almost run people over
  • Honking, sirens, the ear-piercing back-up-beeping sound, whistles blowing (police and hotel doormen), deliveries, people yelling, construction, trains (especially the el trains screeching around corners) – all these contribute to the noise pollution of the city
  • City air – Sometimes it can smell so fresh, especially when nature is in bloom – many cities have some degree of nature, like sprawling parks – but suddenly while inhaling deeply to enjoy the fresh air, one can suddenly find they’ve inhaled cigarette or cigar smoke; foul pollution from not just the cars but from buses and trucks; construction odors such as new tar being laid down or dust particles

How can an ordinary human being stay sane through all this mess of people, traffic, noise and pollution, to name just a few of the complexities of the downtown lifestyle? You can zone out in a meditative state – yes, even in the midst of chaos – though it may take some practice. Here are some ideas that can help you rekindle your romance with the city:

  • It’s springtime and life is in bloom! Visit your local park and enjoy the landscaping including gorgeous gardens and fragrant flowering trees. You may even run across the occasional urban rabbit.
  • Be like a tourist in your own city: Look up at the skyscrapers and around you at all the sites that would knock a country person’s socks off. When you drive into the city, pretend you’re seeing it for the very first time – even better, pretend you’ve been transported from an earlier time; your own city will blow your mind all over again.
  • Deliberately walk past landmarks as you go about your day and feast your eyes upon them – better yet, learn all about them – people flock here from all over the world to gawk at these.
  • Take up cycling. Chicago boasts many bike trails, even in the Loop, making it safer for cyclists, as well as other great places to cycle all over the city, especially the lakefront.
  • Strive to see the city from various angles: From atop some of the tallest buildings in the world; take walking tours, Segway tours, an architectural boat tour and every specialty tour you can. Once you learn about the buildings and other Chicago points of interest, your city pride will grow.
  • Like the song “Up on the Roof,” when you need to mellow out, make your rooftop your own little get-away.
  • Bone up on Chicago history; this is a city rich in history and culture.
  • Keep tabs on events, places, people and the news, especially in your own community to spark your interest.
  • Explore your own backyard: Go to the local tap or place of worship; join a group, maybe a cause; attend CAPS meetings — you might turn neighbors into friends.
  • Take advantage of all Chicago has to offer: Bars and restaurants and countless other types of venues, events, museums, parks, beaches, the zoo, a conservatory
  • Outdoor activities start soon in Chicago. No matter how busy or tired you are, don’t miss a single nice day outside if you can help it. Get out on your lunch break and find a nice spot for lunch; this may involve checking out one of the many downtown farmer’s markets. Head to Grant Park or Millennial Park after work for a live concert or movie.
  • Get out of the city on weekends for a change of pace – Try to surround yourself by nature if possible; visit a small quaint town or explore other cities. Trains head out of Chicago in all directions. Hop a train to see where it leads.

Whatever city you live, work and play in, these ideas can be incorporated into your life. If the downtown lifestyle is your thing but you’re burned out, don’t divorce yourself from the city by moving away – in your heart, you know the city is exciting, where the action is, teaming with life! Try the above suggestions to put the zing back into your love affair with the city.

What to do in Chicago while waiting for spring

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Barren wintry trees along Chicago’s Michigan Avenue

No one likes stinging cold winds, icy pathways or snow in April, much less discovering that crack in the bottom of your boot was for real and having to traverse with cold wet feet through all the slush between you and home. Winter wasn’t too awful in Chicago this year…but it has turned into a prolonged winter, making a lot of people unhappy. So here’s a list of just some of the unique and enjoyable events to help us Chicagoans live a full, exciting life this month, despite this seemingly endless winter:

Baconfest Chicago
Friday, April 6 & Saturday, April 7
University of Illinois at Chicago Forum (725 W Roosevelt Rd)

Love bacon? Go hog wild at Baconfest Chicago! Enjoy bacon-dominated meals Friday night and Saturday for lunch and dinner prepared by top Chicago chefs. Tip: Do not watch the cute little TV commercial that’s on lately of a family giving their piglet a bath!

C2E2: Chicago Comic and Entertainment Expo
Friday, April 6 – Sunday, April 8
McCormick Place, South Building

Superstars, events and merchandise galore combine to make this a spectacular event. You can tote your kids along or party all night at this convention. Hooray for superheroes! Where would we be without them?!

Chicago White Sox Winter Hat Game
Saturday, April 7
Guaranteed Rate Field

Although Opening Day for the Sox in Chicago is Thursday, April 5, because winter hasn’t made its exit yet, on Saturday, April 7, showing up at the game can get you a nice winter knit cap which you can still wear this season: Offered to the first 15,000 fans who arrive at the ballpark for Saturday’s game. Learn some White Sox trivia here, compliments of the Chicago Public Library.

Chicago Cubs Opening Day
Monday, April 9
Wrigley Field

Yes, the wildly popular “Cubbies” can pull off a Monday home opener on a cold day in Chicago and still expect to draw crowds. At the time of this writing, tickets are still available. You might want to snatch them up while you can and notify your boss you’ll be absent Monday. Find out some trivia tidbits here that you may not have known, compliments of the Chicago Public Library.

One of a Kind Show
Friday, April 27 – Sunday, April 29
Merchandise Mart

Be there! The One of a Kind Show is held twice a year, in the winter (a great opportunity to score truly unique holiday gifts) and in the spring. This is a bountiful kaleidoscope of amazing goods, most of them handmade and indeed one-of-a-kind, from artists and artisans all over the world. There’s even unique food and entertainment to enjoy while you shop.

Tip: Try to go at a time when most people will be at work, because it gets very crowded. Also, check your coat or at least don’t bring a large bulky one to carry nor even a large bag, because that will make it harder to squeeze through the crowds. Honestly, though, this event is worth it.

National Poetry Month
Saturday, April 7 – Monday, April 30
Chicago Public Libraries

Calling all poets: April is National Poetry Month, and the Chicago Public Library celebrates it all month at various city libraries. Click here to see them all; there are many almost every day in April. There’s even a “poetry party.”

It culminates with a special one-day Poetry Fest for poets and poetry lovers at the Harold Washington Library Center from 10:00 a.m. through 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, April 28. Featured are: poetry readings by celebrity poets (Safia Elhillo and sam sax as well as Growing Concerns Poetry Collective), local poetry publications and organizations, rubbing elbows with editors and publishers, writing workshops that feature Chicago’s own poet celebs, award ceremonies and open mics – and you can even have a poet write a poem to your specifications while you wait.

Randolph Street Market Festival
Saturday, April 28 & Sunday, April 29
1341 West Randolph Street, Chicago

Love vintage? Then this is a must! Let’s hope we finally get warmer weather by April’s end for this indoor/outdoor gigantic sale. Shop till you drop while acquiring jaw-dropping antiques and vintage goodies from 10 a.m. till 5:00 p.m. both days. What do you desire? Clothing, accessories, artwork, furnishings, furniture, artwork, books and records, kid stuff…The possibilities are endless.

America’s Beauty Show
Saturday, April 28 – Monday, April 30
McCormick Place

It’s a beautiful world! End April on a high note, surrounded by beauty. Although this exhibition is geared toward professionals in this line of work, you can go too and be wowed by wall-to-wall beauty products. Hopefully your stylist will go…so you can benefit from the latest in cutting edge (no pun intended!) techniques and products. Be among the first to learn what the new image trends will be.

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As I type, I’m looking out the window at the snow blowing by (sigh). I leave you with hope, from poet Percy Bysshe Shelley: “O, wind, if winter comes, can spring be far behind?” Spring will come, and it will be glorious. Be patient, and in the meantime, have fun!

Spring trees
Blossoming foliage – Spring in downtown Chicago

How to navigate the post-holiday doldrums

After all the gifts have all been opened and the mess cleaned up, it’s possible to get a feeling of let-down, whether or not you had a great time and got good gifts.

There is such an almost continuous adrenaline rush from Thanksgiving leading up to the religious holidays much of the world celebrates at year’s end. There was much shopping to be done, gifts to buy, meals to prepare, greeting cards to send, work-related holiday parties, family stuff, holiday cheer and gift exchanges with friends, trying to get all the work done at the office before the office is closed for the holidays…Whether you floated through all this with a joyful “Christmas spirit” or felt mega-stressed-out, there is suddenly a huge lull in activity post-Christmas. It’s as if life comes to a screeching halt, and it’s possible to even feel a bit blue.

Post-Gifts

Here are some activities you may wish to pursue to lose the blues:

  • Play with your toys — whether that be setting up new electronics, having a spa day at home with all the bath and beauty products you may have received or wearing new clothes and accessories. Whether or not Santa brought you what you wanted, putting what you did receive into play will bless you with a sense of appreciation.
  • As for those gifts you don’t want, now is the time to go out and exchange them. The stores start hosting sales immediately after Christmas, so this is a great time to get out there and exchange those gifts. Don’t hesitate; you’ll feel much better after you do this; a feeling of relief will come over you, because now you will have something new that suits you.
  • This is a great time, in any case, while prices are slashed, to go shopping. Take advantage of post-holiday sales. If you got gift cards, they’ll stretch further now. Even if you didn’t, you’ll score at the stores.
  • Go into the office and work on the days that most people don’t. You’ll get more done when the phones aren’t ringing and emails flooding in. You can catch up and accomplish stuff before the new year business thrust starts and get set up for the new year.
  • Most towns leave up their decorations into the new year. If you were too busy to enjoy all the seasonal sights before, now you can do so at your leisure. Chicago, for example, is aglow in lights and decor. Check out Macy’s famous windows, stroll past the magnificent Art Institute lion statues donned with gigantic wreaths. Check out the pretty decorations in malls like Water Tower Place, The Shops at Northbridge, Block 37. There is so much to see in your free time, plus this is a good way to get some exercise – but bundle up properly and commute safely in this extreme cold we’re experiencing!
  • Chicago and can feel like a ghost town at this time – except in Millennium Park which I hear is absolutely bustling today. Most cities probably feel like ghost towns at this time with many out of town. It’s an ideal good time to try a new restaurant. You won’t have to fight the crowds and feel squeezed into a noisy establishment; instead you can relax comfortably and get personalized service. Proprietors will appreciate the business during this slower season.
  • To really spice up this time of year, why not try one thing you haven’t done before. How about ice skating. Or visiting the top of the top of two of the tallest buildings in the world: the John Hancock and Willis Tower.
  • Make plans for New Year’s Eve if you haven’t already and devote a couple of days to prep for it. Find out what your friends are planning; maybe you can join them. Check out local Facebook Tap into Metromix or local sites like Chicago Loop Alliance to find out what’s going on in your area.
  • Buy yourself a great outfit and treat yourself to some professional grooming at your local salon to get dolled up for your New Year’s Eve event of choice. Do this even if you decide to stay in for New Year’s Eve so that you can enter the new year looking good.
  • We’re all acquainted with the concept of spring cleaning. Do some winter cleaning while it’s cold out to get a jump on it. Clear out and organize that back closet or those drawers or cabinets, throwing out and giving stuff away. You’ll feel lighter. What could be better than starting your new year with a sparkling clean home.
  • Use this quieter week of the year to get back in touch with those with whom you may have fallen out of contact. Find and friend them on Facebook. Send new year greetings, maybe even hand-written notes by mail. Someone may be thinking of you – here’s a quaint idea: Call them!
  • Take the time to reflect on the year: Get out your journal if you kept one, analyze lessons learned, dive into your psyche, go ahead and cry one last time, chuckle at the funny parts, let yourself get spiritual with it and decide how you might want to live next year differently/better.
  • Make your list of new year’s resolutions – but instead of waiting till the new year, start your resolutions NOW. You will have a head start on the new year that will give you a sense of empowerment.
  • Aside from the usual resolutions, consider how you’d like to make next year better. Make a list of goals and wishes and then break each down into smaller components, step-by-step to-do lists. Do this now so you can plan a fabulous new year of dreams come true and maybe even your best year yet.

Maybe you don’t want to do much of anything during this week other than lounge around the house, eat holiday goodies and catch up on movies — fine; it’s a good time to unwind! Do bear in mind, though, that there will be plenty of opportunity for kicking back on the couch during this cold winter, so get out when you can.

This week is for you, so whatever you do, be happy!