Walk like a city slicker, part 1 – Be our guest

main photoSummer in Chicago: Streams of people flood the sidewalks. Walking downtown, especially if you’re in a hurry, can be like a video game in which tactical maneuvering is essential. I noticed this the other day on State Street while I was rushing to run an errand. Then I realized: It’s time to re-post my series on how to walk mindfully in a bustling metropolis.

If you’re visiting a gigantic city like Chicago, welcome, and have a great time! Shopping, restaurants, theaters and unlimited attractions—there’s so much to do and see here. There are farmers markets, street fests and special events throughout Chicago all summer long.

small3We want you to feel at home here, take away great memories and return again and again. But just as it’s important to be a good host, it’s also important to be a good guest. So the following suggestions were garnered from several seasoned downtowners to help make your stay pleasant for us all. Think of it as rules of the road for city sidewalks. In fact, this applies to tourists and native downtowners.

Welcome to civilization

  • Chicago is a classy town, especially downtown and the surrounding areas: Please exhibit self-respect by your dress and demeanor and practice courtesy to others.
  • Refrain from spitting gum on sidewalks.
  • Don’t litter; that’s trashy: There are plenty of waste receptacles for trash and recyclables.
  • Beautiful planters with lush foliage abound. Respect the plants; they are life forms too.
  • Watch where you’re going: It’s not okay to push, step on the back of people’s shoes, etc. Practice grace.
  • Use of umbrellas on narrow sidewalks is tricky: If you use a beach-sized umbrella, it won’t be appreciated by others trying to squeeze by you.
  • People-watching in urban areas is a rush. The city is a cornucopia of individuals with loads of flair. But don’t stare, point or laugh at others; it’s rude. Fascinating people make your life more fascinating; appreciate.
  • If you smoke while walking, be aware that those nearby you and those following about a half block behind you are joining you in that smoke and no doubt don’t appreciate it. Cigar smoke is worse; one can smell it a block away as it lodges itself in city corridors. And please extinguish your cigarette or cigar in the proper receptacle instead of tossing it on the sidewalk.
  • Sometimes one has to spit, but please don’t spit on a well-trodden footpath! Be discreet. Nobody wants to see that — or step on it!
  • There’s nothing quite as repulsive as stepping on dog doo – a mishap that sticks with you until you can clean your shoes. If you and your canine are exploring downtown, don’t let your dog go on a prominent walkway, and if it happens, pick it up and dispose of it properly! Besides, if you don’t, that’s illegal; you could be fined $500!

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The natives are friendly

  • Chicagoans are generally friendly, will give directions, and may even agree to hold your camera to snap a picture of the two of your or your whole group.
  • There are plenty of delightful street musicians playing all types of music; they would appreciate a donation of any size from you.
  • You may encounter “Streetwise”  vendors. They sell a local newspaper that gives some interesting insights into our city. These folks are homeless – but working; so please spring for the modest donation to buy the paper.

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This was the first part in this series on navigating city sidewalks like a pro. Stay tuned for the next article which will be about getting up to speed and in step so that you will be in tune with the exciting, fast-paced choreography of the city.

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Red Nose Day in the USA

I’ve updated this for 2018, because it’s such an important post. Red Nose Day is tomorrow! Please participate; make this world a better place in a light-hearted way 🙂

MetroMermaid Chicago

20170503_171353Red Nose Day is back! It first came to America in 2015. Riding public transportation to work in Chicago, passengers saw billboards mentioning Red Nose Day with a picture of someone wearing a red clown nose. I remember thinking it was a joke or possibly a movie poster. Then I discovered, at Walgreens of all places, that Red Nose Day was in fact a day denoting a serious charitable cause — while sporting a red nose, if you please — to help raise money for homeless and hungry children here and abroad, champion human rights and provide disaster relief.

Red Nose Day has been going on for decades (since 1988) in the UK, starting  as a TV fundraiser on the BBC, and has been huge ever since. Leave it to the UK, home of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and countless other hilarious shows born of British humor, to…

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Cold office, part 2: Warm up checklist

Cold office 2In my last article, I cited studies and statistics about working in mercilessly cold offices. Yet over many decades, the outdated standards of heating and cooling are still here. It’s like torture going through a whole day feeling chilled to the bone with no place to warm up. If this sounds like your life, take heart. There is stuff you can do to stay warm and healthy. What qualifies me to write about this? Years and years of frigid workplaces, online research, ideas from others and discoveries I made in my desperation to get warm.

Basics:

  • Get enough sleep. When your circadian rhythm is disrupted, so is your body’s own heating and cooling system. When you feel most tired, that’s when you’ll really feel the chill.
  • Don’t go hungry, because that makes you feel more susceptible to cold. Also, what you eat counts: hot meals (a bowl of soup), meat, spicy foods (which cause capsaicin production in your body, warming you from the inside).
  • Getting lean is not just for image; muscle insulates better than fat. Start building some and you’ll literally be more comfortable in your own skin.

Tools:

  • Thermostats for your area: Find them, turn them up (if that’s allowed).
  • Obviously, a personal space heater, if allowed. Just be sure to turn it off when leaving. To reduce risk of electrical fire, some offices won’t object to those you can plug right into your computer.
  • Cold dry air feels cooler than moist air and makes skin, nasal passages, throat feel dry. Get a humidifier for your desk or, better yet, a vaporizer.
  • Hand warmers; heated mouse
  • Heating pad
  • Electric blanket
  • Heated seat cushion
  • Foot warmer stool

Tricks:

  • If the building or office won’t turn down the A/C, perhaps they could at least shut the vent that blows it on you. If not, try to set up a barricade.
  • Drink a warm beverage (but not caffeinated, which constricts blood vessels so you feel colder more readily); cradle your hot beverage in your hands to warm them.
  • If cold air is more intense in nearby offices, when those folks are out, close their doors. Or if it’s warmer in their offices, open their doors.
  • Lean back in your chair to make better use of your own body heat.
  • Move around: Obviously exercise will increase your circulation and warm you. Walk upstairs if doable. Find a remote spot and do jumping jacks. Work out on your lunch break.
  • Go outdoors if it’s warm; get on the sunny side of the street; get out of the wind if it’s not warm and against a building that has absorbed the heat of the sun; point your face toward the sun (this will warm you, even in winter) – be sure you’re using an SPF.
  • If you drove, even if it’s not warm outdoors, go to your car and turn on the heat; If needed, stick your face and hands by the vents. If your feet have sweated, take off your footwear; dry your socks and warm your feet.
  • Put your hands somewhere warm, like on the copy machine (safely) or the windows (but don’t leave smudges)
  • Blood circulates closest to the skin at your wrists; running hot (not scalding) water on our wrists will warm your whole body as the blood circulates. My mother taught me this trick! Be careful, though, not to get your sleeves wet. And thoroughly dry your hands, even under your rings, then apply lotion. In fact, lotion all over will insulate you better against the cold.
  • Look at pictures of warmth: Perhaps a fireplace screensaver or beach computer wallpaper.
  • Get into your zone: Despite your environment, throw yourself into a fascinating project that will distract you from the chill in the air. If you’re really engaged, adrenaline should kick in and warm you.

Attire:

  • Layer up with anything from light-weight to heavy fleece “long underwear.” If it’s hot outdoors, you may have to change into it when you get to the office and at day’s end or when going out for lunch. It’s quite a hassle but could be worth it. Make sure you don’t wear it out at lunchtime because if you sweat, you’ll be even more susceptible to the A/C when you arrive back at work.
  • Wear your hair down to avoid cold drafts on the back of your neck; scarves can also shield this sensitive area.
  • If you’re allowed to wear headphones while you work, try earmuff headphones.
  • Heavy blazers, warm (possibly long) sweaters, thick shawls (that could double as a lap blanket). If you really want to get the message across to your office manager that it’s too cold at your desk, wear a Snuggie.
  • Finger-less gloves or even USB-heated gloves
  • Wear slips under skirts and dresses.
  • Be mindful of materials; thicker and more absorbent is more protective. This is especially important for feet; moist feet become cold feet which affects your whole body.
  • Wear tights or hosiery as opposed to bare legs and under pants, knee or thigh-high socks.
  • Closed toe shoes as opposed to sandals (which you can change into once you’re outdoors again) – or better yet, boots (especially knee or thigh length)
  • Be prepared to not get wet while you’re out (and thus feel even colder in air conditioning; think returning to an air conditioned hotel room after swimming). Keep umbrella and lightweight hoodie rain jacket available.

Cold office 2.5It’s unfortunate we live in an aggressively air conditioned world. We’re sick of big, bulky sweaters and dying to wear our spring and summer clothes. Dressing in light-hearted, warm-weather wear perks you up and those around you. Yet there’s almost no feeling more helpless than being chilled for hours on end. You can still look summery while staying warm. Do some planning: Consider going with lighter/brighter colors and flower/summer-themed patterns to lift the mood, and the thermal underwear beneath can be your secret. Stay healthy my friends!

Cold office, part 1: Too much A/C

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Last week in Chicago, spring finally came with two perfect days in the mid-70’s. Oh joy! But that joy was quickly chilled by a sudden rush of super cold air blowing out of the vents at the office. I suffered all last week at work with a nose like an ice cube and fingers like icicles. When the temperatures subsequently dropped outdoors, there was no place to warm up all day: I stepped outside into the sunshine only to experience cold wind. Like many offices, mine doesn’t allow personal space heaters (for practical reasons) thus this sudden affront to my body turned into a challenge to survive.

So I researched and pulled together a list of how to stay comfortable in a frosty office that feels more like a meat freezer and decided to share it with the many women and men I know are in the same unhealthy situation. That’s my next article.

When it warms up outdoors, buildings turn on the A/C, generally setting the thermostats anywhere from 68 to 73 degrees. That’s light jacket weather for me when I’m outdoors moving around and walking on the sunny side of the street. It’s not the ideal temperature for sitting at one’s desk much of the day in a new spring dress with a draft blowing right on them.

The bad news is – and believe me, I’m speaking from years of experience: There’s likely nothing you can do (although I urge you to try) to get the powers that be to turn down the air conditioning, even though blasting it at such a cool level doesn’t make sense and, in fact, costs the company excess money and lost productivity. It also costs the building more money and is detrimental from an ecological standpoint.

How did civilization come to this? It hails back to the days when the indoor workplace was calibrated to men’s comfort – specifically, to the average working man: 40 years old and 154 pounds. You’d think by now, decades after women have poured into workplaces, this would have changed, but not so, because think about it: Who’s in charge of most the buildings’ heating and cooling systems? Probably not a woman. More likely a man who doesn’t get how anyone can feel cold when he feels fine. I’ve encountered building engineers who visibly resent a cry for help to turn down the air. I’ve also encountered menopausal women who also have no sympathy. Living in fear of hot flashes, they can be fiercely opposed to easing up on the A/C. (The best solution for them is a personal desk fan.)

No, this isn’t solely a women’s issue: Just as some women run hot, some men feel chilly in frigid offices too. But generally. it’s the women who suffer due to several basic physical differences between men and women for a variety of reasons — from hormonal to body composition and design — with men feeling anywhere from 5 to 10 degrees warmer at any given time. Who else is more susceptible to feeling chilly? Older workers (over 55).

Comfortable employees are not just happier but more productive. It stands to reason that if we’re shivering, we will be distracted and not at our best. A study by Cornell University proved that chilly workers work less and make more mistakes. When one’s body temperature drops, more energy is expended trying to warm up, leaving less energy for work. Also of note: Warm offices stimulate creative thinking. And hugely important: Research has found feeling cold has adverse psychological effects, making folks feel less trusting, communicative or friendly because it messes with one’s ability to perceive others rationally. The entire workforce’s EQ can decline!

Office managers, take note! One study found when the temperature was upped from 68 degrees (typical office setting) to 77, typing mistakes decreased 44 percent and typing output increased 150 percent. Alan Hedge, professor of design and environmental analysis and director of Cornell’s Human Factors and Ergonomics Laboratory cited:  “The results of our study also suggest raising the temperature to a more comfortable thermal zone saves employers about $2 per worker, per hour.”

Cold office 2-older womanIn fact, it’s been determined the ideal office temperature is 77 degrees. Last but not last, it’s been discovered that when workers are allowed to control the temperature in their area, sick leave is 30 percent lower.

Until ideal climate control is instituted in your workplace — if ever — be sure to see my next article: It’s a handy list you can use so you can work in warm comfort, even in your refrigerated office. Yes, there is hope.

 

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.