A Weekend in Chicago: Going Out & Staying In

In January 2014, I liked Chicago…but I can honestly say that in January 2015, I love it. What a difference a year (and a one-mile move) can make! As strange as it sounds, hosting out-of-town guests and playing tourist with them has made me feel more at home here than ever. Every time a friend comes to spend a weekend in Chicago, I get to take them to my favorite places and show off my adopted city at its best. Each coffee shop, walking route, and neighborhood mural becomes even more special when I’ve shared it with someone I love.

A Weekend in Chicago: Going Out & Staying In

I’ve been lucky in January to have spent two weekends with visiting friends, one who I met while studying abroad in Senegal and one who I met in college. Both weekends, we balanced going out with staying home and making our own fun, and both times I had an absolute blast. Today I’m going to write us through a mini-tour and a list of some of my favorite places, mostly in my neighborhood: Logan Square.

To me, Logan Square has the perfect combination of green space, quiet residential streets, and buzzing businesses. If you walk down Logan or Kedzie Boulevard, you’ll see that traffic is separated from beautiful, historic homes by wide, grassy medians and quieter frontage roads for residential parking. In the summer, you’ll see people slacklining, having picnics, doing yoga, reading, and having a grand time outside on these historic boulevards. In the winter…well, it’s still nice to have the space, even if it’s covered in snow! You can read more about this neighborhood’s history on the Logan Square Preservation website.

Logan Square Obelisk | Jaybird Blog

So, what is there to do in Logan Square when you come to visit? My friend Emily and I barely scratched the surface last weekend. Our time together was focused on hanging out and eating well, so you might notice that our destinations mostly revolved around food…

Going Out

Weekend in Chicago - Owen + Alchemy Juice Bar Logan Square

Food & Drink

  • Coffee at Reno Chicago: Reno is a coffee shop/restaurant/bar hybrid that serves Stumptown Coffee (okay, so that’s not very Chicago, but we’ll let them slide), savory bread puddings, and a kale salad that’s actually crave-worthy. They also make wood-fired bagels and pizza as well as fun cocktails. Sit at the communal table to get some work done or cozy up in a booth with your bestie.
  • Juice at Owen + Alchemy: This “beyond organic” juice and smoothie bar is a trip, with grass growing out of black walls and an extensive menu of cold-pressed juices as well as smoothies and bowls. It’s pretty small inside–I think there were seven seats–but you can pick up bottles to go, and the creative flavors are definitely worth trying. Emily and I split two: 33 (a spicy juice made of sweet potatoes, carrots, and ginger) and 54 (a sweetened hazelnut milk with warming spices). You can return each bottle for a $1 credit towards your next purchase…which is useful when your juice costs $10!
  • Cocktails at Chicago Distilling Company: I am such a fan of this space. With its high ceilings and view of the distillery behind the bar, Chicago Distilling Co. almost feels like a garage–a garage with friendly bartenders and tasty drinks. They currently serve three types of spirits, all made in-house: gin, vodka, and white whisky.
  • Dinner at Lula Cafe: While Lula has some incredible entrees, Emily and I had a blast splitting four of the appetizers. She’s mostly vegan and I’m mostly paleo (though I put it on major hold this weekend), so it was easier for us to find compromises among the small plates. We sat at the chef’s counter and watched dish after tantalizing dish come out of the kitchen. Our favorite by far was the beet bruschetta, and I’m still thinking about the warm, creamy chickpea tagine.
  • Brunch at Fritz Pastry: Alright, this one is a cheat: Fritz is actually in Lincoln Park, not Logan Square, but it’s an old favorite with me and my roommate. We went with Emily to try their iconic square donuts and we all got a Miso Rito and delicious HalfWit coffee.
  • Shopping at Logan Square Farmers Market: the farmer’s market is one of my favorite parts of this neighborhood, and it’s always been worth the walk! In the winter, local and regional farms sell at the market, and other producers and businesses sell hot food and treats. We purchased one giant golden beet to use in our hummus and got some watermelon radishes thrown in for free.

Weekend in Chicago - Breakfast at Fritz Pastry

(A Little Bit of) Shopping

  • Art at Galerie F: Walking around this neighborhood, it’s hard to miss the beautiful murals and street art that colors the streets. This gallery shows prints of street art, concert posters, and other cool prints with a distinctive style.
  • Gifts at Wolfbait & B-girls: If you’re looking for Chicago-made goods, look no further. Wolfbait is a boutique with a wide selection of locally made products ranging from beard oil to baby onesies to jewelry. Their employees are all local artists, and they sell clothing, too–some of which is made in the store. When Emily and I walked in, they were holding a trunk show with complimentary mimosas and pastries. She picked up a gift for her neighbor and I got a Scratch Goods blondie shampoo bar to try out.

Wolfbait and B-Girls - Shop Local Chicago

Staying In

We actually spent a lot of the weekend in my apartment, swapping book recommendations and cooking together. We had told ourselves that we would work out together, but that really amounted to lighting a lavender candle and doing some bootleg yoga before dissolving into laughter. Bootleg yoga = Emily leading us in a series of whatever-she-feels-like poses while I offer critique and try not to fall over.

Recipes

  • Mushroom risotto: Emily taught me how to make risotto the last time she visited me in Illinois, so it was only fitting that I made some to welcome her to Chicago! At this post, I can mostly eyeball it, but I made a vegan version of this recipe with extra vegetable broth instead of wine.
  • Golden beet hummus: We made a half-batch of this recipe with a golden beet and lots of extra lemon juice and garlic. I guess neither of us can leave a recipe alone!
  • Pita bread: If you’ve never made yeast bread before, don’t be afraid! This pita recipe is so easy, and you’ll enjoy watching each pita puff up like a balloon as it cooks in the hot oven.

On Monday morning, Emily headed home and I went down to Rush Medical Center for a volunteer project where we made fleece blankets with March of Dimes–and where I took the top picture. Not a bad view of the Chicago skyline, especially considering it’s from the parking garage!

Have you ever visited Chicago, or is it on your list of places to see in 2015? What other sights can I share?

P.S. If you want more on Chicago, check out these posts: Apartment Hunting Year One and Year Two, Cup by Cup: Favorite Chicago Coffee Shops, Chicago’s Transit Tees & #30DaysofCityLove.

6 Working from Home Do’s and Don’ts

For many people, working from home seems like living the dream: no commute, no cubicle, and no pants required. I usually work from home one day a week, but for the past month, I’ve been a fully remote employee while my organization’s new office is under construction. I don’t spend 40 hours a week at home–usually I have a few face-to-face meetings to attend–but I’ve grown to appreciate that working from home takes more discipline than dreaming.

6 Working from Home Do's and Don'ts | Advice for Working Remotely

When I first started working from home, I had grand visions of how much I’d be able to accomplish on both the personal and professional sides. I pictured laundry swishing while I replied to emails, lunch cooking on the stove while I listened to a webinar, and my work and life balancing in perfect harmony. But after hundreds of hours logged working from my dining room table, I’ve learned that working from home requires less blending and more boundaries.

As more and more companies begin to accept working remotely as a viable option, I thought I’d offer a few tips from the worker side. There are so many advantages to working from home, but they can be lost if you let work take over your life or personal life take precedence during work time. So to keep it as positive and productive as it can be, here are my six working from home do’s and don’ts:

  • Don’t blend. It is so easy to get overly ambitious about doing everything around the house while also getting all of your work done. Treat your work time like what it is–work time–and save personal tasks for designated breaks or when you’re done for the day.
  • Do take breaks. Treat each break the same way you might in an office environment. Walk away. Take deep breaths. Eat lunch out or in a different part of the house and let your mind relax. If you’re working on a laptop for most of the day, use your break to do something unplugged, like read a book, knit a few rows, or do the dishes (hey, I didn’t say you couldn’t do any chores during the day).
  • Don’t work all the time. Even though you can work from bed at 11pm or read email while eating lunch, life is much sweeter when you conclude the day, close your laptop, and protect those off-the-clock hours you have to spend pursuing your hobbies and relationships.
  • Do get physical. Trust me, it’s just as easy to spend the whole day sitting at a desk at home as it is in the workplace, especially if you live in an apartment where it takes 15 steps to go from “desk” to “break room.” Take time to incorporate physical breaks–short walks, wall pushups, lunchtime yoga–into your daily routine. An invigorating break contributes to a more active mind when you do get back to work.
  • Don’t forget your favorite parts of working with others. If you’re an extrovert, working from home can make you feel stir-crazy by the end of the week. Craving company? Make sure that after work, you’re going out to meet up with friends or meet new people at a networking event. You can also look into co-working spaces or business centers that allow you to rent workspace by the hour or day. And if all you need is to be around other people, spoil yourself with the occasional coffee shop visit or free afternoon working from the library.
  • Do remove yourself from your workspace at the end of the day. If you’re eating dinner next to a pile of expense reports, you may start to feel like you can’t get away from your work. If you don’t have a home office (I work at my dining room table), pack up your work items when you punch the metaphorical clock.

Some of these tips work just as well whether you’re in an office or working from your faded plaid couch: it’s important to move throughout the day, make the most of your work relationships, and set some boundaries between work and personal time. No matter where you work, I’d love to know: how do you ensure that you stay productive all day long?

(You might find my simple, tech-free tips helpful: 5 Old-School Productivity Tips.)

P.S. A fun bit of nerdery to share: I was curious about using apostrophes when writing “do’s and don’ts” in the title, so I turned to Grammar Girl. See what she has to say about the apostrophe inconsistency.

P.P.S. Hey, I haven’t blogged in awhile, so here is my obligatory “whoop, there it is” disclaimer. I’m hoping to jump back in with some shorter posts, local highlights of places I love in Chicago, and a greater focus on making every day a little bit more awesome. Thanks for bearing with me…a community of wonderful readers is the best part of blogging, and I am grateful for your support!

Why My New Year’s Resolutions Failed and What I’ve Learned for Next Year

Like most of us, I take time to reflect every year before making some new year’s resolutions (or goals, or intentions, or focus words, or whatever we’re calling them this year). My resolutions have taken all of those different forms, and I’ve had varied success in keeping them beyond the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed days of January.

Why My Resolutions Failed & What I've Learned for Next Year | JaybirdI love setting goals and making resolutions. Action planning is my jam, and I can write out benchmarks and perceived benefits til the cows come home. Of course I’ve achieved some goals, like running my first race earlier this year, but there are many others that I’ve let go…like running my second race, which was supposed to happen in August.

Before setting out on the optimistic journey of 2015, I figured I could learn a few things from my failed resolutions. Even if all I learn is a few tough love lessons about myself, that’s new information to consider when creating successful resolutions in the new year. I hope you might be able to benefit from my lessons learned, too!

Why My New Year’s Resolutions Failed

1. They were the wrong resolutions.

When it comes to making resolutions, I often feel like someone is standing over my shoulder, adding her own two cents as I consider what I want to achieve. This shadowy character is named Should, and she pushes me in the direction of other people’s goals. “Save 25% of your income! Read 52 books in a year! Take a two week vacation abroad!”

These resolutions may be wonderful ideas for the right person, but they don’t reflect my lifestyle or my priorities. Knowing that, I can bat away Should’s pressure and keep digging until I come up with better aims.

2. I cut myself a break…every single day.

In all honesty, 2014 was a tough year, and I’m fine cutting myself some slack. That said, I can also look over the last 12 months and see patterns and excuses that were nothing out of the ordinary. I accepted my own excuses as if I were making a one-time exception, while ignoring the fact that the excuses had built up into bad habits. Once the habits had formed, it didn’t seem so unusual to watch hours of Netflix or buy coffee out multiple times a week. When I tried to make changes, the excitement of setting new goals was overwhelmed by the feeling that I was punishing myself by cutting out those “occasional” (er, daily) indulgences.

3. I made too many resolutions at once.

It’s easy to get swept up in the frenzy of making resolutions. It’s so exciting to think about all the progress you’ll make and how incredibly fulfilling life will be once you, Goal-Setting Yoda, have accomplished every single thing on your list, or as Hyperbole and a Half tells it, “ALL THE THINGS!”

It takes time to form good habits, and most worthwhile goals take sustained effort to accomplish. Instead of making all my resolutions in January, I’ve learned to start some as soon as they come to mind (flossing in November, like a boss), and put others on the “work on this once you’ve got that other thing down pat” list.

4. My goals changed over time.

It takes awhile to gain momentum towards making a good habit or achieving a goal, and sometimes, life changes in the course of that time. I’m not a fickle person, but I am still figuring out what I want long-term. Goals set in January sometimes become irrelevant by July, and this reason for failed resolutions is one that’s okay with me.

For example, last year I set some pretty big goals for this blog. I was publishing three or four times a week, doing freelance work, and constantly seeking out new blogs to follow, all in order to grow Jaybird as a community and to create a second source of income. Later in the year, my personal circumstances changed, and I realized that it just wasn’t the right time to hold on to those goals. Releasing myself from my earlier aims relieved stress and gave me more time to dedicate to family and self-care: my two main priorities for the remainder of the year.

What I’m Doing Differently for 2015

The biggest change this year is that I’m not really making resolutions for 2015, I’m making them for life.

When I was a kid, I thought about adulthood in such finite terms. I looked forward to the day when “it” finally clicked, and I had everything figured out. I’ve realized, though, that life’s ups and downs are a constant. January 1 isn’t the only time you should try to improve, it’s just a random day in an ongoing journey. Any day can be the first.

I’ve already started on these life resolutions, trying to create a pattern of good habits before the new year begins. There are also a few goals I’m working towards–clear results with a set deadline that lend themselves better to the short-term.

Beyond learning from my past mistakes, there are three main strategies I’m using to avoid future failed resolutions:

  • I’m applying the idea of the habit loop to changing old habits and fostering positive new ones. The habit loop, as explained by Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit, begins with a cue, which triggers a routine and results in a reward. One habit I’d like to change is my tendency to eat sweets when I’m bored: the cue is boredom, the routine is to wander into the kitchen, and the reward is a sugary hit and a temporary reprieve from boredom. That’s no good! Knowing that I can’t escape the occasional spot of boredom, I’m trying to rewire my reaction when it hits. (I highly recommend The Power of Habit–I’m reading it for the second time! Thanks, Erika, for the recommendation.)
  • I’m returning to methods that I know work for me, even if they aren’t the most intuitive. One thing that shocked me into an all-too-brief exercise routine earlier this year was when I received a FitBit for my birthday. I knew that I was sedentary during my commute and desk job, but I had no idea how little physical activity I had during the work day. Tracking my steps and turning it into a game, along with competitions with friends kept me accountable to my goal of moving more throughout the entire day, not just before or after work.
  • Despite this post all about them, I’m trying to talk less about my resolutions…and talking includes blogging. For some of last year, I wrote the Love Your Body Resolution series and often discussed the same ideas of self-improvement and positive thinking with friends. What I realized over time was that the time I spent talking, or blogging, often took up the time I could have used to put those ideas into practice. Maybe that will be my 2015 motto: a little less talk, a lot more action (thanks, Toby Keith).

Whether you have failures or successes in your resolutions past, I’d love to hear what you have planned for your new year’s resolutions. What have you learned from achieving (or not quite reaching) past goals?

P.S. If you’re considering your resolutions for the new year, you might like these reminders: Recommit (don’t reinvent the wheel!) and Can you love your body AND want to change it?