Thursday, June 25, 2009

Uh Oh... Caught the Golf Bug

This is such a retirement cliché! I am now hooked on golf. I almost never played before, but now I browse the weather forecast looking for nice days to get to the golf course. If there is only a small window of clear weather, then I can at least sneak in a trip to the driving range. We had a rainy spring in Chicago, but I already have a golfer’s tan. How did this happen?

My dad was a dedicated golfer. He played every weekend, sometimes on both Saturday and Sunday. It was, in part, a social event for him, as he was part of a regular foursome. They would golf early, and have brunch at the club before heading home. When we kids were little, I remember Dad taking us to the driving range as a special treat.

You can’t become a competent golfer by playing once or twice a year. That’s just impossible. But now… We have more time, and we can walk to a 9-hole golf course on the lake. I knew I was committed to trying when Ron surprised me with a beautiful set of clubs two years ago.

It’s hard to have a bad outing when the weather is beautiful, the course is green and fresh, the lake is sparkling and the birds are tweeting. But there are only so many mis-hits you can suffer before beginning to get frustrated. Golf is a muscle memory sport – so the more you swing badly, the less opportunity your body has to experience how to do it right. The worse you do, the more strange things you try to fix what’s wrong. Generally, it just worsens. The golf gods always let you hit just enough really good shots, to keep your hope alive – just to be dashed again and again.

Failure drove me to a golf lesson when we were in Nevada last month. Hallelujah! Mary Ochs, “my” LPGA pro teacher, was fabulous. In an hour lesson (with another freebie 15 minutes), she pinpointed my major issues and coached me to correct them. I hit some balls that made me literally shout with joy! This is the pleasure of golf. It’s so challenging that when you finally do something right – it’s totally exhilarating. I’m still at the point where each time I address the ball, I have a whole checklist I have to work (elbows in, knees bent, butt out, back straight, head down, weight on balls of feet, eyes on ball, relax grip, twist hips, full follow through, etc.). In time, these should come naturally with less thought.

Ron and I still play “best ball” on the course (we both play from the spot of the best shot between the two of us), to keep the game moving and be courteous to the more experienced golfers behind us. Now, some of the best balls are mine! Sometimes I am hitting glorious drives out of the tee box, straight down the fairway. My putting is so-so, but shows promise. I get tired after nine holes (still a lot of swinging to little avail), so a half round is perfect.

I’ve got the golf bug something bad. Gotta go. I need to book a tee time.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

From Suburban to Urban Living

Ron and I lived in suburbia throughout our life together (in Dallas, Las Vegas, and Memphis), before moving to Chicago. So we really weren’t sure how much of an adjustment to our lifestyle would be necessary when we moved into a condo in the city. After a year here, we have a handle on it.

The biggest surprise, and a pleasant one, has been how little we use our car. On average, we use the car about twice a month. Back in January, when the weather was really bad, we didn’t use it car all month! (In fact, I think there was a week we didn’t even venture out of the house!) The limited use of the car has been great, considering the cost of fuel. Now we are struggling with how to think about the rising cost of parking, and the cost of insurance. Do we need a car at all? Should we find remote parking that’s less convenient and much less expensive? Still thinking about this.

It's surprisingly quiet in our urban home. Our building was built in the 20’s, and is as solid as a fortress. In addition, the one block street we live on is all residential. It gets a little noisy when classes begin and end at the two schools near us – but that doesn’t last for long. Otherwise, we are rarely disturbed. We don’t notice traffic noise at night at all.

We walk much more here than in suburbia. We used to take leisurely walks in our Memphis neighborhood, but now we walk with purpose to stores, restaurants, the library, the el station, the golf course, and to and through the park…almost everywhere. This immediately resulted in some natural weight loss, even before we changed our eating habits last fall. When we moved here, I struggled with walking 2 miles. Now I can walk 5 miles in a day without popping the Advil PM before I go to bed.

I was worried that Ron would miss puttering in his yard, but that has proven not to be an issue. Our building has a small front yard, and we are on the landscape committee. We’re gearing up to make improvements that will require some sweat equity, and I think that will be satisfying for both of us.

We’ve become more eco-friendly in the city. We have always recycled, but our consciousness has now extended to our purchases, our use of public transportation, and a general desire to live a more sustainable lifestyle. This has been an interesting side effect of urban living.

One final observation… I believe that we have become more outgoing in our contact with neighbors, service providers, and casual acquaintances. This may be more as a result of a reduction in stress and a slower pace of life than it is the suburban/urban thing. We have found our new contacts in Yankee-land to be surprisingly polite, helpful, and friendly. It’s easy to respond in kind.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Summer in Chicago

This will be our second summer in Chicago. The city is still just awakening from a very long, snowy winter, and locals are fairly intense in their pursuit of summer pleasures. In three months (a little more if we are lucky), we have to cram in enough memories of warmth and fun to sustain us through the part of the year when the wind howls off the lake and freezes your tears on your face.

After last summer, we have a few favorite things we are looking forward to enjoying again – and a few more we missed that we hope to get to this year.

Sidewalk dining at Pizza Rustica: This small, family-owned restaurant makes pizza with really fresh ingredients and a yeasty, buttery crust. It’s BYOB only, so we walk there with our own bottle of wine. Dining on the sidewalk patio is a Chicago experience, with the el periodically screeching by overhead.

9 Holes of Golf at Waveland: Officially, this course is called the Stanley Marovitz Golf Course. But it was originally the Waveland Golf Course, and Chicagoans are stubborn this way – we still call it Waveland. This is a great 9-hole course in Lincoln Park, tucked in between Lake Michigan and Lake Shore Drive. After play, we stop at the park concession for a hot dog and a beer before walking home.

Cocktails on the Rooftop at NoMI: The Park Hyatt across from the Water Tower has a great restaurant called NoMI. But the attraction in the summer is the outdoor patio on the 6th floor rooftop. It’s a wonderful place to enjoy a sunset, along with appetizers and an apple martini. Also a good place to see and be seen.

Wendella Boat Tours: Wendella provides an interesting and educational architectural boat tour on the Chicago River. Last year we also enjoyed a special event on Venice Night, where the boat went through the locks onto Lake Michigan for a stunning view of fireworks on the lakeshore. Nothing better on a hot night than to be out on the Lake.

Green Market: Each Wednesday and Saturday morning, Lincoln Park hosts a green farmers market. Many local chefs frequent the market to provide regional fare on their menus. If you are a Top Chef fan, you may have seen the episode during the Chicago season where the chefs shopped Green Market for ingredients for their challenge. Ron and I want to have our own meal “challenge” where we each prepare 2 courses with ingredients from the market. We’ll let you know how that turns out…

Chicago Summer Dance: We meant to do this last year and didn’t. This year it’s a MUST. This is a city-sponsored event located in Grant Park. It’s an hour of free dance lessons for the masses, followed by several hours of live music, allowing people to enjoy practicing the type of dance they learned. It’s one of the most popular summer events in Chicago – and I can’t wait to go!

What’s your favorite summer event in your home town? Get out and enjoy!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Road Trip!!

When my husband Ron and his brother Tim planned their annual hiking trip to Utah early this year, I decided to tag along. Instead of flying to Vegas to meet, we planned a multi-day drive. Our hope was to make it a leisurely trip, including sightseeing along the way. We loved the idea of having the time to burn on a road trip.

The Subaru was packed and we pulled out of Chicago on the morning of May 16th, arriving in Las Vegas on May 19th by way of Springfield MO, Amarillo TX, and Gallup NM.

On the 20th, we met up with Tim and headed north to Utah and Zion National Park. (Me at Zion on right.) We took a short hike together to a scenic overlook, and then went back to the hotel. There was a fabulous Mexican restaurant across the street from the Best Western in Zion. The weather was beautiful, and we ate on their outdoor patio with accompaniment by native flute players. That is to say, the flutes were the wooden, native American type (as opposed to the type you hear in a band or orchestra). There was a flute workshop in town, and some of the artists had gathered on the grounds outside the restaurant to “jam” for the evening. Truly lovely.

The next day, when Ron and Tim took off, I headed to Mesquite, NV for 2 days at a resort/spa. The weather was clear and hot, and I enjoyed a quiet and relaxing couple of days on my own. The guys spent their time doing some serious hiking in Bryce Canyon. We met back up in Mesquite on the 23rd. Tim headed for the airport in Las Vegas, and Ron and I headed back to the Lodge in Bryce for a night. He insisted that I see some of the sights before heading home. I’m so glad we did. Bryce is other-worldly, and a must see for anyone! (Ron at Bryce at below left.)

Our route home took us through Moab UT to sightsee in Arches National Park. Zion, Bryce and Arches are all very different and equally amazing, in their own way. Arches has rock formations that look as though they have been created by giants playing with oversized building blocks. Through the ages, the rock formations have been molded by nature’s forces into stunning geological displays.

After more than a week away from home, we were anxious to get on with the last part of the trip. Our drive home took us over the Rockies, through Denver, across Nebraska into Iowa and Des Moines, and finally back to Chicago on May 27th.

It was a great trip, and exactly the type of thing we looked forward to being able to do in retirement. In retrospect, we would take a little more time so that we didn’t have so many one night stops along the way. But it’s a grand country we live in, and we would like to see more this way. I just need a little time to recover before the next long road trip.