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Moving thoughts

It seems that every day I feel both excited and terrified about the prospect of uprooting myself and moving away from Chicago. I was born and raised in Chicagoland (as my friend Adrienne likes to call it). Even though I spent about two years in total away from it while living in Toronto, it’s always been home to me.

I was a suburban girl for just over 20 years, and have spent another 20 living in the city of Chicago proper, so I know a lot about this area. Moving to the Bay area means starting over. I have to learn new weather phenomena and cycles, new neighborhoods, and new patterns of daily living. (That “turn left to turn right” driving thing in Silicon Valley is just as weird to me as the New Jersey jughandle.) There will be no “autopilot” to my days for a while, which I expect to find both exhilarating and exhausting.

While being off my feet for the past few weeks has forced me to change my daily habits and prioritize my non-work time differently, it has also allowed me to spend some guilt free time browsing the internet and absorbing as much as possible about the communities that make up the area. The original plan was to move to Silicon Valley and be attached to our office in San Jose. I have a friend in Santa Clara who has some insights into what SV life is like. She talks about spending her weekends hiking in the sunny mountains or lounging on the cool (yet still sunny) beaches around Santa Cruz. Occasionally it rains, but mostly it doesn’t, and the range of temperatures are not drastic, either. However, some things have happened to change my mind.

First, there was my vacation. (This last one where I sprained my ankle, and set myself up for a fracture.) I traveled with two friends, and one of them was my friend from Santa Clara. I hadn’t actually been with her in about a year and in that time she has changed a lot. She describes her new focus on exercise to be in line with all her peers at work. These are people who compare their weekend exploits of extreme cycling, running, and hiking. She says it is “the norm” for people in Silicon Valley to be this way and that everyone is sharp and competitive. I just won’t fit in with that.

I do need to get back into exercising more regularly, but I’m just not competitive. My friend’s new outlook put some strain on our interactions during the vacation, and made it clear to me that I simply could not live with that in my face all day, every day.

Second, it looks like I have some good project opportunities through our San Francisco office. I’ve already been working on a project where the sponsor is located in SF, and which promises to grow. My boss’ boss is in SF, as well, and my boss is already thinking of ways to get me more integrated into that network. (My boss has been fantastic about supporting me and my desire to move. Although I won’t get my relocation reimbursed or a cost of living adjustment because this is a voluntary move, once he realized I was serious about wanting to leave Chicago he has been clearing the way for me. And while I won’t get a raise, I will be placing myself on a new scale simply by moving to a higher cost of living area, which means I won’t top out of the pay scale for my grade anytime soon.)

While I’m happy to work in San Francisco, I just can’t see myself living there. It is much too expensive for me right now. Housing is expensive through the Bay area, but SF is pretty much top of the scale. So I’ve switched tactics a bit and am mostly looking for housing in East Bay now. I’m finding that the housing stock is more varied. There are older buildings that may not be as updated but that are more like the housing here in Chicago. Living in a vintage building without a dishwasher is nothing new to me, and it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make for a (hopefully) reduced rent and less hassle about my dog.

Ah, yes, there is the dog to worry about. My dog is nearly 12 years old now, yet she is still very healthy. When I adopted her at approximately 10-months of age, I guessed that she may live to be about 12 because of her size. She’s not enormous, but she is 50 pounds and larger dogs live shorter lives than little lap dogs. Her robust health sort of surprises me. We just spent a bunch at the vet’s this week because she was acting listless and not wanting to eat earlier this week. Turned out she was severely constipated and needing a good cleaning out. Since we had to peek inside her with the x-ray anyway, the doc pointed out she has very healthy-looking internal organs and no sign of arthritis in her back, either. She’s back to being her normal, perky self now, and it sounds like she’ll be that way for a few more years.

While the dog has mellowed quite a bit and is much more tractable since being the only dog in the household, she still has a negative reaction to most other dogs. Plus she’s a mutt and at least one of the likely breeds in her bloodline (cattle dog) is considered undesirable in some apartment complexes. This could be most problematic at corporate-run apartments, which are the majority in Silicon Valley. In East Bay, I may have other options.

Then there is B to think about. I don’t yet know if he will be moving with me. It’s possible he won’t. I don’t want to write much about it here right now, other than to note that I’ve told him I simply can’t afford to move him and pay for anything larger than a one-bedroom apartment; if he wants to continue living with me and wants a bigger apartment, he has to be kicking in more rent.

Since I’m not planning on packing up my entire house and will pare my belongings down a lot, I’ve even been thinking that it may be good to move in as someone’s roommate at first. Pros are that I wouldn’t have to invest in any furniture right away and I wouldn’t be as lonely while I build my new network of friends and acquaintances. (Yes, I know that roommates don’t always become BFFs, but it is nice to know there is another person around and that you are not completely isolated.) Cons are that I could end up hating the experience and having to tough it out for the terms of the lease.

Well, it does no harm sit here and dream and set some positive intentions that I’ll find a great place to live, right? Ideally, here is the type of living situation I’d be able to secure:

  • An apartment in a house/duplex/triplex
  • Access to a yard
  • Welcoming of my dog
  • Ability to garden/grow food in the yard
  • Maybe ability to share a flock of chickens in the yard?
  • Close to public transportation over to SF (the BART, AC Transit, or a ferry (I particularly like that last one; it sounds romantic to commute by ferry!)
  • Good walk score and ability to get groceries and visit restaurants/cafes on foot

I’m thinking that North Oakland or Berkeley may fit the bill, and I’m also looking at Alameda. I know that Oakland doesn’t have the most pristine reputation, but I am not a “delicate flower” when it comes living situations. I’m used to living in a diverse (and what may be considered by some people as not completely “safe”) neighborhood, although I also don’t want to take unnecessary risks with my self or my property. It seems that the neighborhoods in North Oakland (like Temescal, Rockridge/Claremont, and Piedmont/Montclair) may be pretty decent.

In one week I’ll get my chance to find out a bit more because I’m flying out to San Jose and staying at my Santa Clara friend’s place for several days. (Assuming I am out of this big boot and able to walk, that is!) I’m calling it a “scouting trip” and I’ll be spending my days working out of our office in San Jose and/or San Francisco, and my after work hours and off days looking at neighborhoods (and perhaps even apartments). It’s too early to actually sign a lease, but it doesn’t hurt to get a look at the housing stock.

If anyone knows the area and has suggestions, please add them in the comments! I’m open to hearing opinions and getting tips on pretty much anything related to living in the Bay area.

Am I the only person with a body part that seems to fail regularly and/or attract catastrophe on a regular basis?

I’m currently wearing a large Air Walker cast on my lower left leg because I fractured my ankle. If I understood the doctor at immediate care correctly, I have what is called a lateral malleolus fracture of the fibula. As ankle fractures go, it could be worse. I don’t require surgery and I’m not in extreme pain. But I am stuck with hobbling around on crutches for now.

The first time I injured this ankle was when I was about 10 or 12. I was running full-out after another child when I stepped wrong and ended up on the ground. I spent that evening in the ER with my mother watching Saturday Night Live and waiting to see a doctor. The diagnosis was a sprained ankle, so I  got a pass on playing softball that summer. :-)

Since that time, I’ve “turned” this ankle many times. In high school, I remember injuring it badly again and having to use crutches to get around for several weeks. And about 2 1/2 years ago I turned/sprained it while walking in flats on a sidewalk in Asheville, North Carolina.

Besides all these sprains, I’ve also broken a metatarsal in my left foot. I wish I could say I was doing something more exciting than taking a shortcut across the bedroom by walking on the bed, though. At the time I broke my left foot I was a newlywed and my (now ex-) husband ended up pushing me around in a wheel chair a lot because after using crutches for only a week my right leg and hip were injured from bearing all my weight.

This current injury was started while I was on vacation with friends in Maine over Memorial Day weekend. I was nearing the end of a hiking trail in Acadia National Park and sprained the ankle while picking my way down a sheet of granite on the trail. The friend hiking behind me had some familiarity with ankle injuries. After feeding me ibuprofen, helping me upright, and determining that I could actually stand on the affected foot, she helped me hobble to the end of the trail.

The ankle swelled extensively and my friends took me back to the cottage we were renting where I spent the rest of the day on the couch with my foot elevated on a pile of pillows and occasionally icing it. We wrapped the foot and I spent the next week taking ibuprofen, occasionally icing, and wrapping the foot. I also curtailed my walking. (I found that Boston is a very walkable city…if one can actually handle all the walking!)

I returned from vacation last weekend with a still swollen and slightly achy ankle, but I seemed to be able to keep to a normal level of activity. Until last Monday, that is. I was on my way to the gym to work with the trainer and was hurrying through the parking lot because it was raining heavily. I stepped on some uneven pavement, the injured ankle twisted again, and down I went. I think I screamed. I know I cried because it really, really hurt.

Some kind people helped me up out of the puddle I was sitting in and got me into the gym. The gym staff settled me in a chair and packed ice around my ankle, and after I had some time to breathe, stop crying, and think I called B to pick me up and take me to immediate care.

There were a couple of exams and some x-rays, and then the crutches and the Air Walker boot were brought in for me to gear up and be discharged. I go back to the doctor next week for a re-check and am hoping the news about my potential for mobility is better. I was told on Monday that it will take 4 to 6 weeks for the break to heal.

I’m hoping that I’m allowed to walk without crutches at or shortly before the 4 week mark because I have a confirmed reservation to fly to San Jose, CA at the end of June. My plans for San Jose are two-fold: pet-sit/house-sit for a friend while she is off on a hiking trip, and scout the neighborhoods in South Bay and East Bay in preparation for a move at the end of the year. Both of those activities are going to be very difficult (if not impossible) if I’m on crutches.

Being off my feet has thrown off my plans for the next month. I wanted to continue my aggressive down-sizing of stuff in my basement, but that is simply impossible while I’m confined to crutches. I’m trying not to injure my right hip like I did when I broke the left foot, so I need to be extra careful about how much “crutching” around I’m doing.

I’m thankful that I can telecommute for work, and that I’m able to secure help from friends. B has been keeping me fed and caffeinated, as well as continued to care for the pets (chickens and dog). A friend from the stable has come over to finish off the seasonal yard work I haven’t had a chance to do, and a neighbor has offered me the use of some home health aids like a shower chair.

I’m going to have to be very patient with myself and trust that my plans for the rest of the year will turn out OK despite this set back. *sigh*

Lightening my load

I need to downsize and get rid of stuff. Even if I end up not moving this year (it’s not a 100% sure thing yet), I still need to do this purge because I tend to let stuff just sit around.

My house is not only quite large, it also has a lot of storage places built-in. The original owner/builder was a contractor and he liked to make the most of his space, I guess. There are built-in cabinets, drawers, and shelves that efficiently take advantage of space in nearly every room of this house. Over the 13 years I’ve lived here, I’ve managed to stuff something into every one of them, too.

As I was looking over the mess that is the basement last weekend, it occurred to me that this wasn’t just my doing, though, so I needed to cut myself some slack. Yes, I do tend to let things accumulate through inertia and indecision (and because I somehow feel I must re-use just about everything), but what I’m dealing with in the house is actually the doing of three people: me, my ex-husband, and B.

When my ex moved out, he left behind everything he didn’t want. (Yes, he basically left me to deal with his cast offs.) At the time I just wanted him out so I didn’t care. Now I’m feeling like I should be charging him for my time in packing up and removing his stuff.

B moved in with the full contents of his one-bedroom condo and small storage unit. We had to find somewhere for all that stuff to go, and most of it ended up in the basement. Three years later a lot of it is still sitting in boxes in the basement. I nagged B into unpacking and donating some of the clothes and shoes he no longer wanted, but there is still much more to deal with.

For my part, I have a lot of containers stuffed into the old cold cellar (empty canning jars and food storage stuff), a few appliances that are rarely used (like the ice cream maker and the food dehydrator), and some clothing to deal with. And then there is the yarn.

I have accumulated a lot of yarn over the years. When I picked up knitting again about 10 years ago I started a yarn buying binge, too. I really got into collecting fibers and bought yarns simply because they were unusual and/or popular: soy yarn, bamboo yarn, super soft merino, etc. I also was a DINK and had a lot of disposable income at the time, so dropping hundreds of dollars at the big knitting and yarn conventions that roll through town every year was no big deal for me. I continued to accumulate yarn every year, and whenever I went on vacation and visited a yarn store (which happened quite often on vacation) I bought something as a souvenir. I referred to this big stash of yarn as my “yarn 401(k)” and reasoned that someday I’d be happy that I “invested” in all this yarn because I’d have more time and less money.

Instead, I’m finding that having all this yarn to deal with is a huge burden. I don’t want to move this stuff to California. It will be expensive to move and will take up a lot of room in what will be a much smaller living space than I have now. So nearly every night for the past two weeks I’ve spent some time photographing and cataloging all this yarn and marking most of it for sale on Ravelry. My friend Adrienne helped me get started by coming to the house on a Saturday and helping me decide what to purge, as well as giving me tips on how to handle the pricing and shipping process.

Although I’ve started by focusing on the “for sale” yarns first, I’m still not done. Yeesh. I have sold and shipped several packages already, though, so this is progress.

As for the rest of the stuff in the basement, I’m tackling it in the usual ways.

Donate it. Some of the stash yarn just didn’t seem worth listing for sale, so I sought out a women’s shelter that would use it and packaged it up with a few other items they wanted (a coffee maker and a digital TV converter box). I dropped the bags off last Sunday, and was glad to meet some the residents at the same time. I’ve also made two runs to the Goodwill drop-off center in the past few months.

Sell it. This one is harder for me to organize on my own. I’ve managed to sell some camping gear on my own through Craigslist, but I’ve asked B to help with sorting the prepping for a garage/yard sale. There are tools, small appliances, furnishings, and assorted odds and ends that seem perfectly suited for a garage sale. I haven’t been involved in many garage sales, and I know this is something I cannot do alone. As for selling on Craigslist: it really sucks. I have the worst Craigslist luck. I get lots of people contacting me about stuff I list and wanting to come see it, and then they never show up. I’ve been trying to sell a very nice bicycle for nearly a year. I list it, I get lots of interest, but people just don’t show up to close the deal. Ugh!

Toss it. I really hate seeing anything go into landfill, but there are some things that aren’t suitable for selling or donating. I’m putting as much as I can into recycling as opposed to landfill, but badly torn jeans and undershirts are just going to end up there one way or another.

When I think of all the stuff I need to get rid of, I feel overwhelmed. If I move, I don’t want to take a lot with me. It doesn’t seem worth the cost to ship a house full of old Ikea furniture, and I’m questioning how many mementos are worth the shipping and storage costs I’ll have to pay. This is one of the blessings/curses of having a larger living space: there’s no need to examine how much you’re storing until a crisis or big event (like a death, foreclosure, or big move) occurs.

I wish I had started this purging at least a year ago. *sigh*

Guilty as charged

So, yeah. I abandoned the blog for a few months. I simply could not deal with last winter. It sucked the life out of me.

That first “polar vortex” in January was OK; I expect something like that every winter. But there was also snow every few days. Measurable snow that meant schlepping out to shovel the stairs and sidewalk every two or three days. B used the little electric snow thrower we purchased a couple of years ago to clear the driveway repeatedly. He used it so much that we actually had to order a part that broke on it.

Then we had another “polar vortex.”

And another.

We even had snow the week before Easter.

Here it is the second day of May and it’s barely reached into the 5os. We haven’t seen the sun all week. Enough already!!

At the same time, my body had decided to get weird on me. There were mysterious pains in my lower left abdomen again starting in December and continuing through January. Was it another bout of diverticulitis? According to the CT scan in December, apparently not. Ultrasound at the gynecologist’s office revealed an ovarian cyst, and I was told to wait another 6-8 weeks to check it again.

In the meantime, I kept having pain. The heating pad and ibuprofen bottle became my close friends. My internist wanted me to see the colo-rectal surgeon, too, just to make sure there were no issues with diverticulitis. I have a family history of colon cancer, so the doc suggested a colonoscopy. But wait…how do I schedule that procedure when it will likely conflict with the next ultrasound at the GYN? The GYN office was being a PITA and insisting I come at certain point “in my cycle.” I’m almost 47 freakin’ years old!! Do you think I have a “regular cycle?!”

I scheduled another appointment with the gynecologist where I cried and questioned this arcane rule that was looking for something “normal” when I was experiencing something “abnormal.” He relented and I got a schedule together. In this one week I had a colonoscopy on Wednesday and my second ultrasound on Friday.

By the middle of February it was all over: the pain was gone, the tests were done and we had figured out…well…there was nothing seriously wrong, at least. My colon was fine and the ovarian cyst hadn’t gotten any bigger.

In retrospect, it seems to me that I likely never had diverticulitis last spring. I suspect that when I was in the ER last year I was experiencing an ovarian cyst on my left ovary. The ER doc saw that I had diverticula (not uncommon at my age) and blood work revealed a mild infection, so that was the closest diagnosis they could come up with. Probably my peri-menopausal body was starting to misfire, and that was the first instance of abnormal cysts that continued through last year.

Now things are calming down in some ways, yet that doesn’t mean everything is working well. My body is now unpredictable. It’s like being a teenager again. But this is to be expected, I guess, along with the changes in my metabolism.

This is what has been taking up most of my energy and time over the past five months: figuring out what’s going on with my body and how I should live in it now, and dealing with the externalities (like weather) that complicate my life. This is why I stopped writing.

Since change is the new normal for me, I’ve decided to take the plunge this year and move away from Chicago. I’ve been thinking about for at least two years now, and had planned to move when I was around 50. But last winter was the deciding factor for me. I’ve never liked winter, so why put up with it any longer?

My boss says that I can move and still keep my job. He’s based in Los Angeles, so we’re already used to connecting mainly by phone and online meetings. Unfortunately, though, since this is a voluntary move there will be no cost of living adjustment. If I was being financially savvy I’d move someplace with a lower cost of living, but I’m wanting to move as close as possible to the place where I’d like to “retire.” (I put that in quotes because I’m really not sure what retirement will look like for me. I have “bag lady syndrome” and fear that no matter how much I save I’ll be living on the street when I’m old.)

For me that means a move to northern California. Yeah, I’m choosing one of the most expensive parts of the country to move to, and getting no salary increase to help me. I’m going to pass on working out of the San Francisco office and transfer to San Jose instead; the housing costs are still very high, but not *quite* as bad as SF.

There’s a lot to do to prepare, but maybe that’s better to leave for another post.

Up until last year, my horse riding experience had been minimal and sporadic. I had been on several trail rides as a child and attended “horse camp” for two weeks when I was 12 years old. As an adult, I had been trail riding perhaps a handful of times, and I had previously tried a few lessons at a nearby stable. My minimal exposure was enough for me to learn that I enjoyed riding and would like to spend more time doing it on a regular basis.

The opportunity for me to take up riding presented itself last January when a friend suggested a package tour of Scotland in the Fall. While the tour wasn’t strictly about horse riding, the itinerary listed it in the activity options several times. And so my new goal was formed: become a proficient rider by October.

I had some knowledge of what to expect by looking at the websites of the stables mentioned in the tour materials. All except for one noted that riding was done in English tack. (The exception also offered English, but noted that it was the only stable in Scotland offering Western riding, too.) While all of my trail riding had been done in Western tack, I had really liked riding in English tack during my horse camp experience and I had used it during my limited experience with lessons, too.

Finding a local stable that teaches riding in English tack isn’t very difficult in the Chicago area. Hunter/Jumper and Dressage instruction are all done in English-style tack and all of the stables I was finding in the area that offered lessons offered instruction in them. However, I knew that if I had to drive an hour or more in each direction for lessons I would not be likely to enjoy them or keep them up. That helped me narrow down my choices to two stables that were in fairly close proximity to my home.

I had actually taken some lessons at one of those two stables about five years ago. Back then I had a loosely formed goal of learning to ride so I could incorporate it into a vacation, too. However, I couldn’t commit to a time frame for my goal since there was too much in flux in my life at the time. (I was getting divorced and needed to get used to living on a single income.) I also was not enjoying the lessons at that stable. While I had inquired about lessons at the other stable, I had been told they weren’t taking any new students at the time, so I dropped my lessons and went on with my life.

Because of the Scotland vacation, the opportunity to take up riding had presented itself again and this time I was ready to pursue my goal. I knew that I had room in my budget, and the ability to commit the time needed for lessons.

First, I thought I’d ask for some recommendations and feedback on my goals and how to reach them from other riders. There are message boards on the Internet for everything, but I found it intimidating to wade into the forum because I just wasn’t sure where to post my questions. So I directed my questions to a blog I read where there had been some mention about horse riding in past entries and comments. That was a big help and confidence booster for me to move forward with my plan.

Next, I visited the stable where I was considering taking lessons. It was not the one where I had previously lessoned, but the one that had told me five years ago they couldn’t take me on as a student. I went on a week-day before lunch, hoping it would be less busy so I could chat with the people working there and I could look the place over. Happily, I found the receptionist very welcoming and was told they could offer me lessons. I was encouraged to walk through the stable and watch a lesson in progress, as well as given some advice on where to purchase equipment, too.

Before I went to my first lesson I purchased the basic equipment: a riding helmet, a pair of riding boots, gloves, and breeches. There are many options for boots, gloves, and pants so I tried on several types of each. All riding boots should have a small heel to help keep your feet from slipping back through the stirrup, and a non-rugged sole (which could catch in the stirrup and keep your feet from sliding free easily). I ended up purchasing paddock boots, which are short boots that stop just above the ankle.

While they were pricier than I had planned, I purchased a pair of microcord breeches/riding tights because they allowed ease of movement, were well-fitting, yet they didn’t chafe.  They not only perform very well for riding they look good on me, so I don’t feel weird when I run errands before or after riding. (Although, I sometimes worry that the hair and odor that clings to me after riding may be a bit off-putting!)

A riding helmet is an absolute necessity. While it’s possible to show up at a stable for your first lesson wearing whatever pants you want and less than ideal shoes, you must have a helmet on your head before getting on the horse. The stable where I ride does have helmets available for loan during lessons, but I wanted to buy my own so I knew that I had a helmet that fit me perfectly and was comfortable. The sales person helping me at the tack store recommended I get a ventilated helmet, and she was definitely spot on. During the summer months, I could get very hot while riding even with the ventilated helmet.

For the first two months I took two 30-minute lessons a week. I started to really see improvements when I added a third weekly lesson. I’m not the quickest kinesthetic learner. For me to learn a new physical activity, I have to be able to break it down and work it slowly and repeatedly. Three times a week seemed to be the minimum I needed to improve my posture and my conditioning.

I did make my goal of becoming a proficient enough rider for my trip to Scotland. And I’m continuing to ride three times a week while I’m figuring out my next riding goal.

Dress in layers. Lots and lots of layers.

To go to the office today, I add a pair of wool tights under my slacks, and put on my warmest sweater (the one with both wool *and* Angora in the yarn) over a turtleneck. (Turtlenecks were very popular at the office today.) Over my tights, I put on a pair of thick wool hiking socks just for the commute. Before going outside, I add the outer layers: a wool/cashmere blend cowl pulled up over my mouth, 3/4 length down coat, shearling hunter’s hat with ear flaps down, and a pair of thrummed mittens. (If you’re allergic to warm animal fibers like wool, alpaca, and Angora, I feel very sorry for you.) Pull up your hood if you have one; you want to block out as much blowing cold air and snow as possible, but also be careful when walking with your hood up as it limits your peripheral vision. (And as a driver, be aware that people bundled up so much have issues seeing you, so slow down!)

Wear sturdy, water-resistant boots that cover your leg to mid-calf (at least).

Unless you are a small child and can be carried around, you will need to deal with this when you encounter it.

Slushy street

A minor bit of street slush.

Not all taxis or cars pull up flush with the curb. If you’re taking public transit or spend any time at all walking anywhere, you will undoubtedly ruin your expensive fashion boots in a month. Forget Uggs (or Ugg-like footwear) and dressy “riding boots.” Think Bogs, Kamik, or Sorel. Tuck your pants into your boots so they don’t get wet and salt stained. Stand back from the curb when there is a pool of slushy water near it. Passing cars and buses have been known to splash that junk over the lower portions of pedestrians who are standing close to it.

In the neighborhoods, beware the sidewalks.

Some property owners are jerks and don’t ever shovel their walks. (Yes, it is the law but there is no enforcement of the fines.) Others are not able to shovel early in the day, so you will likely need to slog through snow on your morning commute. Even attentive shovelers can’t always keep the sidewalk clean enough that it doesn’t have the occasional icy patch. Freshly fallen snow over ice can lead to some really ugly consequences, so learn to shorten your stride and distribute your weight more evenly over each step. In other words, walk like a duck.

I left the house at 6:30 this morning and only one place had its sidewalk clear at that hour. I mostly walked in the street, despite the traffic. Chicago’s major streets are *always* well attended because we kick people out of office if they don’t keep the streets clean in winter. (Too bad we are inured to corruption and don’t demand more honorable behavior from our politicians, just snow-free streets.)

In the business district, beware the buildings.

It’s uncommon to get hit with ice falling from the tall buildings, but there have been enough incidents that these signs spring up all over the Loop during winter.

Caution falling ice

Litigation deterrent…er, I mean warning sign.

Take enjoyment from simple outdoor activities, like shoveling.

Maybe you are a renter or live in a condo so you think you won’t need to clear snow. If you own a car, though, you will need to shovel at some point. Maybe you’re even lucky enough to have indoor parking. You can still get stuck driving down a side street before it’s been plowed or getting out of your garage into the alley. (The otherwise excellent street plowing crews deal with side streets last, and don’t do alleys at all. Chicago instead lets the garbage trucks “press” the snow down in the alley as they collect trash, which is the closest they come to plowing them.) Or maybe you’re tired of hearing someone spin their wheels helplessly over and over and over again as you’re trying to concentrate on a book or go to sleep, so you throw on your many layers and water-resistant boots, and go out to help. Either way, you may need some ibuprofen and Icy Hot (and perhaps a slug of whisky) at the end of the day.

Learn about “dibs” and be wary of those who tenaciously cling to it.

Yeah, it’s not legal but you don’t want to be the victim of retaliation. This could include getting chased by someone wielding a shovel if you so much as touch the stuff marking a dibs spot. More ominous things like a busted windshield have been known to happen.

Look for the “silver lining” in the weather.

“Six more inches of snow on the way? At least it’s warm enough to snow!” (An actual quote from a friend.)

“Single digits and below zero wind chills? At least it’s sunny!” (A quote from another friend.)

“The temperature is going to be 3 with a wind chill of only -20 tomorrow morning? I can deal with that.” (I said this to B last night.)

“It’s above freezing AND sunny? OMG, it’s a miracle!!” (Or it’s April…possibly both.)

Move to California.

And although it’s not strictly about winter, there are many winter anecdotes on this list.

Eating my way through Scotland

What better day to talk about food than the day after a huge feast? (I hope all my American readers enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving!) eemusings commented on a previous post that she wanted to hear more about the food I ate in Scotland. So it’s time to dish up the details. *hee, hee, hee*

I had one big constraint on my diet: I had to avoid cow milk, cream, and cheese. Way back in my late twenties I had realized that cow milk and cream caused problems for me, but a little lactose replacement usually helped. Unfortunately, earlier this year I found out I have diverticulitis. In the months since that diagnosis, I’ve discovered that eating lots of cow dairy causes enough irritation in my gut that it flares up. So it was important that I avoid cow dairy as much as possible on the trip. (I wasn’t the only person who had dietary constraints on the trip. My roommate and friend A was avoiding most high cholesterol foods like red meat and butter, as well as sugar. And there was a woman in our group that was so deathly allergic to gluten, beef, and eggs that she carried an Epipen.)

Before heading over to Scotland, I read up a bit about what types of foods I may encounter and developed a short “wish list” of things I wanted to try. Unfortunately, my cow dairy issue made it impossible for me to try cullen skink, which was a very popular (and delicious sounding) soup frequently on the starter menu. However, kippers and haggis were at the top of the list. I love oily fish like sardines, mackerel, and even anchovies. I’ve eaten canned kippered herring here, but it was nothing like the  kippers I enjoyed at breakfast many mornings. They were smoky, crispy, salty, and absolutely delicious!

Kipper

One of our tour guides suggested that those of us who liked kippers should also try Arbroath smokies, but the few times I saw them on a menu they had been cooked in milk. :-(

I tried haggis on my first night in Scotland and found it very good, too. Apparently the spices and seasonings used in haggis can vary quite a bit from place to place, and the restaurant where I first tried it used lots of warm spices. The richness of the organ meats and texture of the oats still came through and made it a truly memorable dish. On Isle of Skye I had vegetarian haggis with my breakfast. While still very tasty, the lack of organ meats made the texture and mouthfeel quite different.

I expected the food to cost more than it does here in the States and budgeted accordingly. Also, this was a luxury tour and the hotels where we stayed and dined reflected that. Eating dinner at the same hotel where we were staying was usually the most convenient option because we were in country lodgings and not cities or large towns with lots of restaurants in walking distance. There were a few times that I ventured out via cab to other villages or into town to dine, but often I just ate at the hotel with the group or with A, who usually just wanted to be “in for the night” after a day of activities.

Full breakfast was always included with our lodgings and it was possible to really fill oneself up, too. Typically there would be cold breakfast items on a buffet table available for self-service: pastries, cereal, yogurt, cheese, cold cuts, and fresh or stewed dried fruit. Cooked breakfast items on the menu always included oatmeal porridge, as well as egg dishes such as eggs Benedict (usually with smoked salmon instead of ham/bacon), scrambled eggs, or “full Scottish breakfast.” The latter usually included fried eggs, sausage, bacon, grilled tomato, and black pudding (blood sausage).

As much as I really need protein at breakfast to keep me going, that was way too much heavy meat for me so I never ordered the “traditional” full Scottish breakfast. Bacon in the UK was very different than the bacon in the US. It was much more like ham or the true Canadian bacon I used to get in Toronto.

I usually ordered eggs at breakfast, and my lack of critical questioning of the preparation method led to problems only a few days into the trip. I’ve been making scrambled eggs at home without milk for so long that I forgot that it’s usually standard practice to add it. At the Lake of Menteith Hotel I had been eating scrambled eggs with smoked salmon every morning for breakfast, and I had also knowingly cheated on my no dairy rule one night by eating sticky toffee pudding for dessert.

(But oh my goodness, the gloriousness that is sticky toffee pudding made me want to cheat again and again! The tour organizer also became a big fan of sticky toffee pudding, despite being a self-confessed chocoholic. Although she had traveled to the UK several times, she had never tried this dessert. I was pleased to convert her and vicariously enjoy it through her.)

By the time we arrived at our hotel near Inverness (the famous Culloden House just outside the city), I had realized the error of my ways and knew I had to increase my dietary vigilance. I went to bed that night with a hot water bottle (such a quaint feature to find in our room!) clutched to my aching gut, and a firm resolve to both not let any cow dairy slip past my lips and increase my intake of high fiber foods. Obviously, the apples I had brought with me and was consuming every day were not enough. Luckily, I discovered how delicious stewed dried fruit can be the very next morning at breakfast.

I’m not sure if the challenges I was having finding greens and vegetables (prepared without cream) was due to the posh menus at the places we were staying or if this was typical of the Scottish diet in general. On the one hand, I admired the fact that the restaurant menus reflected the season, with lots of root vegetables accompanying the mains. On the other hand, I desperately missed greens and salads. I had expected to find kale, at least. Indeed, I did see kale growing quite thickly in fields in the southern parts of Scotland, yet when I was talking to one of the friendly Scots later in the trip about those fields she said they turned the sheep into them during the winter.

Besides growing lots of kale for animal fodder, the southern areas in Scotland also cultivated a lot of fruit, especially berries. We noticed hoop houses filled with dwarf fruit trees and bramble fruits, and our bus driver told us that strawberries and raspberries were heavily cultivated in the area. Once we entered the highlands we saw mostly animals (sheep and cattle) grazing instead of cultivated fields.

But back to the meals!

Breakfasts were not only ample, one could really feast during lunches and dinners, too. I noticed that many restaurants offered two to three course fixed price meals for lunch and early dinner, just like in Spain. I took advantage of one such special at a restaurant in Inverness. The concept behind The Joy of Taste — a restaurant operating by principles sounding very much like a co-op — intrigued me, so I took a cab from Culloden House into Inverness to enjoy a delicious dinner by myself. My starter featured seared calf liver served over a bed of delicious salad greens (yay!) and my main course was duck served with lots of broccoli, courgette, and saffron potatoes. Dessert was a polenta cake made with honey and bramble berries. That was one of my more memorable meals in Scotland, although the relatively low cost was offset by the price of the taxis I had to take to and from Culloden House. (I stretched out my enjoyment of Inverness that evening by walking along the River Ness for a bit before returning to the hotel.)

That wasn’t the first time I had duck while in Scotland. It seemed to be the more popular form of poultry in the country. The menus frequently featured beef, lamb, pork, and fish, but rarely offered chicken. Considering how ubiquitous and popular chicken is in the US, I found this rather remarkable. Another difference between US and Scotland was in the cuts of pork. The most common cut of pork I saw on menus was not chops, but fresh pork belly. (Although I did enjoy a starter of some braised pig cheeks at Cross Keys pub in Kippen).

Scotland is a land with an extensive coastline and many, many fresh water lakes and streams. (I was constantly amazed at the number of gushing springs and waterfalls I saw from the window of the bus as we drove through the Highlands. There was water everywhere.) Fish and seafood of all kinds were plentiful on menus. I dined on fish and chips twice during my trip, but tried to keep my consumption of fried fish minimal. Salmon — both fresh and hot or cold smoked — were also featured quite a bit. I suspect most of it was from the fish farms we frequently saw along the sea lochs and coastline and not wild caught, unfortunately.

As we arrived on the west coast, we found that the local specialty was langoustines, which were tasty little crustaceans, although they took a bit of work to eat.

Langoustines!

Oh, and as for beverages, I enjoyed both ales and wine with dinner, but of course enjoyed the whisky the most. :-)

Evening libation

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