the avena shake from irazu on n. milwaukee ave.

I wasn’t in #Illinois for more than 48 hours when I found myself hitting places that are old favorites. Of things I love very much, the avena (oatmeal) shake from Irazu on N. Milwaukee certainly places in my top ten. Irazu is a family-owned restaurant in Wicker Park that has grown over the years. The flavor is Costa Rican, and their standout dish is actually this shake. Avena con leche (oatmeal with milk) although you can choose water or soy milk. As for ingredients, I would guess a blend of ice, milk, oatmeal, cinnamon, sugar, and maybe some nutmeg.

Chicago Illinois Irazu Costa Rican Restaurant Avena shake

If you’re super hungry, you can add a burrito, sandwich, taquitos, empanadas, or another one of my go-tos: the palmito salad. Be sure to have cash on hand as Irazu doesn’t accept credit/debit cards. DisfrĂștate (enjoy yourself).

village (of oak park) people and places

On Monday, I made the 12-hour hike from Jackson, Mississippi, to Oak Park, Illinois. I loved the drive through north Mississippi. So many trees. So green. The rest of the drive was kind of a slog, but I made it (with one dog and cat in tow) to Oak Park by about 6 p.m. The apartment/flat is cuter/bigger than I remember. (Always a good combo.) Noodled around the Village the last two days, and here’s what I found.

The Village people (I guess I’m one of them now) are very nice. They sound a lot like me, which is equal parts odd and comforting.

As for places, the Village has some neat ones to explore. The Oak Park Conservatory has the most fantastic Ponderosa Lemon tree. For real.

Oak Park Illinois Oak Park Conservatory Ponderosa lemon tree

The public library is a campus. I could easily get lost in there for hours, I’m sure.

Oak Park Illinois Oak Park Public Library

And then there are many murals, which I quite love.

Oak Park Illinois Murals Street Art

Oak Park Illinois Murals Street Art

Spring seems weeks away–very few flowers or much green right now. So for the time being I plan on enjoying cheer and color in places where I find it.

pilsen: a prelude

My last seven years as a Chicagoan were spent in the Near West and #Pilsen neighborhoods–at roughly 15th and Blue Island and 16th and Halsted. I loved living there so much. Prior to moving to Pilsen, a neighborhood called Logan Square was home for nine years, and it was quickly gentrifying to the point where I didn’t recognize Logan for Logan. I knew I had to leave. When I was looking for a place to buy in 2009, I remembered going to an arts district event at 18th and Halsted and really liking my experience. I didn’t know anyone who lived in Pilsen and all of my friends were North Siders, but I thought, Why not move to Pilsen. It was something new. And in the process I fell in love with Chicago again, which kind of shocked me. I had been out of love with Chicago for quite awhile.

La vida Pilsen was great. It had its fair share of challenges (crime, some neglected buildings, and so on). But the benefits far outweighed the challenges. There were restaurants and coffee shops (really miss the family-run coffee shop, Kristoffer’s on Halsted, sniff). There was the Mexican Museum of Art. There were the sweet abuelas, tias, and tios who swept the sidewalks outside their homes.

There was the annual Slow & Low Lowrider Festival (I absolutely loved this):

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And then there were murals, created by artists from all over the world:

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I guess Pilsen was a prelude to moving to Jackson, Mississippi. I like living in places that are kind of foreign to me because it forces me to learn and adapt. Here’s to preludes and living in places unfamiliar.

south side interloper

Have you ever visited Chicago’s South Side? It’s a vast swath of city starting, in my opinion, at Archer (Avenue), which, depending on which block you’re on, starts at about 2600 South. And then the South Side stretches down to at least 130th. Think Pullman, Beverly, Morgan Park. The South Side is a massive place. And I hesitate to call it a place, per se, because it’s really a densely constructed quilt of different neighborhoods.

Nine years ago, I became a homeowner in East Pilsen at 16th and Halsted, which is technically not south enough to be considered South Side. So I was a South Side interloper. I loved bicycling in parts of the South Side. There is a pristine paved trail that hugs Lake Michigan. My favorite spot was this–at roughly 47th. I miss it so freaking much.

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I also liked bicycling through specific neighborhoods. When it occurred to me to take photos, I did. Like this one in #Bridgeport.

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Or this one in #Kenwood, I believe.

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Sniff. Miss you much, Chicago.

a violin named ruby

Tucked away on the 10th floor of the Fine Arts Building, located on the 400 block of S. Michigan in Chicago, is a magical place. Bein & Fushi. If you’re like me, you’d never know that sales of the world’s finest stringed instruments (violins, violas, cellos) happen here. Don’t believe me? Have you heard of Stradivarius violins? They are some of the most-sought after on the planet and, yeah, Bein & Fushi has brokered the sale of many.

Are you ready to fall in love? This is Ruby. She was constructed in 1708 in Cremona, Italy.

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Source: Bein & Fushi, Inc. Selected Notable Sales: Ruby.

I happen to have a friend whose brother is on staff at Bein & Fushi, and I had the occasion for an impromptu tour and leaped at the opportunity. You don’t have to be a musician to appreciate how special this shop is. It really is.

There have been endless studies on what makes these violins so special. Steven Sirr, a Minnesota radiologist ran Betts, a 1704 Stradivarius violin, through a number of CT scans. Sirr wrote:

I assumed the instrument was merely a wooden shell surrounding air. I was totally wrong. There was a lot of anatomy inside the violin. Just like human beings, there is a wide range of normal variation among violins. When you are looking at an instrument that is hundreds of years old, you will see worm holes and cracks that have been repaired, as well as damage from being exposed to all kinds of conditions, from floods to wars.

Turns out there’s a lot of science to instruments like Betts and Ruby. To learn about the prevailing theories of what makes their sound so unique, head on over here with a proper shout out to the writers at Scientific American.

a requiem for bobby cann

In #Chicago I commuted by bicycle for 3 1/2 years before relocating to Jackson, Mississippi. I loved pedaling my way to and from work, which was located on the 400 block of N. Michigan, if you’re familiar with Chicago. It was always an interesting challenge to navigate my way through the neighborhoods of Pilsen, Greektown, West Loop, South Loop, and River North. I took different routes, depending on my mood and timing. I gulped fresh air like it was water. Bicycling was both exposure and freedom. Exposure to the threat of distracted drivers. Freedom from the dank and dirty CTA buses and their erratic time schedules.

Then May 29, 2013 happened. I saw news on Twitter that a drunk driver hit and killed a bicycle commuter on N. Clybourn. The drunk driver, Ryne San Hamel. The dead cyclist, Bobby Cann.

Source: Chicago Reader,Death of a Cyclist,” October 30, 2013.

As details of the crash emerged, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. San Hamel, a young man from Park Ridge and co-owner of AllYouCanDrink.com, got drunk at a Cubs game and then drove himself, his brother, and two friends downtown. San Hamel barreled southbound on Clybourn, speeding at 50 MPH. San Hamel’s vehicle smashed into Cann on his bicycle at about 6:30 p.m. Game over for Cann, in the most literal meaning. He died at Northwestern Memorial some 30 minutes later.

I read somewhere that San Hamel was previously arrested twice for drunk driving, and again, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. Chicago’s Active Transportation Alliance was searching for court advocates for Cann’s family, who is from New Hampshire. No brainer, at least for me. I volunteered and attended training at the River North Police District.

The day that San Hamel was arraigned at 26th and California I will never forget. Cann’s family and loved ones congregated. There were so many supporters for Cann that most of us stood in the hallway during the proceeding. Cann’s mother emerged from the courtroom flanked by family members and wept loudly. To see the anguished face of a parent who lost a son, it’s just the most humbling thing. Awful.

I was living in #Jackson by the time San Hamel was sentenced in February 2017. A friend reached out and asked me if I had heard about the sentence. I hadn’t so researched it online. For the third time, I couldn’t believe what I was reading. San Hamel was sentenced to 10 days’ jail time for killing Cann. Ten.

Chicago Reader published an article called “Death of a Cyclist” in October 2013. You can read it here.