Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Coffee or a ‘cup of joe’ has come a long way since my American travels in 1993. I remember ordering a coffee in New York, when filter coffee was the ONLY type of coffee available. I thought I was about to cause an international incident when my request for a ‘white coffee’ was met with a blank expression, bordering on absolute horror. San Francisco was beginning to appreciate the wonders of espresso with cafes proudly demonstrating on large signs that “We serve Cappuccino”. To a Melbourne gal, this seemed a very unremarkable announcement.

Since that time, Starbucks has become a tour-de-force with an outlet on practically every corner. I eschewed Starbucks in Australia, as there are so many fine individually owned coffee premises to patronise. China was another case with a dearth of coffee shops and ‘western’ breakfast options, so Starbucks was a relief to me when I was there on work trips (mostly in Shanghai and Hong Kong) and I craved a coffee and a bagel. In the States too, it has become a somewhat of a beacon amongst espresso bars that often seem to serve a sort of foamed, coloured coffee-flavoured water. Starbucks however does serve a very inconsistent brew. We have had great coffee and some really awful coffee too. I really miss the service and consistent quality that we had become used to in the smaller owner-operator coffee shops we frequented in Australia – there is a lot to be said against the large chain store operations where staff really don’t seem to care.

A flat white is unknown outside Australia, so latte has become the coffee of choice. Paul and I have had a hard time finding a coffee made to our tastes. We finally worked out the problem. The ubiquitous latte here, is huge and made with about half the coffee to milk ratio that we are used to. The smallest coffee one can order is a Tall. Then there is Grande and Venti. At 12 fl oz (.029 litre), 16 fl oz (.473 litre) and 20 fl oz (.591 litre) respectively, the Tall is larger than a large coffee in Australia. Our solution is to order a tall size with a double shot of espresso, or a grande with a triple shot – this makes it more akin to what we are used to.

It is not as simple as ordering a ‘skinny latte’ when wanting a milk coffee with reduced fat content. One orders coffee with a 2%, 1% or no-fat milk. Paul was somewhat amused after ordering a 2% mocha, to be asked if he would like whipped cream with it!

We suspect that the massive size of coffee served here is directly related to some government initiative to subsidise the dairy industry. The introduction of the latte must have had a serious impact upon milk demand and production: it seems as if everyone is drinking them. The insulated takeaway paper cup is what most coffee is served in, whether drinking in or taking out. These are highly evident in the street with people drinking from them everywhere. It might also be a good way to keep one’s hands warm in the cold?!

There are several Lavazza coffee shops in the city and these have become a destination point. Not as popular as Starbucks, we have always managed to find a table and a great coffee – amongst the numerous patrons of Italian extraction. The coffee here is served in china and is consistent in quality.

Over the weekend, a new coffee shop, Saxbys, opened in our building (just as we are about to leave!). We have been giving it some patronage as we really want it to do well – and provide some much needed competition for Starbucks. There are some Chicagoans that rave about Intelligentsia Coffee. We are yet to find one of these establishments to try it out.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Birthday boy

It was my birthday during this last week. I was woken on Thursday morning to Luc and Paul bringing in a swag of beautiful presents. Nic had another one waiting next to him in his cot (crib). I was very spoilt.

As the day was on the cold side, I bundled the boys into the stroller and set of for the Artopolis Bakery & Agora for some birthday cake. I had read about this bakery as being notable. It was also within walking distance, located in nearby Greek Town. The bakery has an inviting setting with several purposes including a restaurant, cafĂ©, bar, bread shop and patisserie. Luc was very excited to order his very own cake (slice). He chose one of the most-chocolatiest-looking cakes – key to a hyped afternoon.

Katie was available to babysit the boys, so Paul took me out to dinner. We went to the Signature Room on the 95th floor of the John Hancock building. We had been to the Signature Lounge on the 96th floor on our first weekend to check out the view. Being such a destination point for tourists, we were a little concerned that the meals might be overpriced bland fare. We were wrong. We had fantastically fresh fish to start with, and the most tender rack of lamb and beef dishes for our main course. Yummy cocktails and good wine heightened the experience. The desserts were the only let down- these were a little ordinary.

On Friday, I took the boys to their second playgroup, up town to Lakewood, with a group of mums and kids, introduced to me by Margaret. Margaret is a contact of Sharon’s (my high school friend who had lived in Chicago for 5 or so years). Five mums (Margaret, Ann, Debbie, Rina and myself) with 10 kids between us (each having 2), made for an entertaining morning. Luc absolutely loved the opportunity to play with some more toys… (his meagre selection is becoming a little tired)… and quite possibly enjoyed playing with the other kids as well!

On the weekend, we had a pretty relaxed time, slowing down our tourist pace somewhat. We ventured out for a walk each day. Saturday saw a return trip to Artopolis: to indulge Paul this time. Sunday we ended up on North Michigan Avenue to drop in one of my birthday presents to be altered (clip-on earrings to be changed to posts for pierced ears). Commonly referred to as The Magnificent Mile (Mag Mile), this is the street for shopping with big name shops, department stores and chain stores lining both sides of the street. It is a great place to go and warm up – what a great excuse for some shop-hopping! I suspect the shops will serve a similar function during the summer (to escape the heat). We visited Galt Toys and Luc was just so excited. He was allowed to choose a small toy and chose a ‘Hornet’ jet plane to take away. We ended our excursion with hot chocolates at the Ghirardelli soda fountain and chocolate shop.

Photo above was taken within Artopolis, looking towards the cake and pastry display

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie, Oi, Oi, Oi...

When we first arrived in Chicago, Paul and I met Justin at the Australian Consulate when we needed to have some papers witnessed. He did his best to convince us to attend a drinks session for Australian expats living in Chicago. We were a little dubious about meeting other Australians… after all, we were living in a ‘foreign’ country, and didn’t we need to meet locals? Anyway, Katie was available to babysit last Friday, so we decided to go along.

Once there, the first person we were introduced to was the Australian Consulate General, Bob Charles. He has been living in Chicago since his appointment last year. I asked him where he had been posted prior to Chicago. He told me that he wasn’t a career diplomat, but was a political appointment and had been posted by the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister as a direct result of his “sins while serving in the House of Representatives”. It would appear that he scored a pretty good punishment!

Several parties were trying to coerce Paul into joining either or both the local Rugby Union and Australian Rules football teams. Apparently these are great social get-together opportunities where the sport comes second… or third. Future expat functions are being organised for Anzac Day, with a ‘pie night’ in early April.

Speaking to some longer-term expatriot residents, all whom really love this place, there are apparently some 10,000 Australians living in Chicago. Of these, there is a definite majority hailing from Melbourne. My friend Annie in Brisbane (ex Melbourne girl), had told me that I would love Chicago as it was the American equivalent of Melbourne. This sentiment has been echoed by a few. The reasons given are: each city borders a large body of water (Lake Michigan and Port Philip Bay), with adjoining river system (Chicago and Yarra Rivers) each city is predominantly flat, each city is centred upon a grid system with suburbs radiating from this centre, each city has a prominent and concentrated central high rise business district, noteworthy buildings are adorned with towers, peaks and other pinnacle structures, each city has a vibrant arts and cultural bias, each city has a diverse and multi-cultural mix of residents, each city has a strong ‘foody’ contingent, and… each city experiences several weather seasons in a single day!

I was made aware of this last feature when I took the boys to the zoo on Monday on what appeared to be a lovely sunny and mild morning. I started to regret wearing my big coat. The wind appeared to be getting a little stronger while we were on the bus. As we walked to the zoo, I walked past a laneway and practically lost the stroller in a huge gust of wind. It started to tip over, nearly going all the way, and I had to use all my strength to right it. I was in complete shock. The stroller’s wind cover blew off down the street and onto the road. I was so grateful for the lady that went off after it after she yelled at me to “Stay with your baby!”

We recovered and met Polly and Callan at the seal pool in the zoo. We went to the park to let the boys run around before abandoning it when gusts increased and the temperature cooled. I was now really happy to have worn my big coat. On our way to Polly’s house, another great gust between buildings stopped me in my tracks and I could not possibly push the stroller. The only way I could move was to turn around and pull the stroller, with all my might, past this treacherous wind tunnel. It was a truly terrifying experience – a situation that I will now be wary of.

The strong winds were related to the tornado warnings we witnessed being issued and constantly upgraded upon a banner across the top of our TV screen on Sunday evening. Apparently, this was one of the biggest storm cells to pass through central Illinois in a decade, with seven counties having a disaster declared.

Photo is of seal at Lincoln Park Zoo at feed time.

Monday, March 13, 2006


As part of the process to obtain a social security number for myself (Paul was provided one automatically after applying at Social Services), I had to have my biometric data recorded (fingerprints, height, weight, hair/eye colour, signature and photo) to accompany my already submitted application. This involved a trip north to a government facility in a strip mall. Not too easy to reach, particularly with the children during the week, so we decided to hire a car to visit the place, and to tie this in with a visit to IKEA.

We need to furnish an apartment basically from scratch. We are waiting on some furniture items to arrive (sofa, cot / crib, change table and cookware) but need to buy the rest (extra seating, sofa bed, beds, shelves, dining table & chairs, coffee table, lamps, linen, crockery, glassware etc. etc.). We figured that the most cost effective way of doing this was to visit IKEA – a concept that I have grown up with and become quite accustomed to, for furnishing a place on the cheap.

Paul picked up a hire car Saturday morning and we set off in search of the DSS office, on a beautifully sunny and warm morning (17C) .We had almost found the place when a rumble and liquid sound in the backseat alerted us to a vomiting Luc. Of course we had nothing but my lovely new scarf to mop up the mess. I went to my appointment and then to search for some baby wipes, cloths, paper towel… anything to assist the messy situation. I found a really large supermarket and raced inside to be confronted by strange smells and Chinese signage. I realised then that it was an Asian supermarket, and only stocked cooking items and ingredients (no toiletries in sight). I would have loved to explore the many exotic items here… but speedy action was required. I found a Dollar Store and found and purchased some cleaning items and some infant clothes. We cleaned Luc and dressed him in some rather small (but dry) clothes. Luc found this quire amusing as he tried to stretch a very small shirt over his protruding belly. We then headed home, taking the slower and ‘gentler’ suburban route (thinking this would be better than the expressway). This helped us gain a good appreciation of our soon-to-be neighbourhood in Lincoln Park: the shops, boutiques, restaurants, cafes, etc. …. until Luc was sick again.

Our aborted trip ended in a bath for Luc and Chicago hotdogs for ourselves. Paul went in search of a babysitter. He has had success on, finding Katie (who was busy with her parents this weekend), and now Lisa – who made her way over to our place immediately after Paul’s call. We were so grateful.

I pointed out to Paul that Luc was never sick in the Peugeot and has only ever been carsick in ‘American’ cars! He had a terrible bout of carsickness when we were on the ‘Road to Hana’ while in Maui, Hawaii last year. In fact we all felt rather queasy on this trip (including Paul, who was driving).

IKEA hasn’t been in the States for as long as in Australia, so when people told me it was large, I thought it was due to the fact that it was different from the typical US furniture store (i.e. inclusive of warehouse facility for flat-packed take-away furniture). What people actually meant was that this store was LARGE! Set in acres of car park, the store has 3 levels. IKEA aficionados in Australia will be aware that the shopping experience is constructed around a defined route through as series of ‘rooms’, set up with furniture arranged as if within a living room, dining room, bedroom, etc. to provide real examples of how items for sale might be coordinated. IKEA here seems to be just too busy to follow this concept and instead, displays items by type (seating, tables, linen, etc.), as a typical furniture store.

The store was really crowded although the parking lot (carpark) was barely half full….but we did arrive at around 6pm on a Saturday night! This place must surely be chaos when at capacity. We didn’t purchase too much but gained a good impression of what we might buy closer to our moving date.

Our Sunday was spent visiting establishments not necessarily available in the city centre. Our first stop was Target. This is just like the Target chain in Australia with the same logo etc., only - you guessed it - BIGGER! The store includes several additional services than the Australian Target including a pharmacy, grocery section and mini Pizza Hut and Starbucks outlets. We spent the rest of the day in the North Clybourn area. This area includes a number of furniture and electronic stores, a large Wholefoods store, clothing stores and many other shops. Parking was chaotic and at an absolute premium with all carparks threatening to tow unless you were actually shopping in the store that owned / was adjacent to the carpark… it is expected that you drive to the next shop’s carpark if you decide to visit another shop!

Photo is of Luc at Fantasy Kingdom - an establishment we have been frequenting during the cooler weather.

Sunday, March 5, 2006

Dog Party

A number of colder days has seen me take the boys downtown for a walk in the stroller with some shop-hopping to keep warm. On a couple of occasions, we have wrapped up our shopping visits with a visit to Millennium Park for an opportunity to stretch our legs. One day, we ended up in a speciality shop within Marshall Fields named The Down Town Dog. pastedGraphic.pdfThis department contained everything that an upwardly mobile dog (or their owner) could ever possibly want, including a dog stroller for taking the pooch in one’s life for a walk! Luc was quite taken with the stuffed dogs that were helping display items such as shoulder bags for carrying dogs, cold weather cashmere sweaters, etc. As all Luc’s toy dogs are currently in transit, and his favourite book at the moment is Go, Dog. Go!, I bought him an animal which he chose and immediately named, very originally, Puppy Dog.

Sunday morning was spent having breakfast with the John, Yoli and Joseph, who very graciously supplied us all with a yummy breakfast of fresh bagels and smoked salmon and cream cheese, muffins and cookies. With a number of people here at the same time, we took the opportunity to hold a ‘Dog Party’. The Go, Dog. Go! book culminates in a dog party and I had promised Luc that we could go to a dog party sometime - I thought it might be fun. The Nowaks complied by bringing several toy-dog guests who helped to celebrate: blowing out candles on a muffin ‘cake’, playing with balloons and party blowers... Luc seemed very happy and has been requesting ‘dog party cake’ ever since. Following breakfast, we all visited the Children’s Museum at Navy Pier. Again it snowed while we were there.

This time we were lucky enough to have snow that hung around for long enough to play in. I took Luc up to the roof of our building and we attempted to build a snowman. We didn’t have too much luck and I think Luc will not be able to associate carrots with anything other than noses now. We did however have some highly successful snow ball throwing. Luc thought throwing snow at his mum to be absolutely wonderful.

We have now signed a lease and paid a deposit upon an apartment in Lincoln Park. We will take possession of the apartment on the 1st April, so we have a little time to organise furniture and wait for our stuff to be shipped from Australia. We are determining what we need and are doing a little research into prices, options for payment, what is available at short notice, etc. etc. ...Hello IKEA!

Our very first ‘necessity’ item purchase was a 32” flat, wide screen, high-definition LCD television! Paul is in heaven. It is like a computer monitor - only super-sized. Paul has even been doing some work on it from the couch via his bluetooth mouse and keyboard. The picture quality is indeed wonderful and I am sure we will all be very happy watching it as we sleep on the floor. ;-)