That first weekend in Chicago…¬†

Botanical Gardens, Chicago

We arrived in the USA and for the time being, we were here to stay. Were we ready for this? No. Did we know what to expect; have any friends, family or ties – No. Yet here we were; every step we took would be a step towards creating  our new life. It was a daunting and interesting position to be in.  Suddenly we were in a city where people had no preconceptions about us. We could, if we wanted to, literally reinvent ourselves. I wasn’t quite ready for that but I did find myself wondering if there were outdated parts of myself I could eliminate and if fresh parts might emerge in their place.

With those thoughts pinging through my mind we arrived at our air B and B house, where we would be staying for the next six weeks. It was super slick and fancy. The walk in wardrobe was packed with colour coded shirts, post it notes with tiny instructions for us were affixed to every cupboard, a heated toilet seat graced the master bathroom (yuck! Who wants a hot bottom?) plus there were seven television sets scattered around the house including one in aforesaid bathroom… maybe TV watching whilst having a hot bottom was all the rage in Chicago? As if that wasn’t enough to worry me, downstairs in the beautifully decorated reception area were four elegant, orange velvet chairs nestled under a horrifyingly expensive looking chandelier. 

Now, we happen to have two very lively kids who quite like a spot of indoor ball throwing (when I’m not looking) plus occasional sofa gymnastics, so I felt mildly nauseous as I pre-empted all the potential disasters just waiting to happen, but my tummy cried out for food, which was a welcome distraction, so off we trotted, Skyla in tow, to find some.

The first thing I noticed was that Chicago was so hot and steamy it felt tropical ūüĆī, which really surprised me. We were staying in Bucktown, a trendy area bustling with life, people and activity. There were upmarket boutiques, vintage stores, record shops, guitar shops and enough bars, restaurants and cafes to keep us busy for years. It was heaving with strong young couples in fitness gear, some of them racing along with their prams (don’t those kids ever feel dizzy?), bearded hipsters (beards of all shapes and sizes from neat and trimmed to animal like long bushes!) tattooed ladies (I’ve never seen so many tattoos -ever!) and dog walkers – basically just my cup of tea! 

Gavin with his luxurious beard, at Goorin Brothers hat store

A friendly soul guided us to Big Star, the hippest Mexican restaurant in town, packed with humans of all ages, blaring rock music and super cool staff. It was here we ate our first Chicago meal, Skyla sitting comfortably by our feet.

That weekend we explored the neighbourhood, finding ourselves in a street festival, Chicago style. There was great live music, international food and various stands selling everything from clothes, organic toiletries and home made candles to cheeses and bric a brac. Chicago really comes alive in the summer and now I’m experiencing their beautiful but brutal winter, I can see why! Once the sun shines, the restaurants and cafes fling open their doors and dining al fresco becomes the norm. It was this Chicago that greeted us on those first days and looking back, I’m so relieved it was as we had, what you might call, a “soft landing.” 

Buzz cafe, serving the best coffee in Bucktown

We would spend August acclimatising to our new world before Leo started work and the kids started school. That month (and the ones after) were to prove challenging, in what had already been a challenging year, yet I remained resolutely hopeful and sometimes just a glimmer of hope is all you need.

Hugs at the street festival!

Featured here: 

The Chicago Botanical Gardens

This really is a place of wonder and immense beauty for all the family. You can stay there all day and it has a great restaurant serving healthy food. If the weather is good you can eat on the terrace overlooking the gardens. http://www.chicagobotanic.org

Goorin Brothers Hat Shop, Bucktown 

This is the best hat shop in Chicago. They host regular parties here, with food, live music and a great atmosphere. Their staff are well informed, interesting and great to talk to. It’s really worth a visit. http://www.goorin.com

Big Star

Fun, trendy Mexican restaurant with a large terrace that’s open for as long as the sun shines. This place is packed day in day out and always has a lively atmosphere. Dogs welcome! http://www.bigstarchicago.com

Buzz Killer Espresso 

Buzz has the friendliest young staff, great cappuccinos, fresh pastries and is dog friendly – heaven when it’s a brisk -15 degrees Celsius outside and you need a quick warm up whilst out walking your dog! 

Next up… Trials and Tricky Tribulations in Chicago…

Chicago Calling! 

Cantabria, Spain

So here we are in a blog about Chicago and yet here I am telling stories about Madrid! It’s definitely time to pack up this part of the story and shift countries, but just before I do, let’s just neatly close this European chapter of my life….

Four months into our stay in Madrid and life was beginning to go well; we had all made friends and somehow I could make myself understood in my odd pigeon Spanish with accompanying wild gestures and vivid facial manoeuvres. Leo bought himself a fancy car and his new man mobile seemed to improve his happiness levels by at least 90 percent. Meanwhile, mine were increased by all things botanical- namely our gorgeous garden bursting with colour from the red roses clambering up the walls and the striking green ivy worn proudly by our house to the fresh rosemary and mint growing in abundance around our pool- yes pool! It may have been small but it provided enormous amounts of pleasure to the kids, who threw themselves with joy into its refreshing waters each sweltering day after school.

Our tiny but delightful pool

Friends and family were starting to visit from London and did I mention that the food was great- I mean mouth wateringly, ¬†exceptionally, extraordinarily delicious. Eating was almost a spiritual experience! So all in all things were looking up and that’s the moment that Leo got the call from his Chicago based clients, inviting him to join their team and take off for yet a(nother) new life. ¬†It was an offer he couldn’t refuse but it meant uprooting ourselves all over again. ¬†How many new lives can one have in a year, I asked myself. I thought one was quite enough but now we had to tell the kids, who had finally started to settle after months of tears and drama. It certainly wasn’t a conversation I was looking forward to.

“No!” they shouted in unison, followed by more shouts and tears of disbelief. This was definely going to take some serious persuasion on my part. These kids were not happy, no, not happy at all. “We can’t move again! We’ve got friends! We like school!” Their anguish made my heart hurt.

We were heading to the land of dreams, myths and legends. This was the country where you could reinvent yourself, start from scratch and carve out a whole new life, yet here were we, a middle aged couple with two kids and a small dog – did we really have the stamina to pursue the “American dream?”

Leo could see we needed some encouragement so decided a virtual tour of Chicago would awaken our yearning to move there. We squeezed around him as he charged up the computer to show us Chicago in all its glory. “Look” he cried enthusiastically “there’s Chicago freezing. Can you see how cold it gets. Oh wait -here are photos of Chicago snowing- just look at that – can you see how deep it gets? Oh wait- here’s some of Chicago with really terrible Arctic winters. Do you know, last year they had to ¬†close down the schools as it was so cold.” We all looked at the screen then looked at him. Was this supposed to inspire us? ¬†Really? I hate being cold and have avoided ski trips passionately throughout my life. I’m what you could call a temperate girl – I like being luke warm and this was definitely not luke warm weather. “Look at this site” he cried with vigour, undeterred by our lacklustre responses, “it’s dedicated to showing you how many layers to wear in Chicago winters so you don’t get hypothermia! They even have balaclavas! Do you know that your eyeballs can freeze when it gets really cold?” Leo laughed – yes laughed, in a slightly frenzied way as he dispensed this information like an unsavoury tonic.

“What’s summer like?” I asked desperation gently bubbling up and threatening to break the surface, “It’s great! It’s so hot! Really hot and humid but pretty short! You’ve basically got eight months a year of winter!” Now, I’m not sure about you but this tactic wasn’t working for me. “Leo, for goodness sake, show me something positive!” I was probably a touch shrieky by this point. “Look Abigail, they have loads of beaches and the people are really nice. It might just be the friendliest big city in the States and I won’t get another chance like this- ever. We have to do this.” “Oh” I replied, at a loss for words. ¬†And that, dear readers, is how we ended up moving to Chicago.

Next up… those first chaotic weeks… ¬†