Good app; unnecessary social network

1 Jul

venmo_banner_newI may be a little late in the game, but I finally created a Venmo account.

For those of you, who, like me, still carry around a checkbook in your purse and might not know about Venmo, it’s a phone app that allows friends to pay each other directly from one bank account to another. Convenient for splitting the restaurant bill, paying rent, or doing a group rental for a game of Whirlyball.

But when I created my account and logged in, I was surprised to see a Facebook-esque newsfeed. They’ve pulled my Facebook friends and created a special newsfeed for me, like this (I won’t do a screen shot so I can change the names here):

Mark Schwartz paid Fred Cohen for sailing
Like   Comment   15hr

Sarah Smith paid Alexandra Roth for powdered sugar
Like   Comment    17hr

Susan Epstein paid Elizabeth Friedland for keeping the house functional
Like   Comment   <3 1  20 hr *

Rich Lang paid Molly Jones for [series of emoticons I don’t understand]
Like   Comment    1d

Jon Siegel paid Raphael Gold for Chicken Hut lunch. Thanks!
Like   Comment   1d

*That <3 on the Susan Epstein transaction appears to be similar to a “like” on Facebook. Clicking on that transaction shows me that Isabel Arthur “likes” this transaction.

I’m a big fan of Facebook. I’m on Twitter and I love YouTube. I’m even on Instagram, though I still don’t totally understand its etiquette. But why do we need yet ANOTHER social network — one that tracks personal financial transactions?

I see what happened here. Every company wants to be the next Facebook. So some guy came up with this app as an easy way to split the grocery bill with his roommate. Suddenly, the app became huge, and he, now the CEO, said, “We gotta get social. Let’s figure out a way to involve news feeds, liking, commenting, emoji, and statuses. Mark Zuckerberg will never know what hit him.”

I figured out that you can, in fact, change your privacy settings so that the whole world doesn’t have to find out when you paid your friend for your dinner because you embarrassingly forgot your wallet one night. But why, Venmo? Why is that even necessary?

What’s next?

A social network for the Flashlight app? (“Lia turned on her flashlight when she couldn’t find the light switch in the room.” “So funny, that happens to me all the time,” a friend comments.)

A social network for the Calculator app? (“Lia used the Calculator app to figure out 35 + 455.” “What, Lia, did you never take math in high school? Duhhhh!”)

A social network for the Transit Tracker app I use to find out when the bus is coming? (“Lia got on the 146 bus at Hawthorne and got off at Belmont.” “Couldn’t walk the couple of blocks?? Lazzyyyyy.”)

Well, friends, I’ll talk to you all soon — or if I don’t talk to you, at least I’ll creepily see that you paid your friend for pizza delivery and an OnDemand movie rental.

My workout heaven

24 Jun

I have found my workout heaven.

It’s a place where I’m accepted, I belong, and I feel motivated to do my best.

But first, let me tell you what my workout heaven is NOT:

  1. Boxing gyms. I tried one because a friend found a coupon for a free class. It was probably the most intense workout I’ve ever had — sprinting, running, more lunges than I’ve ever done in my life, and then punching and kicking a bag as if it were your worst enemy. It’s possible I might have been so exhausted that I shed some tears — or was that sweat?? — no, they were legitimate tears. Meanwhile, the instructor didn’t explain the terms — something about upper crust? I thought that was a bakery — and I felt a bit stupid.
  2. Running on the street. I might someday become that girl who suddenly picks up running, little by little, and then runs marathons, but so far that hasn’t happened. For now, it’s hard, and then the whole world — and all of my friends in my neighborhood — have to watch me suffer.
  3. Sports. I wish I liked playing sports for exercise, but again with the whole embarrassment thing. Remember how in college they had the professional level, then the “club” level for the pretty serious kids, and then the “intramural” level for the kids playing on teams with their dormmates? I need a level below that, for people who don’t always remember the rules of sports but need a ball to hold and a team to be a part of to distract them while running.
This is the basic idea.

This is the basic idea.

After trying those and many other workout activities unsuccessfully, my ears perked up when my coworker mentioned her Aqua Zumba class. I used to like swimming, I thought. This could be good.

I signed up in January and I’ve been going weekly ever since.

Aqua Zumba — a water aerobics class — meets at the Lutheran General Hospital Fitness Center in Park Ridge, Ill. It’s sort of on my way home from work, and for $5 a class, it’s certainly worth it. I arrive in the pool 20-30 minutes early and swim laps, recalling my front crawl, breast stroke, side crawl, and, my personal favorite, the “Monkey-Airplane-Soldier” strokes from my swimming lesson days.

The members of the class trickle into the pool, chatting, and then the music starts. The instructor leads us through a warm-up and then into our upbeat Zumba moves — but we’re all under water. Dragging your arms in the air might not do anything in real life, but under water, there’s resistance and it’s a real muscle workout. Running a few feet outside is no big deal, but running a few feet under water — it’s quite different.

Our instructor dances to fun Latin songs with an occasional “Uptown Funk” thrown in there, and I appreciate the no-pressure environment. Can’t kick your leg all the way up in the air? No problem. Starting with your right arm instead of your left? No biggie. Need to take a break? Who cares? We are told that we are doing a good job, and we’re even encouraged to sing along with the music.

I follow the moves, I tune out, I make next week’s dinner plans in my head, and I enjoy some brainless, stress-free time to myself.

Oh, and the best part — I’m the youngest, skinniest, fittest, most in-shape person in the class. When I go to the gyms in Lakeview, I’m surrounded by girls who are much better at it all than me; but here, in the comfort of the Lutheran General Hospital Fitness Center, I’m the one to watch, the most flexible, the highest jumper. It might not be fair, being 30 years younger than most of the other people, but you know what, it’s doing wonders for my self-esteem.

So, one of these days, join me in the pool — I’ll show you my new moves to the latest Pitbull songs and I promise — no lunges.

Blast from the past: “Long time no talk!”

17 Jun

For this week’s blog post, I’d like to revisit where I was this time 10 years ago for an edition of my “Blast from the Past” blog entries.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy 18-year-old Lia’s ramblings on long-lost friendship.

June 27, 2005

Long time no talk!

What do you do when you run into a person you haven’t talked to in a really long time?

“Oh, it’s so great to see you!” “How have you been?” Fake hugs, fake smiles, fake interest in each other’s lives.

When you talk to someone you talk to every day, even multiple times a day, there are infinite things to talk about. “Did you see that man on the street who looked just like our English teacher from 2nd grade?” “I couldn’t believe that it turned out pink.” “By that time, I was so sick of restarting the computer, I just took the hammer and smashed it to pieces! Needless to say, my file was not recovered.”

You’d think that the longer the time between talkings, the more there is to talk about.

You’d think wrong.

For people like that, the “really-long-time-no-talk” people–the people you haven’t talked to in months or years–the questions become very broad.

“What’s up?” “How’s life?” “What have you been up to?”

The answers are vague.

“Oh, not much.” “Life’s been pretty good.” “I’ve kept myself busy.”

It’s especially hard when these are people who, at one point in your life, were at the previously mentioned stage of your talkingship where you never ran out of things to talk about.

These conversations deeply sadden me. I want to reconnect with these long-lost friends, but it’s so hard, with nothing (or really, way too much) to discuss.

What’s the solution? Is there a cure?

My extensive research on these situations have produced the following result.

Potential conversation:
Betty: Oh my goodness, Veronica, is that you?
Veronica: Betty, you look great! How are you? How’s life?
Betty: Oh, it’s pretty good. How about you?
Veronica: Yeah, same here.
Betty: Yeah.
[extremely awkward pause]
Veronica: So, um, is that Archie over there?

STOP. Rewind. Here’s how this conversation should have gone.
Betty: Oh my goodness, Veronica, is that you? I haven’t seen you in three years!
Veronica: Betty, you look great! How are you? How’s life?
Betty: Thanks, I actually went tanning last week, and I got my hair cut too. Life’s been alright, except for the weird dreams I’ve been having.
Veronica: Oh yeah?
Betty: I keep having dreams that I meet famous people! Like last night, I dreamt I met James Earl Jones.
Veronica: James Earl Jones! Oh my gosh! He’s like my biggest hero.
Betty: No way! Did you see that one Simpsons episode…
Veronica: With the “You’ve made an old jazz man happy, Lisa,” “Kimba…I mean, Simba,” “Luke, I am your father,” and “This is CNN”…!!
Betty: That reminds me…have you talked to Jughead recently? I hear he’s on a diet!
Veronica: No way!
Etc, etc, etc.

So, therefore, the morals of the story.

1. When conversations lead you to the “oh, not much, how are you” discussions, find a really random topic to discuss. If it’s a good topic for the two of you, a good conversation will ensue. If it’s not, you’ll merely be at the same place you started. If it’s so bizarre that the other person thinks you’re really strange, and thank goodness they haven’t kept in touch with you, and maybe they’ll just walk away now, then good, at least they’re gone.

2. If you see someone who will bring about a potential conversation like the aforementioned one, run in the other direction. If you must walk by her, become really interested in something around you, like the freckle on your
index finger or the crack on the sidewalk that has an uncanny resemblance to the shape of your township.

3. Don’t ever lose touch with anyone. It’s better to keep an unwanted friendship than have to face an awkward conversation.

A weekend of redheads and undeads

10 Jun

I’m not sure what was the strangest occurrence of last weekend. Was it the afternoon I spent at a north suburban festival celebrating redheads? Was it the night I spent trying to escape a room with a zombie? Or maybe it was the fact that I went shopping and found five outfits I loved?? While the third one is incredibly rare and should be celebrated, let me tell you about the first two activities.

Redhead Days Chicago
Highwood, Ill.

IMG_4835

IMG_4819

No, I’m not a redhead myself, but I’m really excited to marry one! Shortly after I met Adam, I learned about the redhead festival that takes place in The Netherlands every fall and I was so excited for us to see this crazy spectacle someday. But then, a few months ago, I learned of the Chicago affiliate of that very festival, taking place in June 2015 in Highwood, Ill.

Adam and I had a blast at the festival. There wasn’t all that much to do, but it was just so much fun to be a part of so many redheads in one place. The festival had some food, drinks, and music, an opportunity to take a picture with Ronald McDonald, a carrot cake contest, and a group photo. The emcees of the afternoon repeatedly said, “Redheads, you are not alone!” As a redhead ally — can I even call myself an honorary redhead? — I enjoyed looking at all the beautiful hair and freckles and smelling all of that precious protective sunscreen. I look forward to coming back next year with Adam — and hopefully also with my other redhead buddies Alyssa, Josh, Hal, and friends!

 

Room Escape Adventures Chicago
408 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago

IMG_4842

Trapped. In a room. With 11 other people. And a zombie. For one hour. Will you live or will you die??!?! Dun dun dun. It sounds straight out of a horror movie — but my friends and I got together Saturday night to test our fate and our knowledge against the vicious zombie.

I won’t give away any of the secrets — but I will say that our group narrowly escaped the room with three minutes to spare, attempting to work through riddles and puzzles as a team.

There’s not much else I can say here — but everyone should take their friends, their family, or their co-workers and try to escape the room … if you dare!

Dressing for the date … not just the calendar

3 Jun
My winter coat and summer sun dress are besties.

My winter coat and summer sun dress are besties.

Last weekend, people yelled at me because of my appearance and clothing choice.

It was Saturday, the 30th day of the month of May, and I was overdressed. In the morning, at synagogue, I wore a light jacket on top of a long-sleeved shirt, a skirt, leggings, and tall boots. In the evening, traveling to a wedding, I decided to go for my ankle-length down North Face “winter” jacket.

It was certainly a lot for May 30, and my friends had no qualms about telling me that.

“How can you be dressing like this? It’s practically summer!”

“I can’t believe you’re wearing leggings and boots. It’s May!”

At the wedding, there was a portable coat rack that traveled with us from the ceremony room to the reception room, and the whole night, it was home to a bunch of umbrellas and my ridiculous puffy jacket.

But I think I might have been the happiest person in Chicago that day.

Friends who ridiculed my clothing choice — you are living in a fantasy world. You are living in a world where May 30 means “warm,” where May 30 means “summer,” where May 30 means “no jackets, no leggings, and just the warm, humid summer air and a cup of iced tea.” That world may exist somewhere, but it certainly ain’t in Chicago in the year 2015.

How I wish I lived with you in this world! I wish I could be that girl who dresses for the date and whose bright yellow and pink outfit just screams summer and freedom and reminds you of that time when you throw your backpacks into your closet and get ready for a summer of stress-free fun in the sun.

But not me. I live in the world of “reality.” I live in a world where, despite what the calendar says, Mother Nature has a cruel sense of humor and wants to keep us on our toes. I live in a world where we are given tools to help us survive each day — not just a calendar, but also websites like Weather.com that can magically predict the future and guide our clothing choices. I live in a world where you’re never safe to put your “winter clothes” in the cedar closet for safekeeping from March 1 until December 1 — I keep my winter clothes hanging right next to my summer clothes, because, hey, with all the back and forth in the Chicago weather, these clothes have become buddies.

Oh, how I wished I lived in a predictable land beneath the equator, where weather was always warm and the attitude was always that of summer. But, living in Chicago, the best city on the planet, you have to deal with the good AND the bad. And, friends, let me tell you — the bad isn’t so bad if, when it’s cold, you’re wearing a down winter coat.

So if the weather gets chilly again this week, don’t be a hero. Whip out your winter clothes. Time to bring back your pretty woolen scarves, your fleece-lined leggings, and your funky futuristic gloves with the special fingers that allow you to be warm and cozy while texting on your cell phone.

I once wrote that summer is a state of mind; but that doesn’t mean that if summer feels more like Siberia, we can’t dress appropriately and be happy.

And hey, come mid-June, let me know if anyone wants to go sledding or have a snowball fight!

Smiley Americans

27 May

smileAt Westminster Abbey in England, there is a man whose job is to hand out language-specific headphones for visitors. If you speak Spanish, your tour of the site is in Spanish; if you speak Swahili, well, let’s just hope they have headphones for you in Swahili.

As Adam and I walked up to this man, along with our friends and fellow Americans Leah and Brian, this man barely had to even hear us speak before he handed us headphones in English.

“I can just tell you’re American,” he said.

“How do you know?” we asked.

“Because Americans smile more than any other type of people,” he said.

“Oh, wow, that’s so nice!” we said. And we smiled.

Well, of all of the possible stereotypes Europeans might have about Americans, this one seems to be not so bad.

I spent the rest of the trip awkwardly staring at the other tourists, trying to see if I could identify my countrymen and countrywomen from their cheerful dispositions, but I wasn’t too successful. I don’t know if there’s any validity to the Westminster employee’s assessment of our people, but, hey, I’ll take it.

:)

Our trip to England, Belgium, and Holland

20 May

Adam and I had a blast visiting eight cities in three countries in our 2015 European adventure. I’ll share some of the highlights from each place plus some tips to pass along.

LONDON, ENGLAND

Our first stop was extra special as we had the chance to stay with our friends Leah and Brian, who were wonderful London hosts and tour guides. We visited Camden Market, Abbey Road, had afternoon tea at an adorable place called BB Bakery, saw Kensington Palace, walked through St. James’s Park and Hyde Park, ate in Covent Garden and SoHo, and saw “Romeo and Juliet” at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Even though our wallets couldn’t believe London’s prices, we had a great time in this iconic city.

Crossing Abbey Road, taking that obnoxiously touristy picture, stopping traffic

Afternoon tea! (obviously my favorite part of the whole trip)

PRO TIP: Get your tickets far in advance for Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre; also, buy a multi-day transport for the Tube. Finally, we used the tour company Sandeman’s New Europe for London, Brussels, and Amsterdam and really enjoyed them.

BATH, ENGLAND

Bath was the first of many cutesy, storybook towns we visited. Not only is it adorable, but it also is known for its ancient Roman baths — and its modern-day thermae spa! Our day in Bath was a perfect mix of touring, eating (Sally Lunn’s amazing famous buns), and relaxing in the heated mineral water pools of the spa.

Sally Lunn’s buns (mine with cinnamon and his as a sandwich)

Those shops over my head are tiny little shops on a bridge. Could this town be more adorable?

PRO TIP: Go on a weekday to avoid long lines (er, “queues”) at the Thermae Spa.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM

Brussels, Belgium, or: The Place Where We Ate So Many Waffles We Nearly Became Waffles. Belgium is known for its waffles, chocolate, beer, and Belgian fries (I’m not even going to call them by their misnomer, French fries), but the waffles found a dear place in our hearts (and thighs!). In Brussels we took a walking tour of the city, learning about its beautiful Grand Place square and its beloved Mannekin Pis statue (Belgium’s mascot is a statue of a little boy peeing … yeah).

Grand Place square, with buildings lined with gold

Mannekin Pis … no one seems to know why it’s here, but everyone loves it

PRO TIP: Vegetarians, beware — some of the famous fries here are fried in beef fat!

GHENT, BELGIUM

We loved Ghent — such a lovely little town that nobody has ever heard of. While many tourists flock to Bruges (see below), Ghent is quieter and not yet taken over by crowds. We took a canal tour (the first of three canal tours on this trip!) and enjoyed strolling through the town.

Canal tour

Are we in a Disney movie?

PRO TIP: Make time in your plans — even for a day trip — to come here!

BRUGES, BELGIUM

Bruges was cute, but, yes, crowded. We enjoyed the Friet Museum, some windmills, and the adorable town. The weird thing about Bruges, though, was that every single restaurant had the exact same menu. The same menu! Mussels, omlettes, pizza, pasta, and chocolate cake, basically. The menus outside of each restaurant were practically in the same font. Odd, right?

The Friet Museum

Another canal tour!

PRO TIP: To escape the crowds, head to the small park near the windmills on the northeast side of the town center for some peace and quiet.

AMSTERDAM, HOLLAND

If you like canals and bicycles, well, you’ve come to the right place. Amsterdam has a great feel to it, except — watch out! — don’t get hit by a bike! We took a walking tour and a canal tour of the town, visited Anne Frank’s house, and enjoyed the beautiful waterways.

Bridges and bikes!

The cars here are all so tiny … it’s really a bicyclist’s world here!

PRO TIP: We enjoyed our stay at Hotel Keizershof (including a delicious breakfast), but get in shape at home on your StairMaster to prepare for the many flights of stairs in the hotel; get your Anne Frank tickets at the same time you book your flight to guarantee avoiding the lines. Also, the city is well connected, so get multi-day tram tickets.

HAARLEM, HOLLAND

We wanted more cuteness, so we visited a town near Amsterdam called Haarlem (I’m pretty sure it’s pronounced “Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarlem”). We saw more cute architecture and more cute windmills.

A real-live Dutch windmill!

For some reason, all of the outdoor seating at the restaurants faced outward — when we walked on the street, we felt that we were the actors in a play!

PRO TIP: Try to go on a market day to see the town really come to life.

KEUKENHOF GARDENS, HOLLAND

We were so lucky to be in Holland during the tulip festival. We went to Keukenhof Gardens, where we enjoyed beautiful displays of tulips and other flowers — a wonderfully relaxing way to end our time in Europe.

Beautiful flowers

A windmill and a freshly made stroopwafel, my new favorite food — two thin wafer cookies with a layer of yummy caramel

PRO TIP: The garden is only open March through May, and the the tulip fields are best seen in April — in May they are already completely picked over (but the gardens themselves are beautiful throughout its open dates).

It was a great trip, and we’re excited for wherever our next adventure takes us!

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