Travel in the USA

4 Mar

I’ve recently learned that many of my friends — including my soon-to-be husband — have spent more time traveling abroad than within the United States. As kids, they spent summers and winter breaks exploring London, Paris, Peru, and Morocco, but have never been to Seattle or New Orleans.

As someone who, outside the U.S., has only ever traveled to Israel, Poland, Canada, and Mexico, I am in awe of these world travelers. I look forward to many years of exploring what our planet has to offer, near and far.

But for those of you who have the travel bug but haven’t yet visited the depths of the USA: What are you waiting for? Our country is beautiful, diverse, and full of history and culture. You don’t need a passport or a different kind of currency to go on wild adventures.

If you’re traveling domestically, then, here are my top 10 local destinations.

  1. New Orleans, Louisiana. I love the feel of the culture here — it’s a little southern but also uniquely Cajun. There are musicians playing jazz in the streets, there’s a Voodoo Museum, the little shops are adorable, and even though I’ve sworn off of doughnuts, I’ll make an exception for the amazing beignets. Even after Hurricane Katrina, the culture is still strong, and it’s been so meaningful for me to help rebuild post-hurricane on my three trips there.

    Eating beignets at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans with Anne

    Eating beignets at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans with Anne in February 2011

  2. Sanibel Island, Florida. She may sell sea shells by the sea shore, but YOU can experience millions of the beautiful shells in sunny southern Florida. This quaint town is beautiful and romantic, known for its seashells and vacation atmosphere.

    Picking seashells in Sanibel

    Picking seashells in Sanibel in February 2013 with Priya, Maham, Christie, Virginia, and Syema

  3. Seattle, Washington. Seattle is a fun, hip town full of diverse neighborhoods and quirky things to see. And if you love rain, you’ll fit right in! There are food markets, a chocolate factory tour, amazing hikes, and a troll under a bridge. Plus, it’s a short ride to Vancouver, Canada — one of my favorite destinations outside of the U.S.!

    Hanging out on the Fremont Troll in Seattle

    Hanging out on the Fremont Troll in Seattle with Christie and Virginia in March 2012

  4. Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston is probably the most unique city I’ve visited in this fine country of ours. It feels like you’re walking through a time capsule of the Civil War era, filled with southern mansions with gas lanterns and cobblestone streets with horse-drawn carriages. The locals love their city and are so excited to show it off to visitors. Plus, you can visit the oldest remaining Reform synagogue in the United States!

    On a horse-drawn carriage tour of Charleston

    On a horse-drawn carriage tour of Charleston with Adam in December 2012

  5. Sedona, Arizona. Beautiful multicolored mountains are the backdrop for this small, spiritual town in sunny Arizona. My friends and I loved hiking, horseback riding, and Jeep touring on the cactus-lined terrain. It’s known for spiritual vortices — and though I’m not sure we found deeper spiritual meaning, we sure loved the sun and the scenery.

    Hiking in Sedona, Arizona with Priya and Virginia

    Hiking in Sedona, Arizona with Priya and Virginia in December 2014

  6. Saugatuck/Holland/South Haven, Michigan; and Indiana Dunes, Indiana. I listed a lot of cities here, but Adam and I visited these places all on one trip. The hiking in the Indiana Dunes was so beautiful (and full of many hills and stairs … my calf muscles still haven’t fully recovered), and I think we Chicagoans forget how close this gem really is. South Haven is an idyllic little town with great beaches, cute shops, and a beautiful lighthouse. Holland is like a little local piece of the Netherlands, complete with a windmill, a tulip festival, and wooden shoes. Saugatuck was lovely, an art lover’s dream, filled with art galleries, gift shops, and beautiful beaches.

    Dune ride in Saugatuck with Adam in August 2013

    Dune ride in Saugatuck with Adam in August 2013

  7. Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Park, Illinois. Friends, you don’t even have to leave Illinois for a great getaway. The hiking and scenery in Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Park were fantastic — and oh so local! Many of us know of Starved Rock, but Matthiessen State Park is a lesser-known find, filled with beautiful waterfalls.

    Enjoying the waterfalls in Matthiessen State Park

    Enjoying the waterfalls in Matthiessen State Park with Adam in May 2014

  8. Washington, D.C. I’ve often said that if I didn’t live in Chicago, I’d love to live in D.C. In addition to the thrill of being in the center of our nation’s government (I assume that any person who walks by in a suit is a member of Congress), I think the neighborhoods are great to explore and the vibe is so much fun. I just feel smart when I’m there. The museums are free, the food is great, and, let’s be real, any place that houses the Ruby Slippers is like home to me.

    In front of the White House in Washington, D.C. with my friends from my Alternative Student Break trip in 2008

    In front of the White House in Washington, D.C. with my friends from my Alternative Student Break trip in December 2008

  9. New York, New York. Okay, okay, I’ll include New York on this list. It’s no Chicago, but it’s certainly an experience. The Broadway plays, the restaurants, the museums, the neighborhoods, the cupcakes, the studio tours, the Highline, the frozen hot chocolate — it is a fantastic place to visit. Plus, I recently visited Brooklyn, and it’s adorable — who knew??

    At the Carnegie Deli in New York with Adam, Dan, and Dori

    At the Carnegie Deli in New York with Adam, Dan, and Dori in November 2011

  10. San Francisco, California. I loved visiting San Francisco, even for a short visit as part of my USY on Wheels teen tour (and somehow I forgot to wear some flowers in my hair). It feels straight out of the 1960s with hippies on Haight Ashbury, and I loved visiting the steep and curvy Lombard Street, plus Ghiradelli Square and Alcatraz. I definitely want to go back for a longer trip.

    My photos from my USY on Wheels trip in summer 2003 have not yet been digitized, but I did find this picture of our group from that summer -- perhaps this photo was taken in San Francisco!

    My photos from my USY on Wheels trip in summer 2003 have not yet been digitized, but I did find this picture of our group from that summer — perhaps this photo was taken in San Francisco!

Honorable mentions to Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Diego, San Antonio, Ft. Lauderdale, Birmingham, Breckenridge, Niagara Falls, Lake Geneva, Atlanta, Boston, and Madison, all of which I also enjoyed.

If you’re planning on visiting any of these places, I’d be happy to share my recommendations; and if you have ideas for other places that you loved in our great country, I can’t wait to visit them, too.

God Bless America! Play ball!

“Twist and … sit!” (Or: “I Saw Her Sitting There”)

25 Feb
This totally would have been me at a Beatles concert had I been alive in the 1960s.

This totally would have been me at a Beatles concert had I been alive in the 1960s.

This past Saturday night, my friend Benjamin and I had the honor and privilege of seeing The Beatles, my favorite band ever, live in concert!

Well, not really, for obvious reasons. But “Let It Be,” a Beatles tribute band playing at the Rosemont Theatre, was the next best thing.

Four mop-topped, guitar-wielding men with Liverpool accents took us on a magical mystery tour through the Fab Four’s top hits, beginning with the “She Loves You” era, continuing through songs like “A Hard Day’s Night,” “Yesterday,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Revolution,” and “Let It Be,” with their costumes becoming more casual as their hair grew longer.

The show was great. The audience, however, was disappointing.

During “Twist and Shout” in the Shea Stadium set, the musicians asked everyone to stand on their feet. Many people on the main floor did so, but in the “cheap seats” where I was, few people stood. Maybe the concert goers missed the instruction (the performers did have obnoxiously overemphasized accents … or was that really what the Beatles sounded like?). Come on, guys! The Beatles told us to stand up!

Benjamin and I stood up and attempted to lead the balcony section in song and dance, twisting, shouting, and shaking it up, baby. But most of our seat-mates still didn’t join in.

Maybe it was the layout of the room — a seated auditorium versus a venue that would allow for standing and dancing. Maybe people were tired at 8 p.m. on a Saturday night. Or maybe people just weren’t that excited because many of the concert-goers had once seen the real Beatles in concert and didn’t need to get in the Beatles spirit for these imposters.

Audience, shame on you. You’ll never get to see a real Beatles concert ever again — unless you believe in heaven, in which case, if we all make it there, we better see some amazing reunion concerts — so you might as well enjoy this group. I never got to see the real deal (clearly I was born in the wrong musical generation), so for me, this is historical fiction with a rock beat.

I guess I’ll just have to let it be.

In support of place cards

18 Feb
This isn't mine (I stole this from the Internet), but I love this idea and will definitely copy it for my next Passover meal.

This isn’t mine (I stole this from the Internet), but I love this idea and will definitely copy it for my next Passover meal.

It’s a weird thing to want to shout from the rooftops, but sometimes I feel like I should: I love place cards at dinner parties and events!

They come in all shapes and sizes. They can be printed on fancy cards; they can be written on scraps of paper. When I was a child, my mom had me paint rocks from our backyard with nail polish and she’d neatly write our guests’ names on top of my pre-Picasso designs. They can be printed from computers or handwritten sloppily; they can have fonts that match the decor of the event or — gasp! — they can be in Times New Roman.

All that matters is that they have people’s names on them and they avoid awkwardness.

I love hosting Shabbat dinners and lunches, but even with only eight or 12 people in a room, it can be awkward. Where should we sit? Does the hostess have a specific place she likes to sit? How do we seat couples together and frenemies apart? What about people who are going to want to help in the kitchen — they should sit on the side closest to the kitchen, right? Where do we sit if we don’t want to help in the kitchen?

This is where the beauty of the place card comes in. I, the hostess, will devote some thought into the seating for an optimal event. I’ll write out guests’ names and place them in appropriate spots. Then when the guests arrive, there’s no stress. They just come in, find their name, have a seat, and enjoy the best darn dinner they’ve ever had both in terms of food and conversation. All thanks to some Post-It Notes and a Sharpie.

Some people think it can be too formal for just a casual dinner with friends; but in a world that is filled with truly so much awkwardness, I’ll try to alleviate it wherever I can.

So next time you come over for a Shabbat meal — and if you’re a regular reader of my blog AND you’ve made it to the end of this post, you certainly deserve to come over for a meal! — let me make it easy for you and show you to your seat. But when it comes to making sure I don’t have too much leftover food — that’s all you.

My somewhat failed Chicago wintry day off

11 Feb

I lost the battle. I failed. I can’t believe this happened to me, but yesterday, I let the Chicago weather win.

I have always been a proponent of eating ice cream in the winter and not staying inside like a hibernating bear for half of the year. “It’s not too cold — you’re just not wearing enough layers,” I’ll often quip.

So yesterday, when I took a Tuesday off of work, I thought I’d show the world how it’s done. I bought myself a pair of ice skates and figured I’d carry them around the town, showing off my clearly-I’m-an-amazing-ice-skater-if-I-own-my-own-skates bag, and skip the long skate rental lines at the new Maggie Daley ice rink. I’d go to a museum — or three! — since most of them happened to be free yesterday anyway. I’d attend a free concert at the Chicago Cultural Center. I’d enjoy a macaron and a cup of chai tea while reading a book. I would show Ferris Bueller how to really spend a day off in Chicago.

I started my day with a make-your-own rice bowl lunch at Freshii downtown with two of my dearest friends, Alyssa and Sarah, and we had a great time.

But then, sadly, the weather got the best of me.

I walked to Maggie Daley park, ice skates on my back, ready to show off my skating skills (I can skate forwards and backwards without falling). I arrived at the rink at 2:30 p.m. and saw on a sign that though the ice rink was open from 12-8 p.m. that day, it was closed from 2:30-3:30 p.m. (and a few other hours throughout the day) for Zamboni cleaning. For an hour?

I was too cold and even a bit too tired to go to the nearby Art Institute, so I tried the Chicago Cultural Center. Nothing too interesting there (and their free concerts appear to be offered every day but Tuesdays).

20150210_151145So then I went to a cute little French bakery and treated myself to a few French macarons (raspberry, honey almond, and brownie flavored) while reading my book.

At 3:30 p.m., when the Zamboni supposedly finished its cleaning session / joy ride, I ventured outside. And as much as I love Chicago, as much as I love ice skating, and as much as I wanted to show winter that it’s not the boss of me — I just couldn’t do it. My ears were cold, my fingers were cold, and I swear my bones were cold — so I gave up. I walked a few extra blocks in this cold to a bus and headed home.

I’m not proud of what happened. I wanted to show everyone how great Chicago really is, even in the middle of February, even in weather that matched my age (yup, it was 28 degrees all day), even when you’re by yourself on a day off. But my warm, cozy apartment filled with hot chocolate, a fleece blanket, and 10 unwatched episodes of “New Girl” was calling for me and I answered the call.

Next time, Chicago winter, watch out — my ice stakes and I are coming for you.

Until then, though, my ice skates and I might do some research on public skating times in indoor ice rinks.

The Friet Museum!

4 Feb

friet museumAdam and I are planning a trip to Europe in the spring, and we’re excited to check out London, Amsterdam, and Belgium.

While researching things to do in Bruges, Belgium, I came across this gem: The Friet (French Fry) Museum.

I’m not so interested in visiting a million museums while in Europe, but I think this is a museum I can handle. Learning about the history of potatoes and French fries — perhaps while eating French fries? Does the whole place smell like a McDonald’s? Can I sample steak fries, curly fries, crispy fries, and soggy fries?

I think we should try to plan out our trip to really make the best use of these kinds of museums. Perhaps there’s a Belgian waffle museum for breakfast, a caprese panini museum for lunch, the famous Freit Museum for snack, a pasta museum for dinner, and a chocolate mousse cake museum for dessert?

Sounds good to me.

My audio book’s 2,000-mile journey

28 Jan

2015-01-28 07.30.07My next audio book traveled a long, long way to get to me.

First, some background.

A few months ago, when I found out about the One Book One Community program at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership — where I’m about to get my master’s degree — I thought it would be fun to participate. I like reading, and it could be fun to be in a community-wide book club!

The book they chose was “The Family: A Journey Into the Heart of the Twentieth Century” by David Laskin.

A few weeks later, Temple Jeremiah announced that they’d be bringing in the author for a program in February, and the women’s book club would be discussing the book in December. I better reserve the book from the library, I thought.

I reserved the book, but for weeks, it did not come, until finally it did; but in paperback and not my desired audio book. The librarian re-reserved the book for me about a month ago, and yesterday, I got the notice that the audio book arrived.

Here comes the story.

At the library, there was a Post-It Note on the box of 11 CDs. This book arrived from an inter-library loan outside of the Winnetka-Northfield Library’s region, and so I needed to make sure to return the book on time or at least request a renewal well in advance of the due date. Why the fuss?

On the cover of the book, we see “Timberland Regional Library.” Hmm, never heard of Timberland. That must be really far in Illinois, like near Aurora!

Nope. Timberland Regional Library is in Washington state, about five miles south of Olympia and 65 miles south of Seattle. “The Family” — a book chronicling a family’s journey across oceans and through generations — traveled more than 2,000 miles to get to me.

Was there no library in the Midwest that had this book? Had Spertus and Temple Jeremiah’s focus on the book cleared out every copy above the Mason-Dixon Line? Was this book just yet another hipster trend that, like grunge, started off on the west coast and hasn’t arrived in Chicago?

I could only think of this poor book. Did it travel on a train? A mail truck? Or was it a passenger airplane? I’m imagining the book sitting in a middle seat, 16B, with “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” on its left and “Abraham Lincoln: A Life” on its right. “So, where are you headed?” my book would ask another. “I hope it’s a big library in a big city,” one would say. “I hope it’s a place where there aren’t too many e-readers,” the other would hope.

“Goodnight Moon,” sitting behind it in 17B, tries to stay calm, secretly hoping for a better life with a more caring foster owner / library patron.

All the books, exhausted from checking their bags, waiting in the security line, and a long, uncomfortable flight, try to get some rest before they’re put to work. Once the plane’s seat belt light turns on, do these books relax by reading themselves?

So, my copy of “The Family”: Thanks for making the trek out to Northfield, Illinois, to spend some time with me. Maybe I’ll stick a postcard with you to take on your way back to the west coast.

A post-capstone exhale

21 Jan

spertuspaper“Lia: Mazel tov, I am very happy to inform you that your MAJPS capstone project has been accepted.”

After months of working on it, my final project for my Master of Arts in Jewish Professional Studies at the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership is now officially complete, as of an e-mail this past Friday.

This summer, after our official classes ended, I began working on my final thesis project. After what seems like months of deliberating over a topic — this is my one chance to save the Jewish community in 50 pages so I better make it count! — I decided to focus on chavurah groups in synagogues.

The Hebrew word “chavurah” literally means “group of friends,” and in synagogues, the word has come to mean a small group of like-minded individuals, couples, or families that get together socially or to engage in Jewish learning on a regular basis. I was fascinated by dozens of books on the history and current landscape of secular groups in America as well as specifically Jewish groups, and I loved interviewing a dozen more leaders in the field. Through this research, I learned that these types of groups are on the decline; but if we want our synagogues to be successful, we need to create groups like these to build relationships and connections between congregants.

If you would like to read the 54-page essay, which includes case studies from synagogues and churches, let me know.

I’m excited for a wrap-up capstone seminar in a few weeks, and then a formal graduation later this year; but in the meantime, I can take a deep breath … and exhale.

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