February 21st, 2011 by carolyn

In preparation for returning to the world of proper winters this year, I had high hopes of reconnecting with my love of winter sports.  As an east coaster who spent many many winter weekends  on the downhill ski slopes, I never quite found winter in the mid-west to be as action packed.  And believe me I gave it a far shot.  In my first few years living in Chicago I went to Alpine Valley and Devil’s Head ski areas in Wisconsin, got involved with an adaptive ski program, took some friends on their first downhill ski trips and even tried snow-boarding for the first time.

This time around I had a different thought.  Since down-hill skiing in the mid-west was probably never going to do it for me, maybe I should look into other options for winter sports.  My mom had handed down her old cross country skis to me and with all the snow we had this year I was hopeful to get to put them to good use.  I have already talked about my adventure with Anne around the neighborhood during the Blizzard of 2011 but that just got me interested in doing more.

The following weekend, my old roommate organized a group of us to go skiing in one of the Cook Country Forest Preserves.  Apparently you can ski in any part of the forest preserves from 8 am to sunset.  The area we went to at Camp Sagawau near Lemont, has trails and rentals and is very well maintained.  We had a great time but the trails were definitely crowded post-blizzard and my novice legs were worn out after a couple loops on the trails.

The following weekend another group organized a trip up to Kettle Moraine State Forest in Wisconsin.  They have a great network of nordic trails with loops up to 9 miles.  We headed to the Southern Unit of the park right near a great store and rental place, Backyard Bikes, which was a great pit stop.  We had beautiful weather (maybe a bit on the hot side actually) and enjoyed a few hours on the trails.  There were some intense hills, I mean like equivalent to downhill bunny trails, which can be rough on cross-country skis.  Unfortunately, I forgot my camera but there were some great views and with all the miles of trails you could really feel like you got away from it all and into the wilderness.

There are loads more options for skiing along the lakefront and in other spots in the Forest Preserves but with the warm-up and rain we have had, all the snow is gone.  I have definitely enjoyed my foray into alternate winter sports activities so far.  Other options remain such as snow-shoeing and ice-skating.  There is a city rink in Warren Park which is free if you have your own skates.  Any other suggestions of Chicago winter sports to try out?

Matt: Brewer, Baker, Patriot

February 12th, 2011 by matt

So we’re still trying to get ourselves settled and our lives in order. Part of that is just simply getting into a routine that suits us in our new world. One of the nice things about being back in Chicago is living in a house with space. As a result, we’re trying out various household activities to entertain and enlighten us during these cold winter months. Among these, I’ve taken to baking my own bread (going a month strong so far and still doing it every week). Well, one thing I’d wanted to take up in England but lacked the space and time was brewing beer. Back in my more innocent days, I had been a part of a trio of fellow brewers. This being college and us being under 21, we found this was a bit of a loophole and was an easy way to drink good beer without the whole fake-ID thing (I won’t go into details how). Being a bunch of geeks, we gave our non-commercial enterprise a name and a website. One of my partners in crime emailed this morning and I was reminded of this and managed to find the “Brewery” website. It’s from the internet archive and it looks like the links are dead, but it was a fun reminder.

Anyway, here I am, older, wiser and more cynical and I’ve decided to start it back up. It’s amazing how far American beer has come (but I’ll save this for another day) and I’ve since found out that two other coworkers who sit near me are doing the same thing. I went out a few weeks ago and bought a home brewing kit. Last weekend, before the super bowl, was my moment of truth. In my previous experiences, I was just a cog in the home brewing machine. I sat around, stinking up a dorm kitchen only really understanding some bits of the process (I believe my official role was the guy who broke things because I once broke our thermometer). As I found out, brewing alone can be a bit challenging. It’s not impossible, but there is always a moment or two that other people around you make it more fun. After finding out the hard way that my kettle was too small, I enlisted the help of Anne who was kind enough to keep me company and pitch the wort into the fermenter. But, besides the question of how to use the hydrometer and whether I was anal enough in my sterilization, the beer was happily bubbling away within a day. It slowed down in the usual expected time and I decided it was time to transfer it to the secondary fermenter (you do this to re-energize the yeast and clear out the sediment the yeast creates).

Here’s the brewer in the middle of transferring the beer from the primary fermenter to the secondary one. The beer he is drinking is Half Acre, not his own. Note the assistant brewer, aka. Simon, observing the process.

Here I am with the fully transferred beer putting it in the closet to keep it nice and dark while it hopefully keeps fermenting and clears a bit.

For those of you wondering why you transfer your beer in the middle of the process, this sediment is a good reason. It can impact the brewing and whatnot. Tons of dead yeast, yummy!

I had a bit of a sample of the beer and besides it being a bit flat, there were some good tastes going on. I hope that I can follow this post up with something in a couple of weeks saying my first batch came out tasty, but you never know. It’s a learning experience and it’s a lot of fun. After a batch or two, I’ll be much better at it and will hopefully be making some tasty beer. For now, here’s hoping for some beginnings luck.

A Little More Snow Fun

February 5th, 2011 by matt

Well, just wanted to add a couple of small tidbits to Carolyn’s excellent snow storm post. Our friend, Anne, took some videos that we think are pretty nifty. Here would be the Morse train platform around the corner from us in the middle of the storm. The wind was absolutely amazing. And, as long as you were inside and not trapped on Lake Shore Drive, the wind provided a nice atmospheric noise to enjoy from inside your nice toasty warm house:

Here is another view of our area in the middle of it. The wind spread the snow in some crazy patterns. The front of our building got completely covered, but the school across the street and our parking spaces had barely any. The alley our parking spaces feed into were slammed as well.

Finally, it took them a day or two, but eventually, our street and alley were freed from the snow. Here would be our road almost 24 hours after the snow had stopped:

Note how little snow is in front of the school on the right. This isn’t because it was well cared for (well, that helped). It was because the way the wind whipped around. Now, in the next few hours, the city managed to get a “plow” to our street.

It’s a monster. They are all over the city still, slowly digging the massive mounds of snow up that have been shoveled and plowed into big piles. I feel like the storm brought out a lot of good in our neighborhood with people helping to dig others out. It also brought out the annoying habit of people marking their street parking places (I can understand the intent but it rubs me the wrong way).

Here’s a post-storm video of the lake the day after the blizzard. If you wait for 15s into the video, you might notice a solitary figure skiing. That’s Carolyn:

Anyway, let’s wrap up our coverage of this event with a couple of photo dumps. Here’s all the photos Carolyn and I in our photo dump and here is Anne’s flickr dump. Apparently, by next week, it’ll be above freezing and all this lovely snow will be gone.

Blizzard of 2011

February 2nd, 2011 by carolyn

Okay, so I didn’t quite believe them when they issued a blizzard warning for Chicago from 3pm yesterday until 3pm today (Groundhogs Day!). But 20.2 inches later (according to the National Weather Center) with crazy drifts up to 4 feet high, alleys full of snow, road closures, school closures and the like, I think its official. Everyone keeps comparing to the Blizzard of ’67 but I’ll just fill you in on the details of this time around from my perspective.  A bit different than the snow days we experienced in London.

Right around 2pm on Tuesday, the snow started coming down and it was coming down sideways due to the intensity of the wind. I was working downtown and encouraged to head home early so I headed to the train about 3:30 pm. After walking/being blown over to the Chicago red line stop, I entered the platform and found more people waiting than I have ever seen before. I waited (underground at least) one hour before I could wedge myself on a train. Now I will admit that I am not the most aggressive person and I wasn’t in any hurry but I let about 10 trains go by before I could get on one. Matt, who stayed at work until about 5pm, strolled down to the red-line and got right on the first train that came along, got a seat and made it home in about 35 minutes – record time.

I feel extremely fortunate that we made it home safely and without incident especially when I heard about the mess on Lake Shore Drive.  Over 900 cars were stranded for up to 12 hours and many cars are still stuck/buried keeping the road closed today.   Fortunately it appears there were no injuries or fatalities during the time people were stranded but it must have been horrible.   Here is an amazing photo of the scene from the Chicago Tribune.

We stayed up watching the snow fall and swirl and blow around for several hours last night. It was pretty amazing to watch how quickly it was piling up.  This was the view out our window last night.

And this is our street about 6-7 hours into the storm.

We woke up on Wednesday and the snow was still coming down. I had a snow day so enjoyed doing some projects around the house, digging us out with our neighbors and the trusty building snowblower, and managed to pull out the x-country skis and travel around the neighborhood and down to the lake with Anne and her snow shoes. Here are some photos of our travels.

Diving in the Snow

“Shoveling”                                Snowshoeing down our street

Ski Tracks

Chicago Sledding

That mound on the left is a car!                             Snow Plow?

The Lake, almost looks like another planet

Skiing on the beach

Other skiers at the Lake.  Remember this spot only a few months ago?  Looks real different now.

Check out this link to a photo gallery in the Tribune for more scenes of the Blizzard.  Anne took some videos of the progression of the storm which I will try to put up next.  Stay tuned!

All in all a pretty crazy day.  Too bad Matt had to work, but we managed to take another little walk around the neighborhood when he was done watching the dig out continue.

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