January 23rd, 2011 by carolyn

When we started to tell people we were moving back to Chicago in October, inevitably the first comment would be “Oh, just in time for winter.” I have always loved snow and winter and although I was a bit nervous about the adjustment back after several mild winters in London, I figured we would get back in the swing of it pretty quickly.

In London, any temperature below 0 degrees C (32 F) would cause everyone to comment about the freezing temperatures. I used to laugh and say things like “in Chicago we will go a whole month with temps below freezing” and “its normal to get temps from -20 to -17 C (-5 to 0 F)”. After their shocked reactions I would think to myself – hmmm, maybe it doesn’t really get that cold, maybe I am remembering wrong.

Well, it turns out I wasn’t remembering wrong. Friday we hit a low of -4 F (about -20 C) and a high of about 14 F (-10 C). Chicago’s daily average temperature since December 1st, 2010 has been 21.5 F (- 5 C). Full disclosure, this is the 19th coldest winter on record in the 141 years of official records but still, its cold. The good news is, dressing appropriately makes a big difference. I am loving my hat, scarf, mittens and huge sleeping bag coat every morning. And, an apartment with super thick well insulated walls makes a big difference too. I have yet to be as cold at home as I have been in some wet winter days in London.

You may also remember the complete city shutdowns we experienced in London due to a few inches of snow. This year was no exception as Heathrow was brought to a stand-still during the Christmas holiday. We have been having a fair amount of snow in Chicago this year too. Nothing compared to my east coast friends in Boston and NJ but…we have had 24 inches which is 126% of normal.

It’s only January so we will have to see what the next few months of winter will bring. 🙂

Baking Bread

January 23rd, 2011 by matt

So I like bread. My usual breakfast involves toast. Living in London, I began to appreciate good bread and hoped to find more of it back in Chicago. This hasn’t been too difficult, which is nice. Apparently, west of us, there are a number of Jewish bakeries so the selection is pretty good.

However, I got to thinking: what if I made my own bread. How hard could it be? (Top Gear reference, for those who noticed it 🙂 ). Well, last weekend, I decided to give it a try and bake some whole-wheat sandwich bread. Here would be my first results:

I was seriously impressed with how easy it is to make this simple loaf of bread. Granted, I had the help of a food processor to mix it up nicely. But even if you did it by hand, you’d likely only need about 30 minutes of work. The rest is waiting for the dough to rise and the ingredients list is simple and most of it keeps forever. You can even make a whole lot of dough and freeze it and take it out in advance to rise.

So how did it taste? Well, I honestly think it tasted better than most store-bought bread. I used a basic recipe from How To Cook Everything, so it’s not like I was breaking new ground.  And, putting it in a simple plastic bag, it almost seems to keep longer than some of the stuff I’ve bought from bakeries. Even better, unlike going into a Subway which smells like bread baked in hell, fresh baked bread smelled lovely!

Behold my breakfast one morning. Yummy fresh bread! 🙂

I’m going to see how hard it is to keep this up. You do need about 3 to 4 hours being around for it to work. But, to prove it wasn’t beginners luck, I came home from work one day and made it in one evening. I didn’t let it rise as much, which means it is a bit more dense, but the taste is still quite good. Hurray for basic home cooking! 🙂

Local: B’nai Zion Synagogue

January 15th, 2011 by matt

So I’m going to try a new addition to the blog. Before moving to London, I had bought an apartment in the Roger’s Park neighborhood of Chicago. It’s the farthest north neighborhood in the city. Coming back after a 3.5 year hiatus, I find myself looking at it differently. I’m curious about the history around it and so I thought I’d try a little bit of educating myself about what’s around here.

With that in mind, there are some interesting buildings and goings on in the area and I thought I’d try writing about them. Let’s begin right around the corner from our home. One building north of us is the remains of an old synagogue. It’s a rather large building but it just sort of nestles into the scenery:

It ceased to serve a religious purpose in 2002, around the time I first moved to Chicago, so it’s not been a house worship for a decent chunk of time. But, it’s a beautiful building on the outside.  As Roger’s Park was absorbed by Chicago, it began to grow along with the rest of the city. Among the new groups of people arriving in the area was a decently large sized Jewish community. It peaked at around 20,000 Jews after WWII. B’nai Zion was the first Conservative Jewish synagogue in Chicago and this building opened it doors right before the Great Depression. It’s quite large, the picture above is only about half of it (there’s a second section to the right).

This is the main entrance to the building showing some of the nice decoration.

After WWII, Chicago began a slow decline and Roger’s Park began to see the changes as well. The Jewish population moved to the suburbs and the need for a synagogue in the area became less important. There is still a rather large orthodox community, but they live in points west of East Roger’s Park. The end finally came in 2002, when B’nai Zion merged with another synagogue and took up residence in a different home (at least that’s the address they advertise). The synagogue has been replaced by the Lake Shore Schools, so it’s still able to serve the community, just in a different way.

Roger’s Park has seen a lot and been through a lot of changes over the years. This building simply stands as evidence of one of those waves of people who came through, established a community here and was replaced by other groups.

**Some credit for the information above: Much of my information  about the synagogue came from an article about it’s demise and this nice article from the Roger’s Park Historical Society.**

Under the hood changes

January 12th, 2011 by matt

So this isn’t going to be the most exciting post, but I always like keeping my 2 readers informed. I started this blog four years ago and, while it’s not always been completely thrilling, it’s been fun writing. Moving back to the US means a lot of changes and they are oddly overwhelming in many ways, so the blog has been a bit neglected. I just did the first update to wordpress I’d made since I started it. It went smoothly, but if anyone sees something that isn’t quite right, please tell me so I can work to fix it.

In the meantime, our glamorous life in London is behind us and we’re curious what kind of things the people who read this might like to know about. If anyone have suggestions (mom, I know you want pictures of us and the cat! 🙂 ), please comment below.

A Holiday House

December 10th, 2010 by matt

Well, we’re back in our home and it’s the holidays, so we decided to have our first tree together. Behold our Christmas tree!


We had a lovely assist in the decorating by our friends Dave and Melissa and their daughter Leili. Leili did a lot of the  work:


I don’t know what we would have done without her. Thanks Leili! 🙂

Chicago is a Winter Wonderland

December 4th, 2010 by matt

Today winter finally hit for real. We’d had a week of horribly cold weather (yeah, yeah, 20F isn’t cold and I’d best get ready for worse), but we were rewarded this morning to a nice white morning. I walked out of our bedroom (which was nice and toasty and dark) to see nothing but white out our living room window! How nice. We spent a lot of the day walking around doing various things and it was a pleasure to be tramping through the snow. Unlike London, Chicago keeps on doing what Chicago does.


Here’s Carolyn standing outside our lovely home with lots of pretty snow around us.


Here’s the view down our street from our front door. I hope for many more of these. Life’s much better if it’s snowy when it’s cold. Cold for colds sake is far less fun. 🙂

Scenes of Home

November 8th, 2010 by matt

Well, we’re still in a bit of limbo. We have a home, it has some furnishings, but most of our stuff is a week or two from arriving and we have no bed (the futon for guests is quite comfortable). But it’s all coming along smoothly, which is great. Thought I’d share a couple of scenes from life in our new home.


I missed the perfect light on this by about 5 minutes, but as I was eating breakfast in our nice big dining room, I realized how nice the leaves on that tree looked. It’s nice that our place has such a nice view out back like this. It feels peaceful even if we live in a city.


Well, Chewy might have had a crazy adventure back to his home, but here he is, clearly quite settled in. His favourite spots seem to be any bathtubs, sinks and any place where the sunbeam is living at the moment. 🙂

Scenes from Our Neighborhood

October 22nd, 2010 by carolyn

So we have spent this week exploring the neighborhood in between doing fun stuff like getting phones, getting a new drivers license and organizing our stuff.  It has been beautiful autumn weather here and its been nice getting out and exploring our new (old) home.

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The lake, art, funky buildings and what American neighborhood would be complete without 7-11 and McDonalds?  So for those of you still reading, a poll……..

Is anyone interested in hearing a bit about our observations as we move back to Chicago?  Is it interesting or just annoying?  When this whole blog started out 3+ years ago, Matt was writing a lot of “wow, this is really interesting about London stuff”.  Is it time to do a bit of this in reverse?  Let us know what you think.

A Safe Passage to America

October 18th, 2010 by matt

Well, we’re back! So far, all is smooth, we are getting a lot done and beginning a jetlagged adjustment. On a happy happy note, Chewy behaved like a professional traveling cat and arrived this afternoon at O’Hare. After about 30 minutes of curious, spooked poking around, he’s finding his old hangouts in his old home and following me around like he hadn’t spent 16 hours in a box. Way to go Chewy! Here he is having his first US meal:


Lots to do and next week, I start work again! Sweet! 🙂

Goodbye London

October 17th, 2010 by matt

Our stuff is on a boat, we’ve moved out of our flat, our finances are sorted, a myriad of goodbyes have been said and all the other little things required have been dealt with (we hope). It’s time to head home again.


In a few hours, we lug ourselves to Heathrow for one last flight and say goodbye to our home for these past 3+ years. Chewy will join us the next day on his second trans-Atlantic flight. It’s been a wonderful experience and we’ll miss it, but a new adventure calls.

Goodbye London.

End of the road where are we now

October 12th, 2010 by matt

For those of you still reading, it’s wrap up time for our grand tour. Let’s finish in a suitably grand style. Can you guess where we are right at this moment?


This is Heroes Square, a memorial from around 1900 as a tribute to this country’s history. It’s big and grand, so it’s also been a scene to various large protests and celebrations as well.


This city is also known for it’s thermal baths. This is the largest of them and it’s quite grand indeed. Both pools on the ends are naturally heated between about 90 and 100, which is quite soothing on a cold October day after you’ve been walking your feet off around Eastern Europe. Much more about this at a later time. 🙂


This large church took a couple of hundred years to build and complete since this country has been through quite a few wars and changes in government. Inside is kind of a guilded neo-baroque style which fits this city very well.

OK, those were the harder ones. Let’s try this one.


This is the parliament building. It’s the largest building in Hungary and the largest Parliament building in Europe. It’s in a neo-gothic style and is situated on the famous river that runs through this city.

OK, one more. Then I’m done.


Here you can see the parliament building as situated on a river made famous by a waltz by Strauss. Think the movie 2001 when the space ship is docking. It also divides the city in two. In fact, until the 1800s, this city was actually two cities and finally merged into the name we know so well.

It’s Budapest! Yes, our trip has ended in Hungary. Budapest is an impressive city. Everything from the metro to random buildings all over town are impressively grand. Seems like a nice way to end our trip. Actually, as I hit post on this, we are going to shut down our trusty laptop (so happy we brought it) and head to the airport cause this trip is now over! Hope this was fun to read.

Back to city where are we now

October 11th, 2010 by matt

Well, we’ve left the mountains and nearing the end of our adventure. Soon, moving and readjusting to life in the US starts again. Here we go.


The entire old center of this city is a UNESCO world heritage site. The step-like slopes are very common in it. This is just a cool looking building with a little over-street bridge.


This is one of the famous rivers I’d heard of but never actually seen. It runs along the southern end of the Old Town section of town.


So I’ve mentioned the Old Town section of town. If you’ve been here, this picture should help. It’s St Mary’s Basilica and it’s the big church that is part of the largest medieval squares in Europe. It’s always busy and full of life. There’s still a flower market but a lot of it has been handed over to tourists.


Well, Prague has a castle. So does this city (sensing a theme?). Give up? It’s Krakow. The Old Town is truly a lovely place to visit. Within such a compact site, there are wall-to-wall things to see. The main square is truly one of those perfectly well-laid out places. You could sit there for hours and just soak it in. It would be nice if the US still had the concept of a town or city square. On the outskirts is a 600 year old salt mine you can tour which was quite cool as well. We’re nearing the end of our trip (only one more of these left), but it’s been a great time. Reality beckons once again very soon. We’re sad to finish traveling, but excited for the changes already in progress.

A Mini Where Are we

October 10th, 2010 by matt

Well, we had to leave the Tatras at some point, but we didn’t really leave immediately. Time to guess where we went from there.


The architecture of this town originally was dominated by lovely wood buildings like this style. In recent years it’s become a popular spot for the natives of this country, so more modern stuff has appeared. But there is still plenty of really nice homes like this all over the place, especially as you leave town and head into the mountains.


We took a walk into the mountains and, unlike where we were the previous couple of days, this section had some non-alpine type trees, giving us a nice taste of fall.

Confused? Well, then this probably won’t help.


This is the view from our hotel overlooking the valley and the mountains surrounding it. Give up? It’s Zacopane, the primary holiday destination for the Polish side of the Tatras. We simply woke up one morning, found a bus and found ourselves in a new country an hour or so later. While it’s obviously a bit on the touristy side, when you leave the main bits of it, there’s some really beautiful and interesting aspects to it. One particular road seems to have a whole lot of those nice wooden buildings with rooms to rent for your stay while others have set up ad hoc restaurants and pubs. This being the off-season and us being there for only one night, we failed to really explore that deeper. Only so much time for travel, alas. And the walk we took was through a really nice valley carved out into the mountains.

Where in nature are we now?

October 7th, 2010 by matt

Well, if you’ve been keeping up with my posts, then you know we’re in Slovakia now. The big question is, where in Slovakia are we? These pictures would be a big hint, since there’s obviously a lot of mountains.


Here’s the view from our hotel room.


Well, we’ve managed to climb most of the way up and too tired to smile for a photo. OK, there’s a cable car up to about 5800 feet that we took up. Then we hiked along at that elevation and made our way down to see this:


The spot we took this picture in used to be a pine forest. But a wind storm in 2004 managed to clear cut a lot of the forests around the area. Loggers seem to be helping it along a bit. But it did give us this nice field to view the mountains from. I doubt any of this is helping if you’re trying to guess. I just love some of these pictures. Here’s that last “hint”.


Not too bad a mirror image. That triangle looking thing is actually for ski jumping.

Give up? We’re in the Tatra Mountains. They are on the Slovak/Polish border. It’s an alpine climate, so it almost feels like the Alps, but the beer is $1.50 and it’s really Eastern Europe. It was really nice to get out of the cities a bit and enjoy some crisp mountain air for a spell.

Our bonus picture for the day is, once again, a train station. But it’s a bit different this time. In the Tatras on the Slovak side, there are a series of mountain towns/resorts. They are connected by a little electric railway so, if you time it right, you can get from one end of the area to the other in an hour. Here is one of the stations. I think it’s a bit of a change from the Plzen station.


The lake pictures came from the next station down the line, Strebske Pleso. Our hotel was in Tatranska Lomnica on the opposite end of the valley. The monster peak from our hotel window is Lomnický štít which is 8600 feet tall and you can get up to the top of in a Gondola (we decided to take a hike that day instead of going to the summit). Lovely stuff.