Archive for March, 2015

Twenty-something questions for an early spring day

Will social media be a part of the entire rest of our lives? How will we make sure we’re not the generation who forgot how to interact in person?

What are they going to call 90s and 2000s music when it’s the equivalent of “oldies”? Wouldn’t work be better if we could all listen to our own music? Are the remnants of instrumental skills from elementary school still helping us be smarter? Will the whole stand-up desk fad really catch on at the office? Or will we all be sitting on medicine balls someday soon?

Why does where to live involve so many other decisions? Who to live with? House or townhouse or condo or apartment? In which town?

I wonder: which sport has the most fair-weather fans? And which team? Is football better in the rain … or snow?

Why is a “free” beer with a haircut one of the most exciting things ever?

Why does my next vacation seem so far away? Can there ever be any better vacation destination than Hawaii? Where’s the best place you’ve ever been on vacation? The worst?

Why does cleaning have to be a never-ending battle? What if you were offered a trip to Never-Never Land? What would the world have gotten excited about if there was no “Harry Potter”? Or “Star Wars”?

Does it get harder to learn history as time goes on? Anyone else have a high school history teacher who introduced himself by saying he was “high on life?”

Doesn’t thinking about “retirement” in your twenties feel like thinking about dinner at breakfast?

What surprises will life throw at us next? And what will we do to be ready?


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Staycation, relaxation, adulthood nation!

When a staycation begins to sound just as awesome as a real vacation, you know you’ve officially reached adulthood.

When a four-day weekend sounds like the best birthday present you could ever receive, you know you’re no longer a kid.

And when your staycation involves doing laundry, cleaning, donating old clothes, organizing a year’s worth of photos, going to the gym in the middle of the day, buying some new music, trying a new recipe and staying in most nights, it’s time for a reality check – you’re probably approaching 30.

Our enjoyment of things like relaxing, staying in and being able to leisurely accomplish errands and chores increases with each passing month we spend in the career world because we realize there’s not enough time for those things when we’re constantly working.

When we’re in the thick of the work week, something that otherwise should be fun – like trying a new recipe or getting in a solid workout at the gym – now seems like just another thing on the to-do list, something that must be checked off before we’ve earned another night of sleep. Instead of culinary adventurousness or a heart-pounding interval run, all we want is something premade and microwaveable after 20 minutes of lazy cycling on the stationary bike.

If I had to blame this on one factor alone, I’d go with lack of energy; a simple lack of energy. Being tired makes everything seem worse, and by now, us twenty-somethings know work is tiring. We know tired wins, and fun loses. We haven’t found a way around it. Unless it’s staycation time. Then, energy is ours!

Being on a staycation gives us time to sleep in (yay!), move around slowly, think more clearly or at least a little differently and accomplish a number of ordinary, yet awesome, tasks. Our laundry gets done – maybe even the sheets and towels and that dirty oven mitt that’s so easy to forget. Our apartments get cleaned – and not just a quick once-over of the kitchen floors and counters and the bathroom sink, but a complete cleansing that takes more than an hour and leaves everything a lot less dusty. We reconnect with neglected passions like listening to new music or taking a trip down lyrical memory lane. We might even reconnect with seemingly long-lost people like our college roommates and those few loyal high school best friends.

When we’re on a staycation, the ordinary can become extraordinary. And admitting that means we’re far along the path to true adulthood. Ponder that during your next long weekend!

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Now entering: The late twenties

“Mama never told me there’d be days like this ‘til it was much too late to recover.”

I missed my chance last year to include this line in a Facebook post about turning 26, because the preceding lyric is “25 years gone ‘bout an hour ago,” so it would have been perfect. And now I’m already 27. A year late and a dollar short. That’s life.

This is not to say I’m disappointed to be 27 or I’m resigning myself to the inevitably fast passage of time in a sad way. I’m fine with my age. But this isn’t the mid-twenties anymore. By most definitions I’ve heard, that’s only 24-26. Now, it’s time for the late-twenties, and it’s a phase when the differences between being this age and, say, 21, become more and more pronounced.

Bedtime is earlier. Drinking happens less. Hangovers suck much more. (But then again, when was the last time I had one?) Cooking now involves recipes. Cereal for dinner is a rarity. There are people younger than me at work. I no longer follow college sports. Champaign still makes me think of college first, but champagne the drink has started to grow on me. There is now one kind of wine I drink and actually enjoy, as opposed to none. Beer is craft … not crap. There is time to run. I don’t walk as much, as there aren’t classes to schlep to. I carry a messenger bag not a backpack. I might be working on eight stories at once, but at least I don’t have to manage the homework from five classes, too.

This is now the late-twenties, and accepting your status in life is cool. I accept that I’m not a kid, not a teen, not a college student, no longer a fresh grad or even in my mid-twenties. I accept it because this phase of life has its comforts.

The work week has a swing to it, a routine, a rhythm. I have a sleep schedule now, and waking up isn’t quite as dreadful as it used to be. I’ve erased a few bad habits, mainly the habit of using caffeine as a crutch just to stay awake too long, push myself too hard and eventually get run down. I’ve lived in a couple of apartments and figured out I’m a suburban person at heart. I haven’t lost what makes me, me: my loves of writing, being active, following the Bulls with my family and being loyal to my friends. I’ve found an amazing guy, and I’m sticking with him. I’ve improved at work and I aspire to keep getting better.

Life is good, I’d say, and it will continue to be now that I’ve put the mid-twenties in the rear-view mirror. And if nothing else, 27 is supposed to be your fastest year for running.

So when I think about turning this new age and all that it means, I’ll take it. This birthday is just another starting line, so let the late twenties begin!

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Alumni bars: Flash back to college one sip at a time

On one Chicago night after a Bulls game, I realized I am a fan of alumni bars. It’s easy to like an alumni bar for your own alma mater, especially if you spent any of your college years in the football or basketball superfan cheering section. But I discovered my love for alumni bars at a pub filled with alumni of a school I didn’t even attend – Marquette University.

Full disclosure: I wasn’t an Illini in a Golden Eagles bar alone just for fun – I was there with two Marquette alums and co-workers who had told me the place was great. They were right.

There’s just something about alumni bars that brings you back to the college drinking experience. Maybe it’s the low light – it makes everyone look your age again, whether they are or not. Kind of like the magic of that third or fourth beer. Yup, that’s college all over again. Or maybe it’s the drink specials. Anything for $2, especially if it’s a $2 U-Call-It, has college written all over it. And not in a bad way. In a cheap and awesome way.

It could be the bartenders’ shot-pouring style that makes alumni bars so awesome. It, too, is reminiscent of college. Alcohol and mixers are both spilling all over the counter as the bartender hurriedly drips liquid from one shot glass to the next, without stopping the flow for that bit of space in between. It’s not a mess you’ll find at every post-college drinking establishment, but it’s there at the alumni bars, and it’s a welcome sight.

Free drinks from the friends you make while standing in line (yup, these places have lines, just like campustown bars) don’t hurt the alumni bar’s cause, either. Especially because in most cases, these people have matured just enough to not be creepy

Collegiate sports on TV, especially during March Madness or college football bowl season, certainly adds a bit to the campus vibe – but then again, who’s actually watching? Anything on the walls in your school’s colors might just make you feel that last bit at home in an alumni bar, but the connection to the school itself doesn’t seem to be the biggest plus of these places. It’s kind of an afterthought, really.

More than blue and gold, or orange and blue, alumni bars bring you the college mindset, back in action for just a few hours at a time. You can leave whenever you want, and be right back to twenty-something awesomeness.

But alumni bars rock because everything tangible and intangible about them lets you re-live, however briefly, the good times and the drunken times of those four years called college. So why not give an alumni bar a try, even if it doesn’t match your alma mater.

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You know you’ve reached adulthood when … you think about dinner at lunchtime

It’s only half past a freckle past breakfast time and I’m already thinking about lunch. What should I pack? Do I have everything I need to make a good sandwich? Or maybe a salad. What fruit do I have left? Are my Tupperwares clean? Do I have enough Ziploc bags? Is it all going to fit in my lunch bag? And what should I eat tomorrow?

Ahh, when it comes to food, it’s always something. One day you’ve got to make a fruit salad because your bananas are brown and spotty and your strawberries seem on their last legs. The next day, you’ve got to run to the store because you’re completely out of bread. And orange juice. And apples. You get the picture …

As a kid, I used to razz my mom for starting to make dinner shortly after us little tykes had finished lunch. We were one of those families who ate dinner at 5 p.m. on the dot, because that’s when my dad would get home from the office. So my mom, being someone who enjoys cooking and making healthy and tasty recipes, always plans ahead. She thinks ahead and starts ahead to give a nice dinner the time it needs to come together.

It seemed silly to younger me that meat for beef stew or sauce for spaghetti had to start cooking around 1 or 2 p.m., but I’ve now heard of the “low and slow” technique for making meat tender. And now I’ve handled the responsibility of cooking for myself for long enough to realize how much thought goes into a meal.

Even when a “meal” consists of a kitchen sink-type salad with lettuce, lunch meat, nuts, craisins and whatever vegetables are left in the fridge, some thought and advanced planning is usually involved. I have to weigh the benefits of eating most of my vegetables in one fell swoop versus the risk of running out of carrots for my lunches before I have time to go to the store. (And it’s a sad, sad day when this reporter makes a lunch without carrots …)

It seems miniscule, but there’s always some such consideration in the battle to buy the right amount of food, make it last until I have time to pick up more and not let anything go to waste. So now, I often find myself planning a meal or two or a day or three ahead – just as Mom always has.

I can laugh at her no longer for putting dinner on the stove while still snacking on the last few bites of lunch – not when I’m apt to cook four servings of something like chicken with zucchini and orzo on a Sunday and freeze all of them for later. I can snicker behind her back no longer for letting ribs cook for four hours when I’ve learned the best way not to burn chicken is to cook it for a full hour regardless of how hungry you are and how much you just want it to be ready NOW.

I love food, but all this cooking and buying and storing and trying not to waste it has got the noms constantly on my mind. Visions of sugarplums can be fun, but visions of vegetables … not so much.

I guess all I can do is keep cooking my leftovers and planning a couple of meals ahead, while trying my best to enjoy the one I’m actually eating. It’s another case where Mom knows best, but finding that out sure makes me feel old.

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