Windy City Memories … of the Way Department Stores Were

I have been thinking a lot lately about all the department and discount stores I frequented over the years … going back to my earliest memories as a young child through the 1990s. I have always had a knack for sniffing out bargains and some of my fondest memories fall into that category, while others are more dramatic. Of course, being a native Chicagoan, I too bemoaned the demise of the iconic classic department store Marshall Field’s and will begin there. Everybody has their own memories of Field’s (I am not talking Frango Mints), but among those that stand out for me: My dad getting really annoyed with me because I was afraid to go down the escalator at the Old Orchard Field’s – he had already descended to the bottom and had to come back up and fetch me, age 7 or 8. My mom taking us to see Santa Claus at State Street (despite being Jewish) including lunch at the Walnut Room – and that awesome Christmas tree, age 8 or 9. My mom taking me shopping at State Street after my eyes were dilated by an old stodgy ophthalmologist – everything was a big gorgeous blur of color, age 10. Witnessing an old lady with blood pouring down her stockings – her leg had somehow gotten caught in the moving escalator. This happened at the Old Orchard Field’s and again I was shopping with my dad, age 11 (good thing I had not seen that at age 7 or 8 – would have caused a permanent escalator phobia). That glorious bargain basement and all the wonderful things bought at a steep discount. Fast forward to 1981 – registering for wedding presents at Old Orchard 14 years before the demise of my marriage. Exchanging baby gifts at Old Orchard with my newborn baby and nursing her in the ladies’ room, July 1987. My now 2-year old stepping out…

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Incessant TV Commercial Leads to Obsessive Link Surfing

A few days ago this article was simply going to discuss a TV commercial that Betsy and I cringed at every time it aired. The commercial in review here is for Talbots, a “Women’s Clothing and Apparel” store. The music is the first thing I noticed – a jarring, growling female singer going on about evolving, revolving, revolution and history repeating. When I actually watched the commercial I was annoyed by the woman who the ad focuses on. She’s oh-so properly dressed in what looks like a business suit with leather gloves and a big purse hanging from one arm. She’s swinging her hips like a runway model as she walks through city streets. Most annoying to me was the smug, almost predatory look she has throughout the ad.

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San Francisco Grocery Shop Made me Salivate

I just returned from a brief 2-day stay in San Francisco. I was there for a job interview, and as usual, during my free time, decided to explore areas I had not frequented during my last two trips in 2010 and 2006. I discovered an amazing grocery store – like no other – at least in the Midwest. On my way to The Mission, I stumbled upon Rainbow Grocery. I started to salivate the moment I walked into this cool grocery store – I think my mouth was actually hanging open in disbelief at the sheer quantity and quality of the drinks, teas, bulk foods, produce, cheese, etc. Good thing Jeff was not with me – he could have easily spent $100! Given that I have been unemployed now for more than 3 months, I have gotten cheap and try to cut corners wherever and whenever I can. I was tempted to buy everything, but spent less than $4.00 on a very small sampling of bulk dried mulberries, date nuggets, and two natural chocolate mint patties by SunRidge Farms.

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Ladies’ Restrooms Gross Me Out – What Gives Girls?

I have thought about blogging on this topic for a long time, but didn’t have an appropriate venue until now. I just don’t get it, but it must be true because I have come across this phenomena way too many times, as have those closest to me – namely Jeff, my daughter, my sisters, and a few good friends. In simple terms, women seem to be slobs, at least when it comes to public restrooms. I cannot tell you how many times I have been shopping and needed to use the ladies’ room. I have encountered really gross stuff, whereas Jeff has used the men’s room at the same store, mall, etc. and told me it was clean. And I know he doesn’t have a different definition of clean because he never misses the toilet and always puts the seat down at home – I love you, dear! And when my daughter has to pee really badly and cannot wait, she will use the men’s john if it is a single one. And at those establishments, she has reported that the men’s john was spotless whereas the ladies’ room, which I waited to use, was disgusting. What gives girls?

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Statistics Can Provide Food for Thought …

When I was in high school and was forced to study statistics, it was a subject I viewed more with dread than relish – oddly, the latter is how I view statistics now. I think the big difference is that back then they were simply numbers with no meaning. Once I entered the world of medical and health-related public relations, statistics became a powerful tool to tell a message within the context of a greater story. But it goes beyond that – I really dig the probability that well-researched and juxtaposed statistics present – for instance, what is the chance of getting struck by lightning versus getting struck by stroke versus hitting a hole in one. Well, I just heard a compelling hospital radio ad today stating that every 45 seconds, somebody in the U.S. has a stroke. Of course given that I have already done in-depth research on stroke for PR initiatives and know that an estimated 795,000 Americans suffer stroke every year …  I am left pondering how the hospital’s PR firm arrived at this statistic. When I got home, I did the arithmetic and I am guessing they used something like this formula – the number of seconds in a day is 86,400 multiplied by the number of days (365) in a year is 31,536,000, divided by 795,000 = 39.6. The seconds are a constant, but they obviously used a slightly different overall number of stroke victims.

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Corner Health Foods in Mundelein, IL

Ok, not every post here is going to be grouching about something. Sometimes I come across an exemplary example of a business that is a gem among many lumps of coal. Well, a little grouching. Generally, health food stores are among my pet peeves. I’ve become somewhat of a health-nut as I’ve gotten older and this has led me to search for many things that usually can only be found at “health food” or vitamin stores. My opinion of most of them is that they are run by rude people and are way overpriced. But there are two such stores I’ve found that have reasonable prices. One I’ll talk about another time. The other, which also has a bonus of nice, down to earth proprietors is the Corner Health Food Store in Mundelein, IL.

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Notes From Saturday’s Shopping

Almost every Saturday we go to a number of different shopping venues in one or two trips. Garage and estate sales as well as thrift shops and grocery/produce markets are our favorite vices. When we get more diligent at blogging and taking pictures, there will be better reports on individual visits, but here are just a few memories from our travels on 9/10/11. The Rolling Meadows High School Music Boosters had a Community Garage Sale in the high school parking lot. They have this once a year every September and we usually visit. I assume part or all of the proceeds go to the RMHS music program. There were more tables and merchandise than previous events and generally prices were good with some great bargains to be found. I purchased a few old Transformer toys for my daughter’s husband who collects them and a Marvel Comics graphic novel originally priced at $19.95 for just 50 cents. As I said, the prices were reasonable, however there was one woman who had a two tables of things that were priced out of this world. We first noticed a small aluminum bowl. You see these everywhere. It’s one of the most common items to be found at garage/estate/rummage sales. They usually sell for a buck or less. This one was pretty beat up and it was priced at $9.00. What??? I immediately moved on to the next table down the line, but couldn’t shake off thinking about that woman. I was tempted to go back and politely ask her how she determined her prices. I wasn’t that bold this time and didn’t, but I went back to look at what other things she had to sell later on our way out. Children’s books, well used for $6 to $10 that everyone else was selling for 25 or 50…

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It’s All About That Je Ne Sais Quoi

When I was 13, I became obsessed with everything French, which led me to take 3 1/2 years of high school French instead of the far more practical Spanish. I vowed to visit Paris one day, which I did for the first time in 1979 with my Dutch boyfriend, who became my husband and then ex-husband. I did not snag that suave French lover as I dreamed of, but alas I was sort of fulfilling my dream and much sooner than anticipated. Well, the wind blew out of my sails pretty quickly when Parisians mocked my ridiculous American accent and pretty pathetic command of their language. While I could read and understand French fairly well, in retrospect, the French taught in my high school was totally impractical when confronted with the real thing. While Paris was beautiful and I certainly enjoyed Normandy and the Loire Valley, somehow my French obsession waned with the rudeness encountered in those Parisian cafes and bistros. My Francophile obsession was replaced with a Dutch obsession, and when I learned een beetje Nederlands while living in Rotterdam in the early 1980s, my paltry knowledge of French dissipated. Still, a love of the European remains, and I recently rediscovered that je ne sais quoi and what attracted me to everything French decades ago. I discovered Serge Gainsbourg by chance when I saw his and Jane Birkin’s ultra-talented daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg in 21 Grams, The Science of Sleep, and I’m Not There. Serge was not just a tortured French bad boy, as evidenced in his 1986 alcohol-fueled Gitanes-puffing televised exchange with Whitney Houston, but a brilliant singer/songwriter/stylist with an undeniable je ne sais quoi. And then I became obsessed with Jane Birkin, or should I say the model-gorgeous, youthful Jane Birkin, circa 1960s-1970s.  I devoured everything I could find about this iconic couple and uncovered some gems and a few duds along my path of discovery. I didn’t…

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Geico Commercials

Ugh. While watching a US Open match this week, I was forced to endure one of those lame, stupid, annoying and played-to-death Geico commercials. This one features their dumb “Caveman” trying to hit tennis balls flung at him by a ball machine next to which Billie Jean King sits. At first I thought it was a new one, but Betsy thought it wasn’t. After some quick research I found she was right. It originally came out last year. If you haven’t seen it already, here it is if you dare: I have to say these caveman commercials are the worst, but I detest all of their various ad campaigns. The Gecko, the Question Guy… oh I almost forgot the “money eyes” which were almost as horrid. There are others. Perhaps I’m being unreasonable, but I would not go to Geico for my auto insurance no matter how much money they would save me.

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Ode to Public Tennis Courts

Jeff and I are tennis fanatics and love to play, but we do not have the funds to join a private tennis club, especially now that I am unemployed. So we play on park district tennis courts or sometimes at the nearby high school. The behaviors that we have encountered on these courts could fill a novel, but I will highlight some of the most memorable ones in this blog. The major problem is that the park district tennis courts seem to have been built as afterthoughts – erected after the playgrounds and baseball fields which are in very close proximity. Our favorite court is a single one amid a lovely pastoral field with very beautiful houses on the perimeter. Alas, the brainiacs did not build this lovely tennis court with a fence – it is open and quite close to the playground with a path leading to the court. Just today we had the pleasure of a very odd man riding his bicycle in circles on the concrete abutting the court. Then he suddenly stopped riding and sat on his bike for 15 minutes watching us play. After he rode off to a nearby bench and continued to watch us from afar, a 2-year-old boy toddled over to the court followed by his slightly older brother and dad. He started to scream and the dad decided to play catch with both boys way too close to the court. After a few minutes of this, they went back to the playground, only to return two more times. The last time, Jeff tried to tell him that this was distracting, and he replied, “That’s OK, keep playing, you aren’t bothering us!” This particular distraction happens way too frequently. The parents appear totally oblivious that we are actually trying to play tennis and have let…

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