*Bottom left photo, by Christine Brizendine of Dabble Me This Photography
We just came back from a spectacular family vacation in Chicago. We had a such a wonderful time, I already want to go back. We had planned to go back to Paris initially, but my husband was wary of traveling two six-hour flights there and back, with an infant on our laps. It made sense, it wasn’t going to be very comfortable for any of us. Since we had never been to Chicago and had said that we needed to check the city out, we decided to jump on the chance this summer.
And what a great surprise and gem Chicago has turned out to be!
We started our adventure with open minds and keen curiosity, and it was the greatest way to be. The people were so warm and friendly, even during the soggiest of rainy days. My husband and I had planned on doing solo outings that we both enjoyed while the other stayed in the hotel during the baby’s bedtime. He had an opportunity to go to a nearby jazz club and indulge in his love of the genre; he even met a great few people who invited him to sit along at their table. The next morning, he thanked me for his time alone – it was exactly what he needed. He’d been working non-stop and the fall harvest is about to start in a few weeks, I think that time for him came at the perfect moment.
Photo by K. Armstrong
Photo by K. Armstrong
My solo outings (apart from my morning runs along the river) were a little more fortuitous… I had posted a picture of our rainy morning trek to the Art Institute of Chicago on my instagram account and Jill Marzion, who is a co-founder and moderator of the #my_365 daily photochallenge community happened to see it and asked if I was going to the instameet happening that Saturday in Chicago. What were the chances that I’d be in the city for this? So I said YES! After all, I had communicated with these women online and had built a rapport, it would be great to meet some of them in person.
Rainy Day Museum trek
It was one of the best things I have done spontaneously in ages! We were to meet in Oak Street Beach – and as I got there, the Chicago skies turned grey, the air was so thick it stuck to your skin as mist in the extreme humidity. I was starting to doubt myself for going to meet people I didn’t know from axe murderers and worst, how the hell was I supposed to find them in a place I’ve never been to before? I spotted the beach bar and started heading over when the sky opened and huge gobs of water started dousing me and people everywhere. I barely made it to the first cabana of the beach bar when the rain aggressively charged the earth. Rain was going sideways, and everyone was soaked! It was exhilarating and scary at the same time. I had asked a group of women if they were there for the instameet, and they kind of looked at me like I had two heads… “Wha???” “Nevermind, I’m looking for my ‘friends'” – right.
At Oak Street Beach, in the middle of a torrential downpour.
It dawned on me to message them on Instagram (took me long enough, I know) and to my delight, Jill responded that they were at the bar! I headed over there and instantly recognized Jill – she is famous on the internets after all. I couldn’t contain my excitement and might have squealed in glee for finding them! It was so much fun – I met vivacious Heather, her little boy Corey and sweet dear Frances. We were waiting for a few more people but with the crazy Chicago weather and traffic, it seems like it was going to be a small group. But nonetheless, I felt so free and happy that very moment. There were lots of laughs, great mojitos… until after about an hour, the bartenders not-so-subtly told us we needed to exit stage left as they were closing for the day because of the downpour.
Mojitos on the beach, during a monsoon.
Photo by Jill Marzion
They were nice enough to give us garbage bags to use as make-shift rain coats just so we could leave. It was a sight to behold. I had my little dinky $3 umbrella from CVS drugstore that could barely fit my large head and massive tote. It’s a good thing that the rain abated as we were heading out. Another Mama, Hannah showed up at the end with her two littles – who were such troopers, all huddled in their tandem strollers. For a brief couple of hours, I was there as myself, Aggie, who didn’t have to rely on my husband, my daughter or anyone to break the ice with new people. And for somebody who has been going through anxiety over any little thing, that was a huge milestone for me. I felt like my old self – pre-miscarriage woes and postpartum depression and anxiety. And the best part of it was meeting someone whom I connected with and felt like I’ve known forever.
Soaking wet and cold, but incredibly happy with the beautiful and talented, Jill Marzion.
*Black hoodie by Gar Bahj
Coming out of the Oak Street Beach tunnel. Instagram photo by @franbal
Because the mother guilt pangs started brewing in my stomach, I had to say goodbye to everyone, but arranged to meet up with Jill again for drinks after the little one had gone to sleep. At first, I pulled the old anxious way of thinking – “We have a family photo shoot tomorrow and I don’t want to leave my husband again with the baby…” And then, I snapped out of it – just when I told my new friend I couldn’t make it, I messaged her again and told her that I will meet her for a drink or two after all. I mean, how often does a serendipitous event like this happen? Go dive in, Aggie!
And what happens? Another stellar person to add to my roster of new old-friends: Caroline. A sassy, gorgeous Brit, whip smart and funny as hell who is engaged to a smouldering handsome American hipster, errr… I mean director, Brett. I couldn’t thank Jill enough for introducing me to more cool people I had tremendous fun and riveting conversations with. So how do I thank her? I accidentally spill red wine all over her iPhone and her striped black and white tote… because, fuck, that’s just how I roll.
All shits and giggles with the hilariously smart and gorgeous, Caroline.
All the action caught by Jill
Impromptu photoshoot at DrumBar
So happy I found someone in the USA who spelled ‘favourite’, ‘colour’, ‘neighbour’ with a “U”!
iPhone photo by Jill Marzion
Ending the night with a family photo. Thanks for the shaky hands, random stranger.
At any rate, after all the embarrassing barrage of apologies, riveting conversation and hearty laughs, we parted ways at the end of the night professing undying love for each other.
Another great instameet happened that weekend, this time it was a family affair. I met Leyla with her little boy and her husband. It was such a great time, even our little ones and husbands hit it off. I had messaged Leyla before to give me insider tips about Chicago, and being the accommodating and friendly Chicago native that she was, she obliged. She helped me discover a little Parisian nook in the heart of Chicago – which was such a great treat. We are so happy to have found a great family to keep in touch with and meet again when we go back to the city!
Luke and Eleanor
Meeting a fellow Asian Francophile was a treat! Leyla was as hilarious and fun as I imagined her to be! Planning a trip to Paris together, next. ;)
The great feature of this trip was that the three of us each had great moments for ourselves. We couldn’t be any prouder of our little girl who was such a great little traveler. She’s proved to us how warm and friendly she is to people; what a patient little trooper she is, who’s been lugged everywhere by her Mama and Daddy. See for yourself with the adorable pics she’s featured in while at The Bean and the Crown Fountain. She had the best time!
The Cloud Gate Sculpture by Anish Kapoor
And the best part of it all – I had hired photographer, Christine Brizendine of Dabble Me This Photography to document our time away, just because I wanted to be part of the pictures in a proper way. She had just posted sneak peeks of our session and I am swooning at the posted pictures. If you ever get the chance, Christine is very patient and has mad skills in getting little ones to be calm and ham it up for the camera. I would also like to thank the amazing (anonymous) runner couple, who stopped and held their beautiful dog right behind Christine so that our little one had something to focus on and smile at. Didn’t I tell you that Chicagoans are unbelievably nice people? I wasn’t exaggerating!
Photo credit: Christine Brizendine of Dabble Me This Photography
Photo credit: Christine Brizendine of Dabble Me This Photography
Thank you Chicago, for your stellar architecture, compelling history and gracious denizens; for our special new family memories, impressive new friends, and for a well-needed rediscovery of self.
PS – Why is Chicago considered to be in the midwest of the USA? It is neither mid nor west of the country. We just couldn’t figure it out. Anybody know the answer to this?
Follow these great photographers on their websites and instagram: (Click on names for their websites where available)
Jill M. – @jillmarz
Caroline H. – @thewandering_eye
Chantel C. – @chantelcheah
Frances B. - @franbal
Hannah – @happilyeverlyafter
Leyla T. – @secondcitymom
Heather M. – @concorexhappiness2x
Christine B. – @dabblemethis