OyChicago blog

Lessons from Trains

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two trains

I took the two photographs above while walking on the “Bloomingdale Trail” in Chicago. This unused three miles of elevated railroad track and footpath is slated to become a park and trail system connecting four neighborhoods by summer of 2016 and has been renamed the 606.

In June 2013 I spent five days with my son and two friends running a small urban adventure day camp. One of our adventures involved walking the “Bloomingdale.” It was so cool to be walking 16 feet above street level and getting a very unique perspective of Chicago. We walked over and next to parks, streets, schools, old factory buildings, and residential areas for about 30 minutes. On a second trip there a few days later, we walked the entire stretch of from beginning to end and back again. It was on this excursion that we found the two abandoned trains. They had been left there and over the years had become part of the urban landscape; I had wanted to walk the entire Bloomingdale Trail prior to its reconstructive surgery.

These abandoned tracks made by joggers and bicyclists will lose some of their character when the city of Chicago transforms them into park area and trails. As I looked at and examined the these two sets of train cars, I reflected on how they, at one time, served a purpose holding cargo of one type or another, but without an engine pulling them they were rendered non-functional. I thought about myself and how I have big grand ideas and projects in my mind, but if they are not “attached” to an action plan or any measurable movement, then they are just plans, sitting abandoned on a railroad track.

Learning from our surroundings (people, places, and things) is key for those who try to invest time in working on themselves. This is what I was doing with the train cars. As I walked back to my entry point (which involved climbing through a cut out passageway in a fence, climbing up a man-made ladder, climbing over another fence, and then jumping onto a garbage can) I was reminded of a something  taught by ethicist, Rabbi Israel Salanter.

When he first observed the railroad system he was able to extract three important lessons: If you come late, you will miss the train; if the train jumps the rail, then all of the cars might overturn; and a person without a ticket cannot board the train.


Color Confusion

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the dress

No matter how hard I looked, I just couldn’t see any black and blue in that damn dress.

I know, I know. We’re all sick of hearing about the (white and gold!) viral sensation that took the web by storm. (All things considered, however, I did prefer this to photos of Kim Kardashian’s naked and glistening derriere, which apparently “broke” the internet last year.)

But hear me out: besides being a head-scratching conundrum that inspired millions of quasi-hysterical emails and re-shares, there is something genuinely puzzling about this singular image. How can color, of all things, be a topic so disputed?

I dipped into a little research to see why this could happen. As it turns out, the things we see right before our very eyes are by no means undebatable.

Confused yet?

Take Homer, for instance – the poet, not the Simpsons character. For him, the issue of color truly was black and white — and I mean that literally. He only saw black and white, with a splash of red here and there, maybe a hint of green if he really strained his eyes. Of course, we have no way for sure of knowing what exactly the ancient poet saw as he scanned the Greek landscape, but judging by his writing,  it’s very likely that he lived in a world that, at least to him, appeared rather colorless.

Homer is not alone, either. In most ancient texts, whether it be the Vedas or our very own Torah, color references aren’t as obvious as we might expect. Most interestingly, despite biblical texts’ innumerable references to the sky and the heavens, the color blue is not mentioned once. Never.

Blue is, in fact, humanity’s most modern color. 

But the sky is blue. Isn’t it obvious? Yet, hundreds of years ago, this may have not been obvious at all. The color blue might have been there, but we humans were just unable to process, or even notice, it. It’s quite possible that, without a word or concept for blue, humanity might have just seen a colorless nothing as they gazed into the expansive mass of the sky. 

This begs the question: How many other things are so obviously right in front of us, but we’re just unable to notice?

Take another example. About 150 years ago, a single terrifying thought kept hundreds of people awake at night, shivering nervously under their wool blankets and clutching to their loved ones. It was the overwhelming fear of being buried alive.

That might make sense for a couple extremely paranoid or naturally anxious individuals, but masses of people?

This was because back then, doctors didn’t have the medical prowess to differentiate between when someone had died or, say, simply lapsed into a coma, or drifted into unconsciousness, or suffered an epileptic attack. So the fear of being buried alive was actually quite legitimate. And the heartbroken relatives, ridden with grief, had no idea that their cause of despair was something they could still change. The solution was right there — they were just unable to see it.

As William Safire, New York Times columnist and Romanian-descended Jew, quips, “Never assume the obvious is true.”

Today, new pictures of the dress are making their rounds across the internet. Indeed, the dress is blue. But whenever I look back at that initial image, no matter how much I squint my eyes or print it out and turn it upside down, I always see gold. 

What else is out there that I’m missing?

(For more info: Radiolab: “Colors;” Memory Palace)



Three Ways to Improve Your Relationships Right Now

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Three Ways to Improve Your Relationships Right Now photo

One of my goals at 100 Reasons to Win is to help professionals improve their relationships. Some of my clients are looking for true love; some have found it and want to work better with their partners; and others are just looking to navigate the tough conversations that they engage in with family, friends, and colleagues. 

No matter the purpose, I have found myself offering similar guidance to just about everyone as the foundation for sustaining good relationships.

1. Understand the nuances among different types of relationships. There are all different types of people in our lives and different protocol for how we interact with them. There are also actions that can be taken to improve each of those relationships. Understanding those nuances helps us to increase the value of each and every one of our relationships as we strive to deepen those connections. A good read on this topic is the Seven Levels of Intimacy by Matthew Kelly. Kelly offers a path to overcoming fears and strengthening bonds with others.

2. Speak the truth. This doesn't necessarily mean you must tell everyone, everything all of the time, but it does mean that sharing a piece of how you feel or what you think about a situation breaks the ice and brings a certain authenticity. It can be as simple as having the courage to calmly tell a colleague, “I feel nervous about this event tonight, so I am glad you are here to help.” Sometimes this involves admitting when you were wrong and/or asking for forgiveness when you have wronged another.

3. Compare your similarities. When you meet or speak with someone, ask yourself not what is different between you and the other person, but what is the same. A very important coach and mentor once shared that with me and it has made a huge difference in my ability to prevent and/or resolve conflict. The idea is that when you try to figure out what's different, you are really asking, “What should I fear about this person?” This fear inevitably sets you up to be in conflict. On the other hand, when you try to look for what is the same, then you are asking, “What should I love about this person?” This love sets us up to cooperate with that person.

We interact with people all day long and every person is a part of another relationship for us. Understanding the foundation for what makes relationships a success is an important skill. Like any skill, it comes more naturally to some more than others, but it can be learned, and with practice, improved.

By the way, the best relationship to start practicing with is the one that you have with yourself.


Dating Advice from a Nice Jewish Girl

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Dating Advice from a Nice Jewish Girl photo

As a 24-year-old single lady, the world of dating is a 180-degree difference from when my parents were single and mingling. My mom was always being courted and my dad was taking women out on proper dates. You know your parents are way out of the loop when your dad’s dating advice includes going to Studio Paris Nightclub at 9:00 p.m. (For those of you who have not been to Studio Paris, the nightclub crowd doesn’t arrive until at least midnight.) His thought process is that respectable men who want to meet respectable women are out earlier. I’ve accepted that for me, meeting a quality guy probably won’t happen at a Lincoln Park bar or a River North nightclub.

Last summer I came across an article in JUF News that discussed the book How to Woo a Jew: The Modern Jewish Guide to Dating and Mating by Tamar Caspi. Although I’m happy being single, a part of me is looking forward to the day I meet my dream guy. So, I decided to read the book, which I suggest you do, too. The book puts dating in perspective.

We work hard to get into highly regarded universities and rewarding jobs. We nurture our relationships with our families and friends, but we don’t put that effort into finding a life-long companion. I applied every piece of advice from the book into my life, but I learned from experience that certain aspects of the book weren’t working for me. I’ve learned what has and hasn’t been working for me while dating and wanted to share my thoughts with you:

Make a non-negotiable list

Set high yet reasonable expectations

Make a list of traits you desire in your future companion. In the future, do you want a Jewish partner? Do you want to have similar passions like jogging? I keep my list handy in my iPhone’s Notes application so that I can add traits at any time. I learned from Caspi that creating this list reminds of us of our true desires instead of being tempted by a seemingly nicer present option.


Date to learn what you like

What better way to learn the traits you want in a partner than by going on as many dates as you can? By going on dates with numerous potential partners, you begin to learn the signs of a true mensch or meshugener. Dating can be fun, or one of the most dreadful encounters you’ll face. It’s all about perspective. My advice is to look at dates as a way for you to get to know someone and let them get to know you while enjoying delicious drinks and noshing on a yummy meal. You might realize this person is totally not meant for you or be surprised at what you have in common.

Go beyond those Dating Apps

Get out and meet people in the real world

Personally, I’d rather use resources that are going to enhance my dating experience. We all know someone who met their significant other on Hinge or one of those dating apps, so we start believing the same will happen to us—and maybe it could. I’ve gone on a handful of dates through these dating apps, but I didn’t have much in common with my dates because the apps only show the surface level of its users.

Caspi advises subscribing to online dating resources such as JDate. As someone who subscribed to JDate for about six months, I went on only three dates with the same person until I realized we weren’t right for each other. Personally, I wasn’t profiting from the investment of money and time to produce my profile.

In addition to your dating apps and online profiles, my advice is to join organizations and group activities to meet more people who share your interests (I have to admit that was my dad’s advice to me. I guess he’s not totally out of the loop.) One way to meet eligible singles is by joining LEADS, a program created by JUF’s Young Leadership Division, which is great for creating relationships in a relaxed social setting.

I know the game of dating can be difficult to navigate and rules are always being added and subtracted, but I hope my advice can help you think through what is best for you.

Happy dating!


The Egg Magician

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The Egg Magician photo-2

I recently poached eggs – successfully. I’m honestly not sure I’ve ever been more proud of anything; which probably means that I should find a more thrilling life.

Poaching eggs has been on my to-do list for a while, but I haven’t attempted them because I’ve been too afraid. They’ve always sounded like a difficult science experiment that I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to tackle.

When you think about it, though, they are kind of magical. How else are you supposed to describe cooking eggs in water? Then again, they can’t be that difficult to achieve since a poached egg of some sort is on every brunch and breakfast menu. They can be found everywhere, and up until this week everywhere excluded my apartment. 

Maybe you’re like me and you’ve let the idea of failure scare you out of the kitchen. I started cooking mostly because I got tired of the same boring takeout in my neighborhood. Most of the time I’m not very confident in the kitchen, but I’m learning to bite my tongue and go for it. I am slowly checking seemingly difficult cooking projects off of my to-do list. Originally I was hoping that would make me a better and braver cook; what I’m finding is that it’s making me a better and braver person. 

I can’t think of a better metaphor for life. Cookbooks are as readily available as any other book. They’re full of instructions – you just have to be able to read and try to do what they ask. The key word here is try. If you mess up, so what. Try again. If I’ve learned anything from my kitchen experiment, it’s that trying something new is absolutely worth it and when it does work out you feel like a magician. What’s better than that?


My (Magical) Version of Eggs Florentine

There are a zillion steps to this recipe, but once you’ve done everything and assembled it you’ll feel like a champion.


12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks)
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1½ teaspoons salt
¾ teaspoon pepper
¾ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Place the egg yolks, lemon juice, 1½ teaspoons salt, ¾ teaspoon pepper and cayenne in the jar of a blender. Blend for 15 seconds. With the blender running, slowly pour the hot butter into the blender and blend for 30 seconds, until the sauce is thick. (You can leave it in the blender at room temperature for up to 1 hour. If it is made in advance, add 1 tablespoon hot tap water and blend for a few seconds before serving.)

Sautéed Spinach

1 tablespoon butter
1tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion chopped
10 ounce package baby spinach
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a large skillet. Melt the butter, and then add the olive oil and chopped onion. Cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach and cook, stirring, until spinach is wilted. Season with salt and pepper and toss again. Serve warm.

Poached Eggs

Heat the water: Add enough water to come 1 inch up the side of a narrow, deep 2-quart saucier. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt and 2 teaspoons white vinegar and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Meanwhile, crack 1 very fresh cold large egg into a custard cup or small ramekin. Use the handle of a spatula or spoon to quickly stir the water in one direction until it's all smoothly spinning around.

TIP: Use this whirlpool method when poaching a single serving (one or two eggs). For bigger batches, heat the water, salt and vinegar in a 12-inch nonstick skillet and do not stir.

Add the egg: Carefully drop the egg into the center of the whirlpool. The swirling water will help prevent the white from "feathering," or spreading out in the pan.

Let it poach: Turn off the heat, cover the pan and set your timer for 5 minutes. Don't peek, poke, stir or accost the egg in any way.

Lift it out: Remove the egg with a slotted spoon and serve immediately. Alternatively, move the egg to an ice bath and refrigerate up to 8 hours. Reheat in warm water just before serving.

Put it all together: Toast an English muffin and then top it with a bit of the spinach, top it with a poached egg and a bit of hollandaise sauce.


Bring on the Madness

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Bring on the Madness photo-2

One of my favorite times of year is finally here – March Madness. The good weather, the high stakes, and basketball on television nearly every minute of every day.

Now, I am by no means an NCAA aficionado; I don’t watch every minute of every regular season or even conference championship game. But since when does being an expert make you more qualified to pick winners when it comes to the NCAA tournament? Sure, there are trends to follow and hot players and teams heading into the tournament, but what truly makes March Madness great is its unpredictability – the “madness” if you will. It is one of the few sports bets you can make where the biggest college basketball fan has little advantage over the casual viewer. The thing I love about it is that no matter how much I know about any of the teams going in, I am going to become as emotionally invested as any other fan once that first game tips off.

I actually think I approach this with a bit of an advantage over someone rooting for their alma mater. My college doesn’t even have a team, so I go in completely unattached and open to jumping on and getting behind whoever I think is the most fun to watch. It is one of the few times for me when a loss doesn’t equal heartbreak. It’s like speed dating: I don’t have a life-mate, nor am I looking for one – I’m just going out looking to have fun.

With that said, let’s make some preliminary picks. These may not be the picks I stick with, but they are the ones I like right now after actually watching a good amount of college basketball this year and using a healthy mix of good, solid research and pure gut prediction. I’ll go region by region.

Midwest Region

I only see one real upset coming out of the Midwest, and that is 12th ranked Buffalo topping 5th ranked West Virginia in the first round. Aside from the history of upsets in the No. 5 vs. No. 12 portion of the bracket, I think there is a lot to like about Buffalo and they are a perfect underdog to get behind. This is their first trip to the tournament, coached by former NCAA star and NBA player Bobby Hurley. Their main weapon is big man Justin Moss, who nearly averaged a double-double this season. With a few notable injuries on West Virginia and a little Cinderella magic dust, I can see this 12 seed moving on. I like Notre Dame, but they struggle to get stops on the defensive end. Teams with stars typically have success in the tournament, and Maryland potentially has one in Melo Tremble. But this region starts with Kentucky, and I believe it ends with them. They are more than just hype – this is a team nobody wants to play. They have depth and were dominant all season long. Sure someone could always sneak up on them, but as of today, this is my team to come out of the Midwest.

East Region

I don’t see an obvious favorite coming out of this region. To me, the team to watch out for is Michigan Stage. Don’t be fooled by their seven seed. You can never count out a Tom Izzo-coached team, who will be coming in with a big chip on their shoulder as a result. I think they could get past two seed Virginia, but may have trouble with a team like Oklahoma. In fact, I’m going to take Oklahoma out of the East. They finished the season hot and have one of the best starting five in all of college basketball.

West Region

Now to the West where Big Ten champion Wisconsin holds the top seed, but I think Arkansas is the dark horse team to watch in this region. Arkansas can flat out score and are led by SEC player of the year Bobby Portis. Wisconsin is probably still the favorite and Arizona will be a tough out, but I am not buying Wisconsin. Bo Ryan has them right there every year and they are as fundamentally sound as a college basketball team can be. If the tournament were a “best-of-seven” scenario, Wisconsin might be my champion. But this tournament is about momentum as much as it is about skill and I see them being beaten on any given day by a team playing with more heart. I’m going to take Arizona out of the West because of how well they play against ranked teams.

South Region

The South has my true Cinderella team, Stephen F. Austin. SF Austin is a great offensive team who made noise in the tournament last year and I think have a favorable bracket to do it again. But to me this region comes down to whether or not Duke and Gonzaga are for real. Duke is a favorite every year and Jahlil Okafor may be the best player in the tournament. Gonzaga is one of the top teams every year, and this may be one of the best teams they’ve had in recent years, but the ‘Zags have a tendency to disappoint come tournament time. If either one of these teams come up with a letdown, look out for Iowa State in the South. I like them every year, probably because of my affinity for head coach Fred Hoiberg, but I also think they can shoot lights-out.

So, my Final Four looks like this: Kentucky, Arizona, Oklahoma, Iowa State. And my National Title game? Kentucky over Iowa State to win it all. Kentucky is just too skilled and too deep. They have everything that makes a championship team, and as much as I love to ride an underdog, I just don’t see them being upset on their road to becoming NCAA National Champions.


Travel in the USA

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I’ve recently learned that many of my friends — including my soon-to-be husband — have spent more time traveling abroad than within the United States. As kids, they spent summers and winter breaks exploring London, Paris, Peru, and Morocco, but have never been to Seattle or New Orleans.

As someone who, outside the U.S., has only ever traveled to Israel, Poland, Canada, and Mexico, I am in awe of these world travelers. I look forward to many years of exploring what our planet has to offer, near and far.

But for those of you who have the travel bug but haven’t yet visited the depths of the USA: What are you waiting for? Our country is beautiful, diverse, and full of history and culture. You don’t need a passport or a different kind of currency to go on wild adventures.

If you’re traveling domestically, then, here are my top 10 local destinations.

1. New Orleans, Louisiana. I love the feel of the culture here — it’s a little southern but also uniquely Cajun. There are musicians playing jazz in the streets, there’s a Voodoo Museum, the little shops are adorable, and even though I’ve sworn off of doughnuts, I’ll make an exception for the amazing beignets. Even after Hurricane Katrina, the culture is still strong, and it’s been so meaningful for me to help rebuild post-hurricane on my three trips there. 

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Eating beignets at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans with Anne in February 2011

2. Sanibel Island, Florida. She may sell sea shells by the sea shore, but YOU can experience millions of the beautiful shells in sunny southern Florida. This quaint town is beautiful and romantic, known for its seashells and vacation atmosphere. 

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Picking seashells in Sanibel in February 2013 with Priya, Maham, Christie, Virginia, and Syema

3. Seattle, Washington. Seattle is a fun, hip town full of diverse neighborhoods and quirky things to see. And if you love rain, you’ll fit right in! There are food markets, a chocolate factory tour, amazing hikes, and a troll under a bridge. Plus, it’s a short ride to Vancouver, Canada — one of my favorite destinations outside of the U.S.! 

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Hanging out on the Fremont Troll in Seattle with Christie and Virginia in March 2012

4. Charleston, South Carolina. Charleston is probably the most unique city I’ve visited in this fine country of ours. It feels like you’re walking through a time capsule of the Civil War era, filled with southern mansions with gas lanterns and cobblestone streets with horse-drawn carriages. The locals love their city and are so excited to show it off to visitors. Plus, you can visit the oldest remaining Reform synagogue in the United States! 

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On a horse-drawn carriage tour of Charleston with Adam in December 2012

5. Sedona, Arizona. Beautiful multicolored mountains are the backdrop for this small, spiritual town in sunny Arizona. My friends and I loved hiking, horseback riding, and Jeep touring on the cactus-lined terrain. It’s known for spiritual vortices — and though I’m not sure we found deeper spiritual meaning, we sure loved the sun and the scenery. 

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Hiking in Sedona, Arizona with Priya and Virginia in December 2014

6. Saugatuck/Holland/South Haven, Michigan; and Indiana Dunes, Indiana. I listed a lot of cities here, but Adam and I visited these places all on one trip. The hiking in the Indiana Dunes was so beautiful (and full of many hills and stairs … my calf muscles still haven’t fully recovered), and I think we Chicagoans forget how close this gem really is. South Haven is an idyllic little town with great beaches, cute shops, and a beautiful lighthouse. Holland is like a little local piece of the Netherlands, complete with a windmill, a tulip festival, and wooden shoes. Saugatuck was lovely, an art lover’s dream, filled with art galleries, gift shops, and beautiful beaches. 

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Dune ride in Saugatuck with Adam in August 2013

7. Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Park, Illinois. Friends, you don’t even have to leave Illinois for a great getaway. The hiking and scenery in Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Park were fantastic — and oh so local! Many of us know of Starved Rock, but Matthiessen State Park is a lesser-known find, filled with beautiful waterfalls.

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Enjoying the waterfalls in Matthiessen State Park with Adam in May 2014 

8. Washington, D.C. I’ve often said that if I didn’t live in Chicago, I’d love to live in D.C. In addition to the thrill of being in the center of our nation’s government (I assume that any person who walks by in a suit is a member of Congress), I think the neighborhoods are great to explore and the vibe is so much fun. I just feel smart when I’m there. The museums are free, the food is great, and, let’s be real, any place that houses the Ruby Slippers is like home to me. 

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In front of the White House in Washington, D.C. with my friends from my Alternative Student Break trip in December 2008

9. New York, New York. Okay, okay, I’ll include New York on this list. It’s no Chicago, but it’s certainly an experience. The Broadway plays, the restaurants, the museums, the neighborhoods, the cupcakes, the studio tours, the Highline, the frozen hot chocolate — it is a fantastic place to visit. Plus, I recently visited Brooklyn, and it’s adorable — who knew?? 

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At the Carnegie Deli in New York with Adam, Dan, and Dori in November 2011

10. San Francisco, California. I loved visiting San Francisco, even for a short visit as part of my USY on Wheels teen tour (and somehow I forgot to wear some flowers in my hair). It feels straight out of the 1960s with hippies on Haight Ashbury, and I loved visiting the steep and curvy Lombard Street, plus Ghiradelli Square and Alcatraz. I definitely want to go back for a longer trip. 

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My photos from my USY on Wheels trip in summer 2003 have not yet been digitized, but I did find this picture of our group from that summer — perhaps this photo was taken in San Francisco!  

Honorable mentions to Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, San Diego, San Antonio, Ft. Lauderdale, Birmingham, Breckenridge, Niagara Falls, Lake Geneva, Atlanta, Boston, and Madison, all of which I also enjoyed.

If you’re planning on visiting any of these places, I’d be happy to share my recommendations; and if you have ideas for other places that you loved in our great country, I can’t wait to visit them, too.

God Bless America! Play ball!


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