Saturday, June 12, 2021

Norwood Park Notes: Meeting with the arch goof

     I slid by Ravenswood Friday afternoon to chat with a 106-year-old woman for a future column.  Afterward seemed an ideal opportunity to detour by Norwood Park on my way home and finally meet our transplanted Austin bureau chief, Caren Jeskey, whose perspective has been embroidering and uplifting Saturdays for well over a year. I was about 20 minutes late. Traffic. Our meeting transpired exactly as she describes below. Yes, I did pause when I  read the opening. Mocking yourself is one thing; being mocked by another something else entirely. Then I decided, heck, it's a little late for personal dignity and, besides, it is good for readers to have confirmation from an outside, unbiased source that my occasional description of myself as an awkward goof is not comic exaggeration, but dry, dispassionate reportage, mere descriptive journalism offering up unvarnished reality as it actually is.
    A gray Honda minivan parallel parked on tree lined North Avondale Avenue in Norwood Park, the rear tire resting squarely on the curb near the grass. The driver got out, saw what he had done, got back in and tried again. He carefully maneuvered the van right back onto the grass. I couldn’t help but laugh, thinking “now that’s a suburban driver.” He got out and I half-jokingly called out “do you want me to park it?” but third time’s a charm, and without my help he managed to park the van squarely in the street.
     Neil Steinberg got out and we met, face-to-face, for the first time. We sat at a sturdy wooden picnic bench outside of add chapter Design & Art Cafe (, the occasional Metra train clanging into the station, squeaking to a halt, and whirring off again.
   I’d ordered a plate of cookies for us— after all, Neil’s birthday was earlier this week. One of the owners of add chapter, Nadia Muradi, explained that the fig filled cookies had no added sugar. The walnut filled cookies were slightly sweetened with simple syrup to “bring out the flavor of the walnuts.” They were made with Nadia’s mother’s tried and true homeland recipe “with her own twist.”
     Neil tried the hummus, which was made from scratch with fresh garbanzo beans and served with pita loaded with an herbal blend of thyme, oregano and mint, salt and olive oil. I went with spicy vegan cabbage soup served with crunchy rolls of thin pita that was seasoned and lightly fried.
     Before Neil arrived I had an oat milk latte flavored with cardamom, rose petals, and honey. I chatted with Nadia who shared some of her life philosophies with me. Nadia opened this space with the goal of providing a hub where all people feel comfortable. A place for “cultural exposure,” bringing those of varying backgrounds together. She believes in having open dialogue with others, even those who don’t see eye to eye with us. “I don’t have to attach meaning to every word others say,” she explained. She sees the best route as standing up for beliefs at times, but letting go and letting others be without sharing a differing opinion at other times. “We can have civilized conversation.” I like this. The path of harmony.
     Anyone else tired of fighting?
     To me, the phrase “add chapter” conjures up the sense that we can introduce something new to our lives at any time. When Neil sat down he shared that he sees this phrase as the possibility of adding a final chapter to our lives as we age, after we’ve accomplished what we set out to do in this lifetime. Nadia and her partner Samer “Sam” Khwaiss are also branding specialists. ( Nadia supports the idea of adding a new chapter to one’s current brand; reshaping and redefining projects and ideas as they grow.
     With the interesting and intricately naturally flavored beverages she offers— some sweetened with honey, others with maple syrup, and none too sweet— along with what feel like a spirit of creation, Nadia’s presence is calming and inspiring. I noticed a guitar in the window and asked her if they have live music. They were closed for most of last year and just reopened in May, but yes— they do plan to have indoor/outdoor performances and open mics in the near future. (I volunteered you Snezana Zabic:
     I felt completely at ease with Neil and felt as though we’d already met. I enjoyed his Chicago accent— adopted, yes I know— and was delighted to sit across from a writer I’ve enjoyed for many years. Neil’s book Out of the Wreck I Rise provided me with companionship in the fall of 2016 when I was living alone in the woods. Clearly, this was a day where I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Working with Neil has also made me feel even more that I belong here in this toddlin’ town.
     After a lovely snack, Neil and I walked over to add chapter’s art gallery around the corner. Samer’s work stopped me in my tracks. Canvasses full of stunning, melancholy faces deep in thought. Samer and Nadia are of Syrian descent. The complex history of that nation speaks clearly in the art. The faces of twin teenaged girls holding hands that Sam captured in one of the pieces took a hold of my heart, and I can still feel the intensity of what those girls must have gone through, and also their power and beauty. They are planning an opening later this summer.
     Let’s all meet at add chapter soon.


  1. Nice that you two got to meet. Seems like a swell spot. The hummus looks like the New Mexico state flag, or the Zia sun symbol, to note the flag's derivation. I imagine Caren might be a fan of the Zia sun symbol.

    I've lived (and parked) in the city for decades. I'm quite experienced at parallel parking (and am a very good driver, as Rainman would attest) but every once in a long while, something about the way the car in front or behind me is askew throws me off my game, and I need multiple attempts. Thus, I'm giving our host a pass and would never dream of (shudder) deploying the "suburban" cudgel. : )

    1. I am also out of practice. I can count the times I had to parallel park in the past 7 years in Texas. And true, if other cars are not parked well it's tougher. Thank you for pointing out the Zia symbol; I was not sure of it's meaning so looked it up. A good meditation for the day. "Both the sun and the number four are sacred to the Zia. The Zia sun sign represents:

      the four cardinal directions (north, south, east and west),
      the four seasons of the year (spring, summer, autumn and winter),
      the four periods of each day (morning, noon, evening and night), and
      the four seasons of life (childhood, youth, middle years and old age).

      These four elements are tied together by a circle of life that has no beginning and no end.

      Additionally, the Zia also believe that humans have four sacred obligations. They must develop:

      a strong body,
      a clear mind,
      a pure spirit, and
      a devotion to the welfare of their people."


  2. I have depth perception issues that prevent me from being able to parallel park. Lived in the city for more than a decade but that has no relevance to the issue.

    1. Ah yes, I imagine that wold be a challenge. Even without those issues I am out of practice after 7 years out of the city, and it might take me a time or two to get into a tighter spot.

  3. I learned how to parallel park when I learned how to drive, and since I spent many years living in densely populated Chicago neighborhoods, I got pretty good at it, because I got a lot of practice. On the other hoof, my wife and I are the same age, and she can't do it, ebcause she grew up in Cleveland, where almost everyone has a garage or an off-street parking space, and where only certain parts of the city have parked cars lining the streets. Mostly because of the lower population density, and farfewer apartment buildings.

    There are vast stretches of Cleveland, and its suburbs that have mostly single-family housing, so there not all that many parked cars on the streets. Mr S. grew up in one of them, and so did my wife. So the ability to learn how to parallel park totally depends on where you've lived or where you grew up. If you grew up in Chicago, or spent any length of time living in the city or nearby suburbs, you acquire the skill. I spent a lot of years living in Evanston and in North Side neighborhoods, so I learned out of necessity, and learned early.

    1. My first car was the 2nd biggest station wagon ever made (at least that's what I was told). A 1978 Chevy Caprice Classic. I learned how to park in the tightest spots with her and I've been an expert parker ever since. Though as I mentioned in other comments, after being spoiled for the past 7 years in TX I am out of practice. When I visit friends in Edgewater I'm surprised at how narrow the streets are, and even more so that they allow parking on both sides, and to add to it they are not one way streets! Seems like bumper dings just waiting to happen.


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