Friends In From Afar!

A number of weeks ago I had two friends interested in making a trip to Chicago, so I just rolled them both into a single, super weekend.  To far right in the picture below is Hinako, someone I had gotten to know a bit while in Japan.  She’s now learning English in L.A. but decided that flying in for only a weekend could be justified.  The two on my right are fraternity friend Matt Wiersum and his special friend ‘Sally’ from China (wearing my cardigan…).  Then to the far left is my housemate, token Wisconsinite and co-host extraordinaire, Jason.  Of course you have myself as well, significantly happier than what this ill timed exposure might suggest.  I was skirting the empyrean…


There was a lot of running around to get everyone under the same roof on that Friday: two trips to O’Hare, and another all the way down to Midway.  It wasn’t until about midnight that we convened in my kitchen to take that photo, prime up, and take off to do a little dancing.  We were out for a couple hours before coming back, but everyone had a solid time.

The next morning we really soaked in the comforts of our beds and couches before tackling the day and being productive.  When we did finally greet the shining sun, it was to go and get some Portillo’s, the finest of Chicagoan food.  I had never been, but Jason’s weekly raving meant it warranted investigation.  The inside is filled with flair, and a unique atmosphere.  I navigated the line and at was able to sit down along side this glorious Italian Beef Sandwich.  Notice, it has the giardiniera peppers that are popular in these parts.
20101024 Italian Beef Portillos Main Post

Once we finished our filling feast, it was time to regroup at home and then take the train to The Loop.  I’m sure we squandered the morning hours, but even walking around for an afternoon was going to be good.  The train takes about 45 minutes, which is so much better than the cost and time associated with a daily commute from downtown.  Once arrived, we just stated ambulating in the direction of the shore.  I knew for sure that we needed to make it to the bean, but also wanted to take a stroll down the Magnificent Mile.  Millennium Park was our first landmark though. Expected photo to follow:

We moved north from there for a good while before hitting the Magnificent Mile, and later the base of the John Hancock building.  Our plan was to go up to the skybar for a drink to enjoy the sunset in class.  The ground floor is as far as we got though, since China decided to leave her ID at my place.  This curtailed our evening plans greatly, so we set our sights on the 20:30 train (rather than the following one at 23:30) but not wanting to truncate it too basdly swung into The Billy Goat Tavern.  My guests cared not about the whole legend of the Cubs and their goat curse, but were happy to enjoy soak in this local landmark.

10155348_242431065943630_716025003_nWe narrowly made the train back thanks to Hinako’s sloth-like pace, but ride it we did.  We called in an order for the Chicago deep dish I knew they had to have, so that we could stuff our faces and enjoy some NCAA basketball with Jason.  I think it’s clear just how happy this all made me.  That, to my left is an empty salsa jar…hint hint.
1947734_242430952610308_199811427_nAs we supped and reveled in the company of each other, excitement began to bubble up and soon the inevitability of another great night out was coming on like a freight train.  We were able to get an earlier start than the night before, and swung by a German bar first.  We were all enjoying conversation in a booth, but those seats were soon unable to contain our energy.  We gushed out and started the limb flailing synonymous with uncoordinated white men dancing.  This was a sign that we needed to get back to Durty Nellie’s, where they always have live music. We went there the night before and it was just alright (“The band’s name was ‘Stache’, and none of them had a mustache!”), but this was a clean slate.  The five of us were all meshing well, so we just danced in our little bubble, laughing and having a great time.  We walked home in the wee hours, myself certain that the riot of that Palatine outing would be placed on a pedestal and not likely ever eclipsed.  I should point out that the Badgers made it to the Final Four that night, hence Jason’s hat, and also opine that Sally was the only one who looked good here.

We got up the next morning and went over to Grammy D’s to enjoy a glorious American diner breakfast.  Both girls had no idea how to order their eggs, which is fair, since something like ‘over medium’ would only ever be said in that situation.  I’m so glad I didn’t have to learn English as a second language…  After regrouping at home, Hinako packed up and we set off for the lake.  I felt like missing Lake Michigan would mark my failure as a host, and though we only have had a brief while to spend there, it was good.  I assured them that the Michigan side is significantly better. JBImageWe dropped Hinako at the airport, and then rushed home after that.  Sally was feeling the ebb and flow of the road, and really wanted to sleep off the nausea.  That hiccup aside, grand times were had by all throughout the weekend.  I’ve always enjoyed playing the role of host (the gift runs in the family) and look forward to some shindigs coming up on the horizon.



Bachelor Cooking: Mass Chicken Marinade

So back under my own roof, I’m again tasked with not only bringing home the bacon, but cooking it too.  I set the culinary bar pretty low while in Japan, and frankly did a poor job of developing my kitchen repertoire.  Now living somewhere that’s actually got an oven and – thank the heavens – dishwasher, I can put a little bit more effort into it.

I think we can all agree that the worst part of cooking is the preparation necessary to get something edible on the table.  It was suggested to me that I mass produce a bunch of meals and then just store them in the freezer for later consumption.  What wisdom!  I went to the store to get meat and marinade, but found myself unable to commit to a flavor.  The simple solution was of course to buy them all.IMG_20140320_190714For the next hour, I was mauling an unsavory amount of chicken and tossing the cubes into the bags.  To fill out the meal a bit, I diced some green peppers, red onion, orange carrots, white cauliflower plus yellow lemons and green jalapeno where appropriate.  Please do admire the plentiful bounty rewarding my hard work.

IMG_20140321_205425The convenience of having a respectable meal that I can have ready after a defrost and sizzle session is glorious, but the cost savings are hard to overlook as well.  I can eat like a king for only $2.50. I think that my favorite flavor thus far has been the Sesame Ginger, though I have high hopes for the てりやき.   Served complete with rice and chopsticks.

Business Tripping: Nashville & Podunk Pennsylvania

One expectation that this new job of mine has is that I travel occasionally.  Both my outings thus far have been training exercises rather than the absolute norm of my employment, but it looks like there are some other opportunities off on the horizon.  While looking for employment, one of my hopes was that I find a global company where I could put some of my travel savvy to use.  And indeed, I’m certain that I have come across such a place.

I’m a member of the sales support team, so my first trip was to Nashville for the International Erosion Control Association Conference where I was to get exposure to our products and also get to know some of the others I’d be working with.  I was pretty excited about this outing, and felt very much like a ‘big boy’.  Not only that, but the only amount of time I’d ever spent there was in the car while passing through.  I flew off and arrived in the early afternoon, and taxied over to the mammoth Gaylord Opryland Hotel.   Yeehhhhaaaawwwwwww Nashville!


I had heard the place was large, but I was blown away at the sprawling complex.  This thing had numerous blocs of rooms situated around conservatories, and then there were the conference halls, which numbered many.  During those few days, they hosted a gymnastics meet, wedding reception, the IECA conference, some medical device show simultaneously, and all sorts of meetings.  Here was just one of the three enclosed areas.  I believe that this is the with a river, and riverboat ride…

IMG_20140226_143511My time at the booth started with a whole lot of shadowing the other sales guys to learn how they respond to different lines of questioning.  There were two full days of this, and definitely by the end I felt pretty confident initiating and carrying conversations with our patrons.  There was also a lot of opportunity for me to interview the sales team about how one in my [newly conceived] position could be of greatest value.


A perk of one’s company being at the forefront of the Erosion Control industry means that we have some more resources to budget into marketing.  We were the Summit Sponsor of the whole thing, but also put our names on a couple other events as well.  The most entertaining of these was an open bar event for our industry friends and customers.  This was an enormous success that surpassed the expectations of everyone.  The food and spirits were all themed to match one of our new products.

Things would have been a bit on the tame side if our night were to end there, so once our guests had moved on we all formulated our next moves.  Everyone from the top on down to the young blood like me met in the lobby and cabbed off downtown.  The 20ish of us arrived to a local brewery for a few drinks and some pocket billiards.  We then started a migration to a piano bar, somewhere else, and then finally to some honky tonk.  People peeled off after each stop, but there were about 6 of us enjoying the live music in this last, crowded little locale.  I didn’t get to do a whole lot of tourism, but this was just what I was hoping for.


My other outing took me to rural Pennsylvania.  I’ve ridden through here ages ago on a family trip, but I never got to spots so our there as these.  I was going to meet one of our Market Development Managers to learn firsthand what he does.  I flew into Harrisburg and was picked up and driven along the frozen Susquehanna River over to Williamsport.  The one  and only thing that I learned about this town is that it hosts the Little League World Series every year.  I struggle to understand why somewhere so big is held so far out of the way.  The field was just on the other side of this building

IMG_20140305_095438~2After a long day of driving through the snowy countryside, we checked into our hotel and decided to explore the sustenance offerings of the rural town.  They did have a microbrew where the two of us got some great burgers and spent a couple hours chatting over a few of their offerings.  I certainly had a good time there, but he also imparted some great advice.


When it was all over, I was dropped back at the airport and sent off on my way.  I do feel like I was able to take a lot away from both of these events and will absolutely be looking forward to anything else coming up.  I’m glad to have had the opportunity to see how the two very different worlds of corporate and outside sales both work.  Although once at the airport, I was mostly just impressed that these things still fly.

An Artsy Abeish Afternoon

Waking the morning after that malarkey filled day o’ green shenanigans, I was feeling far fresher than I’d bet most other celebrants were.  I ended that previous night at a fraternity brother’s apartment with host Abe, and mutual friend Andrew.  Abe, being Abe, got right up and set to cooking the finest breakfast I’d had in many a moon.  He’s a bit of a culinary buff, and thanks to familial ties to Boar’s Head had a ridiculous quantity of fine meats and cheeses to bestow upon us.

IMG_20140316_103429After we brunched (a great example of a portmanteau I might add), we rode back into the city before going our separate ways.  Andrew needed to get back to his West Michigan life, and I was about to take Abe up on an offer to visit The Art Institute of Chicago.  Admission here would usually cost more than a score of dollars, but thanks to his member card I could just waltz on in behind him.


I really knew nothing about the contents of this building, but that’s not to say I wouldn’t have an appreciation for it.  I did enjoy going around a few of the museums in Europe and saw quite a number of famous pieces.  I’m not an art critic, and therefore have no real way of breaking down what makes a piece good.  Admittedly I rely heavily on the opinions of history when formulating my assessment.  Still, even though we were breezing though this place, there was a lot to see.

We started by going into a Chinese and Japanese art exhibit.  I’d seen a lot of that sort of thing in my day, but I wanted to view it equipped with all the wisdom that I had gleaned while living there.  Of course I’m joking.  The only connection I had to any of it was an awareness of the cities or regions where they were made.  There was a folding panel that did stand out to me; it’s a Japanese maple in fall, with strips of poetry hanging down.

After that we strolled through a collection of impressionist works that were, suitably, impressive.  There was a room of Renoirs, many Monets, and even that spotty Seurat.  I remember seeing this in a middle school math textbook, and am more than pleased to have applied something of that course to real life…

We moved the slowest in this gallery because there was so much to take in.  I’ve seen way too many takes on Monet’s lily pads in my life, but seeing some of his earlier work helped me understand the style.  I liked the look of what I saw in the lower right corner, by Paul Gauguin.

We continued our stroll past lots of other colorful rectangles, and eventually found ourselves in the modern wing.  Abe made the comment that he didn’t like looking at this newer art.  Of course one can have their preferences, but when I painted the scene as someone who only listened to classic rock with no respect paid to the marvelous modern music made at present, he conceded it as a fair point.  The highlight from this entire wing though was ‘American Gothic’, which is another one of those heavily parodied and widely recognized pieces.

american gothic

We concluded our outing with a stop at the miniature and paper weight collections, which brimmed with novelty.  I wouldn’t really call them daymakers.  We were set to move on by this point though, and navigated towards the entrance and parted our separate ways.  This was certainly more of a day than I could have expected, and spending a bit of time with Abe in his element was great too.

St. Patrick’s Day In Chicago

This day of green has origins that few really understand – I among them –  but all can get behind it for one reason or another.  It is indeed a holiday with a very broad appeal.  Something that I was not so aware of was the extent to which they celebrate it in Chicago, but having heard rumors of raucous fervor I was excited to check it out.  I joined my new roomie and a couple of his friends for a morning walk to the train station.  It was not even noon, yet the way the platform was filling out with loud, young people was indeed an omen.  We rolled an hour or so as the train grew rowdier at each stop, eventually culminating in insanity at Union Station.  “How many USA USA USA cheers do you think we’ll hear today?”  “Not enough.” IMG_20140315_114501 We met with the rest of our crew and marched through the green clad crowds towards the hotel my companions had booked.  I was going to keep that as an option, but if somewhere nicer than the bathtub presented itself to me, I’d take it.  Once checked in, it was time to sip on our first green beers. green-beer6After those first cups of the seasonal brew, we walked outside a little bit more to enjoy the madness.  The streets were crawling with Chicago’s youth, all of them coming in from far and wide to partake in the festivities.  One of the annual traditions is to dye the river green, which they do an incredible job of.  Apparently, only 40 pounds of pigment are necessary to stain it emerald for days on end.  It was an odd sight indeed. chicago_green_river-5We hopped from one establishment to the next, starting in the downtown area, which was not so cheap.  A lot of people let their finances run amok for the day, but I had a budget I was looking to come in under.  In order to help that plan succeed, I subsidized my food consumption with two bagel sandwiches that I toted in my jacket pocket.  My companions quickly went from scornful to jealous. Here is a poorly made compilation of some of the most smile inducing moments.  There were plenty of bagpipers piping, which some clearly enjoyed.  An entire bar was reduced to gaping awe when a leprechaun clad midget started dancing on the table.  It was hard to fathom the sheer spectacle of that moment.  There were also some marching bands making passes down the streets and through the taverns spreading cheer to all.  ‘Par for the course’ indeed! We decided to shift locale and ride the L on over to Wriglyville.  I’d never been to this neck of the woods yet, and it really is one of those famous areas of town.  I saw Wrigley Field for the first time, and the way that it appears dropped right into the city helped me understand why it’s such a landmark.  We made some rounds here, but this was the last of my evening with this group of friends.  A couple of fraternity brothers were hanging out a few stops away, and I was ready for a change of pace.  Before breaking off, the lot of us dropped into Lucky’s Sandwich Co. where I unnecessarily got The Big Kahuna.  I was blown away at the size of what came out, but I managed to plummet the monstrosity down my gullet. Back Camera St. Patrick’s Chicago style was everything I never expected it to be.  I did come in under budget, which is more than most can say I’m sure.  The whole experience was memorable, and not unlike what I seek while off on my travels.  I’ll surely be looking forward to next year. IMG_20140315_173738

A Career Launched

This company that I’ve started working for in northern Chicagoland is off the radar of most, but Profile Products actually sits atop of the erosion control and porous ceramic industries.  What excitement that might lack in title is more than made up for in application.  To tout a smattering of our flagship projects may prove an aide: all ski slopes at the Sochi Olympics, heavy involvement in the Trump International Golf Links in Scotland, and tons of ongoing work with the Panama Canal.  As for the calcine clay particles, they are used in professional athletic pitches across the world: MLB infields, NFL, MLS, and some of the finest golf courses that one can play.  Our product catalog continues, but these constitute the company’s bread and butter.

The ‘situation room’ (said no one, ever.)  I’m still personalizing it.


As for the role, I’m a part of the newly formed inside sales crew, although my technical title is  ‘Sales and Marketing Development Associate’.  Once everything is in full swing, I’ll be doing some combination of account management, sales support, and lead generation.  Its a lean operation, so no employee is limited to wearing a single hat.  They’ve already made a real investment in me, and that’s making it exciting to be on board.  They are definitely a growing company filled with great people, and are involved in over 100 countries.  I’ll just have to see where it all takes me.

The Palentine Apartment

On the day of the big move, I hopped into my newish car and let my parents lead the way.  They had the U Haul hitched to their back, giving them pace car privileges.  It took a little while longer than usual, but what I sacrificed in time was earned back in fuel economy.  I must have been at a perfect equilibrium.


For that first night, we stayed with some distant family that live in the northern suburbs, not so far from where I live.  My mom’s cousin Cathy and her husband Scott were our hosts.  The evening’s events were simply eating pizza, watching the Olympics, and catching up.  I’ve had little interaction with this branch of the family, but I’m sure that there will be some opportunities going forward to share meals and evenings.

The next morning, the move in process began.  I didn’t really have that much stuff so it didn’t take too long.  The second half of the day involved lunch, and then driving around for entirely too long to find the right desk.  Skipping ahead a bit, this place has now been for three weeks my home.  I took a pass though it to film a short tour.

My parents dropped me downtown on their way home so that I could meet a number of friends out for the evening.  It was good seeing these people, but also threw me right into the mix of the Chicago nightlife.  The only thing that I had to manage was making the last Metra train home, which I did.  As if a reward for my efforts, there were some acapella songs that accompanied much of the ride.

Life as a Chicagoan has been good thus far.  Come, visit anytime.

Goodbye, Mitten (Again)

After landing the job in Chicago, I had only three weeks to plant myself over there.  I hadn’t really yet taken root in West Michigan following Japan, but time was stretched thin by  training before the departure date, and also the burden of getting all my ducks in a row.  I had to find my own set of wheels, buy some big boy clothes, and of course locate some place to live.  Once all those things were sorted, I had to get it over there.

The car was the first step towards completing my transition into adulthood.  With my limited amount of time, and honestly, a lack of interest in doing any in-depth research, I assigned the grunt work to my cousin.  He works at a dealership and came across something reliable within my price range, a Camry Hybrid.  The fuel economy, sterling maintenance record, and high end speaker system were all icing on the cake.  I was pleased indeed.


Prior to packing my room into boxes and loading them into the U Haul, I wanted to enjoy it looking spotless one last time.  Now, I realize that I’m a grown, 26 year old man and that the idea of moving out should illicit nothing but raucous celebration.  And of course I was excited about my new life in the big city, but this really felt like the end of an era.  I always took pride in my little chunk of basement real estate and the idea of boxing it up, knowing it would never again be quite the same when I returned home next was confirmed that realization.  There was never a sense of permanence when I went to Japan, and it sat awaiting my return (albeit as a time capsule of sorts, as pictures of girlfriends two or three back still adorned the walls).

I made sure to capture the memory.  This was my bed/futon combo.  I was always unwilling to climb up on top of that thing, so I sacrificed comfort for convenience and slept below.


This was the other side and shows my prized Steelcase desk and Pioneer speakers –  both from grandpas – and some of my music collection.  I do still buy my CDs, but I may never again have such an ideal place to display them.  One can likely surmise the almost inexplicable passion I once possessed for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, based on my decor.


When the offspring finally leave the burrow, I think its fair to consider it a big deal.  I’m surprised that Facebook doesn’t consider it a ‘life event’.

My New Chapter: A Job In Chicago!

After the holidays, my one and only goal was to get employed.  Locking down an income, and bridging the employment gap had to happen following my time on JET.  I knew that it would take the correct way of selling my education and experiences.  Hope College is fantastic at a lot of things, but qualifying me to fill a ‘Supply Chain Analyst’ or some other such specified role isn’t one of them.  I was able to supplement that paper degree with some internships and a number of unique experiences internationally, which I knew would have to be emphasized at an interview.  It talked with a lot of people before learning how best to sell all that to a potential employer.

As I learned to make my not so standard resume relevant, I was also researching a number of local companies.  Members of my family kept their ears to the ground, while I sought out opportunities to chat with people smarter than myself.  In the end though, it was through a connection I developed and nurtured though one of my internships that I was able to land an excellent opportunity at Profile Products.  I realize that most people are scratching their heads at that name, but I’ll talk a bit about what awesome stuff they do later.  Living away form home means that I’ll be missing out on Tuesday night dominoes.


One of the things I was most excited about was that the position required me to move over to Chicago.  At first I thought it would be nice being home to spend time with my long lost family and friends.  What I quickly came to realize though was that the vast majority of my friends had moved away, and that checking the ‘family box’ didn’t take too much time.  By all means, being home for that 2.5 months was great, thanks largely to all the powers and privileges that came with it, but leeching off my parent’s social life was an unsustainable existence.  Besides the gratis room, board and laundry that I would be missing out on, I’ll be sad to say goodbye to the Wednesday lunches at Big Apple.

IMG_20140212_122700-SMILEIt isn’t really possible to go somewhere new without saying goodbye to a few things too.  That was very true in the case of Japan, though the growth payoff should more than justify it.  I don’t expect that Chicago will be as interesting day-to-day as is life outside the American bubble, but I’m already excited to discover all that it has to offer.  My proximity to the airport, and opportunity to take weekend trips to some of the surrounding states give me much to look forward to.

A Glorious Michigan Winter

My winters spent in Japan were largely devoid of snow.  The air would get cold, but my area lacked precipitation.  I was able to venture north to Winter Olympic host cities Nagano and Hokkaido to see something proper, but for the most part these months gave the sense of an extended autumn.  Coming home to Michigan, one of those things I was most looking forward to was a White Christmas, and a real winter.  And what a winter we got…


Snowy weather slammed us, dumping twice the seasonal average.  Thanks to some Polar Vortex and the ridiculously low temperatures that it brought, all this accumulation never melted away either.  So far this has been more of a winter most have ever had to contend with.  The snow piles made shoveling and driving a real chore, and tracking the near record levels of Great Lakes ice cover has been fun.  I know that it has all been ‘getting my mother down’, but I’m still enjoying it.  That excitement has waned at times, like when my services were demanded to clear the driveway, or to dig out my grandpa’s car, but such comes with the territory.  The snow piles shown here have since grown much larger.

IMG_20140125_105700I’m always excited to pursue some sort of record – most snow, coldest cold, percentage ice cover, etc. – but one of the other aspects of a ‘good winter’ are of course the landscapes that come from it.  If a pristine white, snow compliments any scene.  There is probably another good month of this weather ahead, which is fine, but I’m sure that I’ll have a certain appreciate for spring once it finally rolls around.