The old joke about Chicago is that there are two seasons: winter and construction.   Well, it turns out that Chicago also only has two fashion options based on the weather: polar fleece or tank top.

We are tricked each April into thinking Spring has sprung.  The sun peeks out for one or two blessed days, and, like trolls emerging from underneath bridges, people appear in shorts and t-shirts walking on the streets and trails, riding through town and happily sipping coffee at outdoor cafes.  Life is beautiful once again.  Flowers are tricked into peaking up through the mud and most of us are duped into putting away our winter coats.

Then, as if straight from the North Pole, we are inevitably hit with another blast of winter.  The hopeful green grass shivers in the icy air trying not to hold onto the flakes that fall from the gloomy gray sky.  Outdoor furniture that was just cleaned off becomes frosted over with slushy snow and sits sadly on our porches and patios looking up at us like sad puppies being left at home as the family drives away.  Out comes the fleece… and the gloves… and the inevitable discussions, “I cannot believe it is snowing in April!”

Why does this surprise us every spring?  You know how people comment that Christmas decorations seem to come out earlier every year?  It turns out we all just have very short term memories.  Spring in Chicago is cold and wet and yes, sometimes snowy, year after year.  Christmas decorations go out in November year after year.  So don’t act surprised when we barely have a Spring this year.  And don’t be awed at holiday lights before Thanksgiving.  Both are inevitable.

So, the next time you have guests coming in from out of town in April or May, and they ask what the weather will be when they arrive, you now have the answer.  Polar fleece with a chance of tank top.

By: Betsy Brint

A True Highland Parker

Few things make me feel more at home than hearing my spin instructor, as she began class on Saturday, announce that she had “… three briskets in the oven and was in the midst of setting her table for Passover.”  Incidentally, she’s hosting 39 people.

It made me think:  what makes me feel like a true Highland Parker? The concept wasn’t new to me.  It first occurred to me about ten days ago, when a group of us were having lunch at the CK – that’s Country Kitchen for the two of you who don’t know—and the conversation turned to holiday preparations. Brisket, of course, garnered another mention, as did gefilte fish, matzah cookies, and the lament of the noodleless kugel.  We began to debate the merits of cooking with schmaltz, and laughed about how dated that seemed and yet how reassuring it was that our beloved Sunset Foods carries the delicacy (if rendered chicken fat can indeed be considered a delicacy).

My husband offered to do the weekly grocery shopping, then called me in a panic from the aisles.  “You owe me big time,” he said, adding, “Why didn’t you warn me?”  I hung up and  smiled.  Silly import of a husband.   You’d think that after 21 years of marriage, 18 of which have been lived within the confines of 60035, he’d know enough to steer clear of all grocery stores in the days leading up to a holiday. Just seeing the police officers, in full uniform, patrolling the parking lots should have been a tip off.

I felt like a true Highland Parker on Sunday as I geared up for a nice spring ride.  At 6:30 a.m., the thermostat read 36 degrees, but assured me that, factoring in the wind, it’d feel a little more like 28.  Sturdy and stubborn, I put on layers and layers of unattractive bike clothing and headed out.  After all, the sun was shining and it was mid-April.  I grew up here.  I’m used to it.

And then, Monday, the coup-de-grace:  three inches of wet, white snow on April 18th.  There was only one response I could think of:  I was going swimming.  Outside. The health club had deemed mid-April as the kick-off for outdoor spring swimming, so by 7 a.m. I was in the pool, alternately swimming laps and floating on my back, trying to catch snowflakes on my tongue.

None of this made me feel as much a Highland Parker as what I’m about to confess.  After my swim, I headed to the library.  I love the library.  I live two blocks from the library.  But it was snowing.  And wet.  And cold.  And I had my laptop.  So I drove there.  On my first pass through the lot, there were no spaces.  Here’s where my head hangs in shame.  I circled in and out of the lot three times, never once getting lucky enough to grab a spot to park.

I’d been swimming outside in the snow.  I’d biked in the howling wind. I know how to navigate the grocery store before a major holiday.  But when it came down to walking or driving the two blocks from my house to the library, I opted to drive.  You tell me:  is that the sign of a true Highland Parker?

By Betsy Brint

I’m 46 today but I still love my birthday.  Actually, I love anyone’s and everyone’s birthdays.  If you are a birthday enthusiast like I am, then you will agree that birthdays are the single best reason to be on Facebook.

Each morning I check the upper right corner of my Facebook homepage to see which of my friends is celebrating a birthday that day.  I like to be among the first of the many well-wishers, and my “Happy Birthday” post usually includes something like, “Eat lots and lots and lots of cake. Have a fabulous birthday!”

Here’s the big question… is it proper etiquette to respond to each and every FB post wishing you a happy birthday?  Or, should you wait until the end of the day and post a general, “Thank you everyone for your birthday greetings – I had a great day, and yes, I ate lots of cake!”

So this morning I tried a quick experiment.  I posted a teaser comment, “Is it good luck if it snows on your birthday… in April?!?!?!?!”  This ensured that even if my friends missed the birthday reminder on their own homepages, they were sure to catch the comment I posted and thus be encouraged to send me a birthday message.  Then, I tried responding to each message.  This got messy.  Friends then felt the urge to respond to my response – and others began to join in.  I spent the better part of my birthday morning trying to keep up with Facebook.

On the one hand, I like my friends.  And I like keeping in touch with them on Facebook.  It feels good to know that even for a few seconds I’m connecting with people from the past 46 years of my life.  On the other hand, it’s kind of a bummer to spend a birthday glued to the keyboard and screen.

I’m not sure what Emily Post, or Miss Manners, or even my mother would dictate in terms of Facebook birthday etiquette.  But I’m making my own ruling:  one morning post is enough.  You know why?  Because I’ve got to get down to the business of being the birthday girl.  And that means eating cake.

Pass the fork, please.  I’ll get back to you tomorrow.

Oh Mrs. O

Maybe it’s because I hail from a climate with no spring.  Maybe it’s because I grew up with a holiday celebrating gefilte fish rather than jelly-beans.  Either way, year after year I find myself shrinking in dismay as retailers put forth their collections of clothing in a palette of pastels no thinking woman should ever wear.

So it was with a failing heart that I checked into my favorite website,, to see what my hero is sporting these days, only to discover she’s succumbed to the allure of fruit flavored clothing. “Mrs. O wears a melon, doubleface stretch wool crepe sheathdress and one button blazer, both by Michael Kors.” Heavy sigh of despair follows.  Alas.

No one above the age of consent should wear anything described as melon to work.  In fact, I’d go so far as to rule out most of the colors found in the produce department:  cherry, banana, kiwi, carrot:  these make delicious lunches and disastrous blouses.

It shouldn’t stop there.  The palette cleansing needs to extend to the ice cream parlour.  Adult women need to put their collective well-heeled feet down and say no to wearing anything suggesting sherbet. Mango and raspberry have no place in our closets.

Don’t misunderstand me.  I do understand there’s more to wear than just black and white and gray.  There’s blue.  And dark green.  And I can see the occasional merit to, say, um, two shades of blue. But just because the calendar says spring is around the corner doesn’t mean I have to dress like I’m on a seasonal menu.

Does this make me a clothing curmudgeon?  Lots of women think nothing perks up a pair of black pants better than a jaunty jacket bursting with color.  My mother, bless her southern-born soul, has a soft spot for citrus. Walking into her closet filled with orange and lime green (in cotton, wool, cashmere, and linen) might just supply you with a year’s worth of vitamin C.  No fashion scurvy for her.

My closet, on the other hand, is wilted and funeral ready. I’m not necessarily proud of this, but I can say, with complete candor, that I think more clearly and take myself more seriously when I’m wearing clothes that show no hint of mint, sprigs or gardens.

The feminist in me cries out, “People should wear whatever they want.”  Who am I to condemn those who want to wear festive fruit flavors? After all, it seems ill conceived to take our fashion cues exclusively from the Supreme Court wardrobe, right?

Would I feel differently if our landscape were ablaze in color rather than its current state of mid-spring mud? Maybe. But I don’t see Michael Kors, proud designer of our First Lady’s melon sheath, showing up on “Project Runway” in anything other than black, black, and black.  Maybe I should call him Justice Kors?

Still, there’s no justice in dressing to match your melon. I’m just saying.

-Sally Higginson

co-host, “Walking on Air with Betsy and Sal”


Really, fish sitting is stressful.  I am the temporary guardian of two lively goldfish and one nearly dead beta fish for family friends while they are away on vacation.

Yesterday, the dad dropped them off with clear instructions, “A pinch of food for the goldfish and four pebbles of food for the beta fish each morning and they should make it through the week.”  That was it.

“Wait,” I cried, as he was halfway out the door.  “Doesn’t this purpley one look a bit, um, unwell?”

“No, it’s fine.  Look.”  And with that he tapped the side of the bowl and the limp fish looked up, shook its left fin, and then sank back down to the festive faux stone bottom.

This was supposed to make me feel better?  The two healthy goldfish were practically performing a full synchronized swim routine while “purple thing” was too weak get up from under a single pebble.  If this fish doesn’t make it through spring break, will I ever be able to look at my friends’ kids again?  Will they forever remember me as Betsy the Fish Killer?

The door closed and it was just the three fish and me.  I put the bowls on a counter in the breakfast room.  Suddenly I panicked.  Was the under-cabinet lighting going to make the fish water too hot?  Everything on that particular counter always gets a little toasty from the high intensity lights.  Where should I move them?  If they go in the laundry room there is too much activity and they might accidentally get knocked over.  What about the center island in the kitchen?  Too tempting for the kids to overfeed them.  The dining room?  Too easily forgotten.  OK, they will stay where I first put them and I will leave a big note informing everyone not to turn on the under-cabinet lights.
This morning, I crept downstairs and peeked at the fish.  Lots of movement from Mr. and Mrs. Happy Goldfish.  Nothing from Nearly Dead Beta Fish.  Deep sigh.  Just as my friend had done, I tapped the side of Beta’s bowl, and sure enough, that left fin limpidly waved good morning.  Phew.
It was officially feeding time.  I threw in a pinch of flakey food for the goldfish and four tiny pebbles for the beta fish and they all perked up and chowed down.  Was that really enough food?  They seem to really like it, should I give them more?  How do I know my pinch was the right size?  And four tiny pellets, really, that is all?  Suddenly I felt sorry for these captive creatures.  What kind of existence is it to float in a tiny bowl  with nothing to look forward to but some dried up flakes once a day?
Feeling sad about the poor life of a domesticated fish, I ate my breakfast staring at the bowls. Each bite made me think of how these helpless creatures eat the same freeze-dried food day after day.  Maybe if the fish die it would be a blessing.  Then I mentally checked off day one of fish-sitting, turned my chair to face the window and went back to eating my breakfast.  Maybe today was the wrong day for lox on the bagel.

Betsy Brint

For the lucky many, March Madness means hours and hours of blissful sitting in the comfort of upholstered furniture or, at least, bar stools, watching endless basketball on the blessed screen.  For those of us living north of the Mason Dixon line, with kids who play “spring sports,” it means something else entirely.  Here in the northern suburbs of Chicago, where climate change means today’s March temperature is almost twenty degrees below average, March Madness means sitting on freezing cold bleachers to watch a high school girls varsity soccer game get underway… as soon as they clear the snow off the field.

Let me be clear:  as a soccer mom, I’ve joined the ranks of thousands of others who have stood on the side lines, watching their kids play sports, during weather that would ground airplanes.  Really.  At O’Hare, de-icing the wings is a common departure delay.  At Wolter’s Field, which is the name of the Highland Park High School soccer field, ice delays nothing.  Snow is a temporary set back.  Rain is the norm.  And lightning has to strike twice, or at least once in a very obvious way, before games are called.

It’s incredible to me that in the one short year since my older daughter graduated I have grown nostalgic for her water polo games.  That’s right.  I just put into print that I miss going to water polo games.  Ever been to one?  No one can follow the game.  Even the players tend to be a little hazy on the rules of the game.  But here’s the brilliance of the sport:  for girls, it’s a spring sport.  That means a natatorium, rank with chlorine, but beautifully warm and even down right muggy with humidity.  Given the choice between watching girls in strange headgear splash and thrash in a pool for 28 minutes or watching girls on a frozen field run and kick for 80 minutes, I’ll take the warmth of the indoors every time.

The next time you hear the phrase March Madness and someone mentions college basketball, scoff.  There’s nothing mad about watching the game on t.v. during this miserable month, so miscast as a member of Team Spring.   But there’s complete insanity when it comes to watching all the other sports played outside, weeks before the trees leaf and the bulbs emerge.

That’s all I’m saying.

This is where Betsy and Sally are going to post each day about the cool things they find, funny videos they watch, crazy news stories they read, or general rants they have about anything.

Today we sampled the delicious and easy Apple Brown Betty recipe from the “Classic Southern Desserts” from the editors of Southern Living.

Apple Brown Betty

Makes 6 servings • Prep: 15 min. • Cook: 55 min. • Other: 10 min.


• 8 white bread slices, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
• 1/3 cup butter, melted
• 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
• 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
• 4 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and cut into 1/4 -inch thick slices
• 1 cup apple cider


1. Preheat oven to 350°. Pulse bread cubes in a good processor 8 to 10 times or until mixture resembles fine crumbs.

2. Stir together breadcrumbs and butter in small bowl.

3. Stir together brown sugar and cinnamon. Place half of apple slices in a lightly greased 8-inch square baking dish; sprinkle apples evenly with half of brown sugar mixture and half of bread crumb mixture. Repeat procedure with remaining apples, brown sugar mixture, and breadcrumb mixture. Pour apple cider evenly over the top.

4. Bake at 350° for 55 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

“Classic Southern Desserts”-Time Inc. Home Entertainment

Look at the finished product!

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