The Windy City
Last Friday, that alias belonged to Dallas, not Chicago. High winds caused my flight a two-hour delay, delivering me to O'Hare ten minutes before Saturday. I eventually arrived at the Ramada, waking up my pal San, by 12:40 a.m. A short sleep later, and we were up and moving for our big day in the real Windy City (Sandi tells me it's named thus for its gossip, not weather, but I think it could go either way--we were buffetted around all day by some brisk gusts).

San had an all-day board meeting, but I had a date with an old friend from my younger days in Baton Rouge. Sonya (nee Ragusa) Raymond met me at the door with a big hug and a ride to a local bistro for coffee. I mean, breakfast. No, really, it was the coffee I was most desperate for, but the waffle was good, too. We caught up on family news, showed pictures, and just talked for hours. After coffee, she drove me to "the city"--downtown Chicago--and proceeded to play tour guide. The only time we got out of the car was at Moody Bible Institute, where we briefly crashed a Kay Arthur convention.
The Magnificent Mile, Sears Tower, Hancock Building (see at right) Navy Pier, a triple-decker McDonalds, Soldier Field, the Chicago River...Sonya gave a running commentary these and many more sights unique to the Chicago area. She's been there only four years, but it was easy to see how much she loves the city and all its opportunities for play and adventure. No surprise there, if you know Sonya.

By noon, we were hungry. She called her husband and asked him to order a pizza, which we picked up on our way back to their "Near West" suburb of Berwyn. Giordano's pizza pie...I thought I was Italian, but this pizza put me to shame. One slice, or wedge, was more than I could handle. Wow!

Sonya and Matt live in a Sears bungalow, so called because back in the 1930s these homes--plans, bricks, wood, etc--were literally bought at Sears. While the homes have a similar pattern to them, they are more cozy, old-fashioned (obviously), and inviting than the cookie-cutter homes we find in North Dallas. Theirs is a "baby bungalow" because it is smaller than the typical large-family sized ones. The attic was converted into a bedroom to make it a 1 1/2 story house (with a furnished basement as well). Sonya and Matt have been remodeling and redecorating since they bought it a year or two ago, and it looks wonderful.

After lunch, I napped while they ran an errand. By 3, Sonya had brewed up some Community coffee, a Louisiana memory we couldn't resist. By 4 we were headed back to the city to spend some time at the Navy Pier. Then San called to say her meeting was over, so we swung by to get her. The rest of the evening was divine. Check out San's blog for her account of that night--she has a way with words.

In terms of time, transportation, and food, Sonya's generosity humbled me. She insisted on getting the check for breakfast, lunch, and the parking garage (no measly $5 there...we're talking $22 for what turned out to be just over an hour). She changed her plans for the day when I first told her I would be coming to visit. She drove for miles without complaint--yes, even cheerfully. She also apparently married a guy with a similar outlook on life, because Matt wouldn't let us even see the charge account for dinner.

Dinner! Oh yes, the highlight of the day. After a short and sweet visit to the Navy Pier at sunset (beautiful!), we endured the logjam in the parking garage (complete with attendants directing traffic), sped out of the city on Lower Wacker (love that name), and back to Berwyn to pick up Matt. They then took us to Little Italy. You don't have to be a Ragusa or Maranto by birth to appreciate La Vita, a charming yet elegant restaurant that combines Italian tradition with sophisticated contemporary dining and decor.

We started with Capesante Alla Griglia (grilled sea scallops served over asparagus, topped with gorgonzola cheese & crispy onion), followed by Insalata Gorgonzola (mixed greens tossed in raspberry vinaigrette with more gorgonzola, apple slices & toasted almonds), after which I still had room for a small helping of my main course, Rigatoni con Salsiccia (rigatoni noodles with with crumbled Italian sausage, mushrooms, & parmesan cheese). Matt shared a bottle of chardonnay from the Napa Valley, as we asked them to tell their love story. I always enjoy hearing a couple tell the same story from two points of view. I was tickled to realize that Sonya has met her match in Matt. He "handles" her very well. We finished the evening by splitting a chocolate-raspberry dessert.

The day couldn't have been more pleasant, more satisfying, to me. The best part? Having Sonya and Sandi meet. Sonya, for most of my late teens and early 20s, had been a spiritual mentor and friend. She shared in many of my Pine Cove experiences, my college days at The Chapel where we had/have several mutual friends and memories, as well as home Bible studies with her family and others. She encouraged me to tackle leadership positions and to persevere in my biblical faith. She provided a wonderful example of friendship and loyalty. I moved away to Dallas, she eventually moved to Chicago, but we've always kept in touch.

So I was delighted for her to meet Sandi, who unknowingly followed in her steps as an influence in my life. Sandi, my writing and spiritual mentor, a bridesmaid in my wedding, godmother of my boys...a dear friend with whom I have great fun and meaningful fellowship. When another friend, who happens to know both Sonya and Sandi, saw our picture on the Navy Pier, she wrote this to me: "I get the warmest, fuzziest spot in my heart when I see people I love get connected with other people I love. It's like heaven is gonna be!"

I couldn't have said it better!