Thursday, October 31, 2013

All Hallow's Eve

October comes to a close with rain and sinus congestion. I've spent this past week battling a sore throat/cough/runny nose, and unfortunately I'm still dressing up as "Under the Weather" today. This is the cold that won't end, unlike this month and Daylight Savings Time, which are both just about finished. I don't particularly like October--my tan fades, seasonal allergies lurk everywhere, and it's just not summer anymore--but I do like scary movies, candy, seasonal foods like squash and pumpkin, and sweaters. This month's How to be Happy wasn't bad either:
  1. Contribute to your favorite cause. My favorite cause is food. My contribution is researching food vendors, trying to stay local, and avoiding processed food-like things. Also eating.
  2. Spend a prolonged period of time with someone while doing different things. Most weekends I can be found watching football/reading while Brit does homework/works out and Jesus plays video games/reads Internet articles.
  3. Have a conversation with a foreigner. I'm sure this happens more often than I know.
  4. Spend the night in a hotel where you live. I would love a stay-cation some day.
  5. Role-play characters with someone. Don't we all play characters every day?
  6. Start planning someone else's birthday. There are so many birthdays in October!
  7. Follow a common stock. When should I start investing in the stock market? Am I old enough yet? Can I buy stock in ice cream?
  8. Come up with a business idea. Edible pillows.
  9. Watch a sporting event on TV on mute. We like to keep the volume low on football games we don't care about, then immediately fall asleep for the next three hours. 
  10. Take a picture of the same tree for three weeks. I dropped the ball on this one. I have noticed that our neighbor's tree has grown considerably in the past two years, though. Its branches now curl up and rest on our porch. We get so many squirrels out there.
  11. Fast for a day. I did this on Monday. I didn't plan it, I just had no appetite and felt like I might puke up anything I ate. I ate broth for dinner and NyQuil for dessert.
  12. Think of the world as a global village. I have, though not recently.
  13. Memorize a poem. I have...though not recently. What I have done recently is start writing down poems I enjoy into one journal. I've found that writing poems out by hand helps me think about wording and line breaks in a new way.
  14. Play the trust game. I don't know what this is. Trust falls? I'm not a fan.
  15. Conduct a spirited piece of music in your living room. Most recently I conducted Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience, 2 of 2. As in the entire CD. Guilty pleasure.
  16. Don't wear your glasses/contacts. I can do this for about two minutes before I a) get a headache, or b) walk into something.
  17. Attend a talk on a topic of interest. I'm going to a storytelling thing next week!
  18. Put away everything you use today. This is essentially my job: put things away. Usually it's not things I've used, but picking up after teenagers.
  19. Go dancing. Check. Did this at a wedding a few weeks ago. Also check: laugh at other (old) people dancing.
  20. Walk through fallen leaves. The leaves only just started falling, and now they're wet clumpy piles in the gutter.
  21. Start an aquarium. Something like this perhaps?
  22. Eat leftovers. Every day.
  23. Babysit. Nearly every day.
  24. Write down significant life moments. Ideally every day.
  25. Practice hand-eye coordination. Does dreaming that I was a tennis player count? That happened last night.
  26. Give someone a back scratch/rub. You scratch mine, I'll scratch yours.
  27. Throw a food-tasting party. Do you mean DINNER, aka all events I've hosted?
  28. Take a different route to work. I've played around a bit with my bike route, but I think I found the most efficient way. Of course, I have different routes depending on my after-work activities (library, bank, grocery store, Target).
  29. Donate blood. The last time I tried, my iron was too low. :( I was also unemployed and in need of things to make me feel like a productive citizen.
  30. Visualize yourself being more creative. I do/am.
  31. Dress up as a character. Today I look kinda like this.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Scary Movie Round Up

I'm not a big Halloween person. I've come to appreciate it more as an adult, but as a kid, Halloween was one of the less special holidays we "celebrated." I could play dress up anytime I wanted, so costumes weren't a unique treat, and if I really wanted candy I'm sure we had some somewhere in the house. Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate putting on a costume and getting loads of candy from family and neighbors, I just much preferred other holidays to the one relegated to a few short hours at the end of October.

Now, as an adult, I've allowed myself to expand my Halloween festivities to most of the month (largely in part because Jesus refuses to watch anything but scary movies in October). I indulge in illogical fears, blood and gore, and hauntings just for these four weeks. Some of our movie choices are great--they leave us terrified, requiring us to turn on all the lights and watch something non-threatening before we move--other choices makes us laugh with their ridiculous plots, outdated special effects, or over-the-top acting.

Here are a few of my recently watched top choices for scares, in no particular order:

The Awakening (2011)

Florence Cathcart is a hoax exposer in 1920s England. She does not believe in ghosts, just in the every day trickery of con artists. Then Robert Mallory, a boarding school teacher, asks her to come to his school to investigate the recent death of a student, Walter Portman, said to have been frightened to death by the ghost of another child. She goes, intent on revealing the true nature of Walter's death and the true identity of the ghost. While some mysteries are solved easily, others take time to tease themselves out of the woodwork of the ancient school, formerly a private estate. By the end of the movie, Florence's beliefs--about the supernatural, about her own identity--are shaken to the core.

ParaNorman (2012)

Norman Babcock is just a regular kid...who sees and speaks with ghosts on a daily basis. His parents worry for him, his sister thinks he's a freak, and the other kids at school keep their distance, except Neil, the chubby kid who could use a friend as well. When a centuries-old curse threatens his town, Norman is the only one with the power to protect everyone, he just has to get them to believe in his power first. (As an animated film, this one is more cute than scary, but still a fun Halloween watch.)

The Conjuring (2013)

When the Perrons (Roger, Carolyn, and their five daughters) move in to an old farmhouse, they have mixed feelings about its weak plumbing, odd storage places, and creaks and moans. Then stranger stuff begins happening--one daughter takes up banging her head on a bureau while she sleep walks, another finds an imaginary friend who has quite the sordid history, and all of their clocks stop at 3:07 AM. They ask Ed and Lorraine Warren, paranormal investigators, to examine the house and its quirks. The Warrens find more ghosts than any one house should have, and while this is based on true events, all the curses, haunts, and evil spectres made it a difficult story to follow. Regardless, the movie was full of scares and "oh shit" moments.

Silent Hill (2006)

This movie filled my blood/gore quota for the month and then some. Based on a video game by the same name, and named after a mining town closed down because of fires still burning in the mines, Silent Hill is your classic Haunted Child/Impulsive Parent movie. When the sleepwalking Sharon won't stop screaming "Silent Hill!" in her unconscious state, her mother decides to take her there and get to the root of her condition. It's not long before Sharon gets lost in the abandoned town and her mother has to search for her--finding out that it's not totally abandoned. This movie has some pretty creepy creatures and plenty of gruesome deaths, but it's also a tale of what happens when things get way out of hand and innocence turns to bitterness.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Novel Cure

Not that it's a bad situation to find myself in, but I recently added several (double-sided) pages to my "To Read" list. I let myself wander around the library the other day instead of grabbing my pre-ordered books and getting out of there like I usually do. (The library is next to the grocery store. When I wander I generally have to go without groceries because I no longer have room to carry them.) What did I end up checking out? The mother of all "To Read" lists.

The Novel Cure, a collaborative effort by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin, seeks to match ailment with appropriate book. The authors define "ailment" loosely: they include the usual suspects--common cold, broken heart, anxiety, all manner of fears--but also some strange ones, like "Itchy Feet," "Dictator, Being a," and "Tea, Unable to Find a Cup of." They also include "Reading Ailments" with their own prescribed cures--"Amnesia, reading associated" being cured by keeping a reading journal, for example. Several Ten-Best Lists show up at random, for the ailments that a selection of novels works better for (audiobooks, books for plane/train/hospital journeys, novels for hammocks, novels for bathrooms, novels for laughing, novels for get the idea).

Altogether, 751 novels show up somewhere as cures to potential ails. I found that I was familiar with quite a few, and have read a good number as well. As for the unfamiliar titles, the intriguing ones found themselves on my ever-growing list--regardless of whether or not I suffer from the ailment they are prescribed to.

The book doesn't list an explicit cure for having too many books to read--that's one problem we should all be grateful to have.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

High Fidelity

I don't remember blogging about this book when I read it, so bear with me if I've already reviewed it. Today I watched the movie version of High Fidelity, starring John Cusack, Joan Cusack, and Jack Black (and a smattering of other more-or-less well known celebrities). It follows the book (by Nick Hornby) pretty closely, except one major difference (which I think leads to the other differences): setting.

Hornby's novel is set in London, England. His narrator, Rob Fleming, comes across as a okay bloke. A bit daft, a little underachieving, but likeable. In the movie version, Rob Gordon (I don't know why the name change) lives in Chicago. Here (or in movie world), he is kind of a jackass. He's self-centered and I totally got why his live-in girlfriend, Laura, leaves him (in both book and movie, pretty much right away).

For the rest of the book and movie, both Robs outline their Top Five Break Ups, in chronological order, leading up to the current Laura break up. Eventually the Robs get that they are the common denominators in all of their failed relationships, regardless of who dumped whom and why. Other ladies enter the scene, as do other men, but Rob(s) and Laura still have things to work through.

I liked the book because I like Nick Hornby's writing style. The story itself is okay. The movie works well because Rob, owner of a record shop, also lists many Top Five song lists, and these work their way into the soundtrack, which I thought did both book and movie justice.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Uncoupling

What would happen if all the women in your town decided to go on a sex strike? Gradually, then suddenly, lovers turn away, wives think up more and more excuses, and sexually active teenagers decide they want to be single in their youth. Would wars stop...or begin? The Uncoupling by Meg Wolitzer asks its reader to suspend disbelief and allow a certain amount of magical realism for it to tell its tale.

There's a new drama teacher in Stellar Plains, NJ, and she's staging a Greek comedy for the high school's winter play: Lysistrata, the story of a woman who convinces the rest of the women in Greece to go on a sex strike to end The Peloponnesian War. What no one realizes is that the play brings about a spell--a cold spell--that affects the women of this small suburb.

Now solid marriages seem shaky, passionate affairs end as quickly as they started, and everyone seems a little on edge. The book's climax comes on opening/closing night of the play, to be performed only once. It is here, the the high school's theater, where we see the spell's full effects and where some measure of resolution comes.

Altogether, this was a fun and quick read. It reminded me of The Leftovers, another quiet suburb meets magical realism type book. It's a unique take on the importance of relationships and the power of physicality, though things did work out a little too cleanly for me. I wanted a little more push, even if that meant less of a happy ending. My only other critique was the homogeneity of the entire thing, though I guess the author did set her tale in the suburbs of New Jersey for a reason.

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Anthologist

I hesitate to review/recommend this book, at least in October. The Anthologist, by Nicholson Baker, is a novel about poetry, and poetry month isn't until April. Still, I enjoyed it, having checked it out without knowing its subject matter.

The narrator of this quick read is a sometimes poet currently trying to write the introduction to an anthology of poetry he has collected. Unfortunately, he's distracted by his girlfriend leaving, his laundry, his finances, the birds outside, and pretty much everything else in his small world. He does take time to teach us things about poetry, and if he gathered together all of his ramblings, he'd have a fine introduction--he'd just have to leave out all the self-deprecating pieces.

Poetry lovers will appreciate the language, the history lessons, and the narrator's own appreciation of the art. Non-poetry lovers will appreciate the story of a man trying to keep his life on track while it seems everything flounders.

Friday, October 11, 2013

How To: Fix a Washing Machine

After getting the go-ahead from our landlord ("Sounds like you guys know more about the machine than most."), Brit and I took to our washer with screwdrivers, pliers, and a hammer tonight to figure out why it wouldn't drain (likely culprit: hair).

Before we got that far, though, we poured ourselves some drinks.

The repair video makes this job seem straightforward enough, but we didn't replace the drain pump. We unhooked all the same stuff, then completely took out the black rubber drain boot to clean it out. I'm getting ahead of myself--making it to the point of unhooking and cleaning out took several hours. First, there was the problem of moving the washing machine out of the laundry room while keeping the dryer (which sits on top of the washer) inside, where it needed to stay connected to the gas line and vent hose. That took several tricky maneuvers and a phone-a-friend to Becca for some extra help in lifting/balancing/shifting.

Then we got down to taking the thing apart. One stripped screw and another phone-a-friend to Jesus for heavy duty pliers later, and we were in. We muscled the clamps off and pulled out the drain. Now, just so everyone is aware, as we disconnected the hoses, residual water leaked out. Not clean, fresh water. Old, musty, dank water. Our work space started to smell like 100-yr old fart. And as we took out the rubber boot, we saw something floating inside. It looked like a rolled up piece of plastic, but upon further inspection (pulling it out with the pliers), we found out what was keeping our washing machine from draining:

One bra cup lining (perhaps from a swimsuit?), several bobby pins...and of course some hair/lint combo clumps. A little gross, but also validating--if the drain had been clean, I don't know what our next course of action would have been. As it was, we spent some time running bleach water through all the hoses we could reach, and thoroughly scrubbed/soaked the drain/drain trap.

Putting it all back together went a little quicker and for our first test run, we threw in all the nasty rags we had just used to mop up fart water. Forty-one minutes later (aka 2 minutes ago) and...success! I just took out a load of clean, fully spun rags from our "new" washer. Brit and I will now curtsy/pat ourselves on the back while you cheer and bravo.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Back to Three/Dirty Clothes

In the past week, the Naw has lost two of its squatters and one of its essential/well-used appliances.

Diego and Becca relocated to their respective apartments and reunited with (Diego)/met for the first time (Becca) their roommates at the beginning of the month. Diego lives closer to Logan Square proper now (closer to us than he was back in his Gold Coast days, but not quite as close as next door) and Becca moved to the alley. Just kidding, but for real she lives the next street over and it takes 30 seconds to get from my bedroom to hers.

Becca has two brand new roommates, who we are excited to befriend because A) they are not a part of the Mercy Bubble, and B) that's basically our only requirement for making possible friends right now. One of them is a friend of a friend of Brooke's and the other is a friend of Bailey's, small world! (Also Becca, if you are reading this, hope you don't mind I am using your life for fodder.)

Now it's kind of quiet here...but not too quiet. An appropriate amount of quiet for three people living in a three bedroom apartment who aren't coming and going at all hours of the day seven days a week like an apartment filled with people all on different schedules. (I wondered many times what our downstairs neighbors thought of the nearly never-ending parade of people going up and down our steps.)

As for the appliance currently out of commission, I'm talking about our washing machine. Probably the biggest selling point of our apartment (even above the porch, roof hatch, dark wood paneling and pillars, and yes, even the built-in hutch), our in-unit washing machine has seen younger days. This past month we put it through the wringer (haha!) with several extra people's dirty clothes, plus all the dirty linens a tenement-style household has, which is apparently too much for the poor thing.

The machine no longer drains, rinses, or spins, which we found out after several experimental loads. Doubting our landlord would spring for a new machine, Brit and I decided to de-clog the drain this weekend. FYI: this is not a simple task & merely removing all visible screws will not help you accomplish this task. We found the drain and the pump and pretty much saw all the inner workings of the machine, but didn't have the confidence to start unhooking hoses and pulling apart wires, so broken it sits until we try again later this week.

And try we will--we did more research Jesus worked some Google magic and found a repair video featuring our exact machine and what we hope is the exact problem, so now we are set, assuming we can find a time when we are both home and not busy. You'll know we've fixed it when my pile of dirty clothes is no longer the same height (or higher) than my pile of books to read.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Ethical Butcher

Followers of this blog/my life in general know that I've (in fits and starts) created a personal food culture/philosophy based on books, blogs, movies, personal experience, and how I grew up. I generally stick to only a few food guidelines: real food trumps all non foods (that means I use butter, not margarine) and always check ingredient lists (if I can't pronounce it, it's probably not food). Michael Pollan elaborates on these guidelines--as do many other farmers, chefs, and food activists, the most recent on my radar being Berlin Reed with his book (based on a former blog by the same name) The Ethical Butcher.

If I don't seek out and read books like these, I grow lazy in my quest to eat real food. I cheat with boxed/processed non foods or grab whatever is on the shelves at the grocery store regardless of labels. I feel bad, but not bad enough, until I remember why I started researching, learning, and changing my ways in the first place: if I am to be fully myself, a citizen of the world, I have to let my actions and my dollars show what I believe in/support/want for my life. I can't be frustrated at the rates of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes in America and then calmly eat my mac'n'cheese knowing full well that my teenage boy metabolism will take care of the extra fat and sodium for me personally, screw everyone else. Even knowing my one small change of grass fed over grain fed beef won't make a tangible difference, how can I say I support local/humane/truly-happy-cow farmers if my support is only in word and not in action?

I hesitated to write this post because I knew I would digress and get soapboxy instead of simply reviewing the book for what it is: one man's personal narrative of how he went from vegetarian to vegan to whole animal butcher to activist/community chef/blogger/writer/food educator/thoughtful omnivore and how he envisions a world where people eat ethically as the norm. In the first half of the book, we get Reed's story. He is honest, yet unapologetic. He doesn't regret his "vegan" tattoo--that's who he was at that point in his life, and it led to where he is now. After telling us who he is, the second half of the book focuses on the reader. Do we know where our food comes from? Are we asking enough questions, demanding food quality from our grocers and butchers? Again, he is honest--finding good, capital F, healthy Food can be overwhelming. What do the labels "natural," "organic," "green," and "sustainable" really mean? He knows that all people can't and won't make all the changes needed to ensure food responsibility the world over, but he encourages his reader to do what they can, based on their abilities, needs, and personal philosophies.

Needless to say, I felt convicted after reading and have been researching local grocers, markets, CSAs, and where the most responsibly-sourced food is located in Chicago. I'm lucky to live in a rather hippie-esque neighborhood, so grassroots, community-based organizations aren't difficult to find. I'm also lucky that I can afford to splurge on happy meat, and that I know my way around a kitchen, so choosing produce over processed tends to be a non-choice for me. Now I need to maintain my philosophy and allow it to evolve with the food landscape in my neighborhood. And I need more people to read this book so we can have lively discussions about where to find good eats.