Saturday, January 31, 2015

Tenth of December

Tenth of DecemberTenth of December by George Saunders
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): No, I'm not confused about today's date - just reviewing a collection of short stories so titled. A depressive and melancholic collection.

First thoughts: I'm less amused than I was while reading Pastoralia, but it's still a quick read and nice to dip in and out of on the bus.

On re-reading: I re-read "Escape from Spiderhead" (also in Pastoralia). I still enjoyed it, and wanted to keep reading even when I remembered that I had already read it.

Final thoughts: This collection ended pretty "meh" for me. I skimmed the title (& final) story. I liked it all okay, but a lot of it was forgettable and depressing--not the vibe I'm craving right now. It just wasn't my jam this time. Still three stars because I didn't hate it.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

Friday Night Links 13

Here we are, at the last Friday of January. How are your resolutions holding up? Mine are still a challenge, but a good challenge.

Maybe you want to work on your budgeting and financial skills--it would help to be part of The Cheapest Generation. (This article also describes what it means to "invest" in yourself, another solid resolution.)

Did you resolve to exercise more? Here's Emily McDowell's answer to that.

If you planned to keep up with housework, but find yourself at odds with never-ending chores, don't blame your lack of resolve. It's The LEGO Principle.

Are you still not sure what you want to improve in 2015? Let me suggest reading. (Of course.)

We all felt fresh at the beginning of the year, but February through December can get long and even the best intentions might fall by the side somewhere along the way. Just remember every day is another chance to start anew, and that "there is joy to be found in the process." That's where change and growth really happen.

Best of luck!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Netflix Gems

A few strange (but ultimately entertaining) things I watched on Netflix this month:

In Your Eyes
When I saw that Joss Wheden wrote and Zoe Kazan stars in this 2014 movie, I had to watch it. Kazan, along with her co-star Michael Stahl-David, carry this (unrealistic) tale of two telepathically connected people. If you suspend your disbelief, it's a charming story. It was easy to fall in love with both main characters and root against their antagonists. In Your Eyes is funny, sweet, and fun to watch.

I saw and heard good things about this dystopian story set entirely on a train, and it kept my attention the whole way through, but mostly in a I Can't Believe This Is Really A Movie way. Again, disbelief should be suspended to get into it. Tilda Swinton is hilarious as Mason and really, most of the cast does a great job. I'm still baffled at the ending, but visually Snowpiercer was stunning.

Nick Offerman: American Ham
Not a movie, but stand up. Nick Offerman (of Parks & Rec) gives viewers 10 life tips in this hilarious show. I loved all of it except maybe the songs, but I'm just not a comedic song fan. Also, how cool is that Offerman's Wikipedia bio is "American actor, writer, and carpenter" ?? So cool. I couldn't find a trailer for the show, so here is an appearance on Late Night.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Tater Tot Casserole

Sometimes you want to remember the past in the most delicious way possible, but also in an easy to make and clean up way. Enter Tater Tot hotdish. My favorite lunch days at school included one of a few things: tortilla chips, rice, or tots (I liked--like--carbs). So, when I wanted a nice throwback recipe for the weekend, a snowy one in late January, Tater Tots swimming in meat and veggies it was.

This recipe is a little different than the creamy casserole most of us (especially in the midwest) remember from our elementary school days. I substituted some homemade gravy for the usual Cream of Whatever soup to let the ingredients shine. The texture didn't change at all, and the taste wasn't that much different either, just less mushy cream and more meat/veggie/tots.

Tater Tot Hotdish (adapted from this recipe)

1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
3 c beef broth (chicken or veggie work as well)
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c cold water
2 bags frozen veggies (enough to cover 9 x 13 pan, veggies your choice--I used green beans and corn, but wish I used carrots)
1 bag Tater Tots 
salt and pepper to taste

Brown and season ground beef and onion, layer on the bottom of a 9 x 13 glass pan.
Cover with veggies.
Boil broth and in a separate bowl, combine water and cornstarch. Stir mixture into boiling broth and continue boiling until thickened.
Pour gravy into the dish, making sure it spreads evenly.
Layer Tater Tots over meat and veggies, covering the entire dish.

You can prepare this ahead of time, then keep in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to make it. Just preheat the oven to 350 and bake, uncovered, 40-45 minutes. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sunday Night Survey: Here Fishy Fishy Edition

How was your unseasonably warm but also snowy weekend? I hope you took advantage of the weather and got outside, at least until it decided to be winter again. I for one left the house several times, nearly unheard of in late January. Saturday was for errands and making myself feel human again (read: taking a bath) after a very structured week of work. Today was for play: Jesus and I visited Shedd Aquarium since it was free and we haven't been in a while. Other events and adventures of the weekend:
Taking: it alllll the way back to elementary school by
Prepping: tater tot casserole for tonight's dinner.
Running: more than I have in a long time, but really not that far.
Rolling: out some sore muscles.
Streaming: all available episodes of Transparent on Amazon, since it was free yesterday. SO GOOD.
Drinking: six cups of tea per day, on average.
Eating: coconut donuts.
Taking: my first bath in ages and
Wondering: why don't I do that more often??
Reading: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert and loving it.
Walking: uphill into the snow on our way to Shedd.
Exploring: coral reefs, swamps, and rivers.
Seeing: dolphins and beluga whales and penguins and sea lions.
Watching: families interact.
Feeling: grateful to get back home and in sweats.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

100 Books to Read in a Lifetime

Do you agree with Amazon's list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime? I'm not one to judge a list of books, but I do like how varied (skill level-wise at least) this one is. I've read 45 (ish). There are a few that I tried reading, but couldn't get into. Maybe I just wasn't reading them at the right time in my life. I was glad to at least recognize a large majority of these!

Relæ: A Book of Ideas

Relæ: A Book of IdeasRelæ: A Book of Ideas by Christian Puglisi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Part cooking theory book (as opposed to practical cookbook), part restaurant biography. Puglisi describes how Relæ came to be--from the brick and mortar aspects, to hiring, to recipe creation, food sourcing, and the culture and values of Relæ.

First thoughts: I would keep this book on my coffee table rather than in the kitchen. It's a conversation starter and easy to read at random or browse through.

Favorite quotes:
"I consider life to be a means to enjoy as much great food as possible." p 66

"Great cooking comes from great ingredients, not great machinery." p 172

Recommended for: foodies, chefs, eaters, restaurateurs.

More thoughts: This book of ideas is like no book/cookbook I've ever read. It's like the blueprint for Puglisi's restaurant--everything is cross-referenced so that it reads like a delicious textbook. The layout, photos, cover, and jacket are simple, straightforward, and beautiful. Puglisi is likeable and a skilled narrator. Even knowing I'm probably not going to cook anything featured at his restaurant, I was still curious about his style and food beliefs.

Editor's Note: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

A Girl and Seven (or so) Pizza Places

I treat this blog like an online scrapbook/journal: part rambling thoughts, part descriptions and reviews of events I attend, places I travel, food I cook, books I read, and movies I watch. One thing I'm missing is descriptions of places I've eaten, at least as a consistent feature. I regularly reference this space when I'm trying to remember where I was on a certain day or what I did for a holiday, and remembering great meals with great people is something I'd like to do better at.
For my first round of reviews, I decided to group together similar restaurants and share only my favorites. And since it's a Friday, I'm going to start with pizza. Pizza in Chicago is a matter of pride and loyalty, but I grew up on thin crust so that's where my pizza love truly lies.

It should also be noted that tonight Jesus and I made our own pizza (bbq chicken...a new one for both of us) as much as I've enjoyed these places, obviously I still like to sling my own dough on a Friday night.
My Pie Pizza
Good for: deep dish & delivery. This is my go to for Chicago style, if I have a craving for it or a guest requests it. It's a more local option than Giordano's, which is my runner up for Chicago style pizza.
Ambiance: I've only had it delivered, but I know the place is super small.
Notes: you can collect My Pie Points from every pizza box. 20 gets you a free pie!

John's Pizzeria
Good for: huge thin crust pizzas, delivery, takeout, or dine-in. This is the type of pizza I grew up on. Giant, square-cut, and with a cracker-like crust.
Ambiance: old school pizza joint, complete with gingham-style table cloths.
Notes: Make sure to get your free cola! 1 or 2 liters depending on how much you spend.

Piece Pizza
Good for: hanging out with friends, especially ones with differing tastes--Piece specializes in individual pies with loads of options for toppings--and three different sauces. Again, thin cracker-like crusts rule here.
Ambiance: bar & grill meets open air eatery. Lots of natural light makes it a great place to meet up anytime.
Notes: Piece is also a brewery, so come thirsty!

Dante's Pizzeria
Good for: date night, dinners out, something different. Dante's serves New York style pizzas influenced by Dante's Inferno. Make sure to try one of their specialties, you won't find them anywhere else.
Ambiance: casual-hip.
Notes: Order by the slice or by the pie. Can't really go wrong.

Santullo's Eatery
Good for: slices, New York style, lunch or late night. The sandwiches are good too!
Ambiance: casual. Feels like a campus staple, except it's not on a campus.
Notes: they have vegan/vegetarian options!

Honorable Mention:
The Boiler Room: The pizza is good, but man oh man do I hate how loud it is in there. It's a bar first, then pizza place. (Am I old? I'm old.)

Special Shout Out:
Ian's Pizza in Madison, WI. Not just because if I'm in Madison with Jesus we have to come here. They offer pizza by the slice, toppings you've only dreamed of (Mac & Cheese. Jerk Chicken. something called Drunken Ravioli.), and as many organic and locally-sourced ingredients possible. Awesome (huge) salads. So yeah, Ian's gets a shout out.

On my To Try List:
Pizzeria Da Nella: It will never be to soon to taste Neapolitan pizza again. 
Dimo's: the Ian's of Chicago (no, seriously. Current menu options include Chicken n' Waffles and S'mores. Plus lots of vegan options.)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

My January Poem

If I want to stay creative, I have to create. Without really committing to it, I'm committing to posting at least one poem each month on here. I can write more than one, but I'd like to have at least one that I share. 

January is both conducive and restrictive when it comes to poem writing. Life is ripe with metaphors--things are fresh and new and positive--it's all a little overwhelming. This mood is kinda perfect for poetry, if there's time after all the resolution-keeping. Which is why I made poetry one of my life intentions in 2015. Make it a priority, make it happen.

Quiescence (or Discernment)

When you start reading medical journals for "research,"
that's when you wonder how you got to where you are now.
Where you are isn't bad, but it is unexpected, like every
twist and turn your life has made:
a series of switchbacks on a mountain,
all leading to the top,
taking the longest (and most logical, in hindsight) path.

Recently, the twists and turns have straightened themselves out.
Your life hums along, the same yesterday as tomorrow;
for once you have a chance to settle in and enjoy the view.
You’re not at the top yet, just a plateau. For now.

You like to play a game called "Did You Ever Think?"
It involves asking yourself periodically,
"Did you ever think a year ago you'd be where you are today?"
The answer's always "No."

(For now.)

Monday, January 19, 2015

This Is Where I Leave You

This Is Where I Leave You is about one family whose dysfunction brings them tears and frustration while bringing the audience laughter and joy. Its dark humor fits the characters and story well, which is no miracle considering Jonathan Tropper wrote both the screenplay and the book on which it's based.

The Altman children are gathering for their father's funeral, plus one week of sitting shiva with their mother (Jane Fonda)--even though they all have other things to worry about in their lives. Judd (Jason Bateman) is dealing with the fallout of finding out that his wife has been cheating on him. Wendy (Tina Fey) is raising her two kids while her husband spends most of his time on the phone with (or traveling to) London for business. Paul (Corey Stoll) and his wife Annie (Kathryn Hahn) have been trying (unsuccessfully) to have a baby). Phillip (Adam Driver) is still figuring out what being an adult means.

Throw in a few nosy neighbors, a couple of old flings, and a trip to temple, and this week turns into the most emotionally-draining and challenging week in Altman family history. Which is all the better for viewers. You'll laugh, you'll cry, and you'll hug the people you watch with. Then you'll want to read any Tropper you haven't yet, because as brilliant as the cast of This is Where I Leave You is (and they are), the story and dialogue are what really take the cake here.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Night Survey: High School Nostalgia Edition

Well, that football game didn't go how I would have liked, so let's talk about something more exciting. I got to see high school friends this weekend! It was a short reunion, but oh so needed and oh so fun. Now I'm ready for another warmish week in Chicago, after I watch another football game to help me forget about the one that just ended.

Hating: waking up early for a morning shift.
Loving: how photogenic the city is at that hour.
Finishing: Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham and really liking it.
Riding: the train to work & the bus to play.
Enjoying: the 40 degree weather (way different from both 0 and 20).
Meeting: my friend's brother's girlfriend and realizing she's already met both of my siblings.
Drinking: a gin and champagne cocktail we named The Kicker.
Eating: Thai food and pretending we were at the Great Wall.
Reminiscing about that time we ordered in Great Wall our senior year, among other things.
Playing: True American and card games like we were in college.
Staying: out only until midnight.
Ordering: a late night torta.
Making: new memories with old friends.
Waking: up to someone vacuuming.
Reading: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert and very excited to hear about her newest book, coming out later this year!
Watching: the Packers lose that game.
Hoping: at least the Colts can make it to the Big Game.
Planning: a super comforting dinner to improve my mood.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Tiny Beautiful Things

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear SugarTiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): The subtitle pretty much says it: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar.

First thoughts: There is a lot of love in this collection of letters--me to Strayed, Strayed (Sugar) to everybody.

Favorite quotes (and basically the rest of my review):

"You loathe yourself, and yet you're consumed by the grandiose ideas you have about your own importance. You're up too high and down too low. Neither is the place where we get any work done." p 58

"The story of human intimacy is one of constantly allowing ourselves to see those we love most deeply in a new, more fractured light. Look hard. Risk that." p 63

"...close your eyes and remember everything you already know. Let whatever mysterious starlight that guided you this far guide you onward into whatever crazy beauty awaits." p 130

"I hope when people ask you what you're going to do with your English and/or creative writing degree you'll say: 'Continue my bookish examination of the contradictions and complexities of human motivation and desire;' or maybe just: 'Carry it with me, as I do everything that matters.' And then just smile very serenely until they say, 'Oh.'" p 134

"Don't lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don't have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith." p 351

"The useless days will add up to something." p352

Personal takeaway: BE HUMBLE. (Consider that as close as I'll get to One Little Word for 2015.)

Recommended for: sensitive souls, people going through transition, lovers, fighters, and dreamers.

Final thoughts: I loved Tiny Beautiful Things, but there was a point about 3/4 of the way through where I was like, man, this is emotionally exhausting. To read all of these heartfelt letters people have written Sugar--about falling in and out of love, loved ones dying, career troubles, affairs, sickness, etc, etc, etc--and then to read her equally heartfelt responses (filled with their own separate accounts of love and sex and death) was humbling and tiring. In their original form, they'd be spread out over weeks and months and perhaps less taxing than when read one after the other. Also, I'm really good at projecting myself into other people's lives and struggles. So many letters felt like they were written to me.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

Friday Night Links 12

Because my writing goal for the year is to diversify it, here are a few articles, quotes, and lists that have been helpful motivation and affirmation. (PS, so far this goal is panning out well. I'm journaling a lot more than I ever did last year, my sentence-a-day notebook use is fairly regular, I'm keeping a schedule on here, and I've devoted time to personal projects that I have no plan for, but still want to play around with.)

This wouldn't be my personal list of writing inspiration if there wasn't something from Elizabeth Gilbert.

A whole year's worth of wisdom from some writing greats (including Gilbert, again). I keep this bookmarked and read through whenever I need a little pick me up.

"Write scraps and crots and pieces of broken structure. Throw them in a pile or a box or even away, but write, write, write. Until it’s not precious, or special, or perfect. It’s just what you do."

Writing is good for your health! And blogging gives you a runner's high.

My favorite part about this list is that a lot of it isn't about writing specifically, but about creating a life where writing can thrive.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What I Know About...The Difference Between 0° and 20°

So far this year, Chicago has seen it's share of temperature changes. I know a lot of people think cold is cold, but a range of -7 to 37 encompasses several seasons. Living in Chicago has made me privy to these seasons and given me a particular wealth of weather knowledge, which I am sharing today. I'm obviously not a meteorologist; this information comes from experience only.

I know...
  1. Anything below zero degrees is cold cold. At that point, it really doesn't matter how far below zero it is: snot will run and freeze, eyes will tear up, and I will wonder why I left the house.
  2. Things start to warm up right around the 20° mark. You know the temperature is in the double digits and most likely in the late teens or higher when the air no longer hurts your face. While still not pleasant, the temperature is at least tolerable.
  3. Once it hits the freezing point, pull out the rain boots. Yeah, it's still cold out there. But when the thermometer hovers between 31° and 33°, it's also gonna be real slushy. Better cold and dry than wet and anything.
  4. Perspective is everything. All this being said, a 20-degree day really only feels amazing after a few days of negative wind chills.
  5. My brain is good at tricking my body. If it's sunny out, I let myself believe it's spring. A little mood boost never hurts.
  6. Cold habits die hard. On 20-degree and higher days, I'll feel foolish for taking the bus instead of biking to work. I did it in November; the only difference now is my Ventra card is loaded and I'm used to leaving 15 minutes early.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Now You See Me

"The closer you think you are, the less you'll actually see," is a good way to sum up both the full length movie Now You See Me and its trailer, below. After watching either one, you'll know exactly what happens without really knowing much of anything at all. This isn't a critique--I kind of like my movies that way.

Assuming you have a strong suspension of disbelief, you'll enjoy Now You See Me. It's Ocean's 11 meets The Prestige in the 21st century, both for the subject matter (bank robbing/Vegas + magic/illusion) and the cast (a slew of young and/or popular celebrities + Michael Caine). Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, and Dave Franco make up the Four Horsemen, a group of touring illusionists. They are funded by Michael Caine, debunked by Morgan Freeman, and (after a felonious trick) pursued by Marc Ruffalo.

Props to the actors and screenwriters for pulling me in and making me care about the story. There are unanswered questions at the end, but I was entertained for the duration of the movie. If that means I fell for the director's sleight of hand, so be it. I enjoy tricks and illusions exactly for the fact that I can't figure them out--plus rumor has it there's a sequel coming, so perhaps a few questions will get answered then.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Night Survey: Golden Globes Edition

Instead of reviewing my weekend (which, let's face it, was mostly football, couch time, and eating), I'm going to use this Sunday night to live-view & discuss the Golden Globes. This activity is also known as live-blogging. ! Yes, it's that time of year again. I'll see you all back here at about 7 PM, Central Time. Until then, go Colts!

6:56 pm: Red Carpet & Pre-Show Extras

I hope you're all ready for this! I am. I'm all football happy and just finished eating, so I'm really ready to watch celebrities for the next few hours. I've been sneaking peaks at the red carpet pre-show and I have to say, low cut dresses seem to be in this year. Dresses With Pockets count: 3 (Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Emma Stone).

7:00 pm: Amy and Tina's last year as hosts begins...

The best part of that opener was the part where Tina and Amy roasted Hollywood's values by announcing everything Amal Alamuddin-Clooney has done recently...and then reminded us it's George who's getting a lifetime achievement award tonight.

7:12 pm: To be honest I wasn't really paying attention to the first awards.

"Those are the 50 Shades of Gray actors? Wow do I never want to watch them have sex ever." --Jesus, about Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan

Did you all see the promo for Sisters earlier? I kind of don't even care what the movie is about...I just want to see it.

7:22 pm: Paying attention now. :)

Yay for Fargo! Not that I've watched, but the movie was awesome.

J. Lo: "I got the nails."
Jeremy Renner: "You got the globes, too."

"Yes, you stand there and you say thank you." --J. Lo, to Billy Bob Thornton

7:32 pm: Free speech, heroes, human rights

I love how willing actors are to do silly things. I love it more when actors are unwilling to stop talking when it's their right to speak.

Nice hustle to the stage, Gina Rodriguez! That was a heartfelt speech, but at the same time a lot of feelings for an acting award.

"To love." --Transparent creator Jill Soloway (PS, I like the suit--while it's not a Dress With Pockets, I'm always a fan of women getting pockets wherever they can.)

7:44 pm: Music

I wonder how many Johann Johannssons are in Johann Johannsson's family line.

How fitting that Prince is presenting this award. John Legend is great, I don't deny it. But if you guys are on Instagram and you aren't following his wife, Chrissy Teigen, you're messing up. She is hilarious.

7:58 pm: Intense eyes, drunk eyes, Big Eyes

Matt Bomer, your eyes are intense.

Ricky Gervais, there's a man after my own heart (both for the wine on the stage and for telling us how it really is...famous people are just better than us ordinaries).

"To say that I am ill-prepared for this moment is a huge understatement..." --Amy Adams. To say that sentence without stuttering just proves to all of us at home that you were very prepared to say at least that.

8:12 pm: Animation and Boyhood

Animated Film: what a solid category. How to Train Your Dragon 2 is the only one I haven't and also don't want to see, so that's a little disappointing.

I think Patricia Arquette deserved that award for the basic fact that Boyhood took 12 years to film. That's a lot of time to stay committed to a project.

8:25 pm: Comedy and funny ladies (and men too I guess)

Finally, Tina and Amy are back. And Kristen and Bill!

Best Screenplay: Birdman and all the hard names to pronounce.

I loved Jeffrey Tambor in Arrested Development. Maybe I should check out Transparent. I also think it's cool that this award (Best Actor in a TV Series, Musical or Comedy) went to a man who plays a transgender woman. So yes, we have come pretty far.

8:43 pm: All about the ladies

"They're really pushing the whole 'Women are great' thing this year, aren't they?" --Jesus (not without reason!)

8:52 pm: Awards, awards, awards

With this outfit change, we have one more lady with pockets (Tina Fey again).

I wanted Kevin Spacey to do his whole thank you speech as Frank Underwood. Alas, I'll have to wait until Season 3 to get my F.U. fix.

9:06 pm: George Clooney

George Clooney, everyone.

9:21 pm: Are the commercials getting longer and longer or is it just me?

Chris Pratt and Anna Farris are my favorite Hollywood power couple, followed by John Krasinski and Emily Blunt.

9:32 pm: Keaton and Winfrey

"There are always so many people to thank" --Michael Keaton

9:43 pm: Foxcatcher and Budapest

I don't think Steve Carrell has smiled all night.

I have seen exactly zero of the nominees for Best Picture, Comedy or Musical. My movie game has tanked recently.

9:50 pm: Best Actor 

Oh really, we're running long? I hadn't noticed. You'd think after 72 years the powers that be would have awards shows figured out. Making an easier way for winners to get to the stage might help.

10:00 pm: Home Stretch!

I've also not seen any of the nominees for Best Picture, Drama. But I guessed Boyhood would win.

Show over! Goodbye Amy and Tina. :(

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Host

The Host (The Host, #1)The Host by Stephenie Meyer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Alien parasites control humans (and Earth); a small population of alien-free humans tries to survive. Melanie Stryder, stubborn human, messes up the status quo.

First thoughts while reading: I'm interested in the story (plot), but WHY must the protagonist be 17 when she meets her man? In a book for adults (like the jacket cover specifically states that), could we maybe get an adult relationship featuring adults? I get that in the present action of the story she's in her twenties, but what is it with Stephenie Meyer and minors/older dudes?

More thoughts/questions for the author while reading: What is with Stephenie Meyer and men holding women while running? As the story goes on I can get past the age difference (especially when Melanie is actually Wanderer, but then we have a whole other age dynamic happening).

The Host reminds me of:
the Hunger Games series
the Ender series

Things I would change: besides character ages, a lot of the fluffy dialogue could be cut from this to make it a tighter story. Things like the random soccer game felt forced and dragged on when there were more important things happening.

Recommended for: my boyfriend (a big reason this book gets four stars, besides that I just plain enjoyed the story, is that I'm making Jesus read it), fans of other books set in post-apocalyptic utopias/dystopias, scientists, aliens.

Final thoughts: a good/hopeful ending. I'm glad it didn't feel contrived. I would watch the movie.

View all my reviews

Friday, January 9, 2015

Friday Night Links 11

Because I'm back to work today after two snow days and coming off a lot of cleaning and journaling, here are a few fun links for the weekend. Take it easy and stay warm the next few days!

A t-shirt that best describes my mantra this past week (and probably next week too).

Anyone who knows me knows that pockets are an important part of my life.

What does your ZIP code say about you?

I'm not getting over a breakup at all, BUT this guy's advice for getting over it (whatever "it" is) is spot on. Especially number five.

"...the band is weirder and more visionary than people who dismiss it realize." It's okay to admit to liking Dave, guys. They're a great American band.

I don't make $96,000 a year...should I ask for a raise?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

ZooLights 2015

If the rest of 2015 goes anything like my New Year's Day, I have a lot of brunch, quality friend time, city exploration, and takeout ahead of me. I'm okay with that.

One very important thing I did (and it required me to stray from my January 1st tradition of not leaving the house) was seeing Lincoln Park's ZooLights before they were taken down for season. In years past, Jesus and I have gone sometime in early December, as a way to get into the festive spirit, but it wasn't in the cards for 2014. I blame the shorter Christmas season and having a boyfriend who works in retail.

Either way, what is usually a priority for us turned into a "Eh...we can always go next weekend or the weekend after that" ...until there was only one weekend left. Then we got serious. We bundled up, said sayonara to the couch, and miraculously found street parking a few blocks from the zoo.
Along with lots of other families out for the day, we made our customary loop: ice carving and seals, the cat house, small mammals and amphibians, primates (one of my favorite parts), and an extended walk around the outdoor areas (this year we saw camels). The Christmas lights didn't feel out of place, and suddenly we were in festive moods again. Or fresh new year moods.
On our way out, we paused to take in a view of the skyline over the river. It felt right to be standing out in the cold, dreaming of the Chinese delivery we'd soon order. I don't know about Jesus, but I was ready and excited for 2015. Maybe we'd started a new tradition--celebrating holidays in January.
The thing about ZooLights isn't so much the zoo part or the lights part, it's knowing I'll go with the same guy every year for as long as we live in Chicago. It's reminiscing about things we've seen previous years while making new memories of the sights and sounds around us. It's having something to ground us, whether during the rush of the holidays or in the quiet wake of them.
2015 Resolution: teach Jesus how to smile for pictures.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Humility Jar 2015

You may have heard of the trend of picking one word to define your year. Officially, One Little Word. I haven't done it in the past, and neither am I doing it this year, but if I had to settle on a theme for 2014, it would be the struggle between happy and whole. I started the year with a Happiness Jar that I eventually treated as more of a Wholeness Jar. Month to month (week to week, day to day even) I went back and forth between what was more important in my life--being grateful for what made me feel happy and free, or for what made me feel whole, regardless of emotions. It was a fine line and delicate balance that I didn't always feel harmonious with, but as they say, it was a growing year.

In 2015, I'm continuing the Happiness Jar practice (it's original purpose as created by Elizabeth Gilbert, see here and here for explanations) with humility as my centering theme. After going through last year's jar, I realized that my favorite memories of happiness/wholeness were usually the happier ones. I know that happiness isn't my life's goal, per se, but happiness is harder to remember. The slips with things that made me whole (a person with strengths and faults) last year--my bike getting stolen, getting called on my shit by a friend, not getting a job--I could remember without having written them down. It was the "happy" slips that I needed reminding of.

Not only were the happier ones more fun to read and good reminders of moments I had forgotten throughout the year, they were usually more concrete and simple. They weren't grand, they were just right. They were the little moments that made my days, and consequently, my year. They were the sun shining in my window, the smell of a summer breeze, making something new for dinner, or a positive conversation. They didn't require anything more than me living my life and being open to good things.

That's the spirit I want in 2015--a spirit of being open to good things and letting them happen (while also not expecting great or grand things--because sometimes good is really good enough).

Today's entry is easy: SNOW DAY. Or rather, Cold Day, because it's too cold to commute today. But it's just the right temperature for baking granola, reading under a blanket, and drinking copious amounts of tea.

Monday, January 5, 2015


If there's anyone out there who hasn't seen Interstellar yet, let me warn you that the trailer doesn't really tell you anything. If there's anyone who hasn't seen Interstellar or its beautiful yet confusing trailer, let me give you a quick summary.

It's the future. People are farmers (again) and suffering through dust storms and crop blight. Cooper (Matthew McConaughey), one of the farmers, used to be an astronaut. Future NASA recruits him to go on a mission to save humanity along with other scientists/biologists and robots. Their mission is to find another planet suitable for life using a wormhole leading to several possible locations. If one of the worlds can sustain humans, then Earth's population will boogie on over.

Simple enough, right? Well, Cooper also has two kids, who he may never see again since space travel takes a while. As he is traveling, he barely ages compared to them. His daughter, Murphy, who as a child thinks her room is haunted by a benevolent ghost, hates Cooper for leaving. Even so, she grows up to also work for NASA, specifically as a scientist working on the equation that will allow the space station to launch to whatever planet will support human life.

With Cooper saving humans from space and Murphy saving them from Earth, we're in pretty good hands. You'll have to watch the movie to see how it all plays out (and to find out if Cooper and Murphy ever see each other again!). I give this one a solid "Would Watch Again" if only because of its grandness. The soundtrack is as big and as small as each moment requires. I even enjoyed Anne Hathaway's performance, and I'm usually not her biggest fan. Catch this one in theater if you can, or at the very least make sure you have surround sound when you watch at home.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sunday Night Survey: Happiness/Wholeness Jar Edition

Last night I read through my Happiness Jar (that turned into a Wholeness Jar). (For an explanation of what a Happiness Jar is, let me introduce you to my role model, Elizabeth Gilbert.) This morning I woke up (sort of late--sleeping off a cold) and went for a walk before I started drafting this post. Why would I trudge through falling snow on a Sunday when all that's required of me is to watch the playoffs from my couch? Well, after reading the close to 365 scraps of pink, green, and purple paper, I realized that nature was a big part of my happiness AND wholeness last year, and walking showed up on more than a few slips. Of course, most of the nature-related ones also featured "warm" or "sunny" aspects, but I figured if nothing else great happens today, at least I'd have my quiet snow-filled walk to write down.

Now, at the end of the day, I can say other great things did happen, but I'm still writing down something from my walk as my piece of happiness for the day. Not the walk itself, which was nice, peaceful, and thought-filled, but the part of it where a young boy shoveled off the sidewalk in front of me as I walked in the cleared path. When he got as far as he could  go pushing the wet snow, he stepped off to the side. "Sorry, I can't go any further!" he apologized, his cheeks flush and his breath condensing in the air. I reassured him his effort was still appreciated for the path he created. That was my happy moment of the day.

What else made me happy or whole last year? What trends did I find? First off, I was a little scared to get started. What if everything I wrote was lame? What if I read through all my slips and felt nothing? Dumb fears, for sure. So I just got started. I dumped out all the scraps of paper and started reading. Here's what I found:

Things I like (in no particular order)
sunshine/warm wind
Just Doing It (twice I wrote this specific phrase)
food, especially pizza or anything I made myself
"getting work done" (again, an exact phrase I wrote more than once)
anything with Jesus (but usually it was goofing off, exploring, or eating)
things at work unrelated to work
activities with friends
when work ended early or on a positive note
Breaking Bad/The X-Files
leisurely days
feelings (having them, controlling them, expressing them)

Things I have further questions about
"Having feelings" (9/28/14)--which ones?
"Getting that story out" (1/21/14) --what story?
"Things resolving themselves" (6/2/14)--what things?

Why was I so secretive with some of my happy moments? Did I think I was being coy or poetic? I need to cut that out for 2015.

Favorite moments to re-read, categorically
short and sweet
slightly ironic
not related to work at all

The best example I have of all of these is the slip that read just "Chipotle"--it still makes me happy to think about how happy a simple meal makes me.

Plans for this year's jar
more on that later this week!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Gone Girl

Gone GirlGone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

First thoughts: Right away I'm drawn to smart, sassy, and self-effacing Amy. I'm suspicious of Nick.

First thoughts upon reaching part two (and sort of spoilers): Got me. Diary Amy was easy to like. Relatable. Now I don't know who I'm dealing with. Even though I'm less suspicious of Nick, I'm not convinced he's likeable.

Where I read: under the covers.

Favorite characters: I like Go. I hate that her nickname is Go.

Favorite quote: "Tampon commercial, detergent commercial, maxipad commercial, Windex commercial. You'd think all women do is clean and bleed." --Amy (part two)

Recommended for: lovers, haters, married people, engaged people, single people.

Final thoughts: Amy and Nick are both messed up. They made me question what love even is or how you know it's real. For several days after reading, I was suspicious of everyone's motives for doing anything. I want to see the movie.

View all my reviews

Thursday, January 1, 2015

In 2015...

I will dance more.
I will forgive myself.
I will laugh without constraint.
I will follow my curiosity.