Tuesday, March 31, 2015

MARCHing to the Beat of My Own Drum

One thing I (re)learned this month: be myself. For a while I wasn't really into being myself, because my self was bored/boring, stuck, and unsure of what to do next. I wanted to be comfortable in my own skin, engaging, and self-aware. I also wanted to please everyone...and those things don't mix. I realized I can't be everything to everyone and be a genuine person.

So, authenticity it is. If I surround myself with people who like me, who challenge me to be a better me (not a better idea of what they want me to be), and who support me and build me up, then what else can I offer them but just me.

Moral of the story: I know that not everyone I interact with will like me. That's okay; I like me.

[End of personal rant and self pep talk...back to regularly scheduled posts - poems!! - tomorrow...er...in four minutes.]

Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Reincarnationist

The Reincarnationist (Reincarnationist, #1)The Reincarnationist by M.J. Rose
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Josh is pretty sure he used to be Julius, but wants proof. He goes looking for it in Rome and finds a lot of trouble.

First thoughts: Right away, I was super intrigued with this book. The Rome setting definitely interested me (and the Roman history was fun to revisit), but the characters and concept showed lots of promise too. I mean, it's reincarnation, how can it not be interesting?

A tale of two...or three stories: So at first it was just Josh Ryder in present day NY/Rome and Julius in ancient Rome. Then a few more characters get introduced and we've got Joshua as Percy in a New York of the past, plus Rachel, Alex, and Harrison in present New York. Things get a little confusing.

Favorite quote: "It's a gift to see into the depths of grief, because only when you realize that someone can be in that much pain and still function, speak civilly, shake your hand and tell you how nice it is to meet you, do you understand why you can't ever give in or give up. There's always another chance, another day. That's the miracle of the human spirit." -Josh's dad, p 374

Final thoughts: So...this just kinda ended. I guess it's part of a series, but I'd like my stories to have a conclusion (even a cliffhanger), not just end. That's a bummer. Points for Rome/Roman history, interesting concept, and characters I want to care about, but the follow through isn't there.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Friday Night Links 16

Since I haven't shared my current bookmarks in a while (my Friday nights have been activity-packed these past few weeks (including tonight), which is strange for me, but also a nice change), and since this week has been physically, mentally, and emotionally draining (and next week's forecast looks like more of the same)...some links to things that have fed me recently.

I also love the between times - "I’ve found my senses are most finely tuned when I’m forced to let things be — and in times of transition, there’s so much to be lost (or missed) in the rush to get to whatever’s next."

If I wasn't pretty sure that the theme of my 2015 is "authentic," I'd make it "minimal" - less is more.

How will I pay the bills? Again, less is more.

About doing what you love...(and not having a capital P "Passion," but rather lots of curiosity about the world). (Via)

Another beautiful collection of vignettes by Shoko (she clearly knows what's up): "for the most part, the discombobulation has been a thrill."

Happy Weekend!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Project: Process

I've been working on this collage for most of the winter, so it makes sense that I finally finished it on a snowy spring day. I knew I wanted something blue, but the meditative/openness aspects came much later, when I sensed a trend in what I was cutting out of magazines. It's pretty cool how these patterns appear over time, and even cooler when I step back far enough to notice them.
This didn't turn out exactly like my final pre-Mod Podge layout (last one below), but such is the collage process. Things shift as you go along, and once you start gluing, there's no stopping until that final scrap of paper. I'd say it's complete, but I think people never truly complete creative projects, they just stop working on them when the time is (feels) right.
Stage One: Throw It All On The Canvas
Stage Two: Give It A Shape
Stage Three: Commit To a Layout
As you can see, I'm in my blue period now, but a while back I was feeling the red:
The quote reads: "In a serener Bright/In a more golden light/I see/Each little doubt and fear,/Each little discord here/Removed." -Emily Dickinson
Don't mind the Christmas lights I still decorate with.
I like working with specific colors. Usually, no matter the layout, the composition looks good/neat. Besides color, I also like themes. For me, collages are therapeutic. They are just mindless enough so as to not overwhelm or stress me out, but not so mindless that I get bored and lose interest. I also like the idea of organized chaos.

Who are we kidding: at the end of the day, I just like reliving my childhood by cutting and pasting.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Poetry Marches On

I thought this month’s poem would come easy(easier) - March is full of poeticism and my routine has also had its share of poetic changes/ups and downs/shake ups. And yet, I’m learning (once again) that inspiration rarely strikes on its own...you have to reach out, grab it, hold it tight, and wrestle with it. Then hope it sticks to the page (or computer screen).
I started a version of this poem last Thursday, the day before the official start of Spring. It felt good to say goodbye to winter, even if only the calendar version. Winter didn’t seem to want to leave, though. It clung to everything, even the air. Today is another day like that - where winter/the blues/blah-ness seems to cling. Things are gross and the week trudges on, ever so slowly. Here’s hoping everyone finds a little spring today, somewhere (mine’s in the tulips on the counter at work).
The Last Full Day of Winter

It’s dark
when I wake up
when I leave the house
when I get on the train, and even as it descends into the tunnel.
The sky only barely registers as navy when it emerges again.
The air slips past all my layers and seems to rush right into me
so that the cold seems to come from my own shivering core.
It’s only as I drive the kids to school that the sun makes any real appearance,
stretching out from behind thin clouds,
smudging the sky with pale yellow streaks.

“It’s still winter,” everything says.
“No use trying too hard.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Drop Biscuits

Today I want to share my new favorite recipe (because I'm craving carbs big time). These biscuits are called drop biscuits because that's how you get them on the baking sheet - drop them by the spoonful. There's no rolling out or cutting dough into perfect circles because these are no fuss mounds of pure gluten-full joy. I also have no idea where I got this recipe, so while I can't claim it as my own, I also can't give credit to anyone...though I'm sure most chefs/bakers have their own similar versions of this guy. It's quick, only takes one bowl and one pan, and pairs well with a hearty dinner or a savory breakfast.

Drop Biscuits (makes 12 medium-large biscuits)

2 c flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
5 tbsp cold butter
1 c cold milk (I used unsweetened plain almond milk & they still turned out great!)

Preheat oven to 400.
Combine dry ingredients in a large bowl.
Cut butter into mixture.
Slowly stir in milk and mix gently until dough comes together.
Drop onto baking sheet by spoonfuls, leaving space to expand.
Bake 12-15 minutes or until turning golden.

Enjoy hot out of the oven/as soon as possible! These are still good a few days later, but not as good once they've cooled. If you have leftovers, store in an airtight container. I'm thinking my next batch might need a few fun add-ins (rosemary, chives, bacon, cheese), but I have no complaints with this basic recipe!

Monday, March 23, 2015


Until Interstellar comes out on DVD, Jesus and I are getting our fill of apocalyptic space travel movies via the classics. Last week he convinced me to watch Armageddon, one of the few movies that makes him cry every time he watches.

I don't know if anyone else out there hasn't seen Armageddon, but if so, let me be the one to tell you it's well worth 151 minutes of your life to check it out. Not only is the cast full of stars (and stars before they were stars), but the story (which is unrealistic and yet completely relatable) is fun, fast-moving, and interesting to watch unfold.

The basic premise is that Earth is about to be destroyed by an asteroid, and the only hope of humanity's survival rests in the hands of a hodgepodge oil drilling team (led by Bruce Willis). There's also a love story (featuring Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler) and plenty of comedic relief (thanks to Steve Buscemi, Owen Wilson, and Michael Clarke Duncan). If none of this persuades you, there's always the joy of spotting all the goofs and impossibilities.

Watch the trailer here: http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi2162688281/

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Pizza Bible

The Pizza Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Make Napoletano to New York Style, Deep Dish and Wood-fired, Thin Crust, Stuffed Crust, Cornmeal Crust, and MoreThe Pizza Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Make Napoletano to New York Style, Deep Dish and Wood-fired, Thin Crust, Stuffed Crust, Cornmeal Crust, and More by Tony Gemignani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): 11-time World Pizza Champ Tony Gemignani shares recipes, hints, and tips for making the best pizzas of your life (plus some pretty great sauces, cocktails, and even cheese!).

First thoughts: I like Gemignani's authenticity and how he compromises for the sake of meeting amateur chefs where they're at without compromising his style. He comes right out and says "use these specific ingredients in this way with these tools, but in the end, do what you gotta do to experiment and learn how to make a really great pizza."

Favorite quote: "Pizza, the world's favorite fast food is, in fact, slow food." p8

Recipe I'm excited to try the most: I'd love to try my hand at a Mergherita from Naples, but the Cracker-Thin style from Chicago is the one I'd like to be an expert at.

A pizza for everyone: Gemignani breaks down the basics of almost every style of pizza one could imagine. He really knows his stuff. From NY slices to Chicago deep dish to Neapolitan and Roman classics, reading through the descriptions, ingredients, and steps of the recipes took me on a culinary journey and left me excited to get practicing in my own kitchen.

Pizza creativity: I love all the different/original/catchy names for the sauces, cocktails, sandwiches, and pizzas themselves!

Recommended for: chefs, eaters, pizzaiolos (pizzaioli?), foodies.

Final thoughts: Pizza making is intense! Gemignani's narration reads like any regular book with a plot and a creative pace - this isn't just a cookbook or a collection of recipes. Above being a great chef, Gemignani can write a cohesive story. I'm so glad I'll have this as a reference in the kitchen.

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

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Horns (Movie)

Because I watched the movie version of Horns so soon after finishing the book (like that same night), this review will include a lot of comparison between the two. I don't normally compare mediums, as I prefer to enjoy each work for what it is (a reading experience vs a viewing experience), but I think there are few important differences to point out between Horns by Joe Hill and Horns by Alexandre Aja/Kieth Bunin.

The plot follows the book almost exactly (see my book review here for some details, or check out the Wikipedia page), except it removes superfluous scenes and several characters that would have only slowed the whole thing down and/or made it more confusing. Taking out Lee's mother and his treatment of her in her final days lets us focus on Lee's actions in relation to Merrin and Ig, while not showing us as much of his childhood makes him more trustworthy early on (and all the more manipulative later).

I found Glenna a lot more likable in the movie, and really all the actors did their jobs in making me care about their stories. Daniel Radcliffe is a perfect Ig, Joe Anderson is completely believable as Terry, the druggie musician, and Juno Temple captures Merrin's tenderness and passion. The effects were just enough over the top to keep this out of a strict horror genre; I'd call it a dark comedy/fantasy thriller.

If you're looking for something a little off the wall and want to reflect on what it means to be good and/or evil, Horns is your ticket. (Disclaimer: once again, I don't recommend this to anyone with a fear of snakes!)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Springtime Sadness

Today was absolutely gorgeous here. The air was warm, but not humid or overbearing or stagnant. There was a slight breeze, but it wasn't obnoxious or freezing. The sun was out, there were picture-perfect clouds in the sky, and everything had a fresh, clean smell. I woke up grateful and in love with spring, and then I got sad.

Why? I have no idea. I'm not about to diagnose myself with Reverse SAD (which I'm sure we all experience to a point), but I think that's where my feelings of ho-humness came from today. I think that nagging feeling of gray/blue at the back of my brain is my body's way of keeping my excitement in check - "Don't get too happy," it says, "it's just weather/it won't last/sunny days don't mean your life will suddenly improve."

It could also just be that I was still bummed about a fun weekend ending, my brother going back home, and having to go back to work. I guess we'll see how I feel tomorrow, on Tuesday Bluesday. And be on the lookout for regularly scheduled posts to come back! I have a movie review, restaurant reviews, and tips on frugal living in the works. I've got a lot to share before poetry month!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Horns (Book)

HornsHorns by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): When Iggy wakes up with horns, he is sure something is wrong with him. Then people start telling him their worst secrets - and he questions all his beliefs.

First thoughts: There were parts of Horns that were difficult to stay focused on. I appreciated the flashbacks, but it took me a while to orient myself when they happened. Once I got to know the characters better, it helped, but they weren't easy to get to know. They didn't seem like real people and I didn't really like any of them. Some details bogged down the narration.

And yet: I was intrigued by the story and the concept. I wanted to know how it would play out, and what really happened the year before Ig got his horns. Even if I didn't really like him, I was invested in his story.

Hellish references: They're all over the place. Snakes, smoke/fire, darkness, heat, a pitchfork, bad smells, 666, the word play with horns...

About Lee: Spoilers - He gave me some pretty gross feelings. His manipulation of other people's thoughts and actions is disturbing.

Suggestions for Improvement: I wish we got Merrin's point of view during a flashback. I missed having her side of the story.

Favorite quotes:
"Her face was framed by two wings of lank black hair that curled under her long, pointed chin, so she looked like the female version of the wizard who was always giving Harry Potter such a hard time in the movies. Professor Snail or something. Ig had been waiting to read the books with the children he and Merrin planned to have together." p 148 (Funny because Daniel Radcliffe plays Ig in the movie version of Horns. And there were several similarities between Ig and Harry Potter: attraction to red heads, ability to speak to snakes, noticeable scar/body modification...)

"Maybe all the schemes of the devil were nothing compared to what men could think up." p 338

Final thoughts: SO WEIRD. Not bad. Strange. Not sure what to think of the actual ending. Was this book a dark comedy? It reads like a chilling thriller/drama. 3.5 stars.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

New Schedule

This is my third week having a new schedule, and while I doubt I'll ever get the hang of waking up pre-sunrise, I'm falling into a comfortable rhythm of semi-productive mornings, earlier bedtimes, and less frequent existential crises.

I've told anyone who asks (and now all of you, who didn't) that working more hours has improved my free time and the rest of my regular hours, both because it forces me to be more intentional with my time and because the extra hours are quality ones. Thursday really is a miracle day in that I come home with anecdotes from my day that aren't a) complaints about petty house manager things or b) boring status updates of 'fine' or 'okay'.

I also somehow have the energy to go shopping and clean the house after my second shift of the day. Something tells me I might pay for this tomorrow morning...or pass out in the next five minutes.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The Book of Life (Movie)

If I reviewed The Book of Life on visuals alone, it would be a stunning masterpiece. If I added in thoughts about the soundtrack, it would still rank high on my list of favorite animated features. Unfortunately, a movie is more than moving pictures and music - it needs a story, and for being titled The BOOK of Life, this one doesn't quite hit that mark. All this is not to say that watching The Book of Life isn't a treat and a delight, because it is. The characters and worlds created are a joy to discover. The tale they tell just isn't as vibrant.

The movie opens on a modern day museum, and an unruly field trip group, but we soon hear the story of Maria (animal lover and carefree spirit), Manolo (sensitive musician turned bullfighter), and Joaquin ("courageous" town hero), three friends from a small Mexican town. A wager between La Muerte (Lady Death/Ruler of the Land of the Remembered) and Xibalba (Ruler of the Land of the Forgotten) pits Manolo against Joaquin in competition for Maria's hand in marriage.

Romance, sneakiness, family struggles, and outright cheating ensue, leaving Manolo to travel through several Lands in order to reach Maria while Joaquin decides to make an ultimate sacrifice to be a true hero. Maria herself has a few clever lines of dialogue, but is ultimately a prize to be won, not a dynamic character. That's where my main issue with The Book of Life lies: what if Maria wants neither boy/man? What if she doesn't want a man at all? Or even a woman? In the end, even if/when she does choose one of her best friends as the person she is in love with, that choice is overshadowed by the wager - if Maria is a good soul, she will choose Manolo, and therefore La Muerte, which will save humanity. If she chooses Joaquin, and therefore Xibalba, well, then the bad guys have won.

Maybe I would have fell for the passion and drama of the movie if I had watched during Halloween/Day of the Dead, when it came out. Even though it's called The Book of Life, death is a main character. And, along with the animation and the music, death is done well (read: appropriately). I would have no issue showing this movie to children to teach them about honoring and remembering the dead - it's just the movie's treatment of childhood relationships turned marriages and girls as trophies that bothers me.

In short, come for the animation, stay for the songs, and enjoy the afterlife. Just leave your expectations for gender equality at the door.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Sunday Night Survey: It's After Midnight Already? Edition

Answer: yes, it is. So I'll keep this brief. I spent this weekend:

Taking: long walks. OUTSIDE.
Applying: to more jobs (still/always), but
Feeling: content with my life right now.
Making: homemade brownies with dulce de leche.
Eating: homemade tacos with barbacoa and guacamole.
Tasting: several new beers and
Deciding: I'll stick to wine and cider, thanks.
Saying: goodbye to some of my favorite TV characters ever (Parks and Rec).
Getting: to knew a few new characters (House of Cards).
Finishing: Horns by Joe Hill.
Starting: The Pizza Bible by Tony Gemignani.
Craving: pizza (you knew that was coming).
Looking: forward to riding my bike to work and everywhere!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Book Thief

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): the story of Liesel, a young girl growing up in 1940s Germany, plus her foster family (the Hubermanns), and best friend(s) (Rudy and Max).

First thoughts: Having death as a narrator is a nice solemn, yet not overly dramatic, touch. S/he is very matter-of-fact, especially considering s/he is about to become the protagonist once WWII starts in earnest. As I read, I wasn't sure where the story was going, other than following Liesel's youth, but every page was so intriguing and pleasant and well-crafted that I didn't care.

Words and phrases: I was struck by so many beautiful passages - they were on every page and drew me through this depressing and gorgeous book. The style, tone, pacing, and subtle clever touches were amazing.

Favorite characters: Liesel. She is relatable, somehow (we have almost nothing in common). Rudy is a charmer, so you have to like him. Hans/Papa as well. And Max. And Rosa. And Ilsa. This is a great character book.

Favorite quotes:
"...the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain." p 80

"Verstehst du mich?" (Do you understand me?) -Papa, p 204

"'Don't punish yourself,' she heard her [Ilsa] say again, but there would be punishment and pain, and there would be happiness too. That was writing." p 525

"I wanted to tell the book thief many things, about beauty and brutality. But what could I tell her about those things that she didn't already know? I wanted to explain that I am constantly overestimating and underestimating the human race - that rarely do I ever simply estimate it. I wanted to ask her how the same thing could be so damning and brilliant." p 550

Final thoughts: I was basically in tears at the end of this book. If I ever watch the movie, I'll have to view it like a whole separate entity, because there is no translating the layers of this story to film. Each page was a treat, and put all together, The Book Thief was a reading feast.

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday Night Links 15

Wowee, what a long couple of weeks it's been! I started a new part-time/temp position last week and, while it forces me to wake up before sunrise once a week, I'm finding that I leave my extra shift with positive energy and a sense of purpose that I'd all but lost in the loneliness of house management. Switching it up this way has been a good thing, bringing perspective to why I do what I do and what I want to do moving forward.

This isn't to say that I'm not in need of a little self-care when the weekend rolls around. Here's how it's gonna go down (aka, is currently going down):

This list is pretty complete, but I would add Take Off Bra. You know the saying...

Next, I'm trying to finish this strange book so I can watch its movie counterpart. (Note to Mom and other sensitive viewers, the movie trailer features several snakes...view at your own risk!)

After Horns, I'm digging into The Pizza Bible.

Nothing goes better with reading + movies + pizza than a glass of wine, but what kind?

I try not to watch TV during the week, but since it's the weekend I'll take some time to catch up on my favorite TV shows - or at least read up about their political and creative conundrums. And how they reflect America's own political beliefs.

Above all, I hope to enjoy the above freezing weather that we've been promised in Chicago.

Happy Weekend and Happy Women's Day (on Sunday)!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hump Day Thoughts

  1. It is Hump Day, right? For some reason I can't keep my days straight this week.
  2. This week feels like it's more about survival than anything else - I keep coaching myself through the days and hours.
  3. I'm also doing a lot of lying to myself: "You'll only need to wear a billion layers for a few more days." "Tomorrow will be above freezing!" "You don't look tired at all."
  4. Recently, all I want to do is watch TV. I have two episodes of Parks and Rec left and I'm digging Season 3 of House of Cards.
  5. My dreams have been vibrant and violent lately. Just last night I was involved in a car chase.
  6. I'm so looking forward to being able to ride my bike to work again.
  7. I had one more thing, but I got distracted by the ray of sun that just slid into my room. Excuse me while I bask in it until I have to go to work.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Sunday Night Survey: What March Means to Me Edition

March means...

War: Mars, the Roman god of war and farming, gives March its name. I plan on warring with the weather this month.
Books: Dr. Seuss's birthday (3/2) also marks Read Across America Day. Right now I'm reading Horns by Joe Hill.
Puns: March fourth/march forth is coming up on Wednesday!
Daylight: As in, "saving it" for the evening.
Women: It's Women's History Month, and March 8th is International Women's Day. It makes sense that we get the day with only 23 hours.
Pi(e): "Pi Day is celebrated on March 14th (3/14) around the world." (emphasis mine)...luckily you can also celebrate around a pie.
Madness: Selection Sunday is the 15th and the craziness doesn't stop until Easter weekend. My money is on
Luck: I'm not Irish and I own exactly 2 green shirts, but St. Patrick's Day is an important holiday in Chicago.
Happiness: Take the pledge to "seek happiness in [your] life and to take actions to help others and those less fortunate to lead happier lives." It can't hurt.
Spring: At least according to the calendar. Who knows what plans Mother Nature will have.