Saturday, May 30, 2015


SerenaSerena by Ron Rash
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): The story of newlyweds Serena and George Pemberton, lumber barons of North Carolina (and beyond, when it's up to them) in the years before the Great Depression.

First thoughts: I haven't read historical fiction like this in a while, and this was a good return to it. I liked the characters right away and the story moved along (and kept me interested).

Second thoughts: Okay, so my initial attraction to Serena herself waned as I got to know her. She's pretty cold and it's hard to tell what her motivations are.

This seems familiar: Serena is House of Cards and the Pembertons are the Underwoods, just set in 1929 North Carolina instead of present day Washington, D.C.

Favorite characters: Joel. The widow. Rachel, sometimes.

Final thoughts: Better than I expected, but I have some questions at the end. [Spoilers, obvs] Does Rachel find Joel? What happened in Colorado to make Serena so evil/crazy/mad? I want to see the movie (starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence) just to visualize the characters and what I'm sure is stunning scenery.

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Friday, May 29, 2015

My Memorial Day in Eight Pictures

A photographic retelling of my Memorial Day (or the more interesting parts, at least):

The morning started with intermittent rain and wind, which meant I kept snoozing/reading/playing Candy Crush.
Well, well, well, the sun came out! So I moved my reading to the porch (until the rain started again...)
Then I came back to my bed. Also: I made my bed!
After brunch, I ventured out of the house for arts & crafts with Becca!
We made candles.
Because I burn so many candles through the winter, I'm left with an obnoxious amount of leftover wax and jars. Re-purposing for next winter!
And, of course, a little more reading before bed. I finished this interesting book...look for my review soon!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Fault in Our Stars: The Movie

I found the movie version of The Fault in Our Stars funnier than the book. And just as sad. But definitely laugh-quietly-to-myself funny, which I didn't expect. Isaac (Nat Wolff, of The Naked Brothers Band) has perfect comedic timing, while Augustus (Ansel Elgort) isn't afraid to throw himself under the bus for a laugh. Hazel (Shailene Woodley) plays the straight man to her two friends (ahem, sorry, friend and boyfriend), but has enough snark and sarcasm to hold her own.

The plot doesn't change from the book, and a lot of the dialogue remains intact, so the story holds up in the film genre. The actors give life to characters that already seemed real, and [SPOILER] the Van Houton appearance at the end somehow seems natural (not contrived, like it did in the book). That fact itself endears me more to the movie, but John Green's prose still holds up. (So let's just call it a tie. Or, you know, me liking a story told two different ways.)

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

What I Know About...Exploring Chicago for Cheap

The Buckingham Fountain is on, the beaches are open, and Memorial Day is behind us...that means one thing in Chicago: it's SUMMER! Summer in Chicago is the reason why so many of us struggle through winter - it's a commonly heard mantra as you bundle up yet again, "Just wait for summer, summer redeems all of this." And for good reason. With the lakefront, over 500 public parks (and thousands of park events), sidewalk dining, concerts, and weekend festivals, there's always something going on in this city. Of course, summer entertainment can add up and before you know it, you're back to your winter routine of Netflix and reading. Unless you're me...then you know how much fun you can squeeze from a budget.

I know...
1. The best way to do Chicago for free is to take advantage of Chicago Park District parks. Besides the obvious activities that the parks offer: picnicking, laying out on the grass, playing on the playground, swimming, playing basketball/tennis/frisbee/etc, and riding or running the miles and miles of trails, there's also free movies, dance and music performances, art galleries and installations, the zoo, conservatories, family activities, gardening, the beach....and so much more.
     a. If you're a local, I highly recommend downloading the My Chi Parks app. It will tell you events happening by date or location and it helps you track Park Points, another highly recommended feature of the Park District. (Get points for promoting and attending park events, spend points on tickets to Six Flags, sporting events, restaurant gift certificates, etc.)
     b. Things that are included in Chicago Park District for a nominal price: Midnight Circus, golfing, rock climbing, day camps, fitness center memberships, sports leagues, wellness and creative classes...and I'm sure there's more. This post could start and end with the Park District.

2. It begs repeating.

3. Free events beget free events. Once you start attending free events, you will either learn about more free events, or you'll get exclusive passes to events, making them free for you. Example: Jesus and I got free Adler Planetarium passes, a pass for Brookfield Zoo's Motor Safari, and Field Museum passes for watching the Buckingham Fountain get turned on for the summer.

4. Museum Free Days are your friend. If you have an Illinois license, there are lots of opportunities to visit each museum for free. Other museums have weekly free days/times, while still others are free all the time.

5. Food can be an adventure all its own. Instead of trying to do dinner along with another activity, Jesus and I like to make eating out the main event. This works when we want to try out a special restaurant, or eat something unique to Chicago. Examples: getting a bag of Garrett's popcorn, then walking up and down State Street while eating; having dinner at Portillo's in River North and getting soft serve at the Rock 'n' Roll McDonald's across the street for dessert; filling up on a variety of Puerto Rican food from several vendors at the otherwise free PR Fest.

6. Exploration is the best way to make your own fun. Yes, visiting the Hancock or Sears/Willis Tower are fun and something to do at some point, but...sometimes walking around at ground level is fun too. I can't number the times Jesus and I have picked a neighborhood and walked. We might go into a store or art gallery from time to time, or stop to marvel at architecture or sculptures, or people-watch as we walk, but it's enough to be out and about in the city we call home

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Night Survey: Mid-Weekend Edition

The weekend isn't over yet! There's something rejuvenating about a Monday off every now and then; while no weekend should be wasted, a three day weekend should be taken full advantage of. I, for one, started early with a day off on Friday. Then I paused to work a morning shift yesterday. And now I'm back to full weekend mode - and just getting started on all the food, naps, reading, friend time, and activities that Memorial Day brings.

Judging: a new ad installation inside Blue Line trains.
Finding: my Zodiac head in the Circle of Animals.
Exploring: space at Adler Planetarium.
Pretending: to be a kid.
Hoping: my own future kids are interested in cool things like space.
Walking: along the lakefront trail: always beautiful, despite the wind!
Playing: at Maggie Daley Park, our new favorite.
Napping: daily.
Sweating: and loving it.
Biking: to and from work.
Learning: about Minecraft from a teenager. (Apparently it's important.)
Watching: the Blackhawks take Game 4 into OT...and WIN.
Reading: Spinster, by Kate Bolick.
Making: strawberry cupcakes.
Eating: strawberry cupcakes. And pizza.
Convincing: Jesus to get a new haircut.
Listening: to the rain.
Spending: time with family.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Goldfinch

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): The expansive tale of one boy (Theo Decker) and how his life changes in one afternoon. Also the tale of a small, but prized, painting.

First thoughts: The Goldfinch was so long and detailed. Not boring, exactly, but I wasn't sure of the significance of all the detail as I read. The marathon covers most of Theo's life, except when it skips past eight years randomly. It kept me interested, and I like the idea of delving deep into one person's experience.

Favorite quotes:
"None of us is ever find enough kindness in the world, do we?" - Boris, p282

"To understand the world at all, sometimes you could only focus on a tiny bit of it, look very hard at what was close to hand and make it stand in for the whole..." - p603

"If you can't plan it out ahead of time, you'll just have to work it out as you go along." - p694

"Can't good come around sometimes through some strange back doors?" - Hobie, p758

"Maybe even if we're not always so glad to be here, it's our task to immerse ourselves anyway: wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open." - p771

Favorite characters: Hobie, Theo, his mom, Xandra (not as a human being, just as an interesting character), NOT Boris. (I really didn't like him; he cost this book at least one star.)

Recommended for: people embarking on long trips, book clubs with patience, art dealers, black market mavens.

Final thoughts: At the end we learn why all the detail, sort of - [SPOILERISH] the book is all Theo's journal/thoughts since his mom died. I appreciate the width/depth, but man. So long. Some parts could have been condensed/streamlined. It sagged in the early and late middle parts, but picks back up at the end - the ending itself redeems the book from many of its sins.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Friday Night Links 20

Some visually appealing and summer-ready websites for your perusal (Happy Memorial Day Weekend!):

A word-heavy, yet informative list of photography tips. The best one? Have fun.

Are you making these summer mistakes?

Crowd-sourced time-lapse photography - good to know my multiple pictures of the same landscapes might be useful for something!

How about a beach reading list...from Bill Gates? (I've already read one of the seven he suggests, and the others look interesting.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Bar Food: Oh Yeah.

With the arrival of grilling and sidewalk dining season, here are a few of my favorite/local places to get a beer and a burger. (These are also, coincidentally, the places I take my family when they come to visit. Nothing too fancy, good food (and options for everyone), good brews/cocktails, and maybe a few TVs showing whatever game happens to be on.)

Revolution Brewing Brewpub
Good for: Beer and burger pairings, pizzas, getting up close and personal with where your beer comes from, and filling up.
Ambiance: young and hipster-ish, with an open-air dining feel in the summer.
Notes: Plenty of bike parking, not as much street parking. Also, strangely welcoming to vegetarians.

Kumas Too
Good for: Creative burgers with clever names and trying new things.
Ambiance: Loud, but friendly.
Notes: This is the second location for this successful mash-up of burgers, beer, and heavy metal music, located in Lincoln Park. Bring your appetite and don't expect much conversation (you'll be too busy eating).

Logan Bar & Grill
Good for: Watching the game, but not your waistline.
Ambiance: Casual, sports-friendly, and refreshingly un-trendy.
Notes: Several bars and clever seating make Logan appear much larger than it is. No wrong orders that I know of, but the pulled pork sandwich is especially good.

Madison Public House
Good for: Watching the Badgers, winning trivia, nightly specials, cheese curds!
Ambiance: A proud Wisconsin bar that also knows it's in Chicago: homey, yet metropolitan.
Notes: Some nights this place is empty, other nights it's packed. It's located between two more popular neighborhoods, so hopefully the runoff from those areas keeps Madison Pub House in business! Their Friday Fish Fry basket is A-Okay.

Will's Northwoods Inn
Good for: Joining fellow Wisconsinites in cheering for whoever is playing, and getting a few food and drink specials while you're there.
Ambiance: Unpretentious, unassuming, and unashamedly in love with Wisconsin.
Notes: "A little bit of God's Country in the heart of South Lakeview" pretty much sums it up. And yes, it really is a converted inn, which makes for a fun atmosphere of several different rooms/bars, yet a sense of connection with everyone cheering for the Packers/Badgers/Brewers (and a few Chicago teams as well).

In Memory
Etno Village Grill: I was lucky to eat here once during Etno's short run as a specialty burger joint. My burger was awesome - topped with mustard, arugula, and pears - and I was hoping to return again after their expansion, but now that the expansion (which has taken years) is more of a total overhaul, I'm not as excited.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sunday Night Survey: Thick Air Edition

It's the middle of May already! What happened to this month? Not sure, but here's what happened this weekend:

Eating: up what's in the pantry and fridge.
Drinking: water, water, water.
Making: life decisions.
Reading: Serena, by Ron Rash. It's like House of Cards, if the Underwoods were logging barons in 1930s North Carolina instead of politicians in current day Washington D.C.
Watching: The Babadook. It's weird. And scary-ish.
Celebrating: a college graduation.
Writing: restaurant reviews and pep talks to myself.
Renewing: my driver's license online, which you can do in Illinois if you're a safe driver.
Walking: around several neighborhoods to get out of the house.
Napping: in the park.
Sweating: in several outfit changes each day.
Getting: lots of needed sleep, but
Waking: up with the sun and the birds. Hello open window season!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Steal Like an Artist

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being CreativeSteal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): This is the advice that Austin Kleon would give to his younger self, that nothing is original and we are mash-ups of everything in our lives (so use that mash-up). This applies to artists, yes, but also to any person looking to tap into their more creative side.

First thoughts: What an uplifting little book! This was a breath of fresh yet familiar air - I found myself nodding in agreement at each page, smiling at the illustrations, and remembering basic truths about humanity.

Favorite quotes:

"Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things they really love." p13, my new cleaning mantra.

"Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul." -Jim Jarmusch, p14

"Don't worry about doing research. Just search." -p20

"Ask anybody doing truly creative work, and they'll tell you the truth: They don't know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing. Every day." -p28, something that I've heard from pretty much all my creative role models. Show up. Do your thing. Done is better than good (there's no such thing as perfect).

"Whenever you're at a loss for what move to make next, just ask yourself, what would make a better story?" -p47

"Don't throw any of yourself away. Don't worry about a grand scheme or unified vision for your work. Don't worry about unity - what unifies your work is the fact that you made it. One day, you'll look back and it will all make sense." -p72

"In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what's really important to them. Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying." -p137

Recommended for: artists of all genres, creatives, thinkers, doers, humans, wonderers, people stuck in a rut, new graduates, and dreamers.

Final thoughts: Having been a fan and follower of Kleon's blog for a while now, I knew what to expect going in, and I was still pleasantly enlightened.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2015


Summer weekends are getting a head start around here! Last weekend I hit all the biggies: farmers market, zoo, a downtown adventure, and a mini-trip to Madison for botanical gardens, ice cream, and walking up and down State Street.
These four (yes, four!) sat on that branch and intertwined tails. Most likely it helps them balance up there, but it looked so sweet!
"I like Netflix...and birds."
After! Summer is here, according to Buckingham Fountain.
Switching on Summer with 7th Heaven
Brunch at Monty's Blue Plate Diner in Madison
Followed by a leisurely stroll at Olbrich Botanical Gardens
Yep, it's starting to feel like summer.