Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Folded Clock: A Diary

The Folded Clock: A DiaryThe Folded Clock: A Diary by Heidi Julavits
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Heidi Julavits chronicles two years of her life in diary form, then "folds" the entries into this book.

First thoughts: Solid concept, not a fan of the execution.

Expand on that: I went between understanding and relating to various entries and being put off by her writing style and some of the content. Some parts felt too self-aware and that knocked me out of the narrative. I think I had high hopes for this book based on other reviews and my own personal relationship to journaling, so I was disappointed that I couldn't relate and/or didn't care about the story.

Favorite quotes:
"At a certain point, it seems more polite to just become the person people assume you to be." -p98

"There's nothing she hasn't thought of, and thought of and thought of, poor woman." -p112

"I wanted to escape my head because my head is so stupid these days. I wanted to be inside someone else's head." -p201

Final thoughts: Okay, so this book wasn't for me, or at least not for the person I am now. Lots of things matched up: writer, Rome, diary-lover, internal processor, ... but I felt out of sync with Julavits. Am I too young? Just not in the same head space? Who knows. I curious to hear about other readers' experiences.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 28, 2015


What do you get when you cross an alley in the Loop, one hundred or so Chicagoans of all ages, and steampunk? This month's ACTIVATE, a "pop-up urban experience" that brings together artists, musicians, and performers for a one night celebration of creativity. Jesus and I went last night to see what all the fuss is about, and we were impressed by the unique set up. We saw fire spinners (aka, my former neighbors), an aerial acrobat, body painting, and lots of people in costume. All while enjoying a complimentary drink and frozen popcorn (strange, yet satisfying).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Packing Up

Not much matters in August,
at least until the air cools;
then thoughts of September roll in
like a breeze off the lake.
We resign ourselves to sweaters and closed windows,
but keep our tank tops within reach.
We pack up our summer,
begin crossing the boundary to fall,
leave everything the way we found it so it's ready for next year.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Chicago Botanic Garden

I recently lamented/celebrated the coming of fall - the air is getting cooler and some mornings have that "fall" smell, something I'm not sad about, but then again, not something I'm quite ready for in late August. I have a few more things to do first, like visit the Botanic Gardens:

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Invisible Monsters

Invisible MonstersInvisible Monsters by Chuck Palahniuk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Our narrator, a disfigured beauty queen, describes the events prior to and after her accident, all leading up to her former best friend's wedding.

First thoughts: What am I reading?

Favorite quotes:
"It's a hundred generations removed from anything original, but the truth is aren't we all?" -p14

"...the only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open." -Brandy Alexander, p86

"Whatever you're thinking, a million other folks are thinking. Whatever you do, they're doing, and none of you is responsible. All of you is a cooperative effort." -Brandy Alexander, p218

"What you run from only stays with you longer. When you fight something, you only make it stronger." -Brandy Alexander, p220

Final thoughts: Lots of them. Invisible Monsters has a slow start, and takes some time to get used to the narration, but then BAM. Things start falling into place and the pieces all connect. This is a great narrative about the impermanence of beauty and identity, origins, and the evolution of self.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 21, 2015

Chain, Chain, Chain...

We all have them: our favorite chain restaurants/fast food joints. While it's nice to eat at a locally-owned or independent eatery, sometimes you want something more familiar, and something you know won't disappoint. My favorite chains go even further by serving high-quality food (think happy meats, vegan/vegetarian options, and plenty of ways to personalize the meal) that doesn't break the bank.

Favorite Burgers: Meatheads
Good For: When you want a specialty burger and a big plate of fries.
Ambiance: Meatheads feels a lot like Culver's to this Wisconsin girl - servers bring your food out to you and check in while you dine, but it's definitely casual.
Notes: I've not branched out into their non-burger options, so I can't comment on those, but the burgers are great!

Favorite Vegan: Native Foods Cafe
Good For: When you don't feel like eating animal products, or want to try something new.
Ambiance: Hip and casual.
Notes: I reviewed Native Foods in my original Vegan post, but wanted to re-establish it as one of my favorite chains.

Favorite Noodles: Noodles & Co
Good For: When you can't agree on what to have for dinner - noodles complement a lot of meals!
Ambiance: Casual and fun.
Notes: Join their email list for coupons and a free bowl during your birthday month (which reminds me...).

Favorite Mexican/Tex-Mex: Moe's Southwest Grill
Good For: When you're sick of Chipotle.
Ambiance: Fun and cool.
Notes: Guac isn't extra!

Favorite Mediterranean: Olive Mediterranean Grill
Good For: When you're in the mood for something you don't normally cook.
Ambiance: Cool and classy.
Notes: Get the schwarma. And the lentil soup. And the falafel. And pita. You know what, you just can't really go wrong here.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Chicago Air & Water Show 2015

After living in Chicago for five years, I finally consciously decided to attend/watch the Air & Water Show. There's really no escaping it, since the pilots use all of the air in Chicago as their stage, but getting closer by biking to the lake front really does up the viewing factor.

Since Jesus and I weren't able to bike our traditional marathon in July, we used this weekend as a substitute. Our total mileage was closer to 15 than a full 26.2, but we plan on adding in a few more mini trips before biking season ends since we a) both have working bikes and b) live together and can schedule weekend activities.

We stayed out of the craziness right on Oak Street Beach and instead set up camp closer to Fullerton, which means we didn't see any of the "Water" part of the show, but we were amazed and delighted (and, for me, a little worried) by what we saw in the "Air" part.

If the Jazz Fest marks the beginning of the summer in Chicago, the Air & Water Show marks the beginning of the end. We still have one month to make summer count (and a few more weeks to enjoy mild weather), but I can't say I'm sad about fall being right around the corner!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


Yesterday we had an afternoon lunch/commute break in between reorganizing a resource room and making parent contacts. A change in location meant a midday bike ride, something I haven't done since late June. It was disorienting and comfortable all at the same time, like seeing your friends while you're at work.

I took my time during the ride, not only because I had plenty to spare, but also to soak in a small freedom that I won't have for much longer. I haven't been biking much these days since our regional HQ (where most of training has been happening) is easily accessible by train; I forgot how important that alone time/exercise/meditation is to my sanity.

Not that I've felt insane lately, just not quite myself. I'm in a new apartment with a new roommate and working a new job - for a while I had no familiar comforts (or discomforts). I'm still creating my routine, which is difficult since so far every day at work (and home) has looked different. I need biking as a sort of touchstone in my day, something that says, Yes, you're still Rachel and this is still important to you.

My other touchstones? Food (making and eating, which I learned after finally getting enough groceries to cook a complete meal) and writing (which should come as no surprise, but somehow always does). Get ready to see more of all these things around these parts until I adjust myself to #teachingfellowlife.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities

The circus is in town! Jesus and I treated each other with tickets to Kurios, Chicago's Cirque du Soleil show, for our birthdays, and treated we were. The "theme" of Kurios is inventions and imagination. We were led through several worlds by a scientist, a man-train hybrid and his "unconscious," Mini Lili, an accordion man, and a telegraph woman as acrobats, jugglers, trapeze artists, musicians, contortionists, trampolinists, aerial dancers, and parkour gymnasts amazed and delighted us. You know what, just watch this video (not mine) and check out the pics (some mine, most Jesus's):

Saturday, August 15, 2015

MWF Seeking BFF

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search For A New Best FriendMWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search For A New Best Friend by Rachel Bertsche
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a Sentence (or two): New-ish Chicago transplant, wife, and author Rachel Bertsche documents the year she spends actively looking for a new best friend.

Wait, Chicago?: Yep, she's in Chicago. And my first few thoughts were of the "can we be friends?" variety. These ebbed as I got deeper into the book and saw what her idea of a fun friend date was (pedicures, yoga, brunch) and where she frequently went out (in neighborhoods no where near me).

Other First Thoughts: I love that Bertsche makes the distinction between Husband and BFF. They aren't the same! I especially appreciate that she is married and still needs that social outlet of a friend who isn't her husband. Her husband is the love of her life, but a best friend is a best friend.

Isn't it Ironic: Me, lover of alone time, relating to such a social book. But since I've read this, and since I've moved in with my boyfriend, I've really seen how important these outside of relationship connections are. I'd even say I see me friends more now that I'm living with Jesus - because my free time isn't spent coordinating with his schedule, I can make more plans with friends.

Friends at Work: Office/work friends are important! I knew it! That's one of the biggest reasons I wanted a job change, and Bertsche affirms my need: employees with a friend at work are seven times more likely to be engaged in their jobs (p 46).

Final thoughts: I got emotional at the end of this book. It was well-written and an interesting concept. I love that things worked out, but didn't always go as planned and weren't always as expected. I'm interested in where Bertsche is now with her friendships.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Day for Lefties

Today (Thursday, August 13) is National Left-Hander's Day - our very own day to celebrate all that's right about being left.

While 10% of the general population is left-handed, I've historically surrounded myself with a higher number of southpaws. Jesus is also a lefty, which means 100% of my apartment can celebrate today. Out of the three high school friends I keep in consistent contact with, two share my handedness. My Teaching Fellow cohort boasts a 30% lefty rate. Even my MercyWorks community was 21% left-handed. I'd like to say it's because lefties are drawn to the human service sector (and to each other), but I have no other evidence to back that claim. I've read that 20% of Apollo astronauts were lefties, so maybe we're drawn to space as well?

Either way, despite suffering pen and pencil stains on the side of my hand and failing the scissors test, I'm glad I share this physical quirk with so many friends, a boyfriend, and quite a few celebrities. We can all enjoy our day today knowing we're the only ones in our right minds! :)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Restaurant Reviews: An Update

Before I share a new group of favorite restaurants (and before Jesus and I find a bunch of new ones to try out in our new neighborhood), here's an update on some recent finds that weren't included in their original posts:

Pizza (original post here)

Good For: Lunch meetings/reunions with friends.
Ambiance: I've only eaten outside, which was pretty great. The train rumbles by every few minutes, giving you built in chow-down times.
Notes: The salads are huge and so is the pizza. Bring your appetite; you won't be disappointed.

Good For: Slices and Cold Ones on a hot summer night. Open late and located right off the 606!
Ambiance: Dimo's features a walk-up counter with plenty of seating. Biking and Chicago paraphernalia abound.
Notes: Originally on my To-Try List, I can now officially put Dimo's on my Favorites List. It was Ian's-esque (for my Madison peeps), but with a truly Chicago vibe.

Thai (original post here)

Thai Lagoon
Good For: a quiet solo lunch, PAD THAI!
Ambiance: lots of natural light and open seating during the day (when I went), but seems like a low-lit/intimate place at night.
Notes: One of the many Thai restaurants with "Thai" in its name, and thus on my To-Try List, Thai Lagoon wasn't a disappointment.

Mexican (original post here)

Taqueria Moran
Good For: picking up a few tacos to go.
Ambiance: Busy! When I went almost all the tables were full and people were constantly popping in to pick up to-go orders.
Notes: TM is a neighborhood favorite, and for good reason. They aren't fancy, but they know what they do well. The tacos were traditional (topped with onions and cilantro) and exactly what I expected.

Bars & Grills (original post here)

Beer Bistro
Good For: nightly specials, beers on tap, trying new things.
Ambiance: a modern bar with a traditional feel: Beer Bistro has plenty of group seating and is great for hanging out with friends old and new.
Notes: come for the specials, stay for the trivia! When I went I stumbled on trivia night. It was fun, and a great addition to our slider sampler platter (which I also recommend - 12 different (shareable) sliders plus tots!).

Coming Up Next: While they aren't the most exciting eateries, I'm putting together a post of my favorite chain restaurants. Independent spots are preferable, but I'd be lying if I said Jesus and I don't have a few fallbacks for when we can't decide/aren't feeling adventurous/want something we know. And if As The Romans Do wants to maintain reporting integrity, I've gotta share them. :)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #1)A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Meg and her brother Charles Wallace travel through time and space to rescue their father from a place beyond "The Darkness." They enlist the help of a new friend, Calvin, and three witches who used to be stars.

First thoughts: I honestly read this book only at Jesus's insistence. My first thoughts were that it's confusing - while written for younger readers, I had zero idea of what was happening or how to visualize the actions. I kept forgetting how the characters got to the different settings.

Second thoughts: Once the climax rolls around, things started picking up pace and making more sense. I would have liked to see that part expanded and the introductory parts slimmed down.

Favorite quote: "For a moment her brain reeled with confusion. Then came a moment of blazing truth. 'No!' she cried triumphantly. 'Like and equal are not the same thing at all!' -Meg, p177

That Ending: Is abrupt. The entire story is a lot of traveling and wondering what's going on, then just like that [spoiler] - Meg sends out some love and Charles Wallace is back to normal and everyone is back to Earth. The End.

Final thoughts: I wish I would have read this in middle school. I might have enjoyed it far more then.

View all my reviews

Thursday, August 6, 2015

What I Know About...Our New Apartment and Neighborhood (After Living Here Almost One Week)

After a slam-bang weekend of moving and starting to unpack, we're here! "Here" is in the Old Irving Park neighborhood, in our quiet one-bedroom apartment (which doesn't have closets full of old shoes or see-through walls, as my anxiety dreams last week led me to worry about). We're already getting to know the quirks of this place, and we've been exploring the area around us. This is what I've learned:

I know...
  1. The grass is always greener: There were a few things I was grateful to leave behind at the Naw, but I replaced those with new things. For example, my bedroom is no longer several feet from a neighbor's dining room, but our own dining room and kitchen are now several feet away from another dining room and kitchen. And instead of a southward slant, this apartment leans decidedly to the east.
  2. Some of my routines don't have to change!: my new library and nearest grocery store are close to each other, which means my typical Saturday routine of getting/returning books and stocking up on food for the week can stay in place.
  3. Other routines are long gone: Being two minutes away from the train stop has been great for my commute and general disposition about CTA, but not so great for my bike riding.
  4. It's quiet: Like way quieter than the surrounding area of the Naw.
  5. There's something that makes a place "home": We aren't quite there yet - it still feels like we are house-sitting - but little by little we're making this new place ours.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015


Barack Obama turned 54 today. I turned 27. I won't be the president in another 27 years, but in the next year I do hope to accomplish a few things.

First, let's see if I reached my goals for 26:

Cultivate my life uniform: I'm really proud of my accomplishments in this. I buy wayyyy fewer things, and what I do "fits" who I am, in both body type and style. I stumble here and there (sundresses are my kryptonite), but I feel like my wardrobe is finally representing who I am, not just what's on sale at Target.
Be socially just, especially regarding food: Still a work in progress. My charitable giving this year basically all went to the Chicago Food Depository (being more charitable was a goal two years ago), and I try to buy as local as I can while also eating healthy. Luckily for me, Aldi is all about local farmers aaaaand they have a few "happy meat" options.
Find new employment. Acquire health insurance. Learn about 401ks: YES! I did all three of these, except instead of a 401k I have a 403b, the nonprofit version of a retirement plan. Who knew these little things would make a lady so happy? I smiled with glee while filling out pages and pages of (online) paperwork.
Keep dreaming. Keep balanced. Keep true to myself. I'd say this was a stellar year of personal growth. Without tooting my horn too much, I'm more confident in who I am (and who I'm not) than I ever remember being.

And my 27 list, the things I want for my life in the next year:

Embrace new friendships: Starting a new job means having lots of new coworkers. I plan on being intentional about building community with both my Campus Team and the Chicago Regional Team.
Cultivate old friendships: I spent a lot of time catching up with friends over the summer/before starting my new job. I hope to continue that tradition as the school year begins. Definitely a challenge!
Reach out to potential mentors: I've always wanted a mentor, but I forget sometimes that I need to be proactive and ask for them. As a Teaching Fellow I'll be in contact with lots of teachers, administrators, and education professionals, all potential guides for me as I figure out where I want my Fellowship to take me.
Create a home: I'm living with my forever roommate, which means blending our possessions and compromising our interior designs. I am so excited to turn our first apartment together into a home we can fondly remember as the place where we created our own culture as a couple. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sunday Night Survey: Moving Edition

A lot can change in one weekend. Like an address, for one. And roommate(s). I haven't moved in almost four years, but we (Jesus and me, with the help of our family and friends) got this one done in a few hours Friday night and a few more on Saturday. Today was for unpacking and deciding on room arrangements (for now). Tomorrow is back to teaching fellow life, but I think it'll feel a little different knowing I get to go home to my forever roommate.

Waking: up earlier and earlier, and on my own.
Celebrating: Jesus's 27th birthday with his family and my parents.
Receiving: lots of housewarming gifts.
Feeling: spoiled!
Sleeping: in my closet bedroom one last time.
Saying: my goodbyes to empty rooms.
Walking: up and down a few flights of stairs over and over again.
Buying: apartment things.
Sorting: through approximately six boxes of books. We read a LOT in our house.
Putting: away winter clothes once again.
Finding: all the things I forgot I packed.
Testing: out the best way to create air flow in the apartment.
Making and Drinking: homemade limeade.
Eating: frozen grapes.
Exploring: my new neighborhood park and grocery store.
Watching: a storm pass and
Rushing: to close the right windows.
Getting: ready for a week of regional and campus training.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Saint Mazie

Saint MazieSaint Mazie by Jami Attenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sum it up in a sentence (or two): Jami Attenberg's fictional retelling of the real life Mazie Phillips-Gordon, Queen of the Bowery.

First Thoughts: a quick read, and interesting, but not overwhelmingly so.

Who's telling this story?: We don't learn our narrator's name until page 132. The rest of the story is made up of "interviews" with people who knew Mazie and "excerpts" from her diary. I wondered while reading how long it took to organize all of these snippets and found myself thinking about the writing of the book more than the actual plot/story.

Favorite Quotes:
"You're the most precious thing I own. I didn't know it till I lost you. I didn't know it till I found you." -p114, Mazie, about her diary

"We didn't join each other. But I was satisfied that we were both bearing witness to the same sunrise." --173, Mazie's diary

"We're not entitled to all the truth." -p190, Elio Ferrante

"But being a little angry with yourself is all right. That's how shit gets accomplished." -p223, Pete Sorensen

Extra, extra, read all about it: Mazie in the NYT archives!

Final Thoughts: Who is this book about in the end? Mazie, yes. Her men. Her other men. Her family. And our narrator, too - [spoiler] once with Pete, now with Elio, if my reading between the lines is correct.

View all my reviews