Saturday, December 31, 2016


It's now officially New Year's Eve night. I'm ready to say adios to 2016 (after a few choice beverages and several playings of DJ Earworm's recent mashups) and hola 2017 (which has potential to be a busy, challenging, rewarding, momentous year). Cheers!

Extra: a look back at past years: 12.31.15 & 12.31.14

The Antidote

The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive ThinkingThe Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking by Oliver Burkeman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The subtitle says it all: "Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking"...this is a self-help book that subverts the ooey gooey "if you can believe it, you can achieve it" messages.

First thoughts: Yes. This book is for me. I struggle with goals - setting them, sticking to them, believing in them. It's especially challenging as a person who loves committing to, well, challenges. I've done happiness challenges for several years, and while I learned a lot, I can't say I'm any more (or less) "happy" than I was without the challenges.

What about Happiness?: We crave happiness, but we aren't very good at achieving it - despite all of our trying with education, money, more stuff, self-help books, etc...we're still not quite happy. Some of us, yes, but not as a whole. What gives?

A quote: "There are good reasons to believe that the whole notion of 'seeking happiness' is flawed to begin with. For one thing, who says happiness is a valid goal in the first place?" -p6 what are our options?: In the face of the paradox of happiness, we can continue to pursue futile solutions, give up, OR take the "negative path" to "happiness" - that is, we can "enjoy uncertainty, embrace insecurity, and value death." -p7-8

More about these Negative Paths:

Stoicism: tranquility through calm indifference of circumstances - examine negative emotions and experiences and decide to be tranquil.
Buddhism: non-attachment to positive and/or negative thoughts - don't cling to or avoid anything.
Insecurity: it's not something to confront - recognize that life is insecurity.
Failure: stretching past your current limit - it's a good thing.

"To fully embrace the experience of failure, not merely to tolerate it as a stepping stone to success, is to abandon this constant straining never to put a foot wrong. It is to relax." -p173

Goals: stop pushing things to 5yrs in the future - enjoy your work in the present.

"...goal-free living simply makes for happier humans." -p95

Goals, continued: The goal chapter was my favorite - I am constantly changing my "goals" and letting them adapt to where I am at the moment. I've learned to be flexible in the path I take to an objective and in changing the objective itself. It's much easier to take action based on who I am right now instead of "where I see myself in 5 years" - 5 years ago I did not see myself a) engaged, b) applying to grad school, c) finishing up a teaching fellowship...and yet here I am, happy as a clam that these things are all true.

Recommended for: everyone. Unless you've already figured all this out, and even then, still read this to affirm your decisions to fail big, pursue your curiosities, and live in composed insecurity.

Final thoughts in a quote: "You can have a broad sense of direction without a specific goal or a precise vision of the future. I think of it like jazz, like improvisation. It's all about meandering with purpose." -Steve Shapiro, p96

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Friday Night Links 37

Much like 2016, my "goals" for 2017 aren't what most people would deem "SMART" - they're not so much a culmination of specific tasks I can cross off while on my way to a grand conclusion as they are feelings I want to feel this coming year (mostly healthy and content). I've essentially given up on goals, because (in their most popular and oft-advertised form) they don't work how they should.

Here's the evidence, and different ways of thinking about accomplishments:

First, this article on "staying happy" when things are not going well. I'll have more to say about Burkeman's book tomorrow, but this article is a nice intro to the idea of positivity in the face of negative news: "Paradoxically, it’s through taking action, despite not feeling happy about the situation, that a deeper kind of happiness can arise."

The above leads nicely into this manifesto, a re-imagining of the news from the stable and positive side and a reminder that most humans are good (normal, boring) people.

Same message, put a little more bluntly: "The desire for more positive experience is itself a negative experience. And, paradoxically, the acceptance of one’s negative experience is itself a positive experience." Pursuing things - goals, happiness, whatever - simply highlights the fact that you don't have those things. Sometimes you "get happy" by giving up and living with the struggle. [Warning: adult language ahead.]

This information is all great if you have a direction you want to struggle in, but for all of us with a "passionless unknown," here are three simple steps to keep going until we stumble upon it...

...and permission - encouragement even - to not love what you do.

Another echo of the same message: "I just worked at whatever I was working on and ended up wherever I am. I continue to approach work and life that same way today."

Followers of this blog know what's coming favorite Elizabeth Gilbert video, the final word on how to think about goals/passions/life choices (it's my top bookmark, y'all):

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 By the Books

I read 66 books in 2016 (67 if I finish The Help before Sunday (doubtful)). Here's a breakdown of what I read (using my Goodreads Account as my source) :
Total Number of Books Read: 66
Total Pages Read: 21,151
Shortest Book: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery  (83 pages)
Longest Book: The Crimson Petal and the White by Michal Faber (835 pages)
Average Rating: 3.5 stars
Highest Rated (by Goodreads): The Martian by Andy Weir (4.37 stars)
Highest Rated (by me): 6-way tie between Cravings by Chrissy Teigen, Coraline by Neil Gaiman, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, The Princess Bride by William Goldman, and The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman
Re-reads: Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert (also read in 2008 & 2011) and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver (also read in 2011) [It was a good year for women who wrote year-long memoirs with lists as their titles.]
Women Authors: 28 (42% --> gonna do better than that next year)
Authors of Color: 9 (14% --> also working to improve that)
Non-Americans: 18 (27%--> I'm pretty okay with that)
Translations: 4
Books written by Neil Gaiman: 6 (that probably won't happen ever again)
Books with Movie or TV Adaptations: 26
Definitely Better Than The Movie: The Princess Bride by William Goldman was delightful!
Fantasy: 11
Horror: 10
Comedy: 10
Non-fiction: 23
Biggest Surprise: Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
Biggest Letdown: Paper Towns by John Green was the worst - do not waste your time on that garbage!
Still Thinking About: The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman (review coming on Saturday!)

Something I Learned (about reading): Reading has seasons, and books either fit or don't fit those seasons. Reading scary stories not in the fall feels out of place. Reading dense writing in the spring feels laborious. Some books had better "flow" than others based on the season and mood - and I plan on taking better advantage of that next year, instead of forging ahead with something just because "it's on the list".

Goal For 2017: More women, minorities, and translations. Less white dudes.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Brookfield Zoolights 2016

In true form, Jesus and I went to zoolights this year - this time at Brookfield Zoo. We were there early during the first big snowfall of the winter, which meant we had most places to ourselves (until dusk, when the lights turned on & people came in flocks). We saw big sleeping cats and little sleeping cats, giraffe feeding time, and plenty of festive decor. We still prefer Lincoln Park's more condensed light shows and decorations, but Brookfield definitely felt like a winter wonderland when we were there!

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Easiest Cheesiest Garlic Bread

A great way to get more cheese into your life is to stuff it inside and on top of some bread. Chrissy Teigen's Armadillo Cheesy Garlic Bread does just that, and is so simple to put together ahead of time that it makes the perfect party appetizer. Your guests' dinner plate eyes and reaching hands as you pull back the aluminum foil to reveal its cheesy criss-cross pattern will cement your status as bread honcho.

3 c shredded mozzarella (or another cheese of choice)
1 1/2 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (we used finely shredded Parmesan)
1 stick butter (original recipe calls for an additional half stick, but 1 was plenty for the size of our loaf)
1/2 c mayonnaise
2 tbsp minced garlic (we used jarred garlic)
1 tsp red pepper flakes (we used paprika)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 pound round loaf bread (Teigen uses French, we did sourdough)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 (if prepping ahead, skip to 2).
  2. Combine cheeses, butter, mayo, and seasonings in a large bowl.
  3. Slice bread (almost to, but not through the bottom) in a diamond pattern, making cuts 2 inches apart.
  4. Cover a baking sheet in foil and place bread at center. Using a spoon and/or rubber scraper and/or your fingers, stuff cheese mixture into all the cracks. It works best to start at one end and fold back the cuts to fill in an entire row with cheese. Cover the top of the loaf with any remaining mixture.
  5. With another sheet of foil, cover the loaf, curling the top and bottom sheets together to seal in the bread.
  6. When ready to serve: bake 20 minutes at 400, then remove top foil sheet and reduce temperature to 375 and bake another 15-20 minutes longer. Cheese should be melty and golden.
  7. Serve immediately, though it does reheat wonderfully the next morning for breakfast!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

The Kids Are All Right: A Memoir

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The four Welch siblings recall their childhood from each of their perspectives in this memoir of growing up together, but individually.

First thoughts: reminds me of The Way Back (movie) and This is Your Life (by Meg Wolitzer). Very of its time, class, and race (80s, upper, white).

A memoir? I know - why do I keep reading memoirs when they are my least favorite genre? I keep thinking they can't all be self-absorbed and dramatic, but that's kind of the point of memoirs. I just pretend it's fiction while I read so I'm not as eye-rolly and unimpressed by rich people problems.

Recommended for: a specific type of person - someone who enjoys memoirs, or grew up with money. Yes, the Welches face events that are tragedies no matter who you are (deaths of parents, loss of finances), but they were uniquely positioned to be pretty okay (All Right, in fact) despite all this.

Final thoughts: Just OK. Well-written, to be sure, and a testament to the power of sibling love. I appreciated getting to hear everyone's perspective (and not being stuck with one narrator). In the end, though, I was still wondering "so what" about everything - I wasn't sure what the underlying motivation for writing the memoir was.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter Solstice

The longest night of the year calls for comfort food and cozy robes, reading scary stories in bed, and a walk around the neighborhood to not let the dark + cold + wintry wind get the best of you. That's how I started my night (which started at, what, 5? 4:30? Way too early, thank God we're on our way back to longer days). I plan on finishing it by snuggling in with my heating pad and Teddy Bear, then waking up to one last day of work for the year.

And what a year it's been. I'm ready to close this chapter and start a new one - no, things aren't going to change just because the calendar does, but the mental shift from 16 to 17 feels overdue. (All this to say, my personal 2016 was pretty okay. Work life, home life, and family life were good. That they were good in such a tumultuous year means I have lots to be thankful for as we countdown to the new year.)

So that's where I'll end on this longest night - with gratitude and the knowledge that long nights make us change our perspective on the rest of our nights. As we learned in 7th grade science this week - if the Earth wasn't tilted at a perfect 23.5 degrees, we wouldn't have seasons. Twelve hours of day would follow 12 hours of night, and Chicago would exist in a perpetual state of chilly 40 degree temperatures. I need seasons. I'm glad we have the tilt. I'm thankful for the longest night, and looking forward to dawn because of it.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

My Dear I Wanted to Tell You

My Dear I Wanted to Tell YouMy Dear I Wanted to Tell You by Louisa Young
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of two relationships and how they grow and change during World War I.

First thoughts: A cross between Atonement and Catch-22, plot-wise, but written in the style of a romance/drama, and less powerful than either of those.

Characters (with potential spoilers):
Riley: WWI soldier. Loves Nadine, but refuses her love for him.
Nadine: Nurse who will deal with the worst. Brokenhearted with love for Riley.
Locke: Riley's commanding officer. Distant and hardened by war, though usually sensitive.
Julia: Locke's wife, who awaits his return from war. Her "talent" is her beauty.
Rose: Riley's nurse. Locke's cousin. Nadine's friend. Julia's confidante.

Recommendations: I could have done with less exposition in the beginning and more conflict working towards a resolution at the end. I almost gave up on this one because not much was going on, until it was.

Recommended for: Fans of wartime love stories will find this enjoyable - the characters are mostly likable, though flawed, so lovers of relationship-driven tales will find something here as well.

Final thoughts: A nice getaway to another time and place, even if you'd rather your WWI books be less "nice" and more real.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Holiday Spirit Time!

I'm finally feeling ready for some holiday cheer! 10+ weeks, two apprenticeship courses, seven student group presentations, two field trips, and one 60-minute showcase later, my semester is over (mostly). Next week is mostly a formality on the way to two weeks of break: holiday parties, Secret Santa exchanges, and holiday-themed dress up days await. With no more lessons to plan until next year, I'll get to enjoy being with my kids for some much deserved post-WOW! celebrations.

But first: a weekend of hibernation & all the laundry I haven't been doing.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Drop everything, grab your loved ones, and go see this movie ASAP. Moana is the Disney "princess" I want to introduce to all my students and my future children. I can point to her and say, "Here you go, kids. A fictional character to aspire to." She's fierce, funny, and female. She's strong. She makes mistakes, but she learns from them. She's not a damsel in distress or an independent teenager who needs nobody - she's a flawed human who is figuring out who she really is.

Moana doesn't stop with a dynamic title character (an improvement from Frozen & Tangled) - it gives us supportive (yet still flawed because they're human) parents, a sympathetic demigod, a role model grandmother, and (it is still Disney) a few animal sidekicks for comedic relief. It tells a classic story with heart and passion and voice actors who look like their characters (that is, not white). Lin-Manuel Miranda helps out with the music, which is amazing. Seeing and hearing Moana on the big screen was money well spent - not only for the experience, but because I want my dollars going to art I believe in.

Because while Moana is on one level a story about a girl who must leave her island to save her people, it's also about knowing and accepting who you are, celebrating differences, and respecting cultures. (A few things we could all use a refresher course on...some of us more than others.)

Saturday, December 10, 2016

A Lesson Before Dying

A Lesson Before DyingA Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Jefferson, a black man wrongly convicted for murder, sits on death row. Grant, a black schoolteacher from Jefferson't hometown, is tasked with teaching him pride in himself as they both struggle with their humanity and the society that got them where they are (and where we still are).

First thoughts: I wish this book wasn't so timely, considering it was written 20 years ago and set 70 years ago. I wanted it to be "history," but instead it felt surreal.

Recommendations: Don't get me wrong, this book is well-written, a slow burn - but I'd like it to be more detailed, maybe a bit more condensed with added character development. I cared about Jefferson and Grant, but not as much as I could have. I didn't know enough about them or their motivations. While the story moved me, I've also forgotten parts of it now, three months after finishing.

Recommended for: humanity.

Final thoughts: Sad. Sad and honest and a lesson to all of us: we are all human and we all deserve dignity.

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Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Favorite Roasted Potatoes

I learned tonight that I can make a meal out of a few potatoes. Healthy? Debatable. Delicious? Absolutely.

I can't tell you where my recipe originated, except to say that it was both crowd-sourced and the result of plenty of experimenting. You should do the same with your own recipe - take mine, add in a few more opinions, try a few things out, and end with your very own favorite roasted potatoes.

Roasted Potatoes

4-5 small or medium potatoes (Baby Reds work great)
olive oil
garlic powder
rosemary (fresh or dry)

  1. Preheat oven to 450. Wash and cut potatoes into similar-sized cubes. Rinse again and pat dry with a towel.
  2. In a large bowl, combine potatoes and enough olive oil to completely coat them. Start small - a tablespoon or two, then add more if needed. It's important that the potatoes be completely covered in oil as that will seal in the heat & moisture of each piece so when they bake they are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, BUT you don't want to overdo it with oil either. (This is where practice and experimenting comes in.)
  3. In a small bowl, combine equal amounts of salt, pepper, garlic powder, and paprika. Again, start small (1 tsp). Toss this mixture with the potatoes so that they are once again completely covered. Repeat the process if necessary. (If you use 5 larger potatoes, you may need more seasoning. Four small potatoes probably won't.)
  4. Pour potatoes onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper or a baking mat. Spread them out so they aren't touching each other. Use two baking sheets if needed - these guys need space!
  5. Bake until crispy golden brown on the outside and soft on the inside, 30-45 minutes. (If you used two baking sheets make sure to rotate them at some point.) I usually check after 30 minutes by piercing a potato with a fork, then decide they definitely need more time. Then I add in some rosemary (fresh). They always need more time than I think they do - you'll want to roast these until they are almost almost burnt. As long as the oil is covering them, they won't dry out. The insides will be nice and fluffy and the outside will crisp right up. You know you're there if the outsides are starting to bubble/puff out.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

The Art and Science of Rearranging

It's a small thing, really, coming home to an apartment that feels nice. But it's made all the difference these past few days, when all I want to do is come home and sit still. Even better, Jesus did part of the rearranging while I was at work - coming home that day felt like a surprise party for one (the ideal surprise party for an introvert).

To be clear, we don't just move furniture around and call it a day. There's a method to our movement. Before anything happens, we decide that something isn't working in a room: no one ever sits on that couch because xyz is in the way, the bed is too close to the door or too far from an outlet, the radiators turned on and the bikes need to be pulled away from all that heat. We toss out a few ideas, weigh the pros and cons, and decide what we want.

Then it's moving time. Things get hairy here...literally. All the moving stirs up dust bunnies and while Jesus is chief of big furniture, I am in charge of sweeping previously unreachable corners. Big pieces get placed in their new homes, followed by smaller things like chairs or side tables or lamps. There's some room for mid-move adjustments as we realize parts of our plan might not work - tables are too long or too high for some spots, traffic flow is blocked, or it plain doesn't look good (sometimes our "method" is more of a gut feeling) - but we work through the knots until we have something fresh and practical.

Lastly, finishing touches. Vases, tchotchkes, and plants fall into place. We stand back and appraise our work, then sit in the space and feel it out some more. A few nods, and we're good. For at least a few months.

Extra: More rearranging thoughts & a poem.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

One Day

One DayOne Day by David Nicholls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the relationship of Dexter and Emma, shown on one day (July 15) of multiple years.

First thoughts: I watched this movie a while ago, but I can still remember the emotions from each year's vignette. Each version is pretty faithful to the other, and the emotions are a testament to how easy it is to fall for both Dexter and Emma (while at the same time being super frustrated with both). BUT. Why won't they admit they're in love? Some disbelief has to be suspended for this love story to work.

Middle thoughts: Yep, even in the middle and towards the end I found myself wanting to know how things go down (even though I know how it all ends). The character development pulled me in.

Recommended for: hopeless romantics, readers needing a world with different dramas to escape to, fans of "snapshot" stories.

Final thoughts: That ending. No spoilers here, but I appreciated the anniversary chapters for their reflection on the relationship.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Yes and November

When I look back on November 2016, I see highs and lows. This was a big month - both for myself and for the world. My country elected a man with ties to white supremacist groups (who has yet to denounce the hundreds of hate crimes being carried out in his name. Meanwhile, he has taken the time to threaten our First Amendment rights several times...but I digress). We also managed to elect a few women, minorities, and politicians who won't sit back and let our leaders halt progress as we know it - baby steps.

In my personal life, I made the decision to apply to grad school and I got engaged. ! Right now I'm excited for both, and only a little anxious when I think about going to grad school, finding a new job, and planning a wedding simultaneously...again, baby steps.

No matter what's coming down the line in December and beyond, I'm taking it step by step (much like this video which heavily features my morning commute). One step, one second, one morning at a time.

Monday, November 21, 2016

As the Milwaukeeans Do

Jesus and I took a late Anniversary trip to Milwaukee this past weekend - just a quick one-nighter - and we loved it. It's less than a two-hour drive from Chicago, and with some advanced planning, much cheaper than the same weekend would be here. We had tickets to see the Zelda Symphony Orchestra at Riverside Theater, and added in a few extra activities as we went. Here's what we recommend:


For a quick snack, check out Wild Flour Bakery in the Shops of Grand AvenueTheir muffins were the perfect size to tide us over until dinner. Plus they're a Woman-Owned Business!

We had dinner at Buck Bradley's. The food is typical American/bar & grill, with an extra special Wisconsin touch (think: CHEESE!). The atmosphere is cozy and vintage, with TVs for the sports fans and a quieter dining room for families and couples on dates.


Since we had this trip planned since spring, we got a pretty decent deal at the Fairfield Inn & Suites downtown. It was only 3 blocks away from the theater, and within walking distance of many downtown attractions. Parking was only $15 overnight, and we had a legit continental breakfast.


The Zelda Symphony won't be back to Riverside Theater until at least next year, but they have tons of upcoming shows. It's a historic theater with quite the origin story (including a fire & continuing floods), and stunning decor.
Depending on the season, there's always something going on downtown. We got to see holiday lights, do a little shopping, check out the restaurant/bar scene, and gaze up and down the river (until we decided it was way too cold for that nonsense).

Our activity for Sunday was the Milwaukee Public Museum. We highly recommend this 134-year old museum, and it may even edge out our own Field Museum in novelty and great use of space. The Streets of Old Milwaukee are fascinating and we spent a lot of our time imagining ourselves in each room or house of the European Village. And that Butterfly Vivarium! This is a must for families, or couples with a childlike sense of wonder.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Under the Skin

Under the SkinUnder the Skin by Michel Faber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Isserley is a female and she resembles a human, mostly. She lives on Earth with a few of her kind, all of whom were sent here on a food gathering mission.

First thoughts: This story is quick-paced and easy to read (on the surface), but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered - the biggest being "What does it mean to be human?"

On Michel Faber: Yeah, this is nothing like the other Faber I read this year (The Crimson Petal and the White). Except that in both books the main character is female? It's a stretch - these are two very different books.

Changes I Would Make: I could have done without the bulk of the middle section - we need the beginning to set the stage, and the action picks up in the end, but the middle drags on a bit as we see Isserley's routine of picking up hitchhikers over and over. And the actual ending was a bit deus ex machina; I would've gone a different way with it.

Recommended for: People who need a weird book to read, anyone interested in the meat farming industry and/or the implications of humans not being alone in the galaxy.

Final thoughts: Under the Skin is supposed to get under your skin slowly and reveal the human vs alien in us all, but it doesn't do it as strongly as it could have.

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Thursday, November 17, 2016


Sometimes we need animals to show us how to be decent human beings.

If you haven't seen Zootopia yet, do. It's on Netflix & worth every minute. While the story of a determined bunny cop with a laissez-faire fox as her sidekick would normally be cute, funny, or even just a good time, Disney takes it up a notch and makes sure we (well, adults at least) get more out of this family film. The political implications were spot on and even more striking post-election. The way prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination are approached, I wouldn't be surprised if a teacher decided to show this in class. (In fact, my students might just have this to watch during our pre-Thanksgiving party.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Inspiration Kitchens & Garfield Park Conservatory

Because sometimes you need a quiet, beautiful place to shut out the world's nonsense while you recharge. Also, amazing food for a worthy cause.
In 1989, former police officer Lisa Nigro began passing out sandwiches and coffee to residents of Chicago's Uptown neighborhood. Today, under the Inspiration Corporation umbrella, Inspiration Kitchens provides training and jobs, along with other supports, to street-based and low income populations interested in working in food service. Because I'm all about voting with my dollars (and because the food is a grand slam), eating at Inspiration Kitchens before a visit to the Garfield Park Conservatory was a no-brainer for Jesus and me. He got the shrimp skillet, I got chicken on a biscuit, and we both got wowed by our meals.
We got real zen once inside GPC - I love how hushed people get around abundant plant life, both massive and tiny. While Jesus took a few laps around the different rooms searching for Pokemon, I sat on a bench in the Fern Room and read. It was glorious. And were it not for a lingering cough, which made my lungs favor the Aroid House, I could have sat in the Desert House for several hours, just being quiet.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters BrothersThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Eli and Charlie Sisters are hit men in the Old West of the 1850s, but they don't always agree on their way of living. During a particularly difficult mark, Eli questions his life as a killer.

First thoughts: Entertaining, dark, funny, strange. This is the Old West re-imagined.

Favorite quotes:

"We can all of us be hurt, and no one is exclusively safe from worry and sadness." -p50

"This moment, this one position in time, was the happiest I will ever be as long as I am living. I have since felt it was too happy, that men are not meant to have access to this kind of satisfaction; certainly it has tempered every moment of happiness I have experienced since." -p284

Recommended for: Western fans, Mark Twain readers, career changers, anyone needing an adventure from the comfort of their couch.

Final thoughts: How do we decide our careers? When do our careers become our lives (not just our livelihoods)? Read & discuss.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

Friday Night Links 36

True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country. - Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
 Jesus and I went to the Veterans Art Museum this morning to see the new Vonnegut exhibit. Vonnegut was a writer, veteran, activist, and artist. His political leanings were more socialist than left v right, so his take on this election would have been interesting. He combated death and the absurdity of the human experience with dry humor and pessimistic satire, and refused to romanticize war. His art is accessible to veterans and civilians alike, and reminds us that our time on Earth is short and weird. A lot of things don't make sense, and c'est la vie - but we still have the task of loving "whoever is around to be loved."

So, here is my love - in the form of things to read and ways to take action.


This letter from a writer to his wife. The election was never Democrat v Republican for many of us. It was validation v dehumanization.

This letter from Aaron Sorkin to his wife and daughter. What do we do now? We get out of bed and go back to work.

Any of these books to inform, educate, and inspire you to act.


Know your rights. And the rights of those more vulnerable than you.

Volunteer - teach others, feed others, make your corner of the globe a better place.

Speaking of teaching others - has great election resources for teachers and anyone who works with youth.

"Elections have endpoints. Social progress does not."

Donate to or volunteer with these human rights organizations (many Chicago-based). There are also links to articles about white privilege and racism, for those of us who need refreshers.

Another collection of Chicago-based organizations to support in the next four years (and beyond).

And a more general list of ways and resources to get involved in local politics - because the presidency is one thing, but our everyday lives are more affected by our local and state governments.

These resources are as much for me as they are for any readers - both as reminders that I'm not alone in how I feel and I'm also not powerless to act. As I've heard many people say this week, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. - "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Now we need to make sure that bend happens.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Future is Female

"I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday, someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now." -Hillary Clinton
It was hard to face my students today. (Since there was no school yesterday, today was the first day we were all together since the election.) "Trump won," a student said in Second Hour, her eyes wide behind her glasses. I nodded. "I'm not happy about it." I agreed that few people around us were. We're lucky - we live in a very blue city, one that now feels safer for me and my black, brown, LGBTQ, Muslim, and disabled students than my home state does - but that doesn't mean we're off the hook for making changes in our communities.

Tomorrow, I'll start sharing the resources I've been collecting to help anyone else who refuses to sit back and let our country erase years of progress. Today, small victories and reasons why the future is female.

First, some good news. Six women who DID shatter the glass ceiling when they were elected on Tuesday. Hopefully one or more of them make a presidential run some day. 2020 wouldn't be too soon.

"Sitting on the sidelines and not participating is not an option, even when you’re afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing."  As a white woman, I have to own up to the fact that white women are a part of the problem - especially in the mess of this election. We're not above reproach just because we're still fighting for our own rights. In fact, it's even more important for us (white women) to be allies to people of color while recognizing they've been fighting for women and minorities longer and harder than we have.

Watching this history of women running for president first made me tear up. Then it made me angry. Then it made me want to do something. Like write this. And encourage every qualified woman I know to run for office.

Someday this Milennial map might become the norm, but first young voters need to show up. I'm heartened by the fact that many of the 8th grade students I work with will be old enough to vote in our next election. And while it was hard to see all of their confused and angry and disappointed faces today, I know they're counting down to 2020 right along with me.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Love & Politics

Lord knows this Nasty Woman will only date Bad Hombres who vote. Here's hoping your Election Night is spent with people you love. (And I'm hoping I go 3 for 3 in choosing presidents!)

Saturday, November 5, 2016

A Neil Gaiman Round-Up

CoralineCoraline by Neil Gaiman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A whole "other" world is waiting for Coraline at the end of a secret passageway she finds in her living room, and now it's up to her to save her parents from the thing that wants to be her Other Mother.

First thoughts: Coraline is a great book to start off a Neil Gaiman kick.

Favorite quotes:

"Coraline wondered why so few of the adults she had met made any sense. She sometimes wondered who they thought they were talking to." -p20

"Nothing, she thought, had ever been so interesting." -p137

"Be wise. Be brave. Be tricky." -p145

Recommended for: children and parents, explorers and storytellers, wanderers and wonderers.

Final thoughts: A short read and a must read. Perfect for a late summer day - would be great to read to a student before school starts.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Neverwhere is the story of what happens to the people the world forgets, set in a place the world doesn't see.

First thoughts: What's real? What's reality? I loved escaping to London Below. Makes me curious to think about a Chicago Below. This book makes you rethink the meaning of "falling through the cracks."

Doors: A door is a way in, a way out, it can be locked or unlocked, a gateway or a barrier...and in this book, Door is also a character and family name. Who/what are you if your name is Door?

Recommended for: readers who love to get lost in a world, dreamers, big imaginations, anyone who's ever wondered what's on the other side of reality.

Final thoughts: Neverwhere is a fantastic telling of reality. I could visualize all the characters and settings and truly felt the story. Gaiman builds a complex world and lets his characters loose inside.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

What happened to the gods our ancestors brought with them to the New World? And what happens when the new gods challenge the old? American Gods tells the history of gods in America, all the way up to battles being fought even today.

First thoughts: I loved all the Midwest love - Illinois and Wisconsin are featured settings, including Chicago, Madison, and the House on the Rock.

Favorite quote: "If he was going to be anywhere tonight, he might as well be here..." p257

Recommended for: historians and fantasy-lovers alike.

Final thoughts: While there is an abundance of detail in this story, it doesn't always move the story along. My only critique is that I wanted more of the Lakeside plot - I liked the mystery of the little town and it's disappearing children. Personally, I could do without all the extras and the backstories of all the minor gods. All in all, it was still a great world to get lost in.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Wake Me Up When Sep-tober Ends

Recording video isn't something I'm a natural here's September's & October's "One Second Everyday" mashed into one late summer/early fall supercut (yes, I bike a lot):

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Birth of Love

The Birth of LoveThe Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Highly conceptual, but lacking in follow through, The Birth of Love takes you through stories of childbirth in the past, present, and future.

First thoughts: I love the parallel narratives across different times - it keeps me from getting bored with one story line.

Recommended for: I think this book ended up being "Not For Me," which isn't to say it's not for anyone else - maybe mothers (or parents) who have actually gone through childbirth? Those (more) interested in the social and historical implications of childbirth?

Final thoughts: A fast read, thanks to the different stories, but a disappointing finish. I felt cheated out of complete endings. I didn't feel like I had enough context with Michael Stone's story to understand his motives and the drama of his actions. I wanted to know more about Prisoner 73004's feelings. I needed some further backstory.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Play Ball?

It's hard not to think about baseball right now. In Chicago (more specifically, in my apartment & in an elementary school on the North Side, the two places I spend most of my time), water cooler talk is all about the Cubs. Almost everyone has an opinion on them, either highly positive (This is their year!) or historically negative (They're gonna choke!)...except me.

Would I like the Cubs to win the World Series? Sure, why not. Will I lose any sleep if they don't? Nope. I'm not a good baseball fan in general - I only start following it in October, and watch only the World Series itself, if that. On top of that, when I am a fan at all, I'm a fan of the White Sox (who were World Series Champs as recently as 2005, not that ESPN remembers). For me to enthusiastically cheer on the Cubs now feels like more than jumping on the bandwagon. It's inauthentic - traitorous, even.

Instead, I'll watch quietly from my couch, cheering on a good game in general. I'll ask Cubs fans how they're feeling about upcoming games 3 & 4 (and likely 5) here in Chicago. I'll enjoy the playing of "Go Cubs Go" over the PA system at school. And I'll most definitely stay far away from Wrigleyville this weekend, where a combo of Halloween weekend and the games that could decide the winner of the World Series will probably incite a drunk zombie riot.

Monday, October 24, 2016

A Night in Sleepy Hollow 2016

Last year Jesus and I "discovered" the interactive Sleepy Hollow performance in Bourbonnais and this year we brought our families. The basics remained the same, with some additions (like an actual "White Horse Tavern" to drink cider in) and the chase through the Hollow still didn't disappoint.

Ah, the magic of small town Illinois. (And we all kept our heads!) :)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Little Prince

The Little PrinceThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A classic children's story that will delight adults as well. A great reminder to enjoy life and life's small pleasures.

First thoughts: Beautiful. Sweet, touching, perfect.

Favorite quote: "Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is exhausting for children to have to provide explanations over and over again." -p2

Recommended for: children and grown-ups who've forgotten what it's like to be a child.

Final thoughts: Reminds me of Life of Pi or Haroun and the Sea of Stories. The Netflix movie adaptation is great as well!

View all my reviews

Friday, October 21, 2016

Friday Night Links 35

A few fun things:

Three episodes in, Jesus and I are HOOKED on Westworld.

Are you a Bad Hombre or a Nasty Woman? (Either way....VOTE.)

What would you trade for a cubs ticket?

Nice sweater, Aaron.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Scary Movies 2016

We're deep in spooky season and it shows in my Netflix queue and Redbox rental history. Here are a few of my favorite scares from this season (some new releases, some just new to me!):

Spielberg's classic shark tale is a movie everyone should watch at some point in their lives. The understated humor, the subtle glances, and the modest effects allow the story and the suspense to take the lead. It's hard not to be amazed at 1975 movie magic. And this trailer - perfect!

Don't Look Under the Bed
This 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie is way ahead of its time, dealing with themes like childhood cancer, different ways of grieving, the use of logic versus emotions, and teen angst. Frances has to convince not only her parents, but also herself that not everything can be explained using reason - and that imaginary friends are lost to growing up too soon.

The Conjuring 2
There's nothing like banking on a successful horror franchise! Thanks to director/producer James Wan (director - Saw, Dead Silence, Death Sentence, Insidious, The Conjuring, Insidious: Chapter 2, Furious 7 (and upcoming Aquaman) and producer - the rest of the Saw franchise, Annabelle, Insidious: Chapter 3, Lights Out (and upcoming Annabelle 2 and Insidious: Chapter 4)), we now know what maybe happened with the case of the Enfield Poltergeist in 1977. Spoiler: it wasn't sunshine and rainbows.

The X-Files: Season 5 and Fight the Future
Jesus and I finally made it through Season 5 of The X-Files - a long one with strange dips into conspiracy and a lot of backstory, much of it leading up to the movie released between seasons 5 and 6 - The X-Files: Fight the Future. The movie was a treat, and felt like classic episodes from earlier seasons. It was part mystery/whodunit and part paranormal investigation. We're quite ready for Season 6 now.

American Horror Story: Seasons 1 & 2
We're pretty late to the party with this one, but since so many people seem to love AHS and it features new story lines each season (which means we can treat the show like 6 mini-shows), we're finally on board. We have noticed in these first two seasons a lot of build-up (episodes 1-5ish) and then a roller coaster ride to the finale. It seems as thought in each season there has been one episode that holds the key to all the mysteries laid out in previous episodes; if we can stay hooked until then, we're golden.

Extras: Scary Movies 2015, 2014, and 2013 plus our Halloween activities so far this month.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Scary Books 2016

It's halfway through Spooky Month - how are you doing on haunts? If you need to catch up on your scares, here are a few books that can do the job.

The Haunting of Hill HouseThe Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A group of four lives in and investigates Hill House, looking for signs of the paranormal.

First thoughts: Creepy. A slow burn creep; each page feels ominous, like something is waiting and watching over the inhabitants of Hill House.

Favorite quote: "We never know where our courage is coming from." -Theodora, p50

Recommended for: horror fans, those who can handle suspense.

Final thoughts: Shirley Jackson is one of the most efficient writers I've read.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rosemary is pregnant and her neighbors are all too eager to help her out, until it becomes clear they have ulterior motives.

First thoughts: Another slow burn, but a fast read. This book starts out a little creepy, then lulls you into a false sense of normal. I'm curious to see how the movie interprets certain scenes.

Recommended for: not mothers-to-be.

Final thoughts: Casual racist stereotypes aside, Rosemary's Baby features a strong cast of characters - some to cheer for, others to be leery of right off the bat.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A teenager possessed by a demon, a mother turning to the church for help, a priest trying to keep the past behind him, and a police investigator trying to make sense of a senseless death.

First thoughts: I love that the book fleshes out the main characters so well - we get to see the inner thoughts of the major players, especially Father Karras. A lot of the book was about his internal struggle and the mind games Regan plays with him. His backstory (along with details about Fr. Merrin, Dennings, Kinderman, Karl, and Willie) makes the whole book richer. It's less scare your pants off, more philosophical. Some parts read like a mystery novel.

Recommended for: anyone who has seen the classic movie and enjoyed it, but wants to fill in a few gaps, horror fans, churchgoers and atheists, those with a love for the macabre.

Final thoughts: I wonder what has been said/written about all the emphasis on names and personalities. Knowing someone's name gives characters power. There's Regan and her demon, the demon's different personalities, and other characters have their moments of clarifying their names, changing their names, or discussing their names. Important themes seem to be centered around what we call ourselves and what we let others call us.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Say No to Pinktober (Again)

[Editor's Note: This post first appeared on ATRD on October 3, 2011. Five years later, it's still relevant.]

If you haven't noticed, it's October. Many great things happen in October. Baseball is finally worth watching, hockey and basketball seasons start, and football is in full swing. Scary movies play on TV. Apples, squash, and pumpkin are everywhere. A lot of pink things start showing up as well. I'm not a fan of the pink initiative. Before you hate me, let me include a disclaimer: I'm against cancer. I just don't know how strong the link between "awareness" and "cure" is. If October were National We Found a Cure for Breast Cancer month, I'd be supportive.

There's a great article here [2014 update: herehere, and here, 2016 update: here] that sums up my feelings on the month. What angers me most is how much of a lucrative business gimmick it's become. If I didn't already have issues with the gendered coloring of distinctly non-gendered items, I still wouldn't pay for a pink trinket to "raise awareness" - awareness doesn't equal action or results. I support finding a cure, providing treatment, and helping survivors and their families, but I think we're all well aware of breast cancer itself at this point.

Besides, can't we all just agree the "I (heart) boobies" bracelets (and their offshoots) are objectifying? Women are more than their chests. A woman who's had a mastectomy probably misses not just her boobs, and she's no less of a woman (or a person) without one or both of them. Plus there's the fact that breast cancer is still most common in women past the perky point in their boob life--I doubt they refer to their breasts as boobies. And let's not forget men, who can also get breast cancer but maybe don't care about "boobies," per se. [2016 update: All this to say, I do (heart) boobies. I think they are great. But breast cancer is not just about boobs, it's about a malicious disease that affects a whole person.]

What I'm saying is: wear pink if you want. Or don't. But let's not pretend that this color is doing the real work of preventing, treating, or curing breast cancer. And while we're at it, let's treat people with cancer like humans, not like body parts that happened to have people attached to them.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Cauliflower Crust Pizza

When you find an easier way to make a great recipe, you share it with everyone you know. This is an update on this cauliflower crust, with a few adjustments adapted from this recipe. I've tried it more than several times in the past few weeks. It passes all the tests.

Cauliflower Crust Pizza, adapted from Going Cavewoman

3 c cauliflower, riced (super timesaver - buy cauliflower pre-riced, in the refrigerated vegetable section)
1 c mozzarella cheese, grated
2 eggs
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp dried basil
salt & pepper to taste
your favorite pizza sauce & toppings

  1. Preheat oven to 400 and cover a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl until fully mixed.
  3. Press mixture onto parchment paper, spreading evenly (spoons or fingers work here).
  4. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until top is golden brown.
  5. Top with sauce, more cheese, and any toppings, taking care not to overload. (My recent favorite combo has been pesto sauce with more mozzarella and Parmesan, zucchini, onions, mushrooms, and fresh basil.)
  6. Bake for another 10 minutes until cheese is melted and golden. If you decide to broil at the end, pay close attention so the cheese doesn't burn!

Extra:  More pizza posts!